The art of
food crafting: Sprout's
unique concept for
customizable bowl meals
Sprout is an innovative business in Dresden that lets you create your own bowl from a variety of delicious dishes.
In this interview, we had the opportunity to speak with Louise, the mastermind behind the idea, who left her job in an online magazine startup to pursue her passion for creating healthy, quick, and tasty meals that leave customers feeling satisfied.
Read on to discover how Sprout is changing the game in the food industry.
How did Sprout come about?
What I recognized very early is that I want to work with food and create my own product and company. In 2014, I met my co-founder Bettina, and we founded Sprout together the year after. Back in the day, she ran the business alone for two and a half years, because I had to work. When she decided to quit to have a family, that was a tough time for me because I had to decide whether I would go further with the idea or stop.
I decided to continue and in 2019 my new business partner came in, Marcus. We tried to transform the business, build a new store, and find a new concept. Once reconstruction of the store finished we were in a pandemic. We were closed the whole month of March that year. However, we are very strong on takeaway, so there was no need to find a new concept or build something new. The summer that year was busy as no one was able to go on holiday and a lot of tourists traveled through Germany. But the next year everyone was able to travel again. So no one was in the city and we stood there asking ourselves, “okay, what's wrong here?” Tough days for us. 2022 was a pretty good year.
Now, we are doing well again. What we do as a side business is a lot of catering for weddings and big parties. But that's not my main focus. My main focus is always the store business. We want to open a second store, hopefully at the end of this year. So what's the concept of Sprout? The concept of sprout is a bowl business. You can have a bowl, but you create your bowl with ready dishes, so that means you have the choice of 14 ready dishes like salads, warm salads and vegetables. And you create your own bowl, or you choose between four already made bowls.
Are you in the catering business?
We have two catering businesses. The one is big packages of salads that we create out of the normal daily store business. For example, if you want to have a party or a small bris in the evening, you can check Sprout and buy some big salads. This is why Vev is perfect for us.
And then you can call us if you want to get married. In this case, you get an individual offer from us. This goes with a lot of conversations, individual consulting, discussing what you exactly want, what's the setup of your wedding or your party. The wedding business is super special. We work pretty closely with our customers. It's different from everyday catering.
What made you start Sprout?
To be honest, there is no special background. There is no chef in the family. I'm interested in good and healthy food. In my opinion, it's super important to have fun with food and not be so strict. In the end, I know everything is super healthy in this kind of diet. But I don't believe that it's possible for everyone to eat this way. I find it super important that you have fun while eating. The taste is good, the mood is great, it's fresh and it's, in the right way, healthy.
I missed this in my life. I missed a place where I can go in, have a bowl or meal super easy and super fast, eat it, feel good, go out. So I came to the idea, “I want to do it.” Of course, it's important to have a passion for it because it's a hard business. It's a lot of hard physical work, especially when you have a store and you have catering and another wedding catering the day after. I haven't gone on holiday for 3 or 4 years. And most summers I work through with no breaks, with no weekends off. I believe in the idea. But I had no special background.
Was it easy to find a space?
The process is crazy. I remember the days when we opened the first store, the one we have now. It's stressful with a lot of challenges you never imagined. And there are a lot of questions you can't answer. For example, fire security. I was standing there and couldn’t answer the questions and had to check with some people that could help me. You have to go with the flow and one day at a time.
The challenge currently is to find a space that you can pay for. The prices at the moment are very high. We want to wait a bit more in case the prices go down, to find the store at a better place because the store now is not in the best place. We work with a lot of customers who have known us for a very long time, but we don't have customers who come by walking. That's a big problem and we don't want to make the same mistake again. So we have to find a store in a good place for a good rent. Maybe we already found one. People will be able to sit down and enjoy their bowl or have takeaway. The idea is to work like a kitchen that produces for 2 or 3 stores.
The quality and the taste is why customers are coming back.
Have you ever thought of giving up?
Of course. Each day. Every day there is a back and forth. There's always a voice in my head that tells me, "Stop it. That's crazy. That's going in no direction.” I found out a lot of things while running this business the past few years. I started the business super naive. I thought, okay, I will open the store and everyone will like it. But we are a small city in the east of Germany and things here are different. It's not Berlin, London or New York where all these brands are normal, and people go regularly for lunch to a healthy store or have a salad. In this part of the world or Germany, it's not something you see. Of course, healthy food is a trend but I'm sure it's just the bubble. The majority of the people are not in this bubble.
And it is very challenging. There is no need to change the mind of the people because all the people are for themselves. The only thing in my opinion you can do is be open, be nice, have fun, show them, be a good example, and work through the taste, the look and the mood of the food. In my opinion, there is no other option.
The happiest moment for me in my daily working life is when -and please don't judge me for this- regular men come in. The type of man that doesn't go regularly to stores like Sprout. And they come back next week and they tell us "I like it. I like the taste. Normally I'm not a vegetarian. But I like your taste and I like the feeling of when I eat your food, so I come back." That's then mission accomplished.
How did you introduce your business to the people?
Before you open the doors for the first time, you are in a pretty high level of stress. It's like a sprint. For 3 or 4 months, you have a lot of stress, questions you can't answer, money problems, building problems and things like that. Then you open your doors for the first time, and this feels like a full stop. Then you go into a marathon. It's a long run and you have to stay for the long run. So that's super different from the time before because then you stay there, wait, have your experiences with your first customers and it feels so awkward.
I remember my first customer on the first day. He was a tourist from England, and I had to explain the whole system in English. I was so nervous and he was 65 years old. I was in the store thinking, "Okay, that's interesting, let's try." It was the most awkward moment. Also, all our friends came by and this was pretty good because we asked our friends, "Hey, can you sit in the store just for working?" The store then looked more full. For the new customers it's a better feeling when other people are in the store too. You have to work with a lot of tricks.
What makes clients come back?
I think it's the quality, the taste. And the fact that there is no other concept like this around the corner or in the city. Of course, we have the normal bowl concept such as the Asian bowls. These are all owned by Asian people. But there's no concept like Sprout. At the moment, we are working out our unique selling point.
Did you have support from your friends and family?
To be honest, I'm not the type of person that spreads the ideas. I started and managed the business myself and I spread the idea once I signed the contract with the bank. At that point, no one was able to hold me back. But of course, my friends and family are big supporters of the idea. My sister came every day and she loved the food. On the other hand, a few friends left through this time of my life because I worked a lot and had two jobs. Of course, Bettina, my business partner, did the job in the beginning alone while I was at my other full time job which was super stressful because it was a startup.
“The best marketing is to give the highest quality, service and hospitality! ”
How do you approach marketing?
Yes, it’s an interesting question. And it's a topic that fucks me up a lot to be straight. Because I do a lot of marketing, especially Instagram marketing in the beginning, and it worked. But Instagram back in the days was totally different. It was easier to build a community through the channel than it is today. I lost a bit of the fun with this tool. A good friend of mine, he's an online marketer, and he tried to help me. However, I do nearly everything on my own. That means building a website, Instagram, things like that. And it's a lot of work besides the daily business. I try to work with Instagram, but it's hard. I sometimes don't understand how I can work with Instagram, or I don't feel that it is the best tool at the moment.
The best way would be to hire someone who can do the job. You need to have a lot of knowledge about Instagram and how the tool works. Throughout the years, we did a lot of other marketing work like flyers and joining parties. But I’ve come to learn that the best marketing is the quality, the service and the hospitality you can give to the people. And then you get the word of mouth marketing from one to another customer. The best thing you can do is build your business -especially this kind of business- through constant customers that can come by every day.
Do you have your own team?
In the beginning we were growing the team a lot. I think by the end of 2018 or 2019, we were a team of ten people including a lot of students. Now we are a small team of five people. As we are a small business, I take care of most of the tasks. What I tried in the last weeks and months is to build a system in the kitchen and in the service. This allows me to find people that can work in the system, and the good thing is it's not necessary that they are a chef, so it's not necessary that they can cook. It makes the whole thing a bit cheaper because I worked a lot on the recipes, the system and the food and tried to make all these things simpler. Particularly because there is a big issue with staff in Germany. Not many people want to work in the hospitality business.
What keeps you going?
The main reason I keep going is the customer feedback that we receive in our daily business. Being close to your customers, you can talk to them and they give you the feedback. It is nice and it works for me. You can also see how your business grows money wise or you see that from year to year you reach more customers. In the end, you follow your vision and you can see money wise and in the data that your business is growing.
“‘This is my business and my product. I love it. If you don't like it, it's fine. I'm not going to change it.’ ”
Any big mistakes that helped you learn?
I think one of my biggest mistakes that cost me a lot of money was that I tried too hard to make it too individual. Every day, people come into your store and can tell you, “I don't like this and I don't like that. Could you make this and could you make that? And here's another piece of advice. I like your product, but I would love it more when you put some meat in it.” And then you start thinking, especially at the start of your business, "okay, I have to do this and I have to do that." And you lose focus. I think if I was able to keep the focus and to stay true to my product and what I love, I would be more successful today. It is super important to find the confidence to say that that's my business, that's my product. I love it. If you don't like it, it's fine. But I won’t change it.
What's one thing you hope somebody would have told you at the beginning?
Good question because, to be honest, there's a lot of bullshit you hear. It's ten bullshit pieces of advice and just one piece of good advice. I would be happy if someone came up to me and told me, “You have to go through all this pain and it's worth it. It's not easy. It's a lot of work. And you have to focus.” It's nice to have an idea and a vision, but holding the focus, doing all this hard work, staying committed, and going through all the little catastrophic situations, and staying at the end of the day, thinking, "okay, I will do this and tomorrow I will be back again." And this is normal. I wish someone would have told me "this is normal." Because from time to time I felt I was freaking out. Everything freaked me out and I wish that someone came by and told me, “Yeah, okay, that's normal. You have to go through this.”
“I like Vev because I just needed a simple ordering system where I can put my products in and start selling. Just simple! ”
How has Vev helped your business?
In general, the Vev idea is, in my opinion, the right direction because what's super supportive is to find simple systems that help you build structures. I think most small businesses are struggling with the structures and all the work they have to do, such as taxes, marketing, Instagram, daily business, product, quality, and customers. A never-ending story. And I think the best way to support businesses, like mine is to build simple ideas that help me build structures. I'm super happy about Vev because I have been looking for so long for a system like that because systems like Shopify are huge. It works for many people, but for me it's too huge. It's not necessary to have a big online shop. I only need a simple ordering system for caterers where I can put my products in and start selling.
What do you want to accomplish in the future?
It's an interesting question because when it comes to the question "Is this business successful?" -especially at this moment with all the things that happen around us- I think there are two options: you can stay in this small business size, which means you have to put your whole personality in the thing and be there every day, or you have to find an idea that you can scale and you can work with more stores. So when it comes to staff, it's easier when you have more stores. I talked in the morning to a colleague. He has a breakfast concept. And he told me “yes it's true, you have to grow and then it's easier to switch staff between the stores.” It's much harder to have just one store and a small team because when a person gets sick, then you have a huge problem.
My wish for the future is to grow. To find an idea that can scale and open more stores. And for that I have a lot of work in front of me because I think I have to work a bit on my design. I have to find a design that is more commercial. That's my biggest wish for the future of the company: that we find a way to grow and to scale the idea. And then the next step could be expanding to other cities, such as Berlin or Leipzig. Leipzig is also close to Berlin and to Dresden.