Leeds restaurants: Meet the owner of Punk Vegan serving hearty comfort food with a plant-based twist

Bex Dawson is on a mission to simplify vegan food, creating hearty grub that even the biggest carnivores will be happy to devour.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 29th January 2022, 4:30 pm

The co-owner and chef of Leeds takeaway and cafe Punk Vegan, Bex serves up meat-free burgers, loaded fries, fried chickn and more, with a variety of flavour-packed sauces.

Bex lived in Asia as a teenager, surrounded by street food, but it wasn't until she moved to Leeds that she got into cooking.

The 28-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I was introduced to more cuisines when I went to China and Thailand, but I was quite a fussy kid.

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Bex Dawson, 28, is the co-owner and head chef at Punk Vegan - a cafe and takeaway in Hyde Park (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

“It was when I left home and went to uni that I got into food. I started really simple, I was experimenting with my diet and introducing more vegetables as I was trying to be sustainable.

“I accidentally fell into the industry when I was 19 and did street food at a few festivals."

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After working at a sausage roll vendor, tapas van and Katsu curry eatery, Bex later worked in some of Leeds' independent restaurants before going to catering college to "fill in the gaps".

Bex recreates classic comfort food with plant-based alternatives, staying away from "crazy" recipes and focusing on flavour (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

She slowly began to cut meat out of her diet, then dairy, then fish, before becoming a vegan a few years ago.

In 2019, she launched Punk Vegan in the heart of Hyde Park with her business partner Chris Norton.

Their vision was to recreate classic comfort food with plant-based alternatives, staying away from "crazy" recipes and focusing on flavour.

Bex added: “I wanted to provide accessible vegan food, food that people would recognise but a lot more love in it and made fresh.

“You couldn’t buy vegan burgers easily at that point, so we jumped in at the deep end and learnt how to make the breads, the burgers and the sauces.

“It’s a lot easier to try and convince someone to try vegan food if it’s something they recognise.

“The idea was to make it simple so people would give it a go."

Punk draws in a big student crowd during term time, but customers travel in from outside the suburb - with an overwhelmingly positive response.

Bex said: “People have made jokes about it being vegan and not meat, but then when they try it they take it all back which is great.

"It helps not having crazy things that no one has heard of. A burger is a burger.”

All Punk burgers are served in its signature charcoal buns and include the popular BBQ Boi - a Punk 'beef' patty, cheese, crunchy slaw, crispy onions, onion rings and BBQ sauce.

There's salt and pepper 'wingz' made with chicken-style seitan fillets and topped with Chinese five spice, as well as loaded chips and six sauces for dipping.

“I like meeting customers and creating food that people are surprised by when they eat it," Bex added.

"I get excited about answering people’s questions about food, veganism and how their food was made, or telling them the secret method I use.

“And I love being able to do a little bit of everything with the businesses, knowing from beginning to end where the food has come from and who it has gone to.”

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