Interview with Falafel Brothers: On Food, Health, and Business
Serving Plant-Based foods without preaching
On 25.9. 2018 Noriko and Ofer spent the evening at the new Ebisu branch of Falafel Brothers, a growing vegan restaurant chain with stores in Roppongi and Ebisu. Before enjoying a delicious (and fully paid-for; no special treatment) Falafel, Hummus and salad meal topped off by a vegan brownie and cheese-cake, we sat down for an interview with the founders and owners of the chain, Amnon and Daisuke.
Q: What’s Falafel Brothers? What’s your philosophy?
Amnon: “We don’t preach veganism”. That is our philosophy. We will explain veganism if people ask us. We don’t actively go about saying that it’s healthy or that it’s great for the animals. We want to create an atmosphere of “We serve great food and drinks. If you like it, come have some.” As a growing restaurant chain, we want to keep serving plant-based food but don’t want the non-veg people to feel pressured or unwanted. Some restaurants I see create guilt-trips and “judge” the people who eat animal products.
Daisuke: I came across falafel in Qatar. The one I had wasn’t particularly tasty but I found the genre interesting – it was filling, and unlike your typical burger in a bun, it also had a lot of vegetables in it. I consulted the Israeli embassy in Japan because I wanted to start selling falafels in Japan and they introduced me to Amnon. For me, it’s not about advocating plant-based food, but about contributing to offering a place that is accessible (reasonable price), easy, and filling. I am vegetarian and realize how difficult it is to find dining options in Japan- I would imagine finding vegan options is even harder. I want to see more cheap and accessible places that offer plant-based food.
Q: Why a vegan restaurant?
Amnon: In the beginning, we didn’t plan Falafel Brothers as a “vegan” restaurant. Falafel happens to be a plant-based food. We released it and it became popular among vegans so we decided to stay a vegan-serving restaurant. However, as we are aware that there are customers following varying degrees of a plant-based diet, we think of ourselves more as a vegan-friendly restaurant. We are always careful and check that none of our ingredients are animal-based, but to be honest, it’s to the best of our ability- so we are really 99.9% vegan.
The Plant-Based Lifestyle is coming to Japan
Q: Tell us a little bit about the journey of the Falafel Brothers brand.
Amnon: We started the business in February 2016 as a funky, cheeky twist on the naming of the foods so it was naturally more targeted at foreigners. Also, the location for our first stores (Roppongi) meant that most of our customers were non-Japanese. We also saw a lot of tourists and travelers who had decided to eat at our store because they had found us on Happy Cow before they came to Japan. Every now and again, a Japanese customer would come in and ask, “What are those meatballs”?” Some Japanese customers walked in thinking we were Freshness Burger (a burger chain in Japan).
Daisuke: The only Japanese customers who knew what we were serving were people who had either worked in an international environment or had studied abroad. In contrast, we see more Japanese customers in the Ebisu shop. Even if the customers are neither vegetarian nor vegan, I feel that there has been an increase in the number of Japanese customers who like the concept/genre of our food.
Q: How is the plant-based diet doing in Japan?
Amnon: Zero awareness. Vegetarian is somewhat known. Most people don’t know what the vegan concept is. It’s already quite a big thing in the US, Australia, EU, but it’s still going to take 5 years or so to reach Japan. But I do think that veganism is definitely coming to Japan soon and we are ready!
Q: Where is Falafel Brothers going to be 5 years from now?
Amnon: We want to be the number 1 quality fast food brand in Japan. Thinking of a vegan supermarket, distributing products online, opening sit-in places, and also more take-out places. Our new Ebisu store is a step in that direction. We have new menus on top of our popular ones from Roppongi. Check out our cafe, breakfasts, brunches, (upcoming) bar, and cakes!
Q: You are careful not to “preach” veganism. How do you approach your customers?
Daisuke: We refer to it as a “plant-based” eating. I think in Japanese (transliteration) it sounds somewhat foreign and trendy too.
Amnon: I think appreciating a plant-based lifestyle comes naturally. From my personal experience, when I started eating more plant based foods, my body started feeling better.
I believe that animals are here to share the Earth with us, not to satisfy our desires. This led me to drop meat from my menu at an early age. In 2011, after learning about the process involved in the production of eggs and dairy, I started researching about veganism and decided to become plant-based. As I continue to learn and experiment, I still marvel at the many benefits that a plant-based lifestyle offers. I’ve lectured in schools about animal welfare and I hope that through veggino, we can help people in Japan explore this life-changing journey. The number of plant-based people worldwide has been skyrocketing in recent years, and it’s Japan’s turn now!