How I Got Here: Rachel Hugh

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here: Rachel Hugh co-founder of vegan burger group The Vurger Co

Related tags: Plant-based, Vegan, Fast food, The Vurger Co, Casual dining, Fast casual restaurant, Multi-site

The co-founder of vegan burger group The Vurger Co on why she gave up a career in fashion to run restaurants, and her vision of changing the fast-food world.

Why restaurants?
We had this vision of changing the fast-food world forever. We didn’t see anything like our concept in London back in 2016, it simply didn’t exist. So, we wanted to provide that delicious fast-food experience for everyone, our menu just happens to be vegan with a strong focus on sustainability from day one. Low and behold, I think our vision has inspired many more since.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
I actually switched careers from fashion buying to running a restaurant, I feel nothing in my life could have prepared me for that transition. Just hard work, a heap of passion and just pure focus on product and execution.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Dishoom. The quality of produce, the service, the menu knowledge, authenticity and execution are always on point. Hats off to the incredible team there, we are in awe every time we visit and eat their great vegan options.

What motivates you?
Working with phenomenal people! Our team have given their all through the toughest conditions ever to exist in our industry, so I see it as my duty to keep working hard for them.

What keeps you up at night?
Throughout the pandemic from 2020 until now it feels like one long sleepless night. Worrying about everything from staffing, financing, how to ensure we’re still innovating and pushing our menu forward yet ensuring we’re looking after everyone around us.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
When we started out, we met with so many phenomenal chefs and restaurateurs in early 2016 / 2017 – including Amanda Cohen, Andrew Dargue and Chloe Coscarelli all of which have had a major impact on our approach along the way. The most prolonged influence definitely has to be Gaz Oakley. He is a phenomenal chef who specialises in vegan creations however his eye for creative detail is second to none and has taught us so much along the way.

Coffee or tea?
Tea, always.

How often do you check your email?
Too often, it’s like an addiction.

How do you let off steam?
Singing in the car after a really bad day definitely helps.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
A crime drama and a cuppa tea beats any night out every day of the week.

Favourite holiday destination?
New York, it’s my spirit home.

What boxset are you currently watching?
Just finished Gangs of London, loved it!

What was your dream job growing up?
I was doing my ‘’dream job’’ as a fashion buyer. I’m an extremely determined person, so when I set my mind to something I will always go all at it. However sometimes an industry just doesn’t align with who you are anymore, and that’s why I made the switch. 

Best business decision?
Planning to develop retail products well in advance of the pandemic! We were planning this side of our business in 2019, then March 2020 hit, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for online retail products and direct to consumer. We sold our meal kits, our sauces and continued to innovate when the world seemed to be at a standstill. We are so incredibly lucky we focussed on what we believed in.

Worst business decision?
In the early days, we undervalued our business to gain early investors as we were battling with a landscape in the UK that didn’t want to accept that a vegan fast-food concept was the future of food! So, we had a lot of convincing to do, so the valuation had to be ‘great’ to attract investors to believe in us and the vision we had.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
As part of our business, we have a business outreach programme. This programme allows anybody in our business, no matter where you work within our framework to gain exposure and experience in another part of our team that interests or excites you. That way we are continually growing the skills of our team, keeping everyone motivated and building the next generation of our industry! My advice would be to join a company that cares about your future, look at what the company does to help you get to that next level, don’t be afraid to ask those questions at your interview stage too, you may be surprised.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
I just have an observation, no one company is here to ‘win it all’ and I think many people forget that when operating in this industry.  Many restaurants state that they are ‘the best’ ‘the only’ ‘the first’, and none of those sentences really matter at the end of the day. Concentrate on your customer, on your product, on your vision and that should hopefully work out for you. We are all lucky that customers have preferences, have different budgets and all different occasions to attend, we can all win.

Bio

Born in Swansea, South Wales, Hugh studied French and Welsh in Cardiff University. From there she left to pursue a fashion career and moved to London to join the Fashion Retail Academy. After a 10-year career that took her all over the world, she moved to the restaurant industry in 2016. Hugh has run The Vurger Co with co-founder Neil Potts for six years now, and the group has established sites in both London and Brighton. "There is nothing better than learning your craft, seeking the best people to work with and getting stuck in," she says.

Related topics: People, Profiles, Casual Dining

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