Ambitious Abokado puts faith in proven kitchen formula

Mark Lilley

Healthy food chain Abokado will look to repeat the kitchen formula that has stoked its growth so far as it bids to add a further 10 stores to its 20-strong London estate this year.

The company has steadily grown its business over the past decade despite having to contend with increased competition, but one thing it hasn’t had to massively alter is its approach to planning and developing kitchens.

Director and founder, Mark Lilley, says the current set-up is tried and tested. “Sacred to our business is that each of our shops has its own kitchen where we produce our menu from scratch each morning — there’s no central factory-style kitchen. We will always commit to making bold menu decisions and to innovation. We take a contrarian attitude to the way we run the business, believing that by following our own path we will stand out from the rest of our sector and give our customers something interesting and unique.”

Lilley says that Abokado’s back-of-house set-up is completely standardised and, having found a successful formula, it hasn’t deemed it necessary to massively change things over the past 10 years.

However, it wasn’t always like that. When the company opened its first shop in Covent Garden in the spring of 2004 Lilley remembers the kitchen being “the size of a postage stamp”.

He recalls: “It had no AC, a power supply that would fail, a basement that would often flood, was boiling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, and seemed to be magnet for all the petty thieves in London. But for the next two years it was home. We began to build a loyal following for our unique range of food and the crazy dream gradually started to turn into reality.”

While the kitchen layout varies depending on kitchen size constraints, it is largely similar across all Abokado stores. “We don’t evolve it because what we do seems to work,” says Lilley. “And if we make changes in one store — which we have to do occasionally — we’re then usually compelled to do so across the whole estate, which is costly and not undertaken lightly.”

Naturally, the company requires an array of catering equipment that is complementary to the menu choices it offers. It relies on refrigeration, lots of bench space for assembly and preparation, and equipment for high-end rice cooking and sushi production.

“We grill and steam, never fry,” adds Lilley. “We use high quality protein such as salmon and chicken. We also have a variety of portion sizes which are a really effective way of controlling how many calories you’re taking in, without compromising what you eat.”

The brand prides itself on adding flavour to its dishes in ways not normally associated with the fast service sector. For example, it uses almost 10 different fresh herbs in our kitchens, all of which arrive daily.

Above all, though, the growth that the company has experienced over the past decade has been accompanied by a rise in standards.

“Our scale means we can buy even better quality ingredients at lower prices. So we are continually focused on offering better value to our customers — we are one of our small group of operators who’ve made truly healthy and freshly-made food accessible to everyone.”

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