Londoners embrace meatless options as vegan food businesses flourish

They are small independent food businesses in London, but they are part of a big food trend and they are being embraced by London diners.

The vegan food movement in London has spawned businesses that have braved the challenge of the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders of the COVID-19 pandemic, to grow sales.

“The sector is growing. You go to the store now and there are so many choices, so many options. There is more of an appetite,” said Glenn Whitehead, owner of two vegan restaurants and a third take-out location, all doing steady business during the pandemic, he said.

“I do think this pandemic, and most pandemics, help raise awareness, make people more aware,” of their diet, he said.

The V Spot, now located on Hamilton Road, has moved three times since it opened four years ago as it needed more space. Sales since March are up more than 20 per cent at the take-out vegan food business, said Andy Paquet, who owns the business with his partner Dana Inglis.

Another business, Plantworthy Foods, has developed a vegan powdered cheese sauce it is selling online, but business is so brisk owner Andrew Zuk is looking to expand to a stall at The Market at Western Fair District.

“For people who have a hard time moving from a traditional diet to plant-based, a cheese sauce is one thing they don’t have to give up,” he said of the sauce, made from cashews.

“We are hitting a gap in the market.”

The powdered cheese sauce does not have to be refrigerated and keeps for up to six months, Zuk said.

During two months in business, he has sold more than 1,000 pouches and has nearly 20,000 followers on Facebook.

An engineer by training, Zuk began cooking for his wife, a vegan, and decided to make a product from the vegan cheese sauce.

“We will see where this goes. I value my engineering job, but I like to keep busy. I see no reason I can’t juggle a few things at once.”

As for V Spot, Paquet’s business opened at a counter in a variety store at Clarence and Dundas streets, then moved to the rear of the Laundromat Café on Hamilton Road. It outgrew that after two years. It is now in a 185-square-metre shop at 413 Hamilton Rd.

“We have had a few great years and we needed the space,” he said. “We have definitely seen growth. Having a stand-alone restaurant has increased our visibility. We are definitely on an upward trajectory.”

Paquet credits a growing awareness about food and diet and more people wanting plant-based options in their meat-heavy dining rotation.

“More people are trying it and we are also better at it now. The food is better,” he said. “We hear a lot, ‘My wife and I are trying to eat more vegan.’ ”

Another London food vegan business, Nuts for Cheese, makes and sells cheese wedges made from cashews. It announced in June it landed a deal to supply U.S. food stores with its vegan cheeses, a move that may see the business grow five-fold. It also added two non-dairy butter products to its lineup.

Whitehead has been impressed by the Plantworthy Foods cheese sauces, saying he is looking at using it in his kitchens.

“They hit the market, out of the blue, quickly and seem to be spreading on social media,” he said. “It is affordable and can be embraced by non-vegans.”

Whitehead owns Plant Matter Kitchen on Wortley Road, Plant Matter Café on Richmond and take-out place Soul Kitchen on Dundas Street downtown that used to be a dine-in restaurant until the pandemic took office workers from the core.

“We made a pivot in November” when the downtown eatery reopened for take-out, Whitehead said. “We are seeing traction now. It’s up and down, but it’s covering the bills. I am happy.”

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