Our enterprise is a hybrid of business types -restaurant, farm and social enterprise- in Windsor, ON with the goal to produce organically grown winter tomatoes and supply greens and vegetables of superb quality in all four seasons at a new location of the popular Penalty Box Restaurant.
Born of a need to source quality local produce in all seasons, the enterprise is led by Van Niforos, a successful restauranteur, small business person and youth sports supporter, in collaboration with David Fields, Organic Master Gardener and Project Manager with over 15 years experience with environmental NGOs, supported by a small team of experts, advisors and consultants. At the heart of our venture is a common passion for good food, healthy family and vibrant community; our motivation to build a new type of enterprise that embraces our community’s vision for a sustainable future by celebrating our natural and cultural heritage.
Restaurant and Urban Farm in historic location near Windsor’s riverfront
Work is underway to establish a beautiful new 300 seat family restaurant in the restored and rejuvenated SW&A Trolley Barn. The historic building will have its tall windows, 24 skylights, hardwood beams and other assets restored. A park side patio, beautiful floor of period wood, modern kitchen and other new features will help create a refreshing new local dining atmosphere. The restaurant will be integrated with a fully productive hothouse, viewable from the restaurant, and a 1 acre, four season urban farm. The site is well poised to be an innovative new cultural and economic hub for the city’s west side. Previously, as the hub for North America’s first electric trolleys (1886), the location has many historic and cultural ties with Windsor-Essex. Now bordered by the International Gardens to the east (blanketing the Windsor-Detroit international railway tunnel deep below) and linked with the popular Riverfront Trail and bike routes 1 block away, this University Drive anchor point is easily accessed by all modes of transport. Sharing the block are two other buildings that are being considered for development by Science City, the Windsor Woodcarving Museum, a non-profit dinner theatre and others. The cultural synergies of the urban farm/restaurant, also combined with other partners, will help rejuvenate this commercial district linking the University of Windsor with downtown and St. Clair College. The Art Gallery of Windsor and a new aquatic centre, under construction, are also within walking distance. The current 100+ seat Walker Rd Penalty Box location serves 1000 meals a day and employs 57 people. The new location will create more employment and new training opportunities for the community by offering a new, interactive local food experience for residents and tourists alike- reinvigorating Windsor's West Side.
The urban farm will supply the restaurant salad bar with organically grown, year round micro-greens, leaf crops and herbs and contributing edible flowers, fruits, and the enterprise centre piece: hothouse winter tomatoes. As the project matures, some seasonal and extended season vegetables will be raised for the kitchen, the greater volume of which will be grown on a small rural acreage. Small scale composting and “worm nurseries” will be the soil building process for the all-season micro-greens and leaf crop production growing in unheated and partially heated hoop houses. Raised box planters will hold our own living soil mixture to grow leaf crops and other salad vegetables and fruits. Design of the grounds will include an ornamental garden for visitors and special dining events with features reflecting the region’s natural, agricultural and cultural heritage.
The hothouse, now being designed, is an evolving centre piece project intended to develop and display a sustainable method for producing winter tomatoes at a small commercial scale (1400+ Lbs per week). The hothouse will be viewable from inside the restaurant and have several advantages available to this urban site, including: shared heat with the restaurant, heat island effect, passive solar hot water heating, a regular supply of waste fryer oil for hot water boilers and more. Initially the tomatoes will be grown hydroponically, the current standard used by small and industrial scale hothouse growers. The latest LED growing lights will be the main light source, with fluorescents used for seedlings. The installation of FIT tied photovoltaic panels is being investigated as a means to offset growing light power usage. As regulatory approvals are granted, an aquaponics system using a soil growing medium will be phased in that will also produce tilapia. The aquaponics system will evolve over the next 10 years as a platform to raise and offer the regionally iconic yellow perch; innovate, refine and share new ways of raising healthy food in an intensive, low impact manner; be a focal point for agricultural, business and environmental science and education; and to support Great Lakes conservation efforts.
All aspects of this integrated enterprise will support the other parts through designed “looped systems” (i.e. food waste-compost-fresh vegetables) and by “stacking functions” (i.e. raising fish and plants together) that will reduce the demand for offsite inputs and provide overall stability. For instance, in other seasons the hothouse will produce starts and seedlings, micro-greens, mushrooms and seasonal vegetables, maybe even fruit trees. The building cellars could house fish tanks and be equipped to function as a warehouse/storage for products from the the urban and rural farms. The urban farm will also establish a non-profit social enterprise, after production has become stable, partly supported by production sales, which will offer school/public tours and eventually partner with neighbouring businesses, schools and community groups to support local education and food security initiatives.
The rural acreage or farm (or possibly rezoned urban site), when established, will provide a stable production base, supplying the greater quantity of compost, winter tomatoes, herbs, vegetables, fish, compost, and more. At later stages other livestock will be introduced, starting with poultry and fowl, and expanding aquaponics to include more fish species and plants. This site will operate with several integrated functions working at commercial scale, phased in over time. Beginning with the composting of restaurant food waste (bokashi method) with brewery mash, coffee grounds and other captured food grade waste sources to produce worms (also a fish food) and an excellent quality living soil for intensive growing on both locations. The rural site will also function as a preparation site for urban farm facilities and infrastructure, such as pre-fabricating tiered grow beds for easy and quick installation.
New style business restores Windsor’s past to create the future
Our innovative business of restaurant combined with all season urban farm and social enterprise brings more life to the city of Windsor’s social and cultural fabric. Our core values of growing good food, healthy families and vibrant communities will be reflected in all aspects of the enterprise. Establishing a new pattern of development for the West Side that celebrates the region’s past by offering a healthy local food experience, our project will help build, and be a symbol of, the city’s new sustainable future. Boundless opportunities exist to collaborate with local, regional, national and international partners to expand, refine and share our growing and business operations and further our commitment to social and environmental sustainability. The realization of our grand vision will be founded on our ability to start small, grow where we are planted, use our strengths, learn from our failures and by sharing with others.