But award-winning marketer and prolific vegan entrepreneur, Loui Blake, has swiftly debunked the claims – branding the plethora of articles as ‘weak’.
“First thing that I notice in the article is that it doesn’t state a specific study proving that vegan restaurants are closing. All it does is reference one burger restaurant that shut in Reading,” Blake told Plant Based News.
“It loosely contains a quote from a UK hospitality group that I’ve never heard of, saying that vegan restaurants are going to struggle if they purely market to vegan customers. Well of course they are. Any restaurant that targets a niche group will have the same problem.”
Blake, the brainchild behind plant-based eateries Erpingham House and Kalifornia Kitchen, also noted the many variables that play a part in a restaurant’s success.
“Location, rent, size, opening times, offerings. There are so many variables – it’s not simply down to it being vegan,” he explains.
“Location is a huge role to play in it. In London, it’s much easier to be a purely vegan restaurant for vegans but places outside of London, like Reading and Norwich, it has to be a restaurant that caters for a wider audience.
“It can still be vegan, and it’s not necessary just the food offering that allows it to appeal to a broader market, it’s the way the offering is presented, it’s the decor, it’s the wording, the branding. It’s a whole host of things that go into making it appeal to a bigger audience than purely vegans.”
The business owner also draws attention to the hospitality industry’s decline – stating ‘more restaurants are closing than ever before’. The Guardian attributed this to ‘rising costs and economic uncertainty’ last year – stating on average, two restaurants a week closed from the beginning of the year to the end of March.
“But that’s consistent across the board: it’s not purely vegan restaurants. It’s a consistent theme throughout all types of restaurants,” Blake affirms.
“On that note – the articles reference one vegan restaurant that has shut, but fails to mention the number of plant-based restaurants that are remaining open and flourishing.
“You’ve got places like What The Pita and Biff’s Jack Shack – and a whole host of other vegan restaurants that have opened in the last two years but continue to thrive and open additional sites.”
American food chain, By Chloe is another strong example. The eatery has opened two vegan restaurants in London as part of its $13 million expansion outside the US – stating it received ‘thousands of requests’ to come to the UK.
Appealing to a mainstream audience
Blake’s success speaks for itself – with his three-story vegan restaurant in Norwich outliving high-street chains such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Carluccious, and Prezzo – all of which have closed in last few years.
“The thing that I have noticed with Erpingham House and Kalifornia Kitchen is in order to be successful: you have to appeal to a mainstream audience,” Blake adds.
“You can’t simply appeal to a vegan audience. So what we’ve done to mitigate that is make our restaurant offering based around health and sustainability (which happens to be vegan). Not a ‘vegan food for vegans’ approach – and I think that’s the important position to take.”