Emily Hazell was just 16 when she started saving for her first business. “I always knew I wanted to open a cafe or a restaurant,” she says. It was around the same time that she started experiencing mood swings and anxiety. She endured it for years before, at 21, a doctor spoke with her for 15 minutes about her mental state and recommended antidepressants.
Not one to settle for the first prognosis, Emily delved into research before switching her diet to lift her moods. “I discovered that by eating food that’s high in tryptophan – an essential amino acid and precursor to serotonin – you can recover your moods. That’s what I started doing and it changed my life,” she says.
Today, her cafe Serotonin Eatery – 20 minutes from Melbourne CBD – oozes the philosophy that you can reach optimal health with a plant-based diet that’s high in serotonin-triggering components.
But beyond serving up wholesome, happiness-inducing fare, Emily uses Serotonin Eatery as a space to teach young women about physical and mental wellbeing through education workshops – and answer the same questions she had at their age. “I teach girls who are in year 9, and I target that particular age group because that’s when it started for me. You have a lot of questions and nobody has the answers,” she says. “There’s so much diet noise out there. These girls aren’t taught much at school, and for many of them their parents have no idea. So we teach them about complex carbs, fats and sugars.
Emily, a self-proclaimed serotonin dealer, aims to steer young women away from “disordered eating”. That’s not necessarily an eating disorder, but an unhealthy relationship with food. “Many of these girls might decide to have cake now but not to have lunch,” she says. She invites them in and teaches them how to cook meals that are high in good fats, good carbs and protein – and eat in abundance.
“When you learn how to eat nutritious food, especially on a plant-based diet, you have to eat bigger servings because fruit and vegetables are so low in calories. You can eat in abundance and fall in love with food again, rather than be afraid of it.”
These girls aren’t far from the age that Emily was when she decided on her business model. She dedicated a business unit in her final year of university to creating the mockup for Serotonin. “It was actually one of my friends – though he doesn’t remember it – who told me that I should do a serotonin cafe. Because that’s what I was trying to include in the food I ate.”
The final incarnation is almost entirely true to her original image of it. There’s a park across the road where customers can take their meal and a picnic rug, and a bike path and train station nearby to minimize car travel.
That her original image of Serotonin came to life is no coincidence. Emily makes a point of putting aside a few days to herself every few months – whether it be in Byron Bay or Bali – to write down her goals for the next quarter, and assess the last’s.
“Lots of people call it goal setting but I call it manifesting. If you tell yourself you’re going to do something and you seek that out in the world, it will happen for you.”
The next goal is to set up a Serotonin in Byron Bay, and have a string of Happiness AirBnBs – some of which she has already rolled out. “The AirBnbs basically include all the things I wanted when I get to a new place – the nearest yoga classes, bike paths, healthy food options, and in-home massages and facials.”
Put us on the waiting list.
Emily wears the Chacahua Suit in olive.
You can learn more about Serotonin Eatery here.
Words by Holly Bodeker-Smith.