WORDS: ROBBIE RUSSELL
IN CONVERSATION WITH OWNER OF SUSTAINABLE RESTAURANT, GOOD BANK
(4 MINUTE READ)
In a world where climate change anxiety anxiety is a very real thing and news of the catastrophic state of the planet is never-ending, it feels more important than ever to alter our lifestyle habits to help do our bit.
Many of us, in an attempt to curb the panic bubbling away at the back of our minds, recycle, reuse and refuse those pesky plastic straws. Others might go the extra mile by changing their diet, flying less and cycling more. Then, there are some, like Ema and the team at GOOD BANK, who through innovation and hard work, do even better.
GOOD BANK opened just over two years ago and is already a firm, lunch-spot favourite amongst Mitte folk. Serving delicious lunch bowls, homemade teas and fresh sandwiches, GOOD BANK is a place where all eaters are welcome.
But it’s not just the food that customers stay for, the use of innovative technology means that the start-up restaurant also functions as a mini farm- a vertical one doused in soft pink lighting. It’s lovely to look at, but also means that your salad comes as fresh as it gets and doesn’t use a ton of energy either.
On a rainy Monday afternoon, we met with GOOD BANK co-owner, Ema Šimurda, to find out more about the farm-to-table concept. Once we step into the restaurant, we’re greeted first by the warm glow of the LED lights and then by Ema who offers us a friendly handshake and a special, homemade iced tea.
She asks the staff to prepare five lunches for our staff, “It’s called Burn The Avocado Honey, it’s our best-seller” she says proudly, “you’re gonna love it.”
Vertical farming in a restaurant, what a brilliant idea! Where did the inspiration come from?
Our most visible and unique selling point, is that we grow and harvest our own greens in the form of vertical farming. We work together with another Berlin start-up, Infarm, to do this.
We harvest greens all year round with a very small amount of space, but that’s not the beginning or the end of the story. We see ourselves as a start up and a food brand for people that enjoy good food. There has been a lot of development in the food tech scene but you could never really experience it, and that’s kind of what was driving us to open up GOOD BANK.
My cofounder Leandro Vergani was working in traditional agriculture. We met through friends and bonded over the topic vertical farming. After brainstorming, we decided vertical farming would be way more interesting and fun in a restaurant environment.
We wanted to grow greens and give them to our guests, to serve them to the people. And that’s how it became an idea.
What are the benefits of growing plants this way?
The benefits of growing in a hydroponic way, are simple: you use layers which makes good use of space, plus, because of the controlled setting the water usage is much lower than traditional agriculture.
At Good Bank, the plants are grown under energy saving LED lighting and we don’t need to use any pesticides.
When you have a growing city population, the city is dependent on mass agriculture even though you can’t grow fresh greens all year round.
Our vertical farming partner, Infarm, once said “we’re against seasonality” which I agree with.
We see the choices of food our guests want to make, that in growing in this innovative way, one really as the possibility to reduce the carbon footprint of many of the veggies that are being imported.
What are the challenges?
For us, it was difficult at the beginning to sell ourselves as a restaurant, many people thought of us as an installation and we really had to fight to become culinary accepted.
Then, another challenge is with the farms themselves, we are working with fresh produce so there have been some learning curves along the way about how food grows and what the right temperature is for the plants.
We have six columns and each column is for one day of the week and that is what we harvest. the summer we tend to run out quickly and in the winter, for example, everybody might want to eat soup and we are left with too many greens, but that doesn’t usually happen anymore.
Do you think we will see more of this type of restaurant in Berlin or otherwise?
I haven’t seen much vertical farming in Berlin, but I do foresee it for sure. But there are lots of concepts starting to work with vertical farms and ask us our opinion, so I do foresee it for sure.
I think there is a new movement of people in the hospitality industry who are aware of how much they can actually do themselves, and there are the guests that demand we think about these things too.
We’ve surpassed that age of faux-health-food and now people want to see how their food is produced and they want total transparency. We might not be perfect, but we are transparent.
Are there plans to create anything bigger and grow other things outside of salad?
We are looking into food production in general for milk- mostly probiotic, as well as honey; we’ve started working with Urban Honey and we’re going into milk replacements too, but that will be another story.
Something else we have tested that can be grown in closed systems and visible to the guests is mushrooms. We have been around the neighbourhood collecting ground coffee and discovered you can do oyster mushrooms nicely in humid, dark conditions.
What’s the best seller at GOOD BANK?
Burn The Avocado Honey is number 1 (Home-grown salad, Burnt Avocado, Goats Cheese, Cherry Tomatoes, Peppers, Marinated Black Beans, Cucumber, Sunflower seeds, Honey and Lemon Dressing).
Vegan Truffle is number 2 (Organic rice, Salad, Roasted Organic Tofu, Roasted Mushrooms, Cauliflower, Sunflower Seeds, Cranberries, Roasted Crunchy Chickpeas, Creamy Vegan Truffle Dressing).
These two became originals that we probably won’t ever change, they’re killing it, no matter what we introduce! Burn The Avocado just sells like crazy.
What kind of customers does GOOD BANK attract?
We were a bit apprehensive about our design because we were worried about presenting ourselves as a hipster brand. We wanted to be seen as innovative but still for the mass. And then, when they turned on the pink lights and everything looked super cool, we were like damn! We’re very trendy. Too much pink!
Location wise, we attract a lot of business men who just appreciate good food, who aren’t too concerned about health and fitness but have a decent knowledge of nutrition and enjoy fresh, good food.
Having so many different options means that we also attract vegans, vegetarians and everyone in between too.
How do you stay conscious and ethical while offering meat and fish?
We decided we couldn’t be a vegan place if we wanted to attract everyone. We want to encourage people to eat differently, but we don’t want to tell them our beliefs. We will never be a dogmatic brand.
Nobody becomes a vegan without knowing another vegan, it can become very exclusive and we don’t want to be that place, I hate excluding people. We are not here to judge. I wanted to offer options for everyone and advise to try something vegan or veggie.
We have also chosen companies for our beef and chicken that have animal welfare at their core.
…It’s all rubbish and we should stop eating basically. Leaves only!
Other than GOOD BANK where do you love to eat?
I have a favourite! St. Barts. I love their easy going approach. You get a nice plate, there is heart and a bit of zest.
The food is very seasonal and they have traditional pub stuff with a twist. I had an amazing salad with kohlrabi and mint, and pig feet with terrine. Whatever they do it’s just good.
Whilst on the surface it might seem like it’s just salad, Good Bank and similar initiatives are paving the way to a more sustainable future in food production.
Good Bank has truly sowed the seeds for a potentially transformative way of eating and thinking about the food on our plates. It might start with salad but who knows what might come next?
Oh, and the Burn The Avocado Honey was delicious, we can confirm.
Ema wears LEO in Amber tortoise / Black⠀