Lindsey Fine is the owner of Happy Buddha, a restaurant dedicated to serving American comfort food with a twist — all the food is 100 percent meatless. Fine has a passion for the environment and health, which is why she became interested in seitan, a wheat-based, high protein meat substitute.
Five months ago, she left her teaching job of 10 years to follow her dream of opening a healthy vegetarian restaurant, but she's done a lot more than that.
In Shanghai, Happy Buddha and Serenity Seitan have found a community of enthusiastic foodies, including vegetarians, vegans and people who just want to try something different.
Fine and her youngest (far left) with her customers after the (vegetarian) hot dog eating contest during customer appreciation week
Now Fine and her team are looking to expand this coming year, but they need help from their supporters.
This week, Fine set up crowdfunding campaigns on Indiegogo and Zhongchou (a China-based, WeChat/Alipay-friendly platform) to help the Happy Buddha team reach their goal of USD25,000. They will use the money raised to relocate to the ground floor of Sprout Lifestyle Healthy Hub so that they are situated next to Lizzy's All Natural — a move that will make healthy shopping and eating convienent for customers. The move will allow Sprout Lifestyle to offer even more healthy cooking classes on the second floor. (Sprout will still have their health food products available to order online during the transition).
They also plan on making special event orders like cakes and catering more accessible, as well as making their menu 100 percent plant-based to reduce their environmental footprint even more.
We spoke with Fine about the crowdfunding campaign and her goals for the company.
Tell us a little about yourself and your company.
I am a food-loving mother of two young boys and owner of Happy Buddha. When my husband and I arrived in Shanghai seven years ago, I never would have thought we'd be where we are today.
Happy Buddha was born out of my passion to veggiefy my favorite comfort foods from growing up. I wanted to show people that they could have meat-free food and love it! What all started in my kitchen where I used to make seitan, a high protein plant-based meat substitute, has grown into what we have at Happy Buddha today.
I recently left teaching after 10 years so I could follow my true passion, which is making food to feed all of my wonderful customers.
One of Fine's creations
Why is it important for you to involve your customers in Happy Buddha's development through crowdfunding?
The reason why we have ended up in Shanghai for so long is because of the community here. I first became involved in the community through a volunteer organization called BEAN. Being a part of something so inspiring is something I am very thankful for, and in a funny way led me to where I am today. The friends I made through BEAN were some of my earliest supporters, and still cheer me on today.
The last four years have been a long hard road for me. I have taken a crash course in business by opening up Happy Buddha. When I say crash I mean it. I've had some pretty tough times. The thing that has kept me going is the kindness and support of our customers and the greater community in general. When we realized what needed to be done for our 2018 plan, we knew we needed help.
Raising funds is tough, especially for something so new to the Chinese market, but after talking to friends, customers and my husband, I started to think that if we went the crowdfunding route maybe we would have a chance. It's scary to ask for help, and crowdfunding has its risks, but I kept thinking of things I used to tell my students, "Do something that challenges you, even if your are afraid. If things get hard but you are passionate about it, don't give up." I thought I had better practice what I've been saying all these years!
As soon as I hit the button to make the campaign go live, I had a feeling of nervousness and excitement. Now that we have contributions coming in, my heart feels so full. I am so thankful to the community, and hope we can make them as happy and fulfilled as they have made me. A big thank you to all of you!
Happy Buddha's dairy-free ice cream
Your crowdfunding campaign offers many wonderful perks for supporters. Which one is your personal favorite?
The comfort food cooking class! I can't wait to share my favorite recipes with the community. I snagged my husband because I knew how to cook (true story), and have always been making him vegetarian food. He only recently became a vegetarian (yay!), but it was comfort food cooking that kept him fed and happy all those years.
I want to teach others how to feed their friends and family food in a way that will completely change their minds about what vegan food is. It's not only salads and stir-fried veggies. It's burgers, roasts, cakes, ice cream and more. Will it taste the same? No, but it's still delicious. Plus, it's better for your health and better for the environment. Cheers to that!
What does making Happy Buddha 100 percent vegan mean to you?
When I first became vegetarian I relied heavily on cheese and eggs in my cooking, but as I learned more cooking methods and experimented with different ingredients, my mind was blown. It's sort of the same reason I wanted to open Happy Buddha in the first place — to surprise people.
Now we're going all the way. Another big reason is that I want to do whatever I can to help make the world a better place for future generations, especially because I have two little ones. Our planet is suffering now, and I hate to think of what will happen if things don't change. The animal agriculture industry is a huge drain on land and water resources, and is a huge contributor to carbon and methane emissions. Imagine what a difference it could make in the world if everybody just reduced their animal product consumption.
Happy Buddha allows me to help people reduce their consumption — and hopefully enjoy doing it!
Happy Buddha's mac and cheese-less cheese
Why do you want to make your restaurant completely plant-based?
A big reason is that now I can, as I have learned so much about plant-based cooking. Another reason is because of our customers. We have had a few customers recommend the change. At first I wasn't sure we could because I wanted to make sure first and foremost that the food is always tasty.
Now I am confident we can deliver the same great taste customers have grown to love, while also being 100 percent plant-based!