When it comes to addressing climate change, Naama Tamir believes it’s not too late.
“I’m an optimist,” she explains, leaning on a high-top table at the front of her Williamsburg restaurant, Lighthouse. Despite the abundance of apocalyptic headlines, Tamir says that through community, education, innovative thinking and technology, there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful.
Since Naama and her brother, Assaf, opened the restaurant in 2011, she’s become a leader of the city’s environmentally conscious restaurant world.
This is especially true for waste. “From running a restaurant, I became really passionate about [it],” the Israeli-born Tamir says. “We need to think about waste differently.”
That means going beyond buzzy sustainability trends like dropping plastic straws and instead creating real, lasting alternatives. For Tamir, that looks like a battle with multiple fronts: developing reusable to-go containers, carefully selecting partner vendors and hosting Monday night solutions-oriented dinners where local organizations crowd-troubleshoot sustainability challenges.
Tamir rattles off several examples of how the restaurant separates scraps into different streams. Lighthouse partners to upcycle its used corks and someone else collects their avocado skins and pits, onion skins and beet and carrot tops to create natural fabric dyes, she says. The restaurant works with BK Rot, a bicycle-based composting pickup. It’s one of more than a dozen local organizations and businesses listed on the restaurant’s website, from food purveyors to candle makers, that illustrate Lighthouse’s deep commitment to a cultural shift.
“I want to support people who make the world a better place and care about what they do,” Tamir says.
Running a restaurant can be exhausting, even if you’re not helping lead the fight for a more sustainable food system. But the creative problem-solving that saving the world requires is part of the draw for Tamir.
“It’s fascinating,” she says. “I think if I was managing a normal restaurant, I’d be bored.”
Those are just some of the reasons that Slow Food NYC will recognize her at its May 13 Slow Down, naming Tamir as the 2019 Snailblazer honoree for her commitment to “a local, sustainable and fair food system,” and calling her “a fierce advocate and organizer” for like-minded restaurants in the city. The event will be held at Lighthouse.
The vegetable-forward, farm-to-table Williamsburg restaurant—and the newer Lighthouse Outpost in Nolita—is a “human-centered endeavor,” too, Tamir says. That means paying fair wages, eliminating traditional barriers between front- and back-of-house, not forcing staff to work “crazy doubles,” and being empathetic to the people who work and dine there.
“We’re environmentally and socially responsible,” she says. “When you treat your staff properly, your staff kind of manages itself.”
That makes it easier to dedicate time and resources toward environmental sustainability, Tamir says. And it helps create a sense of community in the restaurant that reverberates to diners. That’s part of her goal; the name “Lighthouse” is meant as a metaphor, Tamir says, creating “a warm home in a cold city.”
“People that come, come a lot,” she says.
It’s not just for the sourdough bread, natural wines or $15 spicy mussels entrée with baby kale, coconut and serrano peppers. Or solely because of her well-known commitment to systemic, climate-saving change. It’s also because of the pride Tamir invests in the venture.
“If I’m going to leave a mark here and I’m going to put my name on it,” she says, “I want it to be great.”