Thursday, January 19, 2012

Elizabeth Lessner And Food By Bike.

**My order of pumpkin pasta from The Jury Room would be a struggle to deliver by bike.**

It's funny how life works. One day you are sitting in a political science class in San Francisco, and the next you are being interviewed in the roll: bike shop in Upper Arlington, Ohio. That's how things work around here. Columbus is a midwestern hub of just about every walk of life, every background, every story you could imagine. Speaking with restuaranteur Elizabeth Lessner today (it was snowing here) was like being a part of some "Seven Degrees To Kevin Bacon" exploratory mission. California link? Got it. Business partner who was a late '80's punk/rock musician..well I have one of those too (Lydia). An intimate link to the Athletic Club Of Columbus? Guilty as charged. Turns out we both love Tater Tots and bikes too. Crazy stuff.

I had first heard about Mrs. Lessner's embracing of bike culture with a simple post about a new bike rack she had installed in front of Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace. Sounds easy enough..except that it took a mountain of work to get the city to green light it. You see, her approach to a better and more green environment actually starts within her business. She's actually been responsible for changing legislation in Columbus to allow composting/recycling for restuarants! Cycling and this type of endeavor go hand in hand..and the city's cyclists FLOCK to her various joints in Columbus thanks to a tasty and creative menu, great drinks, and $1 PBR cans on certain days at the Tip Top for cyclists who ride in.

Thankfully she did not listen to the begging of instructors to stay in school in her early twenties. She followed her love of the bar/restaurant scene and went for it. I heard a rumor (wait..that's a Bananarama song)a

couple of weeks ago regarding her use of a courier service to deliver BY BIKE the amazing vittles from her latest spot The Jury Room, and asked her to meet me for an interview....

Q. You are constantly pushing the boundaries for "green" restaurant stewardship. What have been your biggest successes and highest hurdles?

A. Changing the SWACO laws regarding composting and recycling last year was a huge victory..for everyone really. It took a year of lobbying to finally get the law changed allowing everyone to do it. Up until then, all the waste generated was the property of SWACO. The big hurdle is more of a disappointment thing. A lot of my staff lives in the urban core, and travel by car is just not practical or necessary. It's an infrastructure thing. It's not seeing a more comprehensive public transportation light rail, better bike lanes and access and the like. When we decided to open The Jury Room, we thought "How are we going to get people to stop and eat here..there's no parking at all?" I applaud COTA for mounting the bike racks..but it's been a struggle.

Q. Having lived in San Francisco for six years, how would you describe the differences in the cycling scene there versus here?

A. It's a big reason I look for a complete plan or push here. In San Francisco, all you need is a bus pass and a bike and you can get to any place in the region. Getting to the East Bay to Sausalito to Palo Alto was easy, and you had no need for a car. Once in was 1996 when I moved here...I missed it. I gained a ton of weight when I moved here because all of a sudden I was driving everywhere. Having that daily excercise...which was excercise I didn't even consider..was a big loss. It disappointed me to see how things were going here at that time. I do get a little frustrated sometimes with's 2012 and we just started a recycling program. Things are improving, I guess it's just never as fast as you'd like when you are involved.

Q. What is your favorite pre-ride "carb-load" meal from The Jury Room?

A. I love the chicken parm....that's actually what most of the marathoners and Pelotonia folks who live downtown have been eating the night before a big training run or ride.

Q. Why did you choose bike delivery for the Jury Room?

A. Well we have been asked to deliver for years. It didn't seem like a good idea to put another car on the road...we actually thought about scooters too. Then we were approached by Ian (bike courier) to deliver by bike, and it just made sense.

Q. Will all the fabulous locations in town eventually get bike delivery service? What's the added cost for delivery?

A. Right now the test market is at The Jury Room only, but the delivery area is pretty wide..about five miles. The range goes from 5th Avenue in Grandview, to Franklinton on the West Side, south to Greenlawn and east to Taylor. delivery cost is only an added $2.00, plus tip. Beyond that range you can still get delivery, but you need to have a microwave or oven to heat it up, as it may get a bit colder on a route of that length.

Q. Tater Tots at Dirty Franks are my guilty pleasure, and the Nina West cocktail at The Jury Room would be my wife's. The candy cigarrette is a great touch. What is your guilty pleasure?

A. At my places or somewhere else? I have one at each the Mac & Cheese at Betty's, the True Love Always dog at Dirty Frank's and Frito Pie at Surly Girl. I eat our stuff a ton though, so to get away from my own stuff I will come to Pho Asian Noodles on Lane Avenue (just two blocks east of roll: bikes), or I'll swing by Cup O Joe on The Cap for their grilled cheese and tomato soup. It's kind of spicy and is just perfect on a day like today. My other go-to is Blocks Bagels. I'm from a family that always had great bagels on hand in Chicago, and Blocks Bagels and cream cheese are perfect.

Q. Were you afraid of losing any weiners in the Great Bomb Squad Incident Of January 6th?

A. *chuckle* oddly enough that was the second time I have seen the bomb squad in front of our places. We had one place shut down for an entire day as the bomb-squad's robot repeatedly grabbed, then shook an igloo cooler for about six hours before they went in and picked it up. The one across from Dirty Frank's was the same scenario.

Q. New bike racks were installed in front of Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace recently. How has that been received?

A. It's been great! It was a long battle, but highly necessary for both the staff and the downtown customers. Prior to the bike rack, people would ride and have to lock up to a meter out of view of the windows. That made people uneasy, and would even result in some not coming at all because they couldn't keep track of their equipment. Now you can see your bike from the bar, and that's a "win-win" for everyone.

Huge thanks to Elizabeth Lessner for taking the time out of juggling five restuarants to swing in and talk with me about cycling, food and the politics of Green in the Capitol City!

Here are some helpful links.. (Bomb Squad pix)


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