Anarchy, community and veganism under one roof

Ryan Swainson pictured garnishing a dish
Ryan Swainson pictured garnishing a dish

Imagine a restaurant that produces just one black bag of rubbish a week.

Chef Ryan Swainson, 30, has made this a reality at Hail Seitan, a vegan cafe at Coachwerks. The venue is nestled modestly in Hollingdean Terrace, Brighton.

Beetroot lasagne with garlic croutons, rocket and truffle oil

Beetroot lasagne with garlic croutons, rocket and truffle oil

Originally individual artist studios, the space is now an environmentally friendly home to art, food and music. People can come together to learn about sustainable living while feasting on vegan food washed down with beer brewed on the premises. Hail Seitan was set up in 2016 by Ryan with the aim to combine veganism, anarchism and alternative music to change the face of catering.

According to CaterSave Europe, more than three million tonnes of food waste is produced in the UK per year by the food service industry alone.

The café, which is open on Thursdays and Sundays, produces one black bag full of waste maximum per week, anyone who has experienced working in hospitality will know this is something short of a miracle. Although this is in part due to the low scale of production and limited menu, it is also down to composting, which is then spread in the properties yard. An area which is used to grow produce as a tool of education for residents.

The limited menu is an element of the concept that Ryan finds extremely important. He said: “It’s really refreshing, I think having a limited menu is something that people should do more. I noticed when I went to Copenhagen you have a lot of places which just do one or two thing so it’s more specialist. It helps with stock management, waste, staffing. It just seems to be more sustainable on a smaller basis. It’s that idea of luxury of availability for the rich, freedom through choice, you can have anything from a massive list of things and it makes people feel more liberated.”

Customers in Coachwerks

Customers in Coachwerks

Ryan began using the space five years ago as a music studio. He said that the years of suffering under the corporate thumb of pub and restaurant kitchens started to take its toll. He was frustrated by the staff hierarchies and minimum wage, so decided to embark on his own project to create a grassroots anarchist vegan collective. His passion for the experimental nature of music bridged over into cooking. He relished the idea of a place where everyone is involved in the creative process of cooking and earns the same wage. Coachwerks was the perfect location to bring his idea to life because he was already involved in the venue.

Due to his musical connection to the building, music is an important added element to his food; punk or techno can often be heard coming from the kitchen.

He said: “The music and anarchy thing has been something I have always been into and I feel that veganism is an extension of that essentially, they are my three passions and I’ve tried to link them together into what Hail Seitan is.”

The ingredients used to prepare the food and brew the beer are locally sourced from independent businesses and organic where possible, nothing is wasted. In addition to this, the building itself reflects the anti-corporate, sustainable nature of the project that has become an important centre of community. Most of the furnishing and materials of the building are salvaged.

Ryan holds a passion for the bold and powerful and his work reflects this. The food has a take it or leave it attitude. His previous pop up kitchens at the Tempest bar show his experimental nature. Seated in a booth in what feels like a Star Wars movie, customers dine on a cruelty free five course meal to a backdrop of metal, punk rock, techno and ambient psytrance. Far from the usual date night, it sparks conversation and keeps the customers on their toes. Eating at the Coachwerks cafe is mellower, an atmosphere of community in a residential area where a simple menu can be enjoyed while basking in the warmth of the log burner. The space is alternative in its simplicity and far from the more upmarket eateries in the centre of town but it brings in a varying crowd.

Matt Wilson, 40, is the proud owner of the onsite brewery. He said: “I think that finding that balance where we feel we are being true to ourselves and offering an alternative but also making a space that is welcoming to a wide enough variety of people. And we do get very different types of people here, we get people who come because it’s a vegan space and quite a lot who come because they live nearby, who might not ordinarily come to something like this. Quite a lot of people say, don’t ever change this place or tidy it up or make it nice. One persons’ tip and hellhole is another persons’ cosy little café.”

Having been closed over the winter months Coachwerks reopens today (Friday, April 7). Anarchist or not, customers can head down to the venue from 7:30pm to subvert the system and fight the man through free canapés and home brewed vegan ale.