By Jordan White | @JordanBWhite1

Sustainable eatery and cafe in Lightsview, Ikigai, is hoping to change how the hospitality industry handles its waste. (Image source: Jordan White)

After a morning commute of switching lanes and staring at Google Maps in bewilderment, I find myself at a conscious, near zero-waste eatery in Lightsview. Out from a crowd, admiring a golden retriever in the morning sun, steps Stephanie Shultz, owner of Ikigai, to greet me.

Inspired by the Japanese concept ‘ikigai’, roughly translated to a reason for being, Steph opened Ikigai with her partner, Dylan, in June last year after wanting to do something to combat waste in the hospitality industry.

“We wanted to create a restaurant where you can eat everyday. And for us that means organic food, not using refined flours, sugars, or hydrogenated oils, just food that can sustain you,” Steph said.

“Also, a massive part of it is waste management – I’ve worked in hospo for ages so seeing bins and bins and bins of landfill a week, a lot of the time people aren’t even recycling – it’s pretty bad, so we wanted to change that.”

Everything at Ikigai is organic and zero waste. There are no take-away coffee cups, and all food and item packaging is recycled in-house or picked up by its supplier to be recycled. 

Although initially challenging, Steph said choosing the right suppliers has helped minimise recycling drastically. 

“We’ve put a lot of processes [in place] to minimise our waste and recycling. We are probably sending about a general curbside bin of recycling out a fortnight. Sometimes we have more than that but we take it home and recycle it.  

“It’s limiting as well – we are still soft plastic recycling. I would like to eliminate that but it’s basically impossible. I don’t know if the technology is there yet with plant-based plastics, but I know there are companies working on it so hopefully these bigger manufacturers can make a change and that will start a snowball effect,” she said.

(Image source: Jordan White)

Currently, the eatery sends a jar of waste to landfill every two to three weeks, most of which is baby wipes left on tables.

Steph said working with the community also helps to reduce waste and hopes to implement more social sustainability initiatives in the future.

“We offer our chook scraps out. We separate everything that comes back from plates into non-fats and non-citrus for chickens. We put our coffee grinds out the back and whoever wants them can take them,” she said.

Customers also bring in glass jars from home, which are washed and re-purposed for the sale of peanut butter or storing ingredients.

No gin here. Just recycled glass for table water and plant propagation. (Image source: Jordan White)

The food at Ikigai is seasonal and locally sourced. The result is a dynamic, healthy menu with fresh, house-made ingredients.

“It’s hard to have a menu out because everything is seasonable – watermelon is well-priced and in at the moment so we have watermelon but when they are out of season, we may not have it,” Steph said. 

“Our regulars like change. A lot of regulars come in and want to try our different juices or the specials we’ve got,” she said.

Ikigai serves delicious coffee but there is no takeaway available. Customers are encouraged to bring a reusable cup or enjoy their beverage in-store.

Customers are encouraged to enjoy a coffee in-store. (Image source: Jordan White)

Steph is passionate about coffee and wants customers to have plenty of choice without needing to create waste.

“We use two house beans, they’re both organic. The main ones are a single-origin from Sumatra and then we use a blended bean that is a bit lighter. It’s got beans from North Columbia and Indonesia and they’re both amazing. The quality is amazing, the decaf is the best I’ve had,” she said. 

“Then we do a rotating single-origin. At the moment, we’ve got a Kenyan which is beautiful. We also do a batch brew, a cold brew, and cold drip”.

These blends marry one of Ikigai’s house-made alternative milks beautifully. Customers can also enjoy dairy milk, which is ordered in bulk to reduce waste.  “We get our milk in 10L tubs from Jersey Fresh and pour them in a dispenser. That’s why our recycling is low, we don’t need to constantly get rid of milk jugs,” Steph said.

Ikigai: A journey and philosophy shaped by Japan

Steph describes Ikigai as a reason to get out of bed in the morning and live a fulfilled life.

“So, the idea of it is a balance of what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, what the world needs, and what you love to do. And the idea is to have all of them together to have fulfillment,” she said.

“My family call me the ‘food Nazi’ because I’m onto their back—which I shouldn’t be, I should let them discover it for themselves—but health for me is so important. And I love spending time in nature… the way the world is going, so many places you see rubbish now and it’s not its natural habitat.

“So, conservation of forests and the natural world is massive to me. I’m good at hospo, or so I’ve been told, and I feel like the world needs it,” Steph said.

Inspiration for Ikigai was found in 2017, after Steph and Dylan spent four ski seasons in Japan.  The couple signed to buy a ski lodge, but the sale fell through and they returned to Adelaide, inspired by the concept of Ikigai and still optimistic to start a business.

“We came over here wondering what we were going to do. We had some drive to do something and the ultimate goal is to get [Ikigai] set up and running under management so we can take off for a few months each year,” Steph said.  

“I was working at a coffee franchise at the time and they were selling and we were like, ‘maybe we should buy something?’.

“That was about three years ago but this wouldn’t have been what it is now back then, so I’m glad the build took so long because we’ve obviously grown as people since as well”.

A look to the future

In the future, Steph hopes to inspire customers and other hospitality venues to live more sustainably.

“I want it to be the beginning for the future of how the hospitality industry manages its waste. And also where it gets its food from, which is a large part of the waste.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility. The consumer’s to be educated and to know but then the bigger companies will have way more influence. Like right now, they have ‘green glad wrap’, it’s not fucking green!” Steph exclaims.

“Just make a small change, just one small thing. Educate yourself. If you’re aware of what’s happening, you can’t neglect it. If you’re aware of it and you choose not to do anything about it, that’s on you. But if you’re truly aware, you have to act. Even if it’s a small part.

“There needs to be some sort of regulation about what people can label as ‘sustainable’. We need to get the terms right – biodegradable vs compostable. Biodegradable breaks into small plastics, that’s not good. Compostable will break down into organic matter.

“You don’t need to be perfect – we give in every now and again and buy a packet of chips. We’ll make sure they’re recycled chips, but you know. 80/20, right?” Steph said.

Leaving Ikigai, I found myself oddly at ease—a stark juxtaposition to the hustle of morning commuters making their way through Lightsview.

Steph and her team are on a noble mission to inspire other businesses to live more sustainably. Whether it be the atmospheric venue or Steph’s passion for sustainability, one can’t help but leave Ikigai feeling inspired and hopeful about the future of hospitality businesses.

Ikigai is located at 191-192 Hamstead Rd, Lightsview.