Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I stopped eating meat on the spot when I was a teenager when I was introduced by a friend to the idea of compassionate eating for the first time. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments that changed the course of my life forever. That one moment also started a lifelong journey of a love of cooking plant-based foods, which eventually became Stem & Glory. Even earlier than this though, when I was age 11, I did yoga for the first time. This had a similar impact on me in that it made me realise there was more to life than I had hitherto been told.
I was at a super-high achieving school at the time, and this one moment gave me a glimpse of a way of being way beyond everything I had known. To this day, I am enormously grateful to the teacher that taught me that first (off curriculum) yoga class, it has stayed with me like it was yesterday, as have the practices of mindfulness, meditation, and breathwork. In terms of what happened next, I have been self-employed for my entire working life, and I have run various businesses over the years, including an arts-funded digital media company and a multi-site leisure business.
What made you decide to open a plant-based restaurant and then follow up with a second location in the heart of London?
It was a gradual evolution over a number of years. I had been experimenting with a cafe within my multisite business spaces for a number of years. The opportunity eventually presented itself to open a proper public restaurant space so we grasped that with both hands. Right from the start, everyone loved it, and it was abundantly clear there was a huge demand for what we were doing.
The idea of more than one site was familiar territory given my other business. The reason we chose London is that, although London is better served by vegan establishments than many places, it’s still massively underserved. Plus, I could never find the kind of restaurant I wanted to eat in!
Do you have plans to open any more restaurants?
Yes definitely! We are moving to a new and larger site in Cambridge, and we also have a third site on the cards. We’ve also been approached to franchise into Europe which is something I am really excited about.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first opened and how did you overcome it?
I get asked this a lot, but I really do not think in terms of challenges. If you are running a business and see everything in terms of challenges, you will probably get disheartened very quickly. I am very curious by nature, there is not much that can’t be solved by looking at it from all sides to find a solution. Often challenges are of our own making and can be solved by changing our own mindset.
I am also a big believer in the path of least resistance. If you find things keep getting put in your way, best alter your path slightly. And don’t ever take anything personally! Running a business is similar to project management. Most things can be mitigated by looking at everything in advance in all their possible forms and permutations to ensure you have thought of everything. Persistence is key to all success.
Stem & Glory is a great name, where did that idea come from?
Well, the truth is we were batting around a list of words between myself, my partner, and a design friend of mine who did our original logo. We were already fairly sure we wanted a ‘something & something’ name. My friend sent me the list of words and as I scanned down the list, there was the word ‘stem’, and the next word on the list was ‘glory’ and that was it. I read them out together as Stem & Glory and in an instant we had it. Everyone absolutely loved it when we presented it to them, right to this day.
Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular. What do you think has caused this change over the last five years and how have you as a business benefited from it?
When I first gave up eating meat, it was for the animals. And back then that was really the only reason people did it. But over the years, as both better health and climate change became compelling reasons to eat more plant-based foods, we have arrived in a place where there are now three good reasons to eat more plant-based. Whereas people will cite their own freedom of choice with regard to eating animals, environmental concerns are something we can’t really pass off as ‘choice’.
Plant-based eating is a simple and effective way to mitigate an individual’s impact on our planet. I guess we have benefitted from this as a business, but it was not a cynical business calculation to surf the trend or anything like that. I think people were ready for more gastronomic vegan cuisine, as vegan food had a pretty bad rep over the years. We had a fairly long evolution with veganism in Cambridge over a number of years, and Cambridge always had its long-standing vegan movement. The whole thing naturally evolved and continues to evolve.
Your online store offers great variety. What is the most popular item?
Our most popular main currently is our Bourguignon & celeriac mash. But our kimchi pancakes recipe kit is very, very popular. We also just launched an artisan pasta and pizza section and both of these are flying. We will launch pizza in the restaurants too once we open again.
If a non-vegan entered the restaurant what would you recommend?
The aforementioned Bourguignon would be a good choice, as would our Goan curry. But all our food is pretty accessible really. And of course, there is pizza!
How would you describe the London vegan food scene?
The London food scene is amazing, and we are very happy to be a very small part of it. Vegan food is thriving in London and constantly evolving too. Flexitarians make up the majority of our London customers, and we see people and businesses alike selecting plant-based as their go-to dining option.
We are a travel-focused publication so we must ask, what is your favourite holiday destination and why?
I did a lot of travelling when I was younger and I have been fortunate enough to have visited some of the most beautiful places on Earth. These days I love cities, my children too. I just love the buzz of cities, and of course always an excuse for a vegan food tour! Right up there in my favourites are Berlin, Nice, Amsterdam, and Brooklyn. We’ve also had loads of fun in Glasgow and Seville. Proper family holidays which include my husband and our three whippets are always in the UK, Norfolk, Cornwall, and this year, actually, to the Lake District.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Palmer-Masterton is the founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible wholefood plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients. Stem & Glory also offers a range of ready meals and recipe kits available for delivery across the UK.