How Fishbowl Grew from One to Thirty Stores: Scaling With Square

“A little bit of naivety is always a good thing, it would be easy for someone to say “don’t do it” because they assume that you’re a uni student with no experience, but in hindsight, I think that was probably one of the things that really worked to our advantage and now we have close to thirty stores.”

— Nic Pestalozzi, Co-founder, Fishbowl

If you’re a Bondi local or lover of Japanese cuisine, you have probably heard of Fishbowl, the Aussie-founded brainchild of uni mates, turned co-owners Nic Pestalozzi, Nathan Dalah and Casper Ettelson. Fishbowl is the fast-food option for people that hate fast food. Combining traditional Japanese flavours into the simple and loved sashimi salad bowl, Fishbowl was founded in 2016 with a single goal in mind - change fast food, change the culture.

“We wanted to create something that was a meal you could eat lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Taking the beautiful produce that we have access to in Australia and adding a Japanese twist, which would add a unique flair and more importantly, it would be bloody delicious”. - Nicolas

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Sushi night

The initial spark that ignited the idea behind Fishbowl can be traced back to Nathan’s early childhood memories. Growing up in Sydney, he reflects fondly on his family sushi nights, “my mum would spend all Friday prepping everything down to the last detail. From the sushi rice, to cutting the sashimi, the tamago and the teriyaki chicken. She would make a trip to the fish markets and bring the fresh produce back home. We would have this amazing Japanese feast every Friday night. It was our family’s favourite meal and it fostered a really early love for Japanese food and Japanese cuisine.”

Whilst studying at university, by chance, Nathan found a gap in the market. Craving something healthy, fast, wholesome and cost-effective for lunch and not being able to find it. “I just went to the fish markets and started talking to suppliers, not even really knowing what a supplier was and what their role was, I just knew that they sold fish - all of those different introductions and interactions, for me, served as a university degree in itself.”

Today you can find Japanese flavours as commonplace on high streets in almost every city and in every country. But, could it be put together in a way that is fun, with a punchy personality and reflect the trio’s personal values when it came to business, production and sourcing? Enter, Fishbowl.

“We felt like we were solving a really simple problem. Why couldn’t we get our hands on tasty, healthy food that was acceptable? Particularly in a city like Sydney or a suburb like Bondi? Why isn’t there a salad bar? Why isn’t there a place that we can go, spend under $20 and come away feeling good, healthy and fulfilled with what we’ve eaten? That’s how we started.”

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Hello Bondi

Opening their first store just off the main street in Australia’s iconic Bondi Beach was no mistake. As Nic explains “the location was pretty amazing for the brand, but there’s also a really large pool of super discerning customers in that area. We put all of our love and effort into that one space, and we thought, if we could just deliver what we’re promising, which is this epic experience with a beautiful product, there’s a good chance we can make it work anywhere.”

“A little bit of naivety is always a good thing, it would be easy for someone to say “don’t do it” because they assume that you’re a uni student with no experience, but in hindsight, I think that was probably one of the things that really worked to our advantage and now we have close to thirty stores.”

From the get-go the mission was simple. Find the best ingredients, create combinations that are going to blow people away and do it at a low price point. Once that was nailed, it was time to evolve. The trio saw an opportunity to combine their passions for different elements, using food as the communication vehicle. “We love dining out. We love restaurants and that experiential element of going to a restaurant and hearing a playlist that you love or bumping into personalities that you love. We also love fashion. So, can we incorporate that into the design of the uniform? We love design, so can we incorporate and work with our favourite designers to create spaces that we actually want to be in?”

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Shokunin, a dedication to the craft

“Simply put, [shokunin] refers to an intense dedication, devotion and respect to every detail of our craft.” - Nathan

As soon as you set foot into any Fishbowl store you will instantly notice the attention to detail, respect and total transparency behind the brand. From the signage to the uniforms, the posters on the walls and the music playing in the background. There is a contagious buzz that can only be attributed to the relentless pursuit that the team are constantly evolving. As Nathan says, “that’s how you create things that are special and that’s how you create things that last. So no matter what facet of the business we’re talking about, whether it’s marketing, or whether it’s food or the people. We go out of our way to make sure that within each of those fields, we’re doing everything that we can to make sure it’s the best that we can do.”

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Always evolving

To scale from one to almost thirty stores in five years is no mean feat - it’s a relentless pursuit of never changing, but never staying the same. “We never get comfortable with what we’ve got. We never take for granted the fact that the stores are busy and that they work and people like the product. We approach every day like, how do we actually get better as we grow?”

The team attribute their success to the hunger for constant evolution and constantly getting better. From when it was just the three founders working together in one small store, open to close every day, to now operating almost thirty locations across the country and plans to scale internationally.

Fishbowl’s success is a by product of things that are interesting to the founders, the wider Fishbowl team and their customers. As Nathan explains, “no matter if you’re in charge of a store, a first-time mixer in a new location, or if you’re the Head of Marketing. You have to have an intense dedication to detail. You have to love what you do. You can’t take your eye off the ball. We have to treat it as an extension of who we are as people and not just myself, Nic, and Casper, but really all of our staff. What are their passions? What are their interests? How can we incorporate and take the things that they love and are passionate about and actually bring that into the brand and into the store?”

“Attitudes change, tastes change. Our own tastes change and the evolution and continual growth of Fishbowl is really a by-product of my own taste, Nic’s taste, our whole team’s taste. But also, we’re constantly sending emails, whether it’s sending each other bits of inspiration from around town, or around the world. It can be completely unrelated to food.”

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“Who’s ever noticed a Point of Sale before?”

Nathan and Nic grew up together in Sydney, attending school together, travelling together and eventually doing the same university degree. It was on one of these adventures abroad to the USA that Nathan noticed a certain piece of point of sale technology. “Square was one of those technologies that when I was travelling to the US, I mean, who’s ever noticed a point of sale before? I remember taking a photo and then when I came back to Sydney and I was starting to conceive this idea around Fishbowl, I remember thinking, I wonder if that technology exists here?”

“I went to Officeworks, picked up a Square device and just kind of taught myself how to use it - it was really easy.”

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“Square, right from the start, became like opening up any other app on your phone, and every time I would do it, I would learn something more about the app, or what it was actually able to help me with. To me, it’s the pulse of the business.”

Ever since the team have continued to use Square as Fishbowl expanded into multiple locations across the country. Nic explains how Square has helped the team have complete sight across what is happening at each location, at any time of day. “From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, it’s really been a saviour in terms of how the stores are going. You know, you can’t be everywhere at once, but we can just go on our phones and we can see performance across thirty locations. We know which products are working and not working in real-time. I can see how sales are tracking minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, week-on-week, month-on-month or year-on-year. It allows us to scale with the same attention to detail that we could have when we had one store.”

“When it comes to using Square, it’s one of those things that the more you familiarise yourself with it, the more you realise there’s a lot of information that you can actually extract from it. So Square, right from the start, became like opening up any other app on your phone, and every time I would do it, I would learn something more about the app, or what it was actually able to help me with. To me, it’s the pulse of the business.”

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The sentiment is echoed by the wider Fishbowl team, NSW State Manager Saxon explains, “I think one of the best things is training new staff. It’s so easy to show a staff member the tiles and how it’s laid out. They can see the picture and then click on The O.G. or whichever bowl they want to choose. It’s obviously become a big part of our business.”

As Fishbowl continues to evolve, so does Square. “Square continues to provide new technology. There’s been a lot of developmental stuff that’s happened in the background at Fishbowl in which we’ve really successfully worked together and actually been able to end up with information that we can access and use that informs the decisions we make and to help make better decisions to grow the business.”

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What’s next?

Aside from aspiring to take Fishbowl to international shores, the trio says that they are going to continue to challenge themselves, the brand and their ways of thinking.

“Amongst the three of us founders, we’ve always challenged each other, we’ve pushed each other,” says Nathan. “But at the end of the day we are best mates and we never get set in our ways or caught up thinking, “this is so great, this works, this is what’s gonna keep working.” It’s exactly the opposite actually, it’s like “This is great today, but what’s gonna be great tomorrow? Like, what’s gonna make us great? What’s gonna propel us into the future?” because that’s where we see this brand going.”

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