The environmental awakening that prompted a former Scottish nuclear plant electrical engineer to sell up his Queenstown bars has turned into a passion for social conscience dining.
Greenpeace protestors were once a nuisance to Scotsman Richard Docherty, who was an electrical engineer at a British Government naval base for nuclear submarines and nuclear weapons. “The Greenpeace protestors would be banging on my window on the bus as we headed into the plant to work,” says Richard. “I had no environmental ethics. I grew up in that Scottish industrial shipyard mentality.”
However, now in his 30’s, Richard is a total convert. The former owner of well-known Queenstown Steamer Wharf bar Fraser’s and The Naughty Penguin in Cow Lane, he’s founded a unique food concept for Queenstown – PlantB. It’s a non-conforming food establishment, set up in a 6.9m (20 foot) recycled hydraulic shipping container at Queenstown Airport, where the ethos is all about promoting a plant-based ideology towards food and packaging. Richard refuses to comply with society’s standard for normal attitudes, behaviours and beliefs about the food industry, and it shows. He’s passionate about taking the rest of the world along with him on what he says is now a global movement inspired by the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions and conserve the earth’s precious resources. It’s a topic that he says we should all be discussing and Richard’s planning local forums in Queenstown to get the community talking about sustainability and challenging people to think. “We’ll also be using our own business platforms to get people talking,” he says.
He first saw the light during a stint managing a Central Otago cherry orchard while his bars were being redeveloped. “I was blown away by the extent of the wastage with the best plump cherries shipped off to Asia for export, the locals getting the dregs and the rest thrown in the bin,” he says.
That got him thinking about the sustainability of the planet and the importance of eating locally and seasonally to minimise environmental impact. In 2013 he launched his first wholefood concept – Rehab, offering fresh, health food and juice alternatives. Food with a social conscience – thinking sustainably, consuming responsibly and traceability - was a relatively new concept back then. “We couldn’t be such a strong a voice then, so we sat on the fence,” says Richard.
However, since then consumers have become more aware of the supply chain and our behaviour inside that, he says. “People have become much more passionate about environmental and health issues,” he says. It’s the way of the future. He’s already noticing an emerging new demographic of young people queueing up at PlantB. While customers were predominantly females, aged 16 to 48, Richard’s now seeing more kids from 14 years, through to people in their early 20’s – male and female. Young people are increasingly showing a real social conscience towards food, says Richard. “They want to eat cool and healthy food. They’re also the Netflix generation, who are watching documentaries about what the dairy industry is doing.”
He’s now seeing children lead their parents in food choices. “It used to be the parents who were up front placing the orders, but it’s now the kids directing the parents, he says. “These kids are smart. They’ve already looked up Trip Advisor and read the articles about where to eat before they arrive.”
PlantB focuses heavily on local plant-based food, offering everything from Moroccan, Vietnamese, Greek salad and bowl options to delicious warm bowls like Egg and Dukkah, featuring a cashew and harissa dressing, Egg and Salmon, Chipotle and Bean, Malaysian Kale and Kumara Curry and free range chicken broths. Salad bowls star Avocado and Grains, Olive and Tahini, Mango and Sprouts, which team up with a huge array of smoothies that make up 50 percent of sales.
Plant-based doesn’t mean vegan, he says. That’s more about animal welfare, while plant-based is about eating wholefood and having a social conscience, says Richard. “We can eat meat. We just need to cut down. We don’t need it every night of the week.”
“My dream is to put PlantB containers around the country and eventually make them completely off the grid using standalone solar panels and wastewater treatment,”
He’s all about creating amazing plant-based dishes. “I’m trying to get people away from that rabbit food mentality, because you can be sustainable and still enjoy hearty meals.”
Cleaning products are carefully chosen, even at the expense of improving his bottom line. He’s also looking into running a hybrid fleet of refrigerated electric delivery vans, with plans to introduce food deliveries locally on electric bikes.
“My dream is to put PlantB containers around the country and eventually make them completely off the grid using standalone solar panels and wastewater treatment,” says Richard. “I want to be on my deathbed, proud of what I’ve left behind on the earth and to pass that legacy on for others to carry on.” ‡