The journey to herself began on the Rhine. After studying entrepreneurship and tourism, Jennifer Menzel found a job with an internet company in Düsseldorf. ‘Actually a dream employer, but I wasn’t really happy and I asked myself, “How am I making the world a better place?”,’ Menzel recalls. She followed her inner voice, left her job in 2015, terminated the lease on her apartment and booked a flight to Bangkok. ‘It was just an outbound flight. I thought I’d see where my journey took me.’ She ended up staying abroad for a whole year, first travelling through Asia and then to Australia and New Zealand. There, she lived in a tent, hiking through the countryside and helping on farms. ‘During that time, I realised that I knew far too little about things that are really important to me, like how food is grown and produced,’ the globetrotter reports. ‘It’s crazy because I come from a village where many people used to provide for themselves from their gardens. Today, however, people mindlessly buy ready-made products in the supermarket without finding out about the route fruit and vegetables have taken from planting to harvest.’
Bringing home new inspiration
Finally, Menzel returned to Germany and studied organic agriculture at the University of Kassel. In 2019, after earning her degree, she joined her parents at their hotel and restaurant, Harzer Hof in Scharzfeld, on the edge of the Harz National Park. On her travels, it had become clear to her that her hometown offered every opportunity to realise her dream of sustainable living. Her first project was to cultivate white strawberries and candy-stripe beetroot in the hotel garden using permaculture, an organic cultivation concept she had learned about in a seminar in Thailand. Her beds also became a show garden; her desire to spread her knowledge is close to her heart. ‘I think as restaurateurs, we share some of the responsibility for rekindling people’s appreciation for food.’
Her parents, Petra and Dieter Menzel, support her commitment. The restaurateur couple have long been drawing on regional cuisine and environmentally friendly solutions – from rainwater cisterns to energy-efficient cogeneration units. Their daughter initiates lots of new projects, such as creating a menu with vegetarian dishes and designing hotel rooms to meet environmental criteria. ‘With the help of my brother, who is an architect in Berlin, we have decorated rooms using clay plaster, vegan wall paint and solid wood floors made by the local carpenter.’
I notice again and again that people are pleased when someone is committed. Sometimes it just takes one person who makes a start. Then others get involved too.Jennifer Menzel, born in 1985, host at the family-run Harzer Hof hotel and restaurant in Scharzfeld
Local organic specialities in a jar
Back in March 2020, when the coronavirus crisis erupted and Harzer Hof had to close, Jennifer Menzel wasted no time in launching an online shop. Regional, organically grown specialities from Harzer Hof can now be ordered online in glass jars – for example goulash, roulade or bolognese from the German Red cattle local to the Harz area. This longstanding livestock breed was threatened with extinction in the 1990s. Today, it is experiencing a renaissance thanks to the efforts of organic farmer Daniel Wehmeyer, who grazes the animals from spring to autumn on the region’s vegetation-rich mountain pastures. In addition to meat that can be enjoyed with a good conscience, the new online shop also offers vegan specialities in jars – from cream of carrot soup to vegetable chilli made with green mountain lentils grown in the Harz region.
Harzer Hof also offers dishes from the menu to take away, now available in reusable boxes made from long-life, recyclable plastic. The Menzel family also take their jars of specialities around the region’s weekly markets. ‘This is fun because the positive feedback from people motivates me,’ says Menzel, who can hardly wait to re-open both the hotel and restaurant as well as the in-house theatre. Since 2004, the restaurateurs have been lead actors on the stage; more recently, their daughter has also joined the cast. Their repertoire ranges from Loriot to Martin Walser and this summer, an open-air piece is planned. ‘It’s a lot of work but also a great change of pace.’
More on the topic
Another livestock breed under threat is the Istrian Boškarin cattle. The discovery of its meat for haute cuisine saved the breed from extinction when its population had shrunk to just a few hundred animals. Since 2016, METRO Croatia has been working with a farmer who campaigns to save the Boškarin cattle. The population has now grown to more than 3,500 animals
Non-stop new ideas
Menzel has plenty more sustainability plans up her sleeve. Her latest project: ‘We have purchased a small farm right next door. There, we want to establish a family farm that combines a restaurant, a hotel and agriculture.’ It is to be a place where guests feel at ease and at the same time come together to learn something new about the relationships between nutrition and organic farming. ‘My dream is that each day we will offer one dish that we have grown ourselves, true to the motto “from farm to fork”.’ She also aims to buy alpacas for the farm project. The plan: ‘The animals’ wool can be used for the hotel beds, and they also supply fertiliser for the garden. Not to mention that alpacas have a social function – they bring people together.’ And that, in a nutshell, is the restaurateur’s mission: to bring people together and spark enthusiasm for forward-looking solutions that preserve resources.
METRO Award for Sustainable Hospitality
With the METRO Award for Sustainable Hospitality, METRO honours sustainable concepts in the hospitality industry. Innovators receive the recognition they deserve – and provide inspiration for the entire sector. The examples should also give courage to those who are unsure about treading new paths. A specialist jury selects the finalists from among all the applications, and then a public vote decides the winner. For the 2021 award, restaurateurs can send their applications in response to the call for proposals in the period from 18 June to 31 July 2021. All restaurateurs operating in Germany are entitled to participate. Those interested in participating can apply by simply completing the application form on www.metro.de/aktionen/nachhaltige-gastronomie.
Sustainability at METRO
Sustainability for customers is the focus of the METRO SUSTAINABLE approach. The goal: to support professional customers in running their business in a way that is profitable and also has a positive impact on the community and the environment. More on the topic of sustainability at METRO and on the strategic focal points in our Corporate Responsibility Report and at https://www.metro-wholesale.com/be-sustainable.