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Moorish Falafel Bar owner : “at this point, it’s all about survival”

Moorish Falafel Bar epitomises a craze. Vegan, yes. Affordable, yes. And moreish, yes. But this place means serious business too. In February, owner Sammia King converted her vegetarian hotspot into a fully vegan establishment. “To be able to say to the world that we’re 100% vegan is way more valuable than keeping two items on the menu that are not vegan.” 

So trend followers, right? “I didn’t start Moorish because veganism was trendy, I just saw a gap in the market for vegetarian cuisine in Norwich. There was only one other place you could go if you were vegetarian, so I decided to create my own vegetarian place.” 

Her decision helped to kick-start the city’s growing vegetarian dining scene. In 2019, Norwich was named Britain’s most vegetarian and vegan-friendly city according to research by catering equipment retailer Nisbets. She acknowledges “veganism is now a humongous movement, so it was easy to make the transition”. 

But the local trendsetters were born at 17 Lower Goat Lane. “I’ve noticed how many other places pop up around Norwich since we started. Clearly there is room for us all because of the number of people turning to Veganism.” And besides falafel, Moorish now serves meat alternative burgers and fries. “We get meat eaters ordering the Beyond Meat Burger, the mock chicken or pulled pork made with jackfruit. It’s great for people just wanting to reduce their meat intake.” 

What’s more, Mrs King caters to every budget. “We do two meal deals at the moment. One is a falafel wrap or salad bowl with a homemade drink for £6, or any vegan burger with any drink and fries for £9. We also do a similar burger deal on Saturday night for £7.50.” 

Located in close proximity to NUA, students are obsessed with Moorish. But times are different now. “Student footfall has dropped since lockdown. At this point, it’s all about survival. Unlike before, everything is totally unpredictable because I don’t even know if we’ll be able to serve customers next week. It feels awful”. 

Once more, attracting first year students at a time of increased safety consciousness has never been harder. Luckily for them, Mrs King plans to extend deliveries to campus. “This is something we really want to do, and we hope to increase the number of student friendly meal deals. Everything is a work in progress.”

Moorish have adapted to the uncertainty of our times by choosing the unconventional route. “We’ve been on Deliveroo for years but it’s always been something I’ve hated. They don’t support small businesses. I really hope people realise that their money is not going to help business, it’s purely going to Deliveroo. Not even the riders get much, so it’s a horrible situation for everyone.” Her sentiments are shared by many of the company’s couriers, who recently claimed their average fee rate has dropped from £4.25 to a minimum of £3.15 per order.

Couriers have been hailed as ‘unsung heroes’ of the pandemic, but increasing numbers of ‘gig’ workers – driven by restrictions to in person dining – makes the task of bringing services to account much trickier. 

The alternative for Moorish has been the development of its very own mobile app, allowing customers to order food for collection or delivery. Calling upon riders of the Norwich Urban Collective – a local courier service set up during lockdown by ex Deliveroo riders – the group claims to provide an alternative to “main delivery platforms” likely to “gouge 30% from restaurants” whilst “paying riders peanuts.” In her words, the Moorish app is “cleaner, more transparent, and profitable.” She openly justifies, “during lockdown, for me it was a lifeline to be able to earn money by having our own delivery service. I need to pay my own bills.” Unlike before, “the £5 you pay for delivery goes straight to the rider, no ifs and no buts”. After five months, the company has already delivered over 5000 orders to households across the city.

“People in Norwich want to support locals, we’re very lucky,” she continues with hearty gratitude, “they like the fact they know who owns the cafe, or the person who owns it works there and tells people about their business on Instagram. It means a lot to them.” But as for the government – despite recently adjusting the Job Support Scheme to support staff and employers hit hardest by restrictive measures – Mrs King feels especially let down. 

And she’s not alone. With tax rises widely expected to counter the UK’s rising debt and deficit level, a recent survey by the financial management app Tommy Tax revealed 55% believed that they would struggle to survive with the extra costs, whilst one third of people are set to miss out entirely after failing to meet the scheme’s eligibility criteria. 

“We’ve had no support from the council. I spend my night trawling the internet trying to get some kind of information for business owners about what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s very difficult.” She sighs resoundingly, “ I’m sure they’re [the government] very busy, but we’re all trying to be safe. No one has come round to ask if we need any support. We’ve all had to improvise, make it up and watch the news 24/7. It’s really exhausting.” 

Data collected by the Local Data Company and PWC recently revealed 68% of store closures since January are independent shops. Despite hardships endured, 85% of new openings are locally based according to figures obtained by the Eastern Daily Press. Moorish have so far survived in choppy waters, whilst the determined figurehead behind the business’s success also happens to be the torchbearer of a shift in focus from big to small. “I hope they [Norwich Urban Collective] continue to grow and set an example to other cities to do the same”. Mrs King’s overarching tone conveys confidence and gusto: “We can get through this together.” 

03/11/2020

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Sam Gordon Webb