We have breakfast with Julia Pengg (39), the owner of the vegetarian/vegan restaurant Mangolds and Mangolds Vis-a-vis. There is coffee, fresh fruit and veggie juices as well as delicious variations of muesli. Julia is married and has two children (4 and 6 years of age). She comes from a family dealing with gastronomy and the hotel business for generations. Julia lives with her family in Graz.
You landed in gastronomy taking detours – can you tell us something about your first jobs?
That is right. I studied business and art history and my first idea was to introduce marketing thinking into the museum world. I was lucky to start working for the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, a great environment to operate and gather experiences. Yet, museums are always a matter of politics, too and so I reoriented and returned to the gastronomy/ hotel business.
Did it help to be a member of the Weitzer Family?
Absolutely. Still, it is not about taking advantages of relations but more about having a background based on gastronomy. If you grow up in such a business, you learn everything from scratch. Since your early childhood, every day you have seen how things work and what is necessary to do the job. Often that is much more than you can learn during the first years of apprenticeship. Us children (Julia is the youngest of four) grew up in the business, we were in the restaurant every day and of course people would always talk about it at the table, which, actually, was not always fun (laughs). Still, you actually live gastronomy.
What does Mangolds stand for?
Mangolds has existed for 26 years and originally comes from the nature/ whole-food/ vegetarian cuisine. By now it has developed and is called ‚Outstanding Eco Lifestyle’. We stand for healthy, pure food and organic cosmetics – everything that you ingest with your body. Mangolds is also about Yoga, positive thinking – a holistic approach actually. The more natural and simple things you use – without artificial additives or industrial production – the more you can feel yourself.
The cosmetics and the Yoga topic is new, right?
Correct. We have been doing this for half a year now but it had always been a logical step for me. It really works well. We were already at fairs in Germany and Austria, the online business booms and people order across the portfolio: organic cosmetics, yoga accessories and prime foods. We operate as dealers and choose small, refined brands that come from Austria (e.g. Pure Skin Food from Graz and Less is More from Vienna), Germany or the Scandinavian countries which have certificated goods. For me it is also important that the design is a visual highlight and that there are beautiful wrappings. The products must match our philosophy. It is a new field for us too, for we come from the gastronomy business and now start with e-commerce which makes us not only operate locally but also internationally. Of course we have to learn step by step how that works.
Do you also live according to that philosophy in private?
Yes, although I am not a vegetarian. For me it is essential that I cook with fresh ingredients, that I cook with my children and that they understand, where foods come from, how you treat them and how they taste. I also want them to try everything. Ideally, everything is organic and I really love to go to the farmers’ market because I hate to shop at the supermarket. I have to say, as far as organic cosmetics are concerned, I have just grown into it I am already a big fan. The products smell great and every treatment is a positive experience, almost like staying at a spa. Hence, they are not only beautiful, but they also work perfectly and it is a pleasure to apply them. For me, it is very important that pleasure does not miss out – in general. For, just healthy, good or strict does not make any sense for me – I also need to feel good.
The gastronomy business is pretty exhausting and requires a great deal of persona commitment – where do you recharge your power reserves and what motivates you to give your best every day?
I do yoga – although not enough, due to the lack of time. For example, just recently, I had a really stupid day. So I went to my yoga lesson and afterwards everything was fine again. I prefer to visit a yoga studio, actually Yuna Yoga in Graz, do a lesson, immerse and zone out.
Do you travel a lot to find out about international trends? Do you get your ideas outside of Graz?
For sure. I love traveling and discover new things. I go to London at least once a year, if I can, twice. Very recently, I was in Marrakesh and Berlin. Of course it is very often about food and I try dishes and meals from different cultures, which can also happen at a fast-food stand on the street because you can actually learn a lot over there. For me, it does not always have to be the high-end restaurant. I like to explore foods, restaurants, lights, tableware – whatever – and return with a lot of great ideas.
What defines eating culture for you?
That is a difficult question. In general, it is important for me, that a family shares meals. We have our breakfasts and dinners together. I love to cook because for me it is a kind of relaxing and I consider it essential to convey a kind of ‘homemade taste’ to my kids. Sitting together, chatting, enjoying – that is, for me, eating culture. Also living by seasons. With food, you can treat your body but also harm it – the healthier you eat, the better you feel. You should pass that on to your children. I can also enjoy a nice dinner with friends in a great restaurant. This can include a simple but good dish in a nice, relaxing atmosphere. I feel it essential not to criticize or stigmatize people for what they eat. Everybody should be allowed to do as he/ she chooses and I do not find it necessary to judge if vegetarian or vegan or whatever is the right form of nourishment. You should respect the lifestyle of everyone.
Have there been things which you wanted to implement in your company which did not work or your staff did not embrace?
There are always topics that fall on deaf ears. I think that is normal and you have to deal with it. I think it is important that you cater to the wishes of your staff. We intensively work on that and also get reinforcement from the outside. The staff of the two restaurants amounts now to about 60 people – 10 of those are part of the executive team. Periodically, there are consulting meetings regarding management development, change management, team work. They are well received – everybody can learn a lot. Sure, there are always differing opinions but you need to reach a consensus and make decisions.
Your family, were they helpful or did you feel restricted?
For me it has always been a personal enrichment. The basis in itself, which I was already given as a child, spared me a training in gastronomy. My father was a thoroughbred businessman who passed on a lot to all of us. The good thing is that the different (Weitzer) businesses are completely separated and each one is doing their thing. According to me, a business is a very personal thing and every businessman leaves his mark on his/ her company. Being a fourth child, I could take a rather unobserved approach (laughs).
Being a boss, what is important to you?
For me, it is essential that all of the team treat each other respectfully. Each position is important for the whole and each job must be appreciated. You realize it with every ‘Good morning’. It works very well over here, which I really like.
Vegetarian and vegan cuisine have become a trend. In Graz you were definitely the pioneer. Do you feel that there is more competition now? Do you mind or does it motivate you?
There is for sure more competition but that needs to motivate others. You must never stand still. Additionally, there is also much more demand. This is why we founded Mangolds vis-à-vis, which opens up a complete different world of vegetarian/ vegan cuisine. There is breakfast, lunch, dinner in a vegetarian style – also Asian, Mediterranean and à la carte variations. We also offer organic wines and beers. The possibility to eat vegetarian and à la carte in a stylish, beautiful restaurant was also something new for Graz.
How do you define the word ‘home’?
Home, for me, is definitely related to a region, to mountains and meadows. Lower Austria is not ‘home’ anymore because it just got fields and hills but no mountains or grazing cows. For me it for sure is a landscape, a lifestyle and of course also an eating culture. The Styrian way of life which is down-to-earth and relaxed – much laisser-faire – is very different from the Viennese, which is urban and refined. Each province has its qualities but I am a Styrian, which does not mean that you just have to stay in your own region. Or eat its food. My kids eat Sushi, Hummus, curries and much more. The grow up much more international than I did. The boundaries blur nowadays, in everything. This is why it is good to have a home base. Of course I also consider my family home.
Do you think that people who are vegetarians/ vegans are healthier?
I am not so fond of the vegan/vegetarian discussion because it means pigeonholing people. I consider it great that we offer good vegetarian food. The ones who want to consume it, can choose for themselves. We know for example that only 25% of our guests are vegetarians. I think the less treatment and chemistry, the shorter the distances to the suppliers, the better and more valuable the products are. The further the products travel, the less you can judge what is really inside. In food industry everything that is possible is done – in every form of nutrition. If you can avoid that, you are on the right way.
Are there aliments that you do not eat at all?
I hardly eat pork and in general not so much meat. I try to avoid food that is not regional and prefer catfish to tuna. I do not eat deep-frozen pizza or Dany Sahne (a pudding brand). My taste has definitely changed with enjoying the Mangolds dishes and I do not need sweetened sodas anymore.
If you had a superpower, which one would it be?
I would love to be able to fly.
Who would you like to interview?
Maybe a politician. I think politics and women is an interesting topic.
Courage: Being yourself, being authentic, doing your thing..
Relationship: Taking care, looking out for the other one, listening, approaching each other.
Challenge: Grabbing it, stepping on the gas and being proud of it.
Failure: Ticking it off, learning from it and trying not to come back to it. Of course it is always easy to tell the great stories but there are also a lot of not so great ones which also have people behind who master their lives. It would be nice to tell those stories without being judged or evaluated in a negative way. A lot of things are a matter of luck and there are always ups and downs. You never know what comes next and you still have to proceed.
Self-confidence: You have to work it out. It takes some time.
Womanliness: You also have to work that out (laughs). It can be of benefit and you can enjoy it. I think it is okay to be a bit more feminine. I am quite formal myself and enjoy if I can show my feminine side.