How to Review a Small Business (California by Train, Part 2)

Since I’ve never really gone into it before, I want to say a little bit about how I research and write Green Stars reviews of restaurants, cafés, bars, stores, etc. I did look at Starbucks in a recent post, but smaller businesses are a different kettle of fish since you’re not dealing with a massive corporation and there’s often not so much information available online. Normally, a large part of the review is based on observations made on-site (this comes with the bonus of improving my detective skills and memory, or at least, perhaps, delaying the onset of senility). It may be helpful to think in terms of categories, such as sourcing, waste-generation, animal welfare, sustainability of raw materials, energy use, employees, societal benefit, and/or whatever’s most important to you. I’ll usually ask one or two questions that are relevant to whatever I’m thinking of purchasing, but avoiding judgement and Spanish Inquisitions.

I do some research online when I write the review, starting with a look at their website, news items (I’ll often find a profile of the business or interview with the owner in a local paper) and perhaps social media. If needed, I may do some research on outside suppliers related to what I bought (e.g., coffee beans, milk, pastry, beer, a particular farm, a clothing label, etc.). Sounds a bit daunting? It’s actually pretty easy, especially if you can start gently, just reporting on one thing that was good or bad. It might all seem like too much hassle, but I think it’s worth it for several reasons that I listed in a post last year on Eckhart Tolle.

So, let’s start with a town called Davis!

Davis - Amtrak station.jpg
Davis Amtrak station. A nice thing about Amtrak stations (unlike airports) is that they are almost all located close to city centers.

Davis

Davis (pop. 66k) is the main city in Yolo county (you read correctly), best known for being hot, bike-friendly, surrounded by agricultural land, and having a branch of the University of California (go Aggies!). This article from the Irish Times provides a good sketch of Davis, summing it up as Hippy Heaven, although I’m pretty sure you’ve seen hippier places.

Temple Coffee Roasters

Temple was fairly easy to review. It’s a modern company with a roaster in Sacramento and five cafés in the area, so they’re new enough and big enough to be savvy about transparency. It’s also useful to review an expanding company so that you can let them know what you like and where there’s room for improvement. A company is usually quite receptive at this stage of their development, and if you influence them to make one small change it could have a large impact as they expand.

Information gathered during my visit:

  • Lots of vegan pastries and plant-based milks.
  • Their dairy milk is organic, from Humboldt Creamery.
  • All materials are ceramic, compostable or recyclable. (I later read online that they generate zero landfill waste at their cafés.)

Information gathered online:

  • They pay above fair trade prices for their green coffee.
  • Employees get health, vision, dental, and retirement benefits.
  • They use 100% renewable energy.
  • Support of community projects such as a Sacramento bike park and a Goodwill job placement program.
  • Supports improvement of conditions for farmers (e.g., donation to International Women’s Coffee Alliance)
  • They have started a program called Return to Origin (RTO) that looks at the percentage of coffee bean retail prices that reach the farmers and others in the supply chain. The average RTO number in their first report was 32%.

Room for improvement:

  • Would be nice to see compostable coffee bags.
  • More info on shade cover on suppliers’ coffee farms would be appreciated.

Overall score: 5/5 Green Stars.

(Here’s the review on Yelp.)

Village Bakery 

The village bakery is a small, one-off bakery/pizzeria and was harder to review because there was no relevant information online, that I could find. I try not to pester staff but it was a quiet afternoon and the owner/baker was happy to talk.

Information gathered during my visit:

  • They source organic tomatoes for the pizza sauce when in season / affordable.
  • They use olive oil to make their pizzas (unlike some other pizza places). Olive oil is generally a sustainable product, since olive trees are perennial, can grow on marginal land and don’t require heavy agricultural inputs.
  • Their dairy comes from Crystal Creamery. From what I’ve read I’d place them somewhere in the middle – not as good as an organic creamery like Strauss; not as bad as Dean Foods, who I mentioned in a post on Kauai.
  • Not much waste generation – the pizza is served on a paper plate and bakery items in paper bags.
  • Two out of the three pizzas on sale were vegetarian.
  • They use local fruit and veggies when possible and everything is made in-house.

Information gathered online: None.

Room for improvement:

  • A better dairy supplier or maybe a vegan pizza option.
  • Organic flour.
  • Upgrade to recycled, unbleached paper plates and bags.

Overall score: 4/5 Green Stars.

(Here’s the review on TripAdvisor.)

Until next time… Adiós!

2 thoughts on “How to Review a Small Business (California by Train, Part 2)

  1. Reblogged this on TRAVEL LIFE ADVENTURES and commented:
    Here at Travel Life Adventures we talk a lot about making more conscious choices when choosing where, how, and with whom we travel. We believe that consumers can direct markets and if we insist that Fair Trade principles are followed in our travel, that the market will have to adjust to fulfill those desires.

    We wanted to share a great post today from the folks at Green Stars Project. Their goal is to create a green rating system for products and businesses that takes into account social, environmental, and economic impacts of the way they do business. Essentially a way for consumers to choose products and services that adhere to Fair Trade principles. This is an amazing way to direct markets toward more responsible practices.

    This particular post goes into some detail about how the rating system is executed, but check out the whole site. There is great information there and hopefully we can begin to apply these principles to travel and tourism consumption.

    Liked by 1 person

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