Sowing seeds for growth at the Plant Academy

21 January, 2018
Plant Academy

Customer focus: Ellie Richards-Johnson, founder and managing director, The Plant Academy, Southport 

Ellie Richards-Johnson founder and managing director, the Plant Academy

1. Tell us about yourself 
Through my university years I had various jobs in pubs, cafes and restaurants and although I didn’t necessarily enjoy the unsocial hours, I loved the buzz and that really set me up for a future career in hospitality.

2. Why did you choose to go down this route?
At a time when I had first-hand experience of the benefit of cutting processed foods from my diet suddenly everyone was talking about juicing, free from and wholefoods. I immediately saw the potential of launching into this market with a plant based food concept and as a result The Plant Academy was born and we officially opened for business in April 2017. 

Our approach is very current, very now. To me, it’s just great tasting food that is packed full of the healthy stuff.

3. How have your customers reacted to a plant based café?
At the Plant Academy everything is created to satisfy the taste buds and fuel the body. In the early days we switched the menu up a bit so we could gauge what customers were looking for. More recently we have been able to drill down to focus on the best sellers such as, homemade soups, tofu BLT sandwiches, chickpea melts, delicious salads or hearty dhal. Plus, there are always freshly baked cakes on offer, gluten and dairy free. It’s still early days as we are only six months in but we have our regulars now that come in asking for their favourite menu items which is excellent.

4. What are your most popular menu items?
We have created a range of raw cakes loaded with fruit, vegetables and nuts which are packed full of goodness and particularly popular. We make all our own cakes on the premises and we avoid processed ingredients and refined sugars and, for example, use coconut sugar in most of our baking,

Our speciality coffees sell particularly well and we offer the usual latte, cappuccino, espresso and long black made using freshly roasted coffees from Crosby Coffee brewed through a Casadio traditional espresso machine from La Cimbali which delivers consistently excellent coffee. 

We wanted to offer something a little different to the ubiquitous pumpkin spiced latte and so we created our own range of ’speciality lattes’ which includes turmeric; beetroot; matcha and rooibos. We make a ‘shot’ of the turmeric, beetroot etc. and then pour it over steamed milk with agave – customers can choose from oat, almond, soy, coconut or tiger nut milk. 

We promoted our new latte range on Facebook and in the café prior to launch and on day one we sold over 50 which was excellent – they remain one of our best sellers and we expect that to continue.  

5. What trends are you noticing at the moment?
People are excited by our ‘Buddha bowls’ (brown rice dishes topped with roasted vegetables, fresh salad and a choice of delicious sauce), and our new vegetable filled wraps. 

We are being asked for more of our unique cakes, such as beetroot red velvet cupcakes. Many of our customers are avoiding refined white sugars, and will actively opt for our refined sugar free cakes, preferring sweeteners such as agave, dates or coconut sugar.

6. What does the future hold for yourself and The Plant Academy? 
We have big plans for The Plant Academy, hopefully expanding into bigger premises in 2018 or 2019, where we can open a vegan supermarket alongside the cafe, selling fresh organic vegetables as well as innovative and interesting vegan products, zero waste bulk grains, legumes and nuts, natural beauty products and environmentally friendly household cleaning products. We would like to create more of a community around The Plant Academy, developing it in to a hub for health and wellness, with the cafe at the centre of it all.

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