Calling all Brighton-based vegans, Happy Maki is at it again. That’s right, the city’s much-loved vegan sushi spot is opening its doors to its second establishment; a 50 seater restaurant, right in the heart of Brighton.

If you’ve not heard of Happy Maki before, let us get you up to speed. Anna MacDonald, a free-diving and surfing fanatic, founded Happy Maki in 2014 after watching End of the Line; a documentary about the world’s disappearing fish stocks. Anna realised that she couldn’t be a true ocean-lover without attempting to tackle this sustainability issue, so she decided to start her own fish-free sushi catering company, in the hope of spreading awareness about ocean environmental issues.

Fast forward six years and Happy Maki is now an established festival favourite across the UK. Each summer (with the obvious exception of this year due to COVID-19), the team pitch up at around 20 festivals, including Glasto, Green Man, Boomtown, Shambala and Wilderness, winning the award for Best Festival Caterer in both 2017 and 2019.

Other than the UK’s festival trail, Happy Maki can also be found at its small pier-front takeaway shop in Brighton which is usually packed during the summer months (hence the need for extra space!) The menu is entirely vegan and offers a generous selection of mouth-watering sushi burritos (including Crispy ‘Chkn’ and Hoisin ‘Duck’), vegetable-based sides, fruity smoothies and sweet treats, too.

And, Happy Maki’s commitment to sustainability extends far beyond than the food they serve. In its current store, the business prides itself on using 100% green energy, entirely compostable packaging, plus it sends zero waste to landfill. How’s that for eco-friendly?

In addition to its compassion for the Earth, Happy Maki is also dedicated to supporting people. They’re a Living Wage Employer, and a not-for-profit organisation, which means that the money they make goes back into the business to cover costs and further support the charities they work with; for every burrito sold, they plant a tree and feed a child.

Now, Happy Maki is expanding and preparing to open its second eatery; transforming a “run down shell” in the North Lanes into a “first of its kind community space”. From fitting a new commercial kitchen, to renovating and re-decorating, the building needs a lot of love to bring it back to life. So, the business is crowdfunding to raise a whopping £40’000, which will cover a portion of the refurbishment fees. As thanks for supporting the business, investors will receive an exclusive sneak preview of the new restaurant and have the opportunity to attend a Q&A with Anna herself.

The new 50-seater establishment will double up as an alcohol-free, vegan restaurant and a vibrant space for the public to enjoy; hosting workshops, gigs and documentary showings in the evenings. The Happy Maki team is also focused on working to further reduce waste streams, increasing the speed of service, and updating the menu so that it’s fully gluten free.

But that’s not the most exciting part. The restaurant will be operating via gift economy with a Pay As You Feel scheme; pioneering a kinder way to do business. “The food we make is going to be given as a gift and it’s up to the customer how much they want to gift back, if anything,” explains Anna. “On a fundamental level, it’s changing the motif behind why we do business; we’re moving the demand on the customer and making healthy vegan food accessible for everyone.”

Anna feels confident that Happy Maki can prove that when you give without the expectation of receiving anything in return, people will choose to support you, regardless. “Our customers are so lovely, our team is great and the majority of the time we really love what we’re doing and the product we’re selling, so it’s very rare that you get someone who comes in and doesn’t feel that and appreciate it and see the good work that we’re doing with our chosen charities,” she says.

To make sure that the new system is easy for customers to use, Happy Maki has developed a web application that operates an efficient, anonymous, contactless donation system. After the customer has placed their order, they’ll be given a suggested on-screen total, before choosing how much they want to pay.

Once perfected, Happy Maki will be allowing other companies to use the app for free, as well as sharing data for them to learn from. “Hopefully we’ll have done most of the work for people so they can just take our idea and build on what we’ve done,” says Anna, who’s optimistic that this new initiative could pave the way for fellow restaurants to rethink how they do business, too.

Originally, the Pay As You Feel scheme was planned to coincide with Happy Maki’s new restaurant opening in May, but due to COVID-19, the launch has been pushed back indefinitely. The building team working on the project have struggled to get supplies which has slowed the process by 20%, and so the refurbishment is still very much underway.

While the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging time for the business, Anna hastens to add that there have been positives. “It’s worked out quite well to be able to launch Pay As You Feel in the small shop first because I’ve been able to be here everyday; watching how people use it and making changes, so that when we do move it over into the new restaurant, it’ll be the finished product,” she explains.

So far, Happy Maki’s customers have been filled with praise for the innovative Pay As You Feel system, with the staff noticing how different the environment feels without the exchange of money at the till point. Although Happy Maki aren’t exactly sure when the new restaurant will (finally) open, the team is excited about this next step in their commitment to positive change, and how it’ll impact the future of the business. So, with that in mind, be sure to watch this (super sustainable) space!