A Japanese-inspired salad bar from Bondi with "No More Fast Food B.S." as its motto is about to launch in Queensland, delivering on plans first hatched before the pandemic to bring its healthy breed of food bowls to the Sunshine State.
Founded in 2016 by mates Nathan Dalah, Nic Pestalozzi and Casper Ettelson as uni students, FISHBOWL has grown to a network of 30 stores in NSW and Victoria with a cash flow-funded business model, an emphasis on sustainably sourced produce, and a care for culture that flows through community activities and a unique feel to each outlet.
On 23 July FISHBOWL will open its first Queensland restaurant at Gasworks Plaza in Newstead, Brisbane, followed by its largest location to date at almost 200sqm with a launch at James Street, Burleigh Heads in early August.
Dalah tells Business News Australia the decision to expand to Queensland was partly driven by locals who appreciated the brand and product from visits down south or through social media, but also the Sydney and Melbourne diasporas.
"We go as far and as fast as our customers take us. That is to say that our growth is dictated by the success of stores - we never want to get too far ahead of ourselves," Dalah explains.
"We're not a franchise for one. We own all stores – you’ll see myself and Nick and Caspar, we work in the stores still on a daily basis.
"We were meant to open [in Queensland] at the start of COVID. We've just gotten so much support in Queensland even since we had one store in Bondi, just from visitors to Sydney or the beaches here."
He says the state will be a key point of focus for next couple of years, noting FISHBOWL has sought out locations with demographics "as close to Bondi as possible" with people who care about living healthy lifestyles, the environment, where their food comes from and what's in it.
In addition, the chain targets areas with appealing natural amenity either in the stores or nearby.
"In the case of Gasworks we've got a beautiful dining area for people to enjoy – it’s probably only about 35 to 40 seats but we really liked the idea of people walking to the water’s edge or the green space in the middle, and enjoying a beautiful fresh salad in the sun," he says.
"We put our locations in places that we love to be around – we love that corner of Brisbane the same way we love that corner of the Gold Coast. Those were the two locations that for me really stood out as places that I wanted to spend a lot of time, and I identify with the locals in those locations."
With a menu centred around vegetables, FISHBOWL has a customisable base and extras, alongside sustainably-sourced seafood, meat or vegan options, made from scratch each day with minimal intervention.
"We're the go-to salad bar in NSW and in Victoria, and it’s because we lead with the produce, we lead with the product," Dalah claims.
"We don’t step on the shoes of restaurants or sushi because we are really trying to carve out our own space in the market."
The co-founder highlights direct supplier relations with every individual producer, with a meticulous approach to environmental issues that may not even be on customers' radars.
"One of the real hot rods of controversy over the last few years has been salmon farming, and in particular Atlantic salmon farming - our salmon is actually 100 per cent New Zealand king salmon, which is considered the best salmon in the world," he says.
"They actually call it the Wagyu of the ocean, but it’s nothing like our Tasmanian counterparts. The conditions under which it’s grown and harvested are world-class and world-leading."
It is worth noting the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California recognises New Zealand king salmon as the world's most environmentally sustainable farmed salmon. Dalah says his company sources the fish from operations in Big Glory Bay in Stewart Island, which lies to the south of New Zealand's South Island.
"It's deep water ocean farmed salmon – it has minimal impact on the ecosystem," he says.
"They produce a miniscule amount of salmon compared to other locations, and they’re constantly moving their locations and their leases around the bay so as to not have a lasting effect or to have too great an effect on any particular ecosystem."
He explains this premium is absorbed by FISHBOWL and is not truly reflected in the price paid by customers, and the group has taken a similar tack with navigating Australia's vegetable shortages.
"We’ve actually got a whole team dedicated to supply chain, and these guys are constantly changing between farmers based on what’s available, based on the harvest, and really just to support different farmers at different stages throughout their growth cycles," he says.
"Recently with the floods, the supply chain was hugely affected – there’s been a lot of press about the price of lettuce; the same can be said for kale, the same can be said for all of the herbs, shallots, coriander, nearly everything was affected.
"We’re going to wear it for as long as we can – we want to provide people with a premium product at the best possible value, and we wanted to see what happened when the market steadied."
The group has a strong ethos around culture and community engagement to foster healthier lifestyle choices, establishing run clubs with Nike and F45 trainers, facilitating local breathwork workshops, and creating its own surf team, whilst also giving back through limited edition charitable bowls.
Past beneficiaries include the Gotcha 4Life Foundation, Take 3 for the Sea, FEED THE FRONT LINE, and most recently The Melanoma Institute through a collaboration bowl with surfer and DJ Alex Hayes.
"Run clubs, cultural activities, interests, music, design, parties, these are all things associated with independent brands, small independent restaurants, fashion labels, and to be honest we saw that as a huge opportunity within the scalable food space," the entrepreneur explains.
"We wanted to bring those that that that degree of nuance, personality and good design, thoughtful music into the fast-food space.
"We always say the stores and the brand are truly a reflection of our own values and our own interests - we want to attract like-minded customers, and we want to attract like-minded crew."
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