Local Restaurants Stuck in “Grease Trap”
At the height of holiday shopping season last week, a handful of restaurants in Knoxville, Tenn.’s thriving downtown Market Square district announced plans to close. Some of those are blaming the cost of a mandatory upgrade to their grease-control equipment, costs that restaurants across the country are facing.
The Knoxville Utility Board is enforcing its ruling that restaurants using automatic dishwashers can no longer plumb through that humble standby, the grease trap. They must instead install a minimum 1,000-gallon grease interceptor, essentially a tank for fats, oils, and grease (FOG, in waste-management-speak) so big it typically has to go outside or, more problematically, down below, the restaurant.
See, if your Knoxville restaurant building is old, or if it’s small, or if it lacks a basement or a couple of manholes and a baffle wall, you might have to dig out space underground for the interceptor. That can get pricey – in some cases more than $20,000 – and separate checks are not allowed. The whole tab goes to the dining establishment, no matter if they don’t own the building they operate in, so even if it doesn’t fatally choke the business, making the structural improvement can seem like shoving tens of thousands of dollars down the drain. Those who won’t budge, such as the burger-and-bourbon hotspot Stock and Barrel (proud home of an “Elvis Burger”), are stuck with the dishes – that is to say, with washing them by hand – not exactly an efficiency measure.
Right Here’s Your Problem, Ma’am
For once, the Southern penchant for deep-fried food is not to blame. Grease in the sewage system is a universal urban problem. According to the city’s 2013 State of the Sewers report, 62 percent of New York’s 15,000 sewer backups were caused by grease. The City of London famously foundered last year on a grease blockage so immense it spawned a new word, “fatberg” – and that was months from the Yuletide season, with goose fat entering the system at a relative trickle.
Knoxville’s FOG issues, then, are typical of growing cities. KUB explained to us that they are simply following the Federally mandated grease-control program set by the Environmental Protection Agency, adding in an email, “We work closely with customers to help them comply.” Knoxville restaurateurs we spoke with had no quibble with the first part. Who, after all, hates a grease backup more than the dishwashing staff? Compliance with local regulations aside, it’s in all restaurants’ best interests to keep their grease moving and adequately disposed of in up-to-date equipment since spoiled-food odors have the power to kill a business all by themselves.
The takeaway for 2015: Between grease thieves and utilities, restaurants would do well to pay closer attention to the flow of their fat.
Photo courtesy of Visit Knoxville