The Arndale Market is the go-to place for foodies these days, with an array of stalls offering a huge variety of cuisines. One of the newest arrivals is Wholesome Junkies, the vegan fast food company set up by Chelsea Campbell.
“I’d been on the waiting list at the Arndale for a year,” says Chelsea, who’s been working 15-hour days for the last few weeks to get the unit ready.
“It was going to be here or Hatch for my little forever home, and by chance I got a phone call because they realised there was no vegan or vegetarian offering in the Arndale.
“It’s lovely because the traders either side of me are Holy Crab and Blue Caribou. I’ve been trading with them for the last two years so know them really well. It feels like a little family side by side.
“And it’s a beautiful little space they’ve created with a huge seating area and big glass windows that look out on the Northern Quarter. The music’s on, everyone’s really happy. It’s an absolute joy to come to work.”
There’s no missing the stall, which is painted a beautiful shade of blue.
“It’s a reflection of me,” says Chelsea. “It’s handmade, hand painted, very creative and arty. It’s my hair colour and majority of my clothes as well.”
It also reflects the ethos behind Wholesome Junkies, “which is to be sustainable, so no plastic bottles, all the packaging is compostable, my stall’s made out of wood and metal.”
Born in Warrington, Chelsea moved to Manchester when she was 16 and began working front of house at restaurants here and over in Ibiza during the summer months.
“I was brought up on ready meals, but I started to take an interest in food when I was about 21 and taught myself to cook and practised and practised,” says Chelsea.
“I used to eat absolutely everything, meat, fish, but then I started watching documentaries about the environment and vegetarianism and was pretty shocked about the impact the meat industry was having and just decided to stop eating it.”
After her fifth summer working for minimum wage in Ibiza, Chelsea thought it was time she branched out on her own.
“That’s when I started thinking about setting up my own vegan business. Even a few years ago, veganism still had that stigma of lentils and hippies and tie-dye. So I thought, ‘what’s missing, what do I love eating?’ and decided to take junk food dishes and make them healthy with that wholesome plant element.”
Street food felt a great way to introduce her food to an audience without having to take on a huge unit, so she bought the equipment and started popping up at events like Ancoats General Store and Grub.
“That was an experience,” she recalls. “Obviously I had all that knowledge working front of house of house for 10 years, but I was still a complete newbie to running a restaurant from the kitchen.
“It was draining and super stressful, but a really good eye opener and it made me want to nail my street food concept food first before I took a unit on because I just wasn’t ready then.”
The programme aired in May 2018, and a year later she’s now running her own “forever home”. It’s only been open a couple of weeks and she’s thrilled to see a lot of repeat customers already.
“I haven’t really done any advertising yet. It’s been word of mouth, especially the vegan groups in Manchester sharing images and attracting a lot of attention, which is great.
“People are wanting to try everything on the menu so will come back again and again, but then there’s a massive vegan scene in Manchester.”
The menu at Wholesome Junkies is based around plant-based burgers, buddha bowls and bites and priced from £3 to £8.
Look out for Thai tater tots, the beefless burger, “which is getting such a good response” made with soya protein, wheat gluten, beetroot and beetroot juices, mushrooms and onions and spices.
There’s also Kentucky fried cauliflower, “which looks like a fried chicken patty but made with cauliflower.
“It’s basically about taking a familiar dish and putting a creative twist on it,” says Chelsea, who might have only just opened her first unit, but is already planning the next stage of the business.
“This is my baby, the whole concept was born here and I’ve got my biggest following here as well, but I’ve just got a container in a new creative container village in Ancoats called Pollard Yard.
“I’m looking to open a delivery kitchen in about six months when I’ve got more time, cash and staff. It’ll be open til 12am or 1am in the morning and you can get burgers, kebabs and fries, all vegan, and the end goal is to probably get a bigger unit with seating, a casual, cool venue no more than 50 covers.”
But right now she’s putting all her efforts into the new unit, which is why she won’t be popping up at events for the foreseeable future.
“I’m going quiet on the event front for a couple of months,” says Chelsea.
“I’ve got four new staff and need to train them with the menu and want to focus solely on Arndale until I get my unit perfect.”
Wholesome Junkies is open now at Manchester Arndale Market, Southside, seven days a week 11am-5pm.