Fort Bragg Restaurants Serve on Paper Plates to Conserve Water
Eggheads restaurant in Fort Bragg says it will continue to serve on paper as long as the Stage 3 water emergency is in effect. (Ethan Prater/Flickr)
It’s brunch time at Eggheads, a restaurant on Main Street in Fort Bragg, where portraits of Judy Garland and film stills from the "Wizard of Oz" cover the walls. Dishes here have names like Auntie Em’s Pancakes, the Red Shoe Scramble and Dorothy’s Revenge.
To get to the bathroom...
“Follow the yellow brick road, and get to the Emerald City,” says server Kelly Metlin, pointing to a yellow-tiled path through the kitchen.
Today, and for the last six weeks, tables here are set with paper napkins and plastic forks. And $23 crab omelets are served on paper plates.
Metlin says they stashed their dishes and silverware to save water from dishwashing, after the city declared a Stage 3 water emergency.
“All restaurants are required to reduce their water usage by 30 percent,” she says.
Fort Bragg is a small city of 7,000 people along the Mendocino Coast. Roughly half the city’s water supply comes from the nearby Noyo River, says Tom Varga, director of public works.
Earlier in the fall, the drought drained the river to record lows, allowing the ocean tides to push salt water upstream. It traveled 4 miles to the pump that moves river water into the city’s water system, contaminating the supply with salt water. The city had to shut the system down.
“That’s what triggered the emergency,” Varga says.
The city called for immediate, maximum water conservation efforts, including a requirement that all restaurants trade their china and porcelain for paper and plastic.
The mandate lasted two weeks.
“We had a lot of input back from restaurants,” Varga says. “We realized it wouldn’t work out as a one-size-fits-all arrangement.”
Managers at fancier eateries were mainly the ones who complained. The disposable supplies were expensive. And customers got frustrated trying to cut ribeye steaks with plastic knives.
“They did not dig it at all,” says Ali Green, a server at Cucina Verona. “If you’re paying that much for a meal, then you’re expecting it to be on something nicer. So, it felt really bar-b-q-y.”
City officials backed off the mandate last month. Paper plates are now encouraged, rather than required. And a few restaurants have powered through with the paper plan. Eggheads plans to continue as long as the Stage 3 water emergency is in effect.
Some locals have adapted just fine.
“I brought my own coffee cups to the restaurant, things like that,” says Jeff Beard, who works weekends at a framing shop.
It’s mainly out-of-towners “who have a hard time coping,” says Kelly Metlin, the server at Eggheads.
“Depending on where they’re from, they’re used to a certain way or a certain lifestyle. So when they come in here, and they see plastic, they request silverware,” she says. “But we don’t offer that. We took it all out of the house.”
Dee Calbraith and Nigel Smith, a British couple visiting from San Francisco, were among the recent diners who asked for “proper cutlery.”
“We thought it was kind of weird and maybe wasteful,” Calbraith says.
But when the waitress explained why they couldn’t have the flatware, Smith says they understood, even though he felt like it compromised the experience of the meal.
“Everyone’s got to make sacrifices,” he says.
“I would prefer my tea out of a glass cup,” she says. “But out of paper is also fine.”