After running their parents’ travel agency until 2004, Ornella and Zino Lo Giusto decided to have a crack at the restaurant industry and opened Samses, a vegetarian restaurant that puts sustainability over hype.
‘Customers had the whole world to choose from’, says Ornella Lo Giusto. By this, she doesn’t mean the cuisine served up at Samses; she is referring to the holiday packages she used to sell. She spent nearly two decades working at the travel agency founded by her parents – three years of which were spent side by side with her brother.
But with the industry changing, the siblings decided in 2004 to turn their premises on Langstrasse into a restaurant: Samses. ‘It’s just a name I came up with out of thin air’, explains Ornella. ‘We wanted something with as many Ss as possible.’ The letter is the symbol for infinity in feng shui. ‘It fits – we put an infinite amount of time and effort into this project.’
The siblings decided in 2004 to turn their premises on Langstrasse into a restaurant: Samses.
Ornella has been a vegetarian for a long time. A TV programme on meat production led her to rethink what she was eating: ‘An animal is raised at an accelerated rate, injected with antibiotics and then immediately slaughtered – and I’m supposed to eat that?’ Becoming a vegan was a slower process. After developing a slight lactose intolerance, she switched to plant-based milk. ‘There’s such a huge range to choose from now.’ Gradually, she omitted eggs, cheese and honey from her diet. She makes sure to no longer buy any leather products and only uses vegan cosmetics.
‘But between 70 and 80 percent of the meals we provide are vegan’, says Ornella.
Her brother Zino doesn’t use animal products either. Samses continues to use dairy products. ‘But between 70 and 80 percent of the meals we provide are vegan’, says Ornella. And why not 100 percent? ‘Consumers aren’t ready for that yet.’ Ornella contends that a vegan lifestyle is still considered to be an extreme choice. But she believes this attitude will change in future. ‘When I became a vegetarian nearly 20 years ago, my friends and family reacted in the same way. Now they’re all totally fine with it.’
Ornella estimates that just under half of guests at Samses are vegan or vegetarian.
She estimates that just under half of guests at Samses are vegan or vegetarian. ‘Others realise they don’t always need to eat meat’, explains Ornella. ‘And some guests come to the restaurant because they are accompanying a vegetarian or a vegan.’ Ornella is responsible for front of house, while Zino’s domain is the kitchen. Guests often ask her for recommendations. ‘I definitely have a couple of favourites on our menu’, says Ornella. ‘But all of our dishes are chosen to cater for demand – so we have a wide range available.’ The restaurant also does a buffet and has weekly – and often daily – specials.
One of the most popular dishes is gado-gado, an Indonesian speciality served with noodles and peanuts. Ornella also loves the burgers. ‘Our local baker supplies us with the buns.’ Veganisu is one of Ornella’s favourite desserts. Like all of the other desserts, it is produced on the premises. Zino and Ornella spent a long time tinkering with the recipes for the sweetest items on the menu, like their cheesecake. ‘Now I think we’ve cracked it.’
It is important to the siblings and the rest of the Samses team that they use seasonal and regional ingredients.
It is important to the siblings and the rest of the Samses team that they use seasonal and regional ingredients. The vegetables are sourced from a Swiss supplier, and they generally refrain from using exotic produce. ‘We don’t use any chia seeds in our recipes, for example’, says Ornella. They use linseeds as an alternative. ‘We don’t see the point in following food trends or using products that had to be flown halfway around the world to get here. We’d be cooler if we did it, but that’s not us.’
The enduring aim of Samses is to be sustainable and to make sure every dish is packed with personality and quality. And the concept is working. ‘We have many regular customers, and we value their loyalty greatly.’ And while Ornella enjoys talking to her guests, there’s one topic that’s always on her mind: ‘I love food because there’s so much to discuss. It brings people closer together.’ Travel is still her second great love. When on holiday in distant locales, she always tries the cuisine – and returns with a notebook full of new ideas for the kitchen.