All day healthy food hang-out, Squirrel, has taken London by storm with its Treehouse salads and chic interior. We speak with co-founder and nutritional therapist, Zoe Stirling, to find out more about their journey from idea to launch and where their brand is headed next.
Can you introduce us to Squirrel – where the inspiration came from and what makes your restaurant special?
Squirrel is an all-day fast casual healthy food & drink concept set within surroundings that even a Squirrel would feel at home. The idea behind the concept was to make healthy eating fun, affordable and, of course, delicious, steering people away from the mindset that healthy eating comes at a cost of good taste.
We’ve worked hard to try and combine good food, with a great atmosphere and a place where our customers enjoy hanging out, which all contribute to one’s enjoyment of a dining experience, whether they’re eating in store or taking a meal away to eat at home or at their desk.
How did you go about developing the concept and establishing a clear aesthetic/brand?
We knew we wanted to be different and shake up the existing healthy grab & go market through a fun, fresh and vibrant brand, as well as customer experience. Our branding actually took some time to get right, but we knew this would be fundamental in shaping our marketing and key messaging ongoing. The name came about as we felt it encompassed everything we were trying to achieve – something that would be fun, cheeky and synonymous with nature.
The name came about as we felt it encompassed everything we were trying to achieve – something that would be fun, cheeky and synonymous with nature.
You have co-founded Squirrel with Duncan Stirling (your husband), Charlie Gilkes and his wife, Anneke Gilkes. How have you found it working as a quad on building a business, but also as two couples? Any pro’s/con’s?
It’s honestly been an incredible experience as each of us come from such different backgrounds and all bring something different to the table. Being a nutritionist, my passion is the food and putting together healthy yet tasty dishes for the menu. Duncan is an excellent operator – he likes looking at the functionality of the space and the customer’s journey, while Charlie has an incredibly creative mind that has influenced a lot of our branding and interior design; Anneke comes from a PR & marketing background and also has an excellent eye for interiors too. Having said that, during the set-up phase, there was a lot of overlap between us in all these areas, but we’re now focusing more on each of our specialisms.
Can you talk us through how you put together your menu and any key things you wanted to achieve with it?
In a nutshell – the menu is healthy but it doesn’t come at the expense of good taste. I’ve developed the menu from a nutritional standpoint along with a chef, Dara Sutin, who comes at it from a taste perspective. We’ve tried to incorporate trending foods that pose a nutritional benefit; for example, we have a dish called ‘Carroty Kid’ that contains kimchi, which can sometimes be an acquired taste, but within the dish the kimchi really works so well that you’d have no idea it was in there, even if you weren’t a kimchi lover.
Through research we also discovered that people love choice (although not too much) so you’re able to customise any dish on the Treehouse menu according to taste or dietary preferences…
In addition, it was important that we didn’t follow any particular style of diet e.g. raw or vegan. We had to have a menu that everyone could find something they liked, even if they weren’t specifically into healthy eating. Through research we also discovered that people love choice (although not too much) so you’re able to customise any dish on the Treehouse menu according to taste or dietary preferences, making it suitable for everyone!
What are your hopes for the future and how do you see Squirrel expanding/growing?
We’d love to open more Treehouses across London to make it accessible for everyone. Due to the detail that goes into one of our stores, we wouldn’t attempt to follow a PRET-style model, but we’ll stick to key locations across town that our customers could access directly or through delivery services.