Earlier this month, the UC Santa Barbara branch of the Surfrider Foundation awarded Cajé with an Ocean Friendly Restaurant certification, making Cajé the first nationally recognized sustainable dining location in Isla Vista.

Cajé is the first restaurant in Isla Vista to earn Ocean Friendly Restaurant status. Michelle Sharp / Daily Nexus

To be designated as an Ocean Friendly Restaurant (OFR), a restaurant has to commit to a series of sustainable practices as set forth by the OFR program’s requirement sheet, including eliminating the use of polystyrene products and plastic bags, adhering to proper recycling practices and providing reusable foodware to patrons dining in the restaurant.

Additionally, restaurants are required to serve vegan and vegetarian-friendly options and provide a discount to patrons who bring their own cups and containers.

And as of earlier this month, Cajé is doing all of these things.

According to manager Troy Yamasaki, the decision to make Cajé more sustainable was a long time in the making. He said he believes that businesses need to step up to provide their patrons with sustainable options, especially in a town as environmentally conscious as I.V.

“There is something to be said about the people who did it when it was the right thing to do and not the optimal thing to do according to market demand,” Yamasaki said.

Daniela Schwartz, co-leader of the OFR program within the UCSB Surfrider branch, echoed Yamasaki’s words: “Young people are always looking to do environmentally friendly things that are good for our planet.”

According to Surfrider’s website, the perks of being OFR-certified include national recognition on Surfrider social media, logos and other marketing materials, launch parties, collaborative promotions and, in some cases, tax-deductible contributions.

Surfrider was founded in 1984 to protect ocean health, according to the website. The organization focuses on water quality, beach access and preservation and the protection of marine ecosystems.

One of the ways it operates is through the OFR program, which, according to the website, was founded in 2010 to combat the disposal of single-use plastics by restaurants. The program “increases awareness, drives behavior change, and ultimately creates scalable impact to reduce our plastic footprint.”

According to Schwartz, restaurants in I.V. are reluctant to commit to OFR status because there is an assumption that sustainable practices are expensive and exhaustive. This widely held belief is perhaps rooted in the fee associated with becoming an OFR, Schwartz said.

Schwartz explained that the OFR fee is $62.50 per year, and that the cost of committing to sustainable products does not make a difference in the broader financial success of restaurants. Cajé made minimal changes in order to receive OFR status, with the most significant being the elimination of polystyrene products and plastic bags, Yamasaki said.

While Yamasaki agreed that attaining OFR status was not a financial burden for Cajé, he said that while the current demand for sustainable dining practices is still small, “the market will demand it eventually and we are already seeing small shifts. The awareness is there and appreciated, but as far as actively producing new sales, we are on the cusp.”

Although Cajé is the first restaurant in I.V. to receive OFR status, there are other OFR certified restaurants in Goleta and downtown Santa Barbara, including Mesa Burger, Jane at the Marketplace, Old Town Coffee, the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach and the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

Moving forward, Schwartz hopes that making Cajé more sustainable will produce a domino effect in I.V.

“We are hoping to move beyond coffee shops to get a real restaurant [to become OFR certified],” she said.

Schwartz and her team have presented the benefits of being OFR certified to the managers of Silvergreens and South Coast Deli in hopes that they will soon follow suit.

While Schwartz thinks that it is unrealistic for all I.V. restaurants to become OFR certified, she believes that the OFR program is gaining traction this year.

“Good habits that begin with OFR get carried on throughout life. The ball is rolling. We are hoping to get in touch with more restaurants as the year goes on, and to spread the word about being more sustainable in any way we can,” Schwartz said.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 21, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.