Conquering a 6000-person Spaghetti Dinner with Nearly Zero Waste

It’s that time of year again: the snow has melted, the sun is out, another wave of graduations has come to a close and Canal Park has become sprightly with visitors, all indicators that Duluth’s signature event Grandma’s Marathon has arrived at our doorstep.

Grandma’s Marathon brings over 18,000 runners from all over the world to the Twin Ports. Since 1977, Marathon runners have the opportunity to fuel for the race at the annual Michelina’s All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Dinner.

The Spaghetti Dinner takes place at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in the Pioneer Hall providing 48,000 square feet of space, and fueling anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 guests annually.  On average 40,000 meatballs, 5,000 pounds of Michelina’s spaghetti sauce, and 2,500 pounds of noodles are consumed. The sheer scale of the event is a massive undertaking. In order to be efficiently executed, the event utilizes approximately 60 volunteers in addition to DECC and Grandma’s Marathon staff.

Imagine feeding 6,000 guests. Now, imagine the staggering amount of waste potential.


Environmental sustainability is a shared core value of Grandma’s Marathon and the DECC. Since 2003, the DECC has maintained a steadfast focus on sustainable practices. Together with Grandma’s Marathon,

today we are conquering an annual 6000-person Spaghetti Dinner with nearly zero waste.


Many steps have been taken to improve and grow our sustainability efforts that translate into today’s waste-free Spaghetti Dinner.

  • All post-consumed food is composted.

  • Remaining pre-consumed food (food that never was served) is donated to the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank.

  • All plates, paper cups and ice cream spoons are composted.

  • Dinner utensils are recycled.

  • Individually foil-wrapped butters have been replaced with unwrapped butter balls served on plates at each table.

  • Tables are covered with a special vinyl tablecloth that makes them very easy to clean the surface and reuse between guests.

    This eliminates waste in laundering and waste of single-use tablecloths.

In addition to the Spaghetti Dinner,

  • Any race packets that remain (distributed at the DECC) are disassembled and the components are either recycled or reused.


Because of these efforts and more, the Spaghetti Dinner proudly operates on a minimal waste platform.

This weekend will mark the 42nd Annual Grandma’s Marathon race and Michelina’s All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Dinner. The dinner will be held this Friday, June 21st from 11am-to 9pm at the Pioneer Hall at the DECC. Admission is open to the public, $14.00 for adults, $7 for kids ages 5 – 12 and children 4 and under eat for free. Grandma’s Marathon will take place Saturday June 22nd 2019.  For more information, visit


Photo credit Grandma’s Marathon


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