Former YouTuber Mikey Pearce and Made in Chelsea star Verity Bowditch have been on a whirlwind journey over the past two years to grow their plant-based restaurant chain, Clean Kitchen Club. FEJ caught up with the pair at the launch of their flagship restaurant at the revamped Battersea Power Station earlier this month to discuss their global ambitions and hopes to set the benchmark for a cleaner QSR experience.
Has the rapid expansion of the brand recently come as a bit of a surprise or were you expecting this level of interest?
Mr Pearce: We’ve always just had a goal to grow and actually just kind of keep going. If we create good food and have a good brand and get it out there as much as possible then you just take it step by step. We’re both very ambitious but you just don’t know how it’s going to be, and as long as you just believe in your brand and your product, and just keep going and going. It’s probably a bit unexpected but we’ve always been ambitious of where we wanted to take it. We’ve always had this spot – Battersea – as a goal to achieve.
How does it feel to be one of the new venues within the redeveloped Battersea Power Station and what has the process been like to launch the flagship dine-in site?
Ms Bowditch: It was really tough, we started pitching for this and we literally just had Camden – it wasn’t even open actually. So we started out over a year ago. This was all Mikey’s idea actually – the best idea ever. So we pitched for it and had about ten different Zooms. The guys came down to Camden and tried the food, and we had to get it over the mark. It’s fully vegan and taking up quite a big space in the hall so to everyone who trusted the process and the concept, a massive thank you. It’s been a lot of hard work, it’s definitely been our biggest and toughest one. But, we got here.
What are some of the biggest challenges when designing and sourcing ingredients for your plant-based menus?
Ms Bowditch: Ingredients-wise, I think for us we’re just all about trying to bring plant-based food to the mainstream, so when getting the right ingredients all the suppliers have to go through the right supply forms for sustainability and we try and do as much produce from the UK as possible. Also just getting the right meat substitutes as well. Sometimes there’s the unhealthy ones you can have but we really pride ourselves on working with the best suppliers, like TiNDLE and Herrera, a Spanish brand, but TiNDLE are our main ones. They’re really awesome to work with.
How hard is it to maintain consistency and standards across the brand’s locations while ensuring levels of quality and sustainability are not compromised?
Mr Pearce: Of course, I think you’ve got to be so on it and that’s one of the biggest challenges is to get the consistency as much as possible and you know, keep everything the same and de-skill the menu so that anyone can do it, so it’s replicable. And that’s what we’re all about really. Producing good quality vegan food, that is the same and is consistent, and anyone can make it – that’s what we’re really working on at the moment.
How have you designed your kitchens and what sort of set up/equipment is in use to help achieve your sustainability goals throughout the chain?
Ms Bowditch: Everyone we use has to go through the sustainability procedure we’ve got, for any supplier. We really aim for the quick service here so anything out the front takes two minutes, like coffees, Açaí bowls, smoothies, grab-and-go, so you can pick it up in an instant. Out the back it’s four minutes, so burgers and bowls all through those hot passes. A lot of brands are really now hitting our sustainability policy because they want to do it themselves, which is really amazing to see, so many brands, especially corporate ones, stepping up to the game.
What are your aims in the coming years to help the brand reach its net zero goals and do you think there is more the government could do to support growing businesses in this area?
Ms Bowditch: There are actually a couple of government schemes we are looking into that really help brands that are trying to become net zero. We’re setting ourselves a target of three years. It’s a struggle, you know, no one is perfect. Massive corporates who have so much money pumped into them, yes they can achieve net zero, or they can be carbon negative even. But, we carbon label our whole menu and for us it’s more about carbon reducing, rather than becoming neutral. If we can have a look at everything we do, so, for example, we use a company called Nella, which takes our chopping boards when they’re done and they recycle them and they deliver them back to us. We’ve got water-saving taps, we always use water soluble ink on all of our packaging etc. We’re getting better and better. The more we learn, the more we can implement these technologies.
Where do you see the brand heading in five years’ time and do you have any other big launches in the pipeline?
Mr Pearce: We want to obviously keep opening. This store is like the footprint of what we want to expand. So, we want to open many more of those. If this does well and we keep opening and keep growing, we want to go abroad, we want to move into the States. We want to open across the UK as well – Manchester and all of the big cities, and more of these in London. So, it’s just about taking it step by step to keep growing. We have always had such ambitions to open it all across the world. I think that is the goal. When is the right time? I don’t know. But yes, that is the goal. We’re also doing something with Selfridges coming up, which is cool. We’re doing Winter Wonderland and then potentially doing something with Network Rail next.
How have you found your respective journeys from reality TV with Made in Chelsea and from being a former YouTuber, to now becoming multi-site restaurant operators?
Ms Bowditch: I was doing Made in Chelsea a lot more when we first started this and it’s just if you focus on one thing, the other is always going to fade out if it doesn’t have your full attention. I think I’ve always been quite good at applying myself in different ways. When I really enjoy something, I throw myself completely in and I think I’ve learnt so much over this past two years, it’s just ridiculous. Like from how a kitchen operates, to electricity, or even P&Ls, like finance modelling, I’ve just learnt so much. So I think I adjusted really well because I really love it and am really passionate about it. I’m not your usual reality star that’s for sure.
Mr Pearce: I’m still learning the whole time. I’ve had to come through an incredible learning curve and I’m still going with it. It’s just about learning and taking a lot of advice and listening to the right people, and actually employing good people as well. I think one of the first steps of admitting that you’re not the best at something is then actually to find the right people to cover that angle.
What were some of the biggest challenges with setting up your first bricks and mortar restaurant compared to operating from a home kitchen or beach shack in Brighton when the brand first launched?
Mr Pearce: There were countless challenges and it was not an easy feat, and we did a lot of things wrong but we just kind of had a drive to keep going and growing and wanting to get to where we want to be. So you’ve got to just overcome them and whatever happens the day before, you’ve got to get up and go again, get up and go again. I think we’ve done it.
You have smashed your seed funding target out of the park, raising more than £3 million so far. What will these funds mainly be used for?
Mr Pearce: We’re investing in a lot of people, a lot of research and development to make our product as good as possible. Obviously this was an expensive build. So it pays part of that. We’re very careful of where we go next and very careful of what sites we see next. It’s just about picking and choosing the right site and being smart about it, and not rushing into anything. I think we’ve learnt over the last year not to rush into anything. That’s kind of what we’re going to do with it. We’ve got to make sure that the product and the brand is amazing and be the best in class at what we do before going mental with a massive expansion.
How does it feel to have garnered such an impressive amount of public support for the brand and its cause?
Ms Bowditch: I think it’s been amazing. I honestly just think people have seen what good the brand does – it’s like aspirational buying. It makes you feel better, because you’ve done your bit for the environment, you haven’t killed any animals and it’s healthy for you as well. So it’s been absolutely amazing to have so much support, especially on socials from all over the country as well, which is crazy. Not just in London. And the crowdfunding as well, everyone supporting and investing in that, it’s just been amazing. Here today, I’ve just opened and it’s been packed. I’m so pleased at our first day opening here. It’s been non-stop, with queues going out of the door.
How do you see yourselves fitting into the QSR market compared to other vegan or plant-based brands that are out there?
Mr Pearce: I think we’re just trying to do something different. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, we want to basically give something for everyone, and just say, you know, this is a fun place to hang out, a fun place to eat vegan and fun place to do something different. I think that’s what we are really trying to achieve, and that’s the goal.
How big is the delivery side of the business in comparison to the number of diners you expect to have eating in at the new restaurant at Battersea?
Mr Pearce: Here, I think it has gulfed delivery massively. In Notting Hill, I think we are operating at about 30% delivery and 70% dine in. I always say about delivery kitchens, don’t pay huge rents and be very careful of where you go with a delivery kitchen. Get a site that you can deliver from and then you can sell to people as well and it will be multi-purpose. That’s what we try and do.