You may think of the donor kebab as a greasy treat at the end of a night out, but Shoreditch’s What the Pitta, have created a counter donor to be enjoyed at all hours; did we mention it’s vegan?
Duo Cem Yildiz and Rojdan Gul dreamed up the idea last July whilst holidaying in Turkey together.
Now, 10 months on they have a successful stall in Shoreditch, a unit in Croydon Boxpark and are opening another unit in Boxpark’s Shoreditch on June 3.
Yildiz said of the venture: “I didn’t really know Roj until we went on holiday together. I told him I was trying veganism and he mentioned his uncle cooks vegan donors in Germany and they are really popular. So, we thought this could work in London.
“In Turkey we booked our tickets [for late July], to go to Germany. The vegan donor was so good, it blew our minds and we thought this needs to come to London.”
He went on: “Roj has since he was young said he wanted a food business, his family have always been in that arena. He is very passionate about it.”
Within two weeks they opened up a wooden stall in a street food area in Shoreditch. He said: “We opened on August 1 at Pump, it was all a really quick turn around. It was risky, we have our ups and downs.
“Lot’s of people are producing vegan food, you can get vegan everything which looks like other food, but it’s not actually that good. We do one thing well but really well and that’s why it’s popular. It’s tasty as hell.”
What is in the vegan donor? Yildiz said: “It’s made with soya chunks, marinated in our very secret spices, we don’t tell anyone – Roj’s uncle supplied us with that.
“We make all of the bread wraps fresh and vegan tzatziki, which is soya yogurt grated cucumber and mint. Red tomato, purple cabbage and lettuce salads, we have our homemade chilli sauce too.
Yildiz told ELL of how they connected with the local customers.
He said: “Because we were working 12 hours a day, all the people in Shoreditch knew us personally. They recognise us, I know once we open up in Boxpark I want to be there as much as possible, to reconnect with our old customers.”
Yildiz spoke of the health aspect in the business and how veganism is increasing – indeed What the Pitta follows in the footsteps of Hackney’s vegan fried chicken shop which launched last year.
He said: “Ours is seen as a junk food product, but it’s not, it’s a meat alternative. It is made fresh in front of people.
“There is this health culture, people are more interested in nutrition. Veganism is the new organic.”
Meat-free more often is their slogan. Yildiz said: “We aren’t a vegan business for vegans, we are just making people re-think how much meat they consume. For the people who say, ‘I shouldn’t eat this much meat’, rather than trying to get everyone to be a solid vegan.
“Netflix has done wonders for the vegan movement. People are more conscious of their impact on the environment and health.
“We used to have loads of people come in and say ‘last night I watched Cowspiracy’ [Netflix documentary] and I’m going to try and not eat meat for a bit.”
Yildiz told of how the name came about. He said: “We were getting a lot of people walking past the shed saying, ‘what the f is a vegan donor’ they kept swearing, everyday. So What the Pitta is a play on this, it just stuck.
“One guy came in; he was really drunk and had a vegan donor. The next day he came back and realised it wasn’t meat. He became a regular customer and started introducing himself to vegan food and giving it a go. It was funny.
“There wasn’t much vegan street food out there, or any Turkish cuisine. It’s a kebab it’s going to sell itself, a massively popular British meal, who doesn’t like a kebab on a night out?”
Even rapper JME enjoys What the Pitta. Yildiz said: “JME is one of our regulars, he will come every week. When you see people like that you think oh you can be cool and be vegan, it breaks the stereotype.”
On What the Pitta’s plans Yildiz said: “Our goal is to have three-five sites in the next couple of years. We want to have our own stalls. We are still so new to this and are learning everyday.
“I never would have guessed I would get into the food business, especially the vegan market.”
What the Pitta, Unit 52, Boxpark Shoreditch opens June 3.