It all began 2012, when Peggy Chan opened the original Grassroots Pantry in a cozy cul de sac in Sai Ying Pun.
The first western-style restaurant in what is now one of the city’s trendiest districts, Grassroots Pantry became a destination restaurant serving vegetarian cuisine with a strong focus on ‘conscious eating’. Alongside delicious and innovative dishes, Chan and her team’s support for local farmers, efforts to cut their carbon footprint and passion for making everything from scratch quickly became highlights on the menu.
“Our philosophy is to source local organic produce as much as possible. If it’s not certified organic, we go for local produce. We import as a last resort, because we want as little carbon emissions as possible,” Chan explains. “We do source some berries from Argentina or Brazil, and avocados from Mexico, but mostly it’s within China boundaries and some vegetables from Japan. It’s tough in a place like Hong Kong, where only 3% of food is being locally produced, but we do the best we can.“
Passionate and driven by an infectious, unwavering sense of integrity, Chan slowly but surely gained a following of loyal customers. So loyal, in fact, that they put their money where their mouth is and invested in the restaurant’s expansion.
Nearly all of the restaurant’s investors are early Grassroots Pantry customers who believed in what Chan was doing so much that they wanted to be a part of it.
In 2015, Grassroots Pantry opened its flagship in a large, airy, light-filled space on bustling Hollywood Road. Here, its delightful, earthy and minimalist Scandinavian-inspired design, paired with its original philosophy of clean, delicious cuisine, has brought Chan’s concept to broader, more mainstream audience.
“We’ve seen huge changes in the last year. About 80% of our customers are not vegetarian or vegan, but they come to Grassroots Pantry because the food is good. I really believe that if the food is good, if it’s creative, and if we keep things interesting by changing our menu seasonally, people will keep coming back,” says Chan, whose creativity truly shines when it comes to recreating familiar dishes using plant-based ingredients.
For example, Grassroots Pantry’s vegetarian Pan-Fried Gyoza with an almond dan dan dressing and Szechuan peppercorn vinaigrette (a gluten-free option with tapioca-teff wrappers is also available), or the Lotus Root ‘Meatball’ with garam masala, home-roasted marinara and a ‘pecorino cheese’ made using tree nuts, and of course, the Signature Mixed Mushroom Linguine with shiitake, cordycep, morel and king eryngii mushrooms topped with white truffle oil.
The menu also indicates which dishes are raw, vegan, gluten-free, Buddhist-friendly or nut free, in order to cater to diners with specific dietary requirements.
“People are not as shy about sharing their own experiences in eating vegetarian or vegan food anymore. They’re much more accepting of this new way of eating, and a lot of people have come on board with things like vegan foods and raw foods,” says Chan, who was trained in classic French cuisine at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in Ottawa, Canada.
She then received a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration, with a double concentration in Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Management in Switzerland, and went on to work in some of the world’s most reputable establishments including Brunoise in Montreal, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong and The Peninsula Tokyo.
“When I went into culinary school 14 years ago, no one was talking about things like this. No one knew about Monsanto or GMOs. I literally went for classical training, and through that, I got more involved in the food industry and learned quickly where food was coming from. That struck more of a passion for me,” Chan recalls. “This is my career, and I’m using my career as a platform for what I’m passionate about, which is sustainable agriculture. Raising that awareness of why we should go plant-based, why we should lessen our meat consumption and ultimately lessen our carbon footprint.”