Abokado’s kitchens have come a long way since the company opened its first shop in Covent Garden back in 2004. Described by the chain’s founder Mark Lilley as “the size of a postage stamp”, the kitchen belonged to a site that had no AC, a power supply that would fail, a basement that would often flood, was boiling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, and seemed to be a magnet for all the petty thieves in London. Nowadays, it’s a tremendously slick affair, with the company — which this year posted revenues of £11m — finding a winning kitchen formula that it can turn to with each new site that opens.
Responsibility for this lies with operations director, Richard Zivkovic, who makes the big decisions when it comes to kitchen specification and design. Sacred to Abokado’s business is that each of its shops has its own kitchen where it produces its menu from scratch each morning — there’s no central factory-style operation as favoured by others with a similar model. It takes a contrarian attitude to the way it runs the business, believing that by following its own path it will stand out from the rest of the sector and give customers something interesting and unique.
Richard acknowledges that having the right equipment allows the chain to meet its goal of offering the highest quality product possible, but success also boils down to the level of training that staff receive. “The challenge is around quantities, in so much as everything is made fresh every day — having availability is key,” he explains. Naturally, Abokado requires an array of catering equipment that complements the menu choices it offers. It relies on refrigeration, lots of bench space for assembly and prep, and items for high-end rice cooking and sushi production — its policy is to grill and steam, never fry. It remains on course to reach 30 stores in 2015 (its latest shop has just opened in Aldersgate) and the next big milestone for the London-based operator will be to grow nationally. When it comes to triumphing in the kitchen, Richard insists that only one thing counts: people. “All new store openings have a 100% trained and experienced team, and this has been critical to our success. Furthermore, we have assistant managers who run our kitchen operations,” he remarks.
“The challenge is around quantities, in so much as everything is made fresh every day”