Interview: Vegan and raw JUSTO Entrepreneur Marco Selmi
ROME – JUSTO is a vegan and raw bar and restaurant set in Via dei Gracchi, in the area of Prati near the Vatican and Piazza Cavour. It opened in April. The business is open all day from breakfast until happy hour and dinner. The menu includes salads, extracts, shakes, first courses, and a cafeteria with organic coffee. The main aspect of the location is that nothing is cooked and the entire menu is vegan with not a single ingredient animal-derived. The bar was born from an idea by Marco Selmi, and he currently manages it, along with his wife Adele.
Italian Insider: Tell us about your past experience and the inspiration for JUSTO?
Marco Selmi: I have a background in the finance world, therefore my business experience is mainly limited to the financial sphere. However, I have always been greatly fascinated and attracted by the food service business environment. I was fortunate enough to observe entrepreneurial friends open businesses and see them thrive: Rome is the right location to begin start-ups. When I was proposed the current location I looked around to see what was missing in the market. What was missing was a vegan diet that could be offered in this area. The choice of the raw diet was added later when we were told that the location was not adapt to have a stove nor hood. Hence, we decided and worked for three months with a chef who created an entire menu that would make us independent to know how to cook it ourselves and that was entirely raw. The objective had to include a specific budget and the consideration that neither my wife nor I had any experience with this eating style.
I.I: If we then consider your previous many years of experience – would the success of JUSTO have been different if a young entrepreneur had done it?
M.S: The experience has helped, certainly. The main concern has not only to do with the financial and economical aspect, rather the employee. In the case of opening JUSTO was the small space that had to include up to 7 people at the same time. One can learn from textbooks how to open a business and manage it, yet the interpersonal relationships are the hardest to know how to deal with. On this point I believe that considering where JUSTO is located in Rome we already knew that it would be successful in a certain way; however, we knew we had to take in consideration many newer elements and challenges that went beyond offering a specific food service to clients. If you had asked me to open JUSTO elsewhere in Rome I might not have accepted because often businesses have to explain where their located, we do not have to.
I.I: The vegan and raw cooking has been frequently described as expensive: does JUSTO have a specific target audience?
M.S: I believed it would have a niche audience who would have chosen to come here, but it has not been so. It is true that the type of people who come to eat here can afford to do so, yet we noticed that the general price is actually lower than the general market – even lower than a piece of pizza and a coke. At JUSTO you can eat and feel full but you can eat healthily at the similar cost of a plate of pasta with a coffee or a piece of pizza and a drink. We have realized that agreements with suppliers like conad helps to keep the prices lower, while eating more healthily than elsewhere. Many people come in curious of what we offer.
I.I: The Italian dishes often are full with various differing types of meat, that are frequently also fried, cooked multiple times, and are not always healthy. However, Italians in their feedback to this new vegan and raw wave have debated that it is not however “made in Italy” – your comments?
M.S: As a meat-eater I believe that eating healthily and Made in Italy walk side-by-side and if they do not do so, they should. Moreover, the Made in Italy label should be defended, and it can include even vegan and raw dishes.
I.I: The raw material that costs the most?
M.S: The raw material that costs the most includes all the dry fruit, nuts, and whatever we choose to buy organic, which includes many ingredients we offer. Since we do not have the cost of having a stove and actual cooking we try to cut down the costs in other ways.
I.I: Aside from the absence of a stove that required you to offer an entirely raw menu, what is JUSTO’s mission?
M.S: Satisfy the human need for good food by eating well, with natural food. The factor that the food is raw also teaches that eating this way is more sustainable for yourself and the environment, while teaching another good habit in eating well. It is a specific diet but seeing how many people have chosen to incorporate it in their daily eating habits, maybe at lunch or for a break, it could grow in the future. Rome is an especially good location because, as I got to notice, many businesses that are successful here are not in other cities, like Milan, for instance.
I.I: How would you describe a cruelty-free business?
I.I: Italy is second after India in the number of people who have chosen a vegan diet in the world, what are your concerns, if any, with the competition, and what are your future plans?
M.S: There are no concerns with competition considering what we offer. So far, we have not had any major issues and we consider ourselves unique, especially in this area of Rome. In regard to the future primarily we wish to continue with franchising and open a second point of sale. It would offer something different from what is happening specifically at JUSTO and we thought of dry food. Currently we offer dry food as vegetables similar to crisps and it has been extremely successful. I would like to expand this product and see where it goes, probably open a laboratory.
I.I: Which is the key element for someone who wishes to enter a similar business? What is the market nowadays?
M.S: Certainly, this type of cooking and diet has been influenced too by the fashion element. Television shows like MasterChef today propose many more cooking alternatives including vegetarian and vegan options. All these elements together are pushing towards raw food options. One has to perceive which are the market options that are currently more successful. In the same way as chefs whom in their restaurants have chosen to add vegan, raw, and even macrobiotic options.
I.I: Many business that offer vegan, vegetarian, or raw options frequently take a moral cruelty-free stand to promote eating less animal meat aside from being defined a “alimentary revolution” due to its success in the market – where does JUSTO stand?
M.S: JUSTO does not take a specific stand. As our motto explains “colto e mangiato” (picked and eaten) to highlight a raw and vegan aspect I distinguish business from morality. The choice of opening this business has been defined by a market opening and successful option considering the area in Rome and the possibilities we had in our hands. If I had considered pizza or gelato the best option I might have opened instead another gelateria or pizzeria.
JUSTO in Via dei Gracchi, 187 is open every day: MON – THU from 8am – 9:30pm, FRI – SAT from 8am – 12am, and SUN 10:30am – 6pm. To check out their menu and keep updated with all the events they can be found on Facebook and at www.justo.io.