Institutions Are Made By People

For lunch today we went—for the last time ever—to The Green Kitchen, the best vegan cafe in Brighton. Actually, just the best cafe in Brighton. Katie, the morris-dancing lesbian owner, came over for a hug and said farewell, Cody, the front-of-house, showed us pictures of his parrot. CM and I cried. As always, the food took forever but it was incredible. Some old staff came in for their last meal there and the tallest one was conscripted to help get some things off the shelves.

The Green Kitchen has been around since the summer of 2016, but it's set away from the centre of town; off from Preston Circus, so I didn't go there first until I went with CM in (I think) 2020. It was crunchy in tone but not in culinary style—by which I think I mean the owners are very sincere vegans but who can actually cook. It wasn't hip graphic design cool vegan—there was a mural on the shutters of a woman hugging a cow and there were leaflets for animal cruelty charities all over the place—but you weren't getting served seed bread. I feel like many places you have to choose profound sincerity or good food; there you got both.

The Green Kitchen was a crunchy vegan cafe run by morris-dancing lesbians. If you can think of a kind of place more worthy of being called a Brighton institution, I'm struggling. But institutions are made by people, and this one seemed to be eating them alive. Running a cafe seems like a hard job wherever and whenever you are, especially if you want to do everything in what you'd consider "the right way". Reading their Instagram post about it, I found it tremendously sad that Katie had to choose to shut it down so that she could actually spend time with her family.

She's not the only one making those kinds of choices, though: Wai Kika Moo Kau, a vegetarian cafe in the North Laine, shut a couple of weeks back, as did Twin Pines over on St James' Street; Neighbourhood, Isaac At and Semolina shut down late last year, and there's almost certainly more I'm forgetting, too. Some of these places have been around for decades—they're quality establishments with dedicated customers. But the city's economic environment doesn't seem to be able to nurture these kinds of places. If Brighton can't sustain a crunchy vegan cafe run by morris-dancing lesbians, I genuinely fear for the city's soul.

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