Robyn and Ed run Square Root Soda in Leyton.
Tell us a bit about how the business got started and how it grew from there.
The idea came to us in 2012. I had finished Uni and was working in one of the UK’s first craft beer bars, the Euston Tap. Ed, Square Root’s co-founder was working at a brewery. We found ourselves on the cusp of two different scenes that were about to explode – craft beer and street food.
The Euston Tap had 40 beers on-tap and over 100 stocked, but the only soft drinks available were Coke and Diet Coke. In the meantime, people were wanting fresher ingredients and there was definitely a drive towards people wanting to know about what they were eating.
So we started to create soft drinks using the freshest ingredients available to us. We set up a stall at the Haringey Farmers’ Market with just a keg of ginger beer on a fold-up table and a terrible £20 gazebo.
We sold a lot during the summer months, but things got more difficult when it got to October. That’s when we started bottling the product and put together a bit of a marketing plan.
Using the connections we had, the business began to grow organically. We got a space in Hackney where we stayed for five years and got our drinks into a few local pubs such as The Cock Tavern. We now export internationally to France and Italy.
In 2015, there was a bit of a turning point when we won the BBC Food and Farming award for Best Drinks Producer. That was amazing, as we were the first non-alcoholic drinks company to win in that category. We had soon reached the maximum we could produce in Hackney so moved to this great space in Leyton in 2017.
It was just a really nice space, perfectly located in east London. It doesn’t sound like a lot when I say it like that, but we spent such a long time trying to the right area and space that would cater for all our needs. All our team live nearby and we’re in the perfect location for us to expand.
How would you describe the business community in Waltham Forest?
There’s such a fantastic local community of small businesses here, all with a similar ethos. It has been such a unique experience. All the businesses here really support one another and in the same sector, we work closely with Nirvana Brewing across the estate from us, which is a non-alcoholic brewery. We also have good relationships with Exale Brewery and the Blackhorse Lane Ateliers.
What makes Square Root Soda unique?
I think it’s the relationship we have with our suppliers and the farmers, which is what allows us to source such fantastic quality produce. We can tell you about each variety of fruit which goes into all our drinks, so it’s really about that real care for the product that defines us.
We have a particularly good relationship with our Sicilian farmers, where we got all the amazing Sicilian lemons and grapefruits. They’re two cousins, both called Camirelo Laudani. It’s quite a story about how we met them. We put something on a message board about wanting to source great citrus fruit in Sicily. We heard nothing for a year, so had pretty much forgotten about it, they got in touch to tell us about the amazing citrus fruit they were growing at their family business. We’ve been out there and it’s an amazing experience having such close relationships with your suppliers like that.
How many people do you employ and how many of your employees live locally? Why do you favour hiring locally?
We have 15 employees. All but one of them lives in London. Hiring locally has always been important and lots of the people who work for us have been here since the beginning. We have been absolutely determined to protect their jobs through Covid-19 and our workers have been on the furlough scheme, so we’ve been able to protect their jobs that way.
What does your Square Root do to support the local community?
We work with a company called Company Drinks. It’s a social enterprise which takes out people to pick fruit. We take the fruit and make the drinks they sell. We’re always up for working with charities and other good causes.
What have been the challenges since the Covid-19 lockdown started, and how have you overcome them?
They have been huge. Obviously, we have such a pub and bar focus and previously didn’t have a lot of retail customers. We lost the majority of our customer base overnight. We had just undergone a massive expansion, and installed a packaging line where previously we had done everything manually.
The answer has been to put everything into our online offer. We had a small number of retail customers previously and we’ve had to expand that hugely. We launched Doorstep Fizzy Pop for east London in May and that has been really successful, with lots of repeat subscriptions.
Has the Covid-19 era presented any unexpected opportunities for your business?
People are spending a lot more time at home so we have catered for that.
What are the plans to grow the business in the future?
We will put a greater focus on retail. We’ve learned through Covid-19 that only having one avenue to sell the product can be risky.
Why should people support local businesses?
Because we make all our products locally, we bring more jobs to the local area. We also supply your favourite local bars and restaurants.
What are your favourite places to visit in Waltham Forest?
Walthamstow Marshes. I grew up in the countryside so I really appreciate having a lot of outdoor space to hang out in.
I love local places such as Gnarly Vines which is a local wine shop in Walthamstow. It has a really great curated selection of wines, they sell really nice cheeses and things like that. I just think it’s really beautifully put together. I also love Yardarm deli shop in Leyton – it also has a restaurant space which is great!