Published 19 November 2021
by Molly Wade
In September 2020, amid relentless restrictions and unpredictable lockdowns, Sam Best and Harry Dyer set out to launch Shrub, a supplier connecting small, ethical, sustainable growers with some of the best restaurants in London and Sussex.
We met whilst working in the industry and saw first-hand that high quality produce from small scale farms wasn’t getting where it needed to go. We noticed the demand for local, seasonal, ethically grown produce was skyrocketing in light of COVID-19 and so in September 2020 we decided to take a leap, rent a van and bridge the gap between fantastic produce and London restaurants.
We took the time to talk to people in the industry. Everyone was having a reset and a rethink and big part of that was where we are getting our food from. Chefs have pretty wild schedules so we made the most of their free time, starting conversations about the future and what we could do to provide them with the best produce, not only in terms of quality but also sustainability. Some of the restaurants we worked with in the early days also gave us the opportunity to set up market stalls to supply their local community – Barge East, Hackney and Deli 22, Dulwich – which helped us to maintain spend with the farmers.
The venues we work with range from top restaurants to lesser known cafes, but they all united in understanding that every penny spent on our farmers produce is pushing sustainability in hospitality forward. All the farms we work with are small scale, ethical, sustainable growers and producers and most of them concentrate on a niche meaning they are true masters of their trade.
Total transparency. We ensure all our restaurants know exactly which farms our produce is coming from. We have very close relationships and honest, frank conversations with our restaurants and farmers alike which is at the heart of what we do. Going exclusively organic isn’t necessarily a guarantee of quality. We go further and understand all the practises and decisions all farmers make. Some of our most exclusive and high-quality producers aren’t certified in anything at all but their practices far exceed those with a very long list of credentials. (Not to say there isn’t a place for regulatory certification, there is).
The people we work with know this is part and parcel of using quality produce and are pretty understanding. There’s a bit of lead time with our orders so we have enough time to let chefs know when a delivery won’t be possible and give them as many options as we can. It’s all about putting out fires and working around the issue. We’re steadily striking the balance between customer satisfaction and consistent produce.
With the nature of what we do we understand scalability is limited and to be honest we aren’t interested in that. For us it’s more about giving the farmers we work with a fair price and a market to restaurants in which we hope we can grow collectively. Expansion to us is also reflected in looking at other parts of the food industry that need changing and wider countryside management. There’s so much to be done and so much to talk about, it’s really exciting. We are always open to the next opportunity and have just launched dairy from Northiam who have a pasture fed, mix breed herd from Sussex and Kent.
Jerusalem artichokes and the humble parsnip from Laines Organic Farm, Cuckfield.