What Peckham means to a Deserted Cactus owner Esme Carr
By Koko Oloko
In the last five years or so Peckham has exploded into one the most vibrant locations to live and set up shop. Peckham and its surrounding areas have always been synonymous to the creative arts with Mountview theatre school in the heart of Peckham and Camberwell Arts college within walking distance; is it any wonder why there has been a surge of new property rentals and purchases? One thing that has contributed to Peckham’s desirability: its selection of local bars and cafés, one of them being the vegan café Deserted Cactus. It is located down the end of a narrow passageway in Holdrons Arcade, which is where I caught up with the founder Esme, to interview her whilst in action.
As I start interviewing Esme gives me her signature cheeky giggle which continues throughout.
How did you come up with the name ‘Deserted Cactus’ for your vegan café?
I needed to sign the contract for the shop and had to quickly register a name, so I went on to Google to choose a name and Deserted Cactus was a name I saw and that was it.
How did you start this journey?
Thinking back, she takes a second before she starts her story...
I started by becoming a vegan back in August 2015. I then started to post food that I made on Instagram, and that became popular, then I thought, why don’t I change my personal Instagram to a vegan Instagram page. I then started doing recipes/ videos on my YouTube channel, then that became popular too. You know what, it was very organic.
I started to follow lots of people and I got to meet loads of people within the vegan community. I started visiting people, and then I met someone who knew of this space that was available to rent in Holdrons Arcade, Peckham. I’ve never done anything like this, had no experience, but I decided to give it a go.
Was there a particular reason why you became a vegan?
I was never a big meat eater, but it just happened, it was an overnight process. I just decided to stop eating animal products.
What inspires your recipes?
Everything. Anything. First you learn to adapt what you already know and then you start getting inventive because you cannot use the same stuff time and time again. So, you start looking into the community to see what people are cooking; you basically play around with food, start experimenting. And if it works it works, if doesn’t it doesn’t.
What would you say is your signature dish?
A drum role for dramatic effect...
My most popular dish at the café is my Southern Fried Jackfruit. It started off as an experiment, I thought let me give this a try. A few bloggers came down to try it, they shared it on their YouTube and it went crazy from there.
Describe yourself in three words?
Greedy, hungry and happy!
What do you love about Peckham?
Peckham feels like the ‘Old Town’. It’s changing now, but it feels like what Brixton used to be before it changed. It feels like there is still beauty, regular Joneses going about their business, and I feel like I can still buy the stuff I used to buy in Brixton. Peckham is still accessible, it’s the norm and hasn’t been gentrified YET! It is in the process of happening, but it’s not there yet.
Would you ever consider setting up shop somewhere else other than Peckham?
No, Peckham is where it’s at.
How do you want your customers to feel when eating at Deserted Cactus?
I want them to feel they’re at home. Just come, sit down, relax. And I like that people get to know each other. I don’t like stuck up places where people just ponce and don’t talk. You can just talk, relax; whether it be about veganism, life, whatever. I want it to be an extension of your home. It’s more than food. There was a line my sister said “people come for the food, but stay for the conversation”.
Do you have any upcoming events for your followers?
By the time this interview is out the event I am doing will have been and gone. I have taken part in ‘Get Up, Stand Up Now’ an event taking place at Somerset House, in celebration of the past 50 years of black creativity in Britain and beyond.
Ps. Check Deserted Cactus’ Instagram for any changes as she may be taking part in an event or have family stuff to take care of because she is a mum doing it alone. Deserted Cactus opening hours:
Wednesday to Friday 1pm-4.30pm
Photos of Esme were taken by Nicola Brierley, owner of Little Sister, a vintage shop in Holdron’s Arcade.