Vegan restaurant kicked off farm site in row over doughnuts
A VEGAN restaurant owner based on a local farm was ordered to shut down in a row over the hugely popular addition of doughnuts to its menu.
Offbeet has been based at Sunnyfields Farm, off Jacobs Gutter Lane in Totton, for about three years and, like many other eateries, has been takeaway only during the coronavirus lockdown.
But owner Peter Axworthy (40) was bewildered to receive an eviction notice from landowner Barker-Mill Estates, saying the sale of hundreds of doughnuts a day went against its “core values around health and wellbeing”.
The business had served sugary food in the past, as well as savoury and sweet products such as bagels with fillings such as faux smoked salmon made from carrots, cookies and even offers special cakes and doughnuts for dogs.
Although Offbeet had occasionally served doughnuts before, Mr Axworthy decided to offer them in different flavours in January to an overwhelming response from customers.
“I put a small mention of the doughnuts on social media and then when I opened I found everyone had come down for doughnuts,” he told the A&T.
“They sold out within half an hour that first day. Then I doubled the amount of doughnuts I made to 30 and they sold out too. We’re now doing 300 doughnuts a day, minimum – they’ve gained a cult following.”
Problems arose on 17th February when Mr Axworthy was contacted by Sunnyfields Farm, which rents the land from Barker-Mill Estates.
“They said they had a strange message from Barker-Mill, saying they’re unhappy with us selling doughnuts as they contain sugar and sugar has been strongly linked to obesity,” he continued.
“They said this wasn’t the image they wanted associated with the farm.
“Out of respect we shut the restaurant that weekend to see if we could get to the bottom of this issue.”
In an email to Barker-Mill Estates, Mr Axworthy said he did not deny the doughnuts were high in sugar but pointed out many of the restaurant’s other products were sugary, as well as goods sold by the on-site Sunnyfields farm shop.
He explained the addition of doughnuts was to help the business survive lockdown by paying rent and bills while keeping its eight staff employed.
He was astonished when Barker-Mill Estates demanded a full sugar analysis. Although never formally refusing, he pointed out this would have cost a lot of work and money, with the weekend closure having already resulted in a loss of around £4,000 in takings.
“The doughnuts change every week, with new flavours, so we would have had to do them all again, measure them and then bin them all,” Mr Axworthy explained.
“It just would have been a ludicrous exercise just to confirm that yes, doughnuts have sugar in them and we already knew that.”
He was devastated when Barker-Mill Estates said wanted the restaurant gone and its decision was “non-negotiable”.
Through Sunnyfields, he requested Offbeet be allowed to continue trading for another six months to avoid running up thousands of pounds of deficit while seeking an alternative venue.
However, Mr Axworthy said he only heard this confirmed in a Barker-Mill Estates statement to the media.
He said: “I’m absolutely speechless at the way they’re treating us – they’ve not opened up any dialogue. We’re very compassionate people, and if they had a problem we could have had a meeting with them and talked it through.”
Mr Axworthy, who lives in Romsey, stressed Sunnyfields Farm had been very supportive, although it was powerless to help.
A representative from Barker-Mill Estates’ managing agents, Longdown Management Limited, said: “We are constantly reviewing the occupiers across our premises to ensure they are aligned with our values.
“Whilst we recognise the doughnuts Offbeet sells are a luxury treat, the way they have been marketed in recent weeks goes against our core values around health and wellbeing.
“Offbeet have been asked to vacate the premises and have been given six months’ notice to enable them to relocate to suitable alternative premises.”