Rad Apples: Dundee's new vegan hotspot

Dundee's new vegan joint, Rad Apples aims to bring its punk ethos and strong community spirit to the city

Feature by Jamie Wilde | 27 Feb 2020

“What are you doing with your basement?” was the curious question asked by Derrick Johnston some four years ago to the now-former owners of Conroy’s Basement in Dundee. Luckily for him, their answer was “nothing”.

This subsequently opened an immense opportunity for Johnston, one of the co-founders of the east coast punk label Make-That-A-Take Records, to transform this basement space into the popular gig venue it’s known as today. The Meadowside venue has a rich history for being a hotspot for the city’s punks and metalheads under its former name Foreigners, and Johnston’s transformation has certainly revived this legacy. Now he's revelling in the success of his newest venture, Rad Apples.

Co-run by Johnston and his partner, Hazel Aitken, the fully vegan Rad Apples bar/restaurant opened for business in November last year, and they’ve fast made an impression within Dundee. “Hazel and I had talked about opening a vegan joint for years,” says Johnston. “It was around August last year when the owners of Conroy’s mentioned that they were planning on closing the pub upstairs from us. But when they expressed their interest for us to take over the bar area as well as the basement, we jumped at the chance.”

Although this unique opportunity allowed the couple to realise their ambition of opening a vegan place of their own, he admits there were obstacles to overcome. “Initially I thought ‘how will we make both spaces work the way we want them to?’," he says. "But we realised that the best option was to make upstairs a totally new venue and company. The decor needed overhauling and the tenants were supportive of this, which made things a lot easier.”

When we asked Johnston why they opted for a fully vegan restaurant, he responded simply with “we’re vegan” – straight to the point. Johnston and Aitken's personal experience was paramount in the initial inception and eventual creation of Rad Apples. “We wanted to make Rad Apples a place where we’d want to go," says Johnston. "Our punk background has also been important in terms of our ethics and how we want to do things, and the support we’ve received from the punk and wider music community has been so important.”

Johnston also mentions how some of Glasgow’s current independent venues have influenced the ethos behind the couple’s latest venture. “If you look at places like The Hug and Pint, Mono, Nice 'n' Sleazy etc, they’re all doing their own unique thing," he says. "There’s nothing like this in Dundee at the moment, so we’re keen to make our place a hub that’s totally different to anywhere else here right now.”

Looking at the food, the venue’s varied vegan dishes, inspired by their chefs Lewis and Laura, offer something for everyone. “Lewis and Laura have been excellent," Johnston continues. "Everything we serve is made fresh here and we also have regular supplies of cakes and brownies from local bakeries, as well as beer from local breweries on tap.”

Deep-fried pickles and the venue’s own take on the Canadian mainstay poutine have proved popular with punters so far, but it’s the Rad Apples burgers which have been the menu’s star attraction. “Everyone loves a burger sauce, regardless of politics,” says Johnston, reminiscing over his past love for McDonalds’ Big Mac burger sauce. Clearly this passion has passed through to the creations on offer at Rad Apples. Their Cowpunk Burger, in particular, is a vegan tribute to the classic quarter pounder with cheese, which, of course, comes with its own special burger sauce.

There are also plenty of events to get involved in at the venue, such as a Bring Yer Ane Board Games night, book clubs and live music. “We always have a guitar at hand and people can come up and play a tune whenever they like," says Johnston. "We’ve actually been having these spontaneous jam sessions recently, which has been cool!”

It’s evident that the couple behind Rad Apples are committed to creating something positive for Dundee. Through creating new jobs and paying their staff above the government’s national living wage, a sense of community is also hugely important to the owners. “We’ve lived here all our lives and we’re keen to contribute positively to our community with Rad Apples," says Johnston. "Everyone’s welcome: younger ones, dogs, vegans, non-vegans – you name it.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. We’ve had a solid support so far and great customers. It’s been nae bather!”

Rad Apples, 51-53 Meadowside, Dundee