EGYPTIAN-BORN Mohamed Osman is the owner and managing director of the café/patisserie Blanche Eatery, situated on Strutton Ground in St James Park, London. Kensington Church Street and Hammersmith also each house a Blanche Eatery, and Osman hopes to expand into the city very soon.
Born into a very business-minded family in Alexandria, Egypt, Osman moved to London when he was 18 years old, studied computers, owned a graphic design company, then bought a wholesale food company. It was here that he gained substantial knowledge about fresh ingredients. "My most successful customers would spend the money and buy the best quality produce. Those who would try to cut corners never did that well," he relates.
Osman has notable business acumen and a real passion for food, which makes him pick the right people to cook in his kitchens, even if he has to move in there himself for weeks on end. "I have always wanted to go out and eat, so I always thought about setting up a restaurant or a café. I didn't know exactly what, but I knew I wanted something home-made," he tells Thursday Food. "I was 27 years old, with a mortgage, a wife and two children, so it was important that I do something serious. I had all the good intentions of making it work. At the end of the day, it is about how many people say that they love my food."
So in 2003, Osman started with another establishment called Fait Maison, which is "a more high-end version of Blanche Eatery". With six of these exclusive patisserie cafés in south-west and west London, Osman "wanted to offer my food to more people, so I decided to open the more affordable Blanche Eatery. I had to find a way of bringing down the price, but without bringing down the quality". "So I chose to cut some of my overheads, like leasing much smaller units, having a centralised kitchen which is very close to the three Blanche Eatery locations, and various other ways that would not compromise my food. You can get the same cakes, salads, and so on, that we sell at Fait Maison, but for half the price."
At Blanche Eatery you are able to eat healthily and heartily, without feeling regretful. There are 12 cooks in the centralised kitchen, ensuring that each dish is made with the freshest ingredients, and as far as possible they source them locally. For about five pounds you can have a thick slice of tortilla (Spanish omelette), with two or three salads from a choice of six or eight each day. There are, too, the sumptuous signature chick pea, artichoke hearts, tomato, red onion, parsley, dill and spring onion salad; the rich roasted aubergine, feta cheese and pomegranate salad; the bursting-with-flavour barley, butternut squash, red onion, fresh chilli, rosemary and parsley salad; and more.
Even their cakes and pastries are prepared and made, by seven pastry chefs, with the finest French butter and flour, and absolutely no artificial flavours whatsoever! When you bite into their moist orange cupcake laced with the lightest semblance of coconut, or tuck into a slice of the fluffy lemon and poppyseed cake that is filled and topped with the most deliciously creamy icing on this earth, there is no remorse. How could anyone feel bad about eating fresh food that tastes this delicieuse?
Osman really is a business genius, but one who clearly knows not only what he likes to eat, and what others are looking for as well. The area of St James Park, which is close to Victoria, is home to Scotland Yard, The Home Office, Channel 4, The Security Service MI5, and numerous other offices. As a result, places like Pret a Manger, Caffe Nero, Ravello, Greggs, Eat, and so many more, have opened their doors to supply patrons with lunch. However, their central theme is a sandwich, with the odd soup, salad or hot dish thrown in the mix. Then there's McDonald's and a couple chipper shops! Average price for light lunch is a fiver, and 10 quid for something filling. With Blanche Eatery, "I want to be able to feed people really well for the same cost, but not with bread or fried food". Osman says in all seriousness. "I want to give them two or three of their per day vegetables, but not with a simple green salad that may leave you hungry afterwards." Osman also made the decision to remain open on Saturdays and Sundays, unlike the others, in order to cater to the locals who live in the area. Very smart move, Osman!
"I always strive to achieve two things," concludes Osman. "Make people feel it is a family-run, not a corporate business; and feed people well, but without the guilt. Often healthy food doesn't taste good, but unhealthy food does. Our food at Blanche Eatery is a healthy meal that tastes very good."
Little Fact: the name came about when Osman saw the Hammersmith location, which was a cabbie office. It was painted in the most miserable black. He said to himself, "If it comes available, I will paint it white." With French as his second language, the obvious choice for a name became Blanche ('white' in French) Eatery.
Another Little Fact: Space Design, which specialises in bars and restaurants, worked with Osman on the design of Blanche Eatery.
Yet Another Little Fact: Blanche Eatery recently won the Evening Standard's accolade of 'Where to find the best box of salad'.
Last Little Fact: 80 per cent of Blanche Eatery's trading is to go. Due to VAT, taking out means a 20 per cent decrease in the price of everything you buy there.