The Salad Project: The Story Of A Startup Overcoming The Greek Economic Crisis

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Evita Lekaki, co-owner of the Greek startup The Salad Project, talks about challenges she had to face & why young entrepreneurs need to be determined when founding in Greece:

An original yet simple concept emerging in Athens, a concept that strives to incorporate a healthy lifestyle in the daily life, by keeping customers in the center and providing them with all the right ingredients to design the salad of their choice. Vegetables, fruits, smoothies, Greek yogurt, soups, pasta salads, beverages – a wide variety of products complete the meal in nutritious ways.

Who is behind this project and what triggers its success? You will find more in the following interview, with Evita Lekaki, the co-owner of the startup called ‘’The Salad Project’’, located in one of the most central and picturesque areas of the capital of Greece.

Evita, describe The Salad Project in a few words.

As a teenager and most of my adult life, I struggled with my weight, so I decided to replace one meal each day with a salad. I wanted variety, but I found it challenging to create one different salad every day while being a working woman. It took up a lot of my time and a lot of preparation too.

Everything started 2 years ago when I decided to leave my job as a bank executive and start my own business. The idea? To create a restaurant that helps people live healthier by providing healthy food that’s affordable and convenient.

We opened “The Salad Project” in Athens in May of 2014; my ally and partner to this challenge being my twin sister, who believed in my innovative idea and decided to leave her job in a successful company, that organized medical conventions, and join me.

In what ways did the project bring a change to the food service industry?

By opening one of the first salad restaurants in Greece, we wanted to change people’s perception of how a salad can be healthy but at the same time tasty and very filling.

Our aim is to provide fresh and nutritious meal choices, emphasizing on the foods you should eat more and less on those you should avoid. That’s why The Salad Project’s menu includes custom-made salads, nutritious soups, chef designed wraps as well as fresh pressed juices.

What challenges did you face in the beginning?

We faced many challenges. One was, for instance, that Greece was in the middle of a huge economic and political crisis, but we were determined to succeed. We discovered great acceptance from our customers, and that helped us cope better with the adversities like bureaucracy. During the first 6 months, we had to close our store for 18 days just due to one bureaucratic mistake! The bureaucracy here in Greece can be deterring to a young entrepreneur, they need a lot of determination.

Then, in the summer of 2015, we had to deal with the capital controls that were imposed and as a result, banks stopped working for a couple of weeks. People were frightened and felt very insecure. Our main clients consist of companies, so we had some difficult times to face once again.

With ferocious competition in the lifestyle and food sector: How do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

We always respect the competition but we don’t let it affect us too much. We see it as a way of improving, but we try to focus on our goals, meaning to give our customers the best experience by having great, quality food along with excellent customer service, all at a very reasonable price.

What do you think makes a startup successful? What was the recipe for success in your case?

There are a lot of factors that contribute to a startup’s success; for instance, the ability to adapt to change as a lot of things won’t go as planned. You also have to trust your instinct and embrace your mistakes (you will make a lot, but that’s ok because they are the ones that will teach you the most).

In our case, it helped us that we had a very clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish and we were very determined to fight when the road got bumpy and scary. Not knowing the business but being a part of every step in the process helped us become better very quickly.

Bootstrapped or financed: What fuels The Salad Project now and what will in the future?

We opened our restaurant with our own resources: We used our savings since there was no way to be financed or get a bank loan due to the economic crisis. We had to make it on our own and that proved to be a blessing for us because we learned to spend our money wisely and have a better budget management.

We managed not to have any debts and our second year was already profitable. With that being said, we believe that sometimes being financed can be very valuable to a businesses’ growth as long as both sides agree to the terms and conditions.

How can someone join your team? What do you look for in team members?

We are always on the lookout for new team members, as we run a growing business. It’s important for us to share the same goals with our staff. We look for talented people, eager to learn and evolve with a positive work ethic.

What do you have planned for The Salad Project’s future? Any goals or expectations you can share with us?

Our future goal is to expand throughout the country by joining forces with passionate partners who share our mission to establish The Salad Project as the most convenient destination for healthy meals and snacks, served quickly while maintaining the highest quality of service and style.

If there is one thing you could wish for in improving the Greek / European startup ecosystem, what would it be?

Actually, there are a few things to consider:

  • Better startup education is essential.
  • The Greek government has to give more support to individuals and startups.
  • There should also be more focus to learn the mindset about ‘fail fast’ and ‘celebrate failures’. It’s part of the learning curve to be innovative.
  • We need more entrepreneurs, particularly those with solid business ideas. The startup ecosystem will thrive as more entrepreneurs get into the game. Only a critical mass and competition will help create an environment for successful startups to emerge.

What advice would you give to fellow founders for their startup?

Don’t worry about the things you don’t know, but try to learn them. Be prepared to do anything and everything, it gives you a better perspective of what your company needs and of course, more importantly, what your customers need. Learn from your mistakes and fix them quickly and decisively.



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