Interview with the first vegan restaurant in Hoedspruit

As a vegan consultant my mission is to help the hospitality businesses in Southern Africa become vegan friendly & really put Africa on the map as a vegan holiday destination.

You can only imagine my joy at finding out my local ‘’bush’’ town of Hoedspruit was getting its very first vegan restaurant & I contacted the owner just before they opened to show my support.

Hoedspruit is a town full of nature lovers, with most locals living in wildlife estates or the reserves which border the famous Kruger National Park. The town attracts many tourists and international who have holiday houses in the area too so with all this in mind I feel it is an ideal location for a vegan restaurant.

I interviewed Laura Lewis, the owner & chef of LaMoo café which is now a place I have enjoyed some lovely meals for both business meetings and dates!

Now keep in mind LaMoo was opened during a pandemic too, this is what Laura had to say…

Thanks for speaking with me Laura, so first things first, I am assuming you are vegan yourself? If so, when did you decide to become vegan and what made you make this decision?

I’ve was raised to love animals. I never thought about animal farming until I had access to social media as an adult and realised it was very unkind. I was vegetarian for a while (I lived on the south coast where no one is vegan and no one knows anything about veganism. Back then, we were not catered for at all. I stumbled across an article on dairy farming and that was it. That was approximately 9 or 10 years ago.


What made you decide to open a fully plant-based restaurant?

There is so little to eat for vegans. I went to the north coast for holiday and there were all these options. We didn’t have to struggle for takeout’s or restaurants and could actually enjoy our holiday. I thought that by opening LaMoo we could give all vegans a chance to eat out whenever they want (not just a salad minus a whole lot of stuff). It’s also very much targeting the environmental and compassion challenges we are facing. I’m trying to make people aware of plastic, recycling, climate change etc. We are trying to do events for all the awareness days to help raise more awareness. People here are much geared towards wildlife but they don’t realise that the biggest threat to wildlife is agricultural farming.


Were you worried about opening a hospitality business during a pandemic?

Very and I still am. I don’t have the same luxury other restaurants have. I have to try convince people to try plant based. People sit down, see it’s plant based and walk out. That makes me sad, not for me but for the animals and the environment. I might not make it, and if so, people keep telling me that it won’t be about the food but rather that people aren’t ready to hear the truth. But we will push through for as long as possible obviously with the hope that we can continue to stay open.


How did you think of the name LaMoo and what does it mean to you?

A few people to me did some brainstorming for names. We knew we needed something that wouldn’t offend people or challenge their beliefs too much initially. People are so hard to convince after so many years or programmes beliefs that cows were made for milk and that someone else will solve the problems of recycling etc. So, we decided on LaMoo which in the urban dictionary means a cow that is laughing. That is my wish for all animals on this planet, that they can laugh as much as we do and have the same freedom we have.


How has the reaction been from the local community seen as you are the very first plant-based restaurant in the area?

It’s been very mixed. The vegan community has been great. And we’ve already seen repeat customers with the vegans but it’s still a small community. We’ve had people rave that they can’t taste the different between some of the meat substitutes, and we’ve had people refuse to drink their coffee or just get up and leave without trying anything. Our customers are often either foreigners or from Cape Town.


Have you had mostly vegan customers or non-vegan customers eat at LaMoo?

It seems to be about even at the moment. A lot of people come for the waffles and pancakes which are easy to eat for both vegans and non-vegans.


What would you say your restaurants food ”style” is & why did you decide on this style?

We initially started with all the typical foods that I could never find vegan versions of. Waffles, pancakes, toasties etc. As time went on we were able to add the healthier meals as well. We are doing a bit of everything to try to accommodate for both vegans and non-vegans, trying just to encourage people to change even just one meal a week to plant based.


What is your personal favourite dish on the menu?

I love the tofu Mayo & bacon sub. I also love all waffles!


Where do your source your ingredients?

We are blessed to have a very well stocked health shop and she is always willing to try source ingredients for me.

Our fresh produce we try to grow ourselves but we are small scale and so we get waves of crops, but we are able to often provide our own spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, marrows, beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, beetroots and onions.

The produce I do not have available in my garden we source from the farmers market unpackaged to avoid plastic.

Most of our suppliers have been fantastic with sourcing in a way that we get unpackaged in bulk to avoid plastics.


Do you have any advice for anyone who is wanting to open a vegan restaurant?

Be strong. Breaking into the restaurant market is super hard and being vegan makes it three times harder but remember why you’re doing it.

We aren’t doing it for any monetary gain, just to try raise awareness, save some animals and provide something nice for the vegans that deserve more than just a salad at a restaurant. I just keep reminding myself that saving just one animal is worth it.


Blog by Hayley Cooper

Photo by Laura Lewis – LaMoo