Interview with Peace of Eden – the FIRST vegan lodge in South Africa

I was lucky enough to stay at the stunning Peace of Eden in 2022. A place I had known about and wanted to visit since becoming vegan a few years ago. They have a great reputation of being a hidden away vegan paradise and I was not disappointed! The food was absolutely delicious, and I loved the atmosphere so much that I knew I wanted to interview Jen, the owner so that everyone reading this can put Peace of Eden on your bucket list!
Tell me a brief history of Peace of Eden
We loved Knysna and used to camp on holidays at Brenton on lake, after city burn out running our own business and with the pre democracy political climate impacting on our successes, we decided to leave the city. We bought the farm in 1992 and moved here in 1993.
All that was here was a basic wooden house and a garage. It was a typical farm with high fencing around the house and a small garden area and barbed wire at the edge of the forest, presumably to keep sheep from wondering into the forest. However, it had wild forest at its edge and a myriad of trees in the garden plus bougainvillea around the house and that was a huge deal breaker for us and with an only child we wanted her to have friends visit easily so wanted to be 20 minutes to a Town, preferably Knysna.
We proceeded to renovate the house and took down all the fencing and barbed wire and opened up the spaces to be free flowing and not buy into the fear. We found natures gentleness and the peace fill our souls and loved the night sounds of nature so close.
We built stables as we were bringing up a horse and a pony and as our daughter Jessamine was crazy about horses and riding, this was a huge motivation to move to the countryside. We also wanted to have a music studio and I wanted to run retreats. It was many years until 2002 onwards before that part of the dream got actioned and now forms a main part of what we do.
When did you decide to run Peace of Eden as a commercial operation?
We started it as more a backpacker’s lodge in 2006 and changed descriptions many times until we found our niche as a Vegan Nature Lodge.

How did you think of the name ”Peace of Eden”?

Actually, it was already called that name for many decades, and we loved it as it fitted how we felt about finding this special heart shaped piece of land.

What career were you in before running your business?
I was in fashion design with 5 shops around SA and Howard was an Aircon Engineer with his own Company we both had our own business in CT.
When did you make the connection to veganism?

I had been vegetarian since I was 15 years old, and transitioned slowly to veganism over 10 years, mainly due to my daughter who born a vegetarian and had never eaten meat began  studying at UCT,  film and media and made movies about going veg, and began to be exposed to the horrors of the dairy industry and would come home and say ‘Mom we have to stop eating dairy’ and so we both did stop at home and eventually 10 years ago we became fully vegan.

What made you decide to turn peace of Eden a fully vegan business?

After turning to hospitality in 2006 and allowing guests to cook meat in their cabins, after a few years when very busy over Xmas we found the smell and the thought of dead animals on a braai more and more stressful and disturbing as it was in our faces for weeks on end. We continued to allow this for a few more stressful years as frankly we worried about the impact financially of going only vegan as it was still very new in SA but in the end the trauma we began to feel from the smell of animals burning as that was how we felt and what we saw when smelling a braai, we couldn’t anymore and by 2017/18 we decided to make the Lodge a Vegan lodge. We started to cater for guests too so they could experience how gorgeous vegan food could be and attracted all kinds of guests who often came as they had heard about the yummy food and our now quite famous secret dinners.

How did the transition changing to being vegan affect business?

Ironically the first Christmas we were our busiest ever with not only vegetarians and vegans so somehow the universe conspired to keep us inspired. However of course we do lose guests because of our no meat policy especially Afrikaners. Initially we advertised vegan vegetarian and allowed guests to transition by allowing free range eggs and dairy but that was only allowed if they specifically asked, it’s not advertised as a policy exception anymore and is now an exclusively vegan lodge.

What would you say is the number one reason people come and stay with you?

Nature, the food and our family style hospitality

What food options do you offer that people can have?

Breakfasts are every day and dinners are to order only, we don’t have a daily open restaurant. So, Dinners are a Pub grub dinner of the day and Secret Dinners – you don’t know what’s on the menu until you get served, I ask if there are allergies or aversions and then create around that.

Tell us about the events such as weddings that you do.

We specialize in forest and vegan weddings using the property organically and transforming areas into magical spaces to enchant and delight the bridal couple and their guests.

We also host Retreats using outdoor spaces a swell as one of the large houses. Plus we host Musicians Travelling past and offer sunset Soirées.

Do you have any future plans for the property – immediate or long term?

Focus more on the retreats including creative ones, nature foraging walks, and the food, possible offering a series of month-long cooking classes plus opening a weekend bistro and deli.

Do you have any advice for anyone who is wanting to transition their property to being fully vegan?

just go for it, offer meals as that’s a huge attraction for guests, vegan or not, guests love having breakfasts and arrival night dinners, offer extras Like guided outings. We get many overseas guests who come because we are vegan, it’s a growing market and one of the fastest growing lifestyle movements in the world.

It’s ethos over profit, it’s the only way to live a fully happy life, when you live as authentically as possible.