Sam Thai Cuisine, like several other restaurants, found that simple behavior change measures had significant impacts on energy usage

White Bear Lake Restaurants save energy through simple actions

The City of White Bear Lake has a robust, independently owned restaurant community – one that attracts guests from around the metro area. This vibrant business population, coupled with the fact that restaurants use more energy per square foot than any other commercial businesses, made the City of White Bear Lake’s decision to offer an energy efficiency program for restaurants an easy one.

The city, in collaboration with the Food Service Energy Leadership Program (housed at Eureka Recycling), applied and received a competitively selected Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) through the Department of Energy and administered by the Minnesota Division of Energy Resources. This grant, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), allowed the city to provide technical assistance for energy efficiency among its restaurant community.

The program worked with 20 restaurants in the White Bear Lake area over a two year period. An initial energy assessment was completed by the technical team and a report produced with identified opportunities (focusing mostly on low-cost options). Throughout the course of two years of collaboration with these businesses, energy use was tracked and reported back to the businesses on a six month basis, and assistance was offered with larger retrofit projects, such as an HVAC unit replacement, a new ice machine purchase, or a retrofit on the exhaust hood.

Overall, most businesses had 10-15 percent potential energy savings identified based on the initial walkthrough. The implementation of energy saving measures was left to the business, but on the whole recommendations were implemented. Over the two year period, the average energy savings in participating restaurants was 5.8 percent. These savings varied greatly depending on length of time in the program and ability to commit time, attention and money to making improvements.

By way of communicating the variety of actions participants took, and the variety of successes businesses had, this case study will briefly highlight the efforts of three White Bear Lake restaurants. More ideas, tips, case studies, and resources can be found at

The Hanger Room

Getting started with energy efficiency needn’t be costly. Every business has opportunities for improved maintenance, repair, and changes in behaviors which cost nothing or almost nothing and save energy. The Hanger Room provides a great example of how simply paying attention to equipment and energy use can make great strides toward becoming more efficient.

Co-owners, Nick Miller and Peter Martinson chose a former bowling alley as the site for a new high-end restaurant. When considering the location, they looked into the energy use of the bowling alley. However, once they had added a larger commercial kitchen, complete with lots of equipment and a full wall of exhaust hoods, plus some additional refrigeration space, their energy use was different. According to Martinson, “Energy use in this building was a big surprise. We looked at the bowling alley’s energy use before buying the building, but our use is much higher.”

The owners needed to find a way to reduce energy costs without spending more money on new equipment or controls (a common situation for owners of new restaurants). Luckily, there were excellent opportunities to reduce their energy use that didn’t cost a penny.

Miller and Martinson set their programmable thermostats setbacks more aggressively, not only for occupied and unoccupied, but also for busy and slow times in the restaurant, zoning off areas that didn’t need to be heated or cooled until the dinner rush.

The other big saving action they took was to reduce exhaust hood runtime in the kitchen. Together with the head chef they implemented a plan where only one hood runs on slow days, and even then only when there is equipment beneath it running. Staff leadership has been important to the success of this strategy. Martinson says, “The chef has been the leader in the kitchen, working to keep equipment off until it’s needed. If we’re really slow, we don’t need extra equipment on. Sometimes two cooks will just share a stove.”

For a new restaurant establishing a baseline to compare energy savings is difficult. But Martinson and Miller are certain the small changes they have made are saving them money each month.

Dellwood Hills

Dellwood Hills, an area golf course and restaurant, was enthusiastic to reduce monthly expenses by saving energy. Like most country clubs, the economic recession of 2008 left the club extra conscious of the need to run efficiently.

Ken Galloway, the General Manager of Dellwood Hills, was pleased to get some new ideas and support from the city energy efficiency program. “We’ve always tried to work efficiently and take advantage of programs and technology; but it’s so much more helpful and easier to embrace when you can get assistance from qualified people.”

Dellwood Hills will be retrofitting all of their inefficient T12 lighting to more efficient fluorescent lamps. Their timing coincides with Xcel Energy offering additional rebates because of the federal legislation phasing out T12 lighting. The lighting retrofit at Dellwood Hills will save the business over $7,700 per year, resulting in a project payback of less than one year. This project qualified for a rebate from Xcel Energy of almost $6,000, nearly 50% of the project cost.

In addition to lighting retrofits, Galloway has been talking to his staff about how they can help reduce energy use in various aspects of their job. Galloway suggests, “The key is to make energy savings real for them.” For instance, helping employees identify that leaving a door open wastes energy is more useful than telling them to “save energy.”

Sam Thai Cuisine

Little restaurants can save energy too. Sam Thai Cuisine, a tiny restaurant in a strip mall in White Bear Lake, doesn’t use a lot of energy to begin with, but after participating in the program they are more aware of energy use and have taken action to be even more efficient.

Sombat “Sam” Supunniam owns Sam Thai Cuisine, where he serves as head cook, dishwasher, repairman, cashier and friendly greeter. Despite using much less energy overall than the average restaurant, Supunniam still found ways to further reduce his energy usage.

Replacing gaskets, shutting off equipment and adjusting the thermostats were easy changes. Installing motion detectors on the bathroom lights made sense, since the bathrooms were infrequently used during the day. Supunniam appreciated the technical support, he said, “based on the auditor’s recommendation we realized the right direction to be working. We wanted to save energy because it’s the right thing to do, but for my small restaurant saving money is the most important.”

In fact, running such a small place allows Supunniam to arrange some creative agreements with contractors. “One of my customers said he could fix my lights, and I said that if he did, I would pay him in free lunches,” said Supunniam describing his arrangement that allowed him to retrofit old T12 lighting.

Interested in saving energy and money at your restaurant? Here are some simple, affordable actions to get you started:

  1. Replace incandescents with CFLs
  2. Insulate hot water pipes
  3. Set water heater temp at 120 degrees
  4. Set Make-Up Air temp at 55 degrees
  5. Program thermostat to set-back when closed: 55 degrees at night for heating, 85 degrees at night for cooling
  6. Install low-flow faucet aerators
  7. Install low-flow pre-rinse spray valve
  8. Close refrigeration doors, especially walk-ins
  9. Don’t stop, get more info at

Donatelli’s: This White Bear Lake restaurant had such outstanding results that we decided to feature them in their own case study. Click here to learn more about their efforts >>

For more information, and for resources, tools and tips visit

To immediately carry out actions 6 and 7 above, visit the Make A Splash program website at and place an order today!

Project Snapshot

  • Location: City of White Bear Lake, Ramsey and Washington Counties
  • Project: Partnered with 20 restaurants in White Bear Lake to reduce their energy use through low and no cost measures.
  • Energy Savings Opportunities Identified: Audits identified opportunities to save:
    • 15% energy use overall
    • 32,085 Therms of natural gas
    • 522,848 kWh of electricity
    • 689,992 gallons of water
  • Efficiency Measures Taken: Energy efficient appliances; Replace T12 lighting with T8 lighting; Behavior change; Occupancy sensors; Programmable thermostats; Exhaust hood retrofits; HVAC unit replacement
  • Results: Implementation during grant period resulted in:
    • 5.8% overall reduction in energy use
    • $45,617 in actual cost savings for businesses
  • Grant: $49,120

Click here to download a PDF version of the case study >>

Other Local Government Energy Action Food Service Efficiency Stories:

Local Government Energy Action About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

This year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.