Like a lot of vegans, Mike grew up eating a classic omnivorous diet. He only became aware of the environmental impacts of animal agriculture after watching a documentary back in April 2016. “After watching it I stopped eating meat for about a month. That time became a bit of a turning point -although I had stopped for environmental reasons, removing meat from my diet prompted me to challenge the way I saw animals - how could I love some and eat others?”
From there, Mike made the jump to a fully vegan diet in January 2018 with the help of Veganuary – a non-profit organisation that promotes, educates and encourages people to give a vegan lifestyle a try for the month of January. At this time, meat alternatives were improving fast, yet there were still very few options for good vegan cheese, especially a really authentic blue.
“I was on holiday with some friends and whilst they all enjoyed a cheeseboard, it got me thinking… I spent the next couple of days researching vegan cheese online, which led me to joining a vegan cheese class in Berlin.” Whilst in Berlin, Mike learnt the newest techniques in the industry and came back to North London full of ideas for his own experiments.
“There were a lot of failed experiments! My friend and housemate, Luke, was incredibly understanding about all the questionable looking (and smelling) tubs in our small kitchen fridge.”After about six months of spending weekends and evenings trialling potential products, Mike’s first vegan cheese, Veganzola (name credit goes to his friend, Chris Beecroft although it now goes by it's pet name, Blue!) was ready to go. And just a few weeks later in November 2018, Mike quit his day job in corporate banking (of all things!) to start the company that became Honestly Tasty.
From Banker to Kitchen Fitter
Realising he would need a proper kitchen; Mike asked his Gran for help. ‘Granny Joyce’, lived close- by in Haringey and had an unused room upstairs with running water. Joyce very kindly agreed to let him completely re-purpose what was a furniture storage room, into a functional mini cheese kitchen with 3 small cheese caves (aka fridges). “I don’t know how I could have started it without Gran letting me use that room in her house - I was incredibly lucky. It was a bit of a strange time, going from having a corporate 9-5 job, to cycling to my Gran’s house every day, stripping up carpet and putting down lino, buying tables and getting my head around all the aspects of food safety.”
Once all this had been set up and signed off from a food safety point of view I started sending out some samples of the 'cheese' and my first order came in on my birthday, which made for a great day!"
Roping In The Family
As things started getting really busy, Mike’s family would all pitch in and help him out whenever they could, especially his dad who spent a lot of time in the kitchen in those first months. “There’s no way I’d have been able to do it without them. Their willingness to help out and support me was incredible. Going from what was considered a ‘respectable banking job’ (in some circles at least), to ‘I’m quitting my job to make vegan cheese…’, well, I think a lot of people would have discouraged that or thought I was crazy, but I was incredibly lucky that they told me to go for it!”
As demand increased and orders were getting larger every week, the room in Granny Joyce’s house was quickly getting outgrown. So, in July 2019, Mike started looking for a small commercial kitchen to expand into and found a unit in an old Chocolate factory just behind Wood Green.
“It’s a really cool place, there’s a ton of artists there so the walls outside our unit are covered in some fantastic art, and there’s also a vegan pub just across the road, run by two amazing people, Roger and Kath – you really need to go there if you ever get the chance when they world gets back to something resembling ‘normal’… you’ll probably find me in there!”
The new kitchen was kitted out just in time for Christmas, which was - in a word - hectic. “I’ve never been so exhausted, there were, I think, 2 all-night sessions in the kitchen the week before Christmas. For the second time, I asked (aka begged!) my sister Beth to join Honestly Tasty, and on Christmas Day she told me that she would; which was awesome!”
“Michael had been asking me to join since July - it was becoming a bit pathetic! Around Christmas I thought, I spend all my time there anyway so I might as well get paid for it. Before this I was working in a Prison, so it was definitely a big change!”
With Beth officially on board, in the last year things have really taken off, with more and more orders coming in from stockists and the launch of an online store in April, “Even with the two of us it’s been mad busy, but we’re so grateful that the business is growing so fast and we’ve got some very exciting plans for the next couple of years that we can’t wait to see unfold… even if both of us feel like we need to sleep for a week!”