Welcome to Black Owned, a series that celebrates the brilliant Black entrepreneurs doing bits in the UK.
Despite the challenges, the community continues to create important and brilliant work – and we’re here to make sure that you know about it.
This week, we’ve got Carla Casadei, the co-founder of Young Vegans – the legendary plant-based pie shop responsible for improving the hungover lives of vegans all over north London (and the UK, if you order ahead of time online).
Unlike other new vegan companies, Brazilian Carla has largely kept herself separate from her brand’s image.
Why did you set up Young Vegans?
I began Young Vegans in 2015 after being fired from a job at a youth hostel. I was feeling incredibly depressed after my dismissal, so cooking became very therapeutic.
Experimenting with different ideas and the lack of 100% vegan restaurants made me think that there was a gap in the market that I could explore.
What barriers have you faced as a Black business owner in the UK?
Being Black and a foreigner were huge disadvantages. I lost events opportunities to trade with Young Vegans because I couldn’t connect to those influential people in the industry.
I’ve even chosen not to go to business meetings so that my British business partner could do the talking and no ‘cultural’ differences would get in our way.
How do you come up with your pie recipes?
Pies are very undervalued and options can be boring, so I always like to have fun experimenting and producing unique concepts.
Our Cheeseburger Pie (one of our bestsellers on our online store) was created after identifying what everybody loves, deconstructing it and encasing it in buttery pastry. Also, pies tend to be seasonal in the UK but in other countries like Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, pies are eaten all year round – even on the beach, so we produce pies that can be consistently eaten regardless of the weather.
So it’s not actually that random to have a Brazilian in charge of a pie shop?
Nope! Pies are actually part of Brazilian cuisine but sadly we are just known for the meat restaurants, caipirinha and Carnaval!
Brazil is a very mixed country and we have a lot of European influences as well as a huge West African element (we created a limited-edition pie based on that idea, which we may well bring back).
Young Vegans is known for its produce rather than its staff. Was that a conscious decison?
I always felt out of place and shy when it came to putting my face out there. English is not my first language and I was afraid of being judged for being Brazilian but not doing food from my country.
We would trade at events and I would misspell words on our menu board – imagine what could go wrong if I tried to communicate with a very British audience! I didn’t want to risk it. But, in hindsight, I was wrong.
Is it important to be visible as a Black business owner?
Yes, yes and yes! It is time to change history and empower black people to build their businesses.
I come from a family of cleaners and I finally have the power to choose my own path; I’m not forced to one type of profession.
Is the UK vegan scene diverse enough or is it still very white?
The food industry as a whole is very white. The top street food organisors display their culturally diverse food traders but their offices are most (or fully) white British – and about 80 per cent of them are men!
What advice do you have for other women looking to set up a business in London?
Don’t do it alone! Find a partner, a person that you trust and have different skills than you so you can create a strong foundation together.
Research the competition, be inspired by them, but create something that you own (be original!). Start small but don’t stop dreaming big. Oh, and always be persistent.
Looking back, what do you wish you’d known about starting a business?
Don’t over complicate things by doing too much; focus on once concept and make it really good. The best things tend to be the simplest.
Be realistic with time frames. It will take a while to develop your products and food is a hard industry to break into, so be prepared to do a lot of hard work for very little money at the beginning.