Totally Vegan: delicious food the vegan way!

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Veganism is officially one of the UK’s fastest-growing movements, and with its array of wholly vegan and vegan-friendly businesses, Coventry is rapidly establishing itself as a must-visit vegan destination. Food Covolution meets Nicky from Fargo’s recently-expanded 100% vegan café Totally Vegan to talk about how she got started, the thinking behind her new space, and Coventry’s increasing appetite for vegan living.

Food Covolution: Hi Nicky! Can you tell us what inspired you to open a vegan business?
Nicky: I’d been vegetarian since I was fourteen; but when a family member wanted to take the next step and go vegan, we decided as a family that we should all make the switch. It was a gradual transition – but six months in, people were saying things like ‘Your food’s amazing!’, ‘I wouldn’t even know it was vegan if you didn’t tell me!’ and ‘You could sell this!’.

FC: And things have moved pretty fast since then?
N: I got my Food and Hygiene Certificate for my kitchen at home, and my Public Liability Insurance, and I took a stall at Fargo’s first-ever vegan event in April 2016. I had cakes, and a mini-oven for hot meals – I could could have sold out ten times over! I loved the buzz and after that, I did as many events as I could.

FC: But you kept coming back to Fargo?
N: I just loved it, and I knew it was the kind of place where my food would be appreciated. The demand was there, the opportunity to take over the shipping container came up, and I opened in February 2017.

FC: And it really took off…
N: From Day One, it was obvious it was going to work. It seated seven indoors and on Saturdays we would be full all day long. We made a point of counting how many customers went away because there was nowhere to sit, and because we knew the average customer spend, we could calculate how much income we were losing. Moving to larger premises was a no-brainer.

FC: You transferred to the new café in March. What ambiance are you aiming for?
N: A home-from-home! The seating is a mixture of sofas, tables and chairs like you would have at home and it’s very family-friendly. And because the kitchen is open, people can talk to me while I’m making their food. It’s warm and inviting, with a good flow.

FC: How would you describe your menu?
N: Traditional, but veganised! People say ‘I love the fact that I can get vegan versions of everyday food here because that’s what I miss’. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for more experimental restaurants; but if you’re looking for traditional, comforting food, realistically priced so the whole family can enjoy eating out together, that’s what you’ll find here.

FC: How much of your food do you make yourself?
N: Sixty to seventy per cent – mainly cakes, cookies and quiches. On Saturdays and Sundays I do a main course – always made from scratch – but with variations. So for example, I might do two lasagnes. One would be made the traditional vegan way, with soya mince; the other with vegetables and gluten-free pasta. I always provide a gluten-free option, and on weekdays, gluten-free snacks are always available.

FC: How about Coventry’s vegan community as a whole. Is it growing?
N: Definitely. Social media has enabled people to connect, and local vegans are very supportive of each other. Plus, the café has itself become a social hub, where people can chat and share information. You often hear that veganism is a youth-led movement, but we get lots of older people eating here. Often they’re coming at it from the health angle, but the more they’ve looked into it, the more they’ve thought ‘this actually makes sense, not only for me but for animals and the planet’.

FC: Do you think the range of vegan businesses here at Fargo is attracting visitors from beyond Coventry?
N: Yes. A phrase people have started using is ‘vegan hub’. The three hundred-per-cent vegan businesses – that’s Twisted Barrel, Green Unicorn and myself – we’ve all expanded. We’ve had to, because the demand is there. Plus all the other businesses, even artists and clothing, have awareness of the issues. The recognition is there that cruelty-free is about more than food alone. It’s a whole lifestyle.

You can view Totally Vegan’s menu here.

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