Kristofor Lofgren wants to save our oceans – one seafood meal at a time.
His bigger goal: to help change the way people eat, the way restaurants source their food and the way everyone on the seafood supply chain treats the oceans and the life they support.
“Our focus is on bringing sustainable healthy food from the oceans to the masses,” says Kristofor.
“The environment,” he says, “is the issue of our time.”
Kristofor’s chefs purchase seafood from around the world, following sustainability guidelines set out by leading conservation organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
In 2008, Bamboo Sushi became the world’s first certified sustainable seafood restaurant. We talked to Kristofor about his mission as a restaurateur and his vision for healthier oceans.
Why is this work important to you?
Kristofor: The oceans are the largest natural resource we have on the planet, and so I think it's vitally important for us to look at protecting them, not only for food sources, but also for the production of oxygen, the sequestration of carbon. The entire planet is basically run by the rhythms of the ocean. As go the oceans, so will the planet.
Why is it so difficult to source seafood sustainably?
Kristofor: There's an opacity to fisheries that makes it very difficult to source sustainable fish. Given how many links there are in the chain of distribution and processing, it is very difficult for the end consumer – either in a grocery store, or the grocery store itself, or the restaurant chef – to know where the fish came from. So for us, to be able to source something fully sustainably, we have to go back to its roots and know where it comes from. We need to understand the fishing methods and the people who are actually going out and catching the fish ... We aim to bring transparency to an often very opaque world.
Given those challenges, how do you go about sourcing fish that is caught sustainably?
Kristofor: We partner with NGOs and scientific organizations that we highly respect and that are completely in alignment with what we do. Like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Marine Stewardship Council. We'll follow their guidelines and figure out who are the fisherman and the processors and distributors doing it the right way. And we'll go out and seek to partner with them, and bring them into our vendor family, and work with them to be able to use their products and promote their way of fishing as being the best.
We also just start talking to people. We find people who follow guidelines that we know are sustainable and then we'll cross reference those with our scientific partners to make sure that they match up with what our requirements are from an environmental standard. It’s kind of a two-prong approach. We’re finding fishermen and suppliers who we know are doing the right thing for the planet. It provides an opportunity for them to sell into the market and creates greater opportunity for them.
How have customers your customers responded?
Kristofor: We just did a study on the consumer behavior of our customers at Bamboo and it came back overwhelmingly positive. About 61% of consumers feel that the sustainability initiatives we employ are vitally important to their opinion of the brand. That was really meaningful to us, because we spend so much time and effort doing what we do. The other thing people notice is the quality of the product is so much better. It’s similar to how organic vegetables took hold 10 or 15 years ago and people started noticing the taste profile being better.
How has your commitment to sustainability worked out from a business perspective?
Kristofor: It's been great so far. Certainly running restaurants is not an easy task. I think everybody who works in our organization would say that we often take on challenges that are bigger than most restaurants would ever dream of doing, but it's really rewarding and really fun. A lot of people run restaurants, but not a lot of people necessarily run restaurants that have an impact on the world. We aim to do something that is both fun and creative, as well as impactful and meaningful.
How do you see your role in the sustainable seafood movement?
Kristofor: Our goal is to be an agitator in the industry. We want to create food that is delicious, that people love, with sustainable healthy ingredients that make the planet better and the lives of the people who harvest the seafood better. By doing that, we agitate the supply chain to achieve a more sustainable, more socially responsible, more just future. We’re trying to set a benchmark for other businesses so we can all kind of move forward together. We’re creating a larger market for sustainable fishing and sustainable business practices and sustainable farming, both at home and abroad.