Business expertise helped a restaurant in Tirana reduce its environmental impact.
Ina Gjakova’s restaurant Ejona is one of those finds that you accidently stumble upon while navigating the bustling streets of a city like Tirana, Albania. Although you hesitate at first to deviate from your initial plans, the idea of dining al fresco on a patio adorned with trees and twinkling lights piques your interest. You decide to make a stopover and after the first few bites of their Mediterranean-inspired dishes, you’re won over and cannot wait to share your discovery with others.
But there’s more to Ina’s gourmet front garden than meets the eye. Ejona is an emerging eco-friendly restaurant, dedicated to green operations and sustainability. Together with the European Union, the EBRD helped Ejona develop a business strategy for reducing its environmental impact and promoting these efforts more widely.
Pulling Ejona back from the brink
Ina and her husband were searching for the perfect site in Tirana to launch a restaurant when they discovered a local cafeteria business that was about to close down.
“We saw the place and we fell in love with it immediately,” says Ina, thinking back to how she started the venture.
She took up the reins of the faltering business, keeping its original name ‘Ejona’ but renewing its mission with a stronger focus on environmentalism.
On a green mission
Conscious of the environmental impact restaurants can have, Ina and her husband were determined to make sustainability one of their core principles. They started with the décor, furnishing the interior with recycled wood and transforming the outdoor area into a green oasis in the heart of the city.
The pair also got involved in numerous green projects, including recycling plastic bottle caps. Ina set up containers near their restaurant for passers-by and turned Ejona into a collection point for the entire street.
“Over the years, we noticed that we had built up a strong base of loyal customers who came to the restaurant not just once or twice, but were regulars,” says Ina. “This is exactly what we aimed to achieve.”
Hatching a plan B
Like many other businesses in the service sector, Ejona suffered a drop in demand during the pandemic. “We realised we had no plan B,” Ina recalls. “The pandemic was a wake-up call that we could no longer rely on word of mouth to grow our clientele.”
Having heard about the EBRD’s advisory work with small businesses, she contacted the Bank to learn more about how she could get help for her business.
An advisory project, jointly supported by the EBRD and the EU, helped Ina identify the ways she could boost her business’s sustainability, such as managing water and energy consumption, and minimising food waste, while promoting its new, green approach.
The project also helped change Ina’s mindset around online promotion and digital marketing: she felt newly empowered to market her business to an environmentally-conscious clientele.
“We source fresh produce from local farmers and we test the food in a lab to ensure it meets the highest safety and quality standards. Now that Ejona is more visible online, our target customers can learn more about our sustainability efforts.”
A pioneer in her own right, Ina has already set her sights on expanding the business with a sister company that would deliver healthy meals to busy families who are health-conscious but need a quick fix for the work week.
What started out as the eco-friendly rescue of a small cafeteria is now a successful venture with new and green pastures ahead.