Student Accommodation

Local Spotlight: Little Shop of Vegans

Photo Credit: Rachel Cox, Owner

Welcome back to our monthly blog. This month we are shining a spotlight on one of Norwich’s hidden gems, Little Shop of Vegans, owned and run by Rachel Cox, who have just won the Viva! Award for Best Vegan Store in England. With Christmas coming up and availability limited, Rachel kindly answered some questions via email about all things vegan, Norwich and how this city is leading the way in good quality, sustainable foods.

CS: Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for us, I know you must be very busy! So, how long have you been in Norwich for?

Rachel: I moved to Norwich 8 years after falling in love with the city. I used to live in Hemel Hempstead and visited Norfolk on holiday lots for the beaches and wildlife. During the holiday we often popped into Norwich and that’s when I discovered how much the city had to offer.

CS: Norwich is definitely one of the UK’s best kept secrets. I’ve been there only three times and I completely understand why people stay. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Rachel: I’m originally from Luton, I’m 44 now so almost a grown-up and I live in Norwich with my boyfriend, 2 dogs, 2 rats and a cat.

CS: Sounds like a very busy home life you have. What made you decide to open a vegan store?

Rachel: Several years ago, a group called the Norwich Vegans used to hold monthly pop-up vegan shops/ mini markets at the Quaker Meeting House on Upper Goat Lane (this was in the days before the city had vegan cafes, restaurants and shops). I used to volunteer for the Norwich Vegans and helped run their food stall at the events. I really enjoyed it and I thought I’d like to do something like it full-time so I left my sensible, paid job and used all my savings to set up Little Shop of Vegans by myself! The Norwich Vegans still exist (you can find them on Facebook) but the monthly pop-up shops have stopped now as the city now caters really well for vegans. In fact it was named the most vegan-friendly city in the UK earlier this year!

CS: Isn’t that how all dream jobs begin, leaving the sensible life behind. It’s such an amazing thing that you did go out and follow your passion. Especially in today’s society with equality and the massive shift towards being vegetarian, vegan and to be more self-conscious about the planet and how carbon footprint impacts the earth then there was a few years ago, just like how several years ago, Norwich only had the Norwich Vegans, and now like you said, Norwich has been named the most vegan-friendly city in the UK. That’s a massive shift in a short time, what are your thoughts on all of this?

Rachel: I think it’s great that so many more people are now aware of the huge impact that animal agriculture has on the planet. I think the climate strikes helped greatly as they led to wider media coverage of the environmental issues surrounding industrial farming. Other documentaries that have focussed more on the health aspects of veganism (The Game Changers Movie for example) have also meant that people are finding out more and more about the positives of adopting a vegan/plant-based diet.

Photo Credit: Edward O'Neill

CS: It’s also great that the younger generation are extremely vocal and involved with being more sustainable. And having shops like yours really helps as it makes it more accessible for the general public to access vegan and eco-friendly products. Tell us a bit about your store?

Rachel: We’ve just received the Viva! Award for Best Vegan Store in England so we’re very excited about that! We sell a whole range of vegan products including dairy-free cheeses, meat alternatives, pick n' mix, chocolate bars, eco-friendly toiletries, plastic-free household goods (including refills for laundry liquid etc), candles and gifts. We’re always on the lookout for new, innovative products. We’re based in a gorgeous and very quirky 16th/17th century building. Over the past 500 years it has been many things including a medieval coaching inn, a merchant’s house, a public house (The Queen of Hungary from 1760-1913) a social hall for the church next door (now Norwich Arts Centre), a boot makers, an antiques store, an art space and a florist. We’re really proud of the history and have a list of all the landlords on the wall by the front door.

CS: That is amazing news! Congratulations!! And to be in a quirky building with so much history and on an amazing street must be dream come true. How long have you been up and running? Any plans to expand?

Rachel: We will be 3 years old in December. We started off in a much smaller shop on Magdalen Street in Norwich and, although we loved it there, I really wanted to be more central and to have a bit more space. I was delighted when the current shop location came up for rent and snapped it up, even though it did need a lot of work (it took about 3 months to renovate!) We’re now at least twice the size as we were when we started trading in 2016.

CS: It seems like everything fell into place for you. How has the response been from the local community and students?

Rachel: Very positive. St Benedict’s Street is full of other independent businesses and we’re all very respectful of each other. The local residents are lovely too. Norwich is very vegan-friendly now and I don’t think many people bat an eyelid at there being a purely vegan shop whereas 5 or 6 years ago it might have seemed odd!

CS: St Benedict’s street and Norwich in general definitely has a very supportive community. And I definitely agree with you on it being a normal concept to have a pure vegan shop and eateries around there are definitely still some places out there that are still struggling with the concept, but hopefully in the near future it will change. What’s the demographic like inside your store?

Rachel: It really does vary – we have teenagers to people in their 60s and 70s. I would say that the majority of our customers are between 20-40 but we definitely have shoppers from every walk of life.

Photo Credit: Rachel Cox, Owner

CS: But that is really good, you want the diversity and the different age groups to have that maximum impact. What would you say are the three most popular items in store?

Rachel: This is an easy one as we update our ’10 Best Sellers’ each month and put it up on the wall! At the moment, our most popular items are the award-nominated Scotch Eggless (a vegan version of a scotch egg made by Suffolk business Food! By Lizzi), our Pick n Mix selection and our ‘Snyckers Bars’ (a vegan version of a Snickers)

CS: I have to admit, the pick n mix is extremely good, and my flat mate loves it as well. I’m yet to try the snyckers, but it does look yummy! What else can people expect to find inside?

Rachel: Everything from vegan bacon to a bamboo toothbrush!

CS: Sounds like a one stop shop with ease! Being in a great location on St. Benedicts street, less than a 10 min walk to the Norwich Markets, right across the road from the Tipsy Vegan and with our student accommodation down the road, seems like the perfect fit. Speaking of the new student accommodation, what would you recommend for people who are new to the area, have just become vegan or who are trying to reduce their footprint during the year and at Christmas?

Rachel: I’d recommend trying lots of different vegan foods and enjoying the process of coming up with vegan versions of your favourite dishes. There is far more to the vegan diet than hummus! Also, don’t despair or give up if you don’t like one type of plant-based milk or cheese, just try a different one. There are more and more vegan alternatives becoming available every week so it doesn’t have to feel like a restrictive process. Norwich is such an incredible place for vegan food – you will see vegan options advertised at almost every restaurant (there is even a fish and chip shop on the market that offers vegan ‘fish’ (made from banana blossom) and chips!) and we have some fabulous vegan-run cafes, restaurants and coffee shops.

CS: It definitely feels like Norwich is the perfect place to begin, learn and be creative in which ever path you take when it comes to being more sustainable. There also seems to be less judgment as well, unlike other places, it’s very welcoming and open. I’m sure it’s even more so when it come leading up to Christmas and New Year’s. Any special Christmas items arriving for the store that you can tell us about?

Rachel: We’ve got lots of different Christmas roasts arriving and a huge supply of Yorkshire puddings as it wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without a few yorkies! We also have a personal favourite of mine – Gin and Rum iced mince pies. Very Christmassy indeed.

Photo Credit: Edward O'Neill

CS: Have to have a yorkie, it’s a classic staple to a roast dinner! The gin and rum iced mince pies sounds amazing! It all sounds amazing! I think I will have to pop up from London to get some! Any plans for Christmas and New Year’s?

Rachel: We’ll be open every day during December, right up until 4pm on Christmas eve. The run-up to Christmas is exhausting as I’ll be working 7 days a week so I’m planning to have a very relaxing Christmas Day, curled up on the sofa with hot chocolate and the dogs and to have family celebrations on Boxing Day instead. We’ll be closed for a short while over the festive period and then come back refreshed and raring to go in 2020.

CS: That sounds like a very hectic schedule you’ve got! But your Christmas day sounds perfect! And it will be good to have some time off, relax and re-charge. Before you get on with all things Christmas, one last question for you, what would be one piece of advice you would give to a first year student?

Rachel: Give yourself time to settle in and access the support offered by your university (e.g. the student support department) if you need it – talking to someone in those daunting early weeks can really help. I speak from experience as, prior to opening the shop, I worked in university administration roles for 15 years so I know how difficult things can seem, and how wonderful it can all turn out! You can do it! Also – work hard, make the most of all the opportunities on offer and listen to your tutors! That’s too many bits of advice now, isn’t it? 😊

CS: You can never have too many bits of advice, especially advice about support and mental wellbeing.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions! It has been amazing to see an insight into Little Shop of Vegans.

Little Shop of Vegans can be found at 49 St. Benedict’s Street, NR2 4PG. They are open Tuesday to Sundays and you can follow them on Instagram @littleshopofvegans.

Photo Credit: Catherine Starkey