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Herbivore Vegan Deli | Support Our Independents


Quite possibly the world's smallest vegan deli, Herbivore Vegan Deli opened its doors just before Christmas in Wapping Wharf in Bristol. Store owner Janice speaks to Lee at Essential about the rise of veganism, the difficulties local businesses face and how she decides what to stock in such a small retail space.

Tell us how Herbivore Vegan Deli came about…

After COVID, we were running a café for Pacific Yoga. The owners decided to sell the building so the café wasn't there anymore. I always wanted to try and get down here in Wapping Wharf because of the footfall and the independent businesses, you know, so we went on a waiting list to try and get a unit.

Two years later, we were offered a unit and it was perfect timing because I was down in Bedfordshire helping the family business. We were pretty determined to be down here as it's the area for us really. The landlords that are here make it really easy to start a commercial business without hundreds of thousands of pounds behind you. They make it really simple, flexible and really easy. So, it's the perfect sort of place to open as an independent business.

I can see why it’s a good area to be in on a day like today when the sun is out…

I mean it does help with the weather but when Gaol Ferry bridge is open – the bridge is closed at the moment - you get a lot of people that live and work in Southville come through Wapping Wharf on the way into the centre. So, obviously at the moment that football is down by 50%. Even in the winter they'll come this way because if you're walking you can walk quicker. So, I think it has had an effect on most of the businesses around here over the winter months. But for us, we've not been here over the summer months. We’ll see if it's going to get better. But fortunately, a lot of the local independents have a lot of vegans that work for them. So that always helps! (laughs) Everyone's really friendly and we do free swaps and most places in Wapping Wharf offer discounts for anyone who works in the area.

Herbivore Vegan Deli A-Board signage outside the premises

You opened your doors just before Christmas. How have the first few months been at Wapping Wharf?

It's a difficult thing to say really. It’s been quite quiet. Quieter than I expected. But then we didn't do any advertising because I wasn't really sure what to expect. I didn't want to be too inundated. But then I put something on the Bristol Vegans Facebook Community Group and I think that worked over Christmas. You know, looking for vegan products and gifts at Christmas time, it makes sense to go to a dedicated vegan business. So, that helped I think. I thought Veganuary would be amazing because it's pretty much all of January but what I found actually is that places that don't normally offer vegan products, or have no vegan offerings, go nuts for Veganuary. Supermarkets, restaurants and places like that, just for that month and vegans go crazy for it because it's not always available. But you know, I like to just ask people to think about independent stores at that time. It was a quiet January for us and I thought about closing in January for two weeks but then we thought over January we wouldn’t need to. But I might next year. But again, it's our first year and the footfall is down because the bridge is closed. So, we'll see. You just have to be flexible. If people want us to be open, we'll be open. If there's no interest, we can close. Again, that's the beauty of not working for anyone else.

I guess it is important to be reactive…

It is, yeah. But also, I know a few companies that were sort of like, oh we’re quiet, we’ll just close the doors but then customers turn up and you're not there so they don't come back. I think you have to be quite consistent. You’ll have quieter hours. But I've got books. I've got my computer (laughs). I always find something to do, you know. Eating mainly (laughs).

It must be difficult working around all of this delicious food…

It is! (laughs) It’s funny because when we opened I was a veggie and not a vegan. I hadn’t eaten eggs for a while but I was going to allow myself some dairy for Christmas. But once we opened here and I had a vegan toasty and I now never have to eat dairy again because it now feels unnecessary. It's just so good. Why do I need to have dairy? I haven't since so it’s pretty good, really. So, I can have my cheese-fix in a toasty or in a tart...

Products such as Essential Jackfruit on the store's shelves

It’s very different being vegan now compared to 10-15 years back when it was much harder to find good alternatives. It’s amazing to be vegan now…

Now it is, yeah. But I remember struggling to be a veggie way back because you'd go to a restaurant and their offering would be a risotto with bloomin’ Parmesan on top. It’s not even vegetarian. It's also a really unethical cheese because it has to be the way that it was originally made. They used to milk the cows in the dark so now the cows actually live in the dark. I mean it's a cruel cheese. But that was a veggie option. So, chefs should know that it is not suitable for vegetarians. Let alone vegans.

The shop is described as possibly the world’s smallest vegan deli…

I think we probably are the smallest vegan deli… If there's someone out there with a smaller deli, I’m sorry for saying that, but I think it probably is (laughs).

How do you decide what you are going to stock?

It’s anything that we love. So, Seggiano was a must because the pesto happens to be vegan. It's just the best pesto that I've ever had in my life and it just happens to be vegan and all their range is really good. People have sent samples to us and if we like it we will test it and we'll stock it. But we just try and get things that we really love. So, if they're vegan and we love them, they're in stock. If someone asks us to get something in, we'll try it. Again, if it sells we'll keep it. If it doesn't, we won't. You have to be quite cutthroat with it really because we have got such limited space. But I think the things that we've found so far, we've been quite lucky with.

Herbivore Vgean Deli we're open sign in door

How would you describe your customers?

We have quite a varied number of customers. There are some staunch vegans and they come here because the shop is fully vegan. But we have just locals that come in, especially over Christmas time. Obviously as a new shop in the area, people come in to see what we do and I like to tempt them with vegan cheese. Especially with the Honestly Tasty Blue Cheese because a lot of them can't tell that it's vegan. Therefore, they're coming in because they have got a vegan coming for dinner or a vegan member of the family. But now we've converted them into eating vegan cheese because most people, regardless of their age, are looking to not eat meat every day. Like even if they're never going to go vegan or veggie. People consider the environment a lot more. Especially in Bristol. It's a fantastic place for that. Just look at the children’s climate march. I just find that even the older generation - and I'm in that generation – unfortunately don't think about that. We want to be green and people are so much more aware I find. So, we do attract people that are not vegans. We also do quite a lot of gluten free stuff as well and it's vegan too. I think for us that's a nice thing because you don't have to look at packets on everything.

But I mean, we have deli items like olives and sundried tomatoes that are vegan by design. Our cheese toasties are magnificent. All our toasties are magnificent and we change them around a lot. I've never understood restaurants and cafés that don't change the menus often. Especially businesses that are independent. I get bored making the same things let alone eating the same things. So, we like to mix up a bit. Really what I have found is that we should have staples like the caramel shortbread because people come in and look for it. I have learnt that retail is different to running a café. We are a shop and some people want to be able to come back and buy the same things. It’s been a change of mindset for me really.

What is it like being a small business owner in Bristol?

I love it. I like working for myself. It's a lot of pressure of course because it's all on you and, you know, life is tough. Bills, rent, mortgages... But I like being in charge of our own destiny. We do catering jobs as well and we've got a wedding this year for 80 in Westbury on Trym and that's really exciting. I've been asked to cater an event for 160 and I have to turn it down because I know I don't have the capacity to make that amount of food because I'd have to make so much stuff and store it. I don't have enough staff in my hands and I hate turning things down. But you have to and I think that's the thing. You have to learn what you can and cannot do and also try and focus on what things work and what things don't. But yeah, I like being an independent business.

Selection of fresh antipasti for sale in store served in bowls

Like you said, it must be really nice in this particular area because you are surrounded by independent businesses…

I mean we are all on a WhatsApp group and we all chat. We can swap and borrow things from each other. For example, we get lots of packaging with our cheese. Our cheese will get sent over with ice packs overnight and the cheese shop will take all of our packaging for us because they send out a lot of cheese on deliveries. So, things work and the good thing about Wapping Wharf is all the recycling is all part of it. They took care of the electric and gas supply and stuff, so we are in a collective so they try and get better prices for us. But it’s unfortunate because obviously, as we know, things have gone up in price and we’re still affected by that. But you know, it's really good. 


If you are interested in participating in an upcoming Support Our Independents episode, we would love to hear from you! We want to represent as many businesses as possible and highlight how diverse independent businesses are. Simply email marketing@essential-trading.coop with Support Our Independents in the subject line and we will get back to you as soon as we can.