Wellness and sustainability, in a cloud of steam.
At the district founded on human well-being and eco-friendliness, Vanni Bombonato, creator of the That’s Vapore food stores, talks to us about antifood and environmental sustainability under the claim “Good for you, good for the planet”. He also takes stock of new on and offline consumption behaviour.
PN: How was That’s Vapore born?
VB: With a series of coincidences. I took inspiration from a similar business in Switzerland, then integrated it with all the values of respect for people and the environment that I found when I opened my store in Piazza Gae Aulenti, Portanuova. It is an initial, evolved format of antifood business, committed to fighting food waste and oriented towards a healthy, nutritious diet based on high-quality ingredients. Our vision may be summarized in two key aims. The first aim is to benefit people by providing healthy, but not dietary food, and developing our products accurately so that they may benefit the body and its wellness, in cosy settings, with an efficient service and dinners complemented by activities such as mindful eating, which doesn’t teach how to eat, but how to eat well. The second aim is to contribute, together with our “lovers”, to the planet’s well-being, without the presumption to save the world in a day, but by committing to constructive and respectful everyday actions. Although such practices are already adopted by many, they are still excellent marketing tools to expand business: myself, my staff, and our supporters strongly believe in this ethical and responsible approach that is growingly shared by e-corps. Of course, to respect such principles we need to always source raw ingredients that are more expensive compared to the mass market. But I notice with great pleasure that the new green wave ridden by individuals who drive electric cars or carefully recycle their waste has become cool, as well as useful and necessary. Milan is growingly responsive to such topics, as the construction choices made in Portanuova prove.
PN: On this note, That’s Vapore is plastic-free and green even when it comes to receipts…
VB: Our packaging is 100% biodegradable and compostable, made of innovative and certified material such as PLA, bagasse, and HT Board. I got the idea for the receipts from IKEA, which was the first company in the world to adopt it. When I was at the cash register, I asked the cashier the reason why the receipt was that colour: she explained it was made of recycled paper; I immediately made the idea my own. Unfortunately, “regular” fiscal receipts are made of thermal paper and cannot be recycled, but nobody knows this. Do you know that “green” receipts not only cost less, but are made by an Italian company?
PN: Any more green-oriented touches?
VB: Our stores are fuelled by 100% renewable energy, of course not by installing solar panels, but purchasing from companies that resell energy from renewable sources, such as wind power produced in southern Italy and circulated in the system. Once again a choice that rewards our green consciences, but at a higher cost than so-called “traditional” energy.
Also in terms of ecology, we have launched our Green Saturdays: for every dish ordered on Saturdays, we donate 50% of the price towards planting and maintenance of new trees in a food forest at the Parco Nord of Milan. Moreover, we partnered with Wow Nature to plant trees to create new green areas and contribute to CO2 emissions absorption, and with WAME to donate 100 litres of drinking water for every can of water we sell, by creating water supply networks for communities that don’t have access to such resource. Moreover, we support Action Against Hunger, an NGO involved in fighting malnutrition in 50 countries worldwide for over 40 years. May I add something?
PN: There’s more?
VB: We work with Wiseair to monitor air quality around our stores. The data collected in real-time are shared with every citizen through an app, in order to promote environmental awareness.
PN: What about food waste?
VB: We use Too Good To Go to make our That’s Vapore Magic Boxes available every day.
PN: You mentioned the high quality of your “superfoods”; could you give us an example of eco-friendly raw ingredient?
VB: Our coffee is produced sustainably and is Rainforest Alliance-certified.
PN: Okay, you’re “committed” indeed…
VB: Well, apart from these adjustments that I consider absolutely expected after decades of widespread environmental misconduct, the point is that statistically speaking if your diet is bad, you live less. Thus, as the owner of a food business, I don’t only commit to protecting the environment, but have a responsibility towards people, as I serve thousands every year. Furthermore, whether I like it or not, I have an almost educational role, because my effort also produces culture; I am an example for my customers, not to make them adopt my own behaviour, but at least to inform them of what can be done for the health of the environment and consequently the people in it.
PN: Is the restaurant vegan?
VB: No, our menu also includes meat and fish, but I am happy about meat-replacement technology that will allow us to eliminate intensive farming one day. It will be a slow but unavoidable step: just like we would find it crazy for someone to light a cigarette inside a restaurant today, perhaps 20 years from now we’ll feel the same when we see someone eating a hamburger or drinking out of a plastic bottle.
PN: Other than your job, do you spend your free time in Portanuova too?
VB: I live close by, so yes, I like the district because of its real estate development and its greenery. I believe it is a source of pride for the people of Milan and not only.
PN: How did you react to the emergency? Delivery and take-away?
VB: Absolutely yes.
PN: Have you scaled down your menu for this “new” target market, or did you stay on the safe side by putting “popular” dishes first?
VB: My menu cannot be downsized. I adapted marketing, communication, and automatic pick-up of orders.
PN: Who orders take-away from your restaurant, given that – unlike delivery – pick-up is done in person?
VB: Offices or residents of the district, with a strong decline in the first group.
PN: In so many months, have you figured out your own “curve” in terms of favourite dishes, current trends, and preferred cuisines, especially upon analysing online purchase data
VB: We have the same menu for both online and offline (take-away) orders. As for online, there is a strong tendency towards customizable dishes such as poke bowls – which are, by the way, booming among food fashions, much more successful than gourmet hamburgers, pizzas, or ramen. Offline, preferences are more across the board; people like to try new dishes each time.
PN: Do you take work home with you? Do you cook with steam for yourself too?
VB: My palate is very basic. In fact, when we test new dishes I am the benchmark for the taste of an average client.
PN: What did you learn from the emergency that you will cherish when things open again?
VB: Given office workers are our main customers and we are in the restaurant business, you can imagine what a disaster. Stopping without prior notice after you have ordered all the ingredients, hired all your staff, and organized the logistics is a big problem.
But despite all of this, I found out I am stronger than I thought, and when this time will be over, any obstacle will seem as light as steam.