Overall ranking: 57 (49 in 2012)
Restaurateur ranking: 18 (14 in 2012)
Russell Norman was once an English teacher and is now one of two entrepreneurs behind the Venetian-inspired chain Polpo, which he runs with business partner and friend Richard Beatty. Over the past eight years, they have grown their restaurant empire – with a few hits and misses – to seven sites around the UK. All of their restaurants have been opened without investment and are self-styled.
Today, the group has sites in Chelsea, Covent Garden, Soho, Smithfield and Notting Hill in London, and one in Brighton. It also has one Spuntino in Soho, having recently announced plans to close the Bristol site, which launched only a year ago. The pair recorded a record-breaking final quarter for 2017 and, together with managing director Scott Macdonald, have announced plans to focus their resources on their existing restaurants and grow Spuntino with TRG Concessions in airports across the UK.
What we think
As operations director of Caprice Holdings, Norman arguably had one of the sexiest jobs on the London restaurant scene before leaving that all behind him to launch his own restaurant based on a Venetian bacaro with friend Beatty.
Since the launch of Polpo in Soho in September 2009, London’s enthusiasm for their buzzy, sociable establishments has extended to all six Polpo sites and one Spuntino.
Despite initially appearing to have the Midas touch, the pair, who won the Newcomer Award Catey in 2012, have had to admit that while they have seen great growth over the years in certain outposts, they have also been forced to confront disappointing results head-on and nip less successful eateries in the bud.
Having built the Polpo collection up to 11 sites at one time, they were forced to close the Bristol and Exeter outposts. They also received “an offer they couldn’t refuse” for the Ape & Bird in Shaftesbury Avenue from craft brewery BrewDog.
Meanwhile, London restaurant Mishkin’s, a Jewish deli with cocktails launched by the pair in 2011, closed after five years, and trials of Polpo at Harvey Nichols in London and Leeds failed to hit the spot with the department stores’ clientele.
And at the time of writing, it has emerged that Polpo has also had to pull out of Westgate Oxford, the £440m development which opened in October 2017. This appears to have preceded their announcement this month (April) to close their second Spuntino site in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf Cargo 2 development.
In February of this year, Norman and Beatty announced that, following an exclusive franchise agreement with TRG Concessions, Spuntino will open its first airside site this year at a location yet to be decided. Commenting at the time, Norman said: “When I fly and I’m killing time in airport terminals, I often think, ‘why isn’t there somewhere more like Spuntino – tasty small plates, comfort cooking, lots of donuts, real cocktails and friendly service?’ Our partnership with TRG Concessions has given us a unique opportunity to achieve that.”
Away from the shop floor, Norman appeared in the 2014 TV series the Restaurant Man, a six-part prime-time documentary for BBC Two, and he has released three books: Polpo – A Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts), which won Waterstones Book of the Year 2012, Spuntino – Comfort Food (New York Style), which clinched the 2016 Guild of Food Writers’ Award for best food and travel book, and his latest book, Venice – Four Seasons of Home Cooking, where he returns to the city of his inspiration to immerse himself in the food culture of Venetian residents. He is also a contributing editor for Esquire magazine, where he writes a monthly column as the Accidental Cook.
Spuntino Bristol to close after only a year >>