Serotonin is the chemical inside your body which is responsible for maintaining your mood, almost like a happy chemical. Interestingly, more than 90% of your serotonin can be found within your gastrointestinal tract. So when we heard about a Serotonin Dealer, naturally our interest was peaked.
Who is this person dealing out happiness and how on earth are they doing it?
Emily Hazell is a real life Serotonin Dealer, dishing out happiness in high doses in Richmond, Victoria. As soon as you step in the door, your serotonin levels are going to start increasing and you are going to want to come back as soon as you can. Or maybe even stay.
Photographs by Robin Riddell
How did it all start?
Someone once told me there is four different reasons that people turn vegan and we need to attach to three of them to remain vegan. One is your external body. How you want to look and it’s how most people these days are going vegan. Then the internal, where you start to learn it actually does make your body better. Then there is for the animals and then there is for the environment. You might connect with one of those, do it for a bit and then fall back off. When you find three attachments, it is more likely to become your way of life. I went for external body and then I realized about the internal body and it changed my whole mind. It changed every cell in my body by going plant based. Then I found out about the animals and then the environment, and you think why isn’t everyone doing this?
When I was I was in my early teens and I was going through mood funks, i like to call them that. Anxiety and depression but everybody has mood funks. Everyone naturally has ups and downs. When I was 21 I was still having them, so I went to a doctor and after a 15 minute consultation she was like “Great, we are going to put you on antidepressants”. I was shocked, she didn’t ask me anything about exercise, fitness, mindstate. Nothing except for just asking what my problems were.
I went home that night and I started my own research and the biggest thing that I found was a peer reviewed article about three women who had been stuck on antidepressants for 30 years in the UK. It just wasn’t a good route, they said they were just numb and how much they wished they’d never taken them.
So I decided I won’t take them but I obviously had to research natural happiness. I started researching ways to make myself naturally happy. Then after six months of research I found the word Serotonin just kept coming up in the research again and again, so focussed on just Serotonin and how to stabilize your mood.
Where did this change happen?
I had been working a full time office job straight out of school for 3 or 4 years. The only exercise I would do was from my desk to the lunchroom and back so I quit that. I actually went back to uni. In my mind when I went to uni, I joined a gym. A really good correlation so I started working out and I started eating better. My food evolved and I actually went straight from eating a ‘clean diet’ which was like meat to vegan overnight .
When I was researching I found out by eating food high in serotonin you can stabilise mood and I started to include tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which is a precursor to serotonin and it naturally occurs in the food that I eat and the food that we serve here at the Serotonin Eatery. So I made every meal and every snack really high in naturally occurring tryptophan and I was literally skipping down Chapel St, saying how to people not know this?? That led me to start my serotonin formula. Its a 12 step guide that I do every single day now.
What is in your 12 step Formula?
I started working with a psychologist, food scientist, nutritionist and a couple of dieticians and I’ve been working on this for five years and it’s like a little checklist. When you see it, its not complicated, its basic things like sleeping eight hours a night, eating fruits and vegetables, spending time in the community, exercising 23 minutes daily and spending time in nature. That’s why Serotonin is next to a park.
When was the idea of the cafe born?
I had always wanted to open a cafe and it was actually going to be a Japanese cafe. I have been so inspired by Japanese food and Japanese design. When I went to uni I studied interior architecture and graphic design and I loved the Japanese minimalist lines so it was going to be a Japanese café cause no one does a Japanese breakfast cafe. My friend asked me, while I was still working on the business plan for my Japanese cafe, “why don’t you open a serotonin café? It’s how you eat and has changed your life.” It was a really good idea. I wanted to share this with people. I had six months left in uni and I changed my subject and I picked up a business subject. I did a business plan on a cafe and called it Serotonin and I even did it on this location. I wasn’t even for lease then.
I had a list of all my wants and I had a manifestation board. I wanted there to be a park across the road. There needed to be free parking, near a train station or a tram stop, on the bike path, close to freeway exits and this location had everything I wanted. When I did the business plan it was still an operating milk bar. I finished uni, did a bit of travelling, when I came back and It had shut down and I thought, well, it’s a sign.
What’s been the toughest moment so far?
There were a few issues three days before we opened. There is a power line that goes across the road and it didn’t the yellow tape to show what height it is. A truck drove through and ripped the power box off my building. My brother was helping me at the time and his ute got smashed by the bricks flying off the building and I was standing out front with my coffee suppliers. It was like lightning. But it was a problem we can solve, rebuild. We opened on a Wednesday and the very next day Broadsheet came in. I begged them not to put out the article. I’d never worked in a cafe let alone owning one. They put the article out on Friday and that weekend we had a thousand people show up and every weekend since we have had a thousand people.
What parts of the cafe where important to you?
A journalist friend of mine and I ran a food blog and we had this book about all the things we loved about a cafe. But in the back we wrote everything we hated about the places. Things like no splitting bills, staff unsure about the menu, all the little things people don’t
do. So I wanted to do all the things I loved and I solved all the things I didn’t like. We have all these caffeine free options, everything here is sugar free, dairy free. just to make it easy but it still tastes good. A lot of places try to do the same thing, but it’s like they forget to taste it. Every meal I’ve tasted, all my staff have tasted it obviously goes through the chefs.
How did you go about cultivating your Mission statement?
I was told before I opened that I needed a mission, vision and to have my values sorted out. Although I had them when I opened they’ve developed over time. It wasn’t until 18 months in that I really worked out my mission was.
My mission is to change minds and lives in order to prevent unnecessary deaths. Changing the minds is the first part, we do this through the food, through the education and through the exercise. I did it myself. I went from being chronically depressed to being the serotonin dealer and embodying everything that is.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
We have four core dishes that I came up with about six months before we opened. If I take any of those off the menu somebody will hunt me down. The positive pancakes, which are made from organic bananas that we dehydrate to make banana flour, topped with a homemade banana nice cream, which being vegan its like your treat everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. People all the time still say ‘oh I won’t get ice cream on the pancakes’, I say it’s just bananas. That is our signature dish. Also the nutrition bomb took me months to work on with different nutritionists. It’s got the perfect balance of complex carbohydrates, fats, sugars and its got sauerkraut for the fermented foods.
My staff get asked what’s the lowest carb dishes here? It’s questions like this that justify my mission to help educate and change people’s minds. You can eat complex carbohydrates and that is where you find a lot of the tryptophan. Sweet potato pumpkin, freekeh, buckwheat, all your greens. We have a base of spinach, broccoli and then homemade sauerkraut is amazing.
There are the two signature dishes.
Part of your mission statement is about bringing credible information, how do you keep true to that?
We work with food scientists and chemists and credible people but also using peer
reviewed articles. This is so important especially when you start to learn about veganism and dairy companies. You learn how they’ve done studies but they just take that one percent of information. All I wanted to do with Serotonin was sell fruit and vegetables. I’m not doing anything different I’m just selling whole food, fruits and vegetables. It’s not a trend or a fad and it’s certainly not new. We just educate around simple and complex.
I do the education program with year 9 girls because that’s where my journey started. If I knew back then what I know now, it would be a game changer. I teach about simple carbs simple sugars and simple fats. How there are complex versions and we shouldn’t be scared of fats and carbs.
If you could give one piece of information to someone who is looking at starting their own socially conscious business, what would you tell them?
Start with you mission and your values. That’s what made Serotonin what it is. We used to open at 6:00 in the morning and not leave until 11:00 p.m. My partner used to put the alarm on and give me 30 seconds to leave. I loved it and I knew what I was doing. When I worked out my mission and my vision I knew why I was getting up in the morning I had something I needed to share with people. I came into this business already knowing how to make myself happy, It was never about money, just about my customers.
There is a Richard Branson quote I love that is “if you look after your staff your staff will look after your customers”. So I look after the 20 of them and they look after the 2000 of my customers.
My long term goal is to change all closing down McDonalds into Serotonin Eateries. They already have playgrounds and are in areas that need it the most.
That is my long term Mission, in the short term goal we are launching dinners which is exciting. We have a new event space we can use for dinners.
52 Madden Grove, Burnley 3121