PONO is a health conscious superfood bar in the centre of Norwich City centre offering feel good food that not only tastes great but is great for your body. Its like if heaven did fast food.
From their Signature bowl and customer favourite Hawaiian Poké, customisable salad bowls to our increasingly popular Açai bowls, at PONO they will make you feel great with everything you decide to put in to your body.
Not only do they operate and prepare everything fresh daily from their shop on St Giles Street for our daily visitors PONO are now offering customers who don’t get the chance to visit them for us to bring it to them.
We talk to co-founder Georgia Lewis about her start-up story, her choice to offer healthy and nutritious catering packages at PONO, and why she aims to provide something a little extra special to help nourish our mind, body & soul.
“We are a Superfood Bar based in Norwich City Centre, inspired by Hawaiian culture (PONO meaning happiness, harmony and balance in Hawaiian), selling healthy nutritious food without feeling like you’re making sacrifices. We use fresh ingredients in everything we serve including our customisable salad bowls, poké bowls, smoothie bowls and drinks. Come and take a breath.”
Hey Georgia, can you introduce yourself to us?
Hey, I am Georgia Lewis, a born and bred Norfolk girl who grew up in Great Yarmouth. I am 28 years old and I co-founded PONO Superfood bar in Norwich just over one year ago. Establishing PONO was a 3 year idea before we opened the doors to our first customer.
Can you take us through your journey to where you are now as the co-founder of the super food store PONO?
My boyfriend and I both had “careers” that we found ourselves in at quite a young age. These jobs paid well and allowed us live a good life but we were not passionate about our day to day jobs. There came a point in 2014 where we felt unfulfilled by this lifestyle and craved to see what other opportunities there were out there. We saved hard for a year (and practically sold everything) to allow us to travel the world without any commitments, and quit our jobs to seek adventure. We started traveling in January 2015 and left without any short or long term plans, we were completely open to anything that made us happy.
Shortly into our travels we realised that the food and cafe culture was a big part of what we loved experiencing through the different places we travelled. Food and drink is a massive part of every culture and cafes are always happy places. Within two months and into our second country we decided that the next 2 years were going to be one big research trip into discovering what our own perfect eatery would be like. So basically, PONO is all of our favourite cultures, mixed into one whether it be shown through the food, drinks, interior, music or brand. As soon as we returned home in 2017 we took jobs in retail and began looking for our premises, we fought hard for our current location and it took a little over a year to open the doors to our first customer.
What was the start-up process for you like and how did you successfully launch PONO in Norwich?
I have a 1st Class Business Management Degree so it would make sense that the start up process would be fairly obvious, but this was really not the case! There is no manual telling you how to start your own business- all business’ are different. A good accountant and business advisor was our most valuable asset in the start up phase and this has also set us up well going forward. As mentioned already, we fought hard for our shop, as a start-up our application was rejected on a number of occasions but the location was the one thing we were sure on from the beginning, as a customer facing business it was important to us to find the best location possible.
When it comes to business partnerships, we know it can be tough finding the right person to go into any venture with, can you outline 3 useful tips some some of of audience who are looking to do joint ventures with friends or family?
I’ve gone into business with my boyfriend so this is a difficult one to answer. Although it is worth mentioning that as a couple this is the hardest thing we have ever done! We have been together 11 years so I like to think that we have a pretty solid foundation but both being passionate about the same thing can highlight our difference!
- Communication is absolutely key because I cannot imagine how frustrating it would be if you felt your voice wasn’t being heard.
- Make sure you allow for time away from the business to still spend personal time together. I think this is the hardest thing to do, but it has to be done. Anyone will tell you running your own business is consuming on all levels, it is healthy for yourself and your relationships with friends and family if you allow time to recognise this separation.
- For us, it has definitely helped that we have taken on different roles within the business but still keeping each other in the loop. It allows us to flourish in our own ways and also helps to keep the workload manageable. Just make sure that when going into a joint venture you are working with someone who is willing to put in equal amounts of effort!
Can you tell us about the brand behind PONO?
Firstly many people ask what PONO actually means. It’s a hard one to pin point an exact meaning but it is a Hawaiian word which can loosely be translated to “Happiness, Harmony and Balance” This is the underlying message behind our whole brand. Our slogan and hashtag, #stayPONO highlights this. It is obvious that we sell health conscious food but this is not something we push with our brand. We think that balance is the key to all elements of a happy life and we aim to keep this the main focus of our brand.
In terms of branding, what 3 tips would you give to any start-up company looking to establish their brand DNA on tight budget?
As with most start-ups budget is always the limiting factor, however, setting up a strong brand was higher up the budget for us. We found a local graphic designer who truly understood what we were trying to get across and conveyed this amazingly well through her design work.
- Having a strong brand has so many indirect positives that are hard to see in the early stages: it represents your business as being professional and allows you to be taken seriously; it makes you instantly recognisable and easy to associate with.
- If you do not have the expertise to create brand yourself find an independent expert who does, it is worth the investment long term, especially in this digital age. There are many experts out there who can work within most budgets to get you started. There are also many students who are just starting up and need to build up their own portfolio who may be willing to partner up.
- Finally, know the message you’re trying to convey and make this clear through all channels of your brand.
Where can you see yourself within the next 5 years and what plans do you have in place to expand and further develop the growth of PONO?
For me personally I hope we are able to grow the business in a way that still allows us to travel and see the world. Running a business is very consuming on all aspects of your life, I try not to focus too far into the future but learn from the journey as we go. I think it is so important to enjoy every step of the running your own business and always remind yourself why you started doing it at the beginning. I strongly believe there is too much pressure in this modern society to always be the best when really we should only be focused on what makes us happy in that moment in time.
What outlets do use to promote PONO?
Like most small business’ Social media has always been our go to! Our customers love to take pictures of their food, sometimes phones are out before we even place the food down in from of them. Running our instagram could be a full time job and it is one that my partner and I really enjoy.
We are also featured in a local city guide which is really popular in Norwich and is good to catch the tourist trade.
We have recently stepped into the digital marketing world which is working great, we have a local company produce some amazing animations. These animations are also shown on screens around the city.
The independent culture in Norwich is amazing, all local business’s promote and support each other!
What challenges have you seen to have been presented during the growth of PONO?
We have lots of ideas on how to expand but we struggle to decide what is the best direction for the business as this time. We have been very fortunate that many opportunities have come our way but it is making the decision of where to invest our time and finances. We aren’t natural risk-takers so perhaps we over analyse everything way too much.
Which other health conscious food retailers or do you also admire and why?
We have taken most of our inspiration from small family run, simple eateries serving the freshest possible food. These places tend to have small menus and what they do serve is the best possible version of it around. Street food in Hawaii was great for this as well as well as small eateries in California.
We have also taken inspiration from major players in the industry who are based in cities all over the World; FarmGirl in London and My Other Brother in Melbourne, as well as individuals such as Joe Wicks who all promote a balanced lifestyle.
How do you define your own success?
It sounds cliché, but I believe happiness is the only measure.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
Never settle for anything less than what makes you happy. Be your own happy.
Finally, what are you working on throughout 2019?
We are taking PONO into commercial catering by providing catering for companies and lunches for staff. We are also partnering up with pilates studios, fitness centres and yoga retreats. We want to spread the PONO goodness around to as many people as possible so if you are reading this and are interested, please do not hesitate to get in contact.