Fishbowl founder Nic Pestalozzi reveals his secret behind US takeover

Three university drop outs who turned a Bondi idea into a $100m cult food chain have revealed how they plan to crack the US market – with a secret change to their name.

Nic Pestalozzi, Nathan Dalah and Casper Ettelson, the founders of the salad bowl restaurant Fishbowl, opened their first store in Bondi Beach in 2016.

Now, just seven years later, after rocketing past $50m in revenues, the trio are about to open a store at 65 Bleecker St in Manhattan’s NoHo.

Speaking exclusively to NCA NewsWire, Mr Pestalozzi, said the close friends figured if they could make it in New York, they could make it anywhere.

“New York is the absolute Mecca of retail in the world,” he said.

“We debated other cities. We thought, ‘should we go to Los Angeles or should we go to London’?

“But we said, ‘look, if we do that we will still need to prove that we can do New York, whereas if we go straight to New York and we make that work, then the world is your oyster’.”

Nic, Casper and Nathan, who is married to glamorous New Zealand model Georgia Fowler, started out with a single shop in Bondi.

The friends wanted to build a brand and product around healthy living and their salad bowls are designed with Japanese, Malaysian, Southeast Asian and Chinese influences.

“The Bondi image isn’t something we’ve intentionally tried to convey,” Nic said.

“It’s just very much where we started, the brand is who we are and the lifestyle that we lead just has that sort of Australian healthy outdoor feeling.

“We want to create an authentic brand experience.”

He’s confident the Fishbowl experience will carry over the America, though the name will be changed for American customers to “Thisbowl.”

He also reckons the casual bowls can compete in New York’s ultra-crowded food space.

“Our product is definitely up to the challenge,” he said.

“We wanted it to be something with maximum appeal and the fact it’s healthy, super fresh, very delicious and at great price points, the product by itself actually has a point of difference in the market in New York in terms of that quick casual healthy bowl market.”

Offerings from the menu include a coconut chicken bowl with cabbage, carrot, red onion, coriander, lemon olive oil dressing, crispy shallots and a bowl called the O.G., which offers salmon sashimi or poached chicken with kale, beets, edamame, red onion, roasted sesame dressing, seaweed salad, tobiko, crispy shallots.

The bowls are all priced below $20, part of what Nic said was the company’s mission to help people make healthier life choices.

The business has expanded rapidly since 2016, with 46 stores now open across Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

“Our fit-out costs are quite significantly lower than typical hospitality fit-out costs,” Nic said.

“We have a central kitchen and then we produce all of the food daily and we deliver it to the stores daily, so when we fit out a venue, we’re really paying for a few fridges and the furniture whereas a typical restaurant or a hospitality business is paying for kitchen equipment and they’re almost double the investment just to open one store.

“The repayments and the payback period on our stores is quite fast and that allows us to be more profitable and that allows us to open more shops.”

Nic said the business had rocketed past $50m in revenues in the past 12 months and would target $100m for 2025, with an expansion rate of about eight new stores a year.

“That gives us enough time to train staff, to fund the growth and just to ensure we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” he said.

Global expansion beyond New York is also firmly in mind, but Nic says the team followed a “store one” mentality, or achieving excellence store-by-store rather than thinking about their aspirations too broadly.

For the moment, that means cracking America through 65 Bleecker.

“I think it’s going to be like the ultimate Fishbowl flagship so we’re really excited,” he said.

“We’re putting a lot of you know hearted soul into this one store.”

Fishbowl’s initial expansions were self-funded but private Australian investors have come on board in the past two years.

American investors have expressed interest in the business but Nic said the trio wanted to keep it “local” for now.

“We say we’re sort of empowering people to make healthier lifestyle choices, so it’s not just about our product,” he said.

“We’ve always tried to build a brand and an experience around the product.

“People want to feel better.”