NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast on new start-ups, businesses and openings in the New York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith, and in this episode we’re talking all about the avocado, with New York’s first and only avocado bar, called Avocaderia.
Avocaderia is located in Industry City in Brooklyn and serves exclusively Avocado based dishes, targeting that millennial consumer. Before they appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, we sat down with the co-founders Alessandro and Francesco about the concept of their business. Here’s Alessandro.
Alessandro: I think the way we wanted to approach this from day one is to really to build more of a brand of a company, not just the one restaurant. And I think what we’ve seen so far is that we’ve been able to build a movement more than just a restaurant because…
NYLP: A movement?
Francesco: Yes, because it’s unbelievable, when we started we got an incredible amount of press, which was overwhelming for us but definitely super amazing, you got a lot of people like, reaching out to us, over like 50 requests for franchising, from all around the world. There are some other avocado stores, avocado bars, opening up right now in and around the world.
There’s one in Rome, there’s one in Amsterdam, there’s one in the UK. So it’s really about not just that one place, it’s about building a culture, it’s about this type of healthy food, it is also satisfying for you and that’s exactly the type of elements that we want to have in the brand.
So we believe that as we build this movement and a lot of other possible locations will come up, what will really make us different is the quality of the food that we do, and the brand, the value of the brand. And so that’s extremely important for us.
NYLP: In this episode, you’re going to learn more about the avocado and the people who love them, than you ever thought possible. And how New York’s first avocado bar came into existence, so let’s go to the interview.
Stepping onto the Launch Pod we have Alessandro and Francesco, the co-founders of Avocaderia, welcome Alessandro and Francesco.
Alessandro: Thank you, thank you Hal. This is Alessandro and thanks a lot for having us here.
Francesco: This is Francesco. Thanks for having us here. It is a pleasure to be with you today.
NYLP: And you two are Italian?
Alessandro: Oh yes, we are.
Francesco: One Hundred percent.
NYLP: And you started the world’s first avocado bar.
NYLP: How did that happen?
Alessandro: Well we got an idea about 1 year ago. You know, living in the U.S. it was really hard to find a food options that were like, the same time healthy, but also very tasty. You know, very filling. And so we started making ourselves avocado toast and really fell in love with it, because avocados have that kind of property, because it’s a very healthy fruit. And same time, very filling. It’s a good fat.
So I started exploring a little bit about that, and Francesco was living in Mexico at the time, and so we started chatting about it, and it’s like, we’re onto something, this could actually become like a proper shop. And so on. So I investigated a little bit more, understanding that there was actually a lot of interest in avocados. And so we involved in the project Alberto, who’s our third co-founder, also Francesco’s cousin, and our chef. And so that’s how basically the project was born, and a few months later we opened our first store, here in New York.
NYLP: But I thought you can get avocado toast anywhere? Like millennials, love avocado toast.
Alessandro: Yes, that’s true, I mean you can get sort of the basic avocado toast everywhere. But avocados are a very versatile fruit, and they go very well with a lot of different ingredients and so we wanted to experiment a little bit more around that, so we’re doing right now avocado toast, salad, smoothies, desserts and so on. And they all have avocados as a component and they all taste different because we get inspiration from all around the world, in different dishes that we serve. And so it’s sort of an evolution, what you can find in many other places.
NYLP: Why exclusively avocados though?
Francesco: I mean we need something that was at the center of the concept. So we decided to put a healthy fruit, because we see this trend in millennials that they are health conscious, so they want to have better food, than the normal American diet used to be in the previous years. And the main point of our concept was to make something that was both healthy, but at the same time tasty. Because when you go eat a kale salad you feel really sad afterwards. And avocados…
NYLP: Some people do…
Francesco: But we did, kind of feel sad.
NYLP: You felt sad.
Francesco: Like little salad and…
Alessandro: You know, growing up in Italy, like we always had oxen stew, healthy quality ingredients, and you always came up from the most simple restaurant and you’re satisfied. And here we found, it was something missing, or something lacking and funny enough we found that something to an ingredient that is not very popular in Italy. Which is avocados, so you know that was the feeling that we got, and that is how we thought this could become something very big.
NYLP: Right, you’re two Italians, not that many avocados in Italy. How did you come up with these recipes?
Francesco: I mean avocado is so versatile that it was easy to integrate with the, pretty much food from everywhere in the world because we have influence from Japan, from North Africa, we have some kind of Mexican elements in the menu and the beauty of the avocado is that you can use it in a smoothie, you can use it in a chocolate mousse, and you can use it in a toast and the taste is amazing. So that makes really easy the process. You can have so many variations and the result is always amazing.
NYLP: So you have these influences but then how are you developing these recipes? What’s that process like?
Francesco: So I think the main point for us was to keep the food simple on one end, so that can be something that everyone can appreciate you know? Because it’s really important for us that our food can be every day food. So you feel like, okay I’m going to have a salad today, I can have this avocado salad and it’s not such a diverse taste that will not invite you again the next day for example. And this is how we build the menu. So try to keep it simple, and to involve the people in our type of food.
Alessandro: Yeah, at the same time, like we said, our main principles and keywords like about keeping it healthy, keeping it delicious. Making it simple, like Francesco was saying, like for everyday food, affordable, so something that can really also be bought every day. And that way also pretty, like we work a lot in trying to make the experience of eating at Avocaderia also good in terms of how the plate is presented to you. And toast and so on. It’s really about building the overall experience. Starting from the best ingredients to the best taste and the best presentation.
NYLP: Well I’m glad you brought up presentation because when you go to Avocaderia, which is in Brooklyn, there’s a brand, there’s a whole sense to it. What is the brand Avocaderia stand for, and how did you come up with all this marketing behind it.
Alessandro: Absolutely. I think the way that we wanted to approach this from day one is really to build more of a brand of a company, not just the one restaurant. And I think what we’ve seen so far is that we’ve been able to build a movement not just a restaurant.
NYLP: A movement?
Alessandro: Yes, because it’s unbelievable, when we started we got an incredible amout of press, which was overwhelming for us but definitely super amazing, you got a lot of people like, reaching out to us, over like 50 requests for franchising, from all around the world. There are some other avocado stores, avocado bars, opening up right now in and around the world. There’s one in Rome, there’s one in Amsterdam, there’s one in the UK. So it’s really about not just that one place, it’s about building a culture, it’s about this type of healthy food, it is also satisfying. For you and that’s exactly the type of elements that we want to have in the brand.
So we believe that as we build this movement and a lot of other possible locations will come up, what will really make us different is the quality of the food that we do, and the brand, the kind of the brand. And so that’s extremely important for us.
NYLP: How would you differentiate yourself from these other avocado bars that are coming up in other places around the world, because at the end of the day it’s the same fruit that everyone’s working with.
Alessandro: For sure, it’s about pioneering a little bit on the recipes, like try to experiment, try something funny and at the same time very good. It can be catchy for our audience, at the same time, as I was mentioning it’s about building the brand, we’ve been able to partner with a lot of cool companies right now that share the same type of value that we have. Like in the fitness space, in the wellness space, we’ve done a lot of events for charity and so on, and I think this is still a type of, issues that we want to do. We want to keep running because it’s about really building a community around a consciousness of healthy food and so on. And that’s how we’re planning to keep it running and differentiating ourselves.
NYLP: What were some of the brands that you’ve partnered with so far?
Alessandro: Well we’ve done a nice initiative with the Soul Cycle in Brooklyn, we partnered with some of their yoga classes. We’ve done some initiatives with the Daybreakers, which is a very cool community that basically does Yoga and dances, like very early in the morning. We’ve done some partnership within the more fashion space, some different brands, we’ve worked with Gap, Sam Edelman, a lot of teams like that and I think, there’s a lot more that we’re now trying to line up in terms of initiatives and I think it’s really amazing the fact that such a young brand like ours, at 8 months old is able to really be associated with these large companies.
Francesco: Yeah, generally we would be a part of the Goop summit, which, if you think about it, after like ten months opening is such a huge opportunity for us.
Alessandro: Yes, Goop is amazing and if you think about all the other brands that are involved in that, it’s like, wow we are just little teeny-tiny company and they’re like big, big important ones, so it’s really cool.
NYLP: Absolutely, that’s amazing. So you’re targeting someone whose health conscious, with your food, is there a target demographic as well. A target age range?
Francesco: Yeah, for sure, I think, our target customer is mainly female, between the ages of 18-35, and of course conscious about health habits, both in the diet and in the lifestyle, that’s why we try to partner with Soul Cycle and fitness studios, yoga studios, because we want to embrace all the healthy lifestyles, not just about the food.
NYLP: And it seems like you’re really reaching the millennial audience. Millennials love avocados and they also love Instagram, and you guys are huge on Instagram, your food is very pretty, the photos come out great, can you talk about the importance of Instagram in your restaurant.
Alessandro: Well it’s funny you asked because our restaurant was born on Instagram.
NYLP: Was born on Instagram.
Alessandro: Yes, because, I have a start-up background and I, you know the first thing I thought when I had the idea was like, how can I build an MVP of ideas without having the money to invest in a proper location, because how can you build an MVP for a restaurant without opening the restaurant.
NYLP: Minimum viable product.
Alessandro: Exactly, a minimum viable product. So to test it and see what the response of the people, if there was interest or not.
And so the very first thing we did was actually open up an Instagram account, that was back in March or April of 2016. And we said, Avocaderia, first avocado bar in the world, coming soon to New York City. And actually at the time I was living in Seattle, so just to give you an idea. It was really like something that we just had to throw there and see what was the interest of the people and actually that proved very successful because we started re-posting people, we started reaching out to bloggers and so on, food bloggers, telling we wanted them to do this avocado bar. We wanted to have their feedback about that, and if we could use their pictures to be re-posted on our page. And everybody was super enthusiastic to give out that, they loved it and so the Instagram following started growing. I remember we started out with a few hundred, then a couple of thousands and now we’re about 50,000 which is great, and I think it will keep growing.
But yeah Instagram was a great field to test, to test the idea and to start getting some feedback and so that made us very confident about the fact that we were doing something that people wanted and finally we realized actually we were doing something that people love. So that’s exactly what we were aiming for.
NYLP: And then at what point when you were growing the Instagram account did you say, okay, we should really start this avocado bar, I need to move from Seattle and I’m coming to New York.
Francesco: I mean I think the first thing we did, when I was living back in Mexico was visiting Alessandro in Seattle and we stayed I think three, four hours try to do a slow-motion video at his place and we build up a home-made camera. It was really, really basic stuff, the day after we took the train from Seattle to Portland and we started trying to keep the account and I think you got from a couple of followers to 500 in two days and it was like, okay, this thing is going to work.
Alessandro: And then like another initiative that was fun that we did, was at the time there was not avocado emoji and so what we did do was we started a petition on change.org asking Apple, Android, Google, and Microsoft and so on to add avocado emoji and so we tried to make it go viral. It didn’t go viral, we got just a few hundred supporters but it was a fun thing to do, you know and actually when we told the story to those bloggers and partners we were trying to involve in the project, they liked that. They liked this type of creativity behind the whole concept.
And then of course in the meantime we started thinking, okay so what’s the type of food that we actually want to be doing, like we started reading a lot of recipes, reading a lot of health magazines, reading, started talking with Alberto, who is now the chef, and getting some ideas and finding, that was the moment, the ah-ha moment. Like yes, let’s do it.
NYLP: How many avocados do you go through in a given day?
Francesco: So I would say in a typical weekday, we go through a hundred and fifty avocados and that can easily double during the weekends, when we really have heavy traffic from Manhattan, tourists, and these are quite busy.
NYLP: And how many avocados go in one dish?
Francesco: It can be minimum, half an avocado in all the dishes we serve, up to an entire avocado.
NYLP: That’s the avocado hamburger?
NYLP: Is that your favorite dish? Is that what you’re saying?
Alessandro: I mean we definitely like it, I think it’s definitely the most creative one. It’s not my favorite in terms of flavor and taste, it’s good definitely. But I’m more of a toast person, so like…
Francesco: And it’s a lot of food to eat every day.
NYLP: And what is in an avocado hamburger?
Francesco: So we start the base of the bun with half avocado, we fill the pit with Greek yogurt and herbs. Then the patty is actually the smoked salmon, we put watermelon radish and watercress on top. We close the bun and then we dress it with lime seasoning and black sesame seeds.
NYLP: Anyone who is listened to this is going straight to…right.
Francesco: I need it!
Alessandro: And we serve it on salad and chips so it’s very cool and as you eat it, you can decide because there are challenges on how you’re going to eat it. Like are you going to use your hands or are you going to cut it, and so on. So it’s funny because when you cut it becomes a sort of a big salad as well. So it’s really good.
NYLP: Where do the avocados come from?
Francesco: Mexico, Michocan. We are one hundred percent convinced that the best avocados are from Mexico and we only use Haas avocados, so that’s specific type of avocados from a specific region in Mexico and that’s personally the best that you can find in the market at the moment.
NYLP: And what are the challenges working with avocados because anyone who’s been to a grocery store in New York knows that they’re really hard when they come in and then you have to let them ripen a few days.
Francesco: Yeah, one of the biggest challenges, managing their riping cycle because you need to be very precise and to forecast how many avocados you will need in a specific date. Because if you don’t ripe enough avocado you will sell out of food, that’s what happened the first day that we opened. And the second and the third day…and the fourth.
NYLP: How many avocados did you have prepared for those day.
Francesco: I think 250 for the first day. And we thought it would be enough for a week. Lasted maybe…
Alessandro: Three hours.
Francesco: Yeah maybe even… two hours and forty-five minutes.
NYLP: And then how do you ripen the avocados.
Francesco: So we do all the ripening cycle in house. We buy green avocados, so we don’t use ripe product and we do everything in our kitchen. We have different stages and we kind of sort the avocados by day, and leave the number of avocados that we’ll need in a certain day to ripe. We keep the rest at a different temperature.
Alessandro: So we have of course the fridge and then there’s the storage space where it’s still quite chilly and then we bring them upstairs where it’s more warm and then finally the last step is right next to the toaster where it’s especially much warmer. But during the first week where we were running out of avocados we used to pack them with paper actually.
Francesco: Paper and bananas.
Alessandro: Bananas yes to make them ripen faster.
NYLP: So we have some secrets to ripen an avocado.
Alessandro: That’s actually, I think, grandma said some, I think maybe Francesco’s girlfriend’s grandma gave this suggestion.
Francesco: Yeah some Mexican ancient wisdom. How to ripen an avocado.
NYLP: Avocados, they’ve become very popular, prices have also gone up, how has that been for your business, I imagine it has to be difficult.
Alessandro: For sure, like that’s something that we knew could happen. So from day one, we started thinking, how can we ensure to keep the same level of prices without, even though the avocados are going to fluctuate. And so we realized that buying big quantities of course gave a little bit of an advantage compared to when you go like retail, and so on.
And I think, now as we grow and as the quantities keep growing, we will be able to sort of go back into the supply chain and finally cut some of the intermediaries that we have from the Mexico producers to actually where we get them. See in this way, we will really be able to get the best prices, and sort of eliminate the risk of having to increase prices if the price of the avocado generally increases.
NYLP: I know that the rule of thumb from restaurants is to keep the food costs about 30% and you’re staying true to that?
Alessandro: Like you said, the avocado prices change a little bit in the last few months, and so does our food cost was affected a little bit. But we try to keep it close in that range, the cool thing is that we both have business backgrounds so we studied economics, finance, and so on. So we’re very numbers driven when it comes to how we run the business so we really try to work in that way.
NYLP: And you guys seem young too, how old are you guys?
Francesco: We just turned 30 a month ago.
Alessandro: Funny enough, he was born on October 23rd and I was born October 24th. So we always celebrate together.
NYLP: One day a part, how did you two meet?
Francesco: Back in college in 2006 in Milan. I was wearing amazing shoes and this guy was, where did you buy those shoes, when I had the same pair?
Alessandro: That’s not true, he was always by himself, and I had a lot of friends so I told him, maybe we can actually involve you in our group.
NYLP: I don’t know about that, he’s wearing some amazing shoes right now.
Alessandro: Yeah that’s true.
Francesco: So who was telling the truth?
NYLP: Yeah exactly, people can’t see the shoes on the radio, or on the podcast. Exactly, put them on Instagram.
So you mention Instagram also being very important in your business. People love to Instagram the food, it’s pretty. You think that, that’s a big draw for this millennial audience?
Alessandro: That’s definitely part of the experience, I mean, it’s a hook. I think at the end of the day, like, we are trying to build a place for ourselves. We’re millennials ourselves, and we know how the experience in the restaurant can be from very distant, not really involving us on, or you can participate toward the success of at the restaurant by liking what you see photographs of, the taste of it and so on. So we try to make it of course easy to share.
Why not? It can add value and we just try to build the opportunity to spread the word and also our motto to spread love so we want everybody to be able to spread love for avocados.
NYLP: And millennials love to Instagram their food right?
NYLP: Share it with everyone.
Alessandro: Yes, why not.
NYLP: People love Avocaderia, they love the food, it’s healthy, it tastes great. You had all these people come the first day. But there’s also a criticism out there. It’s millennial, it’s Instagram, and I saw something on Eater that I wanted to get your opinion on. You know what I’m about to say?
NYLP: “Avocado Bar is opening in Brooklyn because New York City is a parody of itself now, Avocaderia is a few days late to be an April Fool’s Joke.”
Alessandro: Well that’s funny because that article was one of the first that came out, we opened on April 10th so that’s true we were very close to April 1st. The best thing was not actually the article but the comments.
Which are basically everybody saying like, just shut the Fu-… I mean it was funny because they were saying, basically they were trying to sustain the fact that there’s actually a space for a restaurant like this. And at the end of the day, of course you can serve the trend, you can serve the momentum that avocados are having. You can think that it’s for millennials, it’s for Instagram. These are all elements that are true but at the end of the day, if the basis doesn’t work, which means the food just not good, the food is not healthy enough, if we don’t really respect our menu, people would stop coming.
But that’s not happening, people actually keep increasing and we’re now looking for more locations. I think at the end of the day you need to do your job very well, with what’s extremely important and then the rest is part of building the experience. So these are all parts of the experience, but it’s not the core of the business. The core of the business is to make great food. And to make people eat healthier, than usual potentially. While at the same time enjoying what they are eating.
Francesco: Yeah because the fact is that avocados is indeed a really healthy fruit and all the hype and all the Instagram things, around friendly dishes, in the end they’re actually something healthy for our customers. So that’s a value that you’re handing to the people because changing the diet habits is something that’s very serious compared to this more general comments about Instagram. And when you can integrate both, it’s even a greater added value, but that main component of the healthy food, changing the diet, is at the base of our cause.
NYLP: And you mentioned plans to expand, where do you want to expand to, and how quickly?
Alessandro: That’s a great question. So New York City is very big, so definitely there’s more space to get more. We’re looking at Manhattan right now, we’d like to have a second location open soon, here probably, potentially next year also, a third one, why not? If things keep going well. We want to, you know, really push this from an entrepreneur perspective on a very, you know depending on my stores. So we’re going to try to go for the second one, and then if that keeps going well, and people keep liking what we’re doing we’re able to keep innovating like the menu and so on, then we’ll go for a third one here and so on and so forth.
But it’s about growing at the right speed and not too fast because you can easily get burned and then at the same time, like I mentioned before we got a lot of proposals for franchising or other people want to open them up, we aren’t even considering them right now. Because in franchising you have a lot of risks, it’s really hard to keep quality control and it’s really easy to dilute your brand. These are all things that we aren’t even considering now.
NYLP: So you want to keep the avocados here in New York.
Alessandro: Yes, for now, and then why not go to California where avocados are like every day.
NYLP: Every day in California. I’m surprised that they didn’t come up with this concept.
So you mentioned the expansion and why it may or may not become a trend, but you know we’ve seen kind of food items like this, it can be like a frozen yogurt, it can be an ice cream, it can be something else where it’s hot for a couple years and then you say, well it’s a movement everything else going on, and then it just stops. On a dime, something else comes up.
You mention the quality of food, what else are you going to do to say, you know what, we’re not just a trend, we’re not just people who want to Instagram their food, but really build something.
Alessandro: Yeah, I mean this is an interesting question, I can start and then Francesco can continue but, I think that we’ve already proven part of that because we are located inside the food hall and there are 6,000 people working at Industry City, where we are at, and we have a super high returning rate of customers. And that means that, and they don’t come there because they want to Instagram their food, they actually don’t. They are there because they work there and they want to eat something good and healthy and they come to us.
And that’s for us, the proof of concept. You know they found out that people come back all the time, you know it means that quality food is good, and the quality is good and we’re doing everything to keep working that direction, so that’s for sure something that, that’s our main focus. Really work, while keeping things simple, keep the price point interesting, our price range goes from $6 to $15 so it’s really something in the average of New York lunch.
And I believe, you know, this can be the key of the success for growing. And then looking back, avocados are not a trend, we know why because it’s been growing like crazy since, for over ten to fifteen years. Before starting this, as I mentioned, we have finance and business backgrounds. We started a little bit of trends and if you go to the Haas avocado consortium online you find all the data, and basically you see that the numbers keep growing and growing since early 2000 for the consumption here in New York, consumption in the U.S. in general. And I believe like this won’t stop probably, and we’re already at a rate that is extremely high and also it shows that there’s not a lot of cycle in terms of consumption because you see maybe during winter or fall, like people stop eating avocados. Not true actually. It decreases a little bit but people still eat that because it’s such a good healthy food for you.
NYLP: So you’re both business people, business backgrounds, how did you become avocado experts?
Francesco: Well I think my four years in Mexico helped a lot during the process so I basically come from a country where avocado is not in the diet because, for us in Italy you eat avocado maybe once every three, four months and it’s something exotic, some fruit that is coming from Latin America, and it doesn’t have a place in our diet.
But in Mexico, avocado is like the butter for Italians, so you have it for breakfast in the morning on the bread, you have it in your quesadilla for lunch, you have it in your soup for dinner. And you see that it’s good on anything you eat, and this is so amazing compared to what I used to know about the diet and this element was just something that we had to take advantage of.
NYLP: And where is Avocaderia located, you mention Industry City? Where exactly is it and how do people get there.
Alessandro: Sure, it’s in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. From Manhattan you can get there really easily with the train, that’s the N and D train express, so it’s really quick to get there from Penn Station it’s like 25 minutes, so it’s really, really quick.
And it’s a very cool place overall, like there’s a nice food hall, the community is growing a lot out there so they do a lot of initiatives also during the weekend to attract a lot of people. So I think it’s definitely worth a visit if not just for Avocaderia, which by itself would already be worth it, but for the overall experience at Industry City.
NYLP: And how do people find out more about you, and Avocaderia, and check out that beautiful Instagram.
Alessandro: Sure, so its Avocaderia on Instagram or our website Avocaderia.com and you can find a lot of information.
NYLP: Well Alessandro, Francesco, your food is delicious, definitely worth a trip to Industry City. Thank you for stepping onto the New York Launch Pod and sharing your time with us.
Alessandro: Thank you so much.
Francesco: Thank you.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can visit NYLaunchpod.com for transcripts of every episode including this one, and you can follow us on social media @NYLaunchpod. If you do leave a review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts it is greatly appreciated and we may just read it on air.