Behind the Scenes with Vetomeato

When Justin and Natalie met, Justin was living in a garage after battling with alcohol addiction and Natalie was struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food. They would never have guessed they’d end up opening a vegan restaurant together in central London, with the mission to make plant-based food accessible and affordable to all.

You first met while Justin was living in a rented garage following a battle with alcohol. How much has both your backstories contributed to where you are now?

It was a very timely moment in both of our lives. From my perspective (Natalie), I was working through a lengthy and unhealthy relationship with food and trying to approach health in a more holistic way. Exercise allowed me to shift how I understood my body more towards what it was able to do, realigning how I perceived health and general wellbeing. From here, I qualified as a personal trainer and studied nutrition and cooking formally. Whilst I am not a chef (we have excellent Head Chef, Ben Dawney), this experience has helped shaped the ethos of Vetomeato which is celebratory about food and positive about the planet, aiming to offer a balanced approach eating out.

Justine felt like he had a second chance and was so grateful for that. Time is short, so it’s important to do something that gives back to the planet. And it gives people pleasure at the same time!

Justin said that it was the catering industry that brought him to rock bottom. What made you decide it was time to come back to it?

All of Justin’s experience was within the industry; it’s in his blood and he won several national awards whilst promoting bars. Despite an initial hesitation, it became clear we could utilise this skillset in a positive way.

Even mainstream high street restaurants and cafes now cater for vegans, so what have you done with Vetomeato to make sure you stand out?

The breadth of vegan offerings on the high-street has grown dramatically but having said that, some of these chains miss the mark. As we looked around, we saw two challenges to eating great plant-based food: 

The first was venues focusing on just one product (such as a burger) or solely on fast food. Of course, burgers are an absolute classic but we didn’t want to endorse an unhealthy diet. We do serve burgers and kebabs but we have been careful to make them nutritiously balanced and offer healthier, vegetable-led options too. We serve familiar dishes that you want to eat on repeat that riffs on classic street and comfort foods from around the world. By catering to different taste buds and ages we know that Vetomeato can be a place to eat with friends and families, for both those who are vegan and for those who are flexitarian too.

The second challenge was pricing and this is where we stand out. We grew frustrated seeing vegan options priced equally (or higher in some cases) to meat options on menus. We never want cost to be a barrier to people eating well: our motto is “food from the earth shouldn’t cost the earth”. We’re based in central London and by pricing our main dishes at just £7 we know that this offers more people the opportunity to try our food and make veganism more accessible too.

 

How important was your vegan mission in opening the venue? Are you setting out mainly to sell to vegans, or is it important you bring more people over to the plant-side?

We have an open-house approach and want everyone to feel welcome. Our kitchen is 100% plant-based and we have been certified by Vegan-friendly UK. Whilst we have a tongue-in-cheek name, we have found that a range of people eat with us. Countless times people have eaten our food and not realised it was a vegan menu or they’ve tasted our burger and stated they would happily eat meat-free if vegan food tasted like this. Equally, vegans seem to appreciate the balanced approach to the menu and the variety on offer.  They can eat safe in the knowledge that the kitchen is animal-free. Our ultimate aim is to communicate the benefits and deliciousness of turning your plates plant-based through our food.

Countless times people have eaten our food and not realised it was a vegan menu or they’ve tasted our burger and stated they would happily eat meat-free if vegan food tasted like this.

You’ve managed to keep your overheads down through a very innovative arrangement with an existing venue, meaning you can use the same space in central London and be open when they are not. How does that work?

Since launching we have collaborated with bars and pubs and utilised their existing kitchens. The principle allows us to have a light-touch environmentally, which we are of course very conscious of. In this respect less is definitely more. We haven’t gone out and refurbished a building at huge expense to ourselves or the planet: instead, we opened with some simple branding and let the food do the talking.

 

How do you navigate running a business with your life partner? Have you got any advice for other couples wanting to start a vegan business together?

It has certainly had some highs and lows! I would recommend making time for one another away from the business and try to set boundaries for work.

Going for a short walk at the end of the working day allows you to talk out any issues and put the day to bed, so to speak!  It’s not easy, especially in the early stages, but our respective challenges in the past have taught us that you can’t pour from an empty cup!  

Learn more about Vetomeato at their website: www.vetomeato.com

Lisa Fox says:

Natalie and Justin wanted to make vegan food more affordable to all, but more accessible for pre-vegans too. They saw a gap for meals which aren’t the usual junk-food, creating a wide menu where all options are affordable and accessible whilst at the same time creating a business model which means they don’t have all the costs of a physical property.

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