|Keeping It In The Family|
| Emma Brophy talks to the new Eco girl in town Charmaine Wasif
Although Charmaine Wasif studied to become an architect, the lure of the family’s food business proved too much to resist. But being born into the industry didn't mean that anything was handed to the charming self-effacing 28 year old on a plate, she had to (and chose to) start at the bottom and prove herself.
Daughter of Sami Wasif, who owns two branches of Eco (Clapham and Chiswick), Esca (a delicatessen set to open in a second branch in Westfield W12 later this year) and Tooley Street’s Absolutely Starving, Charmaine explains how she came to be her father’s right hand woman and launching Eco in Chiswick.
“I studied architecture in 1998 which was great but I realised it wasn’t for me. I’ve always worked in the family businesses but I insisted that I started from scratch as a kitchen porter and then a waitress.”
She believes this grounding gave her the confidence to manage people often older and more experienced than her.
“You do question yourself sometimes and you have to play around with different techniques. My father is a hard core people manager but not me. Work, like life, is about enjoying yourself. I chose to work here; the staff choose to work here. If you enjoy what you’re doing then you make your full effort don’t you?”
Inheriting a love of good food from his mother, her Egyptian born father chose to go down the Italian route after spending time in country where he “fell in love with the simple clean healthy lifestyle”. In 1989 he bought Eco’s first site in Brixton and the Clapham site soon followed. But what brought them to Chiswick?
“Chiswick is beautiful,” says Charmaine “It’s kind of like Clapham but a grown up version although Clapham has a long way to go in some respects. I feel very at home here, it’s villagey, people seem settled here – it’s just Chiswick. Eco would do well wherever we opened but we saw this site and something just clicked.”
So what took so long? “All in all it took 18 months from the discussions with Southey’s to opening. It’s not a template. We reworked plans 100 times; we wanted to get it right. But not in a hurry, we needed to feel comfortable with number of staff we had; we were closing the Brixton site and had lots of other bits and pieces going on.”
What makes Eco different from Chiswick’s other pizza places? “I know that we do pizza but it’s not really about the pizza it’s a different kind of understanding of the dough, the flour all the ingredients. The food is coming from someone who really knows their stuff. Everything is made on site even the dough is fermented naturally we do nothing to speed it up. There’s a real process to every dish that you will eat here.
"We’re not really comparing or competing with anyone, we love what we do and we’re here to do it. Every restaurant in Chiswick will pick up its own following.”
Charmaine was surprised when one of the builders working on the restaurant's refit told her about the High Road’s other Eco. She was keen to clarify that whilst their architect, Ananad, used fast renewable sourced woods and environmentally friendly materials in the restaurant’s interior, the business “is not linked directly to the eco movement.”
“The name Eco comes from my father’s and Ananad’s shared passion of the author Umberto Eco.” explains Charmaine “It was very unexpected to find another Eco opening here but hey!”
The restaurant’s décor makes quite a statement, however Charmaine isn’t entirely convinced. “The windows are beautiful and are a real talking point but I’m not sure. I mean surely something you don’t really notice means it sits well in its environment but they are something that demands attention.”
Although Eco opened without fanfare, Charmaine says that local reaction has, on the whole, been very positive. “We’re not planning on making changes just yet, we’re settling in and not in any hurry. But we are working on a lot of stuff like wholemeal pizza bases, introducing gluten free pasta so we will be adding and editing the menu as we go.”
Other plans include the opening of an Esca deli in the new Westfield shopping centre set to open in Shepherd’s Bush later this year.
March 30, 2008