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Russell Norman had one of the sexiest jobs in the London restaurant business as operations director of Caprice Holdings. But he left all that behind to launch his own business - together with business partner, entrepreneur and friend Richard Beatty.
The duo have become the kings of the recession restaurants and since the launch of self-styled Venetian bacaro Polpo in Soho in September 2009, London's enthusiasm for their buzzy, sociable establishments has allowed them to grow their business to a total of five sites. The company employs close to 150 staff, feeding more than 6,000 diners each week.
Polpetto, a bijou version of Polpo, followed in August 2010, opening above the French House pub in Soho. Spuntino opened in Soho in March 2011, followed in June by da Polpo (now called Polpo), and in November by Mishkin's, both in Covent Garden. Unlike their siblings, Spuntino and Mishkin's are inspired by New York, with the former's menu referencing Italy via the Big Apple and the latter combining a Jewish deli with cocktails. All of Beatty and Norman's restaurants are at the forefront of what is cool and trendy and perhaps what makes restaurants all the more remarkable is that Norman has done the interior designs himself.
Indeed cash-strapped diners loved the laid-back vibe and inexpensive menu, which has equally been well received by critics, such as AA Gill, who wrote in the Sunday Times: "The manager tells me the average spend is £24. This is simply the best value in the West End."
Undoubtedly, Norman's ability to capture the mood of diners during a recession clinched his success. His idiosyncratic staffing policy, placing more emphasis on attitude than experience, has paid off. By attracting a younger, more creative breed of waiter, he now has people queuing up to work in his restaurants.
Less than three years on, with five sites under their belt, a sixth in the offing in Smithfield, and more in the pipeline, Norman and Beatty have clearly caught the wave.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
"Russell Norman and Richard Beatty well and truly left their comfort zone with the launch of their casual, no-reservations dining concepts. Wonderful, simple, fast food, engaging and quirky staff with a personality, not just an apron, and originality by the bucket load."
Paul Singer, London Fine Dining Group
"These are affordable eateries with a service culture that is spot on; their people can be themselves - funky, quirky and cool - just what service should be all about in this type of business. It's something which many others fail to recognise or achieve."
Jane Sunley, Learnpurple
â- Madalene Bonvini-Hamel and Ross Pike, co-owners, the British Larder
â- Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, co-owners, Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and Mishkin's
The JudgesRichard Ball, managing director, Calcot Health & Leisure
Tom Kerridge, chef-patron, the Hand & Flowers
David Pitchford, chef-patron, Read's Restaurant
Bruce Poole, chef-patron, Chez Bruce
Paul Singer, managing director, London Fine Dining Group
Jane Sunley, chief executive, Learnpurple
Agnar Sverrisson, chef-proprietor, Texture Restaurants