“There are an estimated maximum of 60 harvests left on earth.”
28 Well Hung is London’s first Regenerative restaurant.
Nearly 10 years ago, Catherine and Gary Solomons started a street food business selling hand made flatbreads and well-sourced meat They always held strong values when it came to provenance and so developed relationships with smallholders and producers to create an ethical supply chain. They couldn’t find any wraps on the market that didn’t contain overly processed wheat and preservatives, so went about making their own and started selling their food at South Bank. This market relationship was hugely important, providing consistent income enabling and without which, they wouldn’t have had a consistent income enabling them to expand and do pop ups, festivals, private events and eventually, their restaurant.
They wanted to bring the kind of meat that you could only find in Michelin star restaurants to street food and make it work commercially – marrying this with their organic flat bread. This meant working with a farm that was working kindly, it meant native breeds, it meant grass fed meat. Later on, it would also come to mean working with farmers and growers who care for and regenerate soil.
With this vision in place, they spent the first two years learning their craft; setting up a cottage industry flatbread bakery and visiting growers to find the produce they wanted to use. This was essentially a micro version of what they do now having set up 28 Well Hung.
For the first 12 months, they were working full time; Gary had a corporate job and Catherine ran a charity and so they grew with the sector. The couple wanted to have a lifestyle business, doing lots of events, festivals and a Christmas market whilst having a couple of months off. It was very challenging and there are strong elements of who they are and what they learnt in street food that impacts how they think now. One of which is collaboration, a supportively competitive way of working.
It’s collaboration that has enabled things to work for them – England isn’t a big country and there aren’t that many farms that were working in the way that they wanted to see. There is often a disconnection between people who live in cities, the land and the people who are stewarding the land and they wanted to create a real connection between these elements whilst connecting consumers with the farmers – but as a hospitality company – doing it through great service and delicious and affordable dishes.
A particularly interesting challenge for them was the meat industry, “It’s somewhat of a dark art, you don’t always know what you’re getting, and marketing doesn’t always mean what you think it does.” Having worked with lots of suppliers they cultivated a relationship with Philip Warren who is their main meat supplier. As a street food business, they had a lot of regular customers, and they became known as the “meat people.” At the time that they were birthing 28 Well Hung the intention was to have a supplier that they trusted, they could visit and with whom they could scale. They are the last commercial entity that Warren’s have taken on, met with Matt Chatfield – the gatekeeper and the person responsible for building up Warren’s supply chain in London.
They were looking for a collaborative relationship and the way they work with Warren’s informed how they started doing small plate steak and working with less usual cuts that support the whole carcass balance. Catherine and Gary believe that if you want to work with people, you don’t think only about what they give you but what you give them and it’s critical that we see this more and more if we’re going to save our planet.
When we asked what sustainability means to 28 Well Hung, Catherine put this as ‘the active managing of your resources when they are healthy, and you have been managing them well.’ She went on to say that Warren’s have a strong ethic, informed by being great land and animal stewards for over 100 years – of the moment language like sustainability can be incredibly frustrating for the farmers who have always farmed in partnership with nature.
‘Regenerative approaches are what is needed and what we need to talk about – here are a maximum of 60 harvests left and we need to work together to help propel regenerative practices forward – this is what we need in our thinking and the way that we work with our land if we want to create a truly vibrant and self-renewing planet, which this is a phenomenal resource if we just see it and partner with it rather than simply extract from it.’
The uniqueness is in the thinking at 28 Well Hung. When they closed during the first lockdown, Catherine sat with the question of what a restaurant is if people can’t sit together? the underpinning values stay the same one of which is being a “connector”. There is a need for beacons in the food industry that show that it is possible to be commercially viable and support nature – when it comes to approaches to food production – and that kindness has to be extended to people too. Restaurants have the power to enable growers and producers through stable and consistent routes to market, while at the same time, supporting and growing intelligent consumer demand. Being hyper-local has enabled them to see the progression of this, to understand what questions people are asking, how they’re talking about them.
But it’s no good being a food company that talks about ethics without looking at how they can grow a kind environment too. Their core management team is small, and the challenge for a small brand that has a specific ethical flag is that they do this with curiosity, integrity and in collaboration with both staff and suppliers. This runs through the heart of the business, “it’s not just through posting on Instagram.”
There were many significant takeaways from this interview but one that stands out is that there is a danger of getting numb to the meaning of the word sustainability, what it is, what it isn’t and where in fact it needs to be swapped out for words that describe how we restore and regenerate what we’re destroying or have destroyed.
They are a steak restaurant but 50% of their menu is vegetarian and they have a real mix of vegan, veggie and meat-eating customers who come to them because of their focus on soil, on the how not the what. “Tractor kill, and mono cropping are just as destructive as intensive cattle farming” so whether it is meat or vegetables they serve, regeneration really is at the heart of everything they do.
28 Well Hung have set up something that is solution-focused rather than “fighting against” focused, and as Catherine says, we must work together to solve the problem. And ideally, Government would cease to subsidise those responsible for ecocide in favour of supporting the real heroes of this country – our land stewards.
If you have a heart response to what is happening to the planet and want to create real change, what would it look like for people to come together so it becomes a positive? We need to look at what’s happening to our planet and become catalysts of change by truly working collaboratively. How and what you choose to support by what you eat – even once a week can have a climate-positive impact.
To find out more on 28 Well Hung and Regenerative farming, you can visit:
For more stories from our members, look here