Behind the Counter | Ep.6
Elevating an icon of Georgian cuisine in an artisan key. The story of Gunda.
“We waited in a long queue before entering the popular pizzeria ‘50 Kalò‘ in Naples. Once inside, we saw that families gathered together where parents, children and grandparents were all ordering different types of pizza”. That was the moment when Levan Qoqiashvili, owner of Tbilisi-based Gunda artisan bakery, wondered why there were no such places in Georgia where people could enjoy all different types of Khachapuri –a traditional Georgian cheese-filled bread dish whose consumption at Glovo has increased by 22% in 2022.
His curiosity for Georgian cuisine started with the get-togethers and feasts with friends that his grandparents often organised at home, “I was a very shy child, and I loved to hide under the table and listen to all those interesting stories told between courses”. And although into adulthood he began to study law, he soon discovered that his path was to elevate Georgian cuisine to its rightful place alongside other cuisines of the world. With this idea in mind, he started washing dishes in kitchens as he worked his way up and, after 18 years, he is now a leading gastro-consultant and restaurateur who, together with his wife Lali Papashvili and two partners Nana Dolidze and Inga Kvernadze, run the very first Artisan Sakhachapure in the country –the term ‘Sakhachapure’ is used to refer to places that specialise in Khachapuri.
In a European-vintage open space that breathes culture and tradition with a touch of modernity, we sat down with our next Behind The Counter protagonist to get a closer look at the story of how he was able to turn his love for traditional food and transform it through artisanal quality and sustainable business practices.
The road to Japan with a Georgian flavor
Gunda –which means ‘ball of fluffy dough’ in Georgian–, started with a research project that lasted 2 years: ‘The Tradition of Khachapuri in Georgia’. “At that time, we were only familiar with a few types of Khachapuri and this trip took us through all the regions of Georgia. We were accompanied by linguists, gastro-researchers, ethnographers, and various Institutions. The study revealed 47 different types of Khachapuri and helped in the naming of Khachapuri as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia on January 22, 2019.
We focus on creating innovative and modern twists on traditional Georgian Khachapuri, spreading the concept of an Artisan Sakhachapure as a place where people can go and taste all those different versions of this dish, just like a pizzeria. We also want to break the stereotype around Khachapuri as a low-quality traditional dish, available everywhere and eaten in a hurry on the street. On the contrary, we strive to modernise it for today’s fast-casual life in a way that people can appreciate the taste of 100% Georgian Khachapuri, based on local and fresh products to set the appropriate standards for it.
Our objective is to create a bakery chain in Tbilisi and then jump to other countries in Europe, the US or even Japan –I’ve always wanted to open Gunda in Japan. Flour-based products are extremely popular in such megacities and we believe it is possible to grow as a chain in these markets by exporting Georgian cuisine without losing our artisanal niche”.
The key for Artisan Khachapuri: organic and local products
Gunda’s menu features a unique and unusual selection of Khachapuri recipes from different parts of Georgia, a result from the research carried out by its founders. Here, we can choose from the well-known ‘Adjaruli Khachapuri‘ –a top selling Gunda product on Glovo based on cheese and bread with an egg on top; the so-called ‘Chlakviani‘ from the Svaneti region using white ‘dika wheat’ –a strain endemic to Georgia –, ‘narchvi cheese’, which is also organic Svan Mountain cheese, and ‘chlakvi’ –wild small onions also from the Svan mountains; or the ‘Meskhian Khachapuri‘ with a unique baking methodology used since the 4th century.
“For all our recipes, we use 100% organic and local products, such as organic Georgian wheat, as well as local cheeses from the different regions of Georgia, made entirely from milk. Another example of this philosophy applies to the dough, which needs 24 hours of fermentation with absolutely zero yeast”.
There are also vegan options such as Lobiani, a bread similar to Khachapuri but instead of cheese it contains kidney beans, or Tsulispiriani made with Tsulispira –a plant from the legume family that has been present in the Balkan area for millennia and used in the preparation of recipes in Europe.
Planet-side, from sustainable farming practices to eco-friendly packaging
“Sustainability and environmental care is part of Gunda’s DNA and that is why we act in different areas to reduce our environmental footprint. On the one hand, we promote sustainable farming practices through organic and locally sourced ingredients; we work closely with local farmers and suppliers to ensure we are using the freshest and highest quality ingredients available. Also, Gunda aims not to avoid food waste by buying only small quantities of fresh, organic ingredients, constantly adjusting our stock to the demand.
For our take-away orders, we also use sustainable packaging that uses environmentally friendly materials such as cardboard or paper bags. One initiative we have around this topic is a 10% discount on coffee for customers who bring their own cup”. This effort is aligned with Glovo’s 2030 goal of having 92% of its partner network using environmentally friendly packaging. Through the Glovo Store, Glovo partners can shop from a wide range of sustainable options at an affordable price.
And this is not just limited to their product, as this artisanal philosophy also translates into the premises –everything at Gunda is handcrafted, from the kitchen sets, to the wooden furniture or the red clay tableware itself, for which they have collaborated with local Ceramics Studio 1300 in Tbilisi.
In addition, Gunda also collaborates with NGOs in social causes such as the Foundation Name of D.Tsintsadze, which helps children with leukaemia in Georgia. Every February 27th, International Khachapuri Day, they donate the profits obtained through the sale of this product.
In Tbilisi we approached another of Glovo’s realities where small businesses like Gunda are making their way by elevating traditional Georgian cuisine with values such as craftsmanship and sustainability. Laying the foundations for a new generation committed to local, quality and environmentally friendly gastronomy.