What a vegan butcher is and who has the nerve to run it? You may have passed his restaurant in Dublin or eaten in it, but maybe never had the chance to know Barto Sova better
Introducing Barto Sova, the vegan chef and entrepreneur
He is a chef, an entrepreneur, a food lover, a positive soul and more besides. Barto Sova is the owner of the vegan restaurant that bears his surname – Sova Food Vegan Butcher. When he started three years ago, he was waiter, kitchen porter and chef in his own place. He cooked the dishes and swept the floor. Today he is more entrepreneur than chef, but you may see him serving food in Sova and welcoming customers. Sova seduces its customers with fine and delicious vegan meals, but also with the great story behind it. You feel really looked after in Sova.
‘I am a simple guy’
Barto opened his own restaurant after having over 20 years experience in the restaurant and catering business. ‘This is my passion and it has always been my dream to open my own place. The key to success is to focus on yourself and what you’re doing and not to look around. Keep doing what you love’, Barto tells me with a broad smile. Sova started as a pop-up restaurant on Fridays and is now located in the City Center, operating five day a week. When I first came to Sova with my friend Eli Babei, we had a table outside because it was jampacked inside. Barto is vegan himself and has been so for some years. His girlfriend whom he has been with for over 18 years is a long term vegetarian. He suffered a spinal injury and this, too, was a turning point for him on the way to veganism.
He told me he is a simple guy taking small steps day by day. ‘We don’t spend money on advertising or marketing. Customers spread the word’, said the entrepreneur. ‘I was brought up by my grandmother, because unfortunately my mother passed away when I was very young. The dining experience was very important for my grandmother, including laying the table, having everything on time and eating together. She taught me and shared her passion for food with me’, said Barto. He always loved to cook. ‘It’s hard to run a business and be a chef at the same time. But this is handier for me, because I know how each part of the business has to work. Everything comes to you at the right time and this is my time’, thinks Barto.
Meat-eaters are regular customers
‘The whole idea of the vegan butcher is to get meat eaters in particular to try vegan food. A lot of vegans and vegetarians bring their family and friends. I’d say 30 % of our customers are meat eaters. The age range is very wide as well. We have people over 60 and 70 and it makes me very happy. We want to make a change and make people conscious of what’s going on in this world. It’s a smooth way to introduce vegan food that looks nice and tastes good and it’s healthy and nutritious’, said Barto. The chefs aren’t all vegan, because let’s face it, it’s hard to find vegan professionals. But look on the bright side, said Barto, in 10 years vegan chefs will be easier to find.
Sova now has six people employed full-time, with Barto working filling in the gaps, if I can put it like that. It’s a common misconception that being your own boss means doing what and when you want. This does not necessarily mean you can put your feet up and roll yourself a cigar. ‘Sometime I do the dishes, sometime I cover for someone who has called in sick. It’s harder to be your own chef. When you work for someone, you have certain responsibilities, when you finish, you shut the door and then your private life starts’, explains Barto. His day off is Monday. ‘I switch off my phone. I do something for myself. I go to the Wicklow mountains, do cleaning, walk my dog. Otherwise, I’d very easily get burned out. Everything needs to be balanced’, said Barto.
‘We are feckin’ the Planet. Oh yes, we are’
Barto is not an aggressive vegan. He is calm and positive and he tries to convince people to eat more plant based food. He is seducing people with a combination of different dishes that shows them there is an alternative. ‘The research shows that our Planet cannot last longer than 50 years if we continue this exploitation. We are fine now, but what about the next generation? If we don’t act now, it’s going to be too late for them. And then it is compassion for animals’, said Barto. The chef is convinced people are changing though. ‘Life is magic and everything depends on us’, thinks Barto Sova. And his future plan is to open a vegan butcher counter with takeaway as well. Wouldn’t it be great to just pop in one day and order one kilo of soy schnitzel and another kilo of vegan cheese?