The Package Free Larder interior. 76 Elm Grove, Southsea, Portsmouth.
A conversation with Tim Bouget from Ode True Food
by Aimee Rigby/7th-Sept-2020
So, first of all, can you tell us a bit about your business, Ode True Food, and all of you off-shoots such as Cafe Ode
Yes, so we returned back from overseas about 12 or 13 years ago, my wife and I, and we were working at hotels, food and beverage, and we never believed that they were doing enough with regards to sustainability. So, we wanted to come back to the UK, open a little restaurant and try and put in some sustainable practices. So, ODE came about, we found this little site in Shaldon, which is a small coastal village in South Devon, named after its post code. So, the post code TQ14 0DE- so we called it ODE with a metaphor ‘true food’ because we wanted it not just to be a restaurant, we wanted to be something that’s all about good honest food, local, seasonal, with provenance, and the key of using our amazing local produce. So, fish from the River and the sea; venison from the Valley and great organic pastures. So that’s how it all started 13 years ago; a very small fine-dining restaurant.
Over the years, we’ve now sort of morphed into this… we built a purpose-built facility which goes under the name of ‘Ode True Food’ but it’s actually more than one outlet. It’s one site, called Cafe Ode, but encompasses our pizza business, and our fine-dining business, and our pop-up event business; but it’s all under one roof. We had the restaurant for about four years, and the site came up because we wanted to appeal to a wider audience, rather than just fine-dining. Site came up in the village, it was a brownfield site, it needed a lot of work, conversion, but we had to outline planning permission. So, we put in a bid to basically open a cafe that was family friendly that could serve 200 to 300 covers a day in a sustainable, environmentally sensitive way. And that’s what we did! We opened in 2012.
So, you’re the winner of the SRA’s Sustainable Restaurant of the Year Award, twice for cafe Ode and once for Ode dining, was it your experience overseas that inspired you to incorporate sustainability so heavily into your business?
I was fortunate enough to spend some time in California and I worked in Asia all in very kind of organic sustainable businesses and yeah, it was a key part of what we did and we found… while I was overseas a lot of the hotels and restaurants still wanted us to buy produce when it was out of season, fly things in, and it didn’t really sit well. We always thought, try to be true to our core. So, when we came back England it was really important that we put everything we had learnt over the last 10-12 years overseas into what we were doing. The restaurant was a great starting point for us, because we had tables made first, organic paints and it was a fantastic starting point and that’s where we built on sort of our sustainable principles when we developed further to do the café.
What sustainable practices do you use?
So, we use three pillars for our sustainable model. These are sourcing, sourcing of the produce. The environment, obviously working in tune with the environment, so making sure that we don’t waste anything, and we reduce our energy consumption and so forth- I can talk more about that later. And then the community aspect, so that’s working with our local community, charities, working with local staff, and putting back into the community some added benefits; so, teaching at schools and doing demos and all those sorts of things. So those are the three pillars that we use as our basis and each one of those pillars has a number of different sub categories that we focus on.
Inset: Tim Bouget
With your energy consumption that you mentioned, how sustainable is that?
So, the first thing we did when we opened the café, we knew we would be busy, so we started to do 300 covers a day. It is seasonal, so to give you an example we use all electricity, all renewable energy, we use very little water- we don’t do a huge amount of washing up and we do recycling. The concept was always to have a collection window and an order window for food, and everything will be served in takeaway boxes. Those are compostable, which enables us to keep it quite lean and efficient and staff it. It also means food can be taken away and enjoyed on the beach and then returned back to us to be composted, the packaging. That reduces our water consumption, it reduces our chemical consumption and our labour consumption. Induction stoves in the kitchen means that our renewable energy… our nearest estimate on energy is about 25 pounds a day, every day of the week, whether we do 400 covers or 100 covers, that’s about what it is, and it works out about 2 to 3% of our annual revenue. We think that’s quite, you know we don’t heat the building, we have solar thermal, which heats our water and of course one of the key things we do is monitoring what we use.
So how do you make your customers aware of your sustainable practises? Is there any particular information that you share with them?
Yeah, one of the biggest challenges we have is we are a seasonal, off the beach location, so people who come up beach, they perhaps wouldn’t be choosing us because we’re sustainable, they’re choosing us because we’re there and we’re selling an ice cream. So, we have to kind of explain why perhaps our ice creams are a little bit more expensive than our competitors down the road, so it is key that we tell people it’s locally sourced, it’s organic. We have various signs dotted around the place. We have our team, they’re the first point of call and we make sure they’re all really well-versed to what we do, what we sell, how it’s different, and how we differ from other businesses that are beachside cafes as it were. So, first and foremost, signage, and secondly and most importantly really is the team and how we communicate it. Obviously social media, Instagram, Facebook’s probably our biggest way of communication locally, and then we’ve got Instagram, Twitter, we have a fairly good following for all of those actually.
What’s the commercial value of a sustainable restaurant?
It’s a tricky one to put a commercial value. We believe it’s the right thing to be done. We think we can work efficiently, and cost effectively, being sustainable. Whether that’s renewable energy or reducing our waste, we believe it’s definitely the way forward. Especially with the climate crisis now, particularly now, people are more aware of what’s happening. When we started 10 years ago, the word ‘sustainable’ wasn’t really being used. It was more about organic, so I think the buzzword and general climate issues now, mean that it’s at the forefront of customer’s minds whether there young, old, and they all want to try to be seen to do the best thing so I’m hoping that, by hope, our figures are quite positive and show that people do support us, not just great food but because there’s an ethos behind what we doing as well.
Above images; Exterior of Cafe Ode. Below an image showing lunch served in cardboard trays. Using Bio packaging from LondonBio.
How did the Coronavirus affect the way that you operated and how customers came to you?
Well interesting enough, Teignmouth had one of the first cases, nationally, and they were flown out the town up to Newcastle -it’s quite an interesting story- so I think a lot of our customers are fairly elderly especially off season, which it was, and I think a lot of people got very nervous, so our numbers in March, early March, took a big dive and that was before the lockdown and I think when the government said: “we advise not to go to pubs” we had already been hit before then, people already getting nervous, we found that week we stayed open, before the official lockdown, our numbers just died and there was very few people around. So it was a bit of relief when the government said “you all need to lock down,” because we just closed and said: “You know what, that’s it, we need to lockdown, there’s no point being open, and encouraging people to come up to the café, because they weren’t being safe.” So we locked down, we used it really, I was quite fortunate I came up- I live close by, so I came up to the cafe and we’ve done engineering work, painting, decorating, and we’ve used it really as an opportunity to try and figure out how to evolve the business. I think in the last four weeks it’s been really positive. We’ve reopened, we’ve introduced a new software click and collect which loads of businesses have done. Most of our customers now pre-order, at least half of our customers now are pre-ordering before they get here, which means we know what to cook, which means we waste less. We keep people moving because there’s no queues, so when people arrive at the cafe their food’s ready, so you don’t have to order at the windows. So, it’s quite efficient so actually, for us, it’s a bit more of a benefit. We had to invest on an outside area- a cover stretch tent, which we’ve invested in to cover for obviously adverse weather when it’s raining or when it was really hot so that provides some shade. As we’re on the edge of a car park as well we do curb-side collection so we can deliver straight to the car and I think the general feedback is customers feel really positive, really safe, and they get their food delivered really quickly and the quality is there. So, for us it’s kind of win-win at the moment.
You mentioned about the food waste, obviously people are pre-ordering so you know what you’re making. How important is food waste to you in comparison to, for example, plastic waste?
So, we’ve had, post-covid, some issues with our waste. What’s happened now is our food waste almost, well if we produce one 2 litre food waste bin a week, we probably produce half a 2 litre food bin of waste and that’s it. There’s very little. However, one of the challenges we have now is that there’s a lot more packaging involved and it’s all compostable obviously, but whereas before we’d have a fairly large amount of food waste and compostable packaging, we’ve found now that the compostable packaging is outweighing the food waste. So, when it goes off to the AD plant, they skim off the packaging, and then unfortunately it ends up going to waste energy. So, goes back to renewable energy, and then we purchased it back. But now there’s so much compostable packaging that the food waste AD plants don’t want it. So, we’re having a really tricky problem. We’ve had to change our supplier just this week actually so that it gets vailed, it gets compacted, unveiled and then unfortunately it’s getting burned which is not what compostable packaging should be done with but there’s actually no other option. It’s a bit of a nightmare but there’s no way around it at the moment. The only thing we can do is not buy plastics and make sure we are buying compostables.
So finally, where can people find you and follow you online and on social media?
The website is Odetruefood.com, our Twitter feed is @odetruefood as well, Instagram: @cafeodeatnesscove and I think those are two are the two main ones.
That’s wonderful well thank you for coming on.
Okay, thank you very much.