Business Interview w/ Old St District
atis is a new start up restaurant in the Old Street District Partnership. They are located in The Atlas Building at 145 City Road. The restaurant offers healthy, nutritious salads and warm bowls with a mission to make plant-based nutrition the norm.
Old St District: Tell me a little bit about Atis and how you got started?
atis: We felt there was space in London for a new, fast-casual concept that served healthy, nutritious food with the mission of making plant-powered food the norm. We are keen to encourage people to see food as more than just fuel and to depart from the notion that fast-casuals need to be convenience-led. For us, the design of the space, the development of the brand and the customer experience is as important as creating a delicious, thoughtful menu.
We developed the early stages of the concept whilst living out in America which was a great source of inspiration and it is also where we fortunately met our first hire Connor, who heads the operations. Things moved quickly from that point – we returned to London, sought investment, found a site and started the hiring process. We are also very lucky to have Phil’s brother Xan on the team, who joined us last summer and together the four of us opened up atis for its first day of trading in October 2019.
Old St District: What does your average day look like?
atis: I think most people who own a restaurant would agree that no one day is ever the same. This is what makes it a very challenging business to be in but is part of its allure. For example, a day last week included: designing and ordering bespoke branded masks, helping the store out with lunch, meeting the core team to discuss ideas for the Autumn + Winter menu, heading off in the afternoon to check out a new site (incoming!), creating social content for the week ahead and working with the team to improve our Click + Collect ordering system. Pretty varied!
Old St District: Can you tell us a little bit about your team and the atmosphere created when people walk into Atis?
atis: We have an incredible team – it is a huge asset. They are resilient, energetic, hard-working and engaged. I think what sets them apart is that they take a lot of pride in their work. There are a few disagreements on the eclectic music choices and the time of day it’s played – techno at 8am has been banned – but other than that, everyone gets along incredibly well. There is a lot of laughter and a lot of vibrant energy – I think you can feel that as soon as you walk in.
Old St District: Did the current COVID19 pandemic affect this atmosphere?
atis: At the start of lockdown, we decided to reduce our hours and our offering but to stay open. However, the atmosphere was drastically different as we took the difficult decision to furlough our staff. Old St was also a ghost town – I think there was one day where we didn’t see one car drive past our window – so the buzz of the area disappeared over night. It was quite eery actually. Fortunately for us, the sales started climbing week on week and so we were able to start bringing back our staff, which was of course a great relief.
Old St District: How have you been affected by the current pandemic?
atis: It has been an extremely challenging time – with all the surrounding offices working from home we lost the majority of our customers. However, we adapted to a delivery model and this has had its benefits: namely that we have opened ourselves up to a new (residential) customer base. Another positive outcome is that we were able to focus our attention on streamlining our processes, which has been invaluable.
Old St District: Now that you have reopened, have things returned to normality?
atis: I wouldn’t say that things are back to normal – it is hard to know what normal is these days. Old Street is much busier than it was a few weeks ago and we are slowly picking up on store sales which is encouraging. But it is hard to know if the surrounding offices will return to their historic capacity. Hopefully it is a matter of when and not if – I think people are starting to realise how important the office is for creating culture, encouraging creativity and (perhaps counterintuitively!) establishing a work-life balance. I am sure that we’ll see some flexibility in working hours moving forward but I don’t think we will see the office life completely disappearing. I hope we see store sales continue to climb – that is our barometer of normality!
Old St District: What advice would you give to start ups who have faced a crisis?
atis: You need to be reactive. The best advice would be to focus on the core of your business and to do it really well. For us, this meant reducing our hours, reducing our offering and putting all our efforts into creating great quality food and a memorable customer experience.
Old St District: What can the Old Street community do to continue supporting you?
atis: We would just ask for the community to spread the word about who we are and that we are open. Nothing lifts our spirits more than seeing friendly faces returning, so please come and say hi!
Old St District: If you could describe the last year of operating in one sentence, what would it be?
atis: Like a theme park adventure – thrilling, terrifying, stressful, varied, joyful, intense but ultimately, very rewarding!