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Heavy lifting: How a bodybuilder turned pandemic job loss into a thriving vegan food business

Paolo Iudiciani, a temporary visa holder started his vegan food business with his partner Silvia after both of them lost their jobs on the same day in March. Source: YouVegan

An Italian couple on temporary visas say losing their jobs at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic brought them a "perfect opportunity" to start their own vegan food business which they say has gotten off to a good start.

Born in a tiny village in Italy’s central mountains, Paolo Iudiciani moved to Australia in 2015, and in less than five years in the country, saw his fitness dream come true. 

In 2018, he won the Western Australia bodybuilding championship, and then the world championship in South Korea the following year. 

  The 39-year old gym instructor applied for his permanent residency in Australia under the Distinguished Talent visa program and, while living in Perth, fell in love with Silvia, a 26-year-old compatriot from Verona. 

Paolo says his life was just the way he wanted it to be.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic began and on the day Paolo lost his job as a fitness trainer at a Perth gym, his partner Silvia – a waitress – also found herself jobless on 23 March. 

As temporary visa holders, neither of the two could count on the government’s help. So, they decided not to despair over it.

“The first thing we purchased was the gym equipment we needed to exercise at home,” Paolo told SBS Italian.

“Then we considered our options. On the other side of a crisis is always an opportunity, so as we became unemployed overnight, we saw the chance to do what we both really wanted,” he said. 

Italian nationals Silvia and Paolo have started their vegan food business after the couple lost their jobs on the same day at the start of COVID-19 lockdown.
Italian nationals Silvia and Paolo started their vegan food business after the couple lost their jobs on the same day, at the start of COVID-19 lockdown.
Paolo Iudiciani

A year and a half ago, the couple stopped eating meat, dairy and poultry - turning to a completely plant-based diet.

"We were always determined to share our passion for a healthy lifestyle, good food habits and body care," says Paolo.

He says being unemployed because of the COVID-19 lockdown meant a perfect opportunity to start their own vegan food business.  

After practising cooking meals at their Perth apartment for a few days, they made a small financial investment to rent a commercial kitchen and started preparing their vegan meals under their own brand – YouVegan. 

As Paolo took charge of the logistical and creative aspects, such as the branding and the webpage, Silvia devoted herself to promoting the business on social media.

Leveraging her family’s long hospitality experience, she also took care of the recipes.

"The menu is very varied and it changes every two weeks. It includes not only Italian dishes, such as eggplant parmigiana, but ranges from the Indian dahl to burritos and shepherd's pie, not to mention the desserts," says Silvia.

She says since making their first sale of seven meals to a single customer five months ago, they are now preparing hundreds of vegan meals every week, selling throughout the WA capital.

"We buy fresh food, cook it and on the same day, we deliver it to our customers. Veganism is becoming more and more popular even among gymgoers,” says Paolo.

"During this unfortunate time, many people finally valued their well-being and started taking good care of their health. That's how we were able to grow this much starting from zero,” he says.

Though since the lifting of the first lockdown in WA, gyms have opened again and Paolo has his job back, he is only working there on a part-time basis and wants to invest his time and effort in building up the fledgeling food business.

“We strongly believe in what we do because it's a dream we always wanted to fulfil. But our project is much bigger than just this and we want to continue to invest time and energies in it.”

“Even when the crisis is completely over, we want to see the business grow. After all, if you can take the chance and you have the right attitude, you will certainly be successful,” the couple says.

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