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Ray's Red Hots Is Surprisingly Green

by Lisa Diggs

At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss Ray’s Red Hots in Ann Arbor as just another hot dog joint. Yet, it’s so much more than that, and there’s nothing ordinary about their delicious dogs either. One of the things that makes this campus favorite so unique is its strong effort to go green.

The company’s conscientious goal of environmental responsibility came about after an opportunity to provide a food cart for an Earth Day festival hosted by Recycle Ann Arbor at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. Participation as a vendor in the event required "zero waste" compliance. After reviewing that criteria, Ray’s Red Hots discovered they were already in compliance, but it started them thinking the concept more seriously.

“We decided the time was right to run with the concept and apply it to our brick-and-mortar restaurant as well, said Phil Clark, General Manager.  “We saw news headlines about McDonald's going green ‘by 2025’ and we decided that rather than waiting 9 years, we could do it right now!”

The company’s mobile operation is certified as zero-waste, meaning it does not generate any food waste, or any trash at all other than recyclable materials and manufacturer-provided packaging. You won’t see them handing out single-serve sauce packets or plasticware. 

It’s a little more challenging in the restaurant, but the company is working diligently to transition to 100% eco-friendly packaging. In-store orders are served in reusable baskets lined with compostable deli paper. Take-out and delivery orders are served in recyclable and recycled paper bags, with items wrapped in recyclable foil, lined with compostable deli paper. Their infamous loaded fries are loaded into recyclable, biodegradable and compostable boxes made from sugarcane. Even the thank-you bags, which look like traditional plastic, are actually made from plant materials, so they are compostable and biodegradable as well. Beverages are served in PET plastic, which is also completely recyclable.

“The number-one factor prohibiting restaurants from ‘going green’ is the perception that it will cost astronomically more than their current packaging, said Clark.  “After researching, we found that this simply isn't true. There are a variety of cost-effective, clever packaging materials for restaurants of all manners and types.”

He advises restaurants who want to follow their lead to spend a little more, but not as much as they might think. Research is the key.

Another way the restaurant is ecologically responsible, not to mention scrumptious, is through its commitment to sourcing locally.

The signature dogs, which are free of gluten and MSG, are 100% Black Angus Beef, made right here in Michigan. They offer a Tofu Dog, which is certified organic, vegan and made in Ann Arbor. The bread is either baked on site or by a local bakery and delivered fresh. Burgers are hand-pressed by Knight's Market in Ann Arbor and are delivered fresh, never frozen. The home-made pulled pork is topped with Ann Arbor-made Frog Island BBQ Sauce, and if you want an extra kick on any of your orders, Clancy’s Fancy hot sauce is also available.

In addition to looking out for planet earth, the company is focused on its inhabitants. They place a high value on workforce diversity. The staff of 12 to 24 employees is a balanced mix of males and females from of a wide variety of ages, with close to a dozen unique racial and ethnic backgrounds represented. 

Ray’s Red Hots also takes great pride in giving back to the communities and people that support them by sending food carts out to various charity events. They serve the crowd and then donate a percentage of sales back to the host charity. To date, according to Clark, the company has donated tens of thousands of dollars to a wide range of charities including the Michigan Miracle League for Special Needs Children, the Michigan Autism Alliance, the Michigan Cancer Society, and dozens of others.

Next time you’re in Ann Arbor and hankering for a quick and tasty bite, stop by the shop at 629 E. University. You can also find the mobile carts out at university games and community events like the Buy Michigan Now Fests in Northville or Jackson.


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