The Salmonberry Saloon has a lot to celebrate. This spring the Wheeler-based restaurant saw its first anniversary along with an award from the James Beard Foundation. Salmonberry Saloon is the first restaurant on the Oregon Coast and the only Oregon restaurant outside of Portland to be named a “Smart Catch Leader” by the national culinary organization.

The James Beard Smart Catch program, a national educational sustainable seafood program, was created with the purpose of increasing sustainability in the seafood supply chain and celebrates stewards of sustainable seafood.

“The idea for Smart Catch is simple and powerful: the program provides training and support to chefs so they can serve seafood fished or farmed in environmentally-responsible ways,” the organization’s website reads. “By becoming a Smart Catch Leader and earning the Smart Catch seal, chefs give consumers a simple way to identify and support their restaurants.”

However, Salmonberry Saloon co-owner Chantelle Hylton will tell you sustainability is business as usual for her and co-owner Patrick Rock.

“It’s really a form of activism for us. It’s truly the only way we could do it,” she says.

Hylton says the Salmonberry Saloon menu is focused on seafood and seasonal vegetables, and changes often depending on what’s good and fresh. She and Rock source as many of the ingredients as they can from local farms and fisher folk.

“That is the crux of the reason we are doing this: to use the restaurant as a vessel to put money back into the community and our friends.”

Restaurants applying for James Beard Smart Catch certification are evaluated for the kind of fish they serve and how it is caught — two elements measuring sustainability — as well as the number and volume of so-called “red” items. Red items are farmed or fished items designated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch as overfished or produced in ways that are environmentally unsound. To get the Smart Catch certification, a restaurant must receive an 80 percent score on two back-to-back assessments. Salmonberry Saloon received a perfect score.

Sustainable sourcing, Hylton says, is good for business. She says those who come in looking for a cheap hamburger might be disappointed, but for many more the restaurant is a destination for those who value of sustainable, local food sources.

“The money is going right into the pocket of the rancher who is sitting at the bar having a beer,” she says.

Hylton is quick to point out that other restaurants on the Oregon Coast are following similar guidelines and have simply not applied for Smart Catch certification. She says sustainability is a North Coast movement.

“It’s cool to be the first but it’s more about what is going on out here on the Coast. It feels good to be a part of it.”

Photo by Robbie McClaran