Food for thought: Adam & Anna Robertson
Adam and Anna Robertson run The Veggie Table, making veggie burgers unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before. Here, they talk about starting out, and why the products they sell are not your everyday veggie fare.
We’re foodies; we’re both interested in very healthy, fresh, whole foods. We’re looking for a balance, a way for people not to eat meat every day.
We noticed there was a need, especially at Borough Market, which is very meat-orientated, for a real source for vegetarian and vegans, so we sought out a veggie chef and now we have a team of three – us and chef Dan Hughes, who works at the vegetarian restaurant
on Whitecross Street, London, EC1Y.
Why veggie burgers?
Vegetarians are overlooked, and vegetable options tend to be an afterthought. We want to offer exciting meals – create meals to form part of a kid’s packed lunch, for example. Meat eaters find and use us – it’s not strictly vegetarians who seek us out.
There’s a huge gap in the market; what vegetarians can buy at the moment is ready-made meals made up of meat substitutes. Why not vegetables? It’s hard to find a veggie meal that’s not full of soya and ‘pretend meat’ products; it’s the ultimate oxymoron.
What’s so different about your burgers?
There are 12 different vegetables in our burgers, and no ‘pretend meat’ products or soya.
Do you have examples?
Why, thank you…
Hallou gorgeous is a halloumi burger (made with vegetarian rennet) that includes carrot, courgette, coriander and mint; Silly Sausage (vegan) is a combination of nuts, sultanas, dried fruit, tomato, red pepper and rosemary; The Gentle Lentil (vegan, gluten free) is full of tomatoes, chickpeas, red lentils, and cumin.
We also have seven or eight salads people can pick from big wooden bowls.
Is it organic?
Some ingredients are organic – our grains and dried food are, and our tomatoes – but sometimes local beats organic from China…
Which means more air miles…
Exactly, it’s about finding the best ingredients you can get.
Is there a downside to selling fresh, homemade products?
People look at the cost of our products and sometimes think they’re expensive, but actually that’s the real cost of food, when you factor in the labour and the ingredients. Other vegetarian products are stuffed with fillers such as potato starch and xanthan gum – we don’t add preservatives and use fresh chillies as a substitute for lots of salt. And we use biodegradable packaging.
What sort of customers does your food attract?
We have great regulars, grannies love it, lots of families, lots of arty groups…
Where can people find you?
At the following London markets:
What advice would you give to fledgling small producers?
You’ve got to be passionate about what you do or you may as well work for someone else, because there’s too much graft involved.
If you’re trying something new, it takes a lot of talking – you have lots of conversations. You need passion and energy.
Do you need business experience?
You learn on the job and so a lot of it is common sense.
Can you offer any advice to people starting up their own small business?
Don’t look to grow too quickly. We bought the equipment bit by bit. Take small steps – there’s just the two of us at the mo, though we get help at festivals and busy days at markets.
Did you get any help?
Yes, English Preserves, they make preserves with 60% fruit (check out the stall at Borough Market) – they helped us with kitchen space. It’s a very supportive community.
Why do you think it’s important to know more about the food we eat?
It’s important to have more of a relationship with food, to understand where it comes from. For kids, it’s about connecting; if all a child sees is food out of a packet it’s hard to go back to fresh food.
What’s good about your job?
We’re working in food! And it’s an outdoorsy, unconventional life, though early mornings can be hard, and your weekends suffer.
And the future?
We’re looking to get our products into restaurants, hotels, small shops and grocers. In the long-term we’d consider our product as a frozen food, with no chemicals and additives, because the burgers freeze very well.
So it’s not just about getting your product into the supermarkets?
No, it’s about creating a life and future, it’s not just about making money.