Opened in December 2014 by two young and enthusiastic women, The Garden eatery in Cheshire, is a first in many ways…
Owners Kate and Amy offer a near total vegan menu, albeit with the option to add animal products in small amounts. Their ethos is to raise awareness of how little to no animal based produce people really need to eat.
The Garden grew from personal loss, for co-owner Amy, and opening was not without its setbacks. However, fast forward to 2017 and the eatery has earned a loyal following; both amongst local residents and the North West vegan community.
Where did the idea for The Garden come from?
Kate: When I was a primary school teacher I started attending yoga classes for stress relief. I then started to train in teaching yoga and whilst we were training we were encouraged to eat a vegetarian diet and we were taught about the Yogic diet, which is mainly vegan. At the same time Amy, who I have been friends with for years, her father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. As a result of this she started to look into the Alkalising Diet and ways to heal through food and nutrition, as opposed to only the medical route. These life changing events are what brought us to develop the idea of opening The Garden.
Amy: After my father was diagnosed with a brain tumour I started looking into alternative ways of healing. A woman that I knew at the time had also been ill with cancer; she told me that if a body is in an alkaline state tumours can’t exist. Unfortunately, a month after my father was diagnosed with the tumour we lost my brother in a car accident and my father didn’t want to carry on with a plant-based way of eating. He was traumatised by the accident and sort of ‘gave up’ on himself. After my father passed away I felt that the timing was right to explore what I had learnt about alkalising foods.
Did you know that you were on to something special with this concept?
Kate: It was one of those things where you get pulled towards an idea and you just know that it is going to work. You don’t know how it is going to work, but you know that it is going to work. It just felt like completely the right thing to do at the time.
Can you explain the process involved in opening The Garden?
Kate: In the initial stages the idea to open The Garden was more intuition based. Then I started to create a solid business plan to show to the banks, and the business built from there. Before I went into teaching I studied marketing at university and then worked in the industry for a couple of years; so I had experience in business. At the same time Amy was creating recipes and we had lots of evenings of inviting friends over to her house to try out what she had created. Later we worked with a nutritionist and she helped us to develop the juice menu, afterwards my sister Laura came and worked for us and she developed the juices further. She has been juicing for around a decade and is actually now a qualified juice therapist.
Amy: I had previously worked in a lot of restaurants and bars, and also for an events company. My father was a chef so it’s in my blood to cook and create; all my family are based in hospitality. What’s great is that Kate and myself work well and we compliment each other in so many ways. I have more ‘hands on’ experience and the logistic side of things. As I said, I am a real “foodie” and cooking is in my genes. I even spent the first five or six months in this kitchen. Whereas Kate is great with marketing and admin, the things that I am not very good at!
How easy was it to acquire a premise in such a central location?
Amy: At first we didn’t actually get these premises as another business – a cafe with a different business plan to our own – bid for it and they got it. However, they pulled out at the eleventh hour. We rang the landlord as we were still interested. We got the keys in August and opened in December . As it was previously a bridle shop we have had to fully transform the place, we had to buy a kitchen, equipment, everything. A lot of money went into the place from scratch.
What were those crucial first months like for the business?
Kate: We went through a lot of changes in those first six months. Anyone who comes in now and says “I came in when you first opened” I automatically want to say “I’m sorry, please don’t take that for what we are”. It was a massive learning curve those first six months. Even little things like I didn’t fully appreciate that I am the boss and that I have to manage people. You are simply taking everyday as it comes. We have changed so much personally and professionally. The first year was really hard, but we are so appreciative now of how much we learnt.
Amy: It’s just development, all businesses grow and evolve. We will look back again in two years and think “wow it’s changed so much again”, and that is the fun thing about it. You have to be able and open to change if you want to be a successful business, because if you stay where you are, in the same place, people are going to stop walking through the door.
At present you have a predominantly plant based menu, but are not an exclusively vegetarian or vegan eatery…
Amy: No we are not, but all the bases of the dishes are completely vegan. We have done it the other way around [to standard restaurants], where you can add in meat, fish or cheese to your dish. We serve local and organic produce, which at the time no other restaurant in the village did. When we were creating the menu we thought what do people most often go out for? Normally it’s burgers, pasta, pizza, these kinds of foods. I thought how can we make these foods in a really healthy plant powered way that people can enjoy every day.
Kate cont: What is great about what we offer is that if one person in your family is vegan you can come here with your whole family and no one will feel excluded or left out. Our biggest aim was not to alienate anyone; so there are options for meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. It can be difficult sometimes within a family if one member is vegan. I speak from experience as I come from a large family and my sister has been vegan for a few years, whereas we have a load of boys too who just want to eat meat.
With that said, are you taking a ‘reduceatarian’ perspective on serving animal products?
Kate: We wanted to include all options, but also to make people more aware of where their food comes from; this is where the local and organic side comes in. Offering a plant based menu is in line with an alkalising diet, but also there has been research which says that never as a species have we eaten this much meat. Nowadays we have domesticated animals to the point where it is ridiculous, the size of the industry doesn’t need to be this big. We like to encourage people to lead a predominantly plant-based lifestyle and instead of the message “go vegan” it is more about reduce, reduce, reduce [animal products] and be mindful of what you are putting in your mouth, as well as what you are doing to the planet.
What are some of your best sellers?
Kate: Amy’s ‘good morning greens’ that is definitely our most popular dish. It’s a simple meal of toast, grated tomatoes, mashed avocado, alfalfa sprouts and basil oil. More recently our ‘breakfast jars’ and ‘plant-powered breakfast’ are also popular. The ‘I Am Well’ tonic is so popular that we have started selling it in a concentrated form, so customers can take it home and make their own.
Amy: 25p of every ‘I Am Well’ tonic that we sell goes to my father’s charity at The Christie [cancer hospital].
Kate, you are vegan now. Have you noticed any changes since going vegan last year?
I feel better in my mind, mentally I feel content. I have to be mindful of the fact the not all vegan food is actually healthy. It is a massive misconception when people think that vegans just eat salad. You haveto be careful because when you find out that something is vegan you can get carried away and start to over-eat. I have to make sure that I am choosing the healthiest [vegan] options.
Amy, what about yourself?
I probably eat an 80% vegan diet, I find that my 20% comes from socialising with friends and the lack of healthy options in restaurants that are not cheese and diary based. For me, personally speaking, after the experiences that I have had; I think that there is an emotional eating aspect when you are going through things like grief and trauma. It has a massive effect on you and your body in your day-to-day life. For example, your digestive system doesn’t work properly… it has been three years since both of the events and it is just now that my body has started to ‘work properly’ again. Your brain is definitely connected to your gut, to everything.
As well as The Garden you are involved in other services that focus on health and healing…
Kate: We are involved in offering yoga classes through a local yoga centre. The idea is that after a yoga class people will come here and have something to eat and drink, which is already included in the price of the class. We have also just teamed up with a local gym who will be starting a boot-camp based on self-love, not self-hate.
Bonus question: How do you feel being young entrepreneurial businesswomen?
Amy: It’s great coming to work with your best friend everyday, we’re lucky.
Kate: It’s fun, it’s so good! The best part is knowing that you are in control, it’s empowering. I wouldn’t look back at all!
The Garden can be found at: 154 Ashley Rd, Hale, Altrincham, WA15 9SA.
Open Monday – Friday: 08:00 – 17:30 and Saturday & Sunday: 09:00 – 17:30.