The Shanghai Vegetarian restaurant Pure and Whole, formerly Kush, has established itself as one of the favourite healthy restaurants for expats in Shanghai.
H&S in Shanghai caught up with the busy founders, long-time Shanghai expats Frank Steffen (FS) and Rich Rothman (RR) to find out the back-story of their restaurant chain and mission of promoting a healthier lifestyle in Shanghai.
You can find a list of Shanghai vegetarian restaurants at the end of this article.
Let's start with the beginning. Why did you decide to open a Shanghai vegetarian restaurant? Take us through the beginnings of Pure & Whole.
FS: I had been in the restaurant business for a while, but there came a point in my life when I knew that to be truly fulfilled, I needed to help other people. And since my specialty was hospitality, I chose to help people be healthy through how they nourish their bodies, how they can gain more energy by what they eat.
And ultimately if I could, I wanted to make a positive difference for the world around us as well. I saw that opening a restaurant that served plant based whole foods could accomplish both. And Kush was born!
Kush was the original name of our business and it means "from the heart" in Sanskrit. But for reasons too many to list here, we became Pure and Whole about three years ago. Same DNA though.
RR: I met Frank about six months after Kush opened. I ran a health food company back in the USA before managing an executive wellness company in Shanghai, so I wanted to get back into that space.
I've always been quite passionate about healthy eating and saw Shanghai was really prime for a western style vegetarian restaurant concept like Kush. After I saw what Frank was doing, we met and hit it of right from the start. I joined the business soon thereafter and became a partner along with Gilles and Julie.
What is your concept and mission?
RR: Pure & Whole is a plant-based whole foods Shanghai vegetarian restaurant- and while we are a vegetarian concept, we like to think of ourselves more as über-healthy.
We are western vegetarian, versus Chinese vegetarian which tends to be more oily and uses fake meats- not all are like this, but we wanted to do something quite different and unique for Shanghai.
So we have our range of different starters, salads, soups, wraps, entrees, vegetarian burgers, desserts. We have a lot of healthy drinks, smoothies and organic teas.
Our ingredients are very clean, we only use olive and coconut oil- no refined vegetable oils, and everything on the menu is geared to people feeling great after eating what they ordered.
Our commitment is not just to serve healthy food though. We want to educate and inform and we do this predominantly through our WeChat platform.
We want people to know what they are eating so we list every ingredient and list all the nutritional facts so people can plan their meals more effectively.
How do you source your vegetables and special foods?
RR: Some of our ingredients are tough to find in China and we use trusted suppliers we've had long term relationships with. For vegetables, we partner with some of the organic farms in and around Shanghai for many of our ingredients.
When we need to buy conventional produce because of unavailability through our organic suppliers, we have a few key suppliers that we use that we feel the quality is high.
Of course, we also take special care in the washing and preparation of any and all produce, organic or otherwise.
Do you use only organic vegetables in your Shanghai vegetarian restaurant?
RR: For our menu it's impossible to go 100% organic. But if the produce we need is available in an organic version, we will opt for that.
In the future, our menu will more closely follow seasonal cooking with four menu changes a year. This will allow us to offer the freshest, most in season vegetables and ingredients in our dishes and also, increase the amount of organic produce we can source.
What steps do you take to ensure food safety?
RR: Firstly, with some of our ingredients, we know exactly where they are coming from. We have been to the farm and know the owners and operators and how they produce their produce.
With imported goods, we are typically purchasing from countries that have very stringent rules and regulations on food production and quality.
When we don't know exactly which farm a particular ingredient is sourced from, we rely on those suppliers who we've vetted to have high quality produce and then it comes down to throughly washing and preparing the vegetables to the best of our ability.
Who comes up with recipes for the wide variety of foods you offer?
RR: It is a collective effort led by Frank Steffen, one of the founders of the company.
The dishes are well researched from sources all over the world and sometimes through our close network of chef/nutritionist friends.
We take an idea and our head chef plays with ingredients and flavors. We run the recipes through nutritional analysis, recipes are adjusted if macronutrient levels are out of balance.
Then the final dishes are placed in front of a panel of taste testers, typically made up of a mix of management and loyal customers. Once the thumbs up are given and we think we have a winner, it makes it onto our Shanghai vegetarian restaurant menu.
RR: Lastly, I'll say that while we don't "preach" about going veg; eating a diet rich in plant-based foods does two important things; It has a profound impact on one's life by creating greater health and wellness, higher levels of energy and increased mental clarity. There is a lot of science out there on plant based nutrition too long to get in to here.
And secondly, from an environmental standpoint, it's one of the most important moves you can make to positively impact the health of our planet- it saves precious resources (land and water) and keeps the environment clean.
So whether you eat plant based once or twice a week, or if you follow a vegetarian diet, each time you choose a Shanghai vegetarian restaurant, you are doing your body and the environment a world of good.
What challenges have you faced along the way in opening a Shanghai vegetarian restaurant?
FS: Finding our first location five years ago and getting our concept off the ground took a bit of time, but thankfully it caught on.
It's not easy rowing against the current. Chinese food culture features meats and fish and there is a misconception that you won't get enough nutrition, or protein, or you won't "feel full" by eating vegetarian food.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but these things take time and education. With health trends in Shanghai getting stronger, this can be easier going forward, but it is still a challenge.
This is why it is important to stress the health benefits of vegetarian dining versus the fact that we are plant-based. That is important, but people's health is most important.
How is western style vegetarian food received in the Chinese market?
RR: More and more Chinese people are starting to actively take care of their health and food is a super-important part of caring for ourselves. We have surveyed our local customers and they see eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, on occasion or consistently, contributes to your health in many ways; from anti-aging to skin care, to reducing the risk of disease, to detoxing your body- all very important things to locals and foreigners in Shanghai alike.
At Pure & Whole, besides being plant-based, everything is made from scratch with only the cleanest of ingredients, so we provide a very healthy product in this market and our growth bares witness of this growing market segment.
Did you take inspiration from your own lifestyle?
FS: Definitely. I got sick of feeling tired, sluggish, not sleeping well and overall not feeling at my best, so I took on diet and nutrition as well as fitness as a major step to look and feel my best.
I follow a vegetarian diet with an occasional miss here and there but when I miss, my body does feel it. It's quite noticeable.
I have also become a triathlete, and recently completed my first Ironman race in Japan, with more scheduled later this year and next.
That's one of the things that happens though. Of course not everyone will become an Ironman! But the more you tune into how your body feels, you see what makes you feel great, and it inspires you to eat well and exercise more.
This is an amazing thing. Plant based eating has done this for me which is why I am so passionate about it for others.
Do you find it easy to eat healthily in Shanghai?
RR: It is definitely getting easier. Healthy concepts are growing, more expats and locals alike are trying out Shanghai vegetarian restaurants, and this is good news as it grows the overall market and introduces more and more people to living a healthier lifestyle.
You also have the growth of the fitness market with more Chinese people getting into yoga, running, cycling and joining gyms in Shanghai.
And this is why we set up our Shanghai vegetarian restaurant. Our aim is to make it very simple to eat very healthily in Shanghai and beyond. We want to provide the most delicious, healthy and clean recipes possible with dishes that are packed with nutrition to positively impact people's health in the best ways possible.
So if you're not a vegetarian or you aren't planing on becoming one, what would be your advice for people?
RR: First thing I would say is "no problem"! Look, what you eat is a personal choice. Again, we aren't saying "don't eat meat”, or that you should choose a Shanghai vegetarian restaurant everyday.
The thing Frank and I always say is "try going plant based for a day". Do a Meatless Monday. Anyone can do that. Then see how you feel.
How did you feel after lunch? How was your energy level throughout the day? Were you hungry? Everyone has to see for themselves. Like anything, eating healthy in Shanghai is a habit to form.
The more consistently you do it, the less likely you'll want foods that make you feel lethargic, and I don't mean non-plant based foods- I include fried foods, processed foods- foods too high in fat or carbohydrates.
So it's a personal journey of discovering what your body responds well to and what makes you feel great.
What are some of your personal favorite items on the Pure & Whole menu?
FS: Everything! Seriously, the whole menu is getting better and better with each new release. But if I had to pick, the Quinoa Patties, the Kale Caesar, the Vegan Sausage Wrap, and burgers.
RR: All the above but I am a sucker for soups as well. The Pumpkin Soup and Vegetable Soup I could eat daily. The New Spring Rolls are the ultimate starter too. Easy to make a meal out of as well.
The Pure and Whole Shanghai vegetarian restaurant now has 4 branches around the city. Check out the locations as well as other Shanghai vegetarian restaurants in our list below.
For More on Eating Vegetarian Food in Shanghai Click Here
To Return to Our Main Health in Shanghai for Expats Click Here