Water Device Helps Eateries Cut Costs as They Rebuild

Inside Denver’s high-end boutique steakhouse, Urban Farmer, the lights were off, the booths were empty, and it was quiet the week of June 1, the silence a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.

But toward the back in the gleaming LoDo kitchen, a low-level whisper rose from a small device that was circulating water in a plastic pan on the stainless steel prep counter, washing a frozen beef tenderloin continuously and allowing it to quickly defrost, using less than one-tenth of the water that the eatery once used to do the same work.

The Boss Defrost, as the device is known, is the work of former Urban Farmer executive chef Chris Starkus and engineer Mac Marsh, who developed the technology to help restaurants cut their water use, reduce their operating costs, and shrink their carbon footprint.

Just two years old, the “boss” is a welcome grace note in a restaurant scene that has been bludgeoned with weeks of closures.

When Urban Farmer was forced to close March 13, there was a dash to take its signature organic, locally sourced, high-end meat and place it in freezers in an attempt to save some of what was being lost, according to current executive chef Erick Gamas.

Now, since the eatery has opened at limited capacity, the small device has been running almost full-time, bringing choice cuts of meat back to life.

“It feels good to be able to do this,” Gamas says. “We talk a lot about taking care of Mother Earth in this restaurant. With this, we are not wasting water.”

Boss Defrost co-founder Marsh says he was inspired to create the thawing device after working as a hotel engineer and noticing, over and over again, how much fresh water was wasted every day.

Designing and manufacturing this ultra-green commercial kitchen tool was almost a no-brainer.

“A single restaurant uses 1,000 gallons of water a day. It’s an unaddressed waste stream. But a lot of people don’t know this unless you’re working behind the scenes,” he says.

A normal defrosting process, where water from a tap is run over frozen food, uses 150 gallons an hour to thaw a pound of meat, Marsh says. The Boss Defrost reduces that to between 5 to 10 gallons per hour.

The Boss Defrost team believes the unit’s $300 price tag will encourage thousands of restaurants to see the benefits of the modest device. “That’s a drop in the bucket compared to most other costs restaurants see,” says Marsh.

Since its launch in 2019, the company has sold hundreds of units across Colorado and in more than 14 states.

Denver-based Potager chef Nick Brand bought one almost the minute he saw it work.

“Everybody in our back-of-the-house team loves it,” Brand says. “They are on board.”

Diana Starkus, chief marketing officer at the startup, said the full impact of the technology won’t be seen until it has found a place in every school cafeteria, hamburger joint, and pizza parlor.

“I would drop a Boss Defrost in every one of those places today,” she says.

This story originally appeared in Fresh Water News, an initiative of Water Education Colorado.