I love Cafe Lohas. Probably, I eat there more often than I should but I just can’t help it. I like it not because it is a vegan restaurant (I am not a vegan myself), but because they serve large amounts of vegetables, a scarce good here in Mongolia. And I love it because they care about the environment. When you walk in their restaurant you will notice, as I did, a few eco-friendly initiatives:
- Use of compostable items like paper bags, straws and bamboo utensils instead of plastic.
- You are encouraged to bring your own container.
- They don’t sell bottled water, you can get a glass for free from their water dispenser.
- Promotion of healthy eating habits.
- They support like-minded local businesses by promoting their eco-friendly products in their venue.
Unfortunately, even for a capital city like UB, this type of environment is not a common sight. So, I was intrigued by the people behind the management of this cafe and contacted them. I got in touch with the owner, Zola, and she agreed to meet me and tell me more about her business. I have to say, I am so glad that we met! Zola is a young Mongolian woman surrounded by a halo of positivity. Her face just lights up when she talks about her projects and all the thought she has put into every detail: from the big table where strangers sit together in a shareable space, to the design of the cookie bags.
During our interview, I learnt that Cafe Lohas does so much more than meets the eye. So here I am, ready to share and spread the good vibes I get from this cafe so that you can feel them too! 😀
ABOUT THE BUSINESS
Lohas is a business that was started by Zola, who became vegan around 15 years ago. She opened a Loving Hut (vegan restaurant franchise) in Russia but after a while, she thought it would be a good idea to bring veganism to her home country. Her Mongolian journey began with a small factory that made vegan cookies. Today, Veg Art Naturals cookies are sold in all the main supermarkets. Three years later her company has grown bigger with the addition of meat substitute food production, another Loving Hut franchise and Lohas Cafe. Despite the fact that there is not much profit in the restaurants, Zola wanted to show Mongolians that vegan food is healthy, tasty and can be enjoyed by anybody.
Their food can be described as vegan food for wellness. They use natural, local ingredients and superfoods like chia or flax seeds. All meals are perfectly balanced and have one superfood as an ingredient.
When talking to Zola, she reflected on Mongolian traditional lifestyle, how it used to be environmentally friendly and balanced. Nowadays, with the sudden shift in lifestyle, especially in the city, things are changing fast. There are more processed foods, more waste… people are leaving a bigger carbon footprint than 20 years ago and they are not noticing. Zola wants to go back to basics and bring positivity to Mongolians through simple, quality foods.
Lohas cafe is actively fighting the plastic war. They have gotten rid of plastic bags, cutlery and some containers. In Zola’s words “we are trying to go as plastic-free as safely possible”. There is still a long way to go but they constantly keep trying new ideas. Their next step is trying to change the plastic container in which their delicious raw cakes come in. “It is difficult to tackle that problem because if customers cannot see the product, they will not buy it, so we need a transparent container for that purpose”.
Locally sourced ingredients
If you look at the items on their menu, you will notice that most of the ingredients can be found locally all year long. Lohas only uses vegetables sourced from local farms and greenhouses and their own plot of land, where they grow beets, carrots and potatoes. In fact, the company has a contract with the project Mongol Vegetables, an initiative carried out by the Swiss Cooperation in Mongolia. The rest of the ingredients like nuts, seeds or avocados have to be imported from other countries.
At their factory, there is a waste management strategy in place. They have waste separation and recycling collection. But for me, the most awesome thing is that they compost their vegan cookies. All of their manufactured products are preservative-free so they tend to spoil in a short period of time. The cookies that are returned from the supermarkets are given to animals as feed. I love the idea of food not going to waste!
At employee level, they also try to instil best practices in the small details. An example is the signs they have placed next to the light switches to remind the staff to turn the lights off.
ALL ABOUT THEIR EMPLOYEES
When I asked Zola what she was the proudest of, she answered without hesitation: her team. We did not go into specifics, but she mentioned that the company uses a western approach to manage human resources. She cares about her 60 employees and says they receive a lot of support. One of the things the company does is to organise workshops for workers. In those workshops, employees learn about healthy lifestyle and green practices.
In some marketing events, Lohas has given donations to local collectives in need.
SUPPORT GREEN RESTAURANTS
For all of the above, I think Lohas deserves your business. If you live in UB, bring your container. If you are visiting, I am sure you will appreciate a meal with greens in abundance, especially if you come from a long period of time in the countryside.
I really hope that green practices like the ones we have talked about spread around other restaurants throughout the city. I believe that if people favour restaurants like Lohas, other places will take note and start to amp up their game.