The site, which is called Tell Your Friends, has been just over a year in the making after reality TV star sisters Lucy and Tiffany Watson decided they wanted to bridge a gaping hole in London’s vegan dining market in April 2017.
However, after initially working on the assumption the sisters would go it alone, Lucy, Tiffany and their father Clive – executive chairman of the City Pub Group – decided to pool their experience and work together.
"I ended up meeting up with our dad and saying that we wanted his advice as how we would go about creating something like this," explains Lucy. "Obviously, we don't have any experience in that sector.
"He went away and thought about it for a while then came back and said ‘why don't we work together on this?' It became more of a collaboration between us and City Pub Group.”
The working dynamic, in Tiffany’s words, “plays to everyone’s strengths”.
While the City Pub Group will handle site management and operation, she and Lucy, who published vegan cookbook Feed Me Vegan in late 2017, provide creative vision, control over what’s on the menu and – somewhat unsurprising given their combined Instagram following is just shy of 2m – public relations.
Rise of 'green' issues
The 1 May opening of Tell Your Friends could hardly have been timed better.
Financial results for the City Pub Group indicated that 2017 was a “pivotal” year for the company – with revenue rising by 35% to £37.4m and adjusted pre-tax profit up by 102% over the 53 weeks to 31 December.
The seven openings earmarked for 2018 mean the group has a pipeline that’s guaranteed to take it’s portfolio size to 41 sites in total as the company looks to double its collection of pubs and restaurants by 2021.
The group’s first all-vegan site also opens as ‘green’ and environmental issues such the banning of single-use plastics such as straws and stirrers are on industry lips.
"City Pub Group have never done anything like this before and they see that the industry is moving into more of a healthy direction as veganism is on the rise," says Lucy.
"We hope it will have a positive impact on the company’s pubs. I know they're getting rid of all their plastic straws throughout the company, which is amazing, and they're introducing more vegan and vegetarian options in all their pubs, so I guess Tell Your Friends is opening their eyes to another side of food and hopefully it'll spread.
"I think that everyone in this industry has a responsibility to the environment in terms of their use of plastic and materials that are harmful to the planet. We take that really seriously.
“It's closely related to veganism and moving forwards we definitely want to make sure we are as conscious as we can be.
“It's really important to us and we think it should be to anyone else in this industry."
Lack of vegan restaurants
A vegetarian since childhood, Lucy became vegan around three years ago with Tiffany quickly following suit. With father Clive’s experience in the hospitality industry, the best solution the pair could find to the lack of vegan eateries in London was to open their own.
"Lucy initially came up with the idea and kept saying to me 'I think it would be such a good idea, I think it would do really well',” says Tiffany. “I agreed completely that there was definitely a need for more vegan restaurants in London."
"I feel like there definitely needs to be more and especially the area that we live in,” Lucy adds. “There are a lot more in east and central London, which is great, but I think the number of vegans is rising every day."
While catering for the disproportionately high number of vegans living in London – a survey conducted in 2016 by the Vegan Society found that there are about 542,000 dietary vegans in the UK, of which nearly a quarter live in the capital – the Tell Your Friends menu isn’t designed exclusively for them.
Featuring chicken bites (jackfruit with a hemp and sunflower crumb), burgers (made from bean patties and cashew cheese) and fish and chips (breaded banana blossom and cashew tartare sauce), the menu aims to strike a chord with non-vegan diners as well as the core audience.
“I think having that familiarity is nice,” says Lucy. “We don't need to have any false advertising but recreating versions of people's meals that they used to eat all the time is what we wanted to do."
Tiffany adds: "I think it's getting a balance – you don't want to confuse people and then have non-vegans come in and think they're in a non-vegan restaurant. If you're careful and make it quite clear to people what it is then I think it's a good way to do it.”
Location, location, location
Though Tell Your Friends occupies prime real estate on the New King's Road, close to Parsons Green tube station, a home for a vibrant, neon-lit vegan venue – that also hosts yoga classes – hasn’t been easy to come by.
"Finding a location was quite difficult,” says Tiffany. “We struggled with that quite a bit. We took it quite seriously because I think finding a location that fits our original idea was a really important part of the process.
"There have been a few delays, which are always frustrating because you're so excited. You have your vision and just want to get it going – it's just having to learn to be really patient, just go with the flow and, if delays happen, working with them.
Lucy adds: "We've learnt that we can't really have things set in stone, we have to be flexible because we have to allow for issues within the site or outside of that – there are so many things that can arise during a process like this.”
The search for design inspiration, however, wasn’t as geographically restricted as their hunt for the perfect site.
"We got a lot of our influences from abroad, more internationally.” Tiffany explained. “Lucy and I love to travel a lot and, when we do, we always want to check out the vegan restaurants. We got info from travelling, going to vegan restaurants abroad and then tried to take that back here.
"We loved Australia, in particular Sydney and Melbourne, New York, Los Angeles. Those are the ones that stood out for us and that we took our main inspiration from.”