This year, make it your mission to treat yourself well and visit ETHOS in London’s very own Oxford Circus. Founded by 27 year old Jessica Krugera, ETHOS is the result of an entrepreneur’s brave leap into the food industry not long after completing her studies. The restaurant is home to an exquisite dream buffet for the health conscious; an around-the-world tour of guiltless cuisine. In our exclusive interview with this very special Founder, Jessica shares how she overcame her shy beginnings, her continued practices for success, the secret to looking after yourself and what makes her passion pursuit so special.
Getting to Know Jessica
What’s the prologue to your entrepreneurial journey?
I grew up in Australia, though I moved to Paris, France at the age of 20 to finish my Bachelors degree. I ended up staying in France to do my Masters of Business Administration. After my MBA I worked in consulting and in advertising, both for around a year. Since my Masters was business-orientated, I always had an interest in entrepreneurs and in setting up a business, though I thought it would be something that would come to fruition much later in my life – maybe when I was around forty!
“My upbringing made me very shy, very reluctant to be assertive, which is something I’m trying really hard to now overcome. I’m learning it quite late in life. People who can do it already in their daily lives are at a huge advantage.”
What is your passion?
Well ETHOS was created for two reasons, number one was my distress over animal welfare and number two my concern for the environment. For me, these two factors come way before health, although I think health is usually the primary reason as to why most people change to this diet. I do struggle mostly with people’s perception on this matter – if you say the V word, vegetarian or vegan, I’ve found some people can immediately switch off, even turn their nose up, or make some wise-crack joke. So here we try not preach about anything… be it the environment; be it health; be it animal welfare. We try to let the food speak for itself. Though one of our personal, four core values is ‘hate waste’ – that’s probably the core value our staff remember the most! We have a policy on trying not to waste food or water. The restaurant industry is extremely wasteful in its nature so it’s something I make sure the staff are very conscious of – not to leave taps running, not to leave lights on. Things like that.
Were you raised on a plant-based diet?
Growing up in Australia, we ate a lot of meat. I also began eating fish later on, though not as a child. It was three years ago when I switched to this particular lifestyle, which came about after I watched a documentary on the food industry. My mother was just about to fly out to work on a farm in California (as you do!) and recommended it to me. After watching it, I couldn’t believe that was what went on to get our food, our meat, our dairy, our eggs. It shocked me. It made me so upset. I wanted no part of it.
What was the inspiration behind your health business?
I found it extremely frustrating trying to eat out and find meat-free foods. I adopted a plant based diet almost overnight and I absolutely love going out to restaurants, so very quickly I found the process to combine the two quite tough. I noticed a real lack of creativity out there. The options so often were just some kind of pasta or a goats cheese salad. So when I began cooking for myself more and researching creative meat-free ideas, that evolved into thinking, why not turn this into my own restaurant where the food could be meat-free, healthy, delicious and interesting?
What’s the inspiration behind your logo?
In English folk-lore, the stag represents the protector of the forest, which summarizes a lot of the traits we want embodied in the brand. It’s also a proud, confident, strong creature, and a herbivore – it doesn’t eat meat. The trees are there to create the atmosphere and imagery of the forest within the restaurant interior. It springs up ideas of fruits of the forest and trying to use as much as we can from nature itself, and as an extension have no processed meat, nothing killed.
How personally involved are you in the dishes served?
Quite. Very, even! I’m always the one saying ‘change this’ or ‘that’s too bland’, or saying if I feel something is over-seasoned, maybe has too much salt or cloves. I’ll research recipes myself, thinking of ways to tweak them while getting the chef to consider what he can bring to the table and to the new dishes. I feel like I’m the driving force at the head of a big, collaborative effort between all the staff. Social media in particular helps so much in the creation of new dishes. Instagram, especially. @foodgawker has some beautiful dishes.
Have you had many set backs?
Every day it can feel like there is something going wrong, something that can be improved. Having grit and determination and a never-give-up attitude can really help. I’ve had days where everything feels against you, where all news feels like bad news, and it can get you down. However, if you try to push, push, push through the negativity, sometimes that can work against you. So the strategy for me is to take a pause from it all. Give it some space, leave it, come back tomorrow when you’re fresh and have slept. I remember around this time last year I was working very, very long hours and was actually very unhappy. Sleep deprivation was such a big cause of this. Sleep is so important. You have to take care of yourself at the same time as setting up a business.
“the strategy for me is to take a pause from it all. Give it some space, leave it, come back tomorrow when you’re fresh.”
What’s unique about your business model?
Our dishes are weighed to determine price. It all depends on what and how much you put on your plate. I saw this when I was living in Europe. I found a meat-free restaurant and got so excited – finally I could eat everything and anything I wanted! It was essentially a buffet, and who doesn’t like a buffet? But I realise sometimes with the buffet style of eating, it is very hard to maintain control. So if you’re weighing what people are eating and basing cost from this measurement, it ensures people don’t take themselves overboard and that they are not taking you for a ride, either. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to go back for many, many rounds and potentially feel you’ve lost some control on what you’re consuming.
“Sleep is so important. You have to take care of yourself at the same time as setting up a business.”
Have you observed a change in the way you feel since expelling it from your diet?
It’s more now that I’m seeing the benefits. It’s something I have personally found to have longer term benefits; it’s really, really clear these days the effect it’s had. I rarely get sick. I rarely get ill. I also had a lot of acne as a teenager and even a few years ago, which has reduced since the lifestyle change. I believe meat-free does make you feel good. I’ve found I’m less bogged down, though it’s important to remember you can still over-eat on a vegetarian diet.
Rebel Wrap Up
What would it be like if we came to ETHOS every single day?
Well, before this interview I was researching different ways of making scrambled eggs, for example. And I work very closely with the chefs who always bring their own ideas to the table. We really want to keep the menu alive and changing quite regularly. With so many different and varied options, it really struggles to be boring. Even if you came to ETHOS every day, you could have a different meat-free experience each time. Today we have two new dishes and last week we had two new dishes. It’s never a whole, complete change between seasons, but a gentle, constant evolution. So I’d say for those who do associate veganism with a lack of creativity, you’d be overwhelmed by choice and vibrancy and colour and taste we provide at ETHOS.
What is your key piece of advice for aspiring business-women?
Finding someone who has already done what you’re doing can be beneficial, like a mentor or someone you seek out. I do it all the time now, I drop someone a phone call or an email even if I don’t know them, and invite them to coffee or lunch. I tell them, I get a lot out of meeting people like you. Often I’ll just be asking for half an hour of their time. You should be willing to approach and have some guts when overcoming shyness. There’s also a really good book I read – the CEO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, which is all about women empowering themselves and not putting themselves down or self-doubting. My upbringing made me very shy, very reluctant to be assertive, which is something I’m trying really hard to now overcome. I’m learning it quite late in life. People who can do it already in their daily lives are at a huge advantage.
“I do it all the time now, I drop someone a phone call or an email even if I don’t know them, and invite them to coffee or lunch.”
What is next for ETHOS in terms of growth?
We’re speaking to new investors at the moment to help fund our growth. We’d like to have a second restaurant opened toward the end of next year. So hopefully an ETHOS 2:0 or some kind of other mutation, evolution of the brand will be opened in 2016. It’ll still be central London based and there’s no specific borough in mind right now, but we’d like to stay in London for the second one. Eventually it’d be great to venture out into different cities within the UK.
“We’re speaking to new investors at the moment to help fund our growth. We’d like to have a second restaurant opened toward the end of next year.”