Hay … what’s that in your drink? Restaurant turns to wheat straw alternative

The great plastic straw debate – to use them or lose them in the name of the environment – has spawned a new entrant for restaurants: a hay straw.

Or, rather, a straw straw, a drinking tube made from a wheat stem.

Pretty different, right? That’s why Lindsay Bennett, owner of Press 626 in Norfolk and Press Wine Bar in Virginia Beach, bought them despite the higher price tag. They’re 8 cents per straw, versus the usual penny or so for a plastic one that can’t be recycled and isn’t biodegradable.

Being green has always been baked into Bennett’s restaurants. Bennett, who has a degree in biology with an emphasis in environmental science, already uses empty wine bottles as water carafes and asks staff to bring in their empty plastic bags from shopping trips to use for take-out orders and customer leftovers.

She had also foregone straws altogether several years ago but customers, well, thought that sucked. So she got paper straws.

“I got more complaints about those than not having straws at all,” she said. She was still researching a replacement when she happened to see hay straws while visiting a Michelin-rated restaurant in San Francisco in September.

“They stood out. They were different, and they made a statement,” Bennett, who introduced the straws a few weeks ago, wrote in an email. “Yes, they’re pricey too, but HEY!”

Or … “hay!”

“Our business is by the pennies,” said Bennett, acknowledging that the extra cost adds up. But if she’s going to spend that kind of money, she wants it to be “eclectic and eccentric.”