How I Got Here: James Porter

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

James Porter Island Poke

Related tags: QSR, Fish

James Porter founded Island Poke as a street food business in 2015. Now backed by Chris Miller's White Rabbit Fund, he currently oversees five bricks and mortar sites.

Why restaurants?
It wasn’t planned but I was inspired after seeing the West End lunch scene. It was at a lull and grab-and-go was stagnating; I wanted to make a change.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Not to jump in so quickly and not to be so self-critical. Also to get some money in the bank beforehand.

What do you do in your spare time?
I like to play tennis, hang out with friends and try not to think about rice and fish.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
The River Café; it’s the hallmark of the British restaurant industry, I tend to go there for special occasions. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
Probably stuck in my old job at an auction house – very different.

What motivates you?
Seeing our customers’ reactions when they eat Island Poke and seeing Island Poke grow as a business. I also enjoy luring people away from a Pret ploughman’s sandwich.

Where was your last holiday?
Summer, I went to California to see some friends and family at a wedding. I spent a lot of my childhood there so it’s good to go back.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
We’re very much a collective built on family virtues – my whole team inspires me. A lot of the Island Poke team have been with us since the beginning. For instance, Lauren who is now our head of HR, started with us after she finished university.

What keeps you up at night?
The small details such as are our wooden forks sharp enough - basically things that shouldn’t. 

Worst business decision?
We spent a fair bit of money on creating white label juices that didn’t sell and only had a three day shelf life. 

Best business decision?
Starting Island Poke.

What are you reading at the moment?
I am actually listening to a great Podcast by Guy Raz called How I Built This.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Have patience and self-belief.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
I’d like to find a way to make business rates a hell of a lot cheaper. 

CV to date

1991 Born in Bath 
Left school at 16 to start an apprenticeship with Whitbread. Studied History of Art at Oxford Brookes. Trained at a Japanese restaurant in Teddington
2012 Started a street food concept called Bolito Brothers in 2012 serving Tuscan sandwiches
2013 Worked at Bonham’s Auctioneers
2015 Founded Island Poke as a street food concept
2016 Launched Island Poke's first bricks and mortar site in Soho's Kingly Street 

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