One of the original pioneers of Hong Kong’s healthy eating scene, Bobsy founded Lamma’s Bookworm Cafe in 1997 and the recently-closed SoHo stalwart Life Cafe in 2004. He now serves health-conscious diners at two Mana! outlets on Wellington Street and one in Poho. He speaks to Liv Magazine about the difficulties of reconciling ethics with business.
My destiny brought me to Hong Kong.
I had no job, i had no family here. I didn’t really know anyone. There was nothing to bring me here; I just followed my intuition.
My first feeling of Hong Kong was of the trees all over the city. The banyan trees coming out of the walls were stunning. Little did i know I would have a future with trees here [Bobsy has spent the last 18 years planting a forest on northern Lamma Island].
I used to eat a lot of meat. I grew up in Beirut in Lebanon, and some of the best meats in the world are eaten there – chicken shawarmas, lamb shawarmas.
I became a vegetarian overnight 25 years ago, when I realised that the real cost of a hamburger at a fast food joint was not $20. If fair and just accountability was taken into account and a real economy was applied, the cost of a hamburger is well over $200.
I’d already started to think in terms of environmental awareness, and realised that I couldn’t go around planting trees and eating meat at the same time, one hand creating and the other hand destroying.
It’s extremely difficult to reconcile business with ethics and i think it’s becoming more and more difficult as we develop and grow. The infrastructure is just not there, and the support is lacking.
Financially it’s become difficult to run a business on a sustainable level, being conscious, ethical and eco-friendly. But there is a way and we will continue to plough forward. This is my battle in Hong Kong and sometimes it feels like a very lonely battle.
If I could have done something differently, perhaps I wouldn’t have opened Mana! Raw. It’s about three, four years ahead of its time and it’s been such a costly endeavour to create quality raw takeaway food for the masses.
Having said that I only win or learn. And this has been a big lesson indeed.
Sometimes what I like to do is absolutely nothing – just sitting there and trying to enter a space of nothingness, even if it’s for five, 10 minutes. It’s not an easy thing to do.
A business should not exist purely to make profit for its shareholders. The paradigm of business should be expanded to include social wellbeing and ecological awareness.
I always strive to run a business that behaves like a charity; to do good by raising awareness or educating people. To behave like a charity, to serve like a charity, but generate profit.
How to create a business that inspires people to become custodians of the planet, to be healthier and more rounded people? I think that’s been my motivation to bother. Running a business is not easy, so I’m driven by deeper stirrings.