In the nineties it was all about Atkins, but these days vegan living is topping the charts. At the beginning of 2018, the Guardian reported that half of adults in the UK are now adopting ‘vegan-buying behaviour’ as the number of full-time vegans has grown four-fold in the last 10 years. With a growing demand for dairy-free milks and eggs becoming passé, many restaurants are introducing more vegan options to keep up with the trend. In London, we started with Mildred’s and Manna, but American brand by CHLOE. is the latest on the scene, with a prime spot in Covent Garden and a second location to open this summer.
The brand has caught the attention of foodies thanks to innovative menus and a strong ethos, which ultimately encourages having fun with food. Tackling vegan stereotypes, by CHLOE. emphasises the enjoyment in eating rather than dietary restrictions, which could explain why the founder Samantha Wasser is soaring. We speak to her about the failings and glories in the by CHLOE. journey:
As the industry becomes more saturated, what do you think is the key to success in a vegan food business?
I believe it’s a combination of attention to food quality and authenticity. There is a common misconception that vegan food is bland, raw, unapproachable or extremely expensive. Through by CHLOE., everyone can enjoy quality, fresh vegan or plant-based food without compromising on taste. Our entire menu is made from scratch by us and we have created a unique brand and message that we feel really speaks to our customers.
Your tone of voice (‘So Fresh and So Clean’, ‘Hey There, Hot Stuff!’) and Instagram look is very unique. Could you tell us the story behind that? Has social media played a big part in building your business?
Social media, Instagram especially, has played an invaluable role in the growth and success of our brand. I personally curated our Instagram page from day one. I wanted to create an experience that didn’t just promote our restaurant, but promote food in general in a fun, engaging and colourful way. Instagram Stories has also been a great way for us to engage more directly with our customers; our ‘Top 20’ highlights some of our favourite customer photos each week and gives our followers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the business. The kitschy, playful phrases and our brand identity was created to make vegan food seem less intimidating and, most of all, fun. We do not take ourselves too seriously and wanted to convey that.
You’ve mentioned before in interviews that you’re not actually vegan yourself. Do you think by CHLOE. encourages people to look beyond labels when it comes to food choices?
Yes, definitely. While our menu is 100% vegan and plant-based, it also offers a dining option for people who have other dietary restrictions, such as dairy, meat or eggs. We do not want to label our guests but rather allow people to enjoy plant-based foods in an open and welcoming environment. The concept of by CHLOE. was created to offer delicious food that just happens to be vegan. Whether you’re eating plant-based one day a week, or are choosing to start a totally vegan lifestyle, we are here to offer a variety of food options no matter what the dietary preference.
How did you know the time was right for by CHLOE. to start opening new locations?
by CHLOE. already had a significant UK following and we were overwhelmed with requests from British fans encouraging us to come to London. Thankfully, the brand (and more importantly) the food has been well received so far. Before we even announced a London location, the UK was our third most popular traffic source for web visits and social followers after NYC and LA. That spoke volumes about the potential of our expansion into the UK. When the Covent Garden location became available it seemed like all the stars aligned.
What advice would you give someone looking to expand their business?
The best lesson I learnt through the conception and growth of by CHLOE. is to ask for help when you need it. Try to surround yourself with a strong team you can rely on because as a business owner, you have to focus on the bigger picture even though you might want to obsess over all the minor details. It is so important to learn from those around you as everyone brings a different set of skills and experience that could be invaluable in the future. Secondly, do not give up when there are hurdles in your way; growing a business is not always pretty. Don’t be deceived by the perceptions in the world of social media as I can promise you that every successful brand has faced challenges. It is the way you conquer those challenges that helps define your success.
Why London? What excited you about the food scene here?
London was the perfect fit for our first international outpost as it has such a thriving restaurant scene and is full of experimental, curious diners. We also saw the growing interest in the vegan lifestyle, with events like Veganuary that have become so popular. Our customers care about what they are putting in their bodies and where the produce is being sourced from. We wanted to bring them a trustworthy option to fill their ever-changing dietary needs and preferences.
What differences have you noticed between launching in the US and UK markets?
Across both markets the demand for plant-based food is similar and customers have been receptive to the by CHLOE. brand in both cases. Having launched multiple restaurants, we’ve taken learnings from each. For example, our To Go by CHLOE. service is hugely popular in the US as it allows customers to order their food online and pick up in store without a long wait. This option was definitely a slower build in the UK as the idea of ordering ahead is something new in the UK market, and we’ve noticed that a lot of our customers actually prefer to dine in.
You offer some dishes that are exclusively available in London. Could you tell us how and why you developed these ideas?
We wanted to offer our London guests something exclusive to celebrate the opening of our first international location. We had so much fun creating plant-based versions of traditional British food! Our London by CHLOE. menu currently offers Shepherd’s Pie made with spicy seitan, mashed potato and veggies served with a side of our signature beet ketchup; a Sticky Toffee Pudding served with house-made whipped coconut cream; and our most popular dish has to be the Fish N’ Chips made with crispy tofu served with mushy peas and house-made tartar sauce. We also offer seasonal market specials including my current favourite: the Funfetti Pancakes!
What have been the biggest challenges of growing your business overseas? How have you tackled them?
The biggest challenge is not being able to visit the UK store daily. I spend a lot of time in our US stores to check in with our staff, look after store maintenance, arrange meetings, and so on. It’s a huge benefit of being local. I hope to dedicate more time to the London stores as we continue to expand. We are so lucky to work with a great operating partner, TGP International, to oversee the day-to-day operations of by CHLOE. Again, it comes down to building a strong team that you trust and rely on.
Which city/market do you hope to expand into next and why?
We are opening a second London location at One Tower Bridge this summer and are actively looking for other potential locations in the city.
What’s the one dish we all need to try at by CHLOE.?
It’s so hard to just pick one! I would personally recommend the Guac Burger or The Quinoa Taco salad – they’re our best sellers and totally delicious. As summer approaches, I’m also excited to eat more CHILL: our dairy-free frozen desserts. The Push Pops are the perfect afternoon snack or dessert but the Matcha Coconut and Birthday Cake flavours are personal favourites too.