The Hearty Hooligan is a woman owned, LGBTQ2SIA+ safe space, all vegan restaurant committed to local sourcing and from scratch food. You know, the quintessential millenial run business. I opened at the beginning of 2017 with a vision for creating what has been called the ultimate vegan stoner food. Here’s my story of why I dropped out of grad school to make this happen.

I went vegan more than a decade ago and the thing I struggled with the most was everyone’s perception of what a vegan was. People didn’t think my rowdy punk vibe really jived with veganism and expected me to be a lot more into yoga and salads. And while being into yoga and salads is a totally valid lifestyle, as someone who was listening to late 70s/early 80s vegan punk bands and eating junk food (because anyone who has seen my menu can attest that I did not go vegan for health), I just wanted to stress to people that vegans can absolutely be rowdy punks, upstarts and hooligans. That seemed to make veganism less intimidating to some people, so I became very focused on wanting to show people how indulgent vegan food could be. I remember at one point I was working in a factory and would talk to people on the line about veganism. Whenever they seemed interested, I’d go buy them a care package of vegan meats and cheeses and tell them about all the fast food they could still eat. I felt like if people could still eat the same way they always did, junk and all, they’d be more receptive to going vegan. Sweeping lifestyle changes tend to scare people off, so what if you could still eat everything you’re used to eating and it just happened to be vegan?

I moved to London for grad school and got a job at a vegan bakery in London. I loved it. I was showing people how delicious vegan food could be as part of my job. It just fit. But I still struggled with people’s image of what veganism entailed, as though it was a whole foods, clean, junk food-free existence. Introducing people to how easy it was to be vegan became way more important than my education (and to be honest I was on a second master’s degree and how overeducated does one person need up to be?) so I decided that I might as well dedicate my life to the thing that I really care about.

I thought, “Maybe I’ll make veganism seem more accessible. Maybe people won’t think they need to be perfect, pure, healthy, and active to be vegan. Maybe I’ll be able to stress to people that if they care about animals, they can still eat pizza pockets, dunkaroos, burgers, burritos, and cupcakes, and they’ll be at LEAST as delicious as what they remember. And hell, maybe that’ll save some animals. “

So, I scrimped, saved, haggled and worked tirelessly, and eventually opened up a shop in Hamilton. And here I am, years later. I’ve made the most amazing friends, connected with so many awesome people, and definitely been able to rub this in the faces of all the people who told me that an all vegan junk food restaurant with a punk theme would NEVER last. And there were many of those people (there still are). I have an INCREDIBLE staff that I’m grateful for every single day that share my values and work very hard to make the shop an intersectional safe space (they also make me laugh and smile and have been unwaveringly supportive of me in what I’m trying to do, and that is pure magic to me).

I’m still so humbled every day by the fact that I’ve gotten here; that I have regulars, people who have made eating my crazy creations a part of their routines; that people travel from out of town to come eat here; and, that there are ACTUAL PEOPLE out there who say that this thing I’ve created is their favourite restaurant. It’s mind blowing for me and just never gets old. Honestly. Thank you, Hamilton, for all of your support.