My West London Life

Ellie Webb, founder of Caleño


Ellie Webb, founder of the alcohol-free drink, Caleño, on catering for younger generations & why they're drinking less!

Do you live or work in west London?

I used to stay in West London quite a lot when my sister lived there, and currently, all of Caleño’s sales team are based in West London, so I’m there a lot!

What’s your favourite thing about the area?

I usually find myself between the city of Bristol and west London (especially Paddington Station!). There are so many things I love about west London, but the highlight for me has to be the annual Notting Hill Carnival, which in the UK is the closest celebration you get to the massive carnivals, which you can also find in Latin America like Rio de Janeiro and the Barranquilla Carnival (the home of Shakira). I love the out-there outfits, dancing and music – the whole lot.

Describe your perfect day and evening in west London. Any favourite haunts?

I’d start the morning along the Kings Road, for breakfast and coffee at the Bluebird Chelsea, then I’d hop over to The Prince for an early afternoon Caleño Cocktail, then head to Jungle Rumble (In Putney) with some friends for a bit of crazy golf. We’d then finish the evening with some Mediterranean goodness at Megan’s who also serve delicious Caleño cocktails!

Can you tell us about your brand, Caleño? What inspired you to set it up?

My alcohol-free journey with Caleño began back in January 2017 when I first had the idea. It was a culmination of things, but mainly, I was looking to cut back on my drinking after Christmas. There was one night in Bristol, I remember going out to a Latin Funk music night with some friends, and I’d offered to drive (as I wasn’t drinking). My friends ordered the usual gin and tonics, craft beers, whilst I was left drinking a diet coke and then water. This was not quite as exciting and pretty frustrating. Coming from a background in the alcohol industry, it got me thinking. There is literally so much choice in the world of spirits and alcohol, but if you’re suddenly not drinking, what the hell do you drink? I knew I couldn’t drink soft drinks all night, and water just felt incredibly boring.

A few months later I took a trip back to Colombia. I spent a lot of time with family (my mum’s side is from there) and also travelled around the country, visiting Cali, Medellin, Bogota the coffee region and the coastal towns of Cartagena and Santa Marta. Whilst I was there I experienced the warm, happy upbeat/sunny nature of the Colombian people, who are relentlessly optimistic, open-minded and are always finding an excuse to celebrate/party!! It was there that it kind of dawned on me what the non-alcoholic space was lacking. When you don’t drink, people accuse you of being boring, and that’s just not the case, it’s the drinks that are dull. It needed a massive injection of fun and excitement, and that’s when I decided that was what my drink was going to do. I guess from there my vision for the drink was pretty clear.

I bought a load of botanicals online and started experimenting and playing around with different ingredients, seeing what kind of flavours I could extract. I was determined to create something that tasted more like the adult-type drinks I was used to drinking, had the complexity of flavour, interesting ingredients, and also reminded me of my favourite place in the world… Colombia (hence the Inca berry!).

You left the corporate world to start your life again from scratch, can you tell us about the moment you decided enough was enough?

I was working on Caleño for two years before quitting my job. It was terrifying leaving a stable position but I wanted a different challenge. I was slightly disillusioned by the corporate world, the corporate machine moves a lot slower and has a tendency to dull creativity and I really wanted to be more involved in creative output. I have always been ambitious in my career and have always pushed myself on to the next level.

I think the decision to leave the corporate world, was a mixture of a couple of things. One, I was a big lover of the drinks industry, and don’t get me wrong, I was into my alcohol, yet I was in this situation (Dry January), where I didn’t want to drink alcohol, but just couldn’t find something I actually wanted to drink! I thought, OK, if I’m having this problem right now, surely there must be loads more like me – why are people not doing more about it? The second part, as I’d reached a point in my life (rapidly approaching 30…) where I didn’t want to feel hungover anymore (which incidentally were getting worse), I wanted to look after myself.

Why Caleño?

The name ‘Caleño’ is actually the name given to someone from the city of Cali in Colombia, a little bit like you are a Londoner if you’re from London. It’s where my family were born, and where everyone goes to learn how to dance salsa, the unofficial ‘Capital of Salsa’ and the best place to go if you want a great night. It seemed fitting to name my brand Caleño given its inspiration and mission to show people you can have fun without needing alcohol.

Tell us about your experience researching in Colombia?

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted this drink to be different, but always fun, colourful, vibrant. I even sketched out a bottle once which was all of those things. I guess that was just my way of thinking, and then when I went back to Colombia, after having not visited for a while, I fell in love with the country again, and everything became so much clearer. They literally have towns and cities paved in colour, like Cartagena, Guatape which make you feel incredibly happy just looking at them, and they also have these incredible fruit markets, with all kinds of deliciously exotic fruits. I decided to use these elements as inspiration for my brand.

Why do you think that younger generations are drinking less?

I think it’s been a combination of a couple of factors. The first is that people are now much more conscious about what they consume, which includes what they drink. People are becoming much more aware of the negative effects of alcohol, in particular, the longer-term mental health issues. That means they are now making the positive choice to drink less. This trend has been well documented in the media and press, which has therefore shone a spotlight on the ‘mindful’ category as a whole. I also think the younger generation is a bit fed up with the effects of alcohol. If you drink to excess, you do stupid things, you’re left with a hangover, which means you can’t make the most of your day.

What do you think people look for in a non-alcoholic drink?

Ultimately, people want their drink to taste great, be well presented; that often means premium glassware, garnishes etc, and to be able to drink lots of the same drink, so not overly sugary, sweet, but sippable! Often people still want to go out and meet with their friends, but not necessarily drinks loads of alcohol which is where great non-alcoholic drinks like Caleño come into the equation.

Do you think people would drink less if there were more options out there like Caleno?

Absolutely! The reality is that a huge number of people are cutting down the amount they drink, but we don’t have that critical awareness, or perceived availability of premium non-alcoholic drinks just yet. So it’s not necessarily about just about there being more options, but these options being readily available and promoted in bars, restaurants and supermarkets. Once they become better known, drinks like ours tend to fly off the shelves.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting this journey?

The most important thing is it’s not always about the idea. It’s really about whether you have the grit and determination to succeed and stick with it when the going gets tough. Of course, you need an idea which people are going to be willing to pay for, but most people don’t make it past the ideas stage and there’s a reason for that. Be that person that pushes on through…

Anything coming up in 2022 that you’re excited to tell us about?

Oh wow, we have so many exciting things to say, but that would be giving away all our secrets. What I will say is there will be a lot happening in the lead up to Dry January, as that’s the biggest time of the year for this category, so it’s worth signing up to our newsletter for all the latest news and offers!

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