The Causeway is a picturesque waterfront spot in midcoast Maine situated directly across from an expansive Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserve. The restaurant is part of the Craignair Inn, which was opened in 1930 to house workers from the nearby quarry. Greg and Lauren Soutiea, former Bostonians looking for a change of pace, bought the inn and restaurant in 2018 and proceeded to renovate the property to become more sustainable. Surfrider Maine sat down with Greg to learn about the motivation for joining the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program.
What inspired you to buy the restaurant?
Greg: Lauren and I wanted to do something on our own. We both worked good corporate jobs, but they weren’t what we wanted to do forever. We always stayed in small mom and pop places whenever we traveled around the U.S. or Europe, and we would meet people from all over the world. We were staying in Ireland in this little place on the west coast where a woman who rented out maybe four or five rooms was telling us how happy guests are because everyone is on vacation. The industry I came from, property management, was a notoriously negative industry—people don’t usually call their property managers if everything is going well. We started looking for properties in New England, and it took us about a year and a half to find this place. We came to visit The Craignair Inn on a perfect summer day in August 2018 just in time for a beautiful sunset, and decided that this was the one.
At the time we almost didn’t buy this property because the restaurant was a big portion of the revenue, and we didn’t really want to buy a restaurant, we wanted to buy a little hotel. So we bought a hotel that had a small restaurant on it, and now we have a restaurant that happens to have some hotel rooms. It’s kind of flip-flopped in the last couple years, but that’s where we’re at, and it works, and it’s been nice.
What sustainability efforts do you have in place and what motivated you to undertake them?
Greg: Sustainability has always been important to Lauren and I, just as human beings that are all living on this planet. Many, many years ago I started learning about how the different industries impact climate change and the world around us, so I started eating less meat, and when we were living in Boston we put solar panels on our house. We eventually stopped eating meat and animal products altogether, and our main motivation for doing that was the environmental impact of those industries. It’s always been important to us, and when we bought a business we wanted to model our business practices on our personal philosophies.
Additionally, when it comes to sustainability overall and not just being ocean friendly, we try to minimize our use of transportation since it’s a huge contributor to global warming. The average restaurant gets a lot of products from all over the world, and we try to do our best to purchase as much as we can from local Maine businesses that are making maple syrup, or harvesting lobsters or oysters, or making beer. We want to not only support other Maine businesses but also cut down on supply chain and distribution carbon impacts. We’ve got a mural of all the Maine businesses that we support on one of the walls of the restaurant.
How did you join the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program?
Greg: I met Melissa Gates [Surfrider Foundation Northeast Regional Manager] not too long after we first moved up here. Pre-pandemic she was organizing vegan dinners through her volunteer work with Animal Rights Maine at different places once a month, and we attended a couple of those, and we also hosted one or two of them at our restaurant. I became familiar with Surfrider there, and Melissa engaged us on the legislative side of things with the balloon and straw bans, and EPR for packaging bills that the Maine Chapter was working. At some point, Melissa mentioned Ocean Friendly Restaurants, and we decided to get involved.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business and your ocean-friendly practices?
Greg: I don’t think COVID impacted us too much, since we had already switched over to all compostable and eco-friendly packaging when we first bought the place. We were using more single-use containers, but it was still as good as it can get for those types of products. We were already using reusable straws and things like that.
Do you have any advice for restaurants looking to make more sustainable choices?
Greg: I think most people are probably worried about investment. We started small when we first got here by switching the straws and the to-go containers, and we built up to putting fifty solar panels on the roof and batteries in the basement. So my advice is, start small, and in the long run for us the investment is worth it. Maybe not every restaurant owns their own property, but investing in your property to make it more sustainable is going to help your property value as well. Just start small, make the changes as you go, and keep going from there.
What is your relationship with the ocean and how did that inspire you to do what you’re doing?
Greg: As an oceanfront restaurant adjacent to a 125 acre MCHT nature preserve we see firsthand the plastic and trash that washes up on our shores daily. We walk our dog along the beach almost every day, and we’re always picking up pieces of plastic and bottles and all these plastic soda rings off the beach. It’s noticeable that humans have a major impact on what’s happening out there. Being so close to the water, we cherish the wonder and beauty of the Atlantic Ocean and believe that we all need to do our part to help save our oceans. We strive every day to lead by example and demonstrate how to run an inn and restaurant in an environmentally conscious and sustainable way, without sacrificing comfort.
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
Greg: We are going into our fourth summer, and we’ve made a lot of significant updates to the property, so we’re trying to get a little closer to a place where we can sit back and watch things operate, instead of continually tearing the building apart and putting it back together. We want to keep doing what we’re doing, and keep talking to our staff and guests about why we’re doing it.