The Interview: Julian Metcalfe, Itsu

A passion for food, teamwork and communication led Julian Metcalfe to become one of the greatest names in food-to-go today

WELCOME TO CAFÉ BUYER, JULIAN. FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT BROUGHT YOU INTO THE FOOD-TO-GO INDUSTRY – A LOVE OF FOOD OR BUSINESS?
A love of food! I’m passionate about great food and if you have a passion for something, you should always pursue it.

TELL ME ABOUT ITSU, ONE OF THE UK’S BEST-KNOWN FOOD-TO-GO OUTLETS – HOW DID IT COME ABOUT? WAS THERE A GAP IN THE MARKET, AND HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT FILLING THAT GAP?
Years of listening to customers persuaded us to start a new type of food place altogether – light but filling, lower carbs, higher protein, healthy food that just tastes delicious – served by passionate people. Japanese food is one of the greatest cuisines in the world. Itsu means ‘whenever’ and this really represents what food-on-the-go is about – eating healthier food, whenever.

HOW DID YOU EVOLVE THE BUSINESS FROM A SINGLE SITE TO AN EMPIRE?
Through a lot of hard work and committed people. If you can harness the strength of the people around you, you can achieve great things. We started from one shop in Chelsea and we are now 70 shops strong. We are set to open our first store in New York City next year. I couldn’t have achieved any of this without the people and passion that surrounds me every day.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OUR READERS REGARDING BUILDING THEIR FOOD-TO-GO AND COFFEE OFFERING?
Love what you do and care about your people, you must be passionate about your product and always strive to improve it – I can’t stress this enough. Listening and responding is also vital to success – we constantly review and evolve to make sure we stay ahead and give people what they really want. Whether that’s a more varied vegetarian menu or a better hot food menu, we make it our mission to continually improve.


Read the full interview in Café Buyer, a newly launched supplement included with the latest issue of Speciality Food, free to download here.

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