I first met Cem Yildiz Co-Founder of What The Pitta about 4 years ago through my old housemate and friend Joe.
Back then Cem wasn't a proponent of the vegan diet. He was in-fact more inclined to talk about bulletproof coffee (coffee with butter in it) or the benefits of eating a paleo style diet.
Then about 18 months ago a few of us got together for a catch up and Cem was asking me a lot of questions about veganism. I could see his attitudes towards veganism starting to shift and now 18 months on Cem is a huge advocate of a shift towards veganism
We caught up on the eve of the vegan kebab business he co-founded What The Pitta opening their second site at Boxpark in Croydon.
Ok, let's start with the big question. What was the key thing that made you go from lets say a pretty large consumer of animal products to the vegan advocate and entrepreneur you're today?
I had already been visiting The Feel Good Café, a vegan café down the road from where I live in Chingford and then one day the owner offered me a free ticket to go and see Dr Michael Greger in London talking about his latest book How Not To Die.
When I saw the stats and science on the big screen I just couldn’t go back to eating meat knowing I could be doing serious harm to myself.
Both yourself and Roj who you run What The Pitta with are from a Turkish background. How did they react to you shifting towards vegan and setting up a vegan kebab shop?
The first thing my Dad said to me when I told him I was no longer eating meat was,“I know you’re into health stuff but this is a step too far!”.
As for the vegan kebab business, I didn’t even see it coming, it was a conversation on the beach in Turkey, which escalated, and now we have two premises!
You're a man of many talents and interests and definitely someone I would call a polymath or a multipotentialite. You currently also co-host a successful podcast, co-run What The Pitta, make films and you're a qualified personal trainer.
How do you effectively manage your time? And who do you look to for inspiration?
We all have a finite amount of time and your life is built through your experience so you have to constantly challenge yourself by doing new and varied things. As for time management, when you enjoy something and you're working towards your vision of a good life you’ll find the time.
I don’t watch any TV and I don’t play any computer games, I try to use my time intentionally and I still get seven to eight hours sleep.
I also believe that it’s very risky nowadays to have one source of income, for most people their job is their lifeline. If they lose that they can’t pay their bills.
Having multiple streams of income built around your passions is a much safer idea so I always advise people to start a side gig alongside their full time job, whether that’s selling crafts on Etsy or going freelance with some of the skills you’re currently using in your day job.
"As for inspiration, I love reading and listening to podcasts and audio books, so James Altucher, Gary Vaynerchuck, Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn are just some of the people who inspire me".
You may have heard the quote “success leaves clues,” I think when you listen and read the books from inspiring and successful people everyday you begin to see patterns in behaviour and you can start applying them to your own life.
I love James Altucher’s idea of getting 1% better everyday in terms of education, health and relationships.
How have you found switching to a vegan diet in relation to your performance in the gym?
To be honest first of all I lost a load of weight, then I gained it back, then I managed to deadlift a personal best but I have not been hitting the gym as much as I’d like. I have probably been about four times in the last three months due to getting What The Pitta up and running and moving house but the funny thing is my muscles feel harder and I can always see my abs.
Once I’m settled into my new place and have my home gym setup I’m going to be hitting it hard, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one!
So how did the idea for What The Pitta come about?
The idea for What The Pitta! came from Roj’s uncle who owns a similar business in Freiburg, Germany. We thought the vegan doner was a brilliant idea and the product was so tasty we knew it had potential with vegans and non-vegans alike here in the UK.
Do you find non vegans come and eat at What The Pitta? And if so what is their general reaction to the food?
Yeah, it’s very split. I think a lot of our customers fall in to the meat reducer category and I think that demographic is growing everyday. People are becoming more conscious of where their food is coming from and the harm it may be doing to them, environmentally and to the animals.
It’s always funny when we get either a vegan running back over just to confirm with us that it’s not meat or a meat eater tell us they had know idea it was vegan. Good food is good food and going meat free more often is the way forward for society.
What The Pitta is opening their first restaurant at Boxpark in Croydon this March. What can people expect from you guys at the new site?
We’re really excited to share some of our new dishes at BoxPark Croydon especially our Vegan Lahmacun – a type of Turkish pizza usually topped with mince meat. We’re going to serve ours on our signature freshly prepared bread base with a combination of tomato puree, herbs and our secret spiced soya mince.
Obviously our Vegan Doner will still be on the scene as well as a new lentil soup (Mercimek). I think we’re just going to keep experimenting with traditional Turkish dishes giving them a vegan twist.
Boxpark does really feel like a step up from our wooden shed in Shoreditch but we just going to keep growing and bring more vegan food options to hungry Londoners.
Do you have any advice for anyone reading this thinking of setting up a plant-based food business?
Test your concept as cheaply as possible. Read The Lean Startup by Eric Reiss. It’s so much easier nowadays to go online, find an email, get a food stall setup for a day and test your product. Social media is incredibly important for finding your customers too but if you’re a plant based business you’re already in good hands, vegans are one of the most supportive communities I’ve ever encountered and so you will always find people willing to point you in the right direction, lend a hand or offer their skills or services. Be bold, ask for help and embrace the community or you can always hit me up and I’d be happy to help.