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DoppleGanger, Cambridge

Founder, Alf Fowler

interviewed by Zoe Schoon


"The biggest win for me is meat eaters who say they’ll come back"

You have some excellent reviews. What do you think is the main factor behind your success?

I think it’s about creating an environment where people want to work and enjoy themselves. Our staff are genuinely happy and there’s no “macho” kitchen stuff. I also work hard alongside my staff and I think the team spirit shines through into the restaurant.

What inspired you to start a vegan burger restaurant?

I went vegan for the cookery challenge and stayed with it because the other factors make it even better! Bean burgers weren’t great so I thought I could make something more interesting. You are not constrained by the taste of beef so you can be more creative with what goes in the burgers. The patty is a vehicle of texture to carry more interesting elements in the burger. I’m a designer by trade, so really love the process of designing new recipes. Take our special ketchup for example, we slow-smoke our tomatoes in the oven at 80 degrees. You put smoking chips in the oven and control how much they burn with the fan (you can do this with a commercial oven). Then they sit overnight in the weighted down. I love how recipes evolve. As a designer you’re trained on product; you’re trained to make things obsolete to make things look different – just by the shape of products and the cut of clothes. You’re changing up the trends and making change. In my case, I’m doing it with food.

What do you think of the vegan revolution that is currently circling the globe?

I think it has to happen because of the environment, but I don’t think it’s good to tell people what they can and can’t do. I think eating meat 3 times a day is bad; eating meat 3 times a month is OK. At DoppleGanger we believe we’re having a greater impact with every bite. We don’t want to ram it down people’s throats but I do believe that if we do what we do well we can change the world. If somebody eats 12 burgers a year, and if 3 of those times they came to a DoppleGanger, then that is us having an impact, making change.

What is your best seller? What are your burgers made of?

Well actually, for us, the seasoning is the thing that stands out. The patty is there to chew and add texture and is then seasoned. For example, I use a recipe I found for steak seasoning in one of our burgers, to flavour the patty. People also love the ranch sauce in the Dopple which is made from garlic and herbs, capers, chives, parsley and other bits. We make it by emulsifying soya milk and oil, in the way you make mayonnaise.

What do meat eaters say about your food?

The biggest win for me is meat eaters who say they’ll come back. When we started it was much more heavily veggie-vegans who come in, but now the reputation has built and people are coming because it’s good. Nowhere in the restaurant does it say it’s vegan. We replace the vowel in bacon and cheese (b*con and ch*ese) and changed “duck balls” to “quack balls”. Everything is air fried and we don’t use any fat. Our air-fryer is a brilliant investment because you can literally press a button.

Your menu looks very tasty! What was the inspiration behind your dishes / how did you come up with them?

Every four weeks we change the menu and we do a taste-off. You buy a ticket on Eventbrite and test half of each burger. At our most recent event we tested Ends 2 (“chicken” burnt ends, roasted in dry spice and glazed with sticky sauce, served with coleslaw, pickles and pepper jack cheese) and the Casbah Babaganoush (charred with burnt banana blossom and lemon, and served with oregano and red onion salad and a dukkah with hazelnut, cumin, fennel, and seeds).
I also now have a part time chef who I can bounce ideas off. Its quite difficult to find a good cook; and a good vegan cook even harder.

What other plant-based food brand do you most admire and why?

I’m actually not massively aware of any other brands because I live in bit of a social media hole. As long my customers and my staff are happy, I’m happy. I think people coming into the restaurant and having a good time and telling their mates about it is more important. Word of mouth is the best advertising you can get and so as long as my customers are happy and the restaurant is full, I’m not worried about what else is going on.

Do you have any plans to expand outside Cambridge at the moment? To other cities in the UK?

Yes – Norwich. We may also expand to other towns skirting London. For example, Giggling Squid has opened around 20 restaurants around London, but not actually in London.

What advice would you offer somebody who is thinking of embarking on a similar venture to your own?

Just work hard – it’s a lot of hours. I’ve not had a day off since Christmas. I start at 7 or 8 and finish at 10 or 11. My staff are paid hourly so they make more money and it’s fairer. Vegan cookery is more challenging.

You have to learn a whole new larder and ingredients; you have to make stuff more flavoursome.  I want DoppleGanger to be about good food that coincidentally is good for you.

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