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Why I decided to travel Europe in a converted Sprinter camper van…

In a short space of time I went from believing my vegan cafe would one day rule the world to feeling like I needed to leave my cafe and go see the world. So why did I decide to leave my hometown to travel Europe in a converted Sprinter camper van?

About a year ago, my husband, Andy, and I started talking about how we really wanted to go to Amsterdam for a month or more and spend time exploring it’s beautiful canals, windmills and vegan cafes by bicycle. My one condition: I must be able to bring my miniature poodle, Peanut, along for the ride (literally). Anyone who knows me well knows that me and Peanut are essentially one being in two bodies. We are obsessed with each other, and I love nothing more than bringing her along with me on my adventures.

Our Amsterdam adventure was, of course, hypothetical. The Plant Academy cafe was all I had time to think about and I certainly couldn’t leave the cafe for more than two to three days at a time. Even when I did take those two to three days away I was filled with anxiety about what was happening at the cafe at that moment. The idea of going on an extended trip to The Netherlands was a distant dream, but something we would still talk of from time to time, imagining ourselves cycling around Amsterdam’s many parks together, drinking oat milk lattes in the sun, and Peanut’s ear’s flapping lightly in the wind as she enjoyed the view on the front of my bike.

Van life Amsterdam

When we decided to close the cafe and explore other options, we realised we needed a break. Headspace would be essential for The Plant Academy’s future, and where better to have some headspace than The Netherlands? We realised our dream could become reality.

Since our dog, Peanut, was a big part of our trip we started looking up driving there and checking out Airbnb’s that would let us stay with her there. Even in the most unusual parts of The Netherlands we found it to be expensive, and inspired by friends and our trip in Quirky Camper’s ‘Sir James’ camper last winter, we decided to open our minds to the idea of buying a camper van and seeing The Netherlands for a month or so that way. Not only would it keep Peanut feeling settled and comfortable whilst we traveled, it would also give us the opportunity of many weekend breaks whilst we were still running the cafe.

We looked around and couldn’t really find any van’s that we liked in our price range, and then a lovely couple turned up in our lives who were also vegan and converted panel van’s for a living. Could we be any luckier in that moment?! We saw the van they had just finished and it was beautiful, unique and in our price range. We wanted something slightly different and asked if they had any projects lined up and would they consider building us a van. They had another project coming up but agreed to hold it off a couple of months and built us a beautiful converted 2012 LWB Sprinter camper van for the price we could afford. We loved working with them and getting to make so many decisions with them on our van. I know that a fair amount of people who want a camper van convert their own vans to maximise their money and to make all the creative decisions themselves. Those people are way more skilled in that area that me. I can bake an amazing vegan cake, or cook you the best vegan meal you’ve ever eaten, but ask me to use a drill… yeah, it wouldn’t end well. So getting to have the input you’d have of a self build with out the ‘self’ part was such a luxury we hadn’t expected, and one we will always be grateful for having. If any of you are interested in our friends Annie and Anthony’s camper building business you can check it out here.

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We loved going away each weekend in our new camper van. We would keep things affordable by wild camping most of the time, meaning we don’t stay at campsites, instead opting for ‘wild’ locations.

Usually these are not-so-wild pretty park ups in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales, or along the side of canals, and once at a nice park in Brighton. Of course we have had the odd not so glamorous night in a camper friendly car park on long journeys South.

In March, around the same time as we bought our van, the lease ended on our flat in Waterloo. We loved living there, right by the beach, but couldn’t afford it in the long run knowing that we wanted to go traveling for a short time, and had no guaranteed income from the end of April, since the cafe was only 4 weeks away from closing. It made sense to move back to my parent’s house in Southport temporarily. The van became the only space we had that was ‘ours’ and since we had such involvement in it’s interior, it was a space we felt happy, comfortable and at home in.

I can’t tell you exactly when, but at some point in the past few weeks, I went from being convinced I wanted to make The Plant Academy a success as a pop up business to feeling so lost and unsure and unenthusiastic about the possibilities of pop up’s. That’s not to say we won’t do something along these lines in the future but I suddenly felt like this wasn’t the right decision for me or The Plant Academy right now. I just wanted a bit of freedom.

It was this that made us realise that life wasn’t going to cost us any more abroad than it would in Southport, considering we already have the van and all it’s insurance and other costs. We’d budgeted for a certain amount of money and time before we needed to be making money again and decided we may as well spend that time exploring Europe.

Van life Amsterdam

We left this week and are now on the road indefinitely! It’s such an exciting time for us, and of course, our first stop is The Netherlands.

I’ve packed my bike and Peanut’s dog carrier that fits on the front. After we’ve thoroughly explored The Netherlands’ cycle lanes, our current plan is to head North for summer to Sweden and eat our body weight in Oatly chocolate ice cream whilst enjoying the natural beauty this country has to offer in it’s mild summer temperatures. Assuming we want to stay out past summer, we will most likely drive to Spain and Portugal for the winter months so that we can still see the sun, even in December.

I felt so broken when I wrote that blog post two months ago explaining why were closing, it was such a difficult thing for me to put out there. But I feel like by sharing more of my struggles and reality I’ve been able to connect with many of you even more and I’ve learnt a lot about myself personally. The struggles of the past couple of months have turned in to blessings. And whilst I still feel utterly lost, I’m feeling more positive and determined than I have been recently.

If you want to keep up to date with my adventures, follow me on Instagram and YouTube!

Love and Good Vibes, Ellie x

What makes a minimalist?

I gave up my business, sold most of my possessions, went from having a whole room as my wardrobe to two shelves of clothing. But does this make me a minimalist?

To me, minimalism isn’t about the number of possessions you have, it’s about how much value you place on the possessions you have kept, including the place you call home and the relationships you have cultivated and maintain. It’s not necessarily about having minimal possessions, although usually this will be the case. You could have a whole house full of stuff, but as long as you really, truly place a positive value in these items, you use it regularly and it makes you happy, then that stuff is worth keeping.

Minimalism

For me, my possessions, certain relationships, my business and my house did not make me happy.

When I was at university, I used shopping for new clothes as a way to create happiness for myself, believing that a new outfit could make me feel better (it didn’t). in 2015, my husband and I decided to use some inheritance as a deposit for a 3 bedroom house. We moved out of our much loved one bedroom apartment in to this newly renovated 3 bedroom house, I filled one room with my ever growing collection of clothes, and we filled the other rooms with furniture we never used, just to fill the space. A year later we found ourselves more miserable than we had been before, with our relationship going through the rockiest point in our 10 year history together. So we rented the house out and moved back in with our parents whilst we figured out the next step. We came to the conclusion we didn’t need as much space, it was the large space that was the problem, so we saved up for yet another deposit to put down on a tiny little town centre flat. The universe was on our side, and there was a lot of complications on the sellers end which led to the sale falling through. That night we both confided in each other that we were not upset, but relieved. For us, we realised that buying somewhere else wasn’t going to make us happy. So instead we looked inward, and truly asked ourselves what would make us happy.

We realised we felt trapped, trapped by our possessions, by our property, by societies expectations of us. We wanted to feel free. It was at this time we came across The Minimalists. We watched their documentary on Netflix and then listened to their books on Audible. And honestly, our lives haven’t been the same since. We realised we both had certain issues in relationships with family and friends that needed to be addressed. That we needed to focus on the things that made us happy, and where we could, reduce the negativity in our lives. Andy left his corporate job, and came to work with me in my vegan cafe. We loved spending so much time together, but felt we needed to focus even more on our health and happiness. As my health issues from my PMDD grew worse from the stress of running such an intense business, we decided that the cafe wasn’t adding value to our lives, it was doing the opposite and making us feel more negative, unhealthy and unhappy. It was a heart breaking realisation, as we knew how happy the cafe made others. I found this particularly difficult as I felt like it would be worth being unhappy to make others happy and to try to help the animals by encouraging people to eat more plant based, and that if I walked away, the people I cared for and animals I wished to save would suffer for my happiness.

But this is exactly why I had to walk away. Because my life is mine, and until I can thrive, I can’t help anyone else thrive. If I stayed, I would have destroyed the business from the inside out due to my own stress, negative headspace and health issues.

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We decided we needed a way to live with less.

Less money, less burdens, less stuff, less negativity. Inspired by friends, as well as individuals and couples online living alternative lifestyles, we decided that instead of buying another property like we initially thought we should, that we should buy a campervan. Over the period of a few weeks, we got rid of most of our possessions and moved everything we had left in to our tiny home on wheels. With each item we let go of, we felt a little bit lighter and a little more free. We realised how heavy and burdening our possessions were.

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I think if we just had a few possessions, and not gone through this process, we couldn’t call ourselves a minimalist. It’s the mental process we have gone through to get here that makes us minimalists. Because now, we truly value the things we own, and value the things we don’t. Yes, We value not owning things! We value our off grid home that we can live in wherever we feel like. We value our tiny fridge, and understand the luxury of the things we don’t have such as an endless supply of water and a real flushing toilet. We love that we don’t need lots of money to live if we don’t need to pay for lots of stuff. Right now we aren’t making any money, but we’ve saved enough that it’s okay. And when we run out, we won’t have to hand our lives over to the corporate world because we don’t need that much money to survive, or even thrive. That freedom is wonderful and a bigger luxury than being able to afford lots of clothes, shoes, bags and more. We come in many different shapes and sizes, but that’s what makes me a minimalist.

Love and Good Vibes, Ellie  xxx

Gluten Free Maple & Almond Butter Granola

I love granola for breakfast, especially with some vegan yogurt or as a topping on my smoothie bowl. When I visited Edinburgh recently, a cute cafe there even used it as a topping on their porridge which was an amazing revelation to me. The only problem is most shop bought granola has cow’s milk, gluten or white sugar in, and I eat none of these.

 

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I love to be able to make an individual portion of something for myself as I rarely eat the same thing over and over, and like to eat whatever I feel like that day. So here I’m sharing the recipe for one portion of this delicious granola, if you want to make more, simply multiply the amount by the number of meals you want!

Maple & Almond Butter Granola (1)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup gluten free oats
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Method:

In a small pan, heat the almond butter, maple syrup and coconut oil on a low heat until mixed well and runny in consistency. Take off the heat and add in the oats and cinnamon. Transfer on to a baking tray lined with non stick baking parchment and flatten so that there is a thin layer of oats on the baking sheet.

Place in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 10 mins. Remove from the oven and break up or mix the oats about to ensure they aren’t sticking together like a big cookie. Add in the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds and return to the oven for a final 5 mins. Remove from the oven and let fully cool on the baking sheet.

Store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Enjoy!

Love & Good Vibes, Ellie x

Get lost with me…

I’ve been struggling to find the words recently, to tell you what I and The Plant Academy are doing. Because honestly, I don’t know. I have hit this point of feeling lost, like I’m in a huge maze and there’s so many options and I’ve just sat my bum down in the centre with no idea which direction to choose. The Plant Academy has always been an honest and authentic business. I’ve shared more with you all than the average business owner shares with their customers and followers, I’ve felt called to do so, and I believe it’s been something that’s been appreciated by you all. So here I am, sharing my ‘what now’ update.
The other day, I went on a yoga course and I was witness to others stories, so much like my own. Stressed, overworking, sickness (mental and physical), and a search for an escape. An escape from the overwhelming nature of an average life. I listened, and it dawned on me that I wasn’t alone. It’s not just me that can’t handle the stress our society tells us is minimal, normal, acceptable and necessary. We have all fallen for the lies, that life has to be this way. We are suffering from a mass stress epidemic.
I have had so many messages and face to face conversations with you all, asking me to please not fade in to nothing after the closure of our lovely vegan cafe. And I promised not to. I promised I was here to stay. And I’m not about to break that promise. But it might feel to you that I am.
embracing that ‘lost_ feeling is the number one activity on The Plant Academy_s new schedule
Really, all I am doing is saying things are having a serious change here, and embracing that ‘lost’ feeling is the number one activity on The Plant Academy’s new schedule. It will be a disappointment to many of you that I am 100% not looking for a new location, in Southport or elsewhere. As I’ve said before, it’s not like it wasn’t or couldn’t be a success having a physical cafe, but it’s not for me. I gave it up because it was the wrong life decision for me going forward. Seasons change, I need to take life a little slower and take better care of myself.
In fact, I believe we all need to take life slower and take better care of ourselves.
For me, it’s time to take a step back and take a good look at everything and let my mind feel open again. As I said, I’ve always been honest and share a lot with you all, so with this in mind, I’ll fill you in on my plans to have no plans.

I’ve had this feeling of being lost in life many times in the short 25 years I’ve been on this planet, and always rush from one thing to the next in the hope it’s the right decision. I’ve had so many jobs, most of which I’ve only stuck out a few months before quitting or (on one occasion) getting let go. I’ve got both an undergraduate degree and a Masters degree, neither of which I use. I did one year of a PhD before quitting that, too. And then I jumped in to The Plant Academy, only to walk away from what I’d created after a little over a year.

I feel like if I carried on with The Plant Academy trying to force it to be something it wasn_t anymore, then the very heart and soul of what i_ve created would fade away.
But that ends here. I’m ready to do things differently. And I’m happy to go get more and more lost. So I’m going to do something radical (for me) and head off on my travels around Western Europe for a little while. I’ve no plan to stay for any period of time, so I’ll be back when I feel like it… I’ve never really travelled for an extended period of time, or taken any kind of ‘gap year’. And I’m excited to give myself that freedom. Andy and our little dog, Peanut, will be there with me for the ride, and together we want to carry on sharing with you. Sharing our stories of finding ourselves by getting more lost. We want to carry on creating amazing vegan food and recipes which we will share with you, as well as blog posts and *new to The Plant Academy* YouTube videos about plant based food, health, and travel. Of course we’ll keep posting regularly on Instagram and Facebook. But I’ll only be doing as much as I can before the stress monster creeps up…
Hopefully by working through my own stresses and dealing with that lost feeling, and sharing this with you all, I can help you work through the same issues, and be released from your own stress epidemic.
I feel like if I carried on with The Plant Academy trying to force it to be something it wasn’t anymore, then the very heart and soul of what i’ve created would fade away. And I love The Plant Academy far too much to let that happen to it. The Plant Academy and I are one. So I hope you’re happy to get used to me being me, in every way I try and be lost and find my way.
A close friend of mine told me that trying out different things is inspiring to others, she’s usually right (but don’t tell her that), so let’s hope it’s true.
Speak to you guys soon,
Ellie x

The Plant Academy’s Future…

Hi Everyone!

First of all, I just want to say a huge thank you for the overwhelming response we got to our last post about why we left Southport Indoor Market. If you’ve not already read it you can read it here.

I have been feeling so much love from you all, and I am so extremely lucky to have found an amazing community in this town and it’s surrounding areas of people who share the same values as me and feel a genuine connection to The Plant Academy. It’s been an amazing couple of weeks which I didn’t expect, and I will never forget. Thank you for caring about both me and The Plant Academy.

It’s definitely important in life to look back on the good and the bad, but equally important to live in the present and not the past. With this in mind, I’m focusing on The Plant Academy in the now. I’m making plans for this month on what we can do and trying to figure out what I want The Plant Academy to be in the long run. A lot of you are asking about us opening up a new cafe and honestly, it’s not on the cards right now. But we are seriously looking in to pop ups and would like to do our first one early June ’18 – so keep your eyes open for more news on this. If you have a space in Southport or close by that you’d be interested in hosting a pop at, please get in touch with me via eleanor@theplantacademy.com as I’m looking in to all options at the moment.

We have a couple of more solid plans in the works, though. On May 12th and 13th we will be on Chapel Street in Southport all weekend selling our wonderful cakes and other goodies! I’m so excited to be doing this and I very much expect all of you to turn up as I miss you all already ❤ We’ll have tons and tons of snap bars and cake – let me know what cakes you want me to make so I know what you all want! My dad will also be there selling his ethical vegan gifts. He usually works the summer Formby Market, so some of you might have spotted him before.

The next thing we have coming up is The Plant Academy ebook! I’m so so so looking forward to putting this together as it’s been in the works for many months now. I keep talking to you all about it and not doing anything, but it is now a priority and we will be writing it over the early summer with the aim to release it in July/August. It’ll cost a small amount, but less than your average cook book and will contain all my original recipes that I’ve created for you all at the cafe over the past year. Is there anything that you really want me to include in the ebook? Let me know in the comments!

I also want to be posting at least once per week on here. I’m interested to hear what kind of content themes and features you’d like to see from me? Recipes? Vegan lifestyle advice? Vegan travel? More about living with my PMDD? How a healthy vegan diet helped my dad reverse some of his MS symptoms? Vegan nutrition? Plant based pet food? Please feedback to me as I want to give you all what you want.

The final piece of news I want to share with you is actually not my news but the news of my friend Ben Chew who some of you will have come across before. He’s the master mind behind Megafauna vegan catering and he’s working towards opening his own little vegan cafe in Southport!! Keep an eye on him on his facebook and instagram where he’s sharing his updates! We’ll be there supporting Ben as he keeps all of Southport vegans well fed. (Please all remember The Plant Academy was your first vegan love, though hehe).

That’s all for now, kids! I’ll update regularly on here with what we’re up to, but don’t forget to come see us on Chapel Street in Southport on Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th May!

Love you all a ridiculous amount!

Ellie xxx

 

 

Goodbye for now, but not forever…

I’ve been putting off writing this post. I put so much of myself in to The Plant Academy, and meeting all of you, all of my lovely and supportive customers, has been the absolute highlight of everything I’ve achieved this year with The Plant Academy. You all deserve a proper explanation of what is happening over the next couple of weeks, even if it hurts me and scares me to tell you all. I respect each of you more than to just keep all this to myself.

Saturday April 21st 2018 will be our final day trading in Southport Indoor Market. Our lease is up and we have made the difficult decision not to renew. I guess you want to know what does this mean for the future of The Plant Academy and why we are leaving?

The Plant Academy is leaving Southport Indoor Market, but this doesn’t mean we are saying goodbye. We always knew that Southport Market was not our forever home and after our first 6 months was done, we spent a lot of time looking for a new home for The Plant Academy. Honestly, it’s slim pickings in Southport and we couldn’t find anywhere we considered to be suitable within our budget. At the end of 2017, we found a place in Crosby we really liked in a good location at a good price, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful and the unit went to someone else. I think ultimately it was a good thing we couldn’t find anywhere new to move in to right now, because it allowed us to think outside the box. We have quite a few ideas of where we want to take The Plant Academy, including pop up opportunities, potentially a food truck and cooking courses and retreats. This is all stuff we are going to work on when we have a little headspace following leaving the market.

So, why are we leaving Southport Indoor Market? There are many reasons I could tell you but I’ll focus on the key points. For our first year here in the Indoor Market, we were on a reduced rent. This along with the low start up cost in the market, and the short term lease we could get was appealing when opening a vegan cafe for the first time in Southport’s history. I didn’t know how many vegans, vegetarians and open minded omnivores were in Southport and surrounding areas and I didn’t want to sign up for a 5 year lease that most Southport landlords were offering. However, to continue for a second year we would be paying over £17,000 per year in rent, service charge and VAT for our little unit in Southport Indoor Market. As a small independent this is a tough target when you take in to account our higher than usual food cost (due to using mostly whole foods over cheap processed ingredients), staff costs, other costs that crop up and to try and pay ourselves. It’s not that I don’t think we could achieve this, as The Plant Academy has been very successful this year, but I don’t want to continue to work so extremely hard just to hand most of our money over to Sefton Council whilst paying ourselves very little. The number of traders who have recently left the Indoor market, and those who are threatening to, makes that £17,000 number even more ridiculous to us. If you also think this is crazy, I’d let you local councillor know…

There are other reasons that go along with this. Such as our own personal goals, both personally and with our business. A lot of you know I have a hormone disorder called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and that I give half of each month over to suffering from this disorder. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of years trying to help manage it without any hormone filled ‘medicines’, and over the past 2 or 3 months I’ve really been engaging with it, learning more about my own body and how a women’s hormonal system actually works. I believe the stress I’ve been putting myself under this year has been part of what has made my PMDD more difficult to manage recently.

Running a cafe is such hard work, I can’t stress to anyone considering this type of venture how demanding a job running a cafe is. Every time I overwork and put a lot of pressure on myself I have a terrible month with my PMDD, which makes running this sort of business even more challenging than it already is. I’ve realised that running a cafe is too hard for me with the limitations I have with my body, and that I need to find a way to run The Plant Academy in a different form that works for me and my menstrual cycle –  as weird as that might sound. This isn’t a sob story so please don’t take it this way, I’m just aware that I have to take more responsibility for my own body. I need to give it more love, care and attention, and once it is in a healthier condition, I can start to really pass that love, care and attention on to others. Something I’d really like to do is use my knowledge of food, health and wellness to help other women with menstrual problems and in the back of my mind I am thinking of ways I could achieve this through The Plant Academy in the future.

I don’t want you to think The Plant Academy has in any way failed, and in particular I don’t want you to think that running a vegan business leads to failure. The Plant Academy has smashed it this year, we’ve done amazing and have been able to pay 6 part time staff members over the past year, who have become some of our best friends. Liz, Kirstie, Leah, Dylan, Lily and Poppy were all amazing workers who shared my passion for The Plant Academy and helped make it so successful. Guys, we love you all for that and can’t thank you enough for you time here. The past few months it’s just been me and my husband, Andy, running The Plant Academy and we’ve been paying ourselves a little which has been a great achievement, particularly in our first year of trading. We’ve also managed to hand over £340 a week to Sefton council and pay all our suppliers and wholesalers. We’ve never had a situation where we worried we couldn’t pay rent, staff, a supplier or anything like that. We’ve had it pretty good being busy from the get go (thanks to the power of social media and all of you!).

So no, our vegan business didn’t fail. To those of you who want to open you own vegan business, DO IT, don’t listen the haters or the doubters, just keep you overheads low, do the maths, make a solid business plan, and spend a lot of time on social media – Facebook and Instagram were the secrets to our success and learning how to properly make the most of these platforms is time well spent. And if you want any advice, we’ll do what we can to help. Email me any time at eleanor@theplantacademy.com and I’ll reply as soon as I have an opportunity to.

And a message to those of you who don’t want to open a vegan business but still love all this stuff. Independents can only exist as long as you support them. When another vegan cafe opens in Southport, support it. This is the best form of activism you can do, in my opinion. If you want veganism to have a place on the high street for everyone to see, to be confronted by, to enjoy and for you to make the most of, then you need to give them money. Visit regularly – I mean weekly or at least monthly. You vote with you £££ and if you’re giving that £££ to Starbucks, Costa or another non-vegan cafe instead, you can’t expect the vegan cafe/business you say you’re lucky to have in your town to survive. It sounds kind of harsh, but it’s the true reality. Remember the power you as a consumer have.

I’m going to wrap this up now, so thank you for reading this long but important post. I can’t thank you all enough for being our customers this year! I am so unbelievably lucky to have met each and every one of you. Please keep in touch, we’ll be keeping active here on our website, as well as our social media accounts. We are also thinking of doing a potluck gathering at some point soon, if this is something you’d be interested let us know! I’ll bring the snap bars…

Love you all so so so so so much. Thank you again for an amazing first year in business.

Here’s to many more years of The Plant Academy…

Ellie x

 

 

From The Cafe: How to make our vegan kale, pesto & mozzarella toastie

This toastie is so simple yet so satisfying, and it’s been a great success at The Plant Academy vegan cafe. We thought we’d share with you how to make it so you can enjoy it for breakfast, lunch (at The Plant Academy, of course), and dinner…

Bread

You can use any bread you like, including gluten free. I can eat wheat, so I usually opt for BFree bread or my favourite Gluten Free and vegan Incredible Bakery bread like we use at the cafe. A lot of gluten free bread is not vegan so just check the packet before you buy. Andy can eat gluten so he usually opts for his favourite freshly baked loaf from a local bakery or supermarket.

Kale

Super simple, just tear the leaves from the stem and give them a rinse. You’ll need about a handful of kale.

Vegan Cheese

We opt for a vegan mozzarella in this toastie. We’ve tried both the Violife and the Sheese mozzarella in this and both are really good, but we prefer the Sheese mozzarella. This is actually the same as the Tesco own brand free from grated mozzarella, they repackage it and sell it in all big Tesco stores. You’ll need a small handful per toastie of grated vegan mozzarella.

Pesto

Most pesto is neither vegan or vegetarian as it usually contains parmesan. However, local health food stores usually stock a vegan pesto you can use. Alternatively, you can do what we do and ‘cheat’ and purchase a sun dried tomato cook’s paste which is basically sun dried tomatoes, ground with salt and oil. No animal products involved. This is available at most supermarkets, and is really yummy on pasta, too. If you’re super fancy, go ahead and make your own favourite pesto.

Method

Spread one tablespoon of your chosen pesto on to each slice of bread, on one of these slices, add the mozzarella and kale and the other slice of bread on top. If you’re super fancy and have a toastie press, grease the plates with some olive oil and stick that bad boy in for a few mins until the cheese is nice and melty. Otherwise, you need a good quality frying pan, and get it hot with a little olive oil. Add the toastie and press down with a spatular until the bread is toasted, then flip it and toast on the other side. The trick is not to have you pan so hot that the bread burns, but not too low that nothing happens. Try and find a nice medium where it all toasts and melts perfectly. Give it a few attempts and you’ll be a pro!

From The Cafe: Ultimate Green Smoothie

Want to know how to make our epic green smoothie? It’s simpler than you might think…

I like to use orange juice and baobab in this because the greens and spirulina in this smoothie are high in iron, but it’s difficult for the body to absorb plant based sources of iron unless you consume it with vitamin C rich foods. Orange juice and baobab are great for that but also taste super yummy.

Ingredients (serves 1)

  • 1/2 cup of your favourite plant milk (This is so yummy with cashew milk)
  • 1/2 cup good quality orange juice, or 1 large orange juiced.
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 apple
  • 1 small handful kale
  • 1 small handful spinach
  • 1 heaped tsp spirulina
  • 1 heaped tsp baobab

Wizz it all up in a high powered blender for 1 min, pour in to your favourite cup, and enjoy!

What do you like to put in your green smoothies? Let me know…

Ellie

Liverpool’s Top 5 Vegan Eats

We’re only a stone throw away from Liverpool, and in fact, Andy and I actually like just outside Liverpool and drive to Southport to get to The Plant Academy each morning. As cafe owners, we love eating out and supporting other independent businesses.

So here is our Top 5 Vegan Eats in Liverpool.

1. Ital Fresh

Ital fresh aren’t actually a cafe or restaurant, but a pop and street food stall. Currently, they’re doing a pop up every Monday night in Liverpool city centre at Maguire’s. They do Carribean street food and I always try my best to make it to their pop ups because their food is beyond amazing and it’s all 100% vegan. Make sure to try the Wings n Tings. It’ll change your life. The chocolate plantains, too. Basically you can’t go wrong, their food is outstanding! You can find out about their next pop up on their facebook page.

2. Mowgli Street Food

Mowgli’s are an Indian street food restaurant. They’re always busy because everyone know’s that this place is special. They have two restaurants in Liverpool – you can find out more here. They have a vegan menu, so make sure you ask your server for it. The dahls are amazing and the most authentic Indian food I’ve had outside of India. The food is served tapas style, so you pick a few different dishes and a ‘carb’ or two and dig in. YUM.

3. The Bagelry

Nestled in Liverpool’s China Town, this cute little cafe is one of my favourite places to spend a Sunday morning. I love it here because of it’s laid back vibe, delicious bagels, vegan donuts and big pots of loose leaf tea. They have a few different vegan options and I’ve tried them all, I’ve never been disappointed. This place is dog friendly, too, which is perfect for those of you like me who refuse to spend any of your down time away from your bff.

4. Maguire’s Pizza Bar

This was one of the first places I went after I first turned vegan a few years back. I love it for it’s edgy vibe – it’s perfect for a relaxed evening with friends. They have a ton of different vegan pizza toppings, honestly the menu is HUGE. The pizzas are huge, so we usually get nachos and a large pizza to share and a couple of vegan beers. It’s so great! It’s close to central station so if you’re taking public transport it’s nice and handy. They do lots of quirky evening events and they have a small stage in the back and sometimes host small gigs. Check out their facebook for more deets.

5. The Caledonia

The Caledonia is a really cool 100% vegan pub in Liverpool. It used to be a ‘regular’ pub but recently went fully vegan. Unfortunately for me, a lot of their food uses sesame which I’m super allergic to, but I’ve been with friends and they assure the food is insanely good. All the drinks are vegan, too. For those of you who like a good glass of wine, you don’t have to worry about what wine you can and can’t drink! They have a gluten free menu, too. AND it’s dog friendly. Peanut, my little dog, was even given a sweetie bag with dog treats in which was insanely cute!

Where is your favourite place to eat in Liverpool? Let me know at eleanor@theplantacademy.com 🙂

Ellie x

 

What it’s like to open your own vegan cafe

Welcome to a new series of articles called Lessons In Business. I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to create a website with a way of sharing more of ‘me’.

One of the biggest thing’s I’ve noticed as a young business women is that to be seen as just another human is, by some, considered a weakness. To show vulnerabilities is to be the opposite of a strong business women. We are thought to be strong when we portray the masculine. We work our butts off to show we can be just like any man, and on occasion, require the presence of a man to be taken seriously at all.

However, I am a strong business women. But I have vulnerabilities, insecurities and imperfections. I work hard, I break, I put the pieces back together, and I become stronger.

This series on Lessons in Business is about the things I’ve learnt in the 11 months since opening. I’ve much yet to learn, but I wish I had read something written by someone who told the truth. Not just another corporate article, but a real human, a real women, sharing her insight in to owning a vegan business in a small town.

In this lesson, I want to talk about the process I went on towards opening my vegan cafe. In the year preceding April 2017 when we opened, I quit my PhD after only one year as I couldn’t handle the stress (oh, if only I knew…). I loved studying, but in reality, I had reached the end of studying in that way. My passions shifted when I became vegan in 2015 and I entered a process of my entire world view being shifted to see the reality of the society I lived in. I wanted to make a change but I knew traditional activism was dying, it was no longer converting people, it only made them switch off. So I started a food blog and Instagram account like every other 23 year old vegan. I realised I was actually REALLY good at recipe creation and having worked part time in hospitality since I was 14, I decided to quit my job and open my own cafe.

Now here comes the tricky part. You can’t just ‘open a cafe’. Money, planning, and a lot of maths are involved. I could only afford to open a cafe because I sadly had two grandparents die in 2016, both of whom I was close to. I inherited a little money, I could either buy myself a small second hand car or open a cafe. I choose the latter (and I still don’t have my drivers license.) My parents invested in me too, buying me a coffee machine and setting my bank account up so I could make those first orders. Thanks Mum and Dad.

I looked at many units and even gained change of use of one, which then fell through. I decided I didn’t want to wait around for ‘the perfect’ unit. I felt that the time was now and I needed to find somewhere. I was walking around Shoreditch one day, as you do, wondering through the markets and around Boxpark and realised I could find a ‘for now’ space, somewhere small with low commitment. Where if my business didn’t work I could leave. So I approached Southport Indoor market. In all honesty, I knew from the first conversation that it was too expensive for what it was. But I didn’t feel like I could negotiate and so I took the first price and I’ve suffered that mistake ever since. We somehow have done well despite our rent, but I can’t help but think about how much I could actually pay myself had I negotiated the rent down. No one in business talks about money, I’m not sure why, I think it’s because money makes us feel awkward and vulnerable, but I pay over £1200 a month for our little unit, including rent, service charge and VAT. I pay all other bills like electricity and BID on top of this.

If I were to do it again, I’d learn, I’d go in as a strong female and ask for a smaller rent. I would probably have been told no and had to have made another decision, do I pay the crazy high rent or go elsewhere. At the time, there was no ‘elsewhere’ – but I could have started my brand on outdoor markets and/or pop ups whilst looking.

In the end everything happens for a reason, and I don’t regret a thing.

I then spent a month buying and building everything to go in my cafe. I invested where I needed to, for example in a really good coffee machine. But I skimped on my fridge and freezer as I knew I didn’t need much space to keep things cool as I was only a small vegan cafe – so no meat or dairy needing to be kept on their separate shelves. My start up costs were relatively low in the end for what I got, but I pay that back in rent. And unfortunately, when someone tells you your food is expensive, saying your rent is high doesn’t change how much they’re prepared to spend on lunch.

Whilst this has been a hard lesson over the past 11 months, I am happy I made the decision I did. I have managed to create an amazing little cafe that attracts wonderful compassionate people to it every single day. And, at 11 months in, I am able to pay both my husband and I a small amount each month. And it’s all from an idea that one day popped in to my head.

Ellie x