Bite-sized chats with plant-based eaters talking about food and life in Brighton.
I want to change and challenge the motive behind why we do business
Be sure to read right through to the MEATY Q's: Anna reveals her plans to change Happy Maki to a Pay as You Feel; something that hasn't yet been implemented in a fast-food environment. And the opening of a new site.
Tell us what you do
Anna MacDonald, middle name Stuart, which I used to hate but I now really like.
I run a vegan sushi company called Happy Maki.
How would you describe your diet?
Healthy Vegan. I have been vegan for 4 years now, meat-free for 5 and before that but since leaving uni I've been interested in healthy eating.
Food you just can’t get enough of...
Sushi, green juice, buddha bowls and nut butters. I have recently come off a juice fast/feast so at the moment I'm loving the healthy stuff. I've been experimenting lots with sushi bowls for work and they are extremely good.
What do you think is missing from Brighton’s food scene?
Healthy, hearty salad bowls and a fully vegan finer dining experience. But we have Erpingham House coming soon so I'm excited to see what it's like. It also feels like there's a lack of affordable grab-and-go healthy options (especially GF ones) but I guess that's what we are trying to help solve, and consequently why I eat so much Happy Maki!
Your top three places to eat plant-based food in Brighton at the moment...
I really don't get away from Happy Maki enough or go out to dinner much but my favourite places to eat healthy vegan food in Brighton (in no particular order) are:
What’s your signature dish?
Hoisin "Duck" Sushi Burrito with popcorn cauliflower and spiced coconut sauce.
What's your go-to menu item at Happy Maki and why?
This is genuinely so hard, there's about 5 that I rotate between. But if I had to choose one, it would be the Beet and Basil satay with ginger: those flavours go so well together and it's perfect fusion food in my opinion.
If you're a meat-eater or want the wrap to be more comfort food like then add the mock chicken to it, you won't regret it.
Tell us about what 2020 holds for Happy Maki
As a business we are going through a very large transition phase.
I think this is the first place we are publicly announcing it but we are opening a second, larger eat-in restaurant on Sydney Street in Spring.
Our menu is going to be expanded to include some super delicious customisable sushi bowls and more homemade drinks and desserts. We hope to provide a space where live music, presentations and film screenings can occur, so more of a community hub.
We are also in the process of transitioning to a Pay as You Feel business, which means operating on a 'gift economy' model which is probably the biggest change we will go through as a company.
In essence, we will make the food as a gift to the customer and it's totally up to you what you want to gift back, if anything, for the meal. The main reason for this is that I want to change and challenge the motive behind why we do business.
If love is a gift, then the better way to love our customers and the community is to remove the demand and transaction which exists in normal commerce. It also has the beautiful resulting benefit that those who may not be able to afford a meal out, will now be able to eat great vegan food, in a beautiful environment, gifted to them by those in the community who can afford to pay.
When I say community I mean it could be someone at Glastonbury giving over the odds to fund someone in Brighton. I hope the system will work as a national continual Pay It Forward scheme! Who knows, it might become international soon.
The option to grow the business as part of this model is very exciting to me.
We will still be planting trees and feeding kids for each wrap we make, and any excess will go towards growing the company to further restaurant locations and environmental recovery projects.
What inspired you to set up Happy Maki and how did you get started?
I set up Happy Maki as a fish-free sushi company. I was an ocean lover horrified by the thought we were eating our way to tuna extinction and severely polluting the environment by farming fish.
I didn't want to give up sushi and wanted to try my hand at mobile catering. Food at events was notorious for being bad for your health, so I wanted to offer a healthy option and educate people about the state of the oceans at the same time.
I traded as Maki Matcha for a short while as I sold matcha smoothies, but eventually settled on Happy Maki because it was catchy and it reflected what we do pretty well, which is Maki sushi in a 'Happy Way'. I did toy with calling it Fat Maki, because that's the exact translation of the sushi rolls we sell, futomaki. I was told this wasn't a good idea for a healthy food brand, but I still think it would have been a great name!
Tell us how you create your food
I created almost all the recipes on the menu, and will probably continue to do so. People ask if I had a background in cooking/ chef-ing and I really didn't: I learnt on the job and still wouldn't consider myself to be either of those things!
I love design and invention. I'm good at ingredient combinations (probably why I love buddha bowls so much). It's that clean contrast between fresh sweet, savoury and sour flavours. A lot of what we do gets made in a small kitchen, so we have to be clever and resourceful: I love the challenge of designing food around a smaller number of ingredients for maximum taste.
The process varies, sometimes I check a load of recipes online and I pick the elements I like, then follow my gut for the first attempt and go from there. Our gluten-free hoisin sauce took a lot of attempts but other times, like with the crispy cod wrap fillings and most of the wraps, I knew straight away what was going in.
As its fast food, the process needs to be quick and easy. There are no long marinating times or processes with 20 + steps to produce one of the fillings. For example, all of our sauces are homemade in the Vitamix and everyone in the kitchen knows how to make everything. I absolutely love the combination of a passion for food, innovation and design in this way.
Tell us about a few of your 'pinch yourself' moments to date
The first time I made a decent profit in a month and was able to start saving money to build the business on rather than just surviving. This was at Trinity Kitchen in Leeds and I remember thinking 'This actually works. Realllllly hard going, but it works.
Last year at Glastonbury, 5 days of glorious sunshine sushi weather resulting in two very busy food trucks plus a busy weekend at the shop. Alongside the obvious financial benefits, it was just amazing to see the demand for healthy vegan food and the number of trees we were able to plant and kids we were able to feed in just a week.
I was helping out a lot but if for whatever reason I had disappeared the whole thing would have carried on with very little effect, that was a good feeling.
And finally, just generally people saying "Happy Maki" and the roll names such as "fully loaded" like its a legit thing, which it is! It's not 'Let's get a sushi burrito!' it's 'Lets get a Happy Maki'.
It's cool that you can create something which becomes a very real and positive thing in other people's lives.
Who inspires you?
My best friend from school, Bex. She's extremely caring, reflective and honest and I'm so lucky to have that level of truth in a friendship. She's an inspiration as to how we can all change regardless of the conditioning we were brought up with.
Jesus and Mary who teach Divine Truth for free through their YouTube channel. They inspire me hugely with their content, how strong their morals are and how big their hearts are, it's otherworldly.
Anyone who sees a problem and says I'm going to fix that not for personal gain but because they want to benefit others is an inspiration. I don't know about what you guys feel but it just seems like there are so many amazing people out there doing just that and it seems to be a growing movement.
Oooo and also Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary's Meals one of the charities we support, I highly recommend his book "The Shed that Fed a Million"