Behind the Scenes with Gwafuvegan
Ngwafu Tansie chose the lockdown as the perfect time to launch her own vegan food delivery business in Manchester. Bringing together influences from Cameroon and the UK, Ngwafu shares her experience of quitting her job to build a vegan food business from the ground up.
You were born in Cameroon and raised in the UK. Why is food a great way to explore those very different cultures?
I emigrated to Reading in the UK with my parents when I was 5 years old, so food was one of the ways to stay connected with my roots. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mum learning all the different cooking techniques and ingredients, including learning the difference between Cameroon pepper and black pepper and experimenting with using them.
This love continued into my teenage years when I started going out to eat with my friends and embracing the British cuisine in and around Reading. I was also hosting dinner parties with my friends and family, essentially showcasing what I’ve learnt. I think food is a great gateway to learn about a culture and to really understand the importance of certain dishes based on the country’s history.
While most people were sitting on their sofas during lockdown, you decided to launch a food delivery business! Did the timing actually help Gwafuvegan take off quicker or was launching a business during the pandemic problematic?
Looking back, it seems crazy, doesn’t it!? A time when nobody was going out to eat, drink or socialise. The nation was falling in love with cooking their own food from scratch and baking bread and cake. That was exactly what I was doing myself, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement, as I was not seeing my family and not enjoying my mum’s cooking and being in the kitchen with her. It was so important to me to re-embrace my roots.
So, I spent all the free time I had learning all my mum’s recipes and making them vegan so I could enjoy them at home with my partner. I loved it! But there was never ever any intention to start my own business when doing it. Then it hit me; there was nothing like this in Manchester, where I live now, let alone anything vegan. I knew the recipes I had were good and I had this huge urge to share them.
So, I converted my recreational food Instagram page and started posting my food journey over lockdown. I built a website and put a lot of my dishes on a takeaway platform called Get Vegan Grub and started a pilot project delivering my food in and around Manchester. All from my home kitchen! Every delivery I did I remember shouting “YES!” in my car, and I got such a buzz from dropping off my food to people and getting amazing feedback. That was when I quit my full-time job, got a part-time job to cover my bills and started to build my business.
Those first four or five months of doing that I just knew that this is what I wanted to do, and I’ve just been growing ever since! Don’t get me wrong though, it was all a lot of hard work, all while working part time and saying no to a lot of social activities.
Before Gwafuvegan you were working in large-scale commercial food manufacturing. Did that experience help, or have you had to learn a whole new skill set to make your own food and recipes?
Yes, that time in my life working within food manufacturing certainly helped. I use a lot of what I learned there now, like scaling up recipes, troubleshooting, ingredient and packaging sourcing – the lists go on and on. Once you scale up a recipe from your kitchen to mass-scale, it’s a known fact that it’s never the same. So, when developing a recipe for my takeaway I always had that at the back of my mind, as I would always want to create high-quality products even in large scales.
The most valuable experience I learned from working in food manufacturing is that if you take your time, pay attention to the finer details, and only launch something / do something when your product / business is ready, it will go well. Rushing anything into the market just for a deadline’s sake will always fail and cost the business a lot of money! Know your limits and trust your gut for sure!
Every delivery I did I remember shouting "YES!" in my car. I got such a buzz from dropping off my food to people and getting amazing feedback. That was when I quit my full-time job, got a part-time job to cover my bills and started to build my business.
What’s the public’s reaction been to your all-vegan menu? Do you get non-vegan customers ordering and have they ever questioned that the food is plant-based?
The public reaction has been amazing! Yes, we’ve had non-vegans order from us before and people who have never tried the cuisine before. A lot of the feedback has been that it’s the best vegan food they’ve tried before and packed with flavour. We even had a customer say they felt like they didn’t miss the meat at all – which is what we are all about. We want to show customers that you can eat amazing vegan food and not feel like you’re missing anything and leave completely satisfied, all while saving the planet. It’s a win-win, really.
You’re also running pop-up food-stalls since markets have opened back up again. How has that experience been different from selling food as a takeaway and delivery service?
Yes, we started doing markets after a year of running our menu in a takeaway format. It’s a whole different ball game once you start doing markets, there’s a lot more manual labour involved; popping up and breaking down our food stall each time is a big task in itself. I couldn’t do it without my partner, Hayley; she has been a huge help in scaling up Gwafuvegan. We’ve adapted the menu slightly and purchased new kit that is easy use and transport. It has all been very rewarding though, especially getting instant customer feedback and getting to know our customers face-to-face instead of social media.
There’s lots of different ways to bring food to the customer. What plans have you got next to keep expanding the Gwafuvegan brand?
We recently launched a Puff Puff box, a well-known West African street food snack very similar to doughnuts – eaten both savoury and sweet. These are available UK-wide, because we realised we could only offer our usual food to customers around Manchester. The bigger picture would be to get a food truck and travel round offering our food to people all around the UK – spreading the joy that West African food brings and diversifying the vegan scene one city at a time.
A passion for veganism and food often goes hand in hand. What would your advice be to someone who has both and was thinking about trying it out as a business?
My advice would be to only start something if you genuinely love it and you can spend hours talking about it, cooking it, making it – whatever the idea is. Take your time doing it and make sure it’s something you truly want to do. Never start something as a way to make money quick. Pilot it, make it for your friends, family, co-workers and grow from their feedback. Customers buy into love and passion, and it can be a big reason why they buy your product. Most important of all: have fun doing it! There’s a reason why I always have a big smile on my face – it’s because I truly love what I’m doing.
Ngwafu delivers around the Manchester area and local food markets. Learn more about Gwafuvegan at their website: www.gwafuvegan.com
Lisa Fox says:
Ngwafu used her passion for food and veganism and made that into a business – and shows that there are always openings in the market, even during a pandemic. And her food is amazing too!
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