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The Coach & Horses in London's Soho is renowned as one of the capital's finest vegetarian and vegan pubs. Since making the decision to go fully meat-free back in 2012, the business has thrived and become ever more popular.
The pub is particularly lauded for the fact that, although the menu is vegetarian, it still features pub favourites such as shortcrust pies and 'fish' and chips - which saw a tripling in sales when the switch to vegetarian ingredients was made. The pub has decided to push the boundaries even further for January by going entirely vegan – right down to the wine list.
But is moving to a vegan menu feasible and, importantly, profitable? We caught up with Coach & Horses manager and owner, Alastair Choat, to find out.
How long have you been at the Coach and Horses?
"I bought the pub from my partners in 2006. The previous owner had looked after the place for 63 years, he was the longest-serving pub owner in Soho."
Why did you decide to go vegetarian?
"It was a personal thing, more to do with the treatment of animals and the huge scale of slaughter. And I thought if I could make that change myself, then I should make that change for business. And we did that in 2012."
Did you see a fall in sales initially?
"The only people that used to eat here were the [london-based magazine] Private Eye people, so our food trade wasn't that powerful anyway. I found that when we turned vegetarian, there was a whole host of people who would not usually come here who started eating here because we were doing good vegetarian pub grub. They just couldn't get that anywhere else. So we instantly saw more people through the door because of that. The vegan crowd was difficult to please at first because they are so demanding, and people said that 'pubs can't be vegan,' but we do really good trade from that too now."
What's behind the decision to go full vegan in January?
Do most people who come here ask for vegan options?
"We are kind of known for it now, so we have a lot of repeat custom and people who come in knowing already about our offering. So, I guess people seek us out now, because of our vegan options."
Do you think people are more open to trying vegan options these days?
"Yes. Things are much more demystified now, particularly in bigger urban areas. Places like Glasgow, for example, have a huge vegetarian and vegan community these days. And importantly, people are saying 'I don't want to be a vegan, but I would like to reduce the amount of meat I eat.' So they'll seek out vegan options that serve good food."
Tell us about some of your signature dishes?
"Our tofish and chips has been a phenomenal success. It's a block of tofu marinated in lemon juice with salt and pepper, then wrapped in nori seaweed to give it that taste of the sea. It's battered like a traditional fish, then served with chips and peas. We make our own tartare sauce with soy milk, too.
We did fish and chips before we went vegetarian and we were selling 50 per week. Now, the tofish and chips is averaging 150 per week. Our five bean burger is very popular, too. It's very simply made, using tinned beans rather than soaking them. They're chunky burgers, and we stack them up high, so the presentation is there, too.We do a great pie and mash, with chickpea and spinach being the favourite.
We love experimenting with the mash, particularly in the winter when you have so many root vegetables to play with. It's basically all about creating really interesting things for your customers."
So, as you can see, it looks like the trend for vegan and vegetarian menus is only going to increase in popularity in 2019 and beyond. Are you thinking about exploring vegan dishes in your restaurant or pub? Then be sure to read our article looking at the benefits of a vegan menu here.