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Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar was Pennsylvania’s first certified green restaurant, and continues its East Coast expansion.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Kids’ default answers usually range from firefighter to ballerina to astronaut. But until the popularity of cooking shows peaked, very few kids wanted to be chefs.
Gary Huether was one of the kids who always knew he’d end up in the restaurant industry.
“When I was in high school and college I worked in restaurants,” he shared during a chat with BOSS. “I enjoyed the dining out experience and working in the industry. One of my hobbies to this day is cooking, and I am also a craft beer enthusiast.”
His path to owning a restaurant deviated during college when he was offered the opportunity to open a franchise location in Maryland outside the hospitality industry.
Huether always dreamed about starting a restaurant franchise and seeing it grow across the nation.
His chance came when, in 2008, an opportunity arose to take over ownership of a sports bar. The bones of the restaurant were already there, and Huether could see his dream falling into place.
Today, Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar has 15 locations throughout New England and the Northeast U.S. but Huether and Arooga’s route to franchising wasn’t typical.
While it wasn’t organic growth that led to franchising, it required just as much work. In 2010, Sysco Foods and Franchise Edge held a contest to determine America’s Next Top Restaurant Franchise, which the brand entered and won, triumphing over 240 restaurants and the 25 finalists. Arooga’s grand prize included assistance and the money it takes to become a franchised organization.
What made Arooga’s stand out?
“The judges commented that the reason we won was that we were able to operate as both a restaurant and a bar. It’s difficult to operate in both spaces simultaneously.
“We pride ourselves on our appeal to all walks of life, and all ages,” Huether continued. “You can walk into any Arooga’s and see families in the dining room, then go to the bar and find blue collar workers, business professionals, moms and dads, and twenty-somethings. We love that. That diversity and allure to everyone is what we’re all about and what makes our brand so unique.”
Plant-Based Wings and Burgers
On top of being able to operate successfully as both a bar and a restaurant, there are other surprises folded into the menu at Arooga’s. The brand was the first green restaurant in Pennsylvania history.
A proponent of environmental responsibility, Huether and his team have made it their mission to do all that they can in order to reduce their carbon footprint, and continue to look for ways to improve operations to minimize their impression on the environment.
“As we continue to grow, we make more of an impact on the planet,” he shared. “It’s up to us to continue to refine our operations to make sure that we are a green as possible while still giving our customers what they want every time they come in the door.
“It’s important to me personally that we operate in this way.”
Patrons of Arooga’s can soon feast on the Impossible Burger—the famous plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and taste like meat. Eating one Impossible Burger instead of a conventional ground beef burger saves the water equivalent of a 10-minutes shower and the gas emissions of a five-mile drive. Livestock, and cows particularly, are a huge contributor to emissions affecting climate change.
November of 2017 will see a great vegetarian option—plant-based boneless wings—added to the menu as well.
“I’ve tested this menu item on a few people, not telling them it’s not chicken. Once tossed in wing sauce and served like boneless chicken wings, they could not tell the difference,” Huether said. “We even tested this product at a local vegetarian festival, and received rave reviews and generated tons of excitement and anticipation for this new product. This alternative is great for meat lovers and vegetarians alike.”
On the other side of the protein spectrum, Arooga’s signature burgers are made with fresh, not-frozen beef from Wagyu cattle that are grain fed, humanely raised, receive no antibiotics ever, and are produced with no added hormones or steroids. Burgers made with this premium beef are juicier, more flavorful, and higher quality than regular beef patties.
A majority of the organization’s protein is antibiotic free. The chicken breast is free-range, eggs are from cage-free hens, and the pulled pork is sustainably raised with no antiobiotics, ever.
Unique Beer and Liquor Experiences
Although Arooga’s doesn’t brew its own beer or distill its own vodka on site, it has partnered with several breweries and a distillery to produce its own alcoholic beverage products off-site, and the company has both for sale in its restaurants.
Arooga’s extensive draft beer list and craft beer offerings have contributed to the brand’s success and growth, and its inclusion of proprietary beers to its draft line-up, ranging from local small batches released throughout the year to its signature Arooga Light, guarantees that guests will have the opportunity to try a signature Arooga’s beer at any location along with their favorites.
The brand’s Sagoora Vodka was a passion project of Huether's.
“I’m a vodka drinker, and have brought that passion to our Sagoora Premium Vodka,” he shared.
Sagoora Premium is a non-GMO corn vodka that is gluten free and, according to Huether, very smooth. The brand is going to be rolling out a new formula for its trademark vodka towards the end of this year, followed by a flavored vodka line utilizing all-natural ingredients in 2018.
Still wondering where the name Sagoora came from?
“It’s Arooga’s spelled backward. We like to say if the label looks like it say’s Arooga’s, you’ve had too much.”
Becoming a Green Restaurant
Food is only part of Arooga’s sustainable strategy. To become the first successful green restaurant in Pennsylvania, Huether and his team utilized the assets of the Green Restaurant Association.
“It was a great resource for us. The association saved us so much time—instead of searching out suppliers and the education in sustainability, we could find most of it through the Green Restaurant Association.”
The company’s energy management system not only saves them money but also monitors several data points—like temperature—and automates processes—like turning on the heat or air conditioning—to be energy efficient.
All soaps and cleaners are environmentally friendly. You won’t see a hint of styrofoam in any of Arooga’s locations: all to-go containers are recyclable or biodegradable. Used fry oil is not discarded but is instead turned into biodiesel. The new wood tables and cladding are from reclaimed sources. In the future, Huether and the brand are looking at the option of installing solar panels.
Arooga’s Green Culture Runs Deep
This young, passionate brand knows that to some, it appears to be trying to follow many of the trends other restaurant chains have glommed onto. But make no mistake, Arooga’s isn’t trend chasing: Huether and his brand are truly dedicated to the causes they champion, not because they’re popular, but because they are good, responsible choices that they believe in.
“We are passionate about this brand and the products we serve,” Huether shared. “We hope that is seen by others.”
*Some food items mentioned in the story will not be available until the launch of Arooga’s new menu on November 7, 2017
Arooga’s is a casual dining and sports bar concept based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, our first location opening in 2008. We opened with a passion to offer our guests more: more TV’s, more menu choices, and more technology, and our focus on excellence, guest experience, and brand evolvement has made Arooga’s one of the top 500 fastest growing franchises according to Entrepreneur Magazine, among FSR Magazine’s Top 50 Emerging Restaurant Chains, and “America’s Next Top Restaurant Franchise” by Sysco Foods and the Franchise Edge.
Our menu aims to please, and is sure to surprise with items such as our signature, no antibiotic ever Wagyu burgers, scratch-made appetizers, and of course, our five-time Buffalo Wing Festival award winning wings. All our items are made to order, and many contain USDA certified organic ingredients and all-natural ingredients or no antibiotics ever proteins where possible. We are certified by Beyond Celiac, and offer Gluten Free options for most of our menu and practice safe handling and preparation methods for gluten free items.
Most locations offer at least 40 draft beer selections, which include local breweries and high demand crafts, and all of our cocktails are hand crafted and prepared to order. We offer the latest trends in technology with partners such as Buzztime for table payment, trivia, and gaming, and Rockbot for music streaming and guest music engagement by a mobile app rather than a jukebox.
1591 S 19th St.
Harrisburg, PA 17104