Dominic Ford: “We didn't want to buy any Italian restaurant, we wanted to buy this one”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

The new owners of Chelsea Italian restaurant Enoteca Turi on the changes they are making

Related tags Enoteca Turi David Gleave Liberty Wines Italian cuisine Dominic Ford Krishan Katyal

The duo behind Restaurants Inc. have partnered with David Gleave MW to become the new custodians of Chelsea stalwart Enoteca Turi and its legendary collection of Italian wine.

What attracted you to Enoteca Turi? 

Dominic Ford:​ Its reputation. We didn't want to buy any Italian restaurant, we wanted to buy this one. It also has one of London’s greatest collections of Italian wine, some of which we have acquired in a separate deal.
Krishan Katyal:​ The business was in good financial shape; we had no interest in buying a distressed asset. That meant we paid a bit more, but we have ended up with something of real value.
David Gleave:​ I have been eating at this restaurant since it launched in 1990. I have spent three to four months a year in Italy since the late 1980s (Gleave is the founder of wine company Liberty Wines, which was originally focused on Italy). As such, I have some firm opinions on how pasta should be cooked. Enoteca Turi was one of those places where you could rely on things being done properly.​ I have been supplying restaurants with wine for many years but I have never had a stake in one. When Dominic asked me if I wanted to get involved, I didn’t take much persuading.  

What are you respective roles within the business? 

DG: ​I am mainly involved on the wine side. But I can't help but express an opinion on other things.
DF:​ Krishan and I are closely involved with all aspects of the restaurant but it is all behind the scenes. We are not here to interact with the customers, that is the existing team’s job. But that’s not to say we don’t get involved with the everyday elements of the restaurant.
KK:​ Our aim is to preserve what Giuseppe and Pam have built and grow it further.
DF:​ We are not looking to create new concepts with Restaurants Inc. but take on existing ones through franchising, joint ventures and acquisitions. Enoteca Turi obviously falls into the latter category. 
KK:​ We also hold the franchise rights for a number of brands including Shoryu Ramen and chef Akira Back’s Korean steak concept AB.

What have you changed so far? 

DF:​ It’s still pretty much the restaurant we acquired from Giuseppe and Pam, we have just made a few small tweaks including the introduction of a kids menu and opening on Sundays. 
KK:​ As we took the business on, it was looking like some of the key staff including the head chef and sommelier were going to leave but happily they have now decided to stay.
DF:​ We have not really changed the decor, but we have introduced a few simple touches. At lunch time, there are now beautiful handmade vases full of fresh flowers. In the evenings, these are replaced by table lamps. We have also changed the hand soap to something higher quality. These might sound like very minor things but they all add up to create a great experience for our guests.
DG:​ We have put in a By The Glass wine dispensing machine that has allowed us to greatly expand our by the glass offer as well as make it more premium. It also ensures that the wines are served at the perfect temperature. This is something I am obsessive with; so many restaurants still serve red wines too warm.
DF:​ A change that customer's won't notice but will be key to Enoteca Turi’s future success is the introduction of a full POS system. Before, everything was done with pen and paper. Now everything goes through the system, giving us data that we are already using to inform our decisions. 

What about the food?

DF:​ That has probably been the most challenging exercise thus far. We have simplified some of the dishes - including both their composition and the manner in which they are presented - and how they are described on the menu. It is not easy to go through that process with a chef, especially if you are English and they are Italian. But we have now come out the other side, and we still have a head chef downstairs (Giampiero Giuliani).
DG:​ We will continue to be focused on quality. During times of downturn it is the quality of the offer that is going to see you through. Some restaurateurs see a recession coming and think they have to cut prices, but it’s better to ensure everything is as good as it can possibly be.

How have the changes been received?

DF:​ It’s early days but in general our regulars have been happy with the changes we have made. A few people have responded a little negatively to certain things but - frankly - we do need to modernise to attract younger people to the restaurant.
KK:​ The one thing we can’t ever replace is Giuseppe and Pam, who were a near constant presence on the restaurant floor. But we have continuity in the form of our restaurant manager Daniele Siro, who is a fantastic host.

David, having now got your hands on Giuseppe’s famed wine collection, is it everything you had hoped? 

DG:​ Yes. It is right up there with Luca, The River Café, and Locanda Locatelli. Giuseppe (a sommelier by trade) was really good at buying as wines were released and had allocations with all the big names in Italian wine. The list is very strong on Barolo and Barbaresco - we have a large selection of vintages from top producers such as Aldo Conterno, Gaja and Giacosa. We also have a strong selection of Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscans. 
DF:​ We separated the wine from the wider deal for the lease and the goodwill. Partly because it was so valuable (the full collection is worth nearly £1m) but also because the stock was in lots of different places. Some was in the restaurant, some was in a storage unit in Putney and the rest was in paid reserve stock at suppliers. In all cases, the storage has been first class. 

How far does the collection go back? 

DG:​ To the late 1990s. But I do question whether wines that are 20 years old plus should be on restaurant wine lists. Some people think these famed Italian wines can age for longer than they probably should. The stuff that excites me the most on the list was made 10 or 15 years ago. It is also worth bearing in mind that winemaking today is far better than it was 20 years ago.
DF:​ We are able to be competitive in our pricing because Giuseppe has always bought wines on release. We have looked carefully at other people's pricing. We're not in the West End, we want to offer good value to draw people in. 

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