The mushroom rendang at Fat Choi is a meatless marvel. Here’s how much it costs to prepare
A few years ago, Lauren Soo and her husband, Johnny, started cutting meat out of their diets and wanted their Ossington restaurant, Soos, to reflect the change. Rather than simply adding a few plant-based dishes to the dinner menu, Soos developed the novel compromise of going vegan on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
When the restaurant adopts its meatless alter-ego, it goes by a different name: Fat Choi. The name change is an opportunity to build an audience for a potential new venture while experimenting with and refining dishes without animal products, such as this version of a staple Indonesian slow-cooked meat recipe reinvented with mushrooms. But cutting meat from the list of food costs is no shortcut to a significantly higher per-dish profit.
Ingredients: $3.30. Because they lose so much volume when they’re sautéed, king oyster and black shiitake mushrooms ($1.40) account for over a third of the food cost. Instead of fermented shrimp paste, a mixture of turmeric, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chilies, ginger and galangal ($1) gives the dish its pungent base note. The coconut milk (which seems to get more expensive every week) and the side of roti (which is outsourced due to kitchen space constraints) along with Malaysian curry powder and fried curry leaves for garnish, account for the remaining $0.90.
Labour: $4.75. A restaurant can buy pre-peeled anything. But freshness is especially important when the food can’t rely on animal fat to cover for flavour. Peeling shallots and sticky bulbs of Spanish garlic takes time, as does draining and cleaning the fryer for Fat Choi nights, so the food won’t taste like shrimp; the last-minute cooking-to-order of each dish; and making sure fresh herbs and complex spices are as vibrant as possible, so no one misses the umami punch of meat and seafood products.
Overhead: $1.98. This includes the big items like rent, TMI (taxes, maintenance, insurance), fees for reservation software Bookenda, plus recurring costs like fire alarm testing ($400 every time), hood cleaning ($600 every time), white tablecloths ($0.20 per use), candles and menus. Last year, the ice machine broke and now they rent one for $135 a month.
Profit: $0.97. “We prioritize quality and are very proud of the products we put out,” Lauren Soo says. When it comes to boosting the bottom line, she adds: “A drink tab really helps.”
Note: Fat Choi will be on hiatus for winter holidays until March. In the meantime, Soos will serve additional plant-based menu items.