A new vegetarian restaurant chain, Tibits, is sprouting up across Switzerland, threatening to give fast food a good name.This content was published on March 13, 2004 - 14:01
Buoyed by the success of the first eateries, there are plans to start exporting the unique Swiss concept by opening a Tibits branch in London.
It is lunchtime and standing room only at Zurich’s Tibits.
There is seating for 100 but at least half as many patrons are waiting for a place to come free on a pastel sofa, or one of the several small high tables.
At a first glance, Tibits could be mistaken for copying the latest fast food trends, where sandwiches, soup, coffee or fresh juice are offered in cosy yet fashionable settings.
But the chain’s main ingredient and key to success is a large buffet of 30 different hot and cold vegetarian dishes, including everything from Tex-Mex to Indian curries, with a dash of old fashion Swiss cooking thrown in as well.
Carrot hot dog
Added to the mix is a witty advertising campaign comprised of images of vegetables posing as fast food icons.
String beans instead of McDonald’s fries, a carrot imitating a hot dog and a banana with a takeaway handle cut out of its peel.
The playful approach sends an overt message to the meat-eating majority that vegetarian dishes do not have to be boring.
And it is clear that Tibits would not be half as successful if it were only targeting vegetarians.
Reto Frei, one of Tibits three founding brothers, says he believes no more than ten per cent of the restaurant’s customers are vegetarians.
Much of the concept, including the food, was first successfully implemented at Zurich’s popular Hiltl restaurant, which was Europe’s first vegetarian eatery when it opened its doors in 1898.
By coincidence, it was exactly 100 years later that the Frei brothers won a new venture award for their fast food business plan.
“The three of us are vegetarians and we agreed that we wanted to have the same kind of dishes as Hiltl in our restaurant,” Frei remembers.
The brothers unfortunately had no experience in the restaurant industry, but fate was on their side when the Hiltl owner, Rolf Hiltl, got wind of the project, and offered to be their partner.
The vegetarian food of Hiltl thus became the vegetarian fast food of Tibits.
“People come mainly because they love good food,” says Hiltl, describing the Tibits concept.
“And we give them extras such as time, since they get their food very fast, allowing them more time to eat,” he explains.
“It’s also a question of lifestyle - we have a certain type of people who come here who want to feel good, and all those things are added value, but people mainly come because they want good food.”
The first Tibits opened in central Zurich at the end of 2000. The chain started soon afterwards, with two new restaurants in Bern and Winterthur.
“We’re planning to open a Tibits in Basel,” Frei says. “And then our next step will be to expand to London.”
“We think the concept is unique but we will know how unique it really is if we go to London,” adds Hiltl who has set a target date of 2006 for taking on the British capital.
“If we have success in London, we’re thinking about going to the United States, because it’s a great market.
“We know the US, and we have had a lot of enquiries from there.”
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Zurich
The restaurant’s main attraction is its large buffet with 30 hot and cold vegetarian dishes.
Tibits is a joint venture with Zurich’s Hiltl restaurant, which was Europe’s first vegetarian eatery when it opened its doors in 1898.
Tibits has three Swiss locations: Zurich, Bern and Winterthur.
There are plans to open a branch in Basel and London over the next couple of years.