Windmills are to Austin Grill president Chris Patterson what soft-shell crabs are to a Maryland native: not too out-there a concept. Growing up in a small Iowa farming community, Patterson became familiar with using wind as an alternative to conventional electricity. It’s no wonder that in 2003 his six area Austin Grill locations became the first chain restaurants in the country to harness all of their power from wind, which is more environmentally friendly than other sources because there’s no pollution or waste from materials such as coal or oil.
According to the Austin Grill’s Web site, which offers a crash course in wind power, it doesn’t matter which way the wind’s blowing for the power supply to stay constant. The energy is collected and kept in a “power pool” that serves the regional electrical grid, and then Pepco allocates that power to the restaurants and other customers.
Although windmill-produced power is more expensive, Patterson is seeing improvements in the cost. When the restaurants first started using wind in 2003, it was $42,000 more per year than conventional electricity; last year, it was $20,000 more. The more others use it, the more the price will drop.
Another way Austin Grill is helping the environment: Starting on April 22—Earth Day—and running through Labor Day (September 1), it will offer a 10-percent discount on food to any customer who comes in with a SmartTrip or paper Metro card. With gas prices at their highest in the summer, the company hopes area residents will use mass transit to get their fajita fix.
Austin Grill locations are in Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, Old Town Alexandria, Springfield, and DC’s Penn Quarter.
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