Had you told me six years ago I would be opening my very own Vegan Cafe at the age of 25 I would have told you that you're absolutely nuts! First of all, I wasn't vegan six years ago, and secondly, I was on a completely different path at that time - the restaurant businesses certainly wasn't on my radar!
So you might ask yourself, how does a Conductor at Canadian Pacific Railway get involved in not only the restaurant/food service industry, but the vegan food service industry? To be honest, sometimes I wonder how the hell I ended up here too!
My only explanation I have for you is that I made the utmost life changing decision to go vegan. Sure, tonnes of people are making the decision to go vegan now; but me, well I took it a step further and became a vegan business owner.
Before I came vegan, I wasn't much of a cook. Growing up, my mom being an excellent home cook was always trying to encourage me to help her cook dinner, bake cookies, etc. I was more interested in the typical teenage things like partying, boys, skipping class to play Super Nintendo, ya know, the usual.
So when I moved out, let me tell you. Aside from the two decent dishes I could cook, which were bruschetta chicken and apple glazed pork, I spent a lot of my college days eating Mr.Noodles, KD, McDonalds... what most college students who can't cook or afford groceries eat.
I'd like to tell you some big dramatic story of why I went vegan but I don't really have one. I've always been a huge animal lover, like most people will also say they are, so I initially decided to go vegetarian. The idea of eating the very beings I grew up loving so much had finally gotten to me. So then, I did what most curious animal lovers do and watched some documentaries, did some research, etc. After only about a month, I decided to 'go big or go home' and do veganism.
Well let me tell you, going vegan in Lanark County, where a majority of the population hunts their own food, was not all sunshine and rainbows. My dad and three brothers who were all hunters and fishers, saw my lifestyle change to be nothing but a big joke. Probably a phase too. Like most people who transition into veganism, I received a lot of jokes, criticism, the famous 'Where do you get your protein?" questions and uneducated remarks of "You can't live without meat, milk, etc."
Well wouldn't you know it, five years later and I'm not dead - who would have thought! ;)
Even just five years ago, the vegan options at the grocery stores were very limited. I was pretty much forced to learn how to cook and bake without animal products. This is where things got really interesting. I was mostly learning from scratch how to cook, but also how to cook vegan. In the beginning, I made some pretty gross things. I had no idea what I was doing. But like most things in life, with lots of practice, I got better. I also think that with a mom who is a great cook, I grew up with instincts to know what works with what flavors and what doesn't. I've also been someone who enjoys home cooking and simple items, so that's what I've always stuck with. My favorite thing to do is take Mom's famous shepherd's pie or lasagna and turn them vegan. Or turning my favourite creamy pasta dish into a healthier, vegan version.
I started doing more baking than cooking, selling and making cupcakes and desserts to friends and family and eventually a few customers here and there. I had some pretty good feedback at this point, so there was that thought of "maybe this can go somewhere " in the back of my mind. At this point I was working as a cook in a local Cafe and also on temporary jobs in Western Canada with C.P. Rail. So it was either continue on this career path with great benefits, pay, etc. with C.P. - or take a very big risk and do something you love.
My husband grew up in Carp, so for quite some time we were avid go'ers to the Carp Farmers' Market on Saturdays. If you've never been to the Market, you have to go. It's the best one in Ottawa in my opinion! There are so many excellent local farmers, we were always trading our leftover desserts for organic Kale and other veggies with one of our favourite Farmers there! And bribing our neighbor with dougnuts in exchange for his delicious homemade lemonade - that's something I will always miss at the Market!
So with a big enjoyment in baking and cooking vegan foods, I decided I would give the Carp Farmers' Market a shot with my very own Vegan stand. I tested out sooo many different items on my family to get to my final products. At the market, with success we became well known for our dougnuts, Vegan burgers & sausages and of course, the deep fried avocados with cilantro lime dip. It was such a great feeling seeing people return every weekend for their favourites. There wasn't a weekend I didn't love, getting up at 4:30/5am to go to the market and represent Grow Your Roots.
The Market was just the stepping stone and confidence booster I needed to take my business to the next level. When I was in elementary school, I use to draw plans and imagine what it would be like to have my own restaurant, but I never thought it would actually happen 15 years later.
At the time, I was running my business as well as working as a waitress at a few local restaurants. So I took my service experience, Cook experience I had gained working at a restaurant a couple years prior, and my passion for Vegan food, and starting taking the steps I needed to take that would get me to my ultimate goal, a restaurant.
There are many challenging things a business owner can be faced with when expanding; securing finances and a location being the biggest. However, there was never a doubt in my mind that this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life, so that has been a factor keeping me going. Going vegan completely turned my world upside down, in all the best ways. I really do believe that my purpose on this earth is to advocate a cruelty free, healthy way of living that doesn't harm the planet (and to rescue as many animals as my husband will allow without divorcing me lol). Grow Your Roots is my way of doing that. I want to show everyone a compassionate way to eat, by serving amazing, nutritious foods at the future Cafe. So that everyone knows, your food, the fuel that gets you from A to B on a day to day basis, does not have to include animal products. And that we can all live a sustainable life on this planet without having negative consequences towards the Earth. It's simply about living the best life you can, while doing the least amount of damage and harm.
I sincerely hope that you will become a part of my journey in expanding Grow Your Roots and helping me build the community that comes along with it!
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!