“People are more interested in what they are eating these days, so I think our timing was good and we had enough time to get our concept right,” Ben Thomas, co-founder and owner of Banana Blossom Asian Salads, tells Dynamic Business.
The last few years have seen growth in the ‘health food’ sector, especially in the fast-food market, and although it saw a bit of a speed hump in 2003 -when the GFC hit- Banana Blossom Asian Salads has been riding a successful wave from solo store to chain.
Ben began a Bachelor of Science at university, but his passion for cooking soon came calling. After dropping university and taking on an apprenticeship in Queensland, he returned to Sydney two years later with a desire to cook and an interest in Asian food.
“I spent the next 10 years learning the art of Thai food from master chef David Thompson,” Ben says.
Thompson, for those not in the know of the chef world, is a world-renowned Thai chef. It was working at the two-hatted Darley Street Thai restaurant, with Thompson as chef, that Thomas says helped him find his passion for Thai food, learning “how to balance flavours, not to be shy of big flavours and the wonderful use of fresh ingredients”. It was also here that he met his wife and business partner, Nat.
The pair saved up and went into business, opening a restaurant in Cremorne and a deli in Mona Vale.
Ben says that, along with learning the ins and outs of running a business, it was with this restaurant and deli that they really found the food niche they were interested in tackling.
“When we had the restaurant we were involved in the SMH night noodle markets in Hyde Park and that was the birth place of the salad venture. Our quick, cheap, tasty food, such as the ‘coconut crispy chicken salad’, was born and after that we started working on new salads and vegetarian options.”
The Cremorne restaurant hadn’t done well, but there were valuable lessons at every turn.
“After we closed the doors to the Cremorne restaurant we were broke, other than about $4,000 worth of equipment at the Mona Vale store,” Ben says.
“We put our heads down and worked our butts off, slowly growing the Mona Vale store into a thriving beaches eatery. After our experience with the restaurant we both agreed – NO CREDIT, so if we couldn’t pay for it in full then we would save until we could. Still, to this day, we do not use credit to fund our business.”
The deli wasn’t thriving, so a business restructure was in order. The business concept evolved into Banana Blossom Asian Salads, and two years later had gained enough traction to spawn an expansion to Manly. Last year saw Bondi Beach welcome the third store.
“Growth was slow at first, a bit like the new Bondi store. I have now learned that when it comes to food it is all about getting the locals in and letting word of mouth do its thing; if people like the food then they will talk,” Ben says.
“Within two weeks of opening our Manly place was packed; people in the area knew us from Mona Vale. In terms of growth, the figures are in an upward direction and we are around 10 per cent busier than last year.”
With the growing focus on healthy eating, the time is ripe for businesses like Banana Blossom Asian Salads to experience growth. More Banana Blossom Asian Salads stores are being eyed, as are small pre-package salads from their central kitchen – to be available in selected food stores soon.