Shana Dandeniya Talks Sustainability In The Restaurant Biz

Shana Dandeniya Talks Sustainability In The Restaurant Biz

This girl has got all the right moves. Can we be her already?!

PAMOD NILRU

With three cafés under her belt, Shana Dandeniya, Co-Founder and Director of Café Kumbuk, Kumbuk Kitchen and Plus Nine Four, is no stranger to employing sustainable practices into her businesses. Here, she shares what she and the team now do to help the community and our environment, and the subsequent domino effect they’re witnessing.

The beginning…

Shana was born in Australia but grew up in the UK, spending high school and university there. But she was always in and out of Sri Lanka even schooling here for two years when she was 13-years-old. “I’d be here twice a year if I could!” she laughed. “It’s something I always enjoyed, plus I already had friends here.”

So it made sense that when Shana decided to set up a business she’d choose her home away from home. In the final year of her advertising degree, Shana was tasked with creating a brand that she might see herself doing later.

“At the time, on paper Kumbuk was a completely different look and feel and wasn’t even called ‘Kumbuk’. When I came back to Sri Lanka, I took the concept and changed the name. I had this real want-to-do-it attitude, but I had no clue if I’d actually go ahead with it—I only had the design elements on paper. It was only when I got here and things started to fall into place did I realize I could actually do this,” explained Shana.

The ins and outs of sustainability 

PAMOD NILRU

When Shana first moved back, she didn’t set up Kumbuk right away. She began looking for jobs in advertising, and, instead, stumbled upon the Good Market where she worked for a few months as their communications coordinator. “Working with them taught me a lot about sustainability, being eco-friendly, and putting into practice small things that could change the overall scope,” revealed Shana.

“I already knew a few things, like plastic not being good for the environment, but it only hit home once I started working for the Good Market.” Using everything she learned, Shana put these into practice at Café Kumbuk and began educating people on becoming more environmentally conscious.

Agents of change

Trends come and go and Shana agrees that it’s now very trendy to be eco-friendly. However, for her (and her brand), it was never about being hip. It was about coming face-to-face with these issues and finding a way to create change. “We realized that if we don’t help educate and create awareness for problems like these, we weren’t doing our part. And, there was no point even running this business if we weren’t going to do it in a sustainable fashion,” she said.

Shana has implemented change where ever possible with her three restaurants. They’ve swapped out plastic straws for paper and stainless steel ones and have encouraged customers to bring their own reusable bottles by offering a 10% discount on the item purchased.

“We also work with Ananta Sustainables for our takeaway boxes and most of what we use is paper, but we do have foiled boxes and we’ve just learned that there is a plastic film that goes on at the top. So, we’re currently working towards eradicating that too.

Even with our takeaway coffee cups, the cup itself is paper, but the lid is plastic. We’re trying not to offer the lids to people, but if they want it we will give it. In the meantime, we’re working on an alternative,” explained Shana.

SHANA DANDENIYA
PAMOD NILRU

Looking beyond the cafés, Shana and the team have extended some of their sustainable practices to their market suppliers, too. “In the past, they were the number one candidates to bring plastic into the café with their fruits and vegetables,” she said. “So we took the time to provide our suppliers with reusable crates to bring in their produce. By doing this, we’ve eliminated a lot of plastic use.”

Forms of sustainability were even incorporated at the design stage of the café. When Shana and her mom set up Café Kumbuk, they went to auction houses and got secondhand furniture. A lot of the pieces in the restaurant were either repurposed or made from recycled items.

What’s more, the other businesses have seen their good work with Kumbuk and have started doing more themselves. “It’s fantastic and rewarding if you can create that domino effect, and that’s all we want, really. This also goes to show that these practices are worthwhile and they’re definitely making an impact,” remarked Shana.

Local produce

Making Sri Lankan produce more accessible to Sri Lankan consumers is another strong area of focus for the mother-daughter duo. “We knew you could put jackfruit, for example, into a curry, but we asked ourselves, ‘What else can we do with it and how can it become more accessible in the daily lives of people?’,” reflected Shana.

“I think this outlook of local produce really drove the idea of not doing the standard stuff people do with these vegetables and fruits, but to try and turn it on its head a little bit and come up with something quirky but still delicious!”

Next up…

Big changes are coming up for the team as the landmark location of Café Kumbuk, that we’ve all grown to love, will be moving later this year. “We’ve really become established in that space at Prana Lounge and it’s no easy feat to move something that’s working well. But I think because we’ve got a strong, loyal following, and as long as we keep our standards steady and make it bigger and better, people will still come where ever we are. That’s the next step!”

This article was originally published as “Eating Local: The Sustainability Shift” in the May 2019 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more on Shana Dandeniya and other great feature stories, grab a copy of our latest magazine on newsstands or subscribe here.

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