The founders of Redemption, which has three venues across London, serving vegan, refined sugar-free and wheat-free food with alcohol-free bars, tell Emma Lake about sticking to their principles and changing consumer attitudes
You were one of the first operators to open a completely vegan, alcohol-free establishment. What convinced you that the market would be there?
All the trends were moving in the same direction globally – towards a healthier lifestyle, led by the youth. All the way along people have said to us, ‘why don’t you just have cow’s milk?’, or ‘why don’t you just have one wine on the menu?’, but the stupidity/bravery (depending on your point of view) was in sticking to a very clear proposition that yes, was niche, but distinctive and designed for the future.
There are lots of plant-based businesses that have started up, but even now, no other brand is able to match our proposition of “you can’t make a bad decision for yourself or the planet”.
How have you seen consumer attitudes change in the five years you’ve been in business?
People were more curious to begin with, then they became quite impressed with the idea. Then the people with healthy lifestyles started taking an interest (vegans, personal trainers, nutritionists, life coaches) and then it became trendy with the Instagrammers, influencers and celebrities. In the past year or so it has exploded into the mainstream, with people of a wide variety of ages and lifestyles giving it a go.
What challenges did cutting out alcohol, sugar and wheat present?
[Waters says:] The exclusion of all these elements does make it very hard, but the challenge is what makes my job so interesting and what makes us so distinctive.
It’s always exciting to push the boundaries. I’ve learned through experimenting what to use as substitutes for traditional refined sugar – there’s not one ingredient that fits all recipes, so it’s knowing when to use Medjool dates in salted caramels or coconut sugar in cakes or maple syrup in meringues. Luckily, we are seeing an increasing number of fantastic, innovative ingredients coming out from forward-thinking suppliers.
You’ve just opened your third venue in London’s Seven Dials. Tell us about it
We were approached by [real estate owner] Shaftesbury Estates to create this flagship in the centre of London. It feels like Redemption is realising its potential; we can bring the entire “spoil yourself without spoiling yourself” vision to life.
The 45-cover restaurant is open for brunch, lunch and dinner with a different offering throughout the day. It also showcases a modern high-end deli takeaway section, offering an array of nutritious dishes, from raw desserts to build your own Buddha bowl using a range of seasonal vegetables, fruit, pulse-based salads,
nuts, seeds and homemade dips. We are showcasing innovative new functional foods on the menu, such as charcoal powder, pine pollen and adaptogenic mushrooms in our coffee.
As well as this food offering, the world’s first alcohol-free cocktail bar is offering a wide range of boozeless cocktails, including the pious piña colada, seafoam sour and Three Spirits espresso martini. Plus there’ll be kombucha on tap and a selection of alcohol-free beers, wines and spirits.
How have you seen the attitudes of those in the industry change?
When we first started, we were laughed out of most boardrooms. Most industry people thought we were mad on the alcohol-free thing because of the lack of easy profits from alcohol. Even when we were pointing out people were going to be drinking less and less, a lot of people didn’t believe us, or want to believe us.
However, our experience shone through and we were able to persuade some forward-thinking investors to get us started. Once the model had been proven with the pop-ups, we were able to bring more investment on board for our first site. Then we started to get asked to speak at industry events and words like ‘visionary’ started to be used. When we were looking for funding last year, quite a few investors said they knew people who had turned vegan, or they had turned vegan themselves, or they didn’t drink, and so on. So they were able to relate to it. It’s been a fascinating social experiment and journey.
Where do you see the free-from/health markets going in the next few years?
Hopefully, this is the start of humans deeply thinking about what they are consuming, the effects of that on the planet, and applying that to every part of their lives, including socialising.
What are your ambitions?
Last year we wrote a book, we did a crowdfunding raise and we launched our flagship third site. In the immediate future we’d like to concentrate on making the three sites amazing.
We’d love to work with a co-working office space and an urban hotel chain. We are working on the idea of doing ethical franchising, creating a network of vegan entrepreneurs. The next territories on our hit list are the Baltics, India, Australia, the Middle East and the US.
Waters grew up in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, where she ran a health food store with her mum. She would go on to train as a chef, working in kitchens before setting out to travel the world.
She worked in Sydney before travelling to London, where she cooked for John Frieda in his Mayfair salon before taking on the role of head of food for Pitcher & Piano, and after its sale moving to help grow the Tootsies brand. On starting Redemption she explains: “On becoming a new mum I went back to my interest in holistic health and wellbeing, focusing on whole, raw and vegan food. It is this passion that I’ve been able to apply to Redemption, backed up with my hardcore
hospitality background. I love inventing new blends and combinations to optimise flavour and nutritional benefit. I’m in my element.”
Salway previously worked as group brand director for Virgin, launching businesses around the world. After 17 years with the company she wanted to start her own business. She explains: “As I was doing research in 2012 I began to notice there was a gap in the hospitality market for healthy socialising. Even something simple like if you had been on a healthy holiday, or been to the gym,
there weren’t any restaurant bars in London where you could keep up the good work. I met Andrea and learned a lot about nutrition. We did our research and put together a menu and a space away from temptation.”