Owner of Soul Burger Amit Tewari isn’t one to preach but hopes to see a world where animals would no longer be killed for food, and hopes to popularise plant-based food, especially among committed meat eaters, with a completely new menu.
“The goal for me is to have someone who loves a medium rare steak come in, have our burger, and say that’s really good,” he said.
Come December 4, Soul Burger, located in Sydney’s eastern suburb of Randwick, will be revamping its flexitarian* burger menu to be completely vegan. This will be the fourth transformation the business has undergone since it first opened its doors three years ago initially as Panache, before being renamed to Street Soul Burger, and then for the last one-and-a-half years as Soul Burger.
Tewari said the reason behind this latest change the restaurant is about undergo is because he reasoned having a flexitarian menu wasn’t the most effective way of addressing his own personal mission: To reduce the suffering of animals and to see a world where the human-animal relationship for pigs, chickens, and cows to be the same as cats and dogs.
He said it has nothing to do with making money, admitting making the change is in fact a huge financial risk, and would be better off it started selling factory farmed meat and dairy.
“What happened was I came across a supermarket chain called Vegans in Germany. The owner was saying the majority of the customers were actually meat eaters and they weren’t vegan. In a sense what he was doing was providing plant-based food. He was theorising that all these people would come here because the food was good,” he said.
“I looked at that and thought he’s doing something better than I am because I was indirectly reinforcing that it was okay as long as it was pasteurised-raised animals, but that’s actually not how I feel. I’ve always thought any time you kill an animal against its will that’s a bad thing to do.”
Tewari, however, reassured that the new menu is not meant to be a militant approach, with belief it could do more harm than good for animals if it was, and wants Soul Burger’s new menu to represent vegan food in a positive light.
“It’s more about this is plant-based food, it’s wonderful, the experience is cool; it’s not like a yoga hippy retreat. We’re even going to have beer on tap,” he said.
“It’s a vibe where people will eat it and they will be shocked because people have this really bad perception of vegan food that it’s boring and crap, but it’s not true.”
Born into a Indian-Hindu family, Tewari –- who by the way just finished medical school last year and has every intention to become a doctor in one of Sydney’s hospital next year –- said he adopted his plant-based diet just after university.
“I wasn’t brought up vegetarian. I think it’s actually the way I viewed the world. When I was younger I had this perception that God created humans, and God created animals and they’re here for us; I thought it was all natural.
“I got to an age around 18 years old where I was reading a lot of books science and philosophy, and once you realise what animals are –- in a sense we’ve all come from this simple origin… — [and] if you look at it from that sense we’re all kind of cousins. It’s not a case that animals are here for us; it’s a case of all of us have evolved from this simple origin and they’re kind of like extended cousins…so that perspective made me value animals a lot more.
“From that point on I just changed the way I looked at meat. Before when I saw chicken breast I thought that’s a good way to get protein; I now see the breast of a chicken.”
So how did a then-med student come about to operating his own restaurant? Tewari said taking a year off from studying helped, as did working for eight months in various burger joints to learn the ins and outs of how to operate one. He also admitted that before the restaurant he was not a chef, saying anyone in his family would vouch that he couldn’t cook.
“In my third year I wanted to start a business. I think I remembered when I first got my eBay account the first book I bought was, ‘How to buy a franchise’, so I think it’s always been in my genes,” he said.
“In my third year I thought if I’m going to start a business now is the time because I don’t have kids, I’m not married, so if I went bankrupt then no big deal.
“I met a guy named Sam Prince who kind of motivated me; he was an intern and I was a medical student, and he told me he started a restaurant with really little money. I researched and looked it up, and I took my next year off.”
When he did return to school, Tewari was working long hours: 50 hours a week at the hospital, and then from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night at the restaurant. But nowadays, Tewari said the business can virtually run itself; all his focused on now is getting this new menu out.
“There is no point having a business if you don’t follow your own values. I have no interest in having 50 restaurants if I don’t feel like I’m doing something good or contributing to something I’m not happy with.”
*Flexitarian: According to Tewari, a flexitarian someone is a flexible vegetarian, and has chosen to have fewer intakes of meat in their diet.