Ovolo Group is in the year of vegetables

It was an exceptional gesture in an exceptional year.

Last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic was a difficult time for hotels and restaurants, but in October, on World Vegetarian Day, which is celebrated on the first day of this month every year, the Ovolo group , based in Hong Kong, has changed all of its hotels and restaurants. Australia and Hong Kong will go vegetarian for the next 365 days.

The only restaurants in its exempt portfolio are those that were already vegan and avoided all meat, fish, dairy and eggs.

Casually dubbed “the year of vegetables,” the idea came straight from the top: from the founder and CEO of Ovolo Group, Girish Jhunjhnuwala.

“It was a bold move,” said Jhunjhnuwala, speaking by phone from Hong Kong. “But the initial feedback was positive and immediately the reaction was very encouraging. So even though it was a bold move, we knew it was the right move. “

Ovolo Group food and beverage director Vince Lombino hesitated at first.

“We had the blockages to deal with and the COVID thing, so it was already a tough year. I asked myself, do we want to alienate a large demographic? We had to be realistic about our expectations, ”said the 30-year hospitality industry veteran, speaking from Australia.

“But we had just opened a vegetarian restaurant and found that once we started pumping, we had to get ahead of the rest of the market. So we said to ourselves: let’s do it and do it really well, ”adds the native of California.

The pandemic actually influenced Jhunjhnuwala, a longtime vegetarian, to make the decision: “At the start of COVID, there was a lot of talk about its transmission from animals,” he says. “We were convinced that we had to stop this mistreatment of animals and do the right thing. “

President Joe Biden has asked the intelligence community for a report on the probable origins of COVID-19 as questions mount as to whether the virus was the result of an accident in a Chinese laboratory or whether it had spread by other means.

Ovolo Group is privately held and includes 11 hotels and eight restaurants in Hong Kong and Australia. This year, a new hotel in Melbourne and one in Bali will be added to the portfolio.

Sustainability already plays an important role in Jhunjhnuwala’s business decisions, including avoiding single-use plastics in properties, for example. And ethical food, both human and environmental, is part of it.

A 2019 report from the United Nations Environment Program indicates that agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels, and that commercial livestock farming contributes to the destruction of habitat and land. biodiversity. Overfishing, warming oceans and pollution are leading to contaminated fish and smaller stocks, including some species, such as the once abundant Atlantic cod, are in danger of extinction.

“You feel like you’re doing something good for the community and supporting sustainability,” says Jhunjhnuwala of the vegetarian initiative.

However, the main thing is tasty dishes: “We put ourselves in this place to be challenged,” explains Lombino. “If you want to do it, you have to bring it in and make it fantastic.”

Jhunjhnuwala believes that more and more people are open to a plant-based diet. “We thought we would have hindsight, but there wasn’t,” he recalls. “In Hong Kong, we had a small wedding party, only 24 people, all socially distanced, and they deliberately chose a full vegan reception. They were just locals, not health freaks. “

Year of the Veg doesn’t meet the United Nations recommendations for eliminating dairy products, but Jhunjhnuwala thinks it’s best to have vegetarian and vegan options right now. Once the vegetable year’s effort is over, 70% of Ovolo Group’s menus will remain vegetarian, he says.

“So far, everything is fine,” Jhunjhnuwala says. “We are extremely happy with the way this has turned out and see no reason why we shouldn’t continue in one form or another.”

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