by K Featherstone
In April 2017, a cafe on Trinity Street opened its cheerily-painted yellow door to customers, and The Peppercorn was born.
Previous owners had run it as a vegan cafe before their sudden closure in February of the same year, but The Peppercorn started life as a vegetarian cafe. However, when owner Alex Vickers became vegan in January 2018, the cafe did too.
“I had really started to enjoy vegan cooking, but it was a very steep learning curve!” said Alex, also admitting that her family had to eat many trial menus in the process. “They still do”, she added, “but they enjoy it more now.”
With January comes Veganuary, an initiative to promote and educate about veganism by encouraging people to follow a vegan lifestyle for the month. Since the first Veganuary in 2014, the number of participants has more than doubled each year, and over 400,000 people signed up for the 2020 campaign.
Naturally, Veganuary would usually be a busy time for The Peppercorn, but sadly the yellow door remains closed due to the current lockdown. In previous years it has been a month of competitions, craft nights, supper clubs, tasting menu nights and more. Now Alex and her team are continuing to run a weekly vegan ready-meal delivery service, as well as making occasion cakes and checking up on some of their more vulnerable customers. Alex speaks fondly of her loyal customers, many of whom she considers to be friends, as well as her staff that she describes as “small, but fantastic” who have demonstrated resilience and flexibility throughout the pandemic.
Just a few years ago, veganism was considered to be, well, a bit odd, and plant-based alternatives to some of the country’s staple favourites were few and far between. But a ‘green wave’ has washed over the country and perhaps the world, bringing with it limitless options and making veganism more accessible and easy than ever before.
Those wishing to dip their toe into veganism – or ‘baby vegans’ as a friend of mine calls them – are spoilt for choice with the plethora of delights available to them. From vegan Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to NoBull quarter pounders from the No Meat Co, more vegan cheese than you can shake a stick at and products available at every outlet from Lidl to M&S, it really is a fantastic time to try it out.
2020 saw demand for vegan products soar, attributed to an increase in the number of people being mindful about what they were eating during lockdown. Last year saw the number of trademark registrations for vegan products more than double to a record high. Alex has noticed this trend even whilst being closed, with more interest and enquiries into The Peppercorn and what they offer. “People are finding more information about veganism”, said Alex, adding “they are realising it’s good for the planet, good for their health and good for animal welfare”. She also refers to how easy it is to get hold of vegan products now, with supermarkets overflowing with alternatives to meat and dairy, and prices dropping. In October 2020, ASDA announced that their Free From range would be price-matched to the mainstream alternative, vastly increasing the affordability of veganism for those on a budget.
“It’s both brilliant and concerning for a small business like mine”, Alex said of the increase in availability. “It’s brilliant because consumers have more choice, but people can end up overlooking small independent businesses at the same time”. That said, Alex can’t wait to welcome her loyal customers back to The Peppercorn and is really missing cooking for a cafe full of people.
She’ll be cooking up a storm in February for their Valentine’s Takeaway Supper Club on February 13th – if you’d like to go vegan this Valentine’s, check out The Peppercorn on Facebook and instagram.