Fast Wholefood

Green Lifestyle

Iku Wholefood proves that ancient wisdom can be applied to modern eating. Hear about this small Sydney businesses journey as a pioneer of sustainable and conscious eating.


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Iku Wholefood opened their first store on Glebe Point Rd in Sydney back in 1985. They have since expanded all around Sydney, growing a brand that’s based on improving people’s health, and providing an opportunity to try wholefoods instead of settling for the usual fast food options.

Ken Israel, owner and co-founder of Iku, was motivated by his own health journey – transitioning from a ‘meat & three veg’ kinda guy, to a macrobiotic aficionado. Eating true wholefoods was such a life changer for Ken that he knew he had to share it with other people. Throughout the financial and moral struggles of a small business he has persisted in living and working towards this goal.

Ken clearly outlines that the Iku menu is designed for a holistic lifestyle – not a short-term diet or fad. They’ve persisted with their brand and values for almost 30 years, even up against constant competition and new scientific findings. The roots of their recipes and processes lie in traditional Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurvedic principles and Japanese cooking. It’s a simple foundation of brown rice, beans, and vegetables – wholefoods that are beneficial to digestion and easily assimilated in the body.

The food is 100% vegan and accessible to people with a range of intolerances. There are no preservatives or additives, and everything is freshly made (mostly by hand) by a team that lives by the values of holistic eating, and is passionate about the business. They source the best ingredients they can find and cook them using naturally-filtered water, carefully and slowly, with thought about how customers are going to get the most out of every bite.

Iku has been around long before the mainstream trend towards superfoods in the last year or two. They are pioneers of restoring traditional healthy eating habits back into our modern culture. As Ken says, “these days, everybody wants something new” – but the reality is that few will take the time and effort to think about how food works in our bodies and whether a new diet is actually suitable for an individual.

“High-nutrition food is not necessarily good for you; it can be just as damaging as low-nutrition food if your body cannot take it in,” says Ken. So, all of the Iku meals are designed to be holistic, wholesome, and easily digested by anyone.

On the path to health and a viable business, Ken became conscious of the broader impacts of food production on the environment and our children’s future. This responsibility, which he calls “cleaning up your own backyard”, has been infused into the production process in Iku’s central kitchen in Marrickville.

The kitchen produces all food sent out to the 12 stores to sell around 12,000 meals a week. The kitchen has been updated to include solar panels, a recycling program, and they of course use safe, eco-friendly cleaning products.

Within all the stores, Ken admits that there’s a little less control over the eco-measures, as with any rented premise; “In the kitchen we have a lot of control so we recycle everything. Not so much in the stores because we don’t own them. We used to bring everything back from the shops, all the garbage, but we can’t handle all the wastage on site.”

He does hope that one day more landlords will align themselves with the sustainable values of their business.

“It’s a constant juggle – they [landlords] want us in because we’re a different food but they don’t realise our food costs a lot more to produce. We can’t afford to be paying the same rent as other fast food outlets that have a broader customer appeal.”

In the year ahead Ken and the Iku crew will be continuing to spread their message to customers, and anyone that’s trying to make a change to improve their personal health. Now with an established reputation and several stores they are hoping to expand their methods of supplying food directly to customers, perhaps by selling to yoga studios and developing the catering aspect of the business.

“The market is still relatively small. But people are a lot more conscious of food these days and there are a lot more healthier options out there now.”

Iku Wholefood were nominated in the Green Lifestyle Awards by their devoted customers, and the judges agreed, awarding them the prize for best Restaurant/Café in 2014. For more info and store locations, visit www.ikuwholefood.com.