Mourad Mazouz: Pearls of Wisdom

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

"Today the restaurant business is like chess – you have to pick the right people and put them in the right place" - Mourad Mazouz
"Today the restaurant business is like chess – you have to pick the right people and put them in the right place" - Mourad Mazouz
The Algerian-born restaurateur behind London’s Sketch and Momo and a number of other restaurants and bars in Paris and the Middle East on pop-ups, seeking investment from friends, and why he objects to his restaurants being referred to as a mini empire. 

I raised the money for my first restaurant by asking 15 of my friends to lend me the equivalent of £5,000.​ I told them I already had lots of capital but in reality I didn’t have a single penny.

I have no explanation as to why my restaurants are successful​ but I always try to make something that feels different to anywhere else. But I also think I’m lucky because at the start I had no idea what I was doing and even now I tend to fall into things.

I started working in restaurants when I was travelling in the US,​ first in New York and then LA. I did some cooking and waiting but have never had any formal training. I ended up getting deported to France in the mid-1980s because they found me cooking in a restaurant with no papers.

Sketch [in Mayfair] happened by accident.​ I was looking for a site for a friend and ended up signing the pre-lease for him, but then he left the UK suddenly. The building was in a bad state and I had no permissions to open a restaurant. The whole process took four-and-a-half years from first signing the lease. It was a nightmare.

Club Gascon is a business I’m involved with.​ I met Vincent Labeyrie because his father is a big name in the foie gras industry and used to supply me. I helped Vincent and Pascal [Aussignac] find a site but it was their show. I’m still a partner in the business.

International restaurateurs that set up in the UAE always target the expats. ​I targeted the locals with my restaurants [Almaz, with branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi] and they loved it.

All my restaurants are independent and I don’t have a head office.​ I don’t like my restaurants being referred to as an empire. I do what I can do when I can do it, there’s no master plan.

I am the founder of the Mo’Zik record label.​ It’s dormant right now because the music business is difficult at the moment.

This interview appeared first in the April edition of Restaurant magazine. To subscribe, click here.

I opened in Beirut in 2006.​ It worked well at first but the war has made things difficult. Lots of my regulars have left, there are no tourists, and the economy is terrible.

I ended up in England because of a woman.​ I came to see her every weekend from Paris and started looking at sites after realising there were no North African restaurants in London. I spent all my money on her before I opened Momo [in 1997], so I had to find a partner to make it happen.

Work-life balance is the most important thing.​ I maintain a good equilibrium by not taking on too much.

My childhood in Algeria offered little in the way of culinary experiences,​ although I now love North African food. It wasn’t a great country to be in as there had just been a revolution – I left when I was 15.

404 [in Paris] was my first North African restaurant.​ At the time restaurants that served that cuisine were like UK curry houses – the venues were seriously uncool and the staff behaved like servants. I opened something more rock ’n’ roll in 1990 and it worked immediately, and I haven’t had a free table in 24 years.

I met Pierre Gagnaire [the three-Michelin-starred chef behind the food at Sketch] through a friend.​ He made me visit him three times in France to make sure I was serious. I was after one of his chefs but at the last minute he decided to do it himself.

When I opened my first restaurant in 1988​ [Au Bascou, in Paris] I planned to run it for a couple of years, make some money and carry on travelling. That didn’t happen and 25 years later I’m still in the restaurant business.

I’m a Londoner now.​ I live in St John’s Wood with my partner and our children.

This business has changed a lot.​ Twenty years ago you were either a restaurateur or a chef. Now you have to be a businessman or a chef-restaurateur. Today it’s more like chess – you have to pick the right people and put them in the right place. I prefer the old way.

I love to do pop-ups.​ They allow you to be creative and you know when you’re going to start and when you’re going to finish, which is a rare thing in this business.

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