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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Alex and Jonathan Petrides

Show aired on 17th November 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. My guests today are Alex and Jonathan or JP Petrides, Co-founders of allplants the vegan meal delivery company. After Alex and JP switched to a vegan diet in 2015 they started a vegan supper club for their friends. The food was reportedly so popular they were soon sending guests home with the left-overs in foil trays. Allplants followed shortly after with Alex leaving his role at Propercorn, previous guests on the programme, Cassandra, after helping build it from the ground up, as one of their first employees. The brothers wanted to challenge the image of veganism and empower themselves and others to counter the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Allplants has stated its intention to build a business that benefits people and the planet as a whole. Now, evidently you get on, because they are both smiling by the way, and they seem to like each other, quite and talk and things. Tell me a little bit about why you set this business up and I’ll start with you Alex, because I know, funnily enough I have interviewed Cassandra at Propercorn where you were working for a number of years, but then this happened.

Alex Petrides
Yeah, so I was at Propercorn right at the beginning. Cassandra obviously had come up with the idea, you know a few years before and had been working with her business partner Ryan to really get that off the ground and I joined fresh out of Uni as their third wheel, I would say and was doing everything from kind of catching any popcorn packs that fell, taking notes and my kind of most famed moment which was a regret of mine, was wheeling a large suitcase full of popcorn around all of London stumbling into cafes and trying to get them to start stocking this new thing with popcorn in crisp style packaging and no-one knew or cared. But you know, after five years and a lot of excitement, success and fun, I felt that it was time for a change and just a year before that, my brother and I had both changed our diets really independently of one another and had gone on this kind of plant based journey towards what we do now, which is eating nothing but plants.

Jonathan Petrides
That was about three years ago, no, just over.

Alex Petrides
Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah literally three years ago now and we both sort of realised ‘well why are you doing it? why are you doing it?’, and it turns out you know there to both of us the way in was very much an interest in the environmental aspects of a plant based diet, so it is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint. But then as we tumbled down that rabbit hole and realised how diverse and delicious it can be, we kind of learnt about the health aspect and then started to think about the ethical angle as well and got very attracted to the idea that this isn’t just a temporary phase or trend for ourselves and actually it could have a huge impact on both people and planet if we try to use our entrepreneurial skills or you know bits that we learnt along the way to channel that into something that can be very approachable, relatable, and we started off with supper clubs and now we have a restaurant for the nation, so we have as you were saying, a team of chefs, we produce lots and lots of delicious meals and we deliver them prepared, frozen to your door.

Elliot Moss
Now, what’s interesting is about you Alex, you went almost straight out of University bar a small thing I believe you did into a start-up. I mean not much time in between so, and then you have done another one and John, JP you also have been very entrepreneurial and I know you have worked at, I think in McKinsey, as well as you have done a bunch of consultancy. What is in your family blood, if there is anything that says ‘you know what we are going to go and get our four A’s from school, we are going to go and get a first class Degree at University, which you both did I believe…

Jonathan Petrides
He did, I…

Elliot Moss
One of you..

Jonathan Petrides
Just cut that bit out…

Elliot Moss
We’ll just have a fight, we won’t cut that out we’ve got to keep it now it’s good the competitive spirit is coming through. What is it…

Jonathan Petrides
I was head boy and he wasn’t …

Alex Petrides
Oh my God.

Elliott Moss
Oh there you go, this is so good this is so good it’s like they are eleven years old or nine years old again it’s exactly the same, things don’t move on.

Jonathan Petrides
Yeah yeah, welcome to our days.

Elliot Moss
I’m the same with my sister. What was it in the family blood do you think that’s got you to the point where you are both running a business, albeit the same one?

Alex Petrides
First of all, the reality of being willing to run off the edge of a cliff without a clue what you are doing, requires a really healthy dose of risk appetite and belief in the need to solve the problem that you are going to go throw yourself at and I think for us, it’s funny because it actually goes back to our grandfather in Cyprus, who started off life as a shepherd at the age of nine when he left school, to support his five sisters and then gradually worked his way up to being a lorry driver and then owning a fleet of lorries and then eventually becoming a farmer and becoming the largest grower of mushrooms and then potatoes across the whole of the Mediterranean. So, he is someone who we have always both, I think, looked up to a lot and respected the impact he had on his community. So, I think that combined with, we are just very lucky to have been gifted with a great education as you said, which a lot of us have but a real desire to then go and do something with that. And I think, I think alongside, you have got that grandfather on one end who was an inspiration from a young age and you know in Cyprus there was a war in ’74 and lost it all, but then started again and really built from scratch again and we had our grandfather on the other side who was a very community driven person. When my mum was growing up they used to live in a juvenile delinquent house, is that the right word? So, they would have young offenders living in their house and he then became a man of the Church and I guess with him, his question was always around ‘how will you serve?’, and compassion and so with both of those role models and then you know our dad also running his own business albeit less risky, it’s in service industry, accountancy, but it showed us that, you know, you can do your own thing, even if it is a big risk. But, actually what is most important is how will you benefit others and how will you find a way with your working life which can be a very safe way, but finding a way with your working life to really have an impact on happiness and the thriving nature of the world, I guess.

Elliot Moss
Profit and purpose, not bad eh? And I guess JP you had a similar, obviously the same family impact, your journey is slightly different, you’ve done a number of start-ups actually it looks like. Tell me a little bit about how you got into those. Did you start with the consultancy and then move into that because often I meet people that were at Bain or…?

Jonathan Petrides
Well, yeah, well we actually had the same school upbringing and I think the natural path for people from Havs is that you must go into professional services world or at least on to some kind of grad scheme. And I tried my best…

Alex Petrides
I’m a cliché, it’s true.

Jonathan Petrides
We all are, I tried my best to escape that and I kind of said no to all the classic accounting, lawyer and banking things, having tried them, as interns here and there. But then I yeah, I stumbled into McKinsey world which actually I really loved it and the first couple of years of my career was a somewhat excruciating learning curve. But, I also very quickly realised that I wanted to stop advising and start doing or at least trying out the whole doing side of business and the other thing I realised was that I had been given such a platform of learning and opportunity that I could basically go and try and solve the biggest problem I could find, with pretty much no risk. So, was at the time working in telecoms a lot and the biggest opportunity at the time, this is back in 2007 and 2008 was really obvious in Africa, Latin America and South Asia, everybody had a mobile phone, nobody had a bank account pretty much and so there was this opportunity to say, ‘well hang on a sec, can we use mobile technology to bring new levels of inclusion and new availability of saving and credit for people who are living on a few dollars a day?’, and how would that transform peoples’ lives?. And so, having never set foot in Africa I decided to jet myself out to Kenya which was probably the best place to go by somewhat luck, because there was already a bunch of mobile payment networks existing and then you know, ended up there unexpectedly for a good five plus years building first of all what became Emiri which…

Elliot Moss
And you were living in Kenya as well?

Jonathan Petrides
Living in Nairobi which by the way is a brilliant and really fun place to both work and live and Kenya is just an amazing country to explore so I was very… and I didn’t know that, I didn’t pick it for that reason. I picked it purely because it looked like the best place to go and create a solution to this problem. So, yeah that was interesting starting a bank from scratch at the age of 24/25 in Africa was, I don’t really know on reflection why anyone I knew including my parents let me go do that.

Alex Petrides
As we are on Jazz FM it is worth noting that because he wasn’t sure how lonely he would be he took his saxophone with him.

Elliot Moss
Did you really?

Alex Petrides
And It was a backpack and a saxophone. That was all he had.

Jonathan Petrides
Thanks’ for that. Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And obviously… are you quite good at the sax?

Jonathan Petrides
So…

Alex Petrides
Get it out. Get the sax out.

Jonathan Petrides
Shall I get it out, okay. No so…

Elliot Moss
So luckily, he hasn’t brought it, it’s alright.

Alex Petrides
Yeah, you are lucky because it would only be squeaks and…

Elliot Moss
It’s very assumptive of me, I mean you may be brilliant…

Jonathan Petrides
No, no. No, I had played it a lot as a kid and then you know had a hiatus as we often all do, and I just thought you know what if I’m going to this country I don’t know anybody, I am going to be working my socks off and I had this romantic notion of going to the roof in the evenings and serenading myself basically and re-learning the saxophone. Needless to say, that six months in the sax, I think I got it out once, and then I sheepishly brought it back with me to London when I visited for Christmas and everyone laughed at me. So, yeah.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my guests, Alex and JP Petrides and they will be back in a couple of minutes. But first we are going to hear from one of our partners at Mishcon de Reya for some advice for your business.

There are many ways for you to hear all the former Jazz Shapers on Jazz FM and indeed to hear this programme again you can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes or if you pop Jazz Shapers into your favourite podcast platform you can enjoy the full archive. Today, right here, right now though I’ve got two brothers, Alex and JP Petrides and they are Co-founders of allplants, they are the vegan meal delivery business, if you haven’t heard of them and if you are vegan and it’s a burgeoning thing to be, if you are a vegan, then you may well have heard of them and I haven’t tasted them yet, which is a big omission on the part of my guests, but they are going to sort that out afterwards. Tell me about those first few months as you set up this business. Everyone I talk to always says the most important thing is the team that you build. Tell me a little bit about how you found those people and what it took to bring them in to a start-up?

Alex Petrides
At the beginning it was very much my brother running full tilt, and I was trying to assist and help as much as possible because I cared about what we were doing, but I was still at Propercorn and we found Ellie who is now you know, an absolute dream and she has been on our team since day one, she was kind of fresh out of Uni, and in a similar position to where I was when I joined Propercorn and over the last two years we have then looked at how we can really build the team around lots of other roles and right now we have actually just gone through a round of fund raising.

Jonathan Petrides
One of the amazing these we have found is that, you know, because, and it is not just that we are focused on a really big mission of trying to inspire the next billion plant powered people, but also you know, what we are putting out in the world is a whole new way to live much healthier, without much effort and a new way to think about this movement and so, we are actually finding that it is quite a magnetic brand and community that we are building -both for our customers and our community of subscribers but also for people who want to join the team and become part of it and come and throw their experience, whether that is as a chef, or as an operator, as a designer or developer or, we actually got our first official financial expert, who is trained and qualified as an accountant joining on Monday, which we can’t wait for. But you know, as we go, because we are actually, we are not just a website, we are not just a food brand who appears in supermarkets. We do everything ourselves, we cook every meal by hand. We ship every box to every customer’s doorsteps and then of course we are, you know, building a website, so there is a lot…

Elliot Moss
A lot of bits.

Jonathan Petrides
…yeah, there is a lot of different teams.

Elliot Moss
And your funders that I am aware of, both have been on the programme, Frederick Court at Felix Capital and Chris and Simon from… the founders of Octopus…

Jonathan Petrides
Octopus Ventures, right.

Elliot Moss
What did they buy? Did they buy you, did they buy the vision, did they buy both?

Jonathan Petrides
Well so, one of the biggest things we did before bringing in external investment and we are really excited to have been able to bring people like that and many, many others as well to the table is that we actually realised that we needed to adjust what allplants was as a company as well. So we actually on the day that we signed the dotted line with Octopus, we finally signed the B Corp Charter and making sure that every investor who comes to the table with allplants understands that we do not solely have a profit motive as an organisation and that actually we put environment and society alongside that, and really prioritise that. It is absolutely fundamental, so they…

Elliot Moss
Just give me the elevated picture on B Corp, just tell me, because some people listening might not know what it is?

Jonathan Petrides
B Corp was founded around ten years ago, started in America hence the very American name, and it’s a new model for business in the twenty first century. The point is its business with purpose. My belief around B Corp is that if we could flip every company in the world into operating like a B Corp where you actually internalise all of the aspects of business that previously, for example, a factory just doesn’t care about, you have effluence and waste and power usage and the way that you treat your staff and the local community, no-one cares about that, it is not costed in. If every organisation was doing that, it could transform our world and so, we are a very small community of companies, I think there is now around two or three hundred of us in the UK but growing fast, and you know we are having impact, but we want the movement to grow we want ideally everyone to become a B Corp.

Alex Petrides
And it is not, you can’t just sign up, you have to go through quite a rigorous process, an audit essentially of your commitment to the planet and to people and to just the way you trade as a business so there’s…

Jonathan Petrides
So, we will be producing and have done one now, an annual report which typically companies have that and it just has numbers about money in it, and we are saying ‘well no that’s not what is most important, let’s put alongside that our impact on the environment and the service we have created for community and for people’.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant stuff everyone should join, if they are in business or at least look at it, because as you say if you actually do things then people have got to change what they are doing if they are going to be able to be part of it. Let’s just talk about perception for a moment. I mean we are in a moment here where there are more and more vegans. I think I read a report in The Times that the number of vegans was seven hundred thousand people in the UK or something, and you will probably tell me it is more than that by now, because that was a few weeks ago. But there’s, there’s you know, there is a lot of conversation about what that means and when I was at University, if you were a vegan you were usually quite a worthy person who kind of told everybody how you should behave versus now when I think it feels like people have come round, a bit like the environment, and realising stuff is just bad, plastic one, plastic is not good. Do you have that conversation with people and if so how do you how handle it? Because you are right in the thick of it. I mean you have gone for something which is very, very, very trendy is a word I would use?

Alex Petrides
Yeah and we didn’t know that was going to happen, obviously when we changed our own diets, but we thought that it was an important thing for ourselves and for the planet, but the interesting thing about kind of getting hung up on the V word, is that realistically our customer isn’t vegan and actually, I think you were saying earlier you are actively reducing your meat, and that is happening for you know, around forty percent of the UK. They are actively changing their diet because, I don’t know….

Elliot Moss
It just doesn’t feel as good to be honest with you, eating meat every day, not that I have done that for years, makes you feel heavy, seems like it stays in your stomach for months, which I think it does, right in your gut and when you eat plant based stuff it feels lighter. I am sounding like an advert for allplants, I’m not being an advert for allplants, I am just saying my own experience but that is what happens.

Jonathan Petrides
And also we are getting access to such a diverse range of colours, cuisines and just different ways to shape your plate, so there it is no longer about meat, two veg and a carb, and that is quite exciting as well. People like the excitement of their plate in that sense. Yeah it is definitely changing, the perception around it is definitely changing and ….

Alex Petrides
Yeah it’s more curiosity these days as opposed to defensive conversation, which is definitely how it felt in the beginning. When you first decide to try it out, everyone is like ‘what on earth has happened to that guy’.

Elliot Moss
So it’s normal brothers.

Alex Petrides
What is going on? Yeah and you get…

Jonathan Petrides
And they saw that we weren’t wearing like socks and sandals, that… But what is going on?

Elliot Moss
But also, you are both quite well built, I know it sounds ridiculous there is another fallacy which is that you say, if you eat plants you are not going to be strong. I suppose you have to work and ensure that you have got a really balanced diet and seriously I train with someone who is a vegan and they have to think about it. Because you have to stock up because it is a different thing, but it is just being thoughtful about your food right?

Jonathan Petrides
But I think that applies to anybody who is interested in generally being healthy. Before trying out, and by the way I did it as a one week experiment because I felt like I was curious about the way in which removing animal agriculture from my own diet could impact the world. But I was like ‘there is no way I can do it, it’s too hard’, so I tried it for a week and found it was really delicious, loved it and actually the whole health thing, I think Alex and I about six months later, we were a bit like hang on a sec my jeans are massive. What on earth is going on? And what I found is that actually you trim down naturally without realising, I didn’t even think I was carrying loads of extra weight. You just end up at a new norm, which was actually quite nice, without even intending it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for a final chat with the brothers, that is Alex and JP Petrides, plus we will be playing a track from the one and only Van Morrison, that is coming up in just a moment.

The one and only sound of the inimitable Van Morrison with Moon Dance. I have Alex and JP with me, the Founders, Co-founders of allplants just for a few more minutes, we will be talking about all sorts of stuff and I love the fact that your family has come from that community based view of the world and obviously more business based view of the world. I want to talk about the money for a moment, because we haven’t really talked about that, what the optics are for you. Obviously, you are in business to make money, you are obviously in business also to transform the world. Is there a mega plan where you say, well when this is a turnover of X then we are out of there, or is it a, this is for life?

Jonathan Petrides
First of all yeah, really good question. I don’t think Alex and I at all see the pursuit of and the way that we invest our time as the pursuit of money at all. I think we are very lucky to be able to use business in inverted commas, as a vehicle to try and create impact and the way that we think of profit is effectively it’s basically something that refills the engine with gas to keep you going on the journey towards the world we are trying to create. You know when we look ahead a couple of decades we really believe in wanting to see a more plant powered if not fully plant powered world and in order to get there we need a lot of organisations and groups of people like us and many others, coming together and trying to solve problems and for us the problem we are trying to solve is that we truly believe that if we can just get everybody to have access to incredibly exciting and delicious plant based food, wherever they are, then there will be absolutely no barriers to that mass adoption and so, and that is what we exist for.

Elliot Moss
And just, and I buy that, I absolutely do, but just to push one more bit, because business needs to make money to transform the world and I get that.

Jonathan Petrides
I guess.

Elliot Moss
Yeah, I know it’s such a… but on the side of that, is there a sense that you have a certain life that you want to lead materially? I’m going to put it like that. It’s not that, I am sure you don’t need fifteen cars and huge houses, but it must be quite nice to run your own business and to see that there is a profit coming, right?

Alex Petrides
It would be nice.

Jonathan Petrides
That would be lovely.

Elliot Moss
When will you make some money, I mean I remember having a conversation here it was with either Funding Circle, James Meekings one of the founders who has now gone public, or one of the others talking about profit, and they said ‘that is a very UK view of the world Elliot, we are a start-up, and we… it takes time and really in the US it wouldn’t matter for ten years’ or even in Amazon’s case fifteen.

Jonathan Petrides
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
Is that the case for you two as well then?

Jonathan Petrides
Yeah we have to be realistic, I mean you know, when you are trying to grow at the speed that we would like to in order to galvanise the movement and change we want to see, you have to be thoughtful about not spending more than you have got as anyone does, budgeting their home and bills. But in reality profit is something that may come in the future, and I guess Al can answer for himself but personally the idea of getting to work on something that I am truly, deeply passionate about with people that I love spending time with is the best thing that I can ask for, and you know being able to support my family and my needs, I, you know, I hope that I will be able to do that but this pursuit is kind of primary for me.

Alex Petrides
Just to kind of build on that, for the past two/three years we have been earning the lowest amount by a long way in the business. Even though you know, we have all sorts of different types of people…

Jonathan Petrides
…actually by lowest amount what Alex means is a negative salary. Because we have had to…

Elliot Moss
But then how have you done it actually, because that is a serious point again, people often say well if you have got no money then it is really hard to start a business and you are funded now obviously, but how have you managed before you were funded? Or was it almost…

Jonathan Petrides
So right, it’s been scare… there have been points when it has been just like…

Alex Petrides
Super scary, just like how are we going to do this? But right at the beginning we put our personal savings that we’d…

Jonathan Petrides
Everything that we had got.

Alex Petrides
…just got together into getting started, we then raised…

Jonathan Petrides
Building a kitchen.

Alex Petrides
Building a kitchen, you know there is the early beginnings of a team, we had a lot of kind of freelance chefs and we were just trying to really make the food on budget, on time and produce it as many as we could, and then last year we raised a small sum and that allowed us to kind of really grow to the point we are now. We have been pretty well organised with regards to trying to get funding and we’ve approached the growth of the business in terms of how can we make sure that we are building the right learnings and dynamics into the model so that the funding makes sense to others.

Elliot Moss
So, it’s scalable in a way. Yeah. It’s been really lovely talking to you and the conversation about money brings us right back to your appetite for risk which was the first thing I think JP you talked about. You have got appetite for risk and that is pretty impressive and I think that will mark you out and will keep you going in those dark days, that may cross your paths at some point. I hope they don’t…

Jonathan Petrides
Oh thanks.

Elliot Moss
…because it’s gonna be…

Jonathan Petrides
They always come.

Elliot Moss
They come…

Jonathan Petrides
But you have to ride through them.

Elliot Moss
…they come, but it looks like you are going to keep on going through them. Just before I let you both go, what is your song choice? I assume you have chosen one which is very clever and why have you both chosen it? How did you agree, firstly, I was going to say….

Jonathan Petrides
That was a challenge.

Alex Petrides
So, we probably could have both chosen very different things, but we have chosen to go with Thelonious Monk and Thelonious because one, we both love Jazz, love music, we were doing a big planning day and afterwards kind of settled down, went to the pub and just randomly an old chap…

Jonathan Petrides
It was so random…

Alex Petrides
…probably in his eighties, a guy called Richard who I’ve got to know since, sat down with us and just went ‘Jazz, whoa’, next word ‘Thelonious whoa’ and then the whole conversation…

Jonathan Petrides
He then literally told us about an hour long story about his life and how Jazz has been with him the whole way through and it was just incredible and so for us…

Alex Petrides
It was definitely what we needed at that time, because it was just…

Elliot Moss
You are going to invoke the spirit of Richard, here he is, it is Thelonious by Thelonious Monk.

That was Thelonious by Thelonious Monk, the song choice of my Business Shapers today, Alex Petrides and Jonathan Petrides, the brother who are the founds of allplants. They talked about an appetite for risk, you’ve got to have one of those if you are going to set your own business up. The notion of stopping, advising and wanting to do their own thing and start doing it and this brilliant thought around solving a massive problem and the notion that it wasn’t about the profit, it’s about creating a positive impact on the community around you and the wider world. All brilliant stuff. That’s it from Jazz Shapers, have a fabulous weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive. To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or head over to mishcondereya.com/jazzshapers.

Alex and Jonathan Petrides

Brothers Alex and Jonathan joined forces in 2016 to create allplants, a plant-based food delivery service that makes it effortlessly easy to eat more plants: sending chef-cooked healthy meals straight to your home or work. It was in 2016 when both brothers switched to a plant-based diet and hatched a plan to make veggies the star of the nation’s plate. allplants have now made and served over 250,000 meals nationwide. Jonathan, better known as JP, loves creating products and scaling them for social purpose; he founded Africa’s first mobile bank, helping 10million+ across East Africa move from stuffing cash under the mattress to savings and having an overdraft on their phone. He continues to build an award-winning retail health chain, Penda, serving the primary healthcare needs of families in Kenya. Alex has a background career in food; helping building Propercorn from the ground up, as one of their very first employees. After five years, helping Propercorn grow from zero to 3,000,000 packs of popcorn popped per month, Alex joined his brother to build allplants. The dishes include their Cashew Mac, Lasagne Noci and the BBQ Burrito Bowl and earlier this year, their Fiery Jerk Jackfruit and Smoky Soul Chilli won Great Taste Awards. allplant’s ethos is to help people and the planet thrive as only ¼ of Brits getting their 5-a-day, and switching to a plant-based diet is the most impactful way to reduce your environmental footprint.

Interview Highlights

Eating nothing but plants is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint.

It requires a really healthy dose of risk appetite and belief in the need to solve the problem.

It goes back to our grandfather in Cyprus. At the age of nine he left school and became a shepherd, to support his five sisters. Gradually he worked his way up to being a lorry driver, then owning a fleet of lorries, and then becoming a farmer. He was the largest grower of mushrooms and potatoes in the Mediterranean.

Our grandfather is someone who we have always both looked up to a lot and respected the impact he had on his community.

Kenya looked like the best place to go and create a solution to a problem. I started a bank from scratch at the age of 24. On reflection, I don’t really know why anyone I knew, including my parents, let me go to do that.

We signed the B Corp Charter, to make sure that every investor who comes to the table with allplants understands that we do not solely have a profit motive, and that actually we prioritise the environment and society alongside.

The B Corp is a small community of companies in the UK, but growing fast. We are having an impact but we want the movement to grow – if every company internalised all aspects of business it would transform our world.

It is no longer about meat, two veg and a carb – that is quite exciting.

People like the excitement of something new on their plate. Our attitude to food is definitely changing.

It wasn’t a mission to become spokespeople for the movement in any kind of way, it was more ‘how can we solve this in a way that is really approachable, relatable and delicious?’

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