Interview with Rachel Hugh, co-founder of The Vurger Co

The Vurger Co began its journey as a market stall, and last year, opened their first permanent site after a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised £300k in just under 77 hours, making them the first London crowd-funded vegan restaurant, and the fastest restaurant at the time to fund their target. The menu is 100% vegan, highlighting vegetables with fresh but indulgent recipes based around 4 core burgers with rotating monthly specials.

G: Tell us about ‘Vurger Co’, what inspired you to start it?  

R: Our idea was pretty innovative at the time, the whole reason we started out business was because nobody was in our space, and it all started from a pretty personal place too!

Neil, The Vurger Co co-founder, had actually suffered with a debilitating stomach illness for around 10 years. Having had so many tests, a series of different medications and so many appointments it got to the point where he was advised to have an operation. We sat thinking well nobody is sure exactly what they are operating on and that was the point we decided to take it in our own hands and do a little research ourselves. It coincided with a big birthday and after taking a trip to California, we couldn’t believe how well you can eat plant based foods – without any labels or stigma attached, amazing flavours, texture and people who were using veggies in innovative ways.  We felt better than ever and returned to London figuring out how to adopt this lifestyle in the UK and we haven’t looked back.

When we returned to London, we had crazy busy jobs and started looking for a place to eat a plant based burger casually, in a nice environment, just to chill out after work together and we couldn’t quite find what we were looking for.

There were many veggie options in the market, however we got sick of asking, ‘please remove the cheese, and the egg based mayo, oh and the patty with egg…’ nobody understood in London what vegan was. We felt ostracized for eating this way and in such a progressive city we couldn’t understand why Londoners who chose to eat this way couldn’t find a lovely environment to feel at home in.

It was a lightbulb moment, we thought if we’re looking for a restaurant like this, we guarantee others are too! This was all in June 2016 and set the wheels in motion to start our business The Vurger Co!

G: What is unique about your restaurant?

R: We offer a fully vegan fast food menu in a welcoming and accessible environment. We focus on all natural patties that simply celebrate vegetables and finally put them at the centre of the plate!

Our 100% natural plant based menu focusses on vegan burgers, fries, mac n cheese, shakes etc – with a huge focus on making vegetables the centre of the plate again. As a result of Neil’s stomach issues in the very beginning, he couldn’t eat a lot of gluten, so that immediately put seitan meat substitutes out of the window, so we focused on natural vegetable based patties that didn’t pretend to be anything that they’re not.

We have expanded to two permanent restaurant sites in the space of 9 months, seen over 30 thousand individual guests walk through the door in Shoreditch alone in the same amount of time and we have seen record breaking sales at our new Canary Wharf site which is just phenomenal.
G: What is your signature dish that everyone has to try?
R: My go to order would always be The Classic burger (that burger sauce is divine!), plus pesto mac n cheese and our banana caramel shake!! You leave feeling really nicely full!
Besides our burgers which of course you must try, we would highly recommend our mac n cheese and house made shakes, they make us unique and truly set the tone for the whole menu.
G: Why did you choose East London to open up the restaurant – both Shoreditch and Canary Wharf?
R: We actually moved to London over 12 years ago (from Wales) and felt immediately at ease in East London, and have lived there the whole time both in Hackney Wick and Stratford. Then the moment we were looking for a property we just knew it had to be East, our events, festivals and many of our customers were based there so it made total sense!
G: How did you convert your passion into a business?

R: Well it was actually a combination of both. In order to test our concept we initially started as a market stall, set up our website and social media channels to reach our customer base using hashtags and collaborating with key figures in our industry. We did this whilst still working full time in our careers, we would work on updating the website and socials in the evenings, make burgers on a Saturday and sell them on a Sunday. It was the hardest 8 months of our lives, so tiring and extremely draining. We realized if we were to make a serious step forward with our business we needed to focus, so we quit our full time jobs in January 2017 and haven’t looked back since! We adapt and update our plans on a daily basis, but the core of what we’re trying to achieve will never change and that is to make plant based food as accessible as possible to everybody with no judgements or labels attached.

G: What would you say has been the most memorable experience while developing this business?

R: We have expanded to two permanent restaurant sites in the space of 9 months I think that in itself is beyond our wildest dreams of anything we thought would be possible!

We would say our three highest points are :-
– Crowdfunding and reaching double our target in 77 hours back in 2017 which started our trajectory of growth.
– Opening our first site in Shoreditch and then our second in Canary Wharf
– Entering at number 84 in the best start ups in the UK list and being the only restaurant present.
– Doubling our team who are incredibly passionate, smart and loyal.
G: What are your future plans?

R: We definitely have plans to expand, we have fans all across the world thanks to Social Media ! We have many exciting things in the pipeline and are just fully focused on creating a sustainable business that everyone can enjoy.