This week I’m interviewing the delightful Louise Palmer- Masterton, founder of the hip and trendy plant-based Stem & Glory Restaurants. The food always looks colourful and inviting – like miniature works of art in food form – almost too good to be eaten! This is gourmet vegan food at its finest. Hi Louise & welcome….
Hello, I am Louise. I am the founder of Stem & Glory, a UK originating vegan restaurant brand, which is also making inroads into the retail space with branded ready meals and products. Stem & Glory isn’t my first business, I’ve been self-employed my entire working life, and last year exited my previous business, a multi-site leisure business, selling it in its entirety.
Being a long time vegan, what made you decide to embrace the vegan lifestyle?
I had a friend in my teens 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 looked back. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments that changed the course of my life forever. Whilst there are many reasons I remain vegan, the main reason is, and always was, for the animals. I cannot reconcile how anyone can purport to love animals and yet still eat them. I have a strong connection to the other species on this planet. I find the sheer scale of animal abuse by humans in pursuit of taste and flavour deeply upsetting. We really do not need to eat animals at all.
As founder of the trendy plant-based restaurants, Stem & Glory; what inspired you to open restaurants serving gut friendly, plant based food?
It’s a passion project, most definitely. I’ve followed the growth of the plant-based movement in this country for almost 40 years, and through that time have experimented with plant-based cuisine (I am not a trained chef but cooking is my passion). I’ve had the idea of a restaurant rolling around in my head for a very long time. Stem & Glory is the manifestation of all that research and passion. I am also very motivated by the idea of community, so Stem & Glory is also a space for like-minded people to come together. Good things happen in restaurants, and they play a huge part in our enjoyment of one another’s company.
Recently in my local supermarket there has been a promotional “push” towards plant-based meals. As you are an expert in the field of plant-based nutrition, what do you feel are the main benefits to follow a vegan/plant based diet?
I am not an expert in nutrition in that I am not trained in that discipline, however I do have something to say on the subject as I have followed this lifestyle for so many years, and also given birth twice during that period. The main benefit I believe is to the planet. So, whatever you might feel about animals, or health, it’s undeniable that adopting a plant-based diet is the single most important step an individual can make in lowering their carbon impact. When it comes to health, it’s an important step towards eating healthier BUT it’s important to eat a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds to ensure you are getting the right balance of nutrition. A lot of what is in the supermarkets currently is heavily processed plant-based fake meat products, and whilst I do believe these play a part in helping people to eat less animal produce, I don’t believe they necessarily represent healthy eating choices. Natural, unprocessed plant-based ingredients are always the best. At Stem & Glory we use natural ingredients and gut friendly probiotics such as ferments to give a flavoursome AND healthy experience.
The menus available at Stem & Glory feature some delicious colourful dishes – I adore the Buffalo Cauliflower Wings – and the Squash Goan Curry is on my list to try! What dishes seem to be most popular?
The Goan curry is very popular, but the most popular dishes at both sites are our lasagne (which is no ordinary lasagne by the way, it’s made with roasted celeriac sheets instead of pasta), our pulled mushroom bao burger, the sticky tempeh ‘ribs’ and the cauliflower buffalo wings. We try and balance fine, edgy new experiences, with more traditional ideas, with a twist, as people will always love familiar, comforting options.
I love that on your website there are recipes of some of the dishes on your menu. Do you have a favourite dish?
My favourite dish on our current menu is probably the Kimchi pancakes which is a dish that has been with us since we started. It’s an absolute legend! My all-time favourite dish though is our Blue corn Tacos which will be reappearing on the menu again soon. They’re a perfect combination of flavours and textures.
How have your restaurants coped during lockdown?
Initially the closure was shocking to all hospitality businesses. But by the end of April, withsome funds in the bank, and the first furlough payments to our employees, things started to look up and we started to plan the future with renewed energy.
We had been planning our online marketplace and delivery portal for a while, but last year were too busy to dedicate much time to it. During May and June, we were able to fully focus on this. At the same time there was an absolute explosion of new technology for the food and beverage sector, so finally it was possible to integrate all our systems to create a seamless customer experience of online ordering, delivery, click and collect and also at table order and pay.
We took on new partner, Afroditi Krassa, to do a complete branding and design overhaul, so that when we open again we could hit the ground running with all new tech, new look and feel, and completely notch up the brand to a whole new level.
We were very fortunate to have supportive landlords throughout the lockdown, so we were spared the pressure of rent. The hiatus also allowed us to go back to the landlords of our proposed third site and renegotiate a very favourable deal. And the landlords of a new location in Cambridge that we had been eyeing came to us with a really great package, which we snapped up. The new site in Cambridge will allow us to build our new brand model with our online platform capability built in.
We were also fortunate to be awarded a post-Covid capital grant by Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority, so that combined with the landlord package meant we are able to move swiftly to occupation at the new site later this year.
The final piece in the jigsaw has been launching a fundraise on Seedrs. It hit its target in less than an hour, and we are now 217% funded. We would love to get to 500% funded, so watch this space!
You have restaurants in Cambridge & London and you have a brand new Covid-safe site opening in Cambridge in October. Have you any plans to open other restaurants in other locations?
The other positive to come out of this crisis is the shift in relationship between landlord and tenant. We’ve now had approaches from some of the major landlords in the UK, with some very attractive offers on the table. Landlords and tenants have both become more appreciative of each other. A game change for us is that landlords are now willing to put in capital towards fit outs which means faster expansion is possible. We are seeking partnerships rather than one sided relationships, and landlords are very willing now to have these conversations. We’ve been viewing sites all over the country, so watch this space…
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
My guilty fashion secret is G-Star! I wear almost exclusively that label and it’s a running joke in my family. I do also favour baggy and harem pants, and stray from G-Star a little for those. I like things that dress up or down. I am definitely not someone that wears ‘normal’ clothes. My style is quite androgenous. Non-binary wasn’t a term in my youth, but it is a term I identify with and support my two daughters to do the same. Shoes, obviously vegan, I wear G-Star trainers, again, and also Converse. I am a big walker so footwear has to be good for walking. Occasionally I wear ridiculously high platforms when going out. But still with androgenous clothing.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (apart from your own!)
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
What’s next on my list is not buying anything. I am moving rapidly towards a more sustainable lifestyle. I have everything I need for now. One of the reasons I like G-Star is they were amongst the first to use recycled materials, and clothing from ocean plastic. I am definitely making more sustainable, environmental buying choices these days, and will support other brands doing the same. My daughter is keen on fashion, and she remakes and upcycles old clothes which I am super supportive of too.
Boots or Shoes?
Trainers – have to be able to take a brisk walk wherever I am.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter/ instagram etc so that readers can find out more about Stem & Glory.
All our social handles are the same on all platforms
Order online at www.stemandglory .uk
Visit our Seedrs pitch
Linked in: /louisepalmer-masterton
Thank you for chatting to us Louise. The dishes look mouth watering – kudos to your chefs!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Louise Palmer-Masterton