Hi Dave, thanks for chatting to us today. So tell us about the origins of Vegan Junkies?
Sophie has always been an amazing chef and it was her dream to quit teaching and start a street food business. We’d sit around in bars fantasising about rolling into Glastonbury with a cool vintage truck, or perhaps catering a fancy wedding with hundreds of guests, so in 2018, in the run up to Christmas, we just started googling, and working out how to make it happen. By early January we were registered as a food trader, had signed up with NCASS, and were buying gazebos and gas burners and testing recipes and a million other things – including applying for festivals left, right and centre! Looking back it all happened so fast, 2019 was a rollercoaster where we catered a couple of vegan weddings and clocked up maybe 60 trading days across 15 different festivals. We absolutely loved it!
Wow, so you really hit the ground running by hitting the festivals straight away!
Yeah absolutely! But we had no idea we’d get into any! We did a couple of pop ups at local bars in February and March at the same time as applying for festivals with a ‘Burritos & Nachos’ menu and so when festivals started accepting us things obviously got very real very quickly! Suddenly the pop ups were crucial to test our recipes – not to mention our burrito rolling skills – and yeah, it was really exciting. Then we catered a wedding in March before working Under the Hill festival at the end of May. After that it was festivals and events all summer, including some corporate events, plus another wedding in September.
Are you finding that more people – especially your traditional carnivores – are experimenting with vegan food now?
Yeah definitely. Weddings are interesting because it’s clearly a vegan bride and groom who pick vegan food to feed 100 family and friends and you know most guests won’t be vegan! So we serve up four delicious courses and get loads of feedback – that’s the funny thing, non-vegans want to come and tell you how nice the food is, because it’s like they’re surprised and need to share.
At festivals we like to interact a lot and hand out free tasters and most festival goers are fairly liberal and open minded anyway right? They’re happy and having fun, so we’ve had loads of meat eaters happily tucking into our food when they see its not all lentils and lettuce. Our Bangin’ Bean Chilli is the best chilli on the planet, and that’s what I tell people passing by, and they have a taste for a laugh, and suddenly they’re buying a big fat burrito and calling their mates over to have a go.
We have a theory too, that if we work a festival that’s three days camping then there’s only a certain amount of burgers, chips and pizzas that anybody wants to eat before they think “I might go over to that vegan stall and get something a bit healthier.”
Yeah, I think a lot of my early experiences with vegan food were when I was hungover at a festival and thinking I can’t handle a greasy burger, but I can put away a vegan breakfast. I need some goodness to get through the day.
Absolutely, although there’s plenty of greasy vegan food out there too! I think that’s part of the vegan enigma, there’s healthy and unhealthy vegan cooking, but it is seen as automatically healthy. We certainly don’t push the health angle at a festival, we talk up our big, fat, hearty, tasty, gorgeous, moreish burritos. I mean, they are healthy by default, it’s all freshly cooked with lovely veg, but we’re not selling salads. Not that we’re against salad or anything! But if you want a big tasty meal full of flavour, come find Vegan Junkies. If you want a salad, go find a salad bar.
Having said all that, while we’ve been cooking Chilli & Mash, or Jackfruit Stew & Rice for ‘Meals for the NHS’ our labeling states that the meal is ‘full of protein, carbs and vitamins’ just to make sure all these nurses and doctors know they’re getting a hearty and healthy meal.
And actually, we love creating salads – we do a wicked Thai Mango salad for a start – but I think at mainstream festivals we try and stay away from stereotypes like salads, or even tofu – we’re trying to change perceptions of what vegan food can be – and actual vegans are seeking out more mainstream and varied options anyway, they want burgers and pies and burritos too, just plant based.
You’re right, vegan food has come so far from the stereotypical boring salads and tofu. So, how did Covid-19 affect you?
Initially it flattened us! Completely floored us. Vegan Junkies has no premises, so no government grants available. We’d catered a wedding in February so that was handy, but we have no other income and suddenly a summer full of festivals had all been canceled or postponed – and two weddings too! I’m not the type to panic, or worry, I’m uber confident that I can work anything out, I’m pretty good under pressure – but a deadly pandemic with a global lockdown? I definitely had a mini panic.
In early April Meals for the NHS popped up on the NCASS work opportunities and we signed up, and suddenly we were cooking and delivering 100 meals a week average to hospitals in the North West, feeding key workers working on the frontline. That kept us afloat and gave us some breathing space even if it wasn’t going to make us rich and we loved cooking for the NHS staff! It made us proud, it really felt like we were doing our bit to fight Covid, being part of the Blitz spirit and all that, especially back in April when things were even less certain and scarier than they are now. But Meals for the NHS wrapped up on June 30th, we made our last delivery on that day, so now we’re just waiting and praying for events to start up again.
So what’s the future for Vegan Junkies?
We’d like more weddings, more private events, and more corporate events too, hence the new website that points in that direction. Sophie is a creative chef, she is a real talent, and inventing and cooking recipes for private events is where she needs to be, ultimately. But we love festival life, it really suits us, so long may those continue but we’ll probably need to start looking at more staff to keep them running themselves in the long term.
In the short term, we’re booked into a street food festival in Wales at the end of August followed by Red Rooster Fest and, hopefully, Bearded Theory Fest which were both postponed from May to September – so it’s just fingers crossed that they go ahead – and then we’ll see what Autumn brings. I think what both Sophie and I really want, and what I guess everybody wants, is for 2021 to come around as fast as possible, and for 2020 to be just some weird bad dream that we can put behind us. Roll on the future!
Follow Vegan Junkies