Founder & CEO at The Vegan Chef | Vegan Chef

Listen on your favorite podcast platform.

Sue Gajathar wants to change the world one meal at a time!!  And by the looks of it, she is making serious progress.  

Have you ever considered starting your own restaurant or frozen food brand?  Then you cannot miss out on this episode!

Three years ago Sue Gajathar embarked on a journey to try the global initiative Veganuary, which is a month dedicated to going vegan. It is at that point that my life changed.

Growing up in a small town in KwaZulu-Natal, she was raised by my mother who was an entrepreneur.  Her career as a specialist expatriate tax consultant took a massive fork in the road when a Veganuary challenge turned into what is known today as The Vegan Chef!

“I am vegan because of the health and environmental benefits of a vegan lifestyle. My family test kitchen ignited my passion to want to share my experience with others.  The vegan food cart in Sandton became so popular that I had to choose between my career and my newfound passion.”

TVC’s vision is to become the first vertically integrated global leader in the manufacturing, retailing, and restaurant industry for vegan and plant-based food and products. Their goal is to deliver gourmet cruelty-free vegan food that is delicious, good for our customer’s well-being, and produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

Listen to this podcast to find out more about The Vegan Chef‘s passion for top-of-the-range vegan food and the why’s, what’s, and hows of starting your restaurant and or frozen food range.


Expedition Business is hosted by Christél Rosslee-Venter


Some of The Vegan Chef’s accolades:

  • EY  Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ EMEIA class of 2021
  • “Best Vegan Food Chain – South Africa”  Luxlife 
    “Best Vegan 2023” Uber Eats
  • “Top 10 list of Eco-Conscious Vegan Restaurants in the world” Happy Cow
  • “Restaurant of the Month, globally, for August 2021” Abillion 
  • Exhibiting Chef at the Plant-Powered Show
  • Exhibiting Chef at ECR House & Garden Show
  • Founder of the Fourways Rustic & Gourmet Market – promotion of job creation and sustainability of small businesses 


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Episode Transcript

If you’ve got the passion, tick, and you still want to start your restaurant, tick. Then maybe start at home. Start making some meals and selling them to get a feel of what people like. If they like your food, they can give you feedback, family and friends. Take it from there. Then maybe as we did, we started in a food cart, we went to a digital space. We just didn’t have the funds for one.

to just open a restaurant. We tried out a lot of things before we got the model to where we wanted it.

Welcome to another edition of Expedition Business, where we talk to inspiring South African entrepreneurs about the highs and lows of their business journey and how on earth they manage to keep the flame of business adventure burning. Cause facing your day with a smile is sometimes the toughest thing you have to do. My name is Christél Rosslee-Venter, your host and the one.

in the pound seats, because today I’m speaking to the vegan chef herself. But before I introduce the vegan chef to you, I would like to remind you to subscribe, like, comment, and share this podcast with as many of your friends and family as possible. Without your help, we cannot continue to share the amazing stories of our South African entrepreneurs. But back to why we are here today.

Sue Gajather is the founder and CEO of The Vegan Chef, who has been successful in providing sustainable plant-based comfort and healthy food since 2019. The Vegan Chef has gained popularity for its innovative menu that includes vegan Southern Fried Chicken, Battered Fish, sticky ribs, burgers and healthy poke bowls among other things

The vegan chef has already received a number of accolades including best vegan restaurant globally, best vegan southern fried chicken and best vegan franchise in Africa. Sue, welcome to Expedition Business.

Sue: Thank you so much for having me

Christél: So did I get all those accolades correct? I believe there should be a whole lot more.

Sue: Yes, yes there are but thank you very much.

Christél: Fantastic. So something that fascinates me is before you started the vegan chef, you used to be a tech specialist working at the big four auditing firms. How on earth did you redefine yourself as an entrepreneur and as the vegan chef?

Sue: It is a funny story.

And I always say you are exactly where you are meant to be. So yeah, I used to work for the Big Four audit firms. I loved tax. I was an expert tax specialist, really doing well. I jumped into the Veganuary bandwagon. So, you know, it’s a nonprofit that promotes going vegan during the month of January. And after December of-

overindulging in too many slices of cake and pizza and all the goods. I said, let me just do this detox and let me do Veganuary. And after that month, I felt fantastic. My skin looked good. My body felt great. I had so much energy. And then I started researching, you know, vegan diet and then look at environment, sustainability, your health.

Animal welfare and it was a no-brainer. So I made that decision eight years ago and I’m still vegan to date and loving it. I continued in the corporate world and told my friends all about veganism and what I was trying out and they’re all, some of the friends in the corporate lifestyle, they actually partake in some of the items that I initially started developing.

And they would test it and tell me, no, it needs this here, or change it up here. And I opened a food cart just to show people that I was eating the most amazing things. We were creating as a family such delicious food. And this food cart was just a passion. It just started off with something that I really enjoyed. And yeah, it was time consuming. So I would finish work, then get everything ready for the food cart the day before. And there were lines. There were lines outside.

this food cart in Sandton, in a behind a parking lot. It wasn’t the ideal spot, but yeah. And then I decided to just take the big leap and leave the corporate and follow my passion.

Christél: Wow.

Sue: And open Vegan chef.

Christél: If I have it correctly, you started with your whole vegan journey in January 2019,

and as per LinkedIn, you started a cart around July 2019.

Sue: No, so I went vegan eight years ago. And then, you know, with a whole lot of time and experimenting with different recipes and you know, that particular time eight years ago, it wasn’t as easy as it is it now. So if you went to a restaurant, all you had was some chips without salad dressing and feta, at least salad without, yeah, and then you could just have some chips on the side.

So, you know, it wasn’t great. You know, there are one or two plant-based milk options, not like now, when you walk into a retailer, there’s so much that you can purchase and you can buy, and it’s so easy. So, yeah, it took some time to start the food cart.

Christél: Okay, okay. And you left Ernest & Young in December 2019, if I have it correctly.

Sue: Yes.

Christél: Wow. So since December 2019, you have put together four restaurants, of which some is in the most prestigious area of Johannesburg. I’m not quite sure if you’re the Durban one, but four restaurants and you are in a very, very long list of shops where you sell your frozen vegan foods. How on earth do you manage to move so quickly?

Sue: You know, I think it’s passion. It’s definitely passion. If you wake up in the morning and you’re not going to work, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun. We are a young, innovative team, and we just want to thrive, and we want to really change the world. So it’s that making a difference for me that really gets me up every morning and really pushes me. And we have an amazing team behind us.

that work so hard and help me create these amazing things. And through all of them that we are able to be where we are today. It hasn’t been an easy ride. It isn’t an easy ride. It isn’t for everybody. And it was a lot of hard work and a huge risk as well.

Christél: So how big is your team at the moment?

Sue: I’ll arrange it, you know, each store is different. It just depends. We also share across teams with small businesses. That’s how it works. You know, in our factory, we might not have a big production line today. And then some staff would move over to the restaurant. So we work as a team and, you know, we make sure everything is covered. We do have some permanent staff. We have some temporary staff, senior. It’s a big mix.

Christél: And I suppose your background in the accounting and tax industry does help a little bit.

Sue: You know, it really does, because I look at friends that are chefs, and you know, they just come out of chef school and really good schools, and they start businesses and they struggle. They really struggle because they can cook, and they can have the most amazing menu, but they don’t have, you know, the foresight and knowledge of, okay, how does this work from a costing perspective? How do we reduce waste?

And with me, this really does help. It also helps coming from the corporate environment because you can still, I’ve learned so much. I’ve had such good leaders that I’ve worked under. So it really, it’s so beneficial.

Christél: I suppose your taxes are all in order.

Sue: You know what they say, hey. We actually outsource, I don’t have time to do my own taxes. So I have an accountant that assists me.

Christél: Okay, so,

you’ve mentioned that not everything is easy. What would be some of your daily challenges that you have to work through?

Sue: So, you know, veganism is…

new. We, I mean, I opened a vegan business, in a meat loving country, in a country that, you know, really, really love braai. We are a braai culture. Everything is around the braai and meat and big pieces of meat. So now to, you know, start something and say, let’s do vegan. It is new and

you have to get the buy-in from the customer. So it feels sometimes, like you are, flying the airplane and you’re building it at the same time because you are innovating and you are trying new things all the time. So it’s about that education. There’s still so much of education. People don’t understand that, you know, I’m not saying the whole world needs to be vegan, but I’m saying we all need to look at environmental aspects.

We need to reduce. So, you know, we promote sustainable Sunday and meat-free Monday. Then the other sort of challenges that we do see is, and I think it’s with everybody in this field, it’s an increase in food prices, stability of electricity and water, load shedding, yeah, and a struggling economy. Also in other countries.

I mean, look at Germany, for example, if you go to Germany and so many other countries, the government supports this because they know that plant based foods so good for the environment. And they really they assist companies. They also provide like rebates when the consumer goes out and purchases these items, which

more plant-based businesses to open up, more sustainable businesses to open up. When in South Africa we don’t have that, there isn’t that support. So I think those are the challenges we face. But as I said, it’s everyone that’s going through some of these challenges as an entrepreneur and the food scene. 

Christél: But I suppose the number of people that are becoming more interested in veganism is growing.

and the guys that’s already vegans are extremely passionate about their food. So that’s the idea that I get. I was on, I think the Vegan Society’s Facebook page earlier and the guys get really, really passionate about their food. 

Sue: So I must be honest, our customer base isn’t predominantly vegan. 

Christél: Okay. 

Sue: It’s people that really enjoy our food. And you know, we always get this, someone will walk in and they say,

I’m not vegan. I don’t know. It’s okay. It’s okay. And they just love the food. They are doing meat free Monday. They are doing sustainable Sunday. They are just reducing their meat consumption. A lot of them are younger, so they are worried about environment. Great to see this generation really, really care about environment. And I say this now.

And you know how when you walk to the stores and if you don’t take your bags along with you and you’ve got plastic bags, people look at you a little bit strange? The same thing is going to happen when people see meat in your cart in a few years time, because there are changes happening from a sustainability perspective. There’ll be it’s already starting this lab grown meat. There’s, yeah, you know, the plant based meats are growing. They are really being invested into by bigger companies globally. So there’s

big changes happening.

Christél: Just something else that’s very interesting and I don’t want to make a conversation just about veganism, but rather about you and your business acumen. But something that I find quite interesting is where people start to do like you said, southern fried chicken, and you don’t spell it exactly the same as chicken and fried fish, which is also spelled with a V and not with an F.

But it’s almost as if it keeps on moving back just trying to emanate real meat, real chicken, real fish. I suppose that is also going to move away over time, where people are less attached to the names chicken and fish and meat.

Sue: So you know we get this question also very regularly, you know why call it a burger?

Why call it a sausage? Why make meat replacements? Call it something else. And I always ask the customer, what should we call it then? What would you like us to call it? When my kids go to school and everyone else has a hot dog, they get a plant-based hot dog. This is just better for the environment. It’s just names. Also, a lot of people go vegan because…

They are animal activists. They don’t want to see the cruelty in the dairy as well as the meat industry, but they still enjoy the taste. So they want to have a burger that tastes like chicken. Yeah, so there’s different elements and the vegan chef, it’s not only about, you know, meat-free alternatives that we use. We also started a new brand, Happy Curry, which is really going down to your

beans, lentils, legumes, really plant-based foods. But, you know, we still getting there with that brand. I must be honest, our top seller is our crispy chicken burger and our zingy burger. People love it. So yeah, we do get that question very often. People are concerned, why are you calling it that? But those are the elements that need to be looked at. You know, the huge thing with government as well.

a few months back where government came through and said, no, that they need to rename, we need to rename items. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. I’ll come back and it’s been taken off just last week. And it’s led to a positive that you can call it whatever you want to call it. So yeah, I think, I think we’re moving, we must think more sustainability. It’s as I said, it’s getting there. You’re not going to get a piece of

chicken or a piece of lamb or whatever it be in a few years time, because of sustainability, you’re going to get lab grown things, things that are grown differently, that are packaged differently, and that are going to be more innovative and saving our planet and our environment.

Christél: Interesting. Okay. So yeah, and I think that whole sustainability saving the planet and environment is a debate that

can take up an entire week if we go into that detail. Because I know there’s a lot of people very passionate for and against, but I think in the end, yeah, it still comes back to how you have managed to grow so amazingly quickly. And I think also your frozen food products that you have.

Getting them into the list of stores. It’s just absolutely amazing how you managed to do that. So quickly, do you do it all yourself? Do you get people to help you with it? How did you manage to do that?

Sue: We’ve got a team that assists us and myself as well. We don’t have a big R&D budget. And as I said, it’s not funded by government. That’s…

go and create these new products. That doesn’t happen. So a lot of the inspiration comes from our customers. Oh, but we want fish cakes. So we make fish cakes. And yeah, so it’s all about that innovation and really getting it to something really different and delicious. It’s actually a really inspiring story, how we started the frozen range. And yeah, I always like to tell it.

So I was sitting in my car and I’d left my job in 2019, December 2019 and COVID hits March 2020. It was the worst possible timing to start your own business. Sitting there and I was like, everything’s gonna close. Everything is going to close. Everything I’ve worked so hard for.

is done. There’s nothing I can do. I was a bit emotional. It was a very low point in my life. And then I got a call from a customer. And this customer, she’s a lawyer, but she’s a vegan, and she travels from Johannesburg to Pretoria once a week, I don’t know, some meeting or something she goes for. And on her way, she’d phone our digital kitchen in Midrand, and she’d say, can I get a platter? Can I get this here? And we’ll have it prepared. So every Friday, now she’s missing her fixer. She gives me a call, and she’s like…

Sue, can you not create something that I can stick in an oven or air fryer? I am missing your food so much. It’s been so difficult. And at that particular point, it just clicked for me. It was six o’clock. I think I went back in the factory and I was there till like one o’clock in the morning. And I created this whole mess.

I started testing the products, I started creating things. The next morning, I think I didn’t sleep the whole night, called the team in and I said, this is what we are doing. We are gonna create a frozen convenience range to get to our customers, comfort foods in the restaurants, taste and style in the comfort of your home. And that’s how the frozen convenience was actually born. Yeah, so it wasn’t for that range, we wouldn’t be here today.

Christél: Interesting and that happened thanks to COVID.

Sue: Thanks to COVID, I would have never thought of that idea.

Christél: Wow, that is definitely remarkable. But tell me something along the line. Did you get funding to help you grow and expand? Or how did you manage this expansion?

Sue: You know, I always say sometimes funding is amazing, but sometimes isn’t the best thing.

Because when you have a small budget, you innovate more. You create more, you think more out of the box. So we didn’t have funding. We made it happen with what we had. For example, when we rolled out that frozen convenience range, I printed the labels from my home printer that was printing pink instead of black. I don’t know what ink I bought, but there was some sort of problem.

There was no printers available at that particular time. You know, you think out of the box. Someone once told me, an entrepreneur, don’t wait for perfection. Let it go. For example, when we open stores, there might not be everything there, all the equipment that’s required. But as we grow, we will buy that dessert fridge. We will buy that frozen convenience, you know, fridge that we need. Everything’s not going to be there.

at setup. So I’ve been gentle with myself and I’ve realized don’t wait for perfection, do what you can and then take it from there. So yeah, I always believe it and to all the entrepreneurs out there, when you have less you can innovate more.

Christél: That is a very, very good message. So grow organically instead of getting venture capital to boost your company.

Sue: Well, it just depends what, you know, what’s

what industry you’re in, but in the time to recover, people weren’t just, you know, there to give capital to vegan businesses. You don’t have much history. You don’t, you know, just started out. No one’s going to back you. You got to back yourself.

Christél: Awesome. Backing yourself is definitely a very, very good motto to do. Sue, when it comes to business, what makes you feel on top of the world?

Sue: That I can make a difference, that I can really make a difference in the food scene from an environmental perspective and really changing it up. When I’m at events, we get invited to some of the most amazing events and, you know, to talk about our food and to let people taste it. And they’re like, wow, this is so delicious. It really, really makes me feel great. The ability to create

in South Africa in a struggling economy when young people don’t have jobs. It also makes me really feel great about what we do at The Vegan Chef.

Christél: With employment, I assume you do a lot of training to get them to where you want them to be.

Sue: Yes, it is a lot of training. A lot of the training is done by myself as well. We bring in juniors and we train them up to

do whatever is required. And most of the people that have started off with us, I don’t know, they say, once you start at the vegan chef, you never leave. So yeah, they started for juniors and some of them are already sitting at managers, some are sitting at senior managers. Yeah.

Christél: Wow, wow, that is exciting. You mentioned earlier your children at school. How do you cope being a mom and a very, very busy entrepreneur at the same time?

Sue: So I have two kids, my son is nine and my daughter is 12. And it is a challenge. I’m still trying to get the work life balance if there is something that exists as an entrepreneur because weekends I work, events are long hours. It does take away from your family. That’s no lie. It does take away. It is very difficult, but my family are very supportive as well.

Sometimes my kids come along to cheer me on when I’m at events, when I’m doing any shows or recipe, doing presenting as a chef or showing showcasing any of my recipes. They come through when I’m trying out new recipes in the kitchen. They are my sous chefs helping me along. So, but what I do is I also believe as a mom,

that it’s not quantity, it’s quality. So if I’m going to spend an hour with my daughter, I leave my phone down because in that hour I’m not going to pick and check any messages. I’m going to really be engaged with her. So for me, I really feel it’s about the quality.

Christél: So what type of things would you do when it’s a mother-daughter hour?

Sue: My daughter loves baking, so it’s always in the kitchen. Or we go for a yoga session together. Or we’ll take the dogs for a walk. Yeah.

Christél: Oh, fantastic, fantastic. So what would be your fun and exciting ways to regroup, refocus, and rejuvenate after all the stresses and strains of running your business?

Sue: I prioritize exercise. I feel it’s very important.

You know, I don’t have too much of time for fun. At the moment, the business is still growing. And as I said, as a small business, we do so much from events to catering to markets to our stores to our frozen convenience. We do a lot as a small team. But I do enjoy a yoga session or Pilates twice or thrice a week. I love cooking up,

some new dishes with my kids in the kitchen. They’ve got their own aprons. We have lots of fun. We love traveling and we are foodies. So we like trying different restaurants and different places. And my daughter is into high tea. So any place that has a vegan high tea, we’ve tried it already.

Christél: Okay, are there places that do vegan high teas?

Sue: Yes, there are. There are lots.

Christél: Interesting. Okay, because vegan high tea that would also be over baking, it’s got no eggs. Yes. Or any of those that sort. No butter.

Sue: A lot of people may not be vegan, but there’s a huge population of people that are allergic to egg and dairy. So a lot of people, a lot of companies, a lot of hotels, a lot of businesses already have that on their menu.

They’ll have a vegan option because of that intolerance and allergies.

Christél: If you could be 20 years old again and you could change anything, what would that be?

Sue: So it’s so strange, but when I finished school, I wanted to do dietetics.

So I always wanted to be involved with food. You know, it was there, but I mean, you know, everyone’s told me, but you know what? There’s just one dietician for the hospital. You’re not gonna get a job. And coming from, you know, difficult financial backgrounds, I needed to find something where I knew I would be able to get a good job. So that’s why I went and did finance and studied business. But yeah, that would maybe have been something I would have changed.

I think also starting the business a bit earlier, it would have been great. So I would have more experience and yeah, but I think everything happens in its time. I live in the moment, but yeah, those are things that I would change.

Christél: You mentioned difficult financial background. I assume that’s before you started working.

Sue: Yes, so.

I lost my dad when I was four years old and my mom raised three of us. And, you know, from a financial perspective, that wasn’t easy. She was also an entrepreneur herself. Um, and it was tough times.

Christél: Okay. So what did she do?

Sue: My mom had a business. Um, and she also sold very much plant based foods and Ayurvedic things. And yeah, very much.

kind of something that I’m doing at the moment.

Christél: Interesting. So did that not play a part when you had to decide what to do for your future, that you not initially wanted to do the same thing as what your mom did?

Sue: No, I never wanted to get into business because I saw my mom and it was such a struggle. And with just working long hours.

And this wasn’t a lifestyle that I wanted for myself.

Christél: So what would be the difference between your mom running her business and your business now?

Sue: It’s very similar. It’s very similar in terms that it is a lifestyle that you know, you do lack time for yourself, for your family. It’s a bit of a struggle, but yeah, I must say, I’m trying and I’m getting there when it comes to fine tuning it and making sure that I do get it back.

Christél: But I suppose she still love your mom.

Sue: Oh, yes. She comes through a lot of recipes that I use are hers. She inspires me so much. She had minimal education to start her own business during a very difficult time. And yeah, she’s such a great cook. So I get a lot of the drive from her, which I’m so grateful for.

Christél: And I suppose you have thanked along the line.

Sue: Definitely, and yeah, as I said, some of the items at The Vegan Chef, if you go through and you sit down and you dine in, it’s actually my mom’s recipes.

Christél: Okay, so whose recipe is the lentil and chickpea curry recipe on your website?

Sue: That one is mine.

Christél: Okay, that looks really, really delicious. I can’t.

way to try that.

Sue: Give it a try. It’s such an easy budget-friendly recipe, but oh it’s so good. It’s packed with all the fiber and protein you need and then if you want it to be a little bit more luxurious you can add some coconut cream to it. Really delicious. Great for a winter dish.

Christél: Okay, they believe that vegan food is generally only for the rich and that a lot of the ingredients is extremely expensive. What’s your thoughts on that?

Sue: You know, spoken in so many radio interviews and been asked this question and it’s such a myth because if you look at a vegan diet, what does it comprise of? Beans, lentils, oats, fruits, vegetables.

that isn’t expensive. That really isn’t expensive. Some seeds, some nuts. But when it comes to going into the supermarket and if you’re going to go buy the expensive imported you know burgers and cheeses and milks, now that’s going to add up. That’s going to add a lot and cost you a lot. But if you can make all of this at home and you can make almond milk at home, oat milk,

all of this, you can even make plant based cheese at home. I mean, the internet is so easy now, right? You just go on and you just Google and how many recipes would pop up. So it isn’t an expensive lifestyle. I think it’s just the alternates that people purchase that give it that.

Christél: Yeah, I can, while you were talking, I was thinking of how easy it is to make a hummus dip as opposed to buying it in the shops.

Sue: And it is so quick and easy. So quick. I mean, chickpeas blended with a few other ingredients that you have. It can’t cost much. And I mean, if you look at a lot of traditional foods as well. They can. They are vegan. They are vegan. Over time, we’ve just added a lot of extra meats and things to meals. But if you go back to eating the basics.

It’s so easy. And as I said, you just need a few pantry essentials. And if you find the fruit and vegetables on expense, I’ve personally started a little garden at home. And I mean, talk about organic. I don’t have to buy organic. I’ve got this in my garden. I’ve got the basic herbs. I’ve got some plants. I’ve got some lettuce, tomatoes, beans, you know, yeah.

aubergine. There’s so much going in this small little space. I promise you it’s about maybe two meters somewhat. But yeah, it’s amazing. So even if you live in a flat, you can, you know, have a little box where you grow things. Let’s start growing our own vegetables. Let’s start doing that. Let’s start eating more green, eating more herbs.

So let’s do that. Let’s challenge ourselves.

Christél: I think that’s something that the vegan chef can start.

Sue: It doesn’t take much at all. So yeah, you know, there’s no excuses. There’s no excuses. So that definitely I think that just busts the myth that, you know, vegan diet is expensive and only for rich people.

Christél: But if you run out of time, there is a vegan chef frozen options available almost at

every local shop in the area or so it seems.

Sue: Yes.

Christél: Coming back to business and after all you are here to make a living for yourself and your family, what would be your big goals, your big summits that you want to reach within the next three to five years?

Sue: You know after COVID and the struggles

I don’t have too many long term goals because life can change so easily. So I have elements of short term and long term, but definitely we want to continue to innovate. We want to really change it up and create products that are just so amazing and great for you as well as the planet. We want to grow our national footprint and then our frozen range as well. You know.

Also, we very much about giving back as a company. So we’ve started a market. Not like I don’t have enough to do. But we also have a market, which is a vegan chef initiative. It’s called the Four Ways, Rustic and Gourmet Market. And the market is focused on promoting small businesses and growing the economy. It is a sustainable market.

Everything is handcrafted, handmade, hand-baked, all the goods. And yeah, that’s something I’d like to see elements of that really grow. So there is opportunities for people to really come showcase small businesses and what you’re doing, because for a while, it’s just been such a struggle. My way of giving back and really helping these businesses to get to a place where they can come through and really.

sell their products and showcase what they are doing. Because yeah, I mean, I’ve tried these donuts that are made at this market. It’s vegan donuts, oh my word. And I’ve got a few sets of jewelry that I’ve purchased. I can’t believe these are handcrafted items. You know, so really amazing things. It’s something I wanna see grow. And yeah, hopefully.

Yeah, let’s just put it out there. I’d really like to see a store someday in Cape Town.

Christél: OK, why are you not in Cape Town yet?

Sue: Because I’m self-funded.

Christél: So if there’s a venture capitalist out there, would you be keen to grow faster to get into Cape Town? Or would you rather take it slow?

Sue: Who knows? We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see. If there’s these that arise, we’ll look at them individually and see and see where we can grow. I know Cape Town has gone through quite a challenge in the hospitality industry. It’s been quite bad.

Christél: How so?

Sue: Also, I just visited in December. And yeah, you know, just speaking to the locals and business owners, also fellow vegan business owners.

It’s been such a struggle. There’s just been so many businesses that have closed down with challenges. And yeah, it’s just been a tough time. I think it’s been a tough time.

Christél: But luckily that is not happening to you.

Sue: As I said, we experience these challenges all the time. You know, it’s just about trying different things and innovation that has kept us where we are.

I always say, you can’t be doing the same thing and expecting the same results. You gotta bring on new things. I mean, now we’re gonna be doing Pancake Sunday because my kids like pancakes on Sunday. And I said, no, everyone else has experienced this. This Pancake Sunday is like the, yeah, they just love it. So it’s such an amazing thing. Every Sunday I wake up and even have to go to work. They’re like, but it’s Pancake Sunday, mom. You can’t go before you make the pancakes.

So yeah, we’re gonna introduce that in a few of our stores for winter, Pancake Sundays, see how it goes. So we’re always bringing up something new, trying different things, collaborating with other people, collaborating with other businesses. We don’t work in silos at The Vegan Chef. We’re all about promoting other small businesses and bringing them along on the journey as well. So in our businesses, and we’re very much about promoting female entrepreneurs, on our shelves,

For example, in our Benmore store in Sandton, you will see baked goods from various different other entrepreneurs. We choose to use a local vendor, somebody that in the community to purchase our ingredients from. So we’re very much about working in that circle to really promote and to create the economy and to get it going and support each other.

After all, we are a proudly South African company. We are affiliated with Proudly South Africa. And we hold that banner so high and so proud.

Christél: Wow. So in between helping the world to become vegans or plant-based, you also help entrepreneurs to excel their businesses.

Sue: Yes, why not?

Christél: That is quite commendable.

Sue: Yeah, I feel, you know, you, you, you gotta lend a hand. You gotta lend a hand and you gotta work together and collaborate. Uh, we’ve collaborated with many other vegan businesses as well. So I feel that’s the future. The future is not working in silos. It’s about collaboration, about really bringing business to together.

you know, not being in competition with each other, to work together and to grow together.

Christél: Just quickly, do you ever get time to read in between your extremely busy schedule? Is there any books that you can recommend to our entrepreneurs out there?

Sue: I do get not too much time to read, but I am reading, you’re gonna laugh at this, I am reading two books at the moment.

On a serious note, I’m reading Robin Sharma, the everyday hero. And I bought it. I haven’t finished it yet. I bought it in December. I haven’t finished it as yet. I’m still it’s quite a deep read, but really amazing. I just really love his resilience when it comes to his book, the first book, which I haven’t read. And you know, an author where everyone told him, no, no, no.

but he just kept on pushing. So that resilience kind of, you know, I can identify with that because everyone told me as well, vegan, no, no, no. And I just kept on pushing. So I really, really do love the book and hopefully I finish it. And then a similar note, I’m reading with my son. I’m reading Boy, it’s by Roald Dahl. And reading the book together. And again,

It’s also about Roald Dahl and his challenges as a child. And he goes back into it quite deep. And really resilience again. So I think these elements are just speaking to me very strongly. That is quite a combination between Robin Sharma and Roe Dahl’s boy. And Roald Dahl’s boy. Boy.

Christél: Very, very interesting. That is a book that we have not had on expedition business yet.

Sue: Exactly, exactly. So again, it’s about incorporating those elements of really quality time with your kids. So it’s also inspiring me.

Christél: In terms of quotes, do you have any specific quotes that you want to share with our entrepreneurs?

Yes, there is one that really speaks to me. And I think it was about three or four years ago, I actually did one of Jay Chetty’s courses. And this coat just, it always comes back during my challenging times. You are exactly where you are meant to be. Right now, at this moment, you are exactly meant to, you are exactly…

where you are meant to be. And it really helps me during the dark, challenging times where I’m like, I just want to throw the towel in and give up. I can’t do this anymore. It’s been, you have the weeks where it’s so challenging. Nothing is working out. And I sit and I say, there’s a lesson I need to learn. There’s something I need to take away from this. And until I learn what I need to learn in this experience, I’m not going to move on. So.

It’s a real strong quote, but I use it daily. Those dark, challenging times that you want to throw in the towel. What would be your advice to entrepreneurs out there to get through those times, to pick yourself up again? There’s been so many dark, challenging times as an entrepreneur. I’ve gone through it during COVID, during…

You know, times where sales weren’t where they were going to be. When there were some stores that had to close, when you had to make difficult decisions. It’s always good to have someone that you can look up to and that you can just bounce an idea off. I always feel it’s so important to have that person. And I have a few. I have a few, some in the industry, some in other industries and some that…

I used to work with in the corporate life that I would just pick up the phone and I would just say, I’m going through this. What do you think? It really helps. It really, really helps. So, you know, being an entrepreneur, it’s a lonely journey in the morning when you wake up, you are alone. You are making these decisions you are accountable for. You know, when you work in the corporate world, there’s somebody else that’s always, you know, above you kind of, you know.

that if it goes pear-shaped, its accountability is not always yours. But here, every decision, right or wrong, it’s you are accountable for, whether it’s a big spend that you make a very foolish decision on or something that you tried and was excellent. So having those people in your corner to support you and to help you and to really help you with those difficult decisions.

just give you some advice really really helps and you know having somebody in the industry is also great pick up the phone we’ve had such low sales this week oh yes sue it’s just after the holidays obviously everyone’s finished their money we’re also experiencing the same thing oh okay should pick up by next week next week picks up you know um it it or i’ve used this the supplier

And I’ve got, you know, so such good experience with their product. And, you know, it’s worked so well in our kitchens to clean whatever. It just helps. So you need people in your corner. Network, your network is so key. Your network is just so important. Don’t underestimate your network. Because that person will remember you are a vegan caterer at a big event.

Oh yes, I know Sue, she’s from the vegan chef. She can cater for you. So attend that event, make the time, go and network with people because your network is so important, so key. Be true to them, be true to yourself. Okay, if you say be true to them, how do you do that? I believe that you must have pure good relationships with people.

Christél: What type of networking do you do, Sue?

Sue; Very much in the food space or anything I’ve been invited for, I will attend, go through, whether it’s a catering space. Yeah, any opportunity to network with people, I will do that amongst the gym buddies that I meet on a, you know, everyone knows what I do.

And I learned this, it’s actually somebody that’s done an interview with you. And I watched, watched it’s Eric Parker. Yeah. I’ve watched, watched Eric come through at one of my launches and he worked the boom so quickly, so quickly. He went and spoke to everyone. He knew everyone’s names and what they did. And I do the same. So when I was invited, for example, for an Uber Eats, um, award ceremony.

sat down, I went there alone because I didn’t have anyone that could attend with me, which was quite daunting, sitting there alone, everyone’s with plus one plus three, and I said, no, I’m not going to do this. I’m going to wake up, I’m going to get up, and I’m going to speak to people and introduce myself. So, you know, that first two seconds is always difficult. You network, I met people from the media that were sitting on the table next to me.

I got them to come through and do a review of some of our food items. So use the opportunity wherever you are to talk about your business. You go to a family function, everyone should know what you do. You know, everyone should. Yeah. So wherever you go, wherever you go, whatever it be, whatever it be. So those are just some examples that I use to network and get out of that comfort zone of, you know, just sitting.

get up and go and talk to people. Tell them what you do. Tell them about the exciting things that you do in your business. And maybe it’s not a lead now, but they’ll have a conversation with somebody and they’ll remember you.

Christél: Something that I want to get back to, you mentioned earlier when you were sitting at that awards event all on your own, it was daunting. It didn’t come naturally to get up and start speaking to people.

Sue: Yeah, initially didn’t. It’s, it felt okay. Everyone has plus one or they’ve come with a team. Here I am, because I don’t have anyone with me today because I had to go for something before and then go for the award ceremony. So I was alone. It did feel a bit, you know, for that second, you know, there’s these groups of people. And then I just, oh what?

Christél: Because I think sometimes, a lot of the times, it happens where you think, oh, but all the other people are extroverts. That’s how they do it. And I’m not an extrovert, so I’ll just sit here in my little corner because it doesn’t come naturally to me. And that whole message of, it takes guts to get out for the first time, but it gets easier. You just need to get up and start doing it.

Sue: Yes, exactly. You just need to get comfortable with your voice. I mean, for example, I’ll remember the first interview. We get invited all the time for, you know, on TV, on radio, because veganism is still new. People want to know what you’re doing, an exciting business, you know. They want to find out about various aspects of it. And there’s such a push now from a global perspective, you know, you’ve got World Vegan Month, you’ve got Meat Free Monday, non-

organizations. You’ve got ProVeg South Africa that’s doing meatless may, you know, so there’s just so much happening in the world. Everyone wants to know about it and being invited for this and I look at my first interview and I had things like written down on a piece of paper. You know, I went in with this paper because I knew what I was going to say and how I was going to say it, you know, because when I worked in a corporate world I didn’t do that much.

of, you know, when I went to clients, it was on a one-on-one basis or, you know, a group of clients. I wasn’t standing up in front of a whole lot of people and talking about your business. Never did that. So it was a new skill I had to acquire. And the first interview was terrible. It was, I looked at myself, I was so disappointed. You know, what was I doing? And now I would go and, you know,

Just speak about what I do. It comes naturally. It just takes some experience. That’s all it takes. You get comfortable with your voice.

And it becomes so much easier the more you do it. The more you do it, the easier it will become. And as you grow and as your brand grows, people already will know you. I mean, for the next Uber Eats award ceremony that I go to, people really know my name because I reintroduced myself last year. So when I go there, they’ll come say hello to me. You know, so, yeah, you just you just got a it’s initially a bit uncomfortable and.

I always say that, just get used to your voice.

Christél: I like the fact that you say at the next Uber Eats Award Ceremony, so you are already on your way there.

Sue: You know what, I’m putting it out there, putting it out to the universe.

Christél: Well, that’s how you should be. If you’re not confident in yourself, who else will be?

Sue: Well, I was quite surprised. I got to the Uber Eats function, not expecting any awards.

but we won scooped two awards, best vegan Durban, and I think it was a runner up in Johannesburg. So yeah, I was very, very proud. I got to go onto the podium and tell my story about the vegan chef and what we do. At last minute, I was just told that I’m gonna be the guest and yeah, grab every opportunity you can to talk about your business.

Christél: Fantastic, fantastic. One last question, Sue, and I should have asked it in the beginning, somewhere along the line, I’ve read that you also do franchises.

Sue: So, just our store in Durban is franchised because of the distance, and the rest of our stores aren’t.

Christél: Okay, so is this something that you want to do going forward to get more franchisees in?

Sue: It’s not the model that I’m too keen on, but if that’s a way that we have to grow, at the moment, you know, growth is we trying to sustain and just really do our best. In this economy, you don’t really want to grow substantially. It’s a very challenging time. But when things do settle, and if there is a way that we could grow that way, and if it’s sustainable and it works out.

then there is a possibility. I’m not close to that.

Christél: Okay, but not right now?

Sue: Not right now.

Christél: Okay, okay, cool. Last final words of wisdom in one sentence. Somebody keen on starting their own restaurant, their own business, their own anything. Would you advise them to do that? Don’t do it. Or rather go into tax?

Sue: Going into tax, you’ll finish work early. No, you know, as I say, when I’m at an event at two o’clock in the morning and I’m still, I’ve still got a smile on my face and I am still happy, that is passion. If you don’t have the passion for this industry and you are not really passionate about food and what you want to do, don’t do it. Just don’t.

because it takes a lot of sacrifices. To be in this industry takes a lot out of you. So my key thing is passion. Anything that you wanna do, let it be your passion. That’s not money, not anything else. Let it be your passion, everything else will follow. Everything else will follow. But if you don’t have the passion for it, it’s gonna be very difficult, very messy sort of business to be in. There’s a lot of challenges, a lot of…

over long hours, lots of staffing things that you have to see to. And it’s not the best climate right now to start in this industry. So once things settle a bit, I think, look at it, but also start off slow. Start small. And if you’ve got the passion, tick. And you still want to start your, you know, restaurant tick.

Christél: Thank you for listening to Expedition Business, your number one source of the highs and lows of our entrepreneurs. Don’t forget to subscribe, like, comment and share this podcast with as many of your friends and family as possible. Without your help, we cannot continue to share the amazing stories of our South African entrepreneurs. And remember…

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