What made you decide to bring Carpo to the UK? You’ve been doing very well in Greece with Carpo Hellas over the last few decades, right? Could you give us a little backstory around the founding of the original company and your recent expansion?
Carpo Hellas was founded in 1991 in Athens. We started as a small operation paying huge attention to sourcing top quality products with great stories from across the world. Initially we supplied just to the trade, hotels bars and restaurants and the business grew rapidly as word spread. The response was such that we decided to launch a consumer operation and opened a store in Kolonaki, the most high end district in Athens.
It is interesting that in such difficult times for the Greek economy, “Carpo Kolonaki” was rapidly embraced by customers. People seeking quality, warmth, politeness and real food. We made a new statement: revealing real food from plastic packaging. We gave customers a chance to smell, taste, and indulge the “Carpo” experience: a unique journey to your senses. “Carpo London” was our next step. I had in my mind that, of all places on earth, “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. It’s a multicultural market, extremely challenging to please.
How do you source your various (delicious) foods? I assume you don’t grow them all yourselves?
Of course not! Nuts, dried fruits and nuts are delicate treasures of nature. We pick the best from small growers from all over the world, honouring their commitment and love for what they do. If we have a feeling we’ll find amazing nuts in a remote village in India or a small Greek island we will go there and check. Travelling, quality control and trust to our growers ensure that every little nut or dried fruit is exactly as it should be: amazing.
Are there any old family recipes in use here?
Most of our products are creatively based on old school recipes. For example, stuffed figs with walnut and oregano used to be a very popular Greek treat. In general, we follow a never ending process of seeking genuine flavours with no artificial aromas added. Spices like cardamom, peppers and oregano enhance natural flavours. Pistachio is one of the best flavours in the world. After collecting the crop, it gets sundried for days and it would be such a pity to mix this flavor with an artificial taste.
When the Greeks think of British food and drink, what comes to mind? Are there any British foods /drinks that the Greeks particularly enjoy, or do they prefer to steer clear?
This is a difficult question! In years gone by there would have been several stereotypes spring to mind, like fish and chips, roast dinners and a nice cup of tea! However, it is impossible not to notice the evolution of British food in the last few years, with amazing chefs and great new restaurants all over the place. Being located in Piccadilly, in Carpo we are in the very heart of it all and personally, I love the cuisine here.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the world of Kostas and the artisanal foods industry? What’s it like being a food entrepreneur?
At the moment, it is all hands on deck! As you can imagine, Christmas is a hugely important part of the year for us, and it’s vital that we get it right in store, give our customers a great experience and make sure they come back over and over. So that is where we all are at the moment! Every single day, my team and I work consistently to promote healthy living, to let people know about the exceptional nutritional value of nuts, dried fruits and honey, to see happy, really happy customers.
Every day is so different. On a typical day, we will fire up the ovens early on and get some nuts roasting so the shop and street fills with the aroma. We then create interesting product displays to bring the store to life and are busy from around 08:30 with the early morning coffee rush. It’s a bit of a blur from then on, but we are very passionate about customer service and adding a bit of theatre to the experience and you will notice when you visit that you get a great reception from all our staff….and plenty of treats to taste.
Asides from your store in Piccadilly, you guys are also in wholesale right? Who else do you work with?
For the time being, our goal is to get British market to know us, to let them find out about the privilege of eating healthy. Of course, the fact that in other markets across Europe we work with over 2,000 bars, restaurants and hotels is an experience that helps us understand what British market needs.
What’s Carpo’s philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
We removed plastic packaging from nature; we offer a five senses experience: taste premium nuts, smell the best coffee, listen to the “music” of the scoops. Feel the splendour of flavours that improves your health and mood. Our aim is to inspire people and show them just how good nuts, dried fruit, coffee and chocolate can be.
What does the great British public need to know about what you’re doing here? What would you tell them, if you had a megaphone and the entire country’s ear?
It is no good me telling you, or the country….anyone can say how good their products are! However, tastebuds don’t lie! A taste is as good as a thousand words and I am convinced that anyone trying our products will be immediately won over. This is why we treat everyone who comes at Carpo London with a delicacy. You may not buy, but you definitely have to try!
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Do the best of what you can do. Have your ideas and your passions, but always do your research and listen to your customers. No matter how good you believe your product or concept to be, ultimately it is about what customers want although you can always lead them to a healthier lifestyle.
Did you ever have a point where you knew it was working, or that you’d ‘made it’? Do you remember that point?
From the very start, customers trusted us. I can recall an afternoon at our Piccadilly store, when a wonderful cosmopolitan lady popped in. Maria Callas was on the speakers singing “Oh mio babbino caro”. The lady walked around, I could see she enjoyed her experience. When the aria finished and as she tasted tangerines, she told me: “You transported me to the Mediterranean. Thank you”. That was a very overwhelming memory.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for Carpo? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Shoot for the moon…
We are blessed to have built an interesting concept, the reputation of which has already started travelling the world! I am humbled. With regards to our wider business, I want Carpo to be synonymous across the world with great artisan products and the leader in the field of nuts and dried fruit, coffee and chocolate. This is why we work to get the best out of ourselves: to offer a unique experience to everyone who honours us.
What are your personally most beloved and most hated foods?
I most certainly dislike badly cooked food. Food that is not prepared with love. Junk food is out of my agenda. I have to say I love nuts. I absolutely love them and my favourites are pistachios – this is one of the reasons that I established Carpo and in the store one of our best selling lines is shell on pistachios with Hamalayan salt, that enhances pistachio’s uniqueness without covering the flavour.
What was the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome and what did you learn from it?
Imagine that when “Carpo London” opened, people reacted as if it was a gallery. A “look but don’t touch” feeling! The fact that “Carpo London” was positioned in a great market, as London is, was a challenge, a bold business decision and an amazing travel. Of course, our flagship store in Athens was a huge challenge too, in terms of launching a concept store in the heart of economic depression. I have to say that Carpo is a team effort of excellent professionals who love their job, who are ready to overcome problems and enjoy a cup of the best espresso! If you really believe and love what you do, people will appreciate it.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
My dad was a huge influence for me. He sadly passed away when I was little however the values he instilled in me as a child remain today and my drive to succeed comes from him.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I love everything I do! I enjoy the C words: Carpo, creativity, communication, to see happy faces walking around “Carpo London”! What I don’t like is inconsistency and irresponsibility. Team work is all about responsibility and trust.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Dreams and real life mix up. I studied law, but Carpo is my passion and took over pretty quickly. So I can’t really tell you!
Could you recommend one food or drink that most British people probably haven’t tried, but you think they should?
What everyone deserves to try is the best quality he can get. Demand the best espresso, the greatest blend roasted and brewed perfectly. They should avoid artificial aromas and flavours. They should try Greek coffee and honey: centuries of history and the key to health in just one spoonful.
Where next for you and Carpo?
As I previously said, if we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere!
And a silly question…
If you were given £1 billion and you HAD to spend it (but only on food) in 24 hours, what would the money go into?
If I couldn’t distribute it directly to all those who are in need, I would trade in my unit, my gold: almonds and walnuts – they are hugely nutritious and just a small handful contains enough energy to see you through the day