Norman starred in BBC2 series The Restaurant Man, which saw him guide hapless first-time restaurateurs through the pitfalls of setting up a new venture.
“I was determined on making an intelligent and genuine series of documentaries about the restaurant business,” he says. “I’ve been saying no to channels for four years because the programmes they were pitching were fake or ratcheted up jeopardy. But this one was different.”
He and Beatty recently opened their sixth London venture – the Ape & Bird - an independent pub on the corner of one of London’s busiest throughfares. Norman insists it isn’t really a pub, “it’s a 120-cover restaurant, but with space where you can have a drink without having to buy food”, but the pair admit there were some eyebrows raised when they announced their intentions to become publicans of sorts, not least because Beatty doesn’t drink.
“We saw it as a real challenge,” says Beatty. “Even though I don’t drink I have a great deal of affection for the institution of the British pub. I used to walk past it even when it was a kind of local full of football supporters [previously The Marquis of Granby] and we thought we could do better. This is not like other pubs. The toilets are clean and the food’s good.”
The pair also discuss the unconventional growth of their company, which now includes Polpo - serving small-plate Italian food, the Ape & Bird - a pub serving up British classics, Sputino – a 26 counter-bar serving American food, Mishkin’s - ‘a kind of Jewish deli, and Polpetto - which started out life as a bijou little sister to Polpo but is now a 60-seater restaurant.
“The question business people consistently ask us is: ‘Why did you not just do more Polpos instead of Mishkin’s and Spuntino?’” says Beatty. “If you’re looking business and exit strategies, it doesn’t make any sense to do anything else. But the answer is that it’s such an obvious thing to do. It’s not what this business is about.”
For more insight into how the Polpo duo do business, plus tips on how to achieve pit smoking perfection, pick up the latest edition of Restaurant magazine, out tomorrow.
This month's Restaurant also includes:
- Mississippi-born chef Brad McDonald talks about re-launching Marylebone Deep South restaurant The Lockhart to critical acclaim.
- West Country-based British pizza and cider venture The Stable under the spotlight in the Business Profile.
- Pearls of Wisdom interview with Arnaud Bignon, the executive chef at The Greenhouse in Mayfair, which has just been awarded four AA rosettes.
- The latest from the UK restaurant scene, including a lowdown on Georgian food