As sustainability, health and well-being edge their way further into the consciousness, we are seeing the appeal of vegetarianism and veganism go beyond the ethical decision it was in the past. “70% of our customers are not vegetarian,” Jessica explains. “They are looking for a fresh, healthy meal they know has been made that day, with everything clearly labelled so there is no confusion over allergens or whether dishes are vegetarian or vegan. I think people just want to be certain of what they are getting – not everything at Ethos is low calorie per se, but that’s the beauty of our model – you can have a largely healthy meal, but then add a few pieces of, say, fried halloumi on the side. We see that a lot.”
Customers serve themselves from separate hot, cold and dessert displays and pay by weight, either to eat in or take away. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone have a whole plate of the same thing,” says Jessica. “Customer education was a big challenge when we first opened but now we find people love the flexibility and range of choice that self-service offers. They can see the dishes and choose exactly how much of each they feel like.”
Jessica was inspired to create Ethos while living in Switzerland, coming across a similar concept. She decided to come to London to pursue the idea, with nothing similar around at the time. Investment helped Ethos get off the ground, opening in January 2014 on Eastcastle Street, just north of Oxford Circus – ideal for shopping and work-lunch traffic. So where does the inspiration come from? “The Head Chef and I work together to create new dishes. My inspiration often comes from foods and styles of presentation I have seen on social media. I look at Instagram, healthy food blogs and food photography for ideas then think about what would work in a self-service environment. I then go to my chefs who will either adapt a recipe for commercial use, or tell me they can’t do it!” Jessica is a vegetarian herself, having given up meat upon discovering some of the cruel ways in which the meat industry treats animals in the production of meat and animal products. “I find it shocking and sad, and for that reason try to be vegan as much as possible, although I do occasionally go for vegetarian options, either way, I am always meat-free.”
In terms of sustainability, after some careful trial and error, wastage is low at less than 10kg per week. All the staff are very conscious of waste, and it’s a company policy to keep it as low as possible – notoriously difficult with buffet-style concepts. The chefs have an accurate idea of what volumes of dishes sell on particular days, and when there is food left over the staff often take it home rather than it be thrown away.
Jessica is looking for funding to open in another part of London. “I don’t want to rush it – the site needs to be right. It’s great we have a solid base with the first restaurant and we’re seeing success proving the model, but I want to be absolutely sure we are starting any new restaurants from the best possible place.” The future is bright for Ethos.