Haus Hiltl: Back to and Beyond the First Western Vegetarian Restaurant’s Roots

After 120 years, Hiltl in Zurich continues to push boundaries of what plant-based restaurants can be.

Hiltl restaurant front
Front of the Zurich-based restaurant.


There will always be people who view vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the United States as a product of the 1960s and '70s, when some young people began to question what was in the “TV dinners” they were raised on in their formative years. In the last few decades, several trendy vegan restaurants embraced by celebrities, influencers, and other prominent tastemakers have appeared around the U.S., though they may be viewed as “niche” in some parts of the country. 

Now try to imagine what happened when tailor Ambrosius Hiltl decided go entrepreneurial and open a vegetarian restaurant in Zurich in 1898. Even with a lot of trial and error involved in getting things off the ground, Ambrosius charged on, partially for personal and practical reasons: His doctor recommended he give up meat completely after a bout of rheumatism in 1901 to stay alive. 

By 1907, Ambrosius Hiltl and wife Martha Gneupel (who channeled her upbringing in a strict vegetarian home into her role as the cook) laid down permanent roots by buying the building at 28 Sihlstrasse. Some wrote off the restaurant as a fad, even calling it the “root bunker,” but it ultimately became one of the most enduring multigenerational family-owned restaurant enterprises in Europe.    

vegan sampler

Elyse Glickman

Although the flagship Haus Hiltl restaurant still occupies 28 Sihlstrasse, one would never guess it has existed for more than a century—and in different iterations as subsequent generations of Hiltls made their mark. Everything from the vast global menu to its international army of cooks, impressive semi-open concept kitchen, cooking classes, and decor would make a vegan wish for a U.S. branch or an L.A.-based location attracting lines around the block.

The same is true for its Hiltl Vegimetzg (vegan butcher shop), opened in 2013 around the corner. Here, conscientious eaters can purchase gourmet plant-based Hiltl Tatar, traditional Züri Geschnetzeltes (made with plant-based chicken), burgers, meatballs, Cordon Bleu, and other restaurant bestsellers, as well as condiments, baked goods, and sustainable wines from nearby Zurich wineries.

vegan butcher
Hiltl Vegimetzg, the vegan butchery.


At some points before the pandemic, fourth generation owner and CEO Rolf Hiltl had mulled over some "U.S. concepts"; however, Patrick Becker, head of marketing and long-time member of the Hiltl Executive Board, says Hiltl will make a bigger impact on the plant-based restaurant world at large by remaining close to home and focusing on adjusting its successful formula to the times. Recent changes include converting several recipes from vegetarian to vegan by swapping out some of the ingredients and adding a number of Korean items to its offerings. Among chefs and management, the goal is to make newer vegan versions of the recipes taste at least as good if not better than the vegetarian originals.

“The Hiltl Buffet is now 72% vegan, and many of our regular customers don’t even know it,” says Becker with a wry smile. “It’s important to note that as 80% of our customers are flexitarian and focused on eating healthier, we are not so much focused on the moral aspects of veganism. We are focused on introducing everybody to delicious, plant-based foods that are so good—like our egg salad—that omnivores would never guess is plant-based. Vegan customers, meanwhile, will appreciate being able to eat an old favorite they had to give up.”

Hiltl academy
The Academy, where cooking classes take place.


A lot of the magic one sees inside the first floor restaurant takes root inside the Hiltl Academy, on the fifth floor of the Haus Hiltl building. Becker points out that virtual Hiltl classes filmed inside the “Martha” kitchen during the pandemic became so popular that they will be offered after things go back to normal. And while both modular kitchens serve as classrooms for the general public, professional chefs, corporate team building events, and niche classes for groups like middle school home economics teachers, the academy operates as test kitchen for the restaurants and shop. 

“Our chefs and cooks develop new recipes as well as improving existing ones,” Becker says. “As there’s a big push in Switzerland on reducing sugar in one’s diet, we’ve pursued reducing sugar content in many Hiltl recipes and seeing if we can reduce gluten and other allergens. We’ve also collaborated with Planted (a Swiss alternative meat producer), resulting in several of our most popular dishes having Planted worked into the recipes. Since 2014, we’ve had between 20 and 30 new dishes introduced that have stayed in regular rotation.”

vegan burgers
Vegan burgers.


Another Hiltl innovation worth noting is the way management has taken “locally sourced” as far as it can go to further reduce its carbon footprint. Becker, Rolf Hiltl, and their colleagues decided guacamole had to go, as importing avocados was at odds with the company objective to obtain greater sustainability. The perfected “Pea-mole,” in turn, has been so well received that Becker insists guests don’t miss the guacamole. Other recipes involving imported produce are being adjusted accordingly.

“We get cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs from all over the world enrolling for our specialized cooking classes for professionals, as they appreciate how we have approached plant based cooking,” Becker affirms. “In Switzerland, and other countries, if you want to be a professional cook, one would have to know how to cook with meat. However, things are changing, and the professionals are finding that our 100+ years of wisdom in cooking vegan and vegetarian dishes with the highest standards will serve them in their own establishments as their customers’ tastes and health goals change.”  

For those visiting Switzerland, details on the flagship Haus Hiltl and the other Hiltl restaurants, visit Hiltl’s cookbooks, featuring some of its most popular dishes, are available in English, ship worldwide, and can be purchased at