Eccie and Gini Newton are sisters. They are also business partners on a mission to make London a healthier and more sustainable place. If that's not enough to make you feel bad about yourself... wait until you hear that they're still in their early twenties - they're 24 and 22, to be exact.
Together they founded Karma Cans - a London-based lunch delivery service that prides itself on sustainability. Their produce is organic and locally-sourced, and the team hand deliver lunches by bicycle and in reusable tiffin tins that are collected at a later date.
See what I meant?
The sisters split responsibilities - Eccie's the chef and does all of the cooking (her CV includes a summer spent at Petersham Nurseries) while Gini picks up marketing, PR and business development. They both pitch in with delivering lunches by bicycle, but have a team of cyclists on hand to do the leg work.
Inspired and impressed we caught up with them to find out more...
How does Karma Cans work?
At Karma Cans we like to keep things simple.
Each week we create a new organic, sustainable, healthy menu: every day is different and we offer two meals - one veggie and one non-veggie. Meals are the same price at £8, which may sound like a lot but after you’ve been to Pret or Itsu and bought a main, a side and a drink you can easily spend more than £10.
I think that at lunchtime people spend too much time and energy making decisions on what to eat. Before you know it you’ve wasted five minutes fussing over which kind of olives to buy.
With Karma Cans food you know that it’ll be good quality food, whatever you order.
Customers place and order online and we make to order, to minimise waste. Lunch is then delivered by bicycle and all lunches arrive by 1pm.
How do you source the food and compile the menu plans?
Each week we come up with a list of everything that’s come into season and work out what salads or dishes we can make for the following week.
I have a really good relationship with our suppliers so we know that animals are treated well and that everything is well sourced. Our vegetables are supplied by a Turkish man in east London, our butcher is based on Leather Lane near Holborn, London. Everything is grown in the UK and we ensure that everything is seasonal.
We also like to talk to our customers. We have a small network of people who order every day. When we collect the tiffin tins we ask customers whether they liked it and what, if anything, they’d change or like to see on the menu.
Who is your core customer?
We have about 30 people who order every day. Our customers are mostly individuals who work in offices in central London. We have a lot of women in their 20s or 30s who want to eat healthy. We also have a lot of PAs who might order for their offices if they have a meeting.
Why do you think Karma Cans is so popular? And why is it different?
I think that the majority of people come to us because we deliver healthy lunches to their desks. When we started we were serving chicken pies for lunch, but as wellness and health has become increasingly popular - in under a year everyone’s gone superfood and detox mad - we’ve decided to move in that direction. And it seems to be working.
The secondary part is our sustainability. Although sustainability is admittedly not the sexiest thing in the world and the majority of customers aren’t necessarily sniffing out sustainable products, I think people are happy to learn that they are doing their bit - or, rather, that we’re doing it for them. The food we choose is in season and fully compostibel, we don’t use any packaging, we’re cycling etc.
How did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been working as a chef since I was 14. Last year while I was completing my masters I did an eco pop-up restaurant with a friend called ‘Sustainable Supper’. We seated 120 people over the three days and changed the bin once.
I spent a summer studying in Mumbai, India. And was taken aback by their dabbawallahs, which is a complex lunch box delivery system - where thousands of men bring hundreds of thousands of homemade lunches to workers in Mumbai.
When I returned to London my friend was involved with a charity auction and asked me to donate a skill to put up for auction. Inspired by the dabbawallahs, I said I could cook a week of packed lunches and deliver them to the office. The man who won the auction lot is still a customer.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d like Karma Cans to expand to make 4-500 lunches in the next few years. Ideally we’d expand to have a bigger kitchen space (at the moment ours is tiny) and we’d like to have a service window or hatch so that people can get their lunch direct from us.
Describe a typical day
I try to get up at 7am, to start at 7.30 - it’s always a big struggle, I literally have to force myself to get up but once I’ve had a coffee, I’m fine.
Then I’ll cook the lunches until around 11.15am, when we pack everything up. Then me and the delivery staff hop on the bikes to start deliveries. We’re usually done by 1pm and we’ll all sit round and have a relaxed lunch together for about an hour and a half and then carry on until around 8pm.
In the afternoon I hand the reigns over to my sister Gini, who lets me know what I need to be doing, whether it’s doing an interview or talking to someone about business development.
What are the most stressful things about the job and how do you overcome them?
The most stressful time comes around 11am when we’re trying to get everything packaged up and on the road. There’s always one customer who puts an order in at 10.59am or 11.01am.
Sometimes it can be quite straightforward, but most of the time there’s chaos for five minutes with people dropping things for example.
Every kitchen I’ve worked in has always been the same. Everyone slightly tenses up when you’re about to start serving and then everyone can relax.
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