PARIS — A vibrant yellow coffee chaga shake sits next to a blue-tinted water with reishi extracts. In a separate cabinet, a dark mess of kelp noodles contrasts with the creamy whiteness of cashew “fauxmage.”
“People ask questions about pretty much everything on the menu,” says a salesperson behind the counter of the Wild & the Moon restaurant on rue Amelot here. “They don’t know any of the ingredients.”
Getting French customers into chia seeds and charcoal drinks was a bit of a gamble for Emma Sawko, cofounder of Wild & the Moon, a chain of organic, vegan, gluten-free and health-focused restaurants and juice bars. “But I think France was ready,” says the New York-born entrepreneur, who opened her first tiny takeaway spot in 2016 on rue Charlot.
Sawko, who grew up in the Basque region of France, got her healthy eating habits from her mother. Breakfasts were often a bowl of “Kousmine-Budwig cream,” a blend of yogurt, sunflower oil, oats, seeds and nuts topped with seasonal fruit created by German biochemist Johanna Budwig and popularized by Swiss doctor Catherine Kousmine.
Said to reduce the risk of inflammatory illnesses — including cancer — the recipe turned into the Power Bowl, one of Wild & the Moon’s bestsellers.
Inspired by her time spent in New York, where she “lived in” juice bars, Sawko’s first foray into healthy eating happened after relocating to Dubai to follow her husband Hervé, then a banker. The former publicist opened Comptoir 102, a concept store complete with an organic café, the first in the area.
“It was quite challenging,” remembers Sawko. “I basically had to find a way to grow vegetables in the desert.”
Following the success of Comptoir 102 — which Sawko still runs alongside two partners, spending a week per month in Dubai — the family moved to Paris in 2015. Sawko’s husband quit his job, the team paired up with a food and beverage expert, and the first Wild & the Moon restaurant opened the following year. The chain is now present in seven of the 20 Parisian arrondissements, with four spots in the Marais.
On Sept. 25, Wild & the Moon will open its 11th outpost, a flagship on Place du Marché Saint-Honoré, a stone’s throw from where legendary concept store Colette used to stand.
“People all around the world have realized the importance of healthy eating and the impact that our eating habits have on our health,” says Sawko, who plans to expand abroad in 2019. “It’s not a trend, it’s a structural change.”
One of these people is Virgil Abloh. The designer, who counts the café among his favorite Parisian lunch spots, asked Wild & the Moon to operate the first Off-White café as part of his pop-up at Paris department store Le Bon Marché in March 2018.
Having created special items, including a blue drink for that event, he has teamed up with Sawko again for the conception of “Saint Honoré,” a drink available exclusively at the café’s new flagship.
“Getting the right color was really important for Virgil,” says Sawko of the green chlorophyll-infused almond milk, dotted with cacao chips. “Saint Honoré” will be sold in limited-edition Off-White-branded glass bottles, which customers can reuse as water bottles.
Wild & the Moon is completely plastic-free, no mean feat for a restaurant that makes 45 percent of its revenue doing takeaway. “It’s been a long and complicated journey,” sighs Sawko, who adds that the search of the perfect “green” packaging manufacturer is still ongoing. “But we couldn’t promote a healthy lifestyle and use plastic. It would have made no sense.”
Juice bottles and salad bowls are made using sugarcane and corn starch. “Everything — the labels, the glue, the ink used to print the list of ingredients — is vegetal, compostable, biodegradable,” underlines the entrepreneur. No food is wasted: “We use absolutely all of our ingredients: carrot tops, watermelon rinds, fruit pulp…Leftover vegetable peels are transformed into crackers.”
Plants spill over every surface of the rue Amelot restaurant, which blasts vintage R&B tracks to a mixed crowd of customers. “The main goal was to make organic cool again. I remember what it was like in the Eighties,” Sawko shudders. “It shouldn’t be a punishment.”
Wild & the Moon works with Too Good To Go, a French app connecting users to supermarkets and restaurants unwilling to throw away food that is coming to its sell-by-date. Leftover produce is sold at a slashed price.
For Sawko, it was also a way to reach out to another pool of customers. “I’m aware of the fact that our prices are high,” she says, gesturing to her range of 11.90-euro salads, 9-euro juices and 6.50-euro chai lattes. “I would love to be able to make the concept more accessible. But the reality of working with 100 percent organic product is that it costs a lot more money.”
The businesswoman has been quoted as saying her ambition would be to become an “organic Starbucks.” She laughs at the phrase. “I said that as a joke, but it is the dream. I’m focusing on the 11 restaurants at the moment, but we’ll see how we get on,” says Sawko.
What’s next for Wild & the Moon? Pretty much anything, according to its cofounder, who raised 4 million euros from friends and family in a funding round in March.
She specifically chose a creative name so as not to limit her scope of activities. “I didn’t want a name with ‘organic’ or ‘juice’ in it, which would have been a bit boring. For me, it’s the name of a concept: I’m not against opening a Wild & the Moon hotel one day,” she says.
After an evening spent brainstorming with friends, the name stuck: “wild” symbolizes nature and “moon” references natural cycles. But a close friend recently told Sawko she had always assumed the brand’s name was a yin-yang metaphor of the Sawko couple’s dynamics.
“She said, ‘I thought you were ‘wild’ and Hervé was ‘the moon,'” laughs Sawko. “Which actually sums us up quite well.”