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Planet-friendly Purpose

Jennie Cooper talks to Michael Smith, Venus’s co-founder, about his sustainable vision

Louisa Newman, Michael Smith and Lee Porter

The award-winning Venus Company – founded by Michael Smith, his wife, Louisa Newman, and Lee Porter – opened its first beach café at Blackpool Sands near Dartmouth almost 30 years ago. Louisa’s mother, Lady Newman, started Venus initially with The Venus Tea Huts at Blackpool Sands in 1958.

Today, its three cafés at Bigbury-on-Sea, Broadsands and the new Teignmouth venture are united by core sustainability practices.

Aptly, ‘Loving the Beach’ is Venus’s strapline and, as Michael describes, sustainability and ‘proper’ produce is in its DNA: “Louisa was involved in creating menus for Cranks in Carnaby Street in London, serving wholesome, vegetarian food. With her passion for organic, locally grown produce, she later opened another café in Dartington, and her recipe knowledge and skills are used in our dishes today. Lee has worked in North America and in catering at Wimbledon, among other jobs. I spent time in North America where I learnt about natural food, ingredients and quality – for example, grass-fed beef, which wasn’t talked about so much in the UK. I also spent time in Hawaii growing microalgae and worked on a natural pigment for farmed salmon which is currently fed an artificial colour. It was a real eye-opener.”

With this early knowledge, Michael, Louisa and Lee were driven to make Venus the greenest café operator, ensuring constant improvement in environmental performance. “We were the first café company to achieve The Queen’s Award for Sustainability in 2005, and we also received it again in 2010, something I’m incredibly proud of,” Michael says.

The team places great importance on educating customers about how eating at Venus contributes towards lower CO2 and helps safeguard our Devon coastline. Venus saves around 250,000 food miles per year, having centralised most of its distribution and food production at its warehouse and production kitchen at Halwell, near Totnes. Produce is sourced from many local suppliers, further reducing food miles.

You’ll find an impressive – and flourishing – number of sustainable practices in place in each café. Plastic straws were banned at all sites over two decades ago. Fully home-compostable hot cups and cutlery are used, along with home-compostable palm plates, saving an enormous amount of CO2, water, electricity and chemicals. Recycling and energy-efficient equipment are also used.

“We use home-compostable bin liners and our cleaning scourers are made from coconut fibres. Takeaway cutlery includes spoons made from avocado stones, and a couple of years ago, we introduced fully home-compostable packaging for the 50,000 cakes we bake and sell.”

What about the future? “Our journey continues. We will look at installing ground source heat pumps where appropriate, and adding photovoltaic units, as well as continuing to expand our home-compostable range. Technology is moving and we want to keep up,” Michael adds.

Can you be an unassuming trailblazer? This is how I would describe the manner in which Michael steers his business. There’s a wealth of combined environmental knowledge and experience in food and drink from the Venus team, underpinned by a genuinely caring attitude towards everything, from the people and produce, to environmental practices.

Michael concludes: “We have a duty to look after the sea, given our locations. Our goal is to stay ahead in sustainability, but we would be delighted to learn from others as well as to have people copy us.”

lovingthebeach.co.uk

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