Inside La Casa Viva’s Earthship Home & Sustainably Vegan Dishes

Meet the owners of La Casa Viva that became pioneers of the vegan and vegetarian scene in Valencia, without compromising flavors and presentation.

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Owners of La Casa Viva: Juan Joaquin Pons Grau, Ines Hildegard Ciscar Breitzler, Marlene Pons, and Joan Pons Ciscar. PHOTO La Casa Viva

Located in the Russafa neighborhood of Valencia, La Casa Viva is a vegan and vegetarian restaurant where sustainability is celebrated from the first moment upon entryway. If you’ve never stepped inside an earthship home, this eco-friendly restaurant transports a similar experience with locally-sourced natural wood furniture and décor either upcycled from thrift stores or built by hand. When it comes to each vibrant dish made with produce grown by local farmers, owners Juan Joaquin Pons Grau and Ines Hildegard Ciscar Breitzler take pride in utilizing ingredients that can be regrown.

On the menu: paté, pumpkin lasagna, veggie smooth pink pizza, carob cake, and kefir cake. Below, the owners answer some of our questions regarding the story behind their family business and their wish to create a healthier space for the community in Valencia.

JST: What Inspired you to open a sustainable vegan and vegetarian restaurant?

LCV: For over 40 years we have always felt attracted to the sustainability world, vegan food, and upcycling. We began our journey at 23 and 19 years old and were passionate about opening a sustainable vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Tavernes and later in Russafa. We experimented with family recipes to create the recipes we have today without ever going to culinary arts school.

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Photo by La Casa Viva Facebook

JST: What are the difficulties in running an eco-friendly restaurant?

LCV: To open a beautiful sustainable restaurant would be money. We began with listening to our gut because there was also no one who could help us. We had to search and experiment on our own accounts to construct our restaurant. In that time period, there weren’t professionals who could guide us.

All of the furniture – lamps, tables, etc. – in the restaurant were upcycled from thrift stores using eco-friendly and all natural paints after stripping the old layers. All of the fabric used on the furniture is made from wool and cotton from a store in Olanda, Netherlands where the rolls of fabric were only 1 dollar. In Amsterdam, we also found a lot of unique materials that we couldn’t find in Spain. Most furniture pieces are also antiques that have been given a second life.

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Photo by La Casa Viva Instagram

JST: How have you sourced locally?

LCV: All of the dishes are prepared without starch, sugars, or gluten. Ingredients are sourced from a local organic farm and depending on the season, we alter the menu to keep everything fresh. Some ingredients cannot be found in Valencia, so sometimes we source from other cities such as Barcelona.

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Photo by La Casa Viva Instagram

JST: What efforts have La Casa Viva made to become more sustainable?

LCV: We recycle everything we can and have always been conscious about it. Before we opened our restaurant, we used to focus on recycling ink cartridges. Everything we use either has been recycled or will be in the future. The Tavernes location is two houses together from 1899 and it took us 25 years to remodel, and there is also a yoga studio on the second floor. Across five summers, we removed the old roof and installed a new one.

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Photo by La Casa Viva Instagram

JST: Does La Casa Viva support any local charities or projects? 

LCV: Yes we work with many charities, such as Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, Adena, Greenpeace, and Acnur. We have been donating to and supporting these charities since our adult children were young. Recently, supporting sustainable charities has become a trend, but we have been doing it long before it was trending.

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Photo by La Casa Viva Instagram

JST: How is food waste handled at La Casa Viva?

LCV: There are rarely any food scraps left on plates, so we don’t have much food waste. If there ever is any food waste in the kitchen from preparing the wrong dish, then someone would either eat it or put it in a takeout container to eat later. We all hate seeing food go to waste, so if no one wants the extra food then we have dogs we feed to at the end of the day.

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Photo by La Casa Viva Instagram

JST: What is the history of La Casa Viva?

LCV: 40 years ago in Calpe, Moraida our journey began when we were only 23 and 19. We would collect materials and upcycle them. We used the leaves from palm trees to create roofs and umbrellas. We had Jazz and Blues concerts in Alicante which brought people from all over.

In 2014, it was very difficult to get a loan due to the economic crisis at the time, but we were the only ones in the whole town who were able to receive one since they knew us for attracting tourists to the city. With the little bit of money we had, we were able to open the location in Tavernes. All we knew to do was create beautiful spaces, so we had to experiment in the kitchen.

The grand opening in 2014 was a big success and everyone thought we were crazy. In 2018, we opened the Russafa location. We have tried plenty of different projects along the way. I was offered a position as a chef in Germany and our kids were young, but the restaurant was such a success we were able to keep it running. We never used social media to promote our restaurant. Our advertising has always been through interviews, the news, or word of mouth.

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Photo by La Casa Viva Instagram

JST: What’s in store for the future of La Casa Viva?

LCV: We are planning to open another location in the mountains, on a piece of land we bought over 20 years ago near a river. The reason we haven’t begun construction is due to the difficulties in getting the permissions approved. The land has a very unique ecosystem which we would be cautious of during construction in hopefully the near future.

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Photo by La Casa VivaInstagram

Natalia Guerra

Contributing Editor

Natalia Guerra was born in Miami and comes from a Cuban background. Aside from her passion for travel writing and culinary arts, she also loves to step out of her comfort zone to live life to the fullest. Her lifestyle is being a digital nomad, working remotely as she travels the world one city at a time. Her favorite country has been Spain for its beautiful architecture and food, which reminds her of her Cuban culture.

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