Louise Palmer-Masterton is determined to improve the UK’s physical and mental health. After flexing her muscles in setting up successful Cambridge based yoga brand CAMYOGA, she is now meeting a rising demand for plant-based eating through restaurant Stem + Glory.
Business Advice caught up with Louise to discuss launching businesses, crowdfunding and why the eating out sector can still be fruitful for those with a strong idea.
Who are you and what is your business?
I am Louise Palmer-Masterton and founder of Stem + Glory restaurant. We have two sites in the city of Cambridge and are set to open a third in London later this year.
It’s a plant-based restaurant serving gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients. We make 100 per cent of the dishes on site and we also have a vegan bar. We serve breakfast, lunch, smoothies, coffee and menu evenings. There is a real move towards vegan and plant-based eating in the UK.
How did you get the idea and get started?
I am the founder of a company called CAMYOGA which is also based in Cambridge. We have taken it from literally one yoga class to 22,000 users and in excess of £1m revenue.
I’ve always been interested in setting up a vegan café, but it took a few years before the right location presented itself.
I have been a vegan for many years and vegan cuisine is a major passion of mine. I’ve noticed how the movement has grown over the years as people take more interest in their health and are put off meat by recent food scandals. Animal welfare is also much more on the agenda and more people are willing to stand up for it. But there is a real desert out there in terms of provision.
The spark came when one of the CAMYOGA studios moved from the outskirts of Cambridge into the city itself in 2016. I felt that the space presented a great opportunity to open a café next to the studio, even though we were on the first floor, above a cycle shop, on a traffic island in a not so exclusive part of Cambridge.
So, we launched a crowdfunding campaign where we raised over £97,000 in 21 days and Stem + Glory opened its doors in October 2016. Even though it is on the same site as CAMYOGA it has its own identity and is a separate business. We wanted it to stand on its own two feet.
We did and still benefit from yoga customers finishing their sessions and coming in for food and drink. But we also found that there was great interest outside of that group as our evening meals took off really quickly.
Word of mouth has helped as has social media and traditional marketing, but we are a niche market and vegans and flexitarians constantly track us down. We are now usually fully booked between Thursday and Sunday in the first location which is now a full-blown restaurant and have experienced an 84 per cent increase in turnover year on year.
Last November we opened a second site after buying an existing café in Cambridge city centre.
What are your future ambitions for Stem + Glory?
We have our third restaurant coming in London later this year and we are looking at suitable high footfall sites there now. We believe the vegan market is really strong in the capital, but it is still massively underserved. After London we are going to keep expanding with one new site every year and go nationwide.
For the London move we have raised £631,490 to date which is almost double our target of £350,000. It is for an equity stake of 24.14 per cent.
Do you have concerns about the struggles facing the restaurant sector?
Yes, business rates are becoming more expensive as are rents and staff costs and that will be an added challenge as we get bigger. I think that some of the closures we’ve seen this year though are just people voting with their feet.
You only have to look down Tottenham Court Road to see a lot of sterile chains. In contrast there are many independent brands who are packed out because they are doing something exciting and customers can feel their passion. Their rise may be a big part of the demise of the big chains and I would put us in that bracket of change.
What have been your main challenges?
Managing the development of the café. I went from concentrating on CAMYOGA to recruiting a head chef and working on menus, fitting out the café and putting the kitchen together. We did find at the beginning that our Yoga customers were coming in after a workout with their sweaty trainers and shoes! This is not what you want when you sit down for a lunch, so we refurbished the space, including shoe racks, to make it work better for diners and yogis alike
Being a founder of two businesses has not been a great challenge as I haven’t been involved in the day to day running of CAMYOGA for some time. We’ve got a great team in place there as we also have at Stem + Glory. That’s critical because it means you don’t have to be hands on all the time.
A big operational challenge not just for us but others in the sector are no-shows. We might be fully booked for an evening but typically we will get 25 per of those bookings not turning up which obviously affects our costs and takings. I think people see that we are busy so think they have to book ahead to get a table and then when the day comes find they can’t make it.
To deal with this we have started pre-selling tables for special events. For example, for our seven-course fine dining event we charge £40 per person upfront for the food costs and then on the night they pay separately for their drinks.
What tips would you give to other startups?
Every idea has to start with passion behind it and there has to be a gap in your chosen market. The combination has to be there.
If you are building a team then you need to work out people and show respect to get the best out of them. You have to get this right.
My other tip is to persevere. It is probably the most important trait of successful people!
Do you have a business idol?
Not really – though sometimes I do ask myself “What would Richard Branson do in this situation?”. He’s fantastic at people management.
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