When you've got a new and exciting concept that shakes up the way things were previously done, getting sceptical people to buy into it is often one of the first hurdles.

When Catherine Salway, founder of Redemption, decided to open up an alcohol-free and vegan bar and restaurant, it was a sharp contrast to the rest of London's boozy dining scene - and it's been an instant hit, with new premises opening up in Shoreditch and more to come. We chatted to Catherine, who received a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp, about getting people enthusiastic about Redemption's concept.

How to get people to buy into your concept - Redemption

Tell us a little about Redemption

I left Virgin after 17 years to start my own company, Redemption.  Redemption is fast becoming known as London’s healthiest bar restaurant brand, serving up a delicious vegan, sugar-free, wheat-free menu - with an alcohol-free bar.  It offers people the chance to ‘spoil yourself without spoiling yourself’ in a space free from all toxins and temptations, where you can’t make a bad decision for yourself or the planet whilst you are socialising. 

Established three years ago with pop-ups, Redemption opened its own venue in Notting Hill in August 2015 before opening a second site in Shoreditch in January 2016.  Redemption regularly scores 5* reviews, is organic where possible, and aims to recycle 90% of its waste.

What did you believe the key challenge would be in selling the idea to people?

The main challenge was in convincing people (especially Londoners!) that they could have a fun night out without alcohol.  The second big challenge was convincing people that they would be excited and fulfilled by vegan food.

How did you address this?

We’d seen that the world was changing towards more healthy living amongst educated, younger consumers and that our core audience would be under-30s. We then came up with an aspirational and positive reason to visit Redemption based on our core principles, or higher purpose:  the toughest decision you’ll make is coming here, and after that you can’t make a bad decision for yourself or the planet. We embodied that with our tagline: ‘Spoil yourself without spoiling yourself’. So instead of being about what you were missing, it was about the freedom and joy that comes from knowing you can choose what you like without any bad consequences.

In the execution, we’ve made it sexy by having neons, glamorous interiors and tableware. We play cool music and we employ bubbly team members to break the ice and create a buzzy atmosphere.

And of course the food and drinks are exciting, nutritious and delicious, thanks to my brilliant partner Andrea Waters who is a classically-trained chef as well as nutrition expert and vegan food specialist.

In short, it has NOT been easy!  But then breaking new ground with innovation is never easy.

How to get people to buy into your concept - Redemption

What was the response like to opening Redemption?

Thankfully all our hard work has paid off and we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response. Customers in the restaurants love it, we have a loyal following, we have a large community online, and people just seem to generally appreciate the effort we are making to bring this space to society!

How did you spread awareness of the bar and its message?

We invested in photography and made sure we got the essentials of our digital presence sorted – the website, the keywords, the Google pages, our profiles on the core platforms like Time Out, Trip Advisor and Happy Cow, so people knew we were there.  We did a PR campaign which was linked to the news hook that more young people are turning away from alcohol.  This meant we were featured on TV and radio as well as print and digital media.  We got £5m worth of coverage which was amazing.  These articles all linked back to our site and so our SEO grew even stronger.  Then as we’ve been getting 5* reviews the digital presence grows stronger again.

We’ve since been focussing our attention on Instagram where we have the most traction, and we painted some angel wings on the outside of the Shoreditch restaurant which has gone viral as people photograph themselves in front of them all day long.  We are constantly coming up with cool ideas to keep our brand dynamic and relevant.

How to get people to buy into your concept - Redemption

Where is the business at now?

We have two sites in Shoreditch and Notting Hill and we are looking for a site in central London.  We’ve are just launching our detox tea and a scented candle for sale in store.  We are upgrading our digital activity to grow our community of fans and followers, by organising events, sharing cooking recipes and demos.  We’ve got our eye on the USA and other territories for expansion.  It’s really exhausting but really exciting!

Any other tips for other startups introducing a new concept in an established space?

Here are my top 5 tips for starting a business:

  • Play to your strengths – choose something you are really good at, and enjoy doing every day.  Be honest with yourself and convince people to work with you who are good at the things you are not good at.
  • Be distinctive – come up with something that nobody else has done in the same way and a good discipline is to be able to communicate that in 10 seconds.
  • Make money – even if you think you might do a load of good to society, even if are doing a social business, the concept has to be profitable in order for it to sustain itself.  You won’t make money to begin with because of the start up costs, but there has to be profit in the foreseeable future.
  • Be realistic – face up to the harsh reality of things that aren’t working and change them as soon as possible.  You will need more money than you think, so budget for more money than you need: hope for the best but plan for the worst.
  • Be adaptable – when you are starting something innovative, as we have, you don’t have any rule book or case studies so we are currently finding that we need to change or ‘pivot’ the business in order for it to succeed, whilst still staying true to our core values.  An successful entrepreneur friend of mine told me recently that she thought this was the no.1 key to success.


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