Unami Solar Case Study

GoSolar NH partners with Umami Café to bring Solar Power to Acclaimed Eatery in Northwood

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When GoSolar NH set foot on their mission to bring solar power across the great state of the New Hampshire, they had in mind that the focus of their drive was to serve the communities that exist within the Granite State. Sure, companies can market to the individual, and, quite frankly, most do. GoSolar NH has a different approach. Do good work for the people, within their respective community, and garner a buzz, which inherently gets others on board.

The belief is, do good work by your neighbors and further business will intrinsically follow.

In this spirit, GoSolar NH jumped at the opportunity to work with a likeminded commercial newcomer in Northwood, New Hampshire. Umami Café – smack dab on route of Antique Alley (Route 4) – now one of the few solar powered cafes running in the state, with have visions of becoming fully self-sustainable as the future unfolds.

Umami’s roots began years before the café actually took shape. Co-owners Jesika Belair (General Manager) and Robert Graves (Farmer/Operations) had a small farming operation in Deerfield, New Hampshire, which quickly escalated into farmers markets and friendly farmer-to-farmer competitions. Looking to start a farm-fueled retail operation, the two (along with third co-owner, Zachary Squier (Executive Chef) bought the property where Umami currently exists (which used to be another of the famed antique stores that make up the collective fabric of “antique alley”). They began to run a fully operational retail / farm stand storefront – an 800 square-foot farm co-op business that brought in goods, produce, meats, and more from local farms. The storefront was accented by an 1806 colonial house directly behind it on the property, which also has some 60-acres of fields (which will serve as farmland for further ingredient sourcing in due time).

After nearly two-years of operating the retail environment, the time had come for “change.” Pulling in, Zach, who had been immersed in the restaurant scene around Portsmouth and the greater seacoast area, the ground was set to bring Umami Café to life. Graves strategically disassembled the 1806 colonial home and utilized the material from the home to bring the newly renovated farm stand/café to fruition. Everything you see today in Umami Café with the exception of the sheetrock (and the food trailer that is attached to the building and serves as the unique kitchen space that adds another distinctive element to the restaurant), is lumber and material pulled from that house.

And then of course is the solar panel array that you see attached to the roof as you pull in. It adds instant intrigue to the restaurant, which is now roughly 2,500 square feet in size.

Umami continues to work with local farms and sources fresh ingredients from 15-16 different farms regularly, and, with the retail products in mind, has had goods and wares from upwards of 47 different farms throughout the state of New Hampshire at one time. It’s that community working with community sentiment that fuels the restaurant’s day-to-day routine, as well as their menu.

“I wanted to bring some innovative, creative food to an area that has little culinary diversity,” said Squires. “We’ve become something of a travel destination offering our unique contribution to the “taste of the seacoast” slightly off the beaten path. The food is comfort food with an Asian twist. Rice bowls, burgers, Sunday brunch… During the spring, summer, and fall months, we’re sourcing 85% of our ingredients from local farmers. Everything from honey, maple syrup, dairy, potatoes, veggies, fruits, meats – chicken, pork, and beef – it’s largely a local operation. I like the communal aspect of it all – farmers come here and bring me their stuff. If I can use it, I take it. And I wind up taking most of it.”

From the wood that makes up the renovated interior, to the locally sourced products, to the plates, silverware, cups, napkins, straws, and other wares that are compostable, Umami is set up to be a fully sustainable business, that is, as mentioned, also powering the facility through the channeled UV rays from the sun.

“Going solar was always a conscious part of the plan,” voiced Graves. “From the first moment I saw this building I immediately envisioned solar on the roof, stonewalls out front, pulling support of/for local farms… The concept was all about sustainability and working with those around us. I’m grateful to GoSolar for believing in our vision at the outset and providing us with a plan to bring the solar power part of our initiative to realization through the implementation of the roof mounted solar array.”

You hear from everyone that the technology isn’t there, that it doesn’t pay you back in value. You hear a bunch of horror stories, but what you learn is that you really need to look into things yourself. Our solar panel array pays for itself.”

GoSolar NH met with Graves and crunched all the foreseeable numbers to see what the best direction would be with regard to budget, and growth. As of right now, the 40 panel array that is in place is providing Umami Café with 70% of their energy needs. Another 10 panels, and they’ll be at 100%. This is in the plans for the near future, as well as potentially locking into proprietary batteries, which will store the generated energy and make Umami one of the first off-grid eatery entities in existence.

“Jake (Ottolini), Brian (Pare), and the rest of the GoSolar NH staff did a lot for us to get us where we needed to be with regard to solar,” said Belair. “They thought of things we hadn’t thought of and had no problem explaining things to the t. They’re responsive to our needs and overall, are an amazing team to work with.”

“Yeah, I mean, they didn’t promise us the crystal ball – which is important in my opinion,” said Graves. “They’re very transparent and go above and beyond to help facilitate a seamless integration. Their numbers were spot on. They looked at some numbers we were given from another solar company I had been talking to and told me they were completely false, which is what I had initially thought in my own head, but didn’t have the firsthand knowledge to debunk. Another aspect I liked about working with GoSolar is they gave me options. They gave me things to think about, which I appreciate. They were not trying to upsell me; they were, at the outset, trying to get us to where we needed to be while being sensitive to the underlying budget. They really supported what we were trying to do. This wasn’t just a job for them. The installation was no sweat. I didn’t have to worry about any of it. Which was good because I was busy tearing down the colonial and building out this place. They had are best interests in mind at all turns. They were excited about the exposure and the prospect of partnering with us and launching this farm-to-table solar powered café. The local aspect – the sustainability – of working with and establishing community. It’s a win-win, really.”

In a nutshell, upon completing the initial wave of their solar power optimization initiative, Umami Café also stake claim to the following:

  • They’ve cut their operating costs from a utility standpoint significantly.
    • They are no longer subject to unavoidable increased electric rates.
  • From the other “green” perspective, they’ve greatly decreased their carbon footprint.
  • They’ve supported their local economy by contracting with a local (fellow) New Hampshire based solar company.
  • They’ve inherently attracted added eyes to their property as a merchant that operates with solar power.

For GoSolar NH, Umami Café is a point of satisfaction in the developing growth of their own company.

“I feel a great sense of pride every time I’m pulling in to Umami, or if I’m driving by in route to a job,” said Ottolini. “This was a big installation for us – not only because it was our first commercial job, but because it meant a great deal to us on a personal level as well. Obviously, we want people to take advantage of owning their own power. We want to enable folks to have control over how they power their property and not have to be subjected to ever increasing rates from the utility company. We want to spread the use and knowledge throughout the entirety of the Granite State. And, at the end of the day, we want to be involved with people that are doing great work that fuels and feeds inspiration as it exists throughout our communities here in New Hampshire. Umami is doing just that. So I’m happy to have been a part of their launch, and look forward to what the future holds all around.”

Contact GoSolar NH today to learn what going solar means for your residential or commercial property. It’s not hard at all to implement your own solar panel array and take control over your utility bills. Go solar today for a brighter tomorrow! 

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