Summit County companies collect, repurpose Steamboat cooking oil
July 26, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Dara Lor wants to deconstruct the metaphor of the supply chain.
Instead of a series of steps or links from suppliers to customers, he describes the system for Summit Greasecycling as a loop.
"The concept is to infuse as much of the benefit into the users," Lor said.
Lor and his co-owner, Dan Fernandez, have built a business around upcycling used cooking oil, but while many other companies are angling for the same restaurant clients, they're setting themselves apart with a Colorado-centric approach and a business-sense appeal.
The Summit County-based company that started in 2007 — now with 12 restaurant clients in Steamboat Springs and hundreds across the state — makes sure the oil it purifies in Breckenridge stays or comes back to Colorado in whatever product it eventually becomes.
The majority of the oil goes to ClearEcos in Boulder and is made into biodiesel; a byproduct of the purifying process goes into a degreasing cleaner that is sold at a discount to participating restaurants; and part of the oil goes into Summit Soap, a natural soap company also owned by Lor and Fernandez.
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Fernandez was giving a demonstration of the soap-making process Tuesday at Kneading Hands on Oak Street while Lor explained Summit Greasecycling's business model.
They have ideas for many more products to make from the upcycled vegetable oil, but the soap is in full swing and gaining steam.
Looking part chemist with protective eyewear and gloves but punctuating steps with Emeril Lagasse-style exclamations, Fernandez poured the oil into a metal pot and stirred in the handful of other ingredients while explaining the process. The oil makes up half the recipe, Fernandez said, and about 80 percent of the ingredients come from within 200 miles of their headquarters.
A bar of Summit Soap bought in downtown Steamboat Springs could be made with oil purified from your breakfast at Creekside Cafe and Grill.
Joe Walker, general manager of Sweetwater Grill, said the big, international company he was using to recycle cooking oil paid Sweetwater for the opportunity, but Lor's pitch swayed Walker.
"I really just like the fact he's using it for a bunch of really unique products," he said, adding that Sweetwater likes to use as many local or Colorado vendors as possible.
"Dara is much more connected in a personal way," Michael Fragola, of Cottonwood Grill, said about why he switched from the large firm he was using. "And he gives you a discount on his products."
Summit Greasecycling gives restaurants a discount on the cleaner made from the byproduct of the purifying process.
"I'm pretty satisfied with it," Fragola said. "And I save a bunch of money."
Cottonwood will be closing at the end of August, but Three Peaks Grill, another of Fragola's restaurants, also is using Summit Greasecycling.
"It's much more connected to community," Fragola said.
"When you do things sustainably the right way, it's the best business decision anyway," Lor said.
A new biodiesel plant is being constructed in Boulder that will have an annual capacity of more than 11 million gallons, further closing the loop by ensuring all the biodiesel will be made in Colorado in addition to being sold here.
As the collection and purifying business continues to grow, Lor said, he hopes more of the oil starts to go into other products, as well. In the future, chains in Bike Town USA could be greased with oil that originally came from Sweet Pea.
"Two guys that never really thought they'd be in business are running two separate businesses that are intertwined," Fernandez said.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com