The indomitable Aliette Ponte opened LeChaim Caterers in 1976 on a foundation of customer care and quality catering. Originally focusing on synagogue celebrations, her repertoire expanded to home, office and venue events, then eventually to institutional gatherings. And nowadays, owing to its unique blend of traditional kosher cuisine and contemporary flair, LeChaim is widely recognized as an industry leader and one of the most respected catering companies within Toronto’s kosher community.
Foodservice establishments such as LeChaim rank amongst the most energy-intensive commercial spaces, though. As a result, utilities are one of the highest costs facing their operators. High enough, in fact, to put a sizeable dent into already tight profit margins.
Under the leadership of Jack Ponte, Aliette’s son, LeChaim realizes any monetary savings from increased energy efficiency can significantly benefit the bottom line. But where does the road to energy efficiency even begin? “As a small business,” Ponte admits, “I’m not always informed of what options are available.”
Taking the lead on sustainability to help the foodservice industry save energy and money, Restaurants Canada recently partnered with Save on Energy, ENERGY STAR, Enbridge, LEAF, Russell Hendrix, Silver Chef and NewSpring Energy to throw down the gauntlet with the Foodservice Energy Challenge. Foodservice operators were invited to sign up and take advantage of money-saving energy tips, incentives and rebates, while upgrading to new, modern, high-efficiency equipment that can reap significant performance and energy benefits
Participants would further learn about how small and big changes can have a positive impact on their business. They’d even get a free audit to determine energy saving opportunities within their business, on top of support from their local electric and gas utility companies to assist with eligible savings programs.
Ponte was sold from the outset. “I thought this would be a great way to receive and implement any energy saving options,” he confides.
For some small businesses like LeChaim, refrigeration can represent up to 72 per cent of their electricity costs. What’s more, space heating and cooling can total more than 50 per cent of energy use. That’s why LeChaim has already taken part in Toronto Hydro’s Business Refrigeration Incentive program and RTUsaver program.
The Business Refrigeration Incentive program has proven a fast and easy way for LeChaim to upgrade their refrigeration system and reduce energy use. With up to $2,500 in rebates, it included a free on-site refrigeration energy audit by a qualified energy expert, alongside a personalized action plan with recommendations for implementing the best energy-saving measures. To that end, Ponte has already installed strip curtains on LeChaim’s walk-in cooler and freezer. These strip curtains are capable of reducing cold air loss by about 75 per cent.
Likewise, the RTUsaver program made LeChaim’s rooftop heating, ventilation and air conditioning units eligible to receive a free smart thermostat, in addition to a checkup to help save energy, control costs and maintain comfort more efficiently. On average, LeChaim can save 21 per cent annually with a smart thermostat.
As for what’s next, Ponte reveals LeChaim has been registered for Toronto Hydro’s new Small Business Lighting rebate program. The turnkey solution offers a free lighting assessment and rebates to offset the cost of new lighting. LEDs use up to 75 per cent less energy, which can help LeChaim can save on ongoing electricity costs. LEDs also last up to 25 times longer, so they’ll save on maintenance costs, too.
Sure enough, the Foodservice Energy Challenge is beginning to reward LeChaim Caterers, and the best is arguably yet to come. Only instead of letting the early success disrupt his focus on the long-term objective, Ponte’s mission today remain unchanged from the day he first enrolled. “I just want to become more energy efficient and to save money on my energy consumption.”