LINDENBERG Hotels: Leading the Way in Vegan-Friendly Travel Experiences | Denise Omurca | Ep 130

Introducing Denise

Meet Denise Omurca, the Managing Director of LINDENBERG Hotels. Hailing from Frankfurt, Denise’s rich background in the restaurant industry reflects her profound passion for hospitality. Her journey commenced at the renowned vegan star restaurant, SEVEN SWANS, before her transition to the now entirely vegan LINDENBERG Hotel Group.

With nearly a decade of leadership, Denise has been instrumental in elevating the LINDENBERG brand from a local gem to a global presence. Her profound commitment to social and ecological responsibility drives her vision, extending beyond the confines of business to reshape the hospitality industry and redefine the way we approach travel.

Denise Omurca’s odyssey mirrors her unwavering dedication to sustainable and compassionate hospitality. Today, we are privileged to have her with us, sharing her invaluable experiences and insights.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Background in the restaurant industry, hailing from Frankfurt
  • Passion for hospitality evident from her role at SEVEN SWANS vegan star restaurant
  • Transitioned to LINDENBERG Hotel Group, now entirely vegan
  • Nearly a decade of leadership, transforming LINDENBERG into an international presence
  • Strong focus on social and ecological responsibility
  • Vision extends beyond business, aiming to reshape the hospitality industry and travel
  • Advocates sustainable and compassionate approach to hospitality
  • Sharing experiences and insights with us today

Learn more about what we talk about

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode

Connect with Denise


Brighde: Hello, Denise, and welcome to The World Vegan Travel Podcast.

Denise: Thank you so much for having me.

Brighde: I am so pleased, you are talking to me from one of the most beautiful spots in the world, Bali. I’m quite jealous in many ways. It’s such an amazing place. So we’re gonna be talking about Bali today, but we’re gonna be talking about basically the story of your company, for want of a better word, your brand. I cannot believe I’ve been in the vegan travel space for so many years yet I only just learned about what it is that you are doing. So Denise, why don’t we get started by telling us a little bit about who you are, where you are from, and an overview of what you do in this vegan travel space?

Denise: Yeah, sure. So, as you said, I have lived in Bali now for a little bit longer than three years because we as a company decided to open our fifth project here on that beautiful island. We started in 2012 with the idea of a small guest community in Frankfurt. For all other hotel projects, it’s five in total, so four are based in Frankfurt, and that’s also where I’m from. I don’t have a classic hospitality background myself and got into that industry over passion and conceptual work.

Brighde: Okay. So can you tell us how it came to be that you started with your first accommodation project? ’cause the first one is always the hardest. Like, how did that come to be? Did you do it by yourself or in partnership with other people?

Denise: It was the initial idea in 2012 when we did the opening of a couple of friends, I’d say a very small team that had the idea of setting up that old willow we have in Frankfurt with just 10 rooms and to approach it in a way that it’s not super classic hotel, no front office manager, no reception, and that we would rather create a mixture of long-term and short-term guests. So the idea behind that was, that long-term guests living in the house, drinking coffee, cooking pasta in the evening, would also be hosts to the other guests coming for one or two nights from all over the world. They would be able to give recommendations for the city to welcome them, to show them the house, and that all in combination with community areas with gardens, a cinema in order to provide a space where you have the chance to come together to join a dinner, to listen to a concert, and all of that.

Brighde: So how do you find guests who are going to have that kind of perspective, that kind of way of being with other people, because, for many people, when they go to a hotel, they just wanna go and do their own thing. They don’t wanna talk to anybody. They’ve got their own agenda and their own stuff to do. But now you are talking like it’s almost a cooperative.

Denise: It is indeed. But I believe that it’s important to give options, right? So we are not an enforced community. It’s not a club where you have to join certain programs. We give options to meet other people during certain times of day or certain occasions, or a cultural program that we offer. So it’s really up to the guests if they want to join or how they want to be in one of our projects.

Brighde: So that was your idea. Did you have any challenges bringing that to reality?

Denise: It was not my idea. So I joined the company when the first house was already opened and I joined then in order to create the second house we had. So it was the vision of my business partner I’m still working with. Especially with Bali, it was a completely new context in order to think about how we can take the concept, and stay true to ourselves, but translated into a different cultural environment.

Brighde: So if I understand, well, your accommodation in Bali is the latest one, but I think maybe there were some others in between those first two and the Bali one. Could you tell us about that?

Denise: Yeah, correct. We had that first house, the 10 rooms opened in 2012. Then we had another 27 rooms open, which was like the next step for us in 2016. Libertina Linberg also in Frankfurt. We developed a concept at that time. So we would find another ratio of long-term and short-term guests. We would create a recording studio to have guests join live concerts and invite bands to create records within our house and our own studio. We did lots of cultural events back then as well, and it was always the dream to develop that idea and to grow of course. So our hundred-room guest community, Linley Linberg was opened in 2019 and yes, that was a challenge.

Brighde: Tell us about that.

Denise: So the things that we are doing, they are still quite personal, and it’s about not having boundaries. Not having boundaries from hosts to guests or boundaries on how I walk through a hotel, or how comfortable and homey I feel. So I’d say the challenge was how can you create that feeling still within a huge space.

 I think we did, or we tried to do that by creating different small spaces in that house that we are running with our own indoor garden, two kitchens, a bar, and a restaurant. So there’s plenty of room for guests who just wanna listen to a record or who wanna hang out for a drink on the roof terrace.

Brighde: What made you choose Bali as the place that you were going to have this rather larger place?

Denise: Bali was the outcome of travel and falling in love with the island and with the beautiful culture, with the nature here, with amazing places, and getting into the surf. It was a dream that came up a few years ago. There was no question that, if we ever have the chance, if we find the right spot, if we can manage to create a project team here we would like to go for that.

Brighde: Can you describe what the accommodation is like?

Denise: Lost Lindenberg is a very magical place, and I’m not saying that because it’s a lindenburg project. It’s magical because of its location. West Bali, those who might have been, know it’s still quite a remote area and it feels like Bali 25 years ago. We are located in a small village named Pekutatan.

 It’s beautiful houses, huge fungi penny trees. You have the ocean directly in front of the house. What we tried with the architectural and design approach, was to really integrate the project into that nature. So you arrive, you have that huge installation art wall from Tobias Berger that is a bridge to our urban DNA. Then you enter the jungle and you have actually a few minutes to walk to the jungle until you arrive at the reception house. That just creates a certain feeling. I guess

Brighde: Yeah, I’m just trying to picture where it is located. Is it near Amed?

Denise: No, Amed would be east side and we are on opposite, the west side. We have beautiful sunsets. We have the surf directly in front of the hotel, Medewi as a surf spot, 10 minutes away from Los Lindenberg as well.

Brighde: It’s by the ocean too?

Denise: It’s directly in front of the ocean.

Brighde: Wow. It really is very beautiful. I’m just looking at the website now and it seems like you have direct access to the ocean, but you’re just surrounded by palm trees. It just looks lovely. May I ask, what kind of budget this accommodation is? Is it for everybody or backpackers or is it super high-end luxury? Could you tell us about that?

Denise: Yes. So the price point for rooms is we are starting with $350 a night. That’s a starting price. We have eight rooms. We don’t consider ourselves to be a super luxury, high-end product. We are an unpretentious concept and it’s easygoing inside and homey. Yeah.

Brighde: Okay. Now something we haven’t even yet talked about is the fact that this property is a vegan property, and your other properties are also vegan. So how is it that it came to pass that Lindenburg, the company, the brains behind all of these different places decided to make their properties vegan?

Denise: For us, it was a logical result of the times that we are living in. Seven Swans, which is a restaurant that belongs to our universe, was actually one of the first projects, a Michelin-star restaurant at that time serving a five-course menu with fish and meat. But we started growing our own vegetables and the first thought behind all of that was how can we integrate that permaculture that we are running even more into the concept. So it makes sense by the end of the day, and it’s not that the permaculture is following the restaurant, it should be the other way around.

So we got more and more consequent in doing that. The first step was that we went completely vegetarian, which was already huge and amazing, which was also a success a few years ago because we managed to keep that Michelin star with that restaurant. Then the idea that it wouldn’t be such a big thing, to go fully plant-based because we realized there’s not much you would miss most properly.

Brighde: It just blows my mind that there is another Michelin-starred vegan restaurant. I didn’t think there was. I knew there was one near Bordeaux, which got a Michelin star, but unfortunately, it closed. I think last year or something, but there is a Michelin-star vegan restaurant in Frankfurt. I never would’ve thought.

Denise: In a tiny house, in Frankfurt, on three floors, the kitchen is tiny. The team under an incredible Chef, is doing an exceptional job, they developed the concept. It’s an amazing experience to go there.

Brighde: Wow. So you have how many properties in Frankfurt?

Denise: Four, in total.

Brighde: Four, and how many of them are the kind of more communal living? Are all of them, or are some of the more conventional hotels?

Denise: No, I wouldn’t say that we run any conventional hotels. We have one property that is near Frankfurt which is basically a house in the forest with one bedroom. So I wouldn’t say that this is very communal because of the amount of guests we can host. That’s very private and has a small lake and a garden in front, but all other projects are run basically under the same mindset.

Brighde: So how was it that people reacted, like your past travelers and past guests when you decided to become a vegan hotel? Because I’m sure many of them might have been disappointed perhaps. So what was their reaction?

Denise: I heard in the beginning, we have long-term guests as well, that there was a black market for sausage in the house. I think it changed a lot during the last years and it was quite a big thing when we started a few years ago. For us, we were exploring and having obviously conversations, especially for everything that is connected to events. Because even though when you have people or hosts that create an event or they have a wedding and then not necessarily the other 85 people invited to that event are vegan too. But that got a lot more easy and it’s not even a topic anymore. In Bali, we don’t communicate that big that we are vegan because for us it’s also not a big thing by the end of the day. It should be normal and we don’t need to give it a red sign. 

Brighde: Yeah, I know a lot of businesses use this approach where they just don’t mention the word vegan anywhere. People are often quite surprised when they’re like, oh, I just had breakfast and it was vegan and I didn’t even really notice because it was just tasty and delicious.

Denise: We obviously communicate that we run a plant-based concept, but all other factors are, that quality is a big point when serving food or when doing things. So we always try to keep up that quality, especially in food and drinks. We source everything locally, the food. Can tell stories, We work with a purely local team that does fantastic Balinese food that’s in Bali. In Frankfurt, we run a different plant-based restaurant. In the hotel, not what you would necessarily connect to, but some people may understand what vegan food is. It’s not salad and cucumber. It’s a little bit more. It’s yummy, it’s umami, it can be heavy. It should make you happy by the end of the day.

Brighde: I love that. I know that corporate social responsibility is really important for you and your business, the lindenburg. So I’m curious, like what sort of projects are you working on?

Denise: So we have a very close sister NGO for all our lindenberg concepts, that is called Pfefferminz Green, that’s an NGO that works closely with another N G O aim Subsaharan Africa, so in Sierra Leone mainly, and Ethiopia. They basically support the local African NGO in doing amazing work, when it comes to developing, and supporting culture, people infrastructure. That’s an amazing project, obviously, that has also huge importance for us. What we did in order to integrate that into the hospitality context or into our daily lives was that Pfefferminz Green opened a small tailor house for women who were former Soweis who were female. 

Brighde: They do the female genital mutilation.

Denise: Correct? Yes.

Brighde: ah. So they are trained again to become seamstresses, like making things sewing.

Denise: Yes, correct. Yeah.

Brighde: Oh, okay. Yes. I’m looking at their Instagram page there and they’re trying to really help people move away from female genital mutilation. Interesting.

Denise: So, those products, they created pillowcases, beautiful blankets. We would integrate into our hotel concepts, especially at Lindley Lindenberg and we would be able to tell the story and explain to guests what is the actual background of those things that we have.

Brighde: Right. I see. And do you have any organizations that you support in Bali?

Denise: In Bali, we created a program during Corona during the pandemic called The Lost Bunch, which is basically a kids program. That was founded together with a local Muklis and he would basically call me to tell me that those kids during the pandemic, would hang out, that there’s no proper purpose, we need to create something in order to give them a more structure on perspectives on what to do all day long. So that program is run by Muklis, all about English lessons, about sustainability, waste management, beach, clean ups. It’s all about surfing, it’s about sports and competitions. We have that program now with quite a bunch of kids; girls and boys that are joining.

Brighde: Is this program close to Pekutatan?

Denise: Yeah, so Muklis lives in Medewi, which is a few minutes from Pekutatan. I would consider him to be a part of our team. The kids come together at least twice a week for surf lessons or English lessons and we would meet up from time to time, either in Medewi or in Pekutatan. Sometimes also with families for barbecues and just to create that community and to integrate into that environment.

Brighde: I love all of that. So tell me, you already have five properties that are vegan. It just blows my mind. What are your hopes and dreams for the future? Do you want to expand or are you as happy as you are right now?

Denise: We are happy as we are. I feel that we are lucky with what we are able to do. We are still a small team, so everyone is pretty much involved in every idea and everything that is translated into our hospitality daily lives. The dream would be If we could choose to find other amazing places around the world and open up a Lindenberg maybe. And I think that this dream will definitely come true by next year, as we are in the process of building a house on a small island in Norway at the moment.

Brighde: Wow, you are really choosing to do these projects in very diverse places. I will say that as somebody who runs luxury vegan group tours, I will say that our choices of where we go are rather random, like Rwanda, Botswana, and Vietnam.

Denise: Okay.

Brighde: France, they’re quite random. And sometimes when you work on such diverse trips. The workload is much more because everything is so different from each other. Like the culture is different and the infrastructure is different, and the kinds of things that you’re doing and seeing are different. So I imagine, it must be quite similar for you.

Denise: Yeah, definitely. Norway is a completely new challenge. Building on an island is a completely new challenge that we are facing at the moment. I think we are lucky that we are able to give ourselves the time to develop such a project. In this case, it’s a house, it’s not 10 houses somewhere. So we are able to get to know the culture, to get to know the infrastructure. I spent three weeks in Norway in March, with our project team and we started to talk to people, to get an idea of how things are working to start creating a concept. So I think with time that’s all possible. Yeah,

Brighde: Mm. For someone like me, I don’t have a lot of decorating skills, and I don’t have a lot of ideas about what would look right, feng shui. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but you must use the services of architects and professionals like that. Is that how you have done it in the past?

Denise: Yes, for sure. Architecture and design is something that we love to dive into. So we would always choose the partners that we are working with in a way that we think they are able to create a world or we are already admiring the works and we can follow and we see a common base in order to create something that is really special.

In Bali, we did together with, Alexis Dornier and Studio Jencquel, amazing architects and interior designers. In Norway we are going to work with nk, so, we are lucky.

Brighde: Okay, so most of the people listening to this podcast are usually English speakers, so from the United States or Canada or something like that. Which of your properties do you think would be particularly appealing for them? Where are they found? What is unique about each one?

Denise: I think that being up for something in an urban context for a weekend trip, going to Frankfurt, and staying at Lindenberg because it’s a house again, you can choose. You don’t even need to leave necessarily because we provide in-house everything. In order to have a wonderful stay, from again, visiting the bar or the restaurant or cooking yourself in one of our kitchens. Connecting to other people because there are quite a lot of things happening. So it really depends on the mood. Bali obviously is something that is far away from everything, far away from distraction, a focus, or a refocus on other activities in life. So I’d say it really depends on what you’re up for.

Brighde: I see. Yeah. Many people listening to this podcast will probably know that Bali is a very, very vegan-friendly place to go, but I imagine that where your hotel is located, which is not such a busy area of Bali, I’m wondering whether there are a lot of vegan options around there or not really.

Denise: There is now. So there are things coming and I can proudly say that we also had a tiny bit of an impact on that. So we have now 1, 2, or 3 restaurants in that area that are offering vegan options as well, and they do good. Rasta Cafe is an amazing place for dumplings and curries now, so no you can find other options as well.

Brighde: I see. Yeah. It really is quite off the beaten track, this part of Bali where you are. It just looks absolutely beautiful. I’m just so excited, Denise, that Lindenburg in all of its different formations exists and that vegan travelers can go and stay. People who are not staying at the hotel, are they able to have a meal at your restaurant in Lost Lindenburg?

Denise: Yeah, we do that based on requests as we just have that eight rooms. We sometimes do have, obviously exclusive bookings. We get a lot of requests for people, to hang out at the pool or to come over for lunch, which is obviously possible if we think it’s the right guests in the house that are okay with that. But there are days when it’s obviously not possible and then we would find other options for the guests.

Brighde: So how would people go about contacting you to see if that was possible? I’m imagining if I was on a motorbike ride or something like that and I wanted to come and pop in, What would be the best way I could book so I can avoid disappointment?

Denise: The best way is via WhatsApp, and we do have WhatsApp contacts even on the homepage with a small window so you can write the team is on WhatsApp so they can answer also short-term requests, quite easy.

Brighde: Fantastic listeners, that might sound a little bit strange to some of you, but in Bali, everything is done via WhatsApp, right?

Denise: Everything. Yeah. 

Brighde: I love it. All right, so Denise, I wanna thank you so much for this really interesting work that you’re doing and creating vegan accommodations in all of these different kinds of ways that are just going to really please vegan travelers when they go to Frankfurt or Bali or maybe even in a remote island in Norway. How can people learn more about you and make bookings?

Denise: Through our homepage www.thelindenberg.com. We are also on Instagram at @lindenberghotels. I’d say that’s the easiest way to reach out.

Brighde: Fantastic. Denise, I wanna thank you so much for taking the time and getting up quite early to talk with me today on the World Vegan Travel Podcast. I wish you all of the best with all of these incredible projects that you’re working on. Thank you so much.

Denise: Thank you so much for having me and it was a pleasure. Thank you.

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