Five years ago city restaurateur Edmond Davari was at rock bottom. His business empire had hit the skids and he was a broken man.
But now he’s back. Edmond’s food ventures are a success and he has a smile on his face.
And he puts a lot of the recovery down to a surprising factor – the rise if veganism.
In August 2013 Edmond closed his four Sutton Harbour restaurants, had the “sad” task of making staff redundant, and put his business into voluntary liquidation.
He said he could have carried on but would have been building up debts and would rather call it a day.
Edmond said a combination of the recession, credit crunch and competition from chain diners had kiboshed a culinary empire which included Asia Chic, Rocco y Lola, Zucca and Souk.
Edmond sold all his personal assets and re-mortgaged his house.
It left him with just his Persian street food mobile stall.
But what he didn’t realise was the vegans were coming.
“On Saturday night we closed, on Sunday at 8am I went for a walk around Sutton Harbour and everything had gone,” he said. “Over night everything in the premises had been taken by the insolvency people.”
The failure of his restaurants hit Edmond, a successful business man for more than 20 years by that point, hard.
“I woke up every day and went to work, then, one morning, I had no work,” he said.
Edmond did, however, still have his World Food stall, a regular feature at the Royal William Yard’s monthly Good Food Markets.
But when he next set up shop in the yard he felt people were judging him.
“I could feel them saying ‘he’s a failure’. I wanted to pack up the tent. I literally cried,” he said. “I’m a very proud man.”
Toot – what does it mean?
Edmond Davari’s Plymouth restaurant is called Toot, but it has nothing to do with the sound a trumpet makes.
The name is Persian for “mulberry”, because Edmond wanted a word fellow Persians (he prefers the old moniker to calling countrymen Iranian) would recognise.
“It’s also funky and catchy,” he said.
But when he checked on the English slang meaning of the word he got a shock.
“It means a line of cocaine,” he laughed. “It’s also a term for how a man discards a woman after sex.
“But no one has mentioned it to me – maybe they don’t want to own up to knowing.”
Persian food is traditional, using very fresh ingredients with many recipes passed down in families.
There is a lot of lamb, but also a lot of vegetables, which is why it’s easily veganised.
Dishes include Ghormeh Sabzi, containing kidney beans flavoured with sun-dried lime; Gheymeh, which is lentils with aubergine and tomato; and saffron rice, so dry you are supposed to be able to count the grains.
But with support from The Herald, which gave him a special award in recognition of his years in business, and others he decided not to give up.
And, of course, people loved his Persian chicken wraps and non-meat falafels.
And that gave him the idea to hit the vegan festivals.
“I was getting a lot of vegan people turning up,” he said. “It’s very big at the moment.”
Before long Edmond was serving up thousands of meals at enormous Vegfest events in London, Brighton and Glasgow.
Food and drink stories
“We had two-hour queues,” he said. “I did a lot of travelling, it was very successful.
“About 40 per cent of my business is now vegan, and it’s on the increase.
“I’m 90 per cent vegetarian. Every so often I get the desire for meat, but it’s becoming less and less.
“And half way through eating it I think about where it comes from and that puts me off.”
So the combination of street food and veganism gave Edmond a new lease of life.
He soon added corporate catering and appearances at other festivals including Exeter Food and Drink Festival, Kingsbridge Music Festival, Totnes Christmas Market, and the seafood events in Newquay and Plymouth.
From the ayatollah to Toot – the Edmond Davari story
Edmond Davari was a young business student at Oxford Brookes University when his world was turned upside down.
It was 1979 and in his homeland Iran (he prefers the older name of Persia) a revolution was taking place.
When the Shah was overthrown and an Islamic Republic set up under Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (pictured), it spelled personal disaster for Edmond.
As a middle-class Christian Iranian he found himself stranded in the UK, unable to go home, his family unable to visit him or even send him money.
He didn’t see some relatives for years.
On graduating he worked as a plate washer at an establishment called Scamps in Oxford.
Earning £1.92 an hour he left for a better paid dish-washing gig at another Oxford establishment called Downtown Manhatten.
Paying an extra 5p an hour, he though he was made – but when he got the job the joint’s owners told him they were actually bumping him up to general manager.
Three years later, after being promoted to area manager, he joined a major hotel company and then came to Plymouth as catering chief at the new Theatre Royal.
He eventually left theatreland when he had build up a fiefdom of three restaurants: Lorenzo’s, Barratt’s and Pappa Joe’s.
From then he’s run numerous city venues. Toot is Edmond’s 22nd restaurant.
And he said getting back into the kitchen and onto the stalls was the best thing that could have happened.
“It not only saved me financially, but saved my sanity,” he said. “In my restaurant days I was stuck in the office, on the computer trying to make it work.
“What I love is serving people, joking with them. That’s me. And street food is all about theatre.”
But though you can take the man out of a restaurant you can’t take restaurants out of the man.
One year ago, Edmond opened Toot, his Persian food eatery, in Mayflower Street, where he and six staff serves a range of delicious Persian cuisine, vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, and meat dishes.
“It was my ego,” he said. “I wanted to show I could still do it. Like the way Tom Jones keeps on singing.”
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