Opening a vegan restaurant together was a "no brainer" say Newcastle chefs Colin Greengrass and Jared Phillips.
The pair are taking over Winnie's at Finnegan's on Darby Street, formerly owned by chef Jamie Thomas. The name will remain but the menu will no longer be Jamaican. Rather, it will be a 100 per cent plant-based gastropub menu.
Thomas is shifting his focus to the revamped Town Hall Hotel at Waratah with Two Poms Pty Ltd business partner Luke Smith.
"We've been looking at working together for the past year," Greengrass told Food & Wine. "Our paths kept crossing and we were always eating each other's food. We became friends over our passion for food and Winnie's was just the logical next step."
Phillips says it was a case of "mutual professional respect that turned into a friendship".
"We have lots planned," he said. "We want to take pub food back to basics. No more mass-produced, pre-prepared and brought-in food. We want to bring the love back and start making food from scratch again. No judgement at all on chefs who operate this way, we've both been in that position before and understand it, this is just our vision - for us.
"We don't really want to have rules or limits. If we feel like making something, we'll give it a crack. Our food isn't just for vegans or vegetarians, it's for people who enjoy good food. We'll be making pretty much everything by hand and sourcing the rest from small local suppliers."
Phillips grew up on the Central Coast and tried his hand at different cuisines and cooking styles before moving to Newcastle in 2017 and working at Minmi's Bonta Vera. A year later he opened Organic Seed Cafe at The Junction.
"It was my first business and a huge learning experience. I definitely expected to be there for longer but the Winnie's opportunity sped the process up. I feel like the last few years of my life have been preparing me for this," he said
Greengrass is a Brisbane boy who adopted a vegan lifestyle while working at the Rutherford Hotel.
"I did my first vegan menu there which snowballed into a series of events that have led me here," he said. "When the Rutherford was up for sale the owners insisted I work at one of their pubs - the Kent Hotel - and continue the vegan menu, which really took off."
Choosing to "go vegan" changed the way both chefs looked at food and cooking.
"It was like starting all over again," Greengrass explained. "It reignited my passion for food. I loved trying to recreate my favourite foods without any animal products. Whenever I write a menu I try to think what people will miss the most when going vegan. To feed them a piece of nostalgia is truly an amazing thing."
Phillips experienced a similar epiphany.
"I have been vegan for about five years now and it was like finding my passion for cooking all over again. My philosophy has always been the same: good food is simple food. Nature has generally done the work for us, I just like to highlight what she has already started."