Photography: Stevie Lee
Mo Wyse and Shannon Martinez are about as kickass as you can get. Owners of the Melbourne vegan Mecca (even for the non-vegans), Smith & Daughters, the pair have created a place where food has 100 percent flavour and zero percent cruelty.
They’re feisty, fun, and super-passionate about what they do and I love chatting with them every time I go in. Once I proposed to Shannon after I went there for dinner and I ain’t even mad about it. She is a legit genius with food.
They are also badass when it comes to being women in business. They ensure their workplaces provide an equal and positive environment for all, and Shannon especially can’t stand the casual misogyny that traditionally happens in kitchens when the males outnumber females and strives to banish it totally. I love this quote from an interview I read on them:
“Supporting other women and proving to women that you can be whatever the fuck you want to be, in whatever industry it is, is really awesome.”
Amen. Also, now I really want to meet Shannon’s mum.
Their new venture is a New York-style deli with vegan Jewish cuisine, homestyle food and convenience groceries. I snuck a peek yesterday and semi lost my mind (my mate Callum planned and built everything and his signage work is the very definition of “on point” but I kinda want to puke for using the term), but if you’re in the Fitzroy region tomorrow and you’re desperate for a pastrami sandwich or vegan croissant, head on down to 111 Moor Street and get your fix. Get the Home Alone and tell me what it’s like!
For now though, prepare to fall in love.
Who are you?
SM: Shannon Martinez
MW: Mo Wyse
What do you do?
SM: I am a chef
MW: I do all the other stuff. The spread sheets, the front of house, finance, organising, human resources, logistics, marketing, etc. All the stuff. P.S. Shannon does WAY more than cook!
Why do you do it?
SM: I have no choice
MW: Because I did it enough for other people and it was time to do it for something I really, really believed in. I really, really believe in the partnership that Shannon and I have, and I believe in Shannon’s cooking. There’s only so much you can do for someone else before you have to question why you’re putting your all in, and what are you getting in return? Are you satisfied? This is the most rewarding, all-encompassing hard work I could ever imagine dedicating my life to. It’s so so worth it.
How did it start?
SM: I was 12 and mum gave me a massive wicker trunk with everything I needed – a frying pan, wooden spoons, everything, and since then I’ve done nothing else. Mum knew I liked to cook and wanted to cook, so she gave me the tools.
MW: Shannon and I were side by side while working on The People’s Market, an outdoor summer events venue – she, a food vendor, me the operations manager. We had both never seen anyone who worked as hard as the other, when we were noticing that each one of us was the first to arrive and the last to leave, and we were blood, sweat, tears kind of gals, we knew we had to do business together. Plus our combined passion for food and for getting a different conception of vegan food to the world. We met every week for a year, hypothetically making up a restaurant, she found the venue, and we quit our “day jobs” to open our dream restaurant. The first of many projects under the Smith & Daughters umbrella to come. This concept is so much more than one place. We really believe that there’s something to what we’re trying to do.
Were you scared, or did you know it had that something that would see it through?
SM: Opening a business? The only fear I had in opening a business was losing my life savings. I was always fortunate to have such an amazing following with my food that it was hopefully always going to work out. The extent of the success has far surpassed my expectations. I’m still shocked to this day at how busy we continue to be.
MW: Had to see it through. Had to. When you already have such strong convictions towards dedicating yourself to something you really believe in, you have to relinquish building someone else’s empire for your own. I was never scared in the sense that I had such a strong foundation with a supportive partner, Callum, and I knew Shannon’s food was exceptional and what we could build was exceptional. Details and logistics are my total passion, so I just knew I had to pull it together for the biggest effort of my life. Not scary, just anxious, wanting everything to be just right – but that’s the fear that keeps you going and keeps you wanting to be better and better!
Have there been rough patches where you doubted yourself and your choice to run a restaurant (and deli)? What did you do?
SM: I doubt myself every day. I doubt that my food is good enough every day. Every time I make something I fluke it. It’s all flukes.
MW: Rather than rough patches, I have moments of clarity that probably comes with growing up / living life. Realising that you can’t do it all, you have to delegate, you have to trust and let go a little bit. The only really tricky part is making sure that all the people I cherish – our staff, the people who keep the entire operation in motion, are happy. I think the thing that I’m most fortunate for is the strength that these efforts have added to my relationship with my partner, Callum, and how much stronger the business partnership between Shannon and myself. I do believe that these efforts are the signs of much more to come.
How do you balance restaurant work with your lifestyle?
SM: I don’t. Restaurant work is my lifestyle. Luckily, that’s how I want to live my life.
MW: I’m lucky in the same way that I love to work and my life is work, and I love my work, and love my life.
What does a typical day look like for you?
SM: The biggest question of my day is “Kitchen?” or “Fancy?” I wear a lot of hats with the business. An average day starts out with how many costumes do I have to wear? Am I front of house guy? Kitchen/cooking guy? Scrubbing the floors at the deli guy? And some days I do all three, most days it’s a minimum of two. Needless to say it makes for a big laundry basket.
MW: Assessing the priorities. Making sure that whatever meetings or rostering or emails that need addressing come first, even if that means lying in bed, answering emails on my phone before I get up for the day at 7am. At the moment we’re in flux between the deli being open, and keeping the restaurant operating, even without us there all the time, like we’re used to. Shannon and I had a really wonderful schedule going with equal amounts of time off and on, and making sure that one of us was always at the helm – we both love customer interactions, but that’s when things get “easy” and we want so much more and to go so much farther, so we push.
The best daily routine has been working on product lists, deli schedules, answering emails on the breakfast bar at Shannon’s house while she literally makes masterpieces. Yesterday it was Buffalo Mozzarella, the day before eggs, today it’s vegan Ma Po Tofu… this is plans for the deli, yes, but for so much more – wholesale, future locations / projects, cookbook, this is what this time has afforded us. The opportunity to collaborate. Communicating across her kitchen counter while she creates and we make plans has been one of the best parts of this whole process. Separating ourselves, putting trust in the staff, being undisturbed to assess what the next step for S&D will be… In fact it’s how we’re doing this interview right now. (me: asking questions & transcribing, us having a giggle, me typing more…)
Otherwise, daily routine is an empty restaurant from 9:30am – it’s me and a computer, then my staff and I making plans, and then from6pm, me and all our beautiful customers and making sure everyone’s happy. It’s a people juggling act mixed with a theatre show, with the cleaning of toilets added in. It’s hard work, it’s busy, and it’s always a good day.
Would you recommend this work/way of life to someone else?
MW: It takes a special person to be this crazy.
What is the best piece of work advice you’ve ever been given?
SM: To be told not to do it – cause it makes me want to do it even more. Told by my family members who are chefs. “Don’t be a chef.” Which makes me want to do it even more.
MW: To not sacrifice the vision. Even if the vision is complicated, or even seemingly impossible. Make sure that every detail comes to life, and everything is as you wanted it to be.
Vegemite or peanut butter?
SM: VEGEMITE. Peanut Butter, eww, no. (that’s a good question!)
MW: Vegemite. Though I feel like I’m betraying my motherland. My dad still sends me jars of Jiffy, potentially trying to convert me back? Sorry dad, vegemite wins.
You can read about other Kickass chicks in this series here:
Kelley Sheenan / Peppermint Magazine
Cate Bolt / Foundation 18 + Pretty Fkn Embroidery
Lorraine Elliott / Not Quite Nigella
Cath Young / My Bearded Pigeon