When you’re starting a business, finding the right offering that not only impresses new customers, but keeps them coming back, can be tricky. And for those who do end up developing a strong following, the challenge of what’s next, and how to continually evolve with customer demand to stay front of mind follows.
This is one test that keeps the cofounders and directors of Sydney’s popular sashimi salad bar chain, Fishbowl, constantly transforming. Nathan Dalah, Nic Pestalozzi and Casper Ettelson started with one idea and one shopfront in Sydney’s famous Bondi back in 2016 — now there is a Fishbowl sashimi bar in seven locations across greater Sydney, with plans to make a move nationally in the near future.
We caught up with the guys behind the sashimi salad craze to find out a bit about their story, how they manage to keep their offering fresh and why they’re moving cashless.
Tell us how Fishbowl got started?
We were actually inspired by a trip to the United States back in 2015, where a new wave of poke salad bars was emerging, namely places like Sweetgreen, Sweetfin and Chopt. We recognised that there weren’t really offerings of this kind in Australia, so we decided to hit the market ourselves and curate our own version. We couldn’t believe how popular they were and we thought we could do it — and do it better — without just copying the poke trend. Add to this the fact that Australia has access to some of the finest-quality sashimi and produce in the world, (and there is a huge demand for healthy eating options here), so we thought we’d give it a try and people definitely responded.
Why do you think your stores have been so popular?
Fishbowl was built on the idea of combining the flavours we all love from Japanese cuisine with salad, and a cool place to eat in. We have chosen the areas for our stores based on what people are looking for, and each one is slightly different. Whether it’s somewhere nice to sit for lunch and dinner, or just a cool place to hang out that is comfortable with quick service, Fishbowl caters to all. That’s what we can offer people, and they have kept coming back for it.
That being said, we are determined never to rest on our laurels and what has worked for us in the past — we’re always looking to adapt and improve. We know that we need to constantly stay ahead of the competition and make sure we’re aligned with what our customers want. We’re always playing around with new flavours and menu ideas, or store designs and technology that we can adopt to continue to drive Fishbowl into the future.
What are some of the things that make you stand out from the crowd?
We are authentic in everything that we do; we pay attention to every detail and relentlessly pursue our customers’ ever-changing needs. This is pretty much our m.o. and we’ve tried to keep our customers front of mind every step of the way. Each of our locations has been designed in conjunction with local architects in order to make the spaces, like the food, thoughtfully designed and fashionably minimal. This is also why we decided against going with the big, bulky computer-like traditional point of sale systems at our checkout. We need our technology to be minimal fuss and look good in our stores. That’s why we chose to work with Square.
How has Square helped your business?
We didn’t come from a retail background so we were not across all the different point-of-sale hardware and software out there. Honestly, when looking behind the counter of most shops, it just always looks like mumble-jumble with all the colours, buttons and the out-of-date fonts.
We chose to start and run with Square because it was clean, cool and easy to use. It streamlines our payments services and connects to phones or tablets, with specialised software that helps us manage sales. As we’ve grown, it’s been easy to set up and scale, plus we can track all of our locations from an app on our phones.
How have you grown over the past two years?
After we set up our Bondi store, we managed to hit a niche at the right time, which saw us go into a really pumping summer. From there we found a second site closer to the city in Darlinghurst and managed to fund that site with cash flow from the first, then funded the third with the first two and so on. Now we’re running seven different locations across Sydney, with around 70 employees.
Why have you decided to take your stores cashless?
Going cashless has a number of benefits for us. We don’t have to rely on our growing number of staff members across multiple locations to physically count cash, reconcile the tills and take it to the bank. This helps us to eliminate accounting errors and productivity waste with the time spent on these tasks. Card payments are also faster, so in busy periods it really helps us bust through queues. We haven’t seen pushback from our customers so far — many of them already pay by card or phone, and the experience is more seamless with the transactions faster and the service cleaner.
What’s next for Fishbowl?
We want to take Fishbowl nationally, and we’re in the process of doing so. We just moved into a new (and much larger) central kitchen and we’ll be setting up our distribution from there. We believe that our product — including the food, design, music, people and price point — is something that resonates with people on a much larger scale, so we are determined to deliver. We’ve also just opened another health food concept called Side Room, which focuses on healthy smoothies, bowls and sandwiches (we like to stay busy!). Going forward, we want to continue to evolve and generate concepts that combine health, experience and accessibility for all customers. It’s a challenge that we’re excited to take on.