Tell us about yourself and how you became founder of plant-based restaurant chain, Stem & Glory…
Stem & Glory is a contemporary brand – it’s the restaurant I'd always wanted to eat in, but in 35 years of searching for a decent vegan restaurant I never found one, so I created one! Stem & Glory isn’t my first business, and I've been self employed almost my entire working life. I'm very used to starting new things, and Stem & Glory evolved from some earlier incarnations of a vegan cafe I piloted within another business.
What’s the ethos of your business?
In one word, I'd say 'kindness'.
It starts with kindness to animals and the planet around us. Then extends through all of our actions, to our customers, to each other. We very much aim for everyone that comes through our door to leave feeling better than when they arrived. We are also a carbon negative business through a combination of reducing our emissions – things like only using renewable energy, using recycled and repurposed items where possible, and offsetting that which we can't reduce. Reducing our harm to the planet is part of the kindness mission.
What inspired you to go vegan?
When I was a teenager I had a friend who was a Krishna devotee. He introduced me to the idea of compassionate eating for the first time. I gave up eating meat on the spot and never went back. It was a life-affirming moment that changed the course of my life forever. Once I thought about eating animals and what that actually was, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I'd say that my compassion for other beings on this planet has only deepened over the years, and there hasn't been one single moment when I considered going back
If you had to pick a favourite recipe from the menu at Stem & Glory, what would it be?
I'm a big fan of our Blue Corn Tacos that we've just bought back onto our menu after a short hiatus. This time we've given them a Korean twist. I love the flavour bomb of spicy, creamy, crunchy, pickle and soft corn taco. It’s an absolute winner!
Caption: Mains from Stem & Glory book
What does a day-in-the-life look like behind the scenes?
Over the years, and actually since the pandemic, things are quite calm. We have most things in good order now. We have a fabulous team on the ground at both sites, and our head office team has grown considerably this year. We're mostly working on new ideas and of course new food ideas. We have a first-class chef team headed up by our exec chef, Ed who has been with us nearly three years – we're all pretty close really.
My own schedule is mostly administrative. I'm a bit of a geek and love design and marketing. I also get to do lots of fun stuff – like making our crowdfunding video which was a two-day shoot in London. We, like all hospitality, have had a lot thrown at us the past two years, but our team has endlessly risen to everything and every day we get stronger.
Tell us about your National SME Award and Heroes of Net Zero awards…
The National SME Awards ‘Best Enterprising Business’ was in December 2021 and a fantastic surprise. Our pitch was mostly our journey through the last two years as we pivoted our way through everything that came our way and ultimately emerged stronger, leaner and more profitable.
Caption: Louise Palmer-Masterson with award at the National SME Awards
The Heroes of Net Zero was also a huge honour, and I got to attend the award ceremony at COP26 – see I get to do all the fun stuff! That award was recognition of our journey to get to net zero and carbon negative, which we now are.
Any tips for those wanting to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle?
Get in the kitchen! Fall in love with lentils! Seriously though, just take small steps. For some people, like me, it’s an ‘aha’ moment that changes everything, but for others it’s a slower journey. If you're worried about making drastic change, just make gradual change. Start by going vegan two days a week, then build it up from there.
It’s very easy to buy vegan products in the supermarkets now, but honestly, compared to what you can create at home, these can be quite variable in terms of quality. So I'd urge everyone to get in the kitchen and start experimenting. I'd also recommend supporting your local vegan restaurants. Almost all vegan restaurants are small independents like us. You'll get ideas and inspiration dining at vegan restaurants.
What are your store cupboard ingredient staples?
Aforementioned lentils! I love cooking from absolute raw. I'm a big fan right now of British-grown pulses, peas, grains and beans. I don’t buy tinned – I far prefer cooking from scratch. You just need to plan a little. I'm constantly experimenting and every week I cook Sunday lunch for my extended family who are my chief tasters.
If you had to share one piece of advice from your learnings, what would it be?
Never give up – persistence always pays off.
Caption: Stem & Glory book cover
What’s ahead for 2022?
We're about to launch our biggest crowdfund to date, to fund our biggest project to date, our third site at London's Broadgate which is due to open in April this year. To date we're 100% funded by our crowd and have more than 1000 investors on board. We're also about to publish our first book, and we're aiming for 2022 to be the year that our ready meals hit the supermarkets shelves.