Locals Collective is a coffee shop and community space in Rockaway Beach, New York where you can do everything from enjoy an iced coffee to join a beach cleanup to even store your surfboard. The Surfrider Foundation New York City Chapter sat down with co-founder, Mike Reinhardt, to talk about the shop, the community, and what it takes to be an Ocean Friendly Restaurant.
Q: What inspired you to open your restaurant?
Mike: We started with Locals Surf School 11 years ago. Our area of the Rockaways (the 60’s) used to be pretty desolate. Then slowly people discovered that it was actually easier to get here by subway than the 90’s where everyone was used to going, but there was no infrastructure to make it nice; no place to eat or hang out. My business partner (Mike Kololyan) and I knew there was an opportunity to do something more than just the school. We took over a commercial space and started our coffee shop. We’ve built a brand around Locals by building a community. That’s what we value most. We are one of the connecting agents in our neighborhood. The shop hosts monthly beach cleanups, yoga classes and breath holding workshops for people who want to work on their water safety. It also has surf lockers!
Q: What sustainability efforts do you have in place?
Mike: In the shop, we were one of the early adopters of going totally strawless, which was a really hard thing to do at the time. Initially, we got some complaints, but now people are on board. Instead, we offer sippy lids. We only use sustainable, eco-friendly to-go products like utensils and boxes. Overall though, we try to encourage people to stay and eat at the shop since we have reusable glassware and cutlery.
In the community, we organize beach cleanups once a month. And at the surf school, especially for the kids camp, we build in programming on the environment so kids can learn about how to keep the ocean clean and what that looks like. For example, Monday will be intro day, Tuesday will be technique day, then we’ll have a day on the environment. “Take three for the sea” is a slogan we use all the time to encourage everyone to grab at least three pieces of trash off the beach whenever they’re down there. Finally, Piping Plovers are an important part of the local ecosystem and they are endangered so we always support groups doing work with them.
Q: How and why did you join the OFR program?
Mike: We had partnered with Surfrider on events in the past and we got to know some of the Chapter’s volunteers. Moe [Magali] approached us about the OFR program at one point. He came to the shop and explained the program to us over coffee. We signed up right away.
Q: Do you have advice for restaurants wanting to adopt more sustainable practices?
Mike: First of all, I totally understand the dilemma of restaurants and sustainability—our margins are thin and every penny counts. It is really hard to run a small business like this; you have to dial down all your costs and the eco-friendly items are more expensive. It’s a tough decision for many people. That said, the OFR program is realistic and practical. You can work toward some of the criteria over time. I’d also say, as the consumer appetite for these things grows, eco-friendly products and practices are going to get more and more affordable. Maybe your restaurant can’t get away with not offering straws so maybe you meet your customer halfway and only offer biodegradable straws. Customers now are usually delightfully surprised when they find a business that is trying to do better whether that is socially, environmentally, etc.
New York is interesting too because when you aren’t near the Rockaways, you aren’t as aware of the ocean. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter though. You don’t have to be a surfer. If you’ve ever come to the Rockaways, if you’ve ever had a good time here, you should care about this beach too.
Q: Anything else you want to share?
Mike: We are always campaigning for people to engage with the beach all year round. The surf school is open all year round and yes, the water is cold out of season but it’s a matter of perception! We provide super warm, comfortable wetsuits. The boardwalk is a beautiful place to go for a walk even in the winter too. And the coffee shop is a great place to hang out and get involved in something. Come discover what it means to be a part of the local surf culture and the neighborhood culture.
Questions and responses compiled by Molly MacPherson.