Source: Jack Hiron/Polpo via Bloomberg

Polpo Adds Chelsea Restaurant as It Expands for Possible Sale

The fast-growing chainlet posted sales of 12 million pounds ($17.8 million) last year

Polpo, which started out as a casual and cramped restaurant in London's Soho in 2009, is to open in Chelsea next month as the group looks to a possible future sale.

The site on Duke of York Square, near the Saatchi Gallery, seats 38 diners indoors and another 70 outside. It will be the sixth Polpo and the ninth restaurant of Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, who also own PolpettoMishkin's, and Spuntino. The group posted sales of 12 million pounds ($17.8 million) last year and has grown rapidly. When Polpo Notting Hill opened last June, it was the third new venue in seven months. Norman said that Polpo must expand into the suburbs and outside London before any sale.

Polpo's Russell Norman

Polpo's Russell Norman

Source: Polpo via Bloomberg

"We probably need to almost double in size first,'' he said in an interview. "Realistically, that means three, four, five years. We definitely wouldn't sell now. We haven't even reached halfway point. We need to have a collection of restaurants that are all performing very well: Not just well but very well.

"I want the estate to be tiptop and to be profitable. In order to sell a restaurant group or a brand, you need to be able to prove that it will work in Clapham or Wimbledon or Tunbridge Wells or Brighton as well as it will in Soho or Covent Garden.

"We haven't done that yet. We're not actively looking in those places yet. We've still got some proving to do yet.''

'A Lot of Interest'

Norman said he and Beatty had received "a lot of interest'' in the business generally and particularly in the Polpo brand. So they have separated the Polpo restaurants (including Polpetto and Polpo at Ape & Bird) from Mishkin's and Spuntino into a single entity, and this will be the focus of the expansion plans. He wouldn't elaborate on any approaches he's received.

The partners have been looking to open in Chelsea since 2011, and Norman picked the site because of its proximity to such attractions as the Royal Court Theatre and the Peter Jones department store. As at other Polpos, there will be a no-reservations policy for dinner.

"We opened the first Polpo like a normal restaurant, taking bookings for lunch and in the evening, and we thought it would just be a nice neighborhood joint," he said. "But we were rammed, and with every new good review that we got, demand would increase.

Polpo Chelsea will serve a similar menu of Venetian-inspired snacks and dishes to others in the group.
Polpo Chelsea will serve a similar menu of Venetian-inspired snacks and dishes to others in the group.
Source: Polpo via Bloomberg

"It was a little 55-seater, and so we were turning away in those early days 200, maybe 250 people a night. The people who were getting in were the people that have money to spend in restaurants. They phoned up in advance and were generally disappointed, because they'd arrive and the tables were scruffy and scratched. It was all wrong for them.

"And the people we were turning away were the Soho types—the people we built the restaurant for. So we stopped taking bookings in the evening.''

That was rare in London at the time, and Polpo still draws flak for not accepting dinner reservations, particularly as some other restaurants have since followed suit.

Polpo Chelsea will serve a similar menu of Venetian-inspired snacks and dishes to others in the group. The head chef will be Oswaldo Colon, formerly of Polpo at Ape & Bird. It is scheduled to open at 81 Duke of York Square on May 18. 

Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.

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