all the way to Belgium:
The story of Greenway’s founding father
Today, Paul Florizoone is widely known as the man behind the Belgian veggie & vegan brand Greenway. And yet, Paul used to be a very average man, who loved a nice piece of meat. The tipping point was the trip he made to Asia with a couple of his friends, after graduating. Paul was forced to adapt to a vegetarian lifestyle and quickly discovered that he did not miss meat at all. The vegetarian cuisine was surprisingly wholesome, and delicious! When Paul came back to Belgium, he decided to stick to a diet that was largely plant-based. And because of his new-found enthusiasm for the vegetarian cuisine, he decided to make it his mission to introduce it to as many Belgians as possible. It was the beginning of a beautiful story.
“I wanted to show people that vegetarian dishes can be so original and so delicious. That was where the concept of Greenway was born.”
Paul Florizoone, on the beginnings of Greenway
A leap of faith: Attracting the masses
Most of us have nuanced and adjusted our opinions by now, but back in 1997, vegetarianism and veganism were considered to be very alternative. It was something for hippies and tree-huggers. Yet, Paul was already cooking up plans to spread the vegetarian gospel to the mainstream. Of course he imported the concept and influences from Asia, but it was when Paul was back in Belgium that he really started to read up and experiment. He travelled to London and was greatly inspired by the naked chef Jamie Oliver and by Pret a manger, amongst others.
After several years of experimenting, he opened the first Greenway restaurant in Gent, to put his theory to the test. His goal? Proving that vegetarian food is surprisingly delicious and healthy, even for true meatlovers. Paul did something no other vegetarian restaurant – and there weren’t that many back then – was trying to do: He advertised without mentioning he was exclusively offering vegetarian meals. He just marketed it as ‘healthy fastfood’. The tactic seemed to work. More people found the way to his restaurant. Fastfood chains were booming back then, but healthy diets were also becoming trendy at a fast pace. This, in combination with Paul’s visionary passion to introduce vegetarian cooking to the wider public, resulted in a huge success. The menu in Greenway restaurants was – and still is – limited to burgers, wraps and salads, but always based on fresh, quality products. By offering more original suggestions like curry and couscous, the menu remained very interesting, for steady and new customers.
“Whenever we are looking to launch a new product, we test it in our restaurants first. Our customers get a free taste, and we get an immediate impression of how they like it. This way, all Greenway products are co-created with our customers. We engage them actively in our innovations.”
The step to retail and foodservice
After the first five successful years, Greenway opened a second restaurant in the university town of Leuven. This accelerated things for Paul. Product innovation had always been one of Paul’s most important pillars, and experiments were set up constantly. From home-made falafel to seasonal vegetable burgers and innovative veggie products. At the exact same time, the supermarket chain Delhaize was looking for a vegetarian chef to enhance their veggie offerings. A job that had Paul’s name written all over it. A few months later, the first of Paul’s new creations were put on the shelves of Delhaize supermarkets everywhere. Thai noodles, a curry dish and penne à l’arrabiata. Paul also kept creating food products under the Greenway label. That line of products is still growing to this day, and it’s available in all Delhaize supermarkets.
The last five years, Paul has brought his products to restaurants and catering services, through his other company, called Delifresh. This means that you can now find Greenway products in hospitals, company caterers, schools, universities and health care institutions. But also restaurants have found their way to the vegetarian products of Greenway: Ellis Gourmet Burger, Bavet, Balls&Glory, Pizza Hut and Poule & Poulette... to name just a few.
A sustainable organization
The evolution to ‘less meat’ is now in full swing, and it is not a minute too soon, according to Paul. Even though he founded Greenway because he noticed that a vegetarian diet had positive effects on his health, the moral and sustainability drivers have become increasingly important to him. Especially since Cedric Hanet joined him as managing partner in the organization. Cedric took a climate course taught by Al Gore, and is the co-founder of Bubble Post, the ecological messenger service. Both him and Paul are convinced that climate change is one of the biggest challenges of this century. When you’re talking about climatechange, you’re talking about CO2 emissions, and that’s where vegetarianism and veganism really make a difference. Scientific research has proven that skipping meat – or eating less of it – will drastically reduce your ecological footprint. And Greenway’s efforts go well beyond plant-based food. Everything, form recyclable packaging to the LED lights in the restaurants are a well-considered choice. Sustainability is at the core of the entire organization, even when it concerns the Greenway team. There’s no strict hierarchy and there is a lot of room for independence, vision and opinions. “By limiting the amount of top-down decisions, you empower your team and encourage constructive teamwork,” says Paul. And if you like a piece of meat once in a while, you’re not frowned upon. “The only thing that really matters, is that you believe in our values and that you help us carry them across to the broad public.”
And Greenway’s efforts go well beyond plant-based food. Everything, form recyclable packaging to the LED lights in the restaurants are a well-considered choice. Sustainability is at the core of the entire organization, even when it concerns the Greenway team. There’s no strict hierarchy and there is a lot of room for independence, vision and opinions. “By limiting the amount of top-down decisions, you empower your team and encourage constructive teamwork,” says Paul. And if you like a piece of meat once in a while, you’re not frowned upon. “The only thing that really matters, is that you believe in our values and that you help us carry them across to the broad public.”