Hotels, inns and resorts have hardly been known as leaders in the effort to go green. By nature, they tend to be wasteful with those ever-replaced stacks of freshly laundered towels, sheets changed daily, bars of soap used once then discarded and mountains of plastic vials of shampoos and lotions that go into landfills. Most hotels won’t pay for recycling, and cities don’t recycle for them. To be considered “green,” it’s enough to put out a sign suggesting guests save water by reusing towels, which, in my experience, is usually ignored (or simply not understood by the maid) so your used towels get washed whether you want them to or not.
Drawing on family experience
Milan Doshi’s parents had decades of experience leasing and running hotels. Milan, 31, grew up in the world of hotel franchised chains: Comfort Inns, Holiday Inns. One year his mother bought a piece of art in India, which she placed in the lobby of the family’s hotel. When the company inspector came for a visit, he made it clear that such acts were not permitted because all the inns in the chain were supposed to look the same. So as well as being one of the most wasteful industries, the franchise word is not at all supportive of individual expression, certainly, or much else, in Milan’s opinion. He had a different vision of what might be possible. After getting a degree in economics, going to cooking school, working with Vandana Shiva in India and then in an highly respected Indian restaurant, Devi, in New York, he came back to the hotel business, but in a fresh way.
In 2008, he and his parents invested in three Queen Anne-period Victorians in Denver after Milan had looked at more than 150 properties around the country for houses he could use for B&Bs. He was looking specifically at pre-1900s buildings — not because he’s partial to the Victorian style, but because homes built before that time were generally solid structures, built to be around for a while.
“The 19th-century homes were created in a way that lasted,” he says. “I wanted to bring them up to modern efficiency, using wind-source credits, double-paned windows, low-flow showers and toilets, R-49 value insulation and, eventually, zero waste.”
A green goal
Yes, zero waste. Milan’s goal for his B&B venture was to convert the old homes into models of green living — but without the holier-than-thou overtones. “You don’t have to build a new LEEDS [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] building to be structurally efficient,” he says. “We wanted to create a green model in an inn that included scratch cooking, gardens and environmental amenities, things that a person could consider taking home and do oneself. We didn’t want to be preachy; we just wanted to show people some accessible options.”
The Queen Anne in Denver is an easy place to stay. At the entrance, a wall is given over to a scripted quote by Wendell Barry about the vitality of community. The rooms are far more spacious than you might find in a regular hotel, if a bit on the eccentric side. (Milan has invited local artists to design four of them in their entirety and others, in part. There is no unifying style.)
The breakfast part of the B&B is exceptional. Milan is at the stove, cooking for guests as they emerge from their bedrooms and move toward the coffee and tea. One morning on a recent stay, we had plush, deep waffles with a starburst of fresh strawberries, blueberries, real maple syrup and the most heavenly yogurt (produced in Colorado). The next morning Milan made light, crisp parathas (Indian breads), which he served with organic eggs scrambled with herbs from the garden and an intense cilantro salsa, a recipe from his mother. You can have breakfast seated around the big round table with other guests, or, if you don’t feel chatty, you can migrate to the back-yard garden with its beds of flowers, herbs and vegetables.
Not only were old, tired gardens transformed into beautiful landscapes of flowers, herbs and vegetables, all garden and kitchen waste is made into compost — 550 pounds last year — for the those gardens. Local artists made all the art and furniture. Milan aims to source 20 percent of the food he cooks from the inn’s small gardens, and everything else is Colorado sourced. He has recently acquired a lease shared with three other parties on 15,000 square feet of land kitty-corner to the inn (called Moon Dog Farms) and is now using the land to grow more vegetables. (He plans to start a business making unpasteurized sauerkraut and pickles from cabbage he grows there. After getting his degree at the Natural Gourmet in New York, Milan worked with Rick’s Picks, where he learned to make pickles.)
“The city built the beds, provided the planting soil mix. We pay for the irrigation,” he says. “Produce Denver is doing the gardening. The concept is to create a new generation of urban farmers and to change the idea that food has to be grown outside urban areas instead of inside them.”
Urban farms, rather than gardens, are about bringing efficiency to growing food and doing it at a scale that can support local business, like the inn and restaurants.
All these activities support the idea of the inn as a business that’s putting its environmental impact first. “Basically, we’re trying to change the options that people have. In the hotel world, no one talks about wanting an environmental hotel; they don’t really seek it out. But I want people to steal this idea. I don’t want to franchise it.” As the last lines of their mission statement say, “At the Queen Anne, we don’t believe that comfort has to be sacrificed to create a sustainable, eco-friendly stay. Here you will find the best of both worlds.”
Zester Daily contributor Deborah Madison is the author many books on food and cooking, including “The Greens Cookbook” and “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers Markets.” Her latest book is “Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market.”
Photo: Queen Anne Inn in Denver. Credit: Deborah Madison