Ghanim Al-Sulaiti, Vegan in Qatar & Cambodia

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Ghanim-Al-SulaitiA vegan entrepreneur, Ghanim is the founder and driving force behind Qatar’s first vegan cafe, Evergreen Organics. He’s the Co-Founder in Cambodia of the first vegan cafe VIBE, the Founder of Botany, a vegan ethical skin care line, and founder of the Good Vibe Foundation which aims to feed 10,000 school children healthy vegan food in Cambodia. Ghanim is passionate about raising awareness about conscious living by promoting a plant based lifestyle and is invested in the holistic approach to diet and health. His goal with VIBE is to inspire people from all over the world to live a healthier lifestyle.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Caryn: Let’s go on to my next guest who is waiting and I’m very excited to bring him on. We have Ghanim Al-Sulaiti, a vegan entrepreneur. The founder and driving force behind Qatar’s first vegan cafe, Evergreen Organic. The co-founder in Cambodia of the first vegan cafe, Vibe. The founder of Botany, a vegan ethical skin care line and founder of The Good Vibe Foundation which aims to feed 10,000 school children healthy, vegan food in Cambodia. Ghanim is passionate about raising awareness, about conscious living by promoting a plant-based lifestyle and he’s invested in the holistic approach to diet and health. His goal with Vibe is to inspire people from all over the world to live a healthier lifestyle. Welcome and thank you for joining me Ghanim!

Ghanim: Hi, how are you how’s it going?

Caryn: Good. Did I pronounce your name correctly?

Ghanim: Yes, yes. You made it right.

Caryn: Thank you. It’s early for you isn’t it?

Ghanim: It’s actually very late for us. It’s 12 midnight.

Caryn: Oh, not so bad. Where are you right now?

Ghanim: I’m in Doha, Qatar. I’m back in Qatar. But, a couple of weeks ago I was in Cambodia. Back and forth all the time.

Caryn: I found out about you because my friend was traveling around Asia and ended up in Cambodia at your vegan cafe there.

Ghanim: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. I think the world is a very small place right now, especially for our vegan society where really coming together and I can see how we’re growing so much but at the same time we are all coming to one place to help each other and support one another, which is awesome.

Caryn: When I hear about people like yourself, things happening in places that are far away from where I live, doing the wonderful things that you are, it gives me a lot of hope. We live in a very crazy world. I think it’s been crazy for a very long time. It seems especially heightened crazy here in the United States these days with our Federal Government and our leader. I don’t even want to mention his name. It’s giving us a lot of challenges and giving us a bad reputation. It’s important for us to focus on our individual lives and what we can do and what we can control. I’m always saying that food is something that really can make a difference on so many levels. Just tell me how did you get started wanting to promote a plant-based lifestyle?

Ghanim: It all started 4 years ago. I’ve been vegan for 4 years.

Caryn: Congratulations.

Ghanim: I’ve lived in the US for 4 years. I graduated from University in Philly. I got my inspiration while being in Philly back in 2013. I was watching Good Morning America one day and then Kimberly Snyder, a very famous author, came on the show and she was promoting her book. I remember she was talking about food actually changed her life and how it changed her look, changed her health. From that point I went to Barnes and Noble which was a couple of blocks away and I got the book and started my journey from there. I started experimenting on my body and I felt better every time I started to substitute vegan alternative I was always feeling better and better. Then when I started reading a lot and meeting a lot of people who live this lifestyle and traveling across the globe, meeting people and seeing cultures that have been surviving on a vegan diet, mainly plant-based diet for years. They’re doing amazing and the people are living to reach 100 and 105 and people are so healthy. That actually made me question a lot of the stuff we have in our culture and a lot of the stuff that we have in our lifestyle that we just don’t. We think that it’s right for us but once you start questioning it just becomes a reality kind of like a quick reality check that it’s actually not good for us. From that point I became fully vegan and I didn’t want to at that point to say to anybody or to tell people I was vegan. Especially being from Doha, Qatar I’m sure all the cultures around the world are meat oriented but I think a culture is a bit more intense.

Caryn: Yeah I was going to ask you what is the meat culture there where you are?

Ghanim: Exactly. The meat culture is quite intense. I think I found it a bit challenging in the beginning. But once I believed in what I was doing and when I made sure that what I was doing was right. You know, you wake up every morning thinking that, oh my god am I doing the right thing or not? For me, reading books and meeting people and talking about a bit loudly, I think that’s what makes me believe more in what I am doing. I think that just gave me the confidence to move forward. Then one day I realized which I was in Paris actually, how people are feeling amazing coming to these vegan places and how it’s not just cafes but the whole community that comes with the space that you’re trying to create. I was like, oh my god, this is like what my country needs where I live and I can’t survive without that community. So I had to create something like that. Once I was done, when I was traveling to Asia, because I was always around Asia, the idea came when I was in Cambodia because there was nothing vegan 100%. That idea came again. Then that’s when I had my vision to also share and make vegan food accessible to cities and countries that don’t have it. My vision is to give at least one option in every city. At least one good option. I guess that’s where it all started and it just brought me to a place where I thought this is my message and this is my goal. I’ve seen the faces of the people. People come to us and say, oh my God you saved our lives. Sometimes it gets actually that far. I’ve been traveling a lot. I’ve been to Nepal; I’ve been to a lot of Asian countries where it was so difficult to find clean food and healthy plant-based food. Even though they have access to farm and the agriculture is amazing. I think lack of education is where the gap is. I felt that was the intention for me to be here on Earth, at least that’s what I felt.

Caryn: You are saving lives. You’re saving non-human animal lives by not eating and encouraging other to not eat them, as well as improving the health of humans who decide to eat more plants and less animals. You have two vegan cafes. One is in Qatar, Evergreen and the other is Vibe in Cambodia. Can you talk about what’s on the menus of these two? I imagine they’re different.

Ghanim: Sure. The one in Qatar is a bit more. Qatar is a bit more difficult in getting the produce and getting the freshest produce. Yes, we live in a desert country where to grow some of your vegetables it’s quite hard. You are limited with your options. Most of the stuff is imported. Recently we’ve seen so much huge impact in terms of the organic farms and the grow aspect of that. The menu is really international. The chef that we have at Evergreen is actually from New York. He used to work in Boston and New York for almost 20 years as a vegan chef. He’s amazing. He created an international menu with vegan burgers and raw pizzas and raw ravioli and tacos and cheesecake with no cheese, chocolate tart and chocolate Nutella but it’s not Nutella. You know what I mean?

Caryn: I do, yum.

Ghanim: It’s actually very healthy because we only use whole food plant-based ingredients. We don’t use any packaged or processed food. No white sugar, no white flour. Nothing from a can. We’re trying our best to hold soy with the GMO that comes with it. We’ve put a lot of consciousness in it. Doha is more, even though it’s a cafe, at the end of the day when you actually come there and experience the food it’s more of a restaurant kind of standard. Vibe is a bit more simple in terms of the food. Still vegan. All of these amazing quesadillas, bowls. At Vibe we focus an abundance on fruits and vegetables and that’s why with every dish it’s more of an abundance feeling you get because you get a lot of colors and ingredients in a bowl. It’s kind of of more of a simple cafe. You can easily see the ingredients and you can easily point out what is on the dish rather than being like, oh my god what’s in the dish? At the same time we have cold pressed juices, raw vegan desserts. That’s at both places.

Caryn: I want to go! I want to try it out, sounds so good!

Ghanim: Breakfast, lunch and dinner in both places. I think trying to kind of cover up all the things. We have whole foods section where you can come and grab almond butter and cashew butter because we make it all in-house. Home made pesto, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha. All of these amazing things. We’re trying to have this one-stop shop experience for the customers. You want to find that one space where you can just go in and have your food, trust them, get everything you want while traveling. I guess that’s…I mean it’s a very, very interesting menu. It’s huge actually. People can look online before coming to the restaurant and I think it’s really very interesting. Definitely, both places have it’s own environment. In Vibe we have the farms that are a couple of miles away from the cafe so we get it so fresh in the morning. We get the freshest ingredients. In Doha it’s a bit more of a challenge in terms of getting the freshest ingredients even though we still get it but I think it takes a bit more of a challenge to get it.

Caryn: Fantastic. I’m just curious. We have a caller and I want to bring her on, OK? Hello!

Robin: Hello?

Caryn: Hi there!

Robin: Hey Caryn how are you?

Caryn: Hi, Robin!

Robin: Hi. Yeah, hi how are you?

Caryn: Good. So Robin is here and she’s the one who let me know about you Ghanim and you’re cafe Vibe.

Ghanim: Oh my God.

Robin: Hi Ghanim, how are you?

Ghanim: Hi.

Robin: I’m good, I’m good.

Ghanim: Oh my God, the world is literally a small place.

Robin: So Caryn, I love the interview it’s great.

Caryn: Thank you. I want to know what you ate while you were at the Vibe Cafe.

Robin: I ate, I had a couple juices. I remember one was passion fruit, I don’t remember the other. I had the bean burger and I had, I bought those mini donuts to take back to my hotel, almond and chocolate and dates. I bought a couple of them. The burger was interesting because it was bean and it had bread and I probably had not had bread in almost a month so I was so happy to have a piece of bread. I don’t eat that much bread but it was just so comforting to be there, from the time I walked in. Phnom Penh is not exactly an easy city. It’s busy it’s hectic it’s just so intense. Eating as you were talking about in South East Asia can be a bit of a challenge. The night before my group, we got to the hotel late and we had an arranged dinner across the street and I’m not going to rain on anyone’s parade but people in my group were eating fried scorpions and friend ants in their pasta. If they want to that’s fine. But, I was so desperate to eat at a place that I felt home, a place with home. I walked into your beautiful restaurant and I just took a deep breath and I was so happy, I was so relived.

Ghanim: Oh my God I’m so happy to hear that actually.

Robin: Thank you and is Tanya is she listening? Will she get to hear this?

Ghanim: Tanya you mean the manager?

Robin: Yeah, yeah.

Ghanim: I’m sure she. I don’t know, they’re sleeping now in Cambodia so I’m not sure if she’s up now.

Robin: Right.

Caryn: She can listen later.

Robin: She’s amazing as well. Beautiful, smart…She said to me I love meeting vegans from all over the world.

Caryn: Yes, I love meeting vegans from all over the world. Robin how did you find out about Vibe?

Robin: I do a lot of research as you know. I probably did some Googling of just vegan Cambodia, vegan Phnom Penh but then of course I went to happycow.net

Caryn: Yes. Everything’s there.

Robin: Yeah. I read the menu’s of a number of…there were some other vegan restaurants listed. I read it and then I re-read it maybe a few hours later. I said to my tour leader, this is a good place, this is a good place. I really wanted to understand where I was going. At that point I was just so hungry. I planned to e-mail him in the future. Well I told him it was great but I’ll continue. It was wonderful.

Caryn: That’s something we can all do when we go on tours and we discover something to let our tour guide know of places for vegans or anyone who’s looking for healthy food, where they can feel at home.

Robin: I felt at home. It’s so beautiful. Upstairs, there’s three levels right Ghanim?

Ghanim: Yes.

Robin: So beautiful. There’s a garden room. So tranquil. The streets are so busy and so difficult for me at least and just walking in there was amazing. So clean. I tried to go to the one in Siem Reap a few days later but unfortunately I became ill and I just stayed at my hotel. I couldn’t go anywhere but I knew it was there. I felt so bad. But, I was so happy that I had this experience in Cambodia.

Caryn: Well Robin, thank you for letting me know about Ghanim. I’m excited to be able to talk to him and learn about his projects and thanks for calling in.

Robin: Thank you. Bye Ghanim!

Ghanim: Bye, bye. It was great hearing you.

Caryn: Oh I love how small the world is sometimes.

Ghanim: It is. It is. It is. Really actually. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming to know how easy and simple, you can easily connect now a days and it’s kind of so simple to keep in touch with people and it’s just fascinating.

Caryn: So tell me how do your family and friends respond to your work and your projects and your plant-based lifestyle?

Ghanim: I think, I mean from day one I made the decision by myself without sharing it with anyone even my family. I think that I kept it to myself for a few months and then once, after a few months I’m sure they noticed. Everybody was telling me, you’re avoiding meat and you’re avoiding chicken and fish and all the dairy products. I was like, yes. That’s when I had to kind of tell them. They all thought I was crazy at that point. I would say 4 years ago this was, I mean vegan is not even a word to be used. Vegetarian wasn’t even a word to be used in Doha let’s say. Even telling them that I’m not eating meat or chicken it didn’t make any sense. But I was always trying to convince them, always trying to kind of talk to them about it and explain and trying to get them to the same experience. But I never was successful to do that so at some point I just said, you know what? If I feel great, if I feel amazing, if I feel different, if I feel the purpose and I feel the reason, then why should I even put the energy out on trying to kind of prove to people that what I was doing was right so let me just do whatever I think is right and put the energy back in and that’s what I did. I remember the first day when I opened Evergreen. Even though my family knew that I was opening the restaurant, they didn’t buy into the idea until the day of the opening. Once they came into the opening, what shocked them was it was full. Seriously from the first 5 minutes that we opened, it was packed. Not vegan people for sure it wasn’t like vegan people who came in. It was just like the community.

Caryn: Yeah.

Ghanim: But my Dad was like, oh my God now I get it. Now I get it. And at that moment I was so proud and was like oh my God, finally. But I don’t know what happened at that time like I don’t know if it’s the people, I don’t know if it’s just the culture. If people can see it, that it’s actually happening and it’s actually working, and there’s demand for it. I think that’s why people click it in their mind. So I guess from that point my family started accepting the idea. Now my Mom is semi-vegan I would say she’s vegan until 5pm in the afternoon. My Dad he at least drinks a green smoothie every morning with me and have fruit platters and he at least has these green juices that I do all the time. My brother is vegetarian, which he just, turned a couple of years ago. My friends, I switched all my friend group that I travel with are now vegetarian/vegan. They bought into it. I’m happy because I get to travel and I get to choose the restaurants that I want and everybody would come with me. So I don’t have to go to restaurants that I don’t want to go to.

Caryn: Well I want to congratulate and commend you for number one, discovering what it is that you were put on the planet to do. And then having the courage to do it because a lot of people look for approval from their friends and family and when they don’t get it right away, or ever, it makes it extra challenging. So good for you.

Ghanim: True, thank you so much! I think it’s quite a journey and everyday I’m still learning. Yes, I’m vegan today and I’ve been vegan for 4 years and I have these vegan businesses and I always tell people around me. They always say, are you doing this forever, are you doing this for? I always tell people, today like now I can talk about what I know today and what I know now in this moment. I don’t want to talk about 10 years from today but I know what’s going to happen. 5 years ago I didn’t know that I’m going to be vegan and I’m going to have 3 businesses across the globe. I never thought that. I think you never know what’s going to happen, what’s going to be the next thing. It can be like a different diet, a different thing, I don’t know. But, I know that today vegan is the answer and vegan is the future that I think would be. It makes me feel amazing and I think that’s the most important thing.

Caryn: Beautiful. Well I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years and I think vegan is the answer.

Ghanim: Yes, that’s amazing. I love to hear that.

Caryn: Can we talk about the Good Vibe Foundation? Where you’re aiming to feed 10,000 school children. What is that about?

Ghanim: So, the idea came in the beginning, before we did Vibe. I always wanted to create a space where, like a restaurant or cafe where you go in, I wanted to change how people perceive cafes. You always go to a cafe and you think you’re just going to eat, give the money to somebody, then leave. You think the money goes in to buy stocks and food and for the company to get profits or whatever. I wanted to kind of include the customers to a bit of a journey and a bit of an experience and give them a bit of a different view on when you actually come to a restaurant and eating you’re not just making your body healthy. You’re not just saving the environment you’re not just saving the animals, but you’re actually giving back to the community by every time eating. We’ve connected and created this foundation so that every time you eat at Vibe lets say, Vibe donates 10% of your profit of whatever you’ve eaten to the foundation. Every time you eat anything at Vibe it automatically goes to the foundation. Then I’ve connected all my businesses that I have. I have Botany which is an ethical product brand of candles and skin care line and every time you buy a product it goes directly also to the foundation. I wanted to kind of connect every single business that I have and other people’s businesses so whenever you go to that business it automatically feeds someone else out there healthy vegan food. Going back to the foundation, I think we all, a lot of people think that vegan food is expensive and vegan food is only for the rich people and all other people just link that to you can’t afford vegan food. I hate to hear that because vegan food is so simple and so easy to have your hands on. I wanted to also show that even in rural communities it’s always the solution. I always see charities and other organizations when they go to give back to the community they also give the cheapest kind of food, the cheapest kind of ingredients to the kids or to whoever needs and I think every body deserves great food and healthy food no matter what. I think healthy food is satisfying and filling and nutritious. The start in Cambodia because Cambodia has a big number in terms of children that have lack of nutrition. They don’t go to school because they get sick. I guess it’s just because we have this business in Cambodia and I wanted to connect the communities in Cambodia with that and make sure that…I always love the idea of giving back and I think it’s an important thing for the Earth to keep giving us I think we always have to give back. I think it just makes it a great experience for whomever. I just love the idea of if you’re eating vegan then you’re also giving a chance for another kid out there to eat vegan. I want to kind of share that with a lot of people. 10,000 children, this is our aim this year. We’re moving forward and we’re moving very ambitious. We did some projects a couple of weeks ago when I was there and it was amazing to meet the kids. Actually, not just to give the meals. We teach them, we talk to them. We teach them about vegetables and eating fresh food and trying to kind of raise their awareness in the community. I think it’s a small thing that we are doing at the moment but I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger eventually. All the businesses I do make sense at the end of the day and it gives that peace of mind when you think of the option and the opportunity that other people don’t have and you’re being part of it.

Caryn: I love it. Ghanim, such a great story and I love hearing about everything that you’re doing. It just inspires me. I’m so glad to know you’re out there. I wish you all the success and people that are traveling to these places- Qatar and Cambodia- should find out about these wonderful places to eat. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food.

Ghanim: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. I hope to see you one day in real life.

Caryn: Yes, have a bite.

Ghanim: Talk more and maybe at Evergreen one day.

Caryn: Sounds good! I want to go. OK thank you so much.

Ghanim: Awesome. Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you. Have a good one.

Caryn: You too. OK that was Ghanim Al-Sulaiti. You can find out more about him by going to responsibleeatingandliving.com and clicking on this interview. There are a bunch of links there where you can find out about his projects. So we just have a minute and a half left. I just wanted to quickly mention the great food that I’ve had in the last few days because I was so excited to discover them. Of course, if you visit my blog at responsibleeatingandliving.com my What Vegans Eat daily blog you can see and read about all of these foods. We went to P.S. Kitchen a few days ago. It’s a brand new restaurant It is in the Broadway district at 48th street. It’s founded by a couple of guys that have a chain called Terry in New York- Craig and Jeff. We met them and we met the chef and we ate this wonderful food. It’s really beautiful restaurant and the food is very creative and unique. You will not find any green salads or green smoothies and it’s funny because I was just interviewing Ann Hodgman about her book last week, Vegan Food for the Rest of Us and there are no salads and green smoothies in her book either. I don’t know if this is a trend, but for those of you that just want some really good eating, this is a place for that. You can see their menu online at ps-kitchen.com. Yesterday I was out with my niece and nephew, they are 10 and 12 and I had about 3 hours to take them around and entertain them. I had this whole itinerary planned. Of course everything took a lot longer than I expected to. Of course they were hungry when I wasn’t planning on feeding them. We got to our one destination and they wanted something to eat and it’s a little challenging because one of them has celiac and we have to be really careful about gluten. We stumbled upon Press Juicery and I know about them from California. I’ve been there a number of times. They have green juices. They recently introduced a new product called Freeze. It looks like soft serve ice cream. It tastes fabulous and it’s made from fruits like berries, almonds and dates. Some of the flavors have extra ingredients but they’re made from whole foods! There’s no sugar, certainly no gluten and they’re delicious! To give some children a treat like that when they haven’t had breakfast, you can feel really good about it. It was really fun; I was so excited to find it- Press Juicery. Another place that we stopped at was Friedman’s, oh am I out of time? I’m out of time so I’ll have to talk about that next week. Or you can go to my blog, What Vegans Eat. In the mean time, have a very delicious week. I’m Caryn Hartglass you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food.

Transcribed by Adella Finnan 8/16/2017

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