MEMBER SPOTLIGHT- UMA NOTA
“Every little bit counts. We have to make sustainable choices where possible. There’s no more waiting”. If I took away one message from my conversation with Laura Offe, Co-founder and Managing Director of Meraki Hospitality Group, it’s that we have the power to make sustainable choices: from how we interact with people to what we choose to eat and where we source our ingredients. The broad spectrum of actions we can take to be more sustainable, as individuals and as businesses, was a key theme during my conversation with Lauren. Just before lunch, we sipped coffees at a cafe, discussing Uma Nota’s sustainability journey and what Laura envisions for the future.
When asked how she and the Meraki Hospitality Group define sustainability, Laura explained that she views it holistically and through a pragmatic lens. For example, being socially conscious is fundamental to Uma Nota and the Group. This idea is ingrained in all operations, and Uma Nota’s employees are both socially and environmentally conscious. Recently, the restaurant participated in a food waste pilot project with the kitchen closely monitoring their food waste. As the pilot project drew to a close, Laura was delighted to hear that the team enjoyed it and wanted to continue assessing their impact to reduce their food waste. Knowing that the entire Uma Nota team was happy to be part of the project was really inspiring, and shows that they value social and environmental responsibility.
The Uma Nota team
Uma Nota has narrowed its sustainability focus over the years to address certain operational areas that best reduce their environmental impact. “We first got rid of single-use plastic straws.” This small change was then introduced to all the other Meraki Hospitality concepts. Laura then talked about their sustainable packaging journey. They first started working with Vegware and have now moved to Sustainabl., a local environmentally-friendly provider. Laura shares a great example of Uma Nota’s quest to find better packaging solutions. Sustainability is a journey and as science and technology improve, we will have new sustainability options to implement. It’s not just packaging solutions that have evolved at Uma Nota as their ingredients and menu have as well.
During our catch-up, Laura highlights how lucky she feels to work with chefs who value vegetables. Chef Vargas at Uma Nota and Chef Riches at Bedu both love placing veg at the forefront of their menus. One example is the miso glazed eggplant on the Uma Nota menu (if you haven’t tried this incredible dish, please do!). Eggplant is often regarded as a side dish, but not here – and features alongside other lesser-known vegetables as main course dishes. These veg options also pair nicely with the meat and fish dishes that make up the rest of the menu. Over the years, Laura has noticed ever more vegetarian customers at Uma Nota, probably due to the increasing number of veg-led dishes.
Vegetarian options such as Berinjela are featured on the Uma Nota menu
SOURCING LOCALLY AND SUSTAINABLY
Sourcing sustainable and ethically-produced ingredients is another priority for Uma Nota. As Laura observed, “we can’t always be perfect, but we try our best”. This is important to remember, especially when there’s so much we can all do to reduce our environmental impact. We need to scale down and focus our efforts to make a difference. Uma Nota has spent considerable time sourcing sustainable packaging for their takeaway food, growing a capable and socially-conscious team, and improving their ingredient sourcing.
There’s more to sustainable ingredients than just those with the right certifications. As Laura explained, their group increasingly focuses on sourcing from the Asia-Pacific region. As well as exploring regional and seasonal ingredients, Uma Nota is also cultivating stronger relationships and more transparent communication with its suppliers. Chef Vargas is currently talking with Hong Kong and Guangdong farmers about seasonal vegetables for his menu.
Laura attaches great importance to preserving the cultural integrity of the cuisine at Uma Nota. The group and Chef Vargas are committed to providing high-quality, regional ingredients that expand the concept of what it means to eat sustainably. They now ensure that vegetables are sourced from local Hong Kong or Taiwan farmers and only purchase grass-fed and high-welfare beef. This has led them to reinvent classical dishes by adding a sustainability twist. Conveying this sustainable mindset is important in maintaining the cultural integrity of Japanese and Brazilian cuisine which are both rich in meat and seafood.
A complex Brazilian dish, Chef Gustavo replaces the meat in Uma Nota’s Arrumadinho de Jaca, with jackfruit
Uma Nota’s sustainability work is certainly not just for PR purposes. Sure, Laura feels good when customers return and tell her that they are happy that Uma Nota works with Zero Footprint Asia and donates 1% of profits to local regenerative agriculture work in Hong Kong. When another chef reveals how impressed they are by the restaurant’s sustainable sourcing. Laura stressed that their sustainability trajectory is necessary both to keep pace with Hong Kong’s fast-changing food landscape and to combat global climate change.
During our conversation, Laura mentioned that she admires people who can stick to a vegan lifestyle. Though she has reduced her own meat and fish intake at home, she believes that turning from being an omnivore to a vegan is tough and not for everyone. Nonetheless, what she and the whole Meraki Hospitality Group have done to advance sustainability is impressive. They have demonstrated that everyone is capable of change — it just takes sufficient drive and time to determine what you want to focus on. Laura wants to take social and environmental responsibility a step further by applying for Meraki Hospitality Group to become a B Corp certified employer.
Uma Nota brings the distinctive character of Brazilian botecos to the heart of Hong Kong with creative cocktails and refreshing sips in a fun and laid-back setting.
WHAT BEING A FUTURE GREEN GOOD MEMBER MEANS TO LAURA
As we finished our coffees, I shamelessly sought Laura’s thoughts on what it means to be a Future Green Member. Being part of the Future Green community is really important to her, especially “listening to others talking about what they are doing at the monthly meet-ups. You might not always be able to do these initiatives, but from hearing other members share their current projects you can see what you can do later down the line. It brings positivity to the movement and shows that we aren’t alone.” Laura mentioned that completing the sustainability audit second time around was much easier (a relief to hear!). She also noted that the audit is perfect for restaurants that are unsure how to put sustainability policies in place and want to know where to start.
So if you find yourself around Peel Street, stop by Uma Nota and grab a drink or dinner. Later this year, they will host a series of amazing set dinners that each focus on one key ingredient with the first dinner highlighting Cassava. Starting from the first Sunday in August, they will have two menus, one for omnivores and one fully vegan.
If you make sustainable products suitable for the foodservice industry please get in touch with us about Future Green Membership and lets see what possibilities lie ahead in normalising sustainability!
Interested in more?
6 steps to turning messy ideas into concrete next steps with The British Chamber of Commerce3rd November
From Healthy Kids Menu to Asian-Inspired Delights: SpiceBox Organics Revamps Catering Services, Championing Sustainability and Clean Eating in Hong Kong12th October