He came to join our table for breakfast in the lovely Hotel d’abeille in Orleans (France) before we started our Opening Plenary at the First Open Agrifood Conference.
We talked about the business he founded called EXKI—a play on the word “EXQUISITE” he says. He shared with us his ideas and concepts about healthy food and his corporate social responsibility (CSR) of helping Bolivian coffee farmers.
Nicholas Steisel is the founder and chief operating officer of EXKI—now with 78 stores in Belgium, France, Netherlands, and even in New York. He and two friends founded it in 2001 because they were always looking for fresher food choices.
I was so curious how his store looked like so I made it a point to see one before leaving Paris. My French friends said they enjoy his soups and salads as they are natural and organic choices.
During breakfast, he continued to regale us with stories and he also shared his recipe for “faux mayonnaise”—made from vegetable puree and olive oil . . . which has no eggs at all, he says.
More than that, he continued to tell us how his breads in his stores are prepared. Complete with sound effects (clucking his tongue to demonstrate a certain step in bread baking), he describes how EXKI breads are baked fresh in each store, from freshly proofed dough, which is never frozen. Everything served in his store are natural and fresh, he says.
After breakfast, we headed to the Orleans Theatre to prepare for our Opening Plenary where he and I will be speakers along with a dairy farmer from Senegal, the CEO of the Danone group and Paolo di Croce of Slow Food.
Then Nicholas’ turn to speak came. He spoke about EXKI’s brand equity and the quality management that all his staff imbibes. He also touched on the very important item, which is “sense of purpose.”
His employees understand the company’s values and philosophy. He, indeed, delivers these values as he speaks passionately about what his company does for CSR and for the communities where they get coffee from, for example. He in fact gets his coffee from Bolivia and works with a community who gets EXKI’s support for coffee production and propagation.
Not to miss this rare chance, I gave Nicholas a pack of our Benguet Arabica coffee to try in his store. Maybe someday we can serve Philippine coffee in his EXKI stores, too.
I felt the connection with passionate entrepreneurs like Steisel. He also humbly and modestly said he had partners, whose role is to invest financially in his stores. Other CEOs would not be so candid at a first meeting, much less at a first exchange of ideas. So he asked me as I gave him the coffee, “are you supplying in Europe yet?” I said: “not yet, but maybe soon I will” and I gave him a wink!
I like his vibe. So simple and so unassuming. But when you see EXKI you will be proud you met its founder.
So after our stay in Orleans (130 kilometers south of Paris) we looked for an EXKI branch in the fashion capital. We found one in the Montparnasse area. One of many EXKI stores in the metro. People were trooping to the place non-stop even beyond lunch hours.
There was a choice of soups, salads, sandwiches and other hot food that you could eat in the store or take home. Similar to a “Pret-a–manger” (a UK sandwich shop) but with just more natural, healthier choices and of course the CSR that Nicholas told us about. Now, every bite we have at EXKI has more meaning.
So, there you have it—a “fast food” concept but with a “slow food” soul. Good, Clean and Fair food. And I remember the recipes he so generously shared over breakfast. In this age of transparency, it is nice to see someone actually share his trade secrets and not say the usual “sorry, that’s our secret!” when you ask a restaurant owner what goes into their soups or salads or anything you fancy in a café or restaurant. There are no trade secrets anymore. Just brand equity and the brand’s sense of purpose. Now, that is no secret and something to be shared.
Be honest about your brand. Everything else will follow—financial profits, environmental profits and social profits. Now that makes a real inclusive business model. One that can be replicated all over the world. And to top all those good points I found out he is also an Ernst & Young Company of the year winner in 2010. Well-deserved, Nicholas.
Find out more at www.exki.com.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra, Podium, Centris QC Mall and Davao City. She also is president of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines, and of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profit organizations close to her heart. She often speaks to corporate, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.