‘We need to be busier than ever to break even'

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

What's going on at vegan pub the Spread Eagle

Related tags Food London Finance

London’s first vegan pub just celebrated its busier summer on record, but despite this, it has not been making any money.

With just a small beer garden, its owner Luke McLoughlin describes the Spread Eagle in Homerton, east London, as a “bad weather pub”. This meant the rainy spells of July and August saw more guests than usual through the doors.  

However, due to rising costs, McLoughlin said the pub had not made any money.

He said: “We need to be busier than we’ve ever been to break even.”

Since the pandemic, McLoughlin said he’d seen more people spending at the pub as they didn’t have to commute to the West End.

The venue is seen as a ‘vegan destination’, with customers coming from as far as Morocco, Japan and Canada to see what it had to offer.

The busiest day of the week at the pub is Sunday, but it takes more money on a Saturday. Many guests had come in for Sunday roasts over summer, which McLoughlin hadn’t seen before.

However, he had noticed they weren’t ordering as much food, and spend per head was down.

Keeping things accessible

He added: “Who knows where it’s going to lead. It’s going to be challenging.”

While the operator found this frustrating, he said it was better than charging £10 for a pint.

For McLoughlin, it was important for pubs to make sure they were still accessible. He said: “We don’t want to price people out of the market”.

He also didn’t want to alienate customers. When he first took over the pub, he didn’t rebrand for a few months. “We wanted to make sure the regulars were happy with what we were doing,” he said.

Many regulars now come to the pub, including one man who drinks there every day, and another woman who has drunk there since before McLoughlin was born.

'Hospitality's on the ropes'

What’s more, since Brexit, finding staff has been a “nightmare”. McLoughlin’s head chef was leaving, and he’d waved goodbye to many workers who had returned to their home countries.

“Looking for a replacement is a challenge,” he said. “Finding good people is hard.”

How does he feel about the future of business? He said: “Some days I feel confident, other days I don’t. But I think we’re doing the right thing – our heart is in the right place, but the whole hospitality sector at the minute is on the ropes.”

The Spread Eagle makes most of its money over the winter period. McLoughlin hopes a strong trade will help tie them over next summer.

He added: “Life is going to be tough for the next few years, but if we’re still here in five years’ time, six years’ time, I’ll be really happy.”

Rates relief from the Government could help the sector, said the operator, and if the VAT relief that was in place during Covid came back that would be “really useful”.

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