Why are vegan restaurants closing?

So veganism is the new big thing, a movement that is going to change the world, signify an end to animal cruelty and institute a plant based food revolution.

But if that’s the case why are we starting to see vegan restaurants closing?

There’s a story in the Telegraph this week about Miami Burger in Reading – an ambitious fast food vegan joint that has closed after less than a year. It isn’t the only one. In Lowestoft, Suffolk the restaurant Ginger’s Bistro had barely hacked its way through its first Jackfruit before also closing.

The Telegraph articles proposes a simple answer – there aren’t enough vegans. The article runs…

“Vegan restaurants are closing down across the country because of a lack of interest in solely plant-based food, analysis has found.

While there was a much-publicised vegan “boom” over the last two years, with chain restaurants launching animal product-free dishes, outlets which serve only plant-based food have struggled.

Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of UK Hospitality – which represents the restaurant, bar and hotel sector – said some vegan restaurants could be struggling because they don’t appeal to the wider market.

She said: “Although veganism is gaining prominence and demand for vegan products seems to have soared, actually only a very small percentage of people identify as vegans, just 1.16 per cent in 2018 according to The Vegan Society.

I am not sure what occurred in Lowestoft, but for Miami Burger, the restaurant gained a devoted following – the sad thing was it wasn’t big enough.

Founder Tom Bursnall said: “When we started we had the full intention of being permanent and long term.

“Three months in we were getting a very loyal base of customers, but it was too narrow to sustain the very large rent.

Vegan Curious co-host Sara Collinge thinks that the reasons for the closures are more nuanced than the Telegraph is suggesting.

“Yes I do think that there are some places where the pool of vegans and people who want to eat a vegan diet isn’t large enough to sustain a restaurant. This is sometimes not helped by the way that some restaurants position themselves in high rent areas and invest too much in equipment and fixtures and fittings – meaning that they have to work really hard to become sustainable.”

“The biggest reason, however, is that in the past year vegan food has reached the mainstream. The options for vegans and flexitarians who want to eat vegan food has massively increased. Sure vegans get more choice at vegan-only restaurants, but going out for food is a social thing and many vegans are probably happy going with meat eating friends to restaurants with significant vegan options like Wagamama’s and Wahaca.”

“Vegan options are now table stakes for mainstream restaurants. They have to offer something to plant based eaters, I mean, even Greggs promises to build out its vegan range. That’s a wake up call for people launching their own vegan eateries and ranges. It’s no longer enough to be 100% vegan, you need a strong hook to pull people in, a great location, enviable atmosphere AND delicious food. Otherwise they will find they go the same way as the rest of the high street.”

“It is interesting to note that there is some correlation with the history of vegetarian restaurants” adds her co host Ashley Norris. “In the 80s and early 90s they thrived, but many of them ended up closing as mainstream restaurants began to cater for veggies. Ultimately the closures did nothing to slow the massive increases in the UK of vegetarians and vegans.”

Writer Iain Aitch has another interesting take. In a comment on Facebook he said, “there may also be the fact that a lot of non-experienced restaurateurs are coming into the market to celebrate their lifestyle rather than having a solid business plan.”

What do you think?