Green Friendship Endures and Inspires
Two sustainable restaurant practices they learned on The Hill
by Libby Cudmore
Joseph “Trip” Ruvane ‘83 and Eileen (McKeegan) Ruvane ‘84 have operated Barley Creek Brewing Company in Tannersville, Pa., by being leaders in many sustainable industry practices.
Angelo Oritz, chef for the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity in the early 1980s, taught its members how to cook — and how to make food last.
Joseph “Trip” Ruvane ‘83 learned the basics of cooking and restaurant management at his Alpha Chi Rho fraternity house.
AS BROTHERS IN THE ALPHA CHI RHO fraternity, Joseph “Trip” Ruvane ‘83 and Benton Prentice ‘81 met the mentor who would set them up for their careers in good food and green thinking.
“When I took over as house vice president and steward, I was tasked with finding a new cook,” said Prentice. “And that was Angelo Ortiz, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.”
Ortiz was in the kitchen at the opening of the Waldorf-Astoria, cooked for Frank Sinatra and Mohammad Ali, and had retired to Mount Vision when he answered their ad in the Daily Star.
“We became very close friends, and he taught us all about cooking, food and purchasing,” said Prentice. “We always had a great time in the kitchen together.”
The “green” lessons started early. “Angelo didn’t waste food,” said Ruvane. “$1.50 bread loaves were 50 cents one day before expiration. We would buy and then freeze it until we needed it.”
Ruvane put these lessons into practice — long before sustainability was popular — when he and his wife Eileen (McKeegan) Ruvane ‘84 opened Barley Creek Brewing Company in Tannersville, Pennsylvania.
“When we opened in December 1995, garbage companies didn’t recycle cardboard,” said Ruvane. “In 2000, we finally convinced the company that we were willing to pay more money for a different dumpster just for cardboard. We were trailblazers in the green movement in our area.”
A couple of states over and a couple of years later, Prentice opened his restaurant — the Grille Zone in Boston — and focused on making it as sustainable as possible.
“We didn’t have a dumpster,” he said. “Everything was compostable. All our equipment was the most energy efficient available, and our ice cream, knockwurst, soda, bread, all of it was local.”
Through those efforts, the Grille Zone became the first Certified Green fast-casual restaurant in the United States to be recognized by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). And as one of the greenest restaurants in the country, it attracted all sorts of national media attention — from the Boston Globe to the NBC Nightly News and others.
“I was practicing hyper-local and super sustainability before virtually anyone else, and I’m proud of that,” Prentice attested. Impressed by what the GRA had done for his and other restaurants, Prentice joined the company as its business development manager, helping other restaurants to do the same.
“We work with our clients to help them choose recycled paper goods or ones made without bleach,” he said. “We educate them on how to start composting, or install LED lighting, and much more.”
Through GRA, restaurants earn points for each sustainable change they make. And when they have acquired enough points, they become a Certified Green Restaurant.©
What had begun on Oyaron Hill came full circle in 2012 when the Ruvanes started working with Prentice to become the first restaurant in their area to put solar panels on their roof. In 2020, the Ruvanes put in a Tesla charging station. And recently, they purchased a deli and immediately got to work going green.
“The first thing we did was retire the styrofoam packaging,” said Ruvane. “We upgraded the lights, so now they’re all LED and all on timers.”
Ruvane likens it to changes restaurants have always made to keep up with the times. “Back in 1995, we had a cigarette machine in our game room!” he said. “Nowadays, that’s a no-no.”
In addition to restaurants like the Barley Creek Brewing Company, Prentice has his sights set on helping colleges and universities be more environmentally friendly.
“We’ve been wanting to push reusables over single-use items,” he said. “One of our college clients switched from 100 percent single-use to 100 percent reusable in their dining hall. It made a huge impact, and it set the standard.”
“The sustainable attributes of a college or university campus are a major factor for prospective students in deciding to attend a particular college,” he added. “Students looking at colleges now say this is really important to them.” Ruvane agreed.
“When guests tell you they care deeply about something, you listen and make it happen for them,” he advised. Ruvane and Prentice still get together every year — as they have since graduation — reuniting at Alpha Chi Rho events and family cookouts.
“Hartwick and the fraternity of Alpha Chi Rho was a very good place for me,” Ruvane said. “Our lives will forever be intertwined.”