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Alexandria restaurant 'greenest' in the state

Thursday - 4/12/2012, 6:41am  ET

walkersgrille640.jpg
Everything at Walker's Grille was designed to be environmentally sustainable. (WTOP/Meera Pal)
  • Gallery: (4 images)

Meera Pal, wtop.com

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - From the carpet and walls to the chairs and tables, almost every aspect of Walker's Grille restaurant was designed with an eye to efficiency and sustainability.

It is the owners' attention to detail that recently earned the restaurant, in Alexandria's Franconia neighborhood, LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

In fact, Walker's Grille has the distinction of being the only restaurant to receive LEED certification in the state of Virginia.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

According to the USGBC website, "LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health."

While more and more homes, corporate offices and buildings are being designed to meet LEED requirements, finding a restaurant that takes the time and financial commitment to do so is unusual.

"I think with the restaurant industry, specifically, it's been a challenge," says Michael Babcock, chairman of the USGBC National Capital Region chapter.

"When you start to see thinner margins, you start to see a reluctance to invest a little more effort and time. You don't see it that often in restaurants," he says.

Walker's Grill co-owner Jason Musleh says after the landlord suggested he and his partner pursue LEED certification, they decided it fit perfectly with the history of the property and the restaurant's concept.

The property, off Beulah Street in a corporate park, is the site of landmarks that pre-date the Civil War. The Walker family -- among the first black landowners in the area -- owned the property where the restaurant now stands. The restaurant name is an homage to the family.

"We knew we wanted to do a green concept," Musleh says. "We felt it would tie in with (the property) being farmland in the past and the whole farm-to-table cliche."

Last month, the restaurant celebrated its one-year anniversary and was awarded the LEED Gold certification in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Co-owner Sam Misleh says the certification means a lot to them, especially given the investment they made to the project.

"The costs were more because of all of the materials," he says. "All of the materials had to be sustainable materials brought in from within a 500-mile radius."

"Initially, we didn't know what we were getting into. We had built other restaurants, but not to this level," Misleh says.

Construction began in November 2010 and the restaurant opened four months later. He says the attention to LEED certification probably added an additional month.

Besides recognition by the USGBC, Walker's Grille also has seen energy savings in electric and water bills, Musleh says.

The partners (and cousins) are proud to have the only LEED-certified restaurant in the state. And the sustainability goes beyond construction materials for the two.

The restaurant uses a recycling program to reduce waste, as well as high-efficiency equipment to reduce water and energy consumption. They also support local farmers and dairies, buying from all-natural beef and poultry producers.

On the restaurant's website, the owners tout, "Our meats and poultry are hormone, antibiotic and pesticide free; they are raised on all-natural vegetarian diets that are free from animal by-products."

Babcock hopes Walker's Grille will serve as a model of how other restaurants and smaller businesses can be green.

"It's a soup-to-nuts sustainability," he says. "It's not just locally sourced foods, it's changing the paradigm from the materials to the air quality and energy efficiency.

"I'm hopeful this illustrates (sustainable building) isn't just reserved for big projects. Anybody can do it."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)