Ovolo in Hong Kong already began its vegetarianism journey in early 2019 at Veda at Ovolo Central, the city’s first fully-vegetarian hotel restaurant. Drawing in gourmands from near and far, the eatery quickly became a cult favourite, serving impeccable plant-focused dining in an intimate setting. The boutique hotel group has just announced that it will implement these initiatives at all of its hotels, restaurants, bars, and room services for a fully-vegetarian movement.
The initiative will extend to Australia, with Ovolo’s Australian locations going plant-based for the year to align with “Year of the Veg”. The world’s first hotel group to go fully vegetarian reigns in a lot of new and exciting concepts and menus. We speak to Ovolo Group’s Founder and CEO, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, on the incentive behind the vegetarian concept, how the consumer shift to plant-based dining has evolved over the years, and what to expect on a stay at one of Ovolo’s properties.
Tell us about your life before Ovolo Hotels. I was born and raised in Hong Kong, spending most of my life here before I graduated high school and went to study at USC. After graduating, my first career move was taking over my father’s watch manufacturing business. Eventually, I decided to sell this business. It was a very difficult decision for me to make but I remember the exact moment that it hit me—I was walking down the street one day and heard someone ask, “what’s the time?” to which
someone else takes out their phone and responds, “12:30”. That’s when I realised that watches were no longer the primary timekeeping tool. So, I quit the business.
Life was comfortable, but I wanted some change. People thought I was crazy, but my gut just told me to do it. I’ve always followed my gut, and it’s taken me this far. Hospitality was always a dream of mine, but funnily enough, I stumbled upon it by accident. My wife was looking for a location for her restaurant at 2 Arbuthnot Road, and funnily enough, not only was the restaurant space for sale, but so was the entire building. I followed my gut, bought the building, and it became Ovolo Central—our flagship hotel.
What was the incentive behind opening Ovolo Hotels? I had a vision for effortless living and full inclusivity. People called me a disruptor—but that’s not how I saw myself. I simply created my ideas based on things that angered me—it was about finding things that I disliked, things that provoked me to create something better. Ovolo’s ethos is effortless living and is inspired by everything that my previous hotel stays were not—effortless; all the nickel and diming and frustrations that I endured. Essentially, I believe the hotel industry needed disruption. The model hadn’t changed in a long time, and its traditional way of things made life difficult. I wanted to create something unique. That’s what inspired me to start Ovolo Hotels.
How has the consumer shift in demand towards a more plant-based diet changed over the past decade? We’ve seen a huge attitude shift towards vegetarianism over the last couple of years. As people around the world become more educated and more aware of not just the health implications but also the environmental impact of consuming meat, vegetarianism has skyrocketed. So, our most recent shift into full vegetarian dining embodies our philosophy of connecting with our customers’ demands. More of our consumers are choosing to reap the benefits of plant-based and vegetarian cuisine, and we want our guests and diners to be able to nourish their bodies with meat-free meals. We’ve taken the lead from Veda and Alibi—both plant-based restaurants that have proven very successful since their openings. They were the seed that grew into a success story, paving the way for Ovolo to have the confidence to become fully vegetarian.
What does ethical eating mean to you? To me, there are many layers of ethical eating. I’ve been a vegetarian my entire life, and not only do I choose to stick by this philosophy because I believe plant-based ingredients are the most nourishing for your body, but also because it is environmentally conscious and sustainable. To me, ethics not only means treating your environment and those around you with care but also treating yourself with care by putting the best ingredients inside your body.
What do you hope guests take away from their stay? I hope that guests experience a lot more to a hotel stay than just a bed and a transaction. Many people nowadays book a hotel simply because they need a place to sleep, and that remains their expectation for the remainder of their stay. Hospitality is so much more than that, and with initiatives that we do like Social Hour and Quarantine Concierge, I hope that our guests take away exactly what it is—not just a stay, but a hospitality experience.
What can we look forward to next at Ovolo Hotels? There’s a lot that we are working on at the moment—as always! We’re amplifying a lot of our more popular packages, as well as working on the launch of our upcoming hotels in South Yarra, Melbourne, and Bali. Lots to come!
How do you overcome one obstacle you encounter daily? I have these philosophies that I consider my 4 Ps—be patient, positive, persistent, and don’t procrastinate. These help me guide a lot of the decisions that I make whether it be business or personal. Being patient is one of the biggest ones. Hong Kong has been through a lot this year and it’s heavily impacted everyone’s lives; there were times when I was in despair. However, I remained patient and I knew better times would come.
What are some of your recommendations on the new menu at Komune? I recommend our new signature dish, the Charred Guacamole with Tomato Waffle. This dish is a tribute to the iconic and classic egg waffles. The Guac, which is everyone’s favourite, is a playful and interactive dish where we char the avocado on our charcoal grill to achieve the perfect Umami between the sweetness of the tomato and the smokiness of the Avo.
What are your recommendations at Veda? At Veda, I’d like to recommend our best-seller, the Aloo Gobi. This dish is our take on a popular Indian dish. This is a whole baked cauliflower head covered in a finger-licking curry, roasted potatoes, and crunchy nuts. My other favourites include the Charred Cherry Tomatoes served over cold melting yogurt, the Truffled Polenta Bites, and the Silk Route Momos.