FOR five years, Mark Hughes watched vegetarian and vegan cuisine rise in popularity on annual lists of food trends.
Eventually it became the number one trend in the world.
That's when Hughes, who worked as the editor of Selector Magazine at Wine Selectors in Honeysuckle, decided to pursue his long-time dream of opening a vegetarian fast food restaurant.
It has been a satisfying career change for Hughes who opened Vego's six weeks ago in Islington, serving burgers, fries and other tasty fast food, such as gozleme and arancini balls.
"The biggest food trend in 2014 was kale and vegetarian was at 14, and in the last five years it has become the biggest growing food trend around the world," Hughes says.
"I'd been working my job at Selector Magazine for more than 10 years and I decided that when I turned 50, it's time to do it. I'd been exploring the idea for a while and I thought 'It's now or never. I'm going to die wondering if I don't do it".
"The products had come up to speed, too. The burger patties had developed from that old style of mushy bubble and squeak to a really great textured burger patty, both chicken and meat-style ones.
"I was making burgers for my children night after night after night to perfect them and then I found this place."
Positioned on the corner of Beaumont Street and Maitland Road in Islington, Vego's is right at home in the Islington community, with vegan Italian restaurant Pino's only a few doors away on Maitland Road. With more apartments going up in the vicinity and strong foot traffic at the busy intersection, it has a strong profile already in its favour.
Hughes, who is vegetarian, has created a menu that offers fast food, but as a healthier choice being plant-based.
"It's a healthier style of fast food - not being super healthy because we do deep dry things - but it's about gut health and how important that is to your overall health," Hughes says.
"The thing about vegetarian food is it has traditionally been that you know you're eating better for yourself and your gut health, but it's always been a little bit like rabbit food and not filling.
"The idea behind Vego's is it's tasty and filling food that is good for you. It's not super healthy, but it's healthier than most fast food and it's still convenient. It's made with a lot of salad and is plant-based, so it's better for your gut health.
"It's about introducing a bit more plant-based meals into your regular diet. You'll feel better for it and it's good for the planet as well."
The lunch and dinner menu has five burgers, including the Big V Burger with vegan patty, Spanish onion, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese chipotle pickle, fried onion, carrot, cucumber and sriracha mayo on a potato bun ($10); pulled jackfruit burger with chipotle marinade and slaw ($10); chick'n burger with vegan chick'n patty, lettuce and mayo ($7), as well as spinach and feta gozleme ($10) and pumpkin arancini balls served with relish and mayo (four for $10).
The breakfast menu includes the brekky burger with vegan patty, caramelised onion, rocket, tomato and relish on a toasted muffin ($7), hash browns ($3), and house-made corn bread (vegan and gluten-free) served warm with chilli butter ($5.50), which is baked by his wife Julie.
All of the burgers can be made vegan by swapping the cheese to a dairy-free alternative and there are plans in the works to introduce new menu items such as fish "phish" tacos, empanadas and haloumi fingers.
Vego's serve Sprocket Roasters coffee (dairy and non-dairy milk choices available), along with a range of soft drinks and juice, and will also offer house-made vegan treats such as lemon balls and caramel slice.
Hughes is visualising big for the future of Vego's.
"There are other fast food vegetarian places around the world, so I think there is a place for us on the fast food market," Hughes says.
"Everywhere you see a Golden Arches, hopefully we'll see a big green V [the Vego's logo] in the future that offers great plant-based fast food that the whole family can eat."