30 years of vegan innovation: An Interview With Mike Hill of One Planet Pizza

Mike Hill, One Planet Pizza

Mike Hill, One Planet Pizza

One Planet Pizza, are a new vegan pizza company owned by the community it has been created to serve. Their founder Mike Hill will be talking at Vevolution and their vegan pizzas will be available as one of our lunch options. 

Mike sat down with Maria Chiorando Editor of Vegan Life Magazine ahead of the festival to talk about his vegan journey to-date.

What inspired your vegan journey? How long have you been living this lifestyle?

I turned vegetarian when I was 17 after some bad experiences doing dissection as part of my A-level Zoology degree. We started with locusts, and when we got to rabbits I decided I had had enough. I just couldn’t eat my mother’s ham sandwiches any more so asked her to do cheese from then on.

I was already interested in Buddhism as well, so some of my early influences were books on Buddha, and the idea of ‘least harm. ’ As soon as I started reading about how to be healthy on a veggie diet, and the environmental benefits of not eating meat, I realised that the veggie option was just not logical and that all of the disadvantages of a meat eating diet applied to a vegetarian one. Before I knew it I was vegan within a year. For me I absolutely believe in the ethical reasons for being vegan, and the environmental arguments as well, but it’s really important that I feel it is the most natural and healthy diet for me as well, which I do!

How has your lifestyle inspired some of your entrepreneurial choices?

I set up my first veggie restaurant when I was 21, it was a non-smoking, jazz-playing place called the Cotton Club, and it lasted six months. I think the phrase ‘before its time’ comes to mind. Bear in mind this was 1989 in the rural backwaters of Norwich. I then took a 20 year break from the food business, and ran several other types of businesses instead, mainly in the health and fitness sector. In 2010, the opportunity came up again to open up a veggie/vegan restaurant in Norwich with an experienced veggie restauranteur I had met called Jan. So River Green Café was born. It is now firmly established as a leading restaurant in East Anglia and attracts over 30,000 diners each year.

But whilst River Green is now over 70 per cent vegan I really wanted to do a business that was not only 100 per cent vegan, but was also owned by the community it seeks to serve. Hence the idea for One Planet Pizza, I knew the vegan food market was missing a really good range of frozen pizzas. Burgers, sausages, and even pies are well provided for, but where are the pizzas?

I was also fascinated about crowdfunding a percentage of the money that I needed to get the business up and running. The idea of getting several hundred like-minded people involved was exciting and something that just hasn’t been done before. So we are now half way through our campaign and are over 50 per cent of the way to our target. I hope the exposure we will get at Vevolution will help get us over the line. 

What will you be speaking about at Vevolution?

I’m going to be talking about a few things - first of all, some of my experiences of setting up veggie/vegan businesses and reflecting on the changes I have seen over the last 30 years in terms of society’s perception of veganism. We are doing some research with Vevolution delegates about their reasons for turning vegan, staying vegan, and what they see as the key challenges to their chosen lifestyle. I have seen some of the initial findings and it is really interesting.

Why did you want to get involved with Vevolution?

Two reasons really. I think there is so much happening in the vegan world these days that’s important that we get ‘organised’, and start sharing experiences and expertise. This event seems an ideal way of doing this, and I love the fact that it’s so educational and networking-focused. Secondly, it was a perfect fit for One Planet Pizza to be one of the main sponsors, this sort of event and the people that attend it are exactly the same sort of people that I hope will support and get involved in the development of the company over the next few years, influencing and helping us to shape a new type of vegan business.