“Meaty” is a word that is often used when describing Polish cuisine, so you could be forgiven for thinking that vegetarians would have a tough time in Poland. The success of meat-free restaurant chain, Green Way would however suggest that more and more Poles are embracing a vegetarian way of life.
Text by Alison Hope
In a country renowned for its meaty stews, pork chops and sausages, you cannot fail to be impressed by the success of meat-free restaurant chain, Green Way. With 34 restaurants around the country, the Green Way logo is rapidly becoming a familiar sight in most Polish towns and cities. Established in 1997, the first Green Way restaurant was opened in the coastal resort of Sopot, and very quickly gained its popularity as somewhere for lunch or an early dinner. Founders, Jerzy Szkolnicki and Marek Chudzik believe that the popularity of their first restaurant was all down to serving generous portions of healthy yet tasty food, offering value for money and creating a warm and friendly atmosphere. “From the very beginning, our aim has always been to improve the quality of peoples’ lives” says Szkolnicki, “Offering truly delicious and healthy vegetarian fare has always been our highest priority. We knew that in order to run the restaurant
successfully, we need to provide absolutely tasty, healthy meals served in generous proportions at a reasonable price and with great service”.
Szkolnicki and Chudzik wanted to create more than just a restaurant serving meat-free dishes, they wanted to create the opportunity to challenge out-dated and often misinformed attitudes towards vegetarianism, and show just how satisfying a vegetarian diet could be. “Our aim was to give Polish people a chance to discover a variety of wonderful, nutritious dishes without animal cruelty. We wanted to reach out to all those who really care about health and living as cruelty free as possible”, explains Szkolnicki, who took inspiration from the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who was once quoted as saying "To be vegetarian means to lead a noble way of life". In short, vegetarianism is more than just a choice of diet.
The first Green Way restaurant quickly became popular with a young crowd, particularly with students, however it also appealed to a wider audience, attracting the tourists who would flock to Sopot, a popular coastal resort. Some came from other cities in Poland, such as Gdańsk, Kraków and Toruń, others from further afield. Szkolnicki recalls the feedback from those initial guests, “They were constantly telling us how Green Way was such a fantastic place, and how it would be great to have somewhere just like it, serving tasty vegetarian dishes in their home town.” Szkolnicki and Chudzik also received lots of positive feedback from foreign guests, who congratulated the duo on their vegetarian interpretation of international dishes.
Less than two years after the original Green Way restaurant had first opened its doors, a second restaurant was established, and further restaurants quickly followed. In 2000, Szkolnicki and Chudzik began franchising the Green Way concept, which led to them creating what was to become the largest exclusively vegetarian restaurant chain in the world. By December 2008, there were 34 Green Way restaurants, 3 organic bakeries and 2 Green Way Markets – health food shops. The Green Way concept has spread throughout Poland, and restaurants can now be found in towns and cities including Warsaw, Gdańsk, Bydgoszcz, Toruń, Łódź, Poznań, Kraków, Wrocław, Olsztyn, Białystok, Bielsko-Biała and Gdynia.
Szkolnicki and Chudzik do not plan to rest on their laurels however, as Szkolnicki explains, “there is still a huge market for vegetarian restaurants. We are
thinking about opening new restaurants, even abroad, though our current
strategy is to focus on the existing restaurants. Some of are now over ten years old, and could do with a new lease of life”.
Poland, a country where food is at the core of its culture, has started to embrace vegetarianism, as increasing numbers of Poles choose a meat-free lifestyle in response to an increased awareness of healthy eating. Vegetarianism is no longer seen as a teenage fad, but a credible way of life – people from all walks of life are cutting meat out of their diets. While the link between a diet rich in meat and different types of cancer is well documented, Szkolnicki is also keen to point out the benefits of alternative sources of protein. “There are many advantages to a low-fat vegetarian diet, and some ingredients such as soya, aubergine and almonds have been proven to reduce cholesterol levels”. Green Way has played an important part in supporting this vegetarian movement, by showing how meat-free dishes can be healthy and tasty, as well as accessible and affordable.
From a purely business perspective, there is no denying that Green Way is a success story, however the foundation of the business is not limited to “the bottom line”, as the mission to educate people about the many benefits of the vegetarian way of life, and raise awareness of issues such as animal cruelty and the preserving the environment remain very much at the core of the business. As Szkolnicki sums it up, “We want people to enjoy our food, but we also would like them to be healthy and happy. It’s not exactly an impossible mission, is it?”