When I thought of who might be a good example for sustainability put into practice and whom I could interview, I didn’t have to think for long. I was not only intrigued by the broad variety of food the Restaurant Immerland offers – or how amazing it tastes – or how inviting their restaurant is – but also by their sustainable approach. Their interior is upcycled, they buy locally, are against factory farming and get their honey, milk, cheese and meat from selected local farmers and minimise the overall impact on the environment wherever they can. Not because they label them as sustainable – just because it’s common sense to them.
The second you walk in the door you can feel the warmth the two owners, Karin and Jannah, spread. They love what they do and you can see, taste and experience it. The name Immerland is a wordplay between the german word for Always and Neverland which can be translated to Alwaysland. Their interior has tons of references to this fairytale world and even though I have been there a few times, every time I find a new detail I hadn’t noticed before.
Karin and Jannah opened the restaurant last year and it’s been a success from the get-got. They wanted to start their own business, among other reasons, so they wouldn’t have to prove why buying seasonal or local is better. And I am glad they did!
Thank you for meeting me! First thing I noticed is that you have a list of where you get your products from. How did you come about them?
We found most of them from the farmers market delivery network here in Innsbruck (Bauernkiste). We contacted the farmers directly and met them. Since we can’t pick anything up, our first criteria was that they would be able to deliver. The butcher for example is on the farmers market in front of our doorstep on Saturday’s and they bring our order along. The farmers know each other pretty well and through our buttermilk deliverer we found a honey beekeeper. Finding honey was pretty hard this summer. We wrote to the Beekeeper Association and they said they might have some available in October. Which was slightly too late.
So if you run out of something it’s out?
Exactly! Two weeks ago we had chicken, which we rarely offer, because they aren’t slaughtered that often. And on Wednesday we already ran out. And for the rest of the week we offered something else. We wouldn’t try and get it from somewhere else.
Do you try to offer organic food?
Regional is more important to us. Either we do things ourselves from scratch or we buy locally. We did talk about it with our milk farmer and they said that switching to organic would mean so much extra work. It would just not be worth the hassle. And with most of the changes they couldn’t guarantee that the milk still had the same quality. It’s more important to them that the cows are happy in the alps or on their grasslands. They have a huge farm. The cows are definitely happy.
Why did you decide to offer this many vegan and gluten free options?
We had decided to do that pretty early on. Partly because it is a trend and partly it’s because people are more conscious and care more about their nutrition. We try to cover all of it. And we try not to opt for soy products. For baking it sometimes can’t be avoided. Almond milk might be an option, but we also don’t want to charge 5€ for a coffee. And for coffee people really love the coconut milk we have. We have a few non-vegans who order it, because they love the taste. We also had this lovely lady who tried scrambled tofu from our brunch buffet, and even ordered it again, because she liked it so much.
We also wanted to offer an option for people to have breakfast together. It is quite hard to find a spot that suits different dietary preferences or needs.
Do you think your customers know that these choices, such as eating vegan, have a positive impact on the environment or do they do it mainly because it’s a trend?
Hard to say. Some find it great that we have something for everybody. We had to find an option for vegetarians and vegans that wasn’t just pasta. So we did vegetable spaghettis. And we sell more of them than of the regular pasta. They are extremely delicious and don’t have the tiring after-effect of regular spaghettis.
For us it is important. If it came down to me, there would only be farmers and we wouldn’t have to go to a shop. Or at least we’d just buy fresh ingredients and everybody would cook more.
Have you ever had negative reactions from customers, for example when you ran out of something?
Not really. We hear “We’ll find something else then.” For the small size of our restaurant we have quite a lot of options.
We did have a customer who asked us why we sell those hipster drinks from Berlin. Well, we do have a certain target group and for sure didn’t want to sell regular soda drinks. So if we offer soda drinks, we wanted to offer those that weren’t available in Innsbruck and match our philosophy. Now we have Afri Cola, Mio Mio Cola and lemonade from Prevent. But our homemade lemonades and Ice-teas sell pretty well too! And customers gladly pay more. It would be much easier and cheaper for us to get ready to sell products, but we didn’t want to do that.
Glad to hear! Did you ever had complaints about your prices?
Surprisingly not! Especially our cupcakes are not cheap – but they are a lot of work! A few people have complained about the fact that we only offer one coffee with our brunch on Saturday and Sunday. People shouldn’t forget that we do purchase a really good coffee that is not cheap and we can’t afford to offer more. You can’t compare us to larger chains buying coffee in bulk. We order smaller quantities and buy local.
How did you decide on the decoration? Did you collaborate with the guys from Upcycling?
We wanted to do as much as we could ourselves. He (from Upcycling) picked up the materials from somewhere, from a clear-out or flea-market, which makes it much cheaper. Everything just kind of evolved, not all of it was planned in advance. It was more like “this might be cool”. The cushions for example were sewed by friends.
We didn’t want anything from a catalog. The first idea were pallets. And now we have furniture made out of doors. The basic concept we had was to trade as much as we could. Our amazing photographer for example eats for free. We also wanted to give artists a chance to show their artwork. Or we once collaborated with NekoNeko Streetwear where we got sweatshirts from Hannah and we put pictures of us wearing the sweatshirts online.
How much planning did you put into your recycling concept?
In Austria you have to formulate a waste management report for the city and most of how you recycle is regulated. We try to minimise waste – and it’s really hard! You already get so much waste with the products. A few things you have to buy in bulk and then you still get 25 individually packed items. And that’s a lot of waste! End it’s extremely expensive too! We pay per container. And we pay for the pick up. And when we have glass, we are not allowed to bring it to the regular containers for households. But we can’t really drive to the recycling station three times a week either. Most of the glasses we have are deposit bottles though. When we have left over bread or milk on Friday’s we give it to our farmer who feeds it to their pigs. But that’s not that much, we really hardly have any food waste at all.
What about your own packing materials?
We purposely only have packaging made out of paper or cornstarch. We would like to offer more take away, but right now we can’t promote it as much as we’d love to – we simply don’t have the time to handle more orders at a time. In the morning we are preparing everything for the rest of the day and whenever I have time and the kitchen is free, I am baking. But we do have a lot of coffee to-go orders already.
Would you also fill it into mugs that the customer brings in?
Of course! Also for smoothies! I would definitely prefer that, instead of giving out something that will end up in the bin shortly after! We also were eyeballing with the idea of offering “pay forward cash”, which is an american concept. You pay two coffees, get only one, and the money is reserved for somebody who can’t pay for theirs. If somebody forgot their money and it’s freezing outside for example.
Thank you for taking the time and thank you for what you do!
I did this interview before I started my journey and more than ever I appreciate what they do. There are so many approaches to rate a restaurant’s sustainability. One of the most holistic approaches is the one from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). And based on the graphic below and the information I gathered from Karin, they would have a pretty high scoring!
If you happen to be in the area, make sure to visit them. You won’t regret it!