So just how do you open a vegan takeaway...
Ok, so we've found the premises (kind of) - what next? Well, I won't bore you with the details of securing the premises, as that is a very long story, which took a very long time, but eventually we agreed to buy 'Charcoal Kitchen' the previous business, just to close it down and get started on Zad's.
First things first, I met up with a guy which many of you may know, Elliot. He is not only a super super nice guy, but also knows just about everybody in the vegan food scene and is an amazing photographer and general design guy, so I thought he'd be a useful first port of call - we met up at Grindsmith's on Deansgate on 5th January 2017 and I told him my plan. He was probably the first external person I'd spoken to about Zad's, so it was pretty exciting and interesting to put the word out there. He was super helpful and let us know what other people had done and what things we needed to focus on, other people we should speak to etc.
We opened an Instagram account and Facebook page, though didn’t have a logo or anything for either at this stage. Our first IG post still remains, which is a stock image that came up when I googled ‘vegan pizza’ and just the words ‘coming soon’ (give it a like if you read this post, as it will be interesting to see how many people get this far) – we were keen to try and get some buzz and excitement before we opened so that we got off to a flying start. We did quite a good job of that, though again, this was 2017, so vegan pizza was a big deal back then and everyone (including us) was pretty excited.
Next up, was to start finding some staff. Luckily, I knew a lot of vegans from my activism, so naturally that was my first port of call. I met up with a small handful of people, who were all pretty excited at the prospect of working in a 100% vegan environment, with like-minded people. So far, so good. We had a premises and we had staff. We just didn’t know how long this was going to take and needed to get to work on a logo so we actually had some kind of external image of what exactly Zad’s was. I’ll try and post a picture of one of the first attempts here, which you’ll see is a far cry from where we ended up, but it just felt good to see something on ‘paper’ and see what would eventually become our brand start to come to life. Eventually, we got some more help from a wonderful friend, who helped the logo become what it is today and helped us build our first website and generally piece together what is now Zad’s online presence.
The big job was sorting out the shop. To give you an idea of the condition it was in, the previous owner used to smoke while he was making the food and use the drip tray on the kebab machine as his ashtray. The extraction system didn’t work (we later found 11 dead pigeons in various parts of the extraction system which had caused it to stop working), the basement looked like a mediaeval torture chamber, with the creepy addition of kids toys as he used to get his kids to play down there while he and his wife were working upstairs, and the whole place hadn’t been redecorated since the 1970s. There also wasn’t a functioning hand sink (no sink at all in the toilet and the one in the kitchen wasn’t plumbed in) and the toilet itself was just in a the corner of the basement, with no walls. It’s fair to say, it needed a bit of work. The first job, as ever, was ripping it all out, so basically the entire contents of the shop went into the back yard, then we could get to work plastering and building our beautiful new counter and painting everywhere a nice bright green and white. We replaced the old strip lights with dozens of spotlights and clad the walls and countertop in marble. We really did get the place looking beautiful, including a lovely seating area built outside.
We also had to shop around for all of the equipment – to give you an idea, the big pizza ovens cost roughly the same as a family hatchback, plus the dough mixer, dough rollers, 8 billion pizza trays… the whole thing was a lot more expensive than expected, but it was lovely seeing it all come together and one of the most exciting moments was surely our first stock delivery as it really felt like were almost an actual business. We had a shop, we had ingredients and we almost had the equipment to combine the two into actual food, that people might actually buy.
We were almost there, it was July 2017 and we were getting terrifyingly close to opening. Seems strange that it was only at this late stage that we thought we’d better actually test the food. I guess that was the only bit we hadn’t worried about. I love eating food and the chef loved making it – what could go wrong? We had a couple of trial nights, first inviting some vegan friends around to try some pizzas and burgers etc. and then, perhaps more importantly, finding some non-vegan family members and asking them to come over and bring some friends, so we could get the omnivore’s opinions. Given one of the main driving forces for opening Zad’s was to help people on the road to veganism, their views were critical to our success. The good news was, they were impressed, really impressed. Some of them even preferred the vegan version to the non-vegan equivalent (nuggets).
One memory that sticks in my head from one of those trial nights, was a guy walking past and being offered a slice of pizza. He declined (whist still walking) and said he was vegan, so couldn’t have any. We reassured him that the pizza was vegan and he just laughed and said no thanks. He clearly thought we were lying, or meant veggie, or just had no idea what vegan meant. This gives us an idea of how different things were in 2017 and how things have come since then. I’d love to know who that guy was, and more importantly whether he came back.
And that was it, after a long, long seven or eight months, we were (almost) ready to open. We still had a few bits unfinished, but we threw open the doors and jumped in at the (very) deep end on 21st July 2017 at 4pm, to long queues of waiting vegans 😊 opening night was eventful and a very steep learning curve, but we’ll come onto that next time.