The rise in popularity of vegan and vegetarian food was not lost on former food and wine magazine editor Mark Hughes.
For years, Novocastrian Hughes noted a growing demand in the food and hospitality industry for meat-free and ethically sourced options, and he also recognised that while businesses were willing to make minor adjustments to their menus, none were taking the leap to offer vegan and vegetarian-only fast-food fare.
At the age of 50, Hughes decided to quit his job, pool all his money together and open a vegetarian and vegan fast-food outlet in his hometown.
That was two years ago, and Hughes’s hunch and subsequent hard work at the Islington cafe have led to a second Vego’s opening in Charlestown in mid-October.
“Vegetarian and vegan food is such a growing trend, and no one was servicing the need,” Hughes said of the food scene not so long ago.
“There are some good dishes at some restaurants and cafes in town, however, there was no fast-food option.
“I decided to design a concept where anybody can enjoy vegetarian and vegan food.
“I always had the idea there should be a vegetarian version of McDonald’s.
“There should be a big green V everywhere there is a golden arch because I could see the vegetarian and vegan food was a growing trend.”
Hughes was able to source suppliers and the right ingredients to design his menu.
“Over the last five years the quality of vegetarian and vegan food and products had significantly increased, so it was more attainable to source the right ingredients,” he said.
In October 2019, Vego’s opened its doors on the corner of Maitland Road and Beaumont Street, Islington, and the response was overwhelming.
Hughes designed Vego’s to offer cafe-style sit-down and takeaway options, but in March 2020, COVID restrictions forced changes to the business model.
“We needed to transition our business to strictly takeaway only, with a service area and offering our own takeaway service, along with working with food delivery services such as Uber Eats and Menulog,” he said.
Vego’s has been embraced by the Islington community, and Hughes said the business had reciprocated.
“We help those in need every day, whether it is just a basic chicken burger or a drink, it is the least we could do for our community, especially in these times,” he said.
“We have 18 staff members at Vego’s who all love where they work and love what they do.
“They say this is the best job they have ever had because of the culture and ethics of the business and how much fun they have at work.”
Vego’s will open its second cafe at 178 Pacific Highway, Charlestown this month, with a view to opening more in the not-too-distant future.
“The goal is to have 20 Vego’s stores across Australia within the next five years,” Hughes said.
When Hughes was designing the menu for Vego’s, there were more than 50 different vegan items from across the globe he wanted to include on the menu.
The range is always expanding and includes burritos, burgers, wraps, fries, sweet potato fries, gozlemes, churros and coffee.
With the prospect of future stores on the horizon, Hughes wants to expand the food and beverage menus to service a wider demographic.
“The future of Vego’s is very exciting and the possibilities are almost endless,” he enthused.
“My team and I are very excited for what is to come next.”