When I first heard about the launch of Smith & Daughters in Melbourne, I knew it was time to get my shit together and relocate to this incredible city. I spent the following few months dreaming up plans to move, while simultaneously drooling over their Instagram posts. Fast forward a few years and here I am living around the corner from not only the restaurant, but also Smith + Deli: their sister store, known for it's epic deli style sandwiches, pastries and take home meals.
The dynamic duo [yes I know, corny, but necessary] behind S&D are Chef Queen: Shannon Martinez, and Business Queen: Maureen [aka Mo] Wyse. Together they have built such an infectiously positive environment and community. When you walk into the Deli you're greeted with S+D quotes such as 'You CAN sit with us', 'No bad days' and 'Thank you for being a friend'. It is so admirable to see these two epic women combining forces to create something so much bigger than themselves. They truly acknowledge one another's skills, talent and dreams which has essentially created not only the perfect business partnership, but the perfect friendship.
I am so honoured that Shannon + Mo took time out of their jam-packed schedules to speak with me, they have both been a huge inspiration to me over the years. It's quite fitting really as this is the TENTH conversation on the blog – a landmark I wasn't sure I would reach. So here it is, enjoy!
AP: Describe who you are.
MW: That’s a really tough one!
AP: Answer it however you like.
MW: I think… Well, there are different words that mean different things. If I say ‘hard-worker’ it’s like ‘yeah so is everybody else’.
AP: Definitely not everybody. I can see that you’re both really hard workers.
MW: We both work way too much. I think I’m really passionate and stubborn, and I care a lot, maybe too much about some things… That’s a really tough question though.
SM: I think I’m a pretty good leader in terms of staff and crew. I’ve managed to keep my staff a really long time so I’m pretty stoked with that part of myself, I know I’ve got a loyal team.
AP: I’ve heard a bit about that actually.
SM: Yeah so I think that’s a good quality, something’s right there. How I treat my team is one of the most important things to me, so that is a big part of who I am and what shapes me differently to any other boss in the kitchen. They can be quite aggressive environments. I pride myself on having created a completely different atmosphere in my kitchen.
AP: Yeah that’s a great achievement. Describe what you do for work.
MW: So it’s funny, you know, when you start a business and there are so many logistical components to it that you just end up doing everything. You need to be one of those ‘just do it, get it done’ kind of people. Obviously Shannon does the food side of things, managing the kitchen and all that stuff, but then there’s the whole other component: front of house, the things that need to get fixed and repaired, the back end stuff like accounting and banking, making sure that we can financially continue to create more products. We’re really collaborative in a lot of that stuff, Shannon doesn’t only do food… we just kind of do everything. I couldn’t write myself a job description I don’t think. You have to do so many different things, and obviously be on top of Social Media, promotions and things like that.
AP: Oh yeah, so much work!
SM: Obviously my major focus is the food and originally all the booze as well, the cocktails and things. The one thing I don’t do is the bookwork side of stuff, that’s not what I do. I don’t have the head for it. Luckily the other half does! That’s definitely not in my job description, but you know, the creative elements to the business are definitely there. The products we sell, that’s my job.
AP: And there are so many of them.
SM: Yeah. So what we have to offer is probably my role.
AP: Have either of you had any training or education in the field’s that you’re in now?
MW: Shannon should answer this first.
SM: I started an apprenticeship and then left and continued to cook myself.
AP: You didn’t like the apprenticeship?
SM: Yeah, I’ve got apprentices going through school now with me and it’s the same shit that was happening when I was there. It’s just really dated, they don’t even touch on vegan food – you know, it’s just no relevant to the food that’s being sold nowadays. Really 80’s/70’s classical French stuff, which is fine, but it’s the majority of what’s being taught. It’s just not relevant; they’re learning things that they’ll never use. So, I did start one, but I decided I would learn more going out on my own.
AP: Yeah ok. What about you Mo?
MW: My background is really varied. I’ve been in hospitality my whole life, in front of house, since I was too young to waitress. So I did that, and also a journalism degree, worked at a magazine and got more into the PR and marketing side of things. I got really interested in promoting brands that I cared about – vegan stuff. Then I moved home and worked for my family, so I got to see how to run an independent business. My Grandfather started a business in the 50’s that my Dad runs now, when we knew we weren’t going to take that over and we moved here, I knew I had to do events management because that was the thing that I was most passionate about – logistics and things. So I put together The People’s Market, where we met, and that’s how it all came about. I also worked in TV production before we opened the restaurant, so I’d say … managing people, small logistics, promotions, but nothing formal.
AP: So much experience! Even just working in hospitality for so long would have given you a huge insight into running the business now.
MW: Totally. Customer service and being on the other side of the bench and knowing how to address different things, problem solving – that’s huge.
AP: So you kind of answered this before, but can you explain how you met?
MW: Yeah! So with The People’s Market, I felt really passionate about having a vegan food vendor, we were going to have three at one point. It was built out of shipping containers, and we were putting together kitchens, basically just approaching chefs and people who had restaurants. We had the space for a month through summer of 2012-2013 and I told the owners that I wanted to have a vegan option. They were really hands-off with everything, and just kind of said ‘yeah sure, vegans are interesting’.
SM: ‘Vegans are cute’ (laughs)
AP: (laughs) Ah geez.
MW: Yeah and so I contacted my friend who had a vegan café (called The Mercy Seat) and he said ‘I definitely can’t but I know someone who can’. Shannon was head chef at The Gasometer.
AP: Is that why there was so much vegan food there at one point?
AP: I was told to go there, but I found that there’s basically nothing vegan on the menu now.
SM: Yeah, it’s been years.
AP: So you were explaining how you met…
MW: Yeah! So we met there, and I was like ‘oh my gosh we have to do this’. She was actually going to be there the whole time rather than just a month, but once we got a month in we were like ‘we have to make a restaurant’. Just recognizing those qualities in each other, hardworking, dedicated and passionate about this total gap in the market for vegan food.
AP: Yeah, amazing.
MW: So every week for about a year we would meet up and she would cook vegan food while we talked about this hypothetical restaurant that we were going to open.
AP: Sounds like so much fun. What inspired you to create vegan meals when you weren’t vegan yourself Shannon?
SM: It was just the demand really, getting asked at The East Brunswick Club so often for vegan and vegetarian stuff which I didn’t have on the menu at the time, it was actually becoming a hassle for me to keep coming up with things on the spot.
AP: (laughs) yeah right I can imagine.
SM: So we ended up putting a couple of items on the menu and then they became super-super popular, more so than the non-vegan stuff. That’s when it was kind of obvious that was the way things were going and I decided then – we’ll actually my Mother told me – ‘you should do vegan food because that’s what people know you for’. That was before I’d met Mo, and there are a lot of restaurants, but there aren’t a lot of restaurants that are doing what we’re doing.
MW: Even now with so many more vegan restaurants and vegan offerings at restaurants, they’re still not doing the same creative…
AP: Yeah I know what you’re saying. This is the place you come to for a good quality vegan meal, not just any vegan meal.
SM: And a drink too, the whole experience.
MW: Yeah, and when you talk about inspirations and actual creativity, I totally think that Shannon is this absolute trailblazer. She’s not just taking a soy hot dog or a chicken burger and putting some sauce on it, she’s coming up with things and using different methods, actually challenging what’s out there.
AP: Yeah, it’s the best. Whenever people visit me from out of town, it’s just a given that I’ll take them to Smith and Daughters.
SM: My first vegan menu from… 2002, was pretty gluten-heavy, no-one walked away feeling light and ready for a jog you know (laughs)
SM: You’d want to lie on the couch for a while. So we’ve come a long way since then. There was a TV chef from the UK doing a series on Melbourne that wanted to feature the restaurant, and they were interested in my vegan Parma. I just said ‘I don’t want to do it’… it’s so dated and old, it’s like stepping back 15 years. It’s just not exciting anymore. It was in 2002, there was basically no vegan food down here. The guy who was cooking before me had a tofu Parma that was literally flour on a block of tofu…
MW: Oh my gosh, that would have been so bland.
SM: Yeah. So while the vegan Parma was a very important time in my life, because it came to this, it’s gross (laughs) looking back on it.
AP: Yeah. We’ll now you’re serving vegan caviar… so you know. (laughs)
SM: Yeah, stepping-stones (laughs).
AP: So when did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
SM: When I was 12.
AP: Oh wow, ok. That’s a really clear vision.
SM: Yeah totally 100%, it was either music or food, and I was doing both consistently. So for Christmas when I was 12 my mum bought me my first big cooking kit, my own pans and spoons and things. I started working in kitchens when I was 15, started an Advanced Dip of Hospitality in yr 11, quit that for a bit and focused on music for a while, but then came back to the food.
MW: When we were digging for the cookbook [coming out in November] we were going through both of our family photos, and there are some amazing shots of Shannon with the play-set kitchen. Opening the play-set stove, the amazing anecdote of how it all came to be and how when she was young she was wherever the food was.
AP: Always food.
SM: Always food, yeah. I think in primary school I just thought ‘I’m want to be a chef, and that’s going to be my job’. I’m glad – it would be hard not knowing what I wanted to do in life.
AP: Is smith and daughters something you always envisioned?
MW: This is exactly what we…
SM: … what we envisioned when we planned it.
AP: Before that, did you ever think about having a place like this?
MW: I’m from Seattle originally, and I had a friend that was a really talented pastry chef. She thought of things similarly to Shannon, different to how everyone else was doing it. She was classically French trained, so she was making all of these crazy pastries that were unlike anything I’d ever had before. In my head I always thought I wanted to have my own business, my Grandfather had his own business, I knew I didn’t want to get into the beauty industry, and I’d done my time with the family business. I had such a passion for food, but if you asked me 4 years ago if I was going to open up a restaurant, I wouldn’t have had any idea.
AP: You’re where you want to be now.
MW: Oh yeah, fully! Shannon and have a lot of similarities, and one of them was that we were busting our arses for people that weren’t appreciating what we were doing for them and for their businesses.
AP: Oh yeah totally. A lot of businesses make you feel like that.
MW: And you can’t tone it down either.
SM: The amount that you care
MW: Yeah so you can’t just say to yourself ‘I’m only going to put in the amount of effort I’m being appreciated for.’
SM: Giving 65%
MW: (laughs) yeah! So it gets to that point where you resent your boss, resent your workplace, resent your co-workers who have nothing to do with it.
SM: Even if they’re good dudes.
MW: Exactly. And you just think… why am I putting so much effort in? But you can’t put any less effort in.
AP: Yes I feel you, because that’s who you are.
MW: Yeah, so even though it’s very difficult and trying and stressful owning your own business, you’re working for yourself. You get to play out your vision without sacrificing it, have an amazing team of people, make this community and have it be the type of service that you would want. There’s a large side of the hospitality industry where people don’t care about the service.
MW: So we get to put out a really great product – we love what we put out and give to customers – but also, do it in a way that makes people feel really cared for, supported and nurtured. We want to make everybody realize that ‘vegan’ isn’t a dirty word. This is food that happens to be vegan – it’s the food first, the vegan message afterwards…
AP: Yes! You don’t have to label it vegan everywhere – people will eat it anyway, because it’s amazing – but knowing it is vegan just makes it even more exciting.
MW: So that’s the vision.
AP: That’s the best way to do it, I think.
MW: Yeah, and you’re switching people on that never would have stepped foot inside of here.
AP: Exactly. So what do you guys do on your off days… if you have them.
SM: I go to markets! I eat meat on my days off, so I spend my day going to farmers markets, talking to producers as much as I can, and then creating the meat versions of things, which gives me all of the ideas for the following week.
AP: Ah right ok!
MW: It always transpires to this awesome vegan meal, she’ll say ‘I had this crazy thing it was so delicious, I want you to try it’ and then she makes it vegan and we’ll sell it at the Deli. It’s the best.
SM: It’s really nice because I can cook in my own time, in my own house without people asking me stupid questions (laughs)
SM: No-one telling me that they don’t like my music or something like that. My partner works on the days I have off which is awesome (laughs). I’ve just got to have quiet.
AP: Yeah especially if you’re working every other day.
SM: When you are running big teams, that’s the thing about it, it’s grinding, it’s constant…
MW: The thing is, if Shannon’s there, they already know the answer to these questions, but they feel like they have to bounce them off of her.
AP: Yeah ok.
MW: So they know the answer, they know how to problem solve, but if she’s standing there it’s like… you know. She runs a really fun kitchen but at home she’ll crank up the music – that’s the only requirement in the kitchen for her – and her dog Axel, he’s the best.
AP: What type?
SM: Can Terrier X Maltese. He looks a bit like Toto.
AP: (laughs) Cute
MW: He’s an old man dog and he’s lumpy (laughs)
SM: So lumpy (laughs)
AP: So what about you Mo, on your off days?
MW: Ok, so I really struggle switching off. I do a lot of errand running for the business. We decided when we started that we were going to be really smart with sourcing things, one of them being a bit of running around for things so that we could make them affordable and pass it on. I have a business partner that’s really great (laughs) who talked me into personal training, which is the one thing that I do for myself. It switches my brain off, which is really, really good. That started at the beginning of this year, Shannon got me into it for my birthday and it was kind of… no turning back. It’s been really good for both of us mentally. I have a really awesome partner too who forces us to go to the movies and go out for dinner.
SM: And the float tanks, that’s your new thing!
AP: Oh I’ve been desperate to try that!
MW: I’m pretty addicted! I’ve only done it twice.
AP: Were you a bit freaked out to do it the first time?
MW: Yeah! You’re totally isolated. It’s closed, and dark, but that doesn’t bother me – it’s the thoughts thing. I keep myself busy, I compartmentalize the to do list. I’m always writing lists and always have my clipboard with me. So I realized this is going to be basically a mental to-do list the whole hour that I’m in there (laughs). You kind of get to this weird state at the end of it where you think… (sigh) things make a little bit of sense now, and you have this peace.
AP: That’s amazing! Now I’m even more inspired to give it a go.
MW: You should, it’s really good. Actually I shouldn’t say it’s awesome, you should do it for yourself and not have any…
MW: Yeah totally.
SM: Yeah because you might hate it.
AP: Yeah right (laughs)
MW: Yeah! (laughs)
SM: I hated it myself – I went years ago – not being stuck with my thoughts, but because I get bored. So I started getting fidgety.
AP: So were you unsatisfied in your previous jobs?
SM: I was always cooking so that part of it was always fine. The last job I had was at The Sweetwater In, Prahran (South Yarra), and I wasn’t unhappy at all. It was the first job that gave me any recognition for what I did. Previously, at other places, if we’d ever get an article in the paper about the food, the owners would never mentioned anything about the person creating it.
AP: So they owned your work, sort of.
SM: Yeah! ‘We’re doing this food’ that used to really get to me, especially because the businesses that I was working for were so popular…
AP: Because of your food!
MW: You were their full revenue.
SM: Yeah. The Sweetwater In weren’t like that, they were good. It was their first place as well, so they were working things out, but nothing bad and I still talk to those guys, they’re great. Being forced to do things that you love with limited resources can be really tricky too. I’ve worked in places where they wouldn’t fix fridges for me, so a fridge would turn into a cupboard. At one point the only fridge was in a band-room, so if there was a 500 person gig in the band-room, imagine packing down the kitchen…
AP: Oh no!
SM: It was mental. There also wasn’t a lock on the fridge, so if there was a punk show… (laughs)
AP: Wow! Hectic.
MW: Mine is more like what I said earlier about putting so much effort in and not being appreciated. I’d work really hard, and you know the success you’re creating for someone else – it wasn’t the lack of recognition, I didn’t need a ‘pat on the back’ but I felt a bit taken advantage of. I have those tendencies, not with my family, but everything I’ve done here… I’d just get taken advantage of. I would put in the extra hours and work, and it would just be like ‘that’s what she does, isn’t that cute’.
AP: How do you mentally prepare yourself for each day? Is there anything specific you do?
SM: No. Just get up and go!
AP: Alright great, that’s easy.
SM: I don’t have to think about it, it’s just what I do.
MW: For me, something that I’ve learned since we opened is that everything sorts itself out. I didn’t really think that way before, I was always an over thinker. Doing this business, it all works itself out, and it has to. You have those points where you just feel like all of the equipment is breaking, or your favourite staff member is going to England for 6 weeks and you just think ‘why is it all at once?’. It’s not the theory of threes, it’s the theory of like 17 things at once, but you have to know that everything is going to get done. It has to, because the deli opens at 8am, service starts at 6pm – you just move forward.
AP: Totally. How do you handle criticism?
MW: Never read the comments, that’s what I say.
AP: Do you even get bad comments?
SM: Yep. Everyone get bad comments.
AP: Really! On Instagram, or?
SM: Anywhere, any forum that people have to make comments, keyboard warriors will find a way.
AP: Yeah, right.
SM: The thing that pisses me off the most about criticism is not being given it at the time. Customers who have had a problem with the food… the kitchen is full of human beings that cook food, you know? We can fuck up from time to time.
AP: And of course you’re happy to fix it.
SM: 100%! It’s the same if we make a shitty drink by accident. If I’m training someone in the kitchen who hasn’t made it right, it’s somehow slipped past me and made its way to the floor… you know, it happens, you don’t need to be a dick about it. I wish people would just say something to the waiter and then we could replace it, give them their money back for it. Instead they’re festering away at the table and then going online to complain.
MW: If we didn’t know about it, how would we have known to fix it?
AP: Yeah totally. It’s usually the people that stay quiet who would complain online, don’t you think?
SM: Yeah, usually they’re the meek shy ones that won’t say anything in real life, but as soon as they’re online…
SM: That’s the thing I hate the most.
MW: Shannon and I are always in one of the two restaurants, or we’re both there. It’s obvious that there’s management around, and we have really amazing managers, too. Just say something – there’s someone there who can help.
SM: We’re also not the kind of people that will just say ‘deal with it’. Everyone that works for us is chatty and smile-y, there aren’t any bitch faces behind the bar (laughs) – which you can get in a lot of joints. I don’t think we give that impression though.
MW: If I’m being honest, my first reaction is ‘don’t read the comments’, because if I do read them I try to go back to figure out when the booking was, who served them, what happened…
AP: To get to the bottom of it.
MW: Yeah, you look at negative comments as a way to look forward, taking a positive from the negative – but at the same time, it really irks me, especially when vegans do it. You’re vegan for a reason, if it is ethical, spend the effort and time dedicating that energy towards something that matters. There are so many things that you could use your typing and time for.
AP: Why would they want to put that negative energy onto a vegan business, it doesn’t make sense if you’re a vegan.
SM: You’re putting people off vegan food, if they go to our Facebook page now and read the reviews. People come here based on what they’ve read, and people on there are writing ‘this place is shit’… it could have been a meat eater reading that, they may have given it a go, but now they’ve been put off. How does that help the cause? They say it to me about not being vegan too. I get so much criticism about it.
AP: It wouldn’t be what it is had you also been vegan.
SM: It wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is – who knows if I’d even have had a restaurant.
MW: The meat eaters almost think that’s a buffer, because if she’s a chef who isn’t vegan she’s not trying to create something that’s ‘good enough’ for a vegan, she’s making food that’s delicious to everybody.
SM: And really, at the Gasometer, even though the menu was 50/50, I was still going through about 250kg’s of chicken wings a week. They’re the type of numbers that could still be getting pumped out of a place that I’m cooking for, but instead it’s a business that is ethical.
MW: There are actual business algorithms that are generated based on star ratings. So if you’re 4.8/5, that 0.2% directly correlates to an amount of people not walking through the door. There are people who base their visits to restaurants based on those star ratings. So anytime someone leaves a negative review, it equates to an actual number of people who aren’t walking through the door. It’s amazing. We say this all the time, but the internet is a terrible place for anyone trying to create a business – good or bad. The really good reviews create crazy expectations, and the bad reviews prevent people from coming in. It’s crazy. I actually confronted someone once, who was a known vegan when we had just opened. I was like ‘you’re a vegan, leaving a bad review for a fellow vegan, do you know what that means?’ I pointed around to all the staff and everything in the place and said ‘all these people will lose their jobs, you’re talking shit on a vegan business…. Do you know the direct impact you’re making?’
AP: That’s it, what’s the benefit?
MW: There were literally people writing under his post saying ‘oh well I’ll give it a miss’
SM: ‘I was thinking of trying it but now…’
AP: Oh man.
MW: Yeah so it’s one of those things where you’re like… think about what you’re saying before you say it. Which is the main problem with the world really.
AP: It so is!
SM: And because you felt like someone didn’t kiss your arse enough that day? Everyone’s so entitled these days.
MW: We don’t want everyone to think this is their favourite place and love it – we’re not those people either. We love people having opinions…
AP: There’s such a difference between simply not liking something, and criticising it publicly to be a jerk.
SM: Yeah exactly.
AP: That just answered my next question which was ‘have you encountered any difficult customers before’… so what is success to you?
SM: With the difficult customer thing, we do get meat eaters come in here that generally are psyched, by the end they’re stoked… but
MW: We wrote that in the book too, look the best compliment Shannon and I could receive is the meat eaters saying ‘if I could eat like this everyday I’d go vegan’. Man! Those would never have come out of that person’s mouth before – that’s success to us, for sure.
MW: We’ve had a lot of difficult customers, who are meat eaters, and even after they finish their whole meal, they still can’t say they enjoyed it.
AP: Just stubborn do you think?
MW: I don’t know? We had this guy that said ‘this is distinctly lacking animal protein’
AP: Why would you even say that in a vegan restaurant? (laughs)
SM: (laughs) Yeah!
MW: It was the meatiest, craziest burrito… a lot of people can’t even finish it because it’s so meat-like.
AP: ‘Where’s the protein’ so typical.
SM: Yeah ‘this is a pansy meal’ (laughs)
MW: I just said you know, ‘that’s really funny because that guy over there is enjoying it and he’s a meat eater… I’ve never really heard that before’, just trying to be comical at first. It’s not my personal mission to make everybody go vegan, but to make vegan food appealing. That’s my role, to be on the floor and talk to people. I just thought, I’m going to give this guy a go – his poor daughter or whoever it was, was so embarrassed. In the end he was so rude, I just thought, you know what, you don’t have to be here. Please feel free to never come here again.
MW: I’m really sorry that your mind is so closed, you know, that you can’t allow yourself to enjoy this – clearly delicious – meal, for one night.
SM: How about that dude that cracked the shits because there weren’t any bones in his ‘ribs’? (laughs)
MW: Oh yeah that was a good one.
SM: (laughs) he returned it.
MW: Our ‘ribs’ were featured in The Age under ‘dude food’, which was skin scrawling to Shannon and I, but anyway. That was a really special dish, it was for our birthday menu, it was super meat-y and there were a lot of vegans that couldn’t finish it because it was too meat-like – same with the burrito. So this guy came in and he was hassling the bartender, just wouldn’t stop, because he was convinced that it was real meat – he musn’t have read the article properly…
SM: He thought we were using real, cheap meat that didn’t have bones in it (laughs)
AP: (laughs) What! That’s hilarious.
MW: He was demanding his money back. He sent it back to the waiter, saying ‘there’s no bones in this!’
AP: Isn’t that a weird concept, complaining that there AREN’T any bones in your meal. (laughs)
SM: Yeah! (laughs)
MW: We get a lot of really unusual complaints.
AP: Anytime I’ve been here, everyone seems so happy, and the vibe is just so great. I can’t even imagine!
SM: Yeah generally it is.
MW: We usually have the best customers. Whenever we hire new staff, they’re so psyched to work here because generally customers are really happy to be here, we’re a destination for a lot of people who travel here, they make this a highlight of their trip – which is a huge compliment for us. A lot of people celebrate special events here, so on the whole, customers are amazing and enjoying themselves. We’re essentially a Latin Vegan hearty restaurant, but we’re kind of seen as a dietary needs place, which creates a lot of issues. I mean we cook things with garlic and onion in it…
AP: Ah yeah right, I never really understood the garlic and onion thing.
SM: So there are essentially 2 reasons behind it, one is religious, and one is to do with them being a stimulant.
AP: I couldn’t do that. I feel like I’d tell a restaurant before the night if I had a dietary requirement like that.
SM: Oh 100% and in that case I’d be happy to prepare something for them. But in most cases people don’t understand how restaurants work, they think everything is made to order.
AP: They obviously haven’t worked in a kitchen.
SM: When you’re doing 300 covers in a night, that potato tortilla thing you’re eating, that took 4 hours to make. We had to take paella off the menu because no one wanted to wait for it to be cooked, so I had to make it in this weird half done method so it was fast for people, but then they complained that it wasn’t right. So I just took if off the menu. You don’t want to wait for it, but you don’t want it the quick way…
AP: Yeah that’s irritating.
SM: Yeah, so now you get nothing (laughs)
AP: (laughs) What do you value?
SM: A good work ethic.
MW: Passion. We love people that love what they do.
SM: … and just not soft. People are so soft now you know?
SM: People get a tiny sniffle and they’re taking the day off. A little cut and it’s like ‘oh poor me’ – and it’s happened quickly, it really has. Same with the food intolerances as you know, I’m talking 5 years this has changed – full 180º.
AP: People are sensitive.
SM: How has this happened? How have people gotten so soft, in every aspect of life? No one can talk anymore, they only txt, they don’t speak… no one communicates properly, it’s really weird. When you see parents with their baby holding an iPad in front of them you just think, they’re going to be even worse than the 20 yr olds are now! They literally aren’t going to be able to speak to one another.
AP: Yes. I’ve experienced that. Teenagers coming into stores and making their parents talk for them, it’s so strange.
SM: How are they going to go for a job interview? How will you do anything?
AP: It could be the way they’re being raised.
SM: They probably have 5k followers on their instagram though (laughs)
AP: (laughs) you’re probably right!
MW: That’s one of the craziest things we’ve noticed with Instagram followers, sometimes we think… we’re they even in here? We don’t know? They didn’t say anything or raise their face …
AP: Introduce yourself.
SM: Yeah totally – be a human being.
MW: I think also, there’s a way to be compassionate but still be opinionated and hardworking. We love problem-solvers, people who can think on their toes and not have to waver and be told what to do.
MW: People who have a sense of humour too, and are really light.
AP: People who can laugh it off.
SM: That’s it. Our whole kitchen is that way.
MW: It’s really nice.
SM: There’s no stress. It’s the best.
MW: No one is yelling at anybody, never ever, ever. Not once.
AP: Well it doesn’t help. If you get yelled at you aren’t going to pay attention to what’s being said, you’re just going to freak out.
SM: Yeah, you shit yourself and then everyone else in the kitchen feels awkward.
MW: It makes the whole mood crap.
AP: Yeah. Do you have any advice to other people who may be quitting their day job to follow a passion?
SM: I would say definitely do it, but make sure you’re ready. Don’t just be like ‘I really love cooking, I’m going to open a restaurant next week’. Obviously you need to make sure you know the industry you want to be in, it’s not just a hobby. I did a talk at my old high school for the students, and I said to the girls – ‘one of the best ways to figure out what you should be doing, is by thinking about what you do in your time off’. Growing up and even now, all my time off was food related; either reading books or cooking, markets etc. What you’re doing when you’re not being paid, to me that’s your ultimate job. If you could do that, and get paid for it, then fuck yeah.
MW: Doing it in the right way as well so you aren’t resenting it. I think a lot of people go from that angle. Doing it in your time off, you really love it, and then you put yourself in a position where you start resenting it. You’ve quit their well paying job to go into cooking, but you also put yourself in an environment that’s really awful and you aren’t cooking things you want to cook, there’s a fine line.
AP: Yeah I know what you’re saying it. You need to find the right way.
MW: That’s so funny because I always say that about going vegan, if anybody asks. I say ‘don’t go cold turkey because you will hate it’. If you deny yourself things you love, you’ll hate it.
AP: Totally – and you don’t know what to replace things with, it takes along time to fill the gaps.
MW: It’s the same thing, if you quit your job without thinking it out, or having a logistical plan, and allies to help you… You know, our plan was really well thought out and we were able to use our friend’s capabilities to make it a team effort. Be smart about decision making and money spending, because it’s not cheap. Whether or not you’re going to work for someone else or do it yourself, if it’s a passion, often times it’s going to be a financial struggle – you just have to know that, and know that you need to put everything into it.
AP: If you want it to work out.
MW: Yeah totally.
SM: I first talked about opening a restaurant before I was married [maybe 2004], and I’m so glad I didn’t do it then because there’s no way I was ready for it.
AP: You don’t think it would have worked as well?
SM: No way. So while it was always going to happen, it was a matter of the timing being right. When I realistically thought about it, I knew the food side of things but I didn’t know shit about anything else.
AP: Yeah and you don’t want to run the business while you’re trying to be the chef.
SM: It’s too much!
MW: You don’t want that side of it to suffer either. You don’t want to resent the thing you love. Everything has to be in place. There are unknowns, and it’s ok to try and figure things out as you go as well – it’s a balance. People say ‘its not the right time to do that’ well there’s never a ‘right’ time to do anything, I think that piece of advice is really essential. If you know that you’ll work really, really hard, and you’ll put everything into it, everything – emotional, financial, relationships, and you know that, then just do it. Rely on other people who do know certain things, use their advice, and use the assets that you have available to you. It was just us – we didn’t go to the banks or anything, just us and our life savings, our passions, and we just did it.
AP: Amazing. Anything on the horizon?
MW: We’re launching the book in November, and launching it in The U.S in March – we also want to open a restaurant in conjunction with that.
AP: Oh my gosh! In the States? Amazing!
AP: Oh wow I’m excited.
MW: We get asked a lot to open restaurants in different places around Australia, and we’d love to eventually be able to give Sydney something, and Perth something, but we’re really happy with where the local businesses are at and we just want to go bigger.
AP: Yeah! That’s great. Do you have people over there to help out?
SM: We know a lot of people over there, we don’t know a lot of chefs there, that would be all new to us. But Mo is from there, I used to live there, so we have heaps of people that would be able to point us in the right direction and give us a hand.
MW: It is really ambitious, but we did this, so we feel like we should keep it going. It was never about just doing one thing.
SM: It’s also similar to Melbourne. L.A has so many vegan restaurants, but nothing like what we do – and they love Aussie businesses over there.
AP: Do they (laughs)?
SM: They love it! (laughs) So you know, that’s good.
AP: A bit of a simple question that you’ve probably been asked before, what would your last meal on earth be?
MW: Shannon says that’s the worst question you could ask a chef.
AP: Really? (laughs) It is hard.
SM: Yeah. It’s so hard. Can it be a cuisine?
MW: No! That’s not the question (laughs).
SM: Amy said yes! (laughs)
MW: Oh, that’s soft! You went soft on her.
AP: (laughs) Ok, fine. No! You have to choose a meal.
SM: Oh fuck.
AP: (laughs) if I’ve learnt anything today it’s don’t be soft.
SM: (laughs) There you go!
MW: She would take advantage of that. She would say ‘well Szechwan, but I love Korean, so… Asian food’.
SM: You know the kill, fuck, marry game?
SM: So we actually played kill/fuck/marry but with Korea, Szechwan Province and Spain.
SM: It’s actually moved from people, to countries (laughs).
AP: I was playing that game this weekend just gone with my friend’s, we played it for about 2 hours straight.
MW: It’s so good.
SM: It’s the BEST! It’s how we get through the day in the kitchen.
MW: Especially at that point in the day where you’re doing the same tasks, it’s the BEST. (laughs)
AP: You end up arguing about each other’s answers (laughs)
SM: ‘GET OUT!’, Then you start justifying it, you’re like ‘I would marry The Rock because he’s so nice’ (laughs)
AP: (laughs) Everyone says ‘If I marry them I can bang them whenever I want’
SM: (laughs) Yeah!!
AP: But I say, hey, maybe not – they might not want to sleep with you, just because you’re married…
SM: That’s it! If you want some hot passion, you’ve got to go for the other one!
AP: (laughs) exactly. Have you thought about it? Last meal on earth? I have another question too, your favourite S & D item.
MW: That changes too much.
SM: I’m going to say donuts, the cinnamon donuts at the Deli.
AP: They’re probably my favourite too! I love cinnamon donuts.
SM: When they’re hot, fuck me! I don’t like glazed, I’m not big on filled, I can go a jam, but hot cinnamon – ooh!
MW: Right out of the fryer, when she tosses them in the sugar it’s like…
AP: Crispy, hot, mmmm!
SM: Yeah! But I don’t like cinnamon donuts from the supermarket.
AP: Oh no! They’re all dry, eww.
SM: Yuck. I’m not really a sweet food guy, but those ones, yum.
AP: Neither am I! I love savoury.
SM: Yeah, but that deli turned us all into sugar people, and none of us had been in the past. I had to figure out a way to combat my sugar cravings, so we put bowls of olives on the benches, so as soon as you feel like something sweet you have an olive…
AP: Then you don’t want the sweet stuff!
SM: It does something to your brain, it’s the ultimate savoury salty thing – you just stop thinking about sugar!
MW: It was really when we first opened, and they would bake brownies all the time, that initial smell overpowers everything, and it just makes you instantly want…
SM: Sugar! Not even particularly brownies, but the sugar.
MW: There was something happening chemically where you just thought ‘fuck’.
AP: I’m done?
MW: (laughs) yeah and they would cut up the brownies and put the off-cuts into these containers, and they would just be… around. You would just want one little piece… but it never works that way.
SM: A meter worth of brownie edges. (laughs)
AP: I really like the almond croissants.
AP: Sometimes I send my husband there when I’m at work, before they sell out.
MW: Yep! They’re insane. Ahh! I hate this question.
SM: I’m going to say definitely something Szechwan. Maybe Ma Po Tofu – probably something really hot. I feel Szechwan food is really addictive, like a drug. That whole full body… ughh!
MW: I want that for dinner now. I want to go to Szechwan house for dinner.
SM: You should.
AP: What about you Mo?
MW: Uhh, in the book I said ‘if you had a gun to my head, it would be the mushroom pate’ one of the first dishes we served.
AP: Oh yes, I love that.
MW: It was the first dish of Shannon’s that I ate without knowing it was hers.
AP: Oh ok.
MW: I went to the Gasometer, and I was just like ‘what is this?!’ – I still, to this day, feel that way. I feel like I have to be true to it, but it’s really tough. I constantly say ‘this is the best thing’.
AP: But you do love it all.
MW: I do. She makes Kim chi Bolognese, Kim chi scrolls, so anything with Kim chi becomes the best thing. Kim chi croissants.
SM: Oh man!
AP: Oh yum that sounds so good.
MW: Stupidly good – I feel that way with the donuts too, but then she put the deep fried custard on this menu, and I’m not a sweets guy, but that takes you to a different place!
MW: You’re not sitting in your chair when you’re eating it.
AP: Is that on the menu here?
SM: Smith and Daughters.
AP: I didn’t have that – I had the quince donuts last time.
MW: They’re really good.
SM: This is just straight custard, breadcrumbed, and deep-fried.
AP: Oh what! I’m getting that next time.
MW: So delicious.
SM: Super Spanish – really home-style.
MW: But then, when she first made the ‘eggs’ and we were coming up with the Deli, that’s probably the best part – when she’s creating the food and I’m doing work at her house, it’s really collaborative and fun. She’ll give me something to try, and I can’t talk for like 10 minutes because it’s so delicious.
SM: You actually fell off the chair.
MW: I fell off the chair when she made the egg McMartinez because I was like…
AP: That thing, oh my god.
MW: Yeah. It was my treat food when I was kid, in the back seat of my Dads car, he’d stop at McDonalds… we did it like 4 times in my life but it was SO special. So she makes it and I’m just like ‘what the hell’, I fell off the office stool… it was just one of those things. So that’s my favourite. Every time I’m asked in interviews, I list like 10 things.
AP: Yep (laughs).
MW: I’m like this is your answer. You get 10 things.
SM: Oh so I have to give one answer, I see how it is (laughs)
MW: See, she’ll win again. But ok, the smoked salmon thing she made for me too, because I grew up eating that, it was a special thing with my Grandma. She’s really good with sentimental food. That’s a really crazy thing that she’ll ask customers ‘what do you miss from your Grandma’s cooking or your Mums cooking’
SM: Food that makes people cry is good.
AP: Aw, food. (laughs)
MW: So special.
SM: I know, see, it’s awesome! (laughs)
AP: So there’s one more question. What’s your reason for being?
SM: I’m going to say, because it’s my favourite thing to do – making other people happy.
AP: With food?
SM: With everything.
SM: I think I’m here for other people. I just use food as my channel.
AP: Yeah I love that.
MW: Food makes people happy.
AP: Your food makes people very happy, so…
SM: Good well there you go! (laughs)
MW: I don’t know… I mean
AP: It’s hard, I feel like I couldn’t answer it myself because it’s so complex…
MW: I mean I think I talk a lot about open mindedness, so I think in a similar way, opening up peoples minds and perceptions to caring about things or being passionate about things. Obviously because I think veganism is really important, and I think caring about other beings than yourself, especially those that are sentient and can’t speak for themselves, I think that’s really important. Being… that’s really hard.
AP: I think what you’ve said so far is great.
MW: Yeah, I don’t know.
AP: So the whole project basically started because I knew all of these people who were really inspiring and they were all doing totally different things – but to me they were all just so good at ‘being’. Living in a purposeful way, not just sitting around wasting their life.
MW: Well that’s it isn’t it. That was a good explanation for me to say something else. Doing stuff! Doing more. I got a tattoo off Shannon’s fiancé before we even talked about the restaurant, and it just says ‘do more’. We always say PMA – being positive and having a positive attitude about everything, because that’s really important. So maybe my answer would be about being positive, and sharing positivity. There is a lot of doom and gloom in the world but there are also a lot of really positive things that everybody can share and provide to the world. We say ‘taking care of business’ all the time because you just do it, but yeah. Doing more, taking advantage of your circumstance. If there is something you can do, you should do it. There are a lot of things I criticise myself for not doing, but there are literally only so many hours in a day, so as long as you’re taking advantage of that.
AP: Yeah, you’re not just wasting your life away.
MW: Yeah that’s good, that was a good prompt.
You simply must visit Smith and Daughters AND Smith and Deli, so here are the details for both. Along with their WEBSITE.
Smith + Daughters: 175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065
Smith + Deli: 111 Moor St, Fitzroy VIC 3065
Mo + Shannon are about to release their FIRST EVER COOKBOOK!!
This is something that the S & D community has been desperately waiting for, the opportunity to re-create some of these epic meals is one you simply cannot miss – you could impress anybody with this book.
You can pre-order HERE.