Having founded the late Koko & Roy restobar, Annah Syta and Jonathan Roy talk about rebounding from Covid and their new online deli…
WI: In the cold light of day, how do you hope Koko & Roy will be remembered, and what elements are you transferring to the deli?
AS / JR: I think we built a really strong community; I hope we’re remembered for great food and the welcome and open atmosphere we had – that’s not to say we didn’t have a few legendary nights as well! But really, it’s that soul we aim to bring to the new business model, though of course in a different way. Where we previously focused on interior design and atmosphere, we now put that effort into packaging, customer service, and creating a great online user experience.
The most exciting new devolvement is our partnership with British executive chef Gareth Rowntree. He operated several restaurants in London before moving here (yes, for a Polish girl… and a baby!), and like us, was forced to close his place due to Covid. We met Gareth by chance and completely hit it off – we share a common approach to high quality, elevated comfort food and are passionate about getting that out to a wider audience.
Talk us through Covid…
It’s pretty hard to put so much blood, sweat and tears into building something with integrity, only to have a situation come along that’s completely beyond your control. We were still quite positive after the first wave, but once Round II came around it was clear that there was no way to survive so many months on such limited income. We did, however, feel very positive about our pivot to Koko & Roy Deli, so the decision to close was not without its silver lining.
At what point did you realize you needed to pull the shutter on the original venture?
Once the second wave and lockdown started, we predicted that it would be at least five months till we could operate normally. Rents aren’t exactly cheap in the center, and with the government response not being what we felt it should have been, we basically had no choice but to close.
Why the decision to pursue the deli?
The Koko & Roy Deli brand had been on the back burner for a number of years, initially as a way to sell our Bacon Bourbon Jam with a plan to expand to more products. When the first lockdown came we had more time on our hands plus had to switch to a home delivery model anyway.
What challenges have you faced while pivoting the business?
Primarily figuring out the shifts in our target audience and how to make contact with our new customers. Before we were selling a great night out to adults; now we are selling a great night in to families with children, or busy people who don’t have time to cook. And of course working out solutions to new types of problems like packaging and shipping – the food is the easy part!
You decided to stay in Warsaw – why!
We’re very proud of the brand that we created and didn’t feel that we were done building it. Koko & Roy has so many facets that appealed to people, and despite the current pivot to building a prepared-food brand, we still have additional ideas for expansion. I’m not going to share too much, but let’s just say that the bar top is still in storage!
What is the principal take-home lesson from Koko & Roy 1.0?
That having a good connection with people is essential. That’s what made Koko & Roy what it was, and now we aim to continue to have close contact with our customers despite the fact that we won’t always see them face-to-face.
Your deli food is designed to complement what’s already in your pantry. Well, what’s in yours!
Jonathan makes a lot of Dominican/Puerto Rican food, reminiscent of little hole-in-the-wall joints in New York, so there’s always a homemade sofrito in the fridge. Annah’s focus is Asian food, as she grew up in Taiwan and spent her youth visiting various parts of Asia.
For you guys, what’s the definition of a good meal at home…
As with many other people right now, chilling out on the couch in style is our idea of perfect. Usually that involves some wine and a stellar snack board with cheese, dips and spreads. Or of course Taco Night (yes, shameless plug here, but Gareth’s tortillas and fillings won Best Tacos in London in 2017!). But overall, getting to enjoy anything that’s beautifully made and wildly delicious while remaining in your pajamas is the ultimate!
For more on Koko & Roy Deli, see: kokoandroydeli.com