1847 is a growing vegetarian restaurant group that was started in Manchester in 2011 by Damien Davenport, a vegetarian himself and former general manager and operations manager at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin. He talks to Hannah Thompson about his most recently opened site in Brighton, expansion plans and the backlash against ‘dirty' food
How receptive are people to vegetarian food?
We've got a good reputation for good food; the fact that it's vegetarian is a side thing. We try to do something a bit different, change our menus regularly, and use a lot of very local suppliers.
How do you appeal to people who aren't vegetarian?
Word of mouth. It's always really surprised me how many groups we get in here. I think our menu appeals to the meat-eater, because we have dishes that they understand, such as fried halloumi instead of fried fish.
Does it surprise you that there's not more direct competition?
Yes. I walked past a restaurant recently and there was a sign that said ‘Junk food done well'. Good luck to them, but I think ‘dirty' junk food has been done to death.
You've got sites in Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, and your most recent place is in Brighton. Why open so many, so rapidly?
What sort of places would you look for to expand?
I'd love London as it's my home city, but I'd also love to open in York, Edinburgh and Cambridge. It's about the strengths of the different sites - in Manchester we have business people and in Birmingham there are shoppers.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I love brands like Ottolenghi, Nopi and Granger & Co. Our spring menu is quite light - a handful of ingredients that taste bloody amazing. Our chefs have a lot of freedom in their menus, too.
You are also quite keen to work with young people?
We are always looking to establish links with apprentices. There is a lack of chefs and front-of-house staff who are properly trained. I come from Malmaison, where we were always doing courses and training. That's what I'm looking to bring into this business.
Where was the funding from?
I initially ran a Kickstarter campaign. Although it wasn't successful, it did draw interest from bigger investors. I've now paired up with someone who understands the restaurant scene.
Tell me more about the name?
I didn't want to do something obvious like 'Greens'. I was doing some research around vegetarianism in Manchester, and I found that 1847 was the year that the Vegetarian Society formed. They are based in Manchester, so it had a good connection.
What's the most challenging thing about the business?
Making sure we get the right teams, and I'm always keen to make sure the restaurant look good. But as long as we get the right staff and the right food quality, that is a recipe for success.
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