Aaron Bryans is the owner of two plant-based restaurants in Bournemouth. Plant Hustler is a one-stop-shop for all things burgers, hot dogs and fries, while Hoke Poke shows off inventive meat and fish replicas in their boundary-breaking poke bowls. We chatted to Aaron about setting up his beloved businesses, the creativity of vegan food, and the future of the hospitality industry post covid:

What’s it like opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic?

The main challenge has been dealing with customers buying habits as people are scared to go out and dine out now. Also with the ban on mixing households, it has put a strain on people not being able to go and socialise over food. Takeaway has played a huge role in the business.

What inspired you to start Plant Hustler and then Hoke Poke?

Having turned vegan in 2017, I thought I could bring something new to the market because at the time vegan offerings weren’t that great. Having been to the USA and saw how the plant-based movement was happening over there, I knew I could create something great back here.

What is the hardest thing about running your own business?

I would have to say staffing is the hardest thing about running a business. Everything else works like clockwork.

What can we expect on the menu at Hoke Poke?

Our menu is full of amazingly tasty plant-based seafood and meats. We use the best alternatives currently available on the market to showcase how fantastic they are. Our goal is to create poke bowls that everyone will enjoy, even if they are meat or seafood eaters.

Why did you become a vegan?

I turned vegan initially for health after watching What the Health in 2017. I had been vegetarian for 3 years and always thought about going vegan but never could make the move. Watching that documentary gave me the nudge I needed to go vegan.

What do you think the future holds for restaurants after a terrible year for the hospitality industry?

It’s hard to say, people’s social habits have changed, but I think restaurants will make a come back and get back to how they used to operate.

How hard was it to fund the openings yourself?

Extremely hard, I’ve never had investors and always tried to reduce costs by carrying out a lot the work myself; from fit-outs to brand design, and everything in between. Ideally, I’d love to grow the brand and in the future hope that I’ll be able to bring in a team of skilled workers and designers.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to open a restaurant of their own?

If it’s your passion to open up a restaurant, I’d always support people and say go for it, but I would say that you don’t have to own a restaurant to create a fantastic food business. Restaurants require a lot of capital to set up and you can be just as successful, or even more successful, operating your food concept/business out of a dark kitchen.