You may know Jessica Waite from her plant-based, zero-waste restaurant The Plot, or as president of the Berry Good Food Foundation, but this changemaker has had quite a journey.
Waite had aspirations for a career in the healthcare industry, but as an advocate for local food and climate health, she wanted to find a different way to inspire healthy living and incite change. In 2013, Waite and her now-husband (and chef) Davin Waite opened Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside. Davin’s rich culinary inspiration and support for community-driven food combined with Jessica’s ambition to make an impact led them to create their punk-rock sushi restaurant, which has been consistently recognized as a top San Diego foodie destination. Waite witnessed the positive effects an impact-driven small business can have on a community through collaboration and cites this experience as the seed that would eventually grow into The Plot.
While attending business school at Pepperdine, Waite studied conscious capitalism. Combined with her passion for plant-based eating, community, and a sustainable food system, she began plotting steps to build her vision.
Creating a restaurant concept built on a zero-waste ethos requires the implementation of a lot of new practices. Waite says, “There’s always going to be a solution if you’re creative enough.” The Plot works with six local regenerative farms, including Agua Dulce, Community Roots, Sage Hill Ranch Gardens, and Sand n’ Straw. They also source as many local products as possible from businesses like Mindful Mushrooms and San Diego Soy Dairy.
The greatest opportunities to reduce waste happen in the kitchen. The Plot kitchen diverts 100% of their waste from landfills, meaning nothing that goes into the kitchen ends up in the trash. Scraps created during the culinary process are creatively repurposed, and this practice can be seen throughout the menu: The popular takoyaki balls, for example, are prepared with celery root pulp, and they turn leftover rice into syrup for dressings. After working with the City of Oceanside to find a location, the Waites landed on a site merely steps from Wrench and Rodent, and The Plot began to materialize. Growing ingredients on-site was always part of the plan, but it was pure kismet that the chosen location included a small residence with a yard. This space set the stage for the Plot Garden Project.
Sourcing local ingredients is an important practice in supporting a regenerative food community, and by luck or destiny, Jessica and Davin met Bianca Bonilla of Community Roots Farm and Radicle Botanical when she showed up on their back patio at Wrench and Rodent with fresh produce to sell. The relationship started with sourcing and grew into composting the restaurant’s food waste at the farm. Now, combined efforts have led to the creation of the Plot Garden.
Bonilla, who is also executive director of nonprofit Botanical Community Development Initiatives, compares tending a garden to nurturing relationships among plants and people. The Plot Garden is primarily a culinary endeavor, designed with promoting collaboration between the cooks and gardeners in mind. This helps to create the planting vision. Chefs have learned to begin their inventory process in the garden and pull menu inspiration from the plants, and then Bonilla and the garden team plant items requested by the kitchen team. The Plot is currently sourcing 20 to 30% of its produce from the garden, which positively impacts the bottom line while lowering the potential for negative impact on the environment.
The chilacayote squash, a delicious and unique crop introduced by Bonilla, has become a part of many dishes. The beautifully vibrant garden beds are overflowing with herbs, greens, and edible flowers. You can see clover plants sprinkled throughout to help regenerate the soil. While enjoying the flavors of the garden you’ll find planters of herbs and Okinawan spinach around the restaurant’s patio space, and you might even catch chef Ryan Orlando harvesting in the middle of a dinner rush. “Through our relationship with plants we can strengthen ourselves and our relationships with each other, which in turn strengthens our broader environmental and social landscapes,” Bonilla says.
And that’s exactly what this project is: a personal vision turned into an incredible community effort, inspiring a food revolution, and making change.
Published in the print edition of Edible San Diego's fall 2022 issue.