I chatted with co-owners with Shaz, Dom and Lucas (left to right in the photo) on Friday 23rd August as they busily prepared their Hyde Park takeaway ready to serve their food, for the first time, at a pre-launch event for family and friends.
Their passion and knowledge about food and veganism immediately impressed, and I was excited to learn more as we sat down to talk.
The guys, who are all 21, met at Leeds University and graduated only this summer, but they are already on the brink of opening a takeaway in the ever-popular Hyde Park. They’re not new to the world of food – the savvy students set up an artisan jam business (Friends of Jam) whilst in their second year at university to test the waters and see what people want. Although it did well, and continues to do so at markets and festivals, the guys realised that it was not going to pay their bills post university. So, over a pint in the pub, the guys discussed options for money-making. They were keen to develop a business which would put money in the bank, give them the opportunity to let their creative juices flow and still allow them to promote veganism in Leeds.
Ingeniously, Dom, Lucas and Shaz turned to the vegan community on Facebook for some inspiration. They asked the community what they thought was missing from the Leeds food scene. In no time they were inundated by comments. as over 200 people shared their ideas for restaurants and cafes. It quickly became clear that what was missing was a dedicated vegan burger takeaway serving delicious, ethically and sustainably sourced food. So that is what the guys set out to deliver.
Friends of Food is located in Hyde Park, just next to the traffic lights by Woodhouse Moor. The takeaway, which the guys have completely refitted themselves, obviously applying some of the problem-solving skills developed in their engineering and business degrees, is sure to be a cool and sophisticated eatery. The sign, which had only been painted a couple of hours before I arrived, was simple and understated, but sure to be a draw passers-by
Something that I really liked hearing was that the takeaway will be completely plastic-free with 100% recyclable packaging. The guys explained that although being sustainable and ethical is part of their vegan morals and also something that they think needs to be pushed in the City, it would not be something that would draw in customers. But they are confident that their food will. They want people to eat their food because they love it, not because it is the only plant-based option available or because they are plastic-free.
The menu, Dom explained, will be anything but boring. The dishes will be interesting and diverse, serving up food that is both familiar and experimental so that there is something for everyone. The guys told me that they want to provide something for hardcore carnivores and long-term vegans. They are looking forward to showing meat eaters that plant-based food is tasty, and that meat doesn’t have to be the centre of attention all the time. One dish I am excited to try, and I’m sure will soon become a restaurant favourite, is the spicy seitan burger with whisky and peach BBQ sauce, homemade slaw and dill pickles because it sounds fantastic! Dom, who will be Head Chef, is a self-taught cook, learning from TV programmes, cookery books and the internet. He told me that as a recently converted meat-eater he is well aware of what dishes and flavours new vegans may crave and those are the flavours that he is aiming to deliver. I asked about where his inspiration comes from, and he explained that he cooks what he likes to eat, which often means heavily spiced, interesting dishes.
As veganism grows in the UK (quadrupling between 2014 and 2018), so too does demand for vegan food. Although the number of restaurants and cafes serving vegan options has increased massively over the past few years, there is still a big gap in the market owing to a lack of vegan restaurants and takeaways. The guys told me about their own experiences in searching for vegan takeaway options that are ethical and sustainable, and explained that there is virtually nothing available. Especially not on a student budget. The guys hope that when Friends of Food launches in early September it will fill the gap in Hyde Park, and give vegans and non-vegans alike delicious food that they can feel good about eating.
Friends of Food will serve takeaway food which will also be available via Deliveroo. You can follow Friends of Food on Instagram, and also support them as they grow via their Kickstarter campaign.
The Leeds Living Team wishes Dom, Lucas and Shaz the very best for their joint venture.
Photographs courtesy of forforksakesocial.