Pearls of Wisdom: Russell Norman

By Becky Paskin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Restaurant, Eating

Russell Norman, co-owner of Polpo
Russell Norman, co-owner of Polpo
Russell Norman, former operations director at Caprice Holdings, has achieved critical acclaim with his first three restaurants Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino, opened with business partner Richard Beatty. The pair are now on the verge of opening their fourth restaurant in 20 months with da Polpo in Covent Garden.

It was never the plan to open specifically a string of restaurants based around a Venetian idea​ but it has always been our plan to open a family of restaurants with connections.

Tapas isn’t a new thing but people have become more aware of it recently.​ Dining on small plates has been mentioned recently as a trend but it’s always been there - we just haven’t noticed it.

People like dining like that now because it suits our modern way of life.​ It certainly suits me. I haven’t got time to sit for three hours and have a three-course meal. I just want to have something nice to eat and drink and be out within 45 minutes. And thankfully there are a lot of people that feel the same which makes the places that we’ve opened so far very popular.

I’d say my love affair with New York and Venice are simultaneous.​ I’ve been going seriously to both those cities over the past 15 years and it was while I was there that various ideas started to form in my mind as to restaurant ideas in London. Although Spuntino is our third restaurant I wouldn’t say the concept was second to Polpo, they were bubbling along at the same time.

Chefs aren’t necessarily the best people to write menus.​ A menu should be about offering dishes that people want to eat rather than dishes chefs want to cook, so as a diner I help our chefs write or menus.

I’ve got ideas for the fifth and sixth restaurants,​ which will be completely different to Spuntino and Polpo.

I wouldn’t know how to open a restaurant outside Zone 2, let along outside London.​ I’m very conscious of sticking to what I know and I understand Soho. Apart from that I’m a bit lost. I wouldn’t be comfortable opening in Chelsea for example. I don’t know that part of town and I don’t understand how those people work.

It’s essential businesses stick together as a community​ as often it needs to support itself.

I’m still very hands on.​ Actually one of the things I need to improve on is my ability to take a small step back, especially as we’ll have four restaurants open in a short space of time.

What I’d like to do is concentrate on new concepts and along with my business partner Richard find new sites for those concepts.​ I’m going to have to concentrate more on the future of the company rather than the present. I’m fortunate to have an excellent team that I’m able to rely on to take care of the nitty gritty in each of the restaurants.

I would open a restaurant in a month if it was just about designing the thing​, getting the kitchen built, and getting the tables and chairs and decorators in. But without question the single most difficult thing about expansion is human resources. It’s the key. If you get your team right you’re laughing, but its very difficult to achieve and that’s the one thing that takes the most hard work.

I was a teacher for four years.​ I taught English and Drama to 12-16 years olds in Stanmore in Harrow. I quite enjoyed that and was quite good at it. I couldn’t go back to it though because the money wasn’t good enough.

I’ve discovered a knack for design.​ I couldn’t afford a designer for Polpo and had to teach myself. I designed that and then Polpetto and then my most proud achievement is the design of Spuntino, which I think looks beautiful. I adore it. If I weren’t a restaurateur I’d be a designer.

It’s my firm belief that necessity is the mother of invention.​ I had no idea I had a knack for design until I was forced to do it.

I’d like to carry on with my work until I drop dead. ​I have no ambition to retire. I really enjoy work. I would like to find a little more time to spend with my family but I’m working on that.

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