Operator profile – Café: Smash ‘n’ grub

Operator profile – Café: Smash ‘n’ grub

Stone me – there’s a London-based outlet dedicated to the ubiquitous avocado! General manager Aaron Mifsud tells Henry Norman about the impressive rise of Avobar…

“On average I’d say it’s about 1,400.” I’m sitting in Avobar in Covent Garden with genial general manager Aaron Mifsud, who is trying to estimate just how many avocados the business gets through in a week. “It fluctuates, though,” he continues, “in the summer it can reach 1,800 to 2,000.”

The reason for this incredible demand is that, as you may have guessed, Avobar specialises in dishes that contain the super-popular superfood. “We put them in nearly every item,” says Aaron. “Pretty much the only thing that it isn’t in is the coffee; we even have pina coladas with avocado in.”

If you happen to be wondering where exactly to go if you want to get your hands on this quantity of the fruit, the answer, apparently, is Spain. “Because we want to be as sustainable as possible, we use a supplier from southern Spain,” says Aaron. “But because Spain can only supply avocados for six months of the year – from December until June – the rest come from South America. We obviously want to keep it as close to Europe as we can, but the climate doesn’t allow for that.

“Our avocados are a bit more expensive, because they come from Europe, where labour costs more, plus they are all fairtrade. But, because we want to be more sustainable, we don’t mind paying that bit extra. We are also big on recycling and we use renewable energy – that’s all part of the ethos here.”

This brand has been developed relatively quickly, as Avobar has only been in existence for about 18 months. Originally tested as a pop-up, the reaction was so good that it morphed into bricks and mortar just six months later. Although there isn’t a precedent for this concept in the UK, Aaron tells me that it is fairly well established abroad, as you would expect in the States, and perhaps less obviously so in Holland. The owner, Liana Kazaryan, who has Armenian heritage, studied fashion in London, but she ultimately followed her passion for healthy food and decided to fill the gap in the market. “She saw similar ideas elsewhere and thought, ‘England doesn’t have this’,” says Aaron.

The result is a little hard to categorise, with its unique menu and contrasting casual outlook and plush interior. The business sells itself as being a ‘superfood café’, but I’m interested in hearing how Aaron thinks it has slotted into the sector. “We are a brunch venue mainly, but we are now creating an evening menu,” he says. “The pop-up was all based and around brunch and smaller meals, but now we are looking to push the dinner side of things with dishes such as avocado lasagne. We are developing our own character, trying to find our own place. We’ve already managed this with our brunch offer and now we are developing it throughout the whole day.”

When it comes to new product development, everything is done in-house, while the physical menu has a flexibility that harks back to the street food scene. “We print own,” says Aaron, “so if we do want to change something the next day then we can. We have, obviously, our base menu, but if we want to try something new, or if a dish works really well at an event, we can put it straight on the menu.”

The best-seller is, unsurprisingly, Avobar’s signature dish: the avo bun burger, which is suitable for vegans. “The patty is mostly sweet potato and we have replaced the bun with an avocado, which we decorate to make it look more like a burger bap,” explains Aaron. “Our brunch dishes – eggs benedict, eggs florentine, which we make with a Hollandaise sauce that is made from avocado – are also extremely popular, as is our superfood salad. People come in mainly for the avo bun burger, though – a lot of the time they’ll take photos of it for social media too. The owners are very good at Instagram and I would say that 50% of our customers come from there.”

As you may expect, this clientele is cosmopolitan, not exactly baby boomer-heavy and skewed towards one particular gender. “Culturally it’s a real mix, though we get a lot of Middle Eastern people coming in especially,” says Aaron. “Instagram gives us the figures, so we know that 85% of our followers are 18- to 35-year-old women. If you come during the day, sometimes you won’t see a man in site, though that is starting to change slightly.

“For us, January isn’t actually a bad month. When everyone else is quietening down, we’re picking up.”

So, do they get a lot of repeat business, or does the central location and the ‘novelty’-nature of the offer mean that customers are more likely to only pop in once? “I think we are somewhere in the middle. We do get repeat business, especially from people who are on holiday from countries where this concept doesn’t exist. We do attract a lot of tourists, being the only place that does this.”

Not content with welcoming visitors from abroad, Avobar has also already begun meeting its cosmopolitan customers halfway having recently launched in Hong Kong. “Our next venture will be in Moscow, which will be opening in the spring,” reveals Aaron. “We are also looking to go to LA and New York, and people have been enquiring about doing this in Japan.”

As tempting as these enquiries must be, Aaron says that any temptation to begin franchising has been resisted so far. “The two new locations will be owned by us, but we are looking at different avenues. We aren’t a big company, so if we expand too quickly and try and take too much on it might be problematic. We are hoping to open more in London, but because the international side is going well we are going to push that for now. London is always a very difficult place, you really have to pick the right locations that suit your particular demographic.”

Conversing with this clientele is obviously of the utmost importance, as Aaron outlines when I conclude our chat by asking him how Avobar has managed to expand so quickly. “You have to listen to your customers,” he says. “Certain things that you are sure will be integral to your business don’t always work out, so you have to be able to adapt. It’s about working out what you are and who you are. You have to take onboard all of these influences and never give up. If you take on information from people around you then you will do well.”