Sunshine Food Sprouting Co.’s Elisha Madzivadondo on making the best veggie burger

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Sunshine Food Sprouting Co.'s Elisha Madzivadondo on making the best veggie burger

Elisha Madzivadondo needs no introduction. His cafe, Sunshine Food Sprouting Co., is widely recognised for their extraordinary veggie burger. He chats to us about wonderful world of sprouts and microgreens, and the journey they’ve taken him on to firmly establish him within the food industry.

1. Let’s start with a little backstory. Where did you grow up? When did you come to South Africa?

I came to South Africa in 2003. Because of the political and economic changes in Zimbabwe, my home country, I decided to move to South Africa to look for work. Many businesses seemed to have moved to SA and we felt it made sense for us to do the same. Initially, my intention was to continue with agriculture, to pursue my dream of sustainable farming, but that didn’t quite go to plan. I had this idea of acquiring my own piece of land but then discovered it’s rather difficult to apply for land, so I ended up in construction as a way of making a living.

2. Can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Zimbabwe? What was your childhood like? Where did your interest in agriculture start?

I come from a big, close family. My father is a farmer and has 24 acres of land, which is where I was born and grew up in that environment. I’m not an urban boy, I’m a farm boy and farming is in my blood. From a young age we were taught grow and make our own food and to look after the plants that bring us food. Of course, going to school improved my English, but I didn’t learn anything there that I’m using today – my father taught me everything I know. So I’m really thankful that I’ve acquired these skills. My parents taught me everything about sustainable farming, to use a small piece of land, how to look after it properly and plant a variety of crops.

3. How did you get back into farming and into cooking after you came to South Africa?

While I was working in construction in 2004, a woman who worked for the company took notice of me and my work ethic and said she knew of a man in Camps Bay looking for someone to help manage his house. The owner was actually moving out of the house, and applied for it to be turned into a guesthouse, which I managed along with my wife. It was during this time I went for chef’s training to be able to cook for the guests, as well as butler training. I was very happy working there, but I eventually wanted to do something that was more fitting for my agriculture dream and my plant-based lifestyle. I needed to get back out and pick up my tools and find somewhere I could grow my own vegetables and make a difference. I approached Oude Molen Eco Village and told them I wanted to grow microgreens. They were really excited about it because it was so different to what anyone else was doing there. Everyone else needed space, to use the soil, but we just use trays and shells, so they gave me a spot to put up my greenhouse to grow microgreens to sell. We began by selling at markets, but hit a bit of a wall as people didn’t know anything about micros then and didn’t see them as food, only as garnish. So I had to come up with a way of educating people about all the things you can do with sprouts. This is when I started working on my veggie burger. I used a mixture of sprouts not only to create a wholesome veggie burger, but one that would hold together well when cooked.

4. What led you to open your first café in Sea Point?

For about five years, we spent a lot of time at markets, selling our burgers and bowls, and I think word spread about us and we began to build this amazing customer base. Eventually, one customer, a doctor in Sea Point asked if I wanted to take over one of their practice rooms. Of course I said yes. He and his wife took care of converting the room into a small café and shop, so all I had to do was pay rent and move in. This is really where Sunshine Food Co. got its first chance at success and I can honestly say it was such a wonderful, easy process. I think this is testament to the fact that hard work and perseverance always pay off.

5. Can we talk about your plant-based lifestyle? How long have you been vegan? What first encouraged you to become vegan or plant-based? And what are some things that you’d like to tell people about being vegan or plant based?

My journey was so easy, because it came naturally to me. I switched to a plant-based diet in my early 20s mostly because I didn’t ever really like meat that much – it just wasn’t very appealing to me. Having said that, this is my own journey, and I don’t criticise people who eat meat. I just think we all need to find ways to be kinder to the Earth, which is maybe easier for me to see because of how I grew up. It’s our culture in Zimbabwe for every household to have a tiny little backyard garden and grow their own veggies, and I think I learned from a young age to provide and cook for myself. All I need is some sunshine, water and my microgreens!

6. Your cafés are mostly associated with your famous burger. Can you tell us more about them and what goes into them? What are some other menu items you’re proud of?

The burgers are a mix of five sprouts – mung bean, sunflower, alfalfa, lentil and pea shoots. We serve them topped with black beans, avo and our famous cultured lemon sauce. There are options to have them on an activated charcoal bun or bunless, in a salad or a wrap. I think people love them because they’re not like other veggie burgers, because they have such a unique flavour from the mix of sprouts. We’ve also recently expanded our dessert menu and now have delicious, crunchy raw brownies, packed with good things that I’m really proud of. We’ve also added new salad bowls, packed with sprouts, which is amazing when you consider that when we started no one wanted to eat sprouts!

7. You’ve also just opened up at Makers Landing. How has the process of moving into there been for you and what does this new space mean for your business?

I’m immensely proud of opening at Makers Landing. It’s given me access to a market of people who just get what we’re trying to do and understand the value of quality food. Now I’m able to bring even more awareness to vegan food and I’m discovering more customers through it. It’s almost like I’ve come full circle from the high-end clientele of the guesthouse in Camps Bay, to serving them my food at Makers Landing.

To keep up with Elisha, follow him on Instagram.

Jess Spiro Article by: Jess Spiro

Jess Spiro is a freelance food writer, chef and restaurant critic based in Cape Town, who can often be found in search of the next great plate of food. Follow her on Instagram @jess_spiro to see what she's eating.

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