When one door closes, another will open… That’s a familiar saying for many of us. As local vegans we know this to be true, and certainly Yoda from Glassroots knows this all too well! When VegOut closed its doors on March 24th it left some of us in a sad panic. But as it closed, London welcomed another plant-based restaurant in its place; easing our minds, and our bellies!
Glassroots is the love child of chef Yoda Olinyk & sommelier Mike Fish. It’s a food and wine revolution serving new local & organic meals weekly, paired with craft beer or wine from their all-Canadian wine list.
Since opening we've been fortunate enough to have tasted the difference (many times) and it has exceeded our expectations! Some of the dishes we have enjoyed include: hearts of palm calamari, mac and cheese, corn dog, jalapeno and brie burger, wild mushroom risotto, maple doughnuts, buffalo cauliflower & waffles and the famous Nuts for Cheese plate featuring homemade jams and pickles. The vibe, the food and the whole team at Glassroots is awesome! We've been hoping for mega success for them since they announced their takeover - not only because VegOut had set our standards high, but we also hoped that Yoga & Mike would know the worth in their new undertaking, in becoming a 100% plant-based business. After reading about Yoda’s journey from butcher to vegetarian caterer here, we couldn't help but feel inspired.
Recently, VegFest Committee Member Amber, was able to catch up with Yoda.
Congratulations on a successful few months so far! Glassroots has been open, and booming, for the past 2.5 months. How is it going? What has been the best part of this journey thus far?
Thank you!! It has been quite the journey. We opened our doors to the public on May 12th, but not before 45 days of intense renovations. April was maybe the craziest month of my whole life. I not only closed my kitchen in St. Thomas, moved my entire catering company into my basement, but we also took on renovating a 120 year old building by ourselves!! During the month of April we pretty much slept at the restaurant... we spent countless hours scrubbing, washing, tearing down (and building) walls, designing a menu, building our team, painting (ohhh the painting!), decorating & preparing for our launch. When Mike & I signed the lease on this building in December, I never imagined it would be this much work, or this rewarding!! We've had a crazy amount of support since we announced we would open Glassroots, including a small army of friends who helped day in and day out with renovations and decorating. We've had an amazing response from the vegan community in London, including from the Morrison family (previous Veg Out owners) which means a lot!! My favourite moments have been when people tell me that they are grateful for what we're doing; that we are helping to create change.
Can you describe to us how "Yoda’s Kitchen" was able to morph into the successful dream-come-true restobar that is Glassroots?
Mike and I actually talked about opening a restaurant together someday on our very first date. It was more of a 'fantasy' at the time, but over the last 5 years, we were both been itching for the next big thing. I was happy to be catering away, and Mike was working full time as a wine sales rep. I made a big change to my catering company in August of 2015 when I decided to become a meat free facility, and then around the same time, we got an email from Florine of Veg Out asking if we'd be interested in taking a look at buying the business. Because I have worked for a lot of restaurant owners since I started cooking professionally 10 years ago, I was a bit hesitant because it always seemed like running a restaurant was so stressful! There are so many moving parts. Being the head chef, let alone owner, of a successful restaurant takes much more than just being able to cook tasty food. There's scheduling, purchasing, book balancing, hiring, food costing, waste management... and so much more. But regardless of that and the fact that catering made me incredibly happy, there was a little something that was missing. I missed being part of a team and the rush you get from working in fast paced restaurant. So when the opportunity came, and my partner Mike was on board to take it on 50/50, it felt like the right time. Having such a wonderful partner and a dedicated team, makes all the difference. We split all the duties and share responsibilities, and although it is still stressful and much different than catering, it is truly a dream come true!! Together Mike and I have built a great network of friends, supporters and other like minded businesses which has certainly contributed to the success of Glassroots.
As vegans, we are often thought to be deprived in some ways. People tend to associate veganism with the idea that we need to sacrifice a lot in order to live this lifestyle. There’s a lot of focus on what vegans give up, and not much on what we gain. I’m sure you can attest to this. What would you say is the best thing you have gained since switching your business to a plant-based business? Or perhaps something you have noticed in your personal life?
When people ask me if I miss meat, I always say "Why would I miss meat when I have so many options?!" All you have to do to not feel deprived is to go to a farmers market in the middle of summer, or eat a big salad made from really fresh ingredients. When I'm at the restaurant cooking, sometimes I forget that I'm cooking vegan food. For me... it's just food. The food from the soil, freshly picked, cooked gently or heartily according to the season, for me is what cooking is all about. And the bonus is that this way of cooking is aligned with my philosophies and love for animals. Since adopting a plant based diet myself, I have noticed such huge improvements! Not only in my own health and the health of my family, but it is also wonderfully satisfying to know that we are truly creating change in our food system. This has been one of the biggest 'gains' in my life, and each and every time I hear from someone that I have helped them adopt a healthier, more compassionate way of living and/or eating, I know that I am on the exact path I'm meant to be! Glassroots is all about breaking that stigma that as vegans, you have to give up all the foods you used to love. Sure, there are sacrifices at times, but every single person who walks through our doors is going to get an amazing meal that satisfies their taste buds, cravings and souls!
It must be so rewarding to do what you are passionate about and share your creations with the community, while maintaining your integrity & views. Can you offer some advice for someone who may be hesitant in taking the same chance in pursuing their career goals while aligning their personal values & morals?
To be honest, I was a little hesitant in the beginning. When I started my catering company, I very quickly developed a reputation for using only the best meat, eggs and dairy available, but then, over the years, a few things happened. I realized that regardless of the source, all of those things are completely unsustainable and not to mention inhumane. It became impossible for me, morally, to continue serving these foods. That was a really hard to for me, not only because I came from a family of Eastern European butchers, but also because of my reputation as a chef. I remember my partner, Mike, came home one night and I was sitting at my desk and he asked how my day was. I said "Good. But I've decided I don't want to do this anymore. I'm going to be London's first and only plant based caterer." He laughed and hugged me, and then asked "Okay. How?" Haha, we figured out the "how" as we went. It was a big shock for some of my clients, and sure I lost a few along the way. But what I gained was so much more important. I took my own health, the health of my clients and the well-being of so many animals into my own hands and decided to make a stand. For every one person who was negative about the change, I had 10 people tell me how proud and happy they were for me. Being a part of VegFest London last year just reconfirmed that I was on the right path.
If there is anyone out there with similar moral dilemmas, even just on a personal level, I would definitely tell them to follow their heart! It is easier said than done, but it will never steer you wrong. If there is something going on in your life that really just doesn't feel right to you, chances are that feeling is not going to go away. There is a little bit of activism in all of us, and taking a big leap personally or professionally so that our morals are in line with our goals, is such a huge, scary step... but in my opinion, it is always worth it.
Do you have any final thoughts or news to share with us?
We just want to say how excited we are the be a part of the vegan community in London, and how pumped we are for VegFest London this year! We are so grateful to everyone in this community for their support and for all of the kind words, posts, shares and comments about what we are doing in London. We can't wait to share many more years with everyone!!
Stay Glassy Yoda and Mike, we’re rooting for you!
Make sure to check out Glassroots at VegFest on November 12, 2016 at the Western Fair District and visit them at their Richmond Street location. Menu and more info online at glassrootslondon.com