You know a trip into London’s Soho is rarely uneventful. The other week just before the weather started to get a bit rubbish I took a wander down to Poncho No.8 in Old Comption Street to have a beer with Poncho founder Nick Troen. Approaching the bottom of Frith Street my attention was drawn to a gutsy rendition of Sisters are Doing it for Themselves from the pavement outside Cafe Nero.
‘That’s a very tight sweater that lass is wearing’, I thought, before it clicked that no sweater permits that amount of swing, yes she was naked from the waist up. Naturally everybody around had become very British, sneaking a look as they pretended nothing out of the ordinary was happening at all. I maintained my own stiff upper lip and carried on to the restaurant where Nick joined me for a cold Pacifico and a very tasty burrito.
Now Nick had started his career in the world of corporate banking and I was curious as to why he and his business partner Frank Yeung, had jacked that sort of security in to do something as risky as opening a chain of Cali-Mex restaurants.
‘Well, it’s not as nuts as you may think in terms of crazy danger, just financially very risky! Though of course we’d done our research, I did my thesis at the LSE on burritos and Frank has had a lot of experience in the catering industry, so we felt the risk was significantly mitigated. On the other hand, we’d always wanted to work for ourselves, didn’t have any debt, and mortgage, any wife or kids, so if we did fail, it wouldn’t be the end of the world’.
‘Mexican food is so versatile and disparate, you can pretty much fashion it into anything you want, fast food, mid market or full sit down, and still have huge variations within those sectors. The popularity of Mex food was rising and we saw a lot of space to create a premium mid market offering. Our experiences from California and New York and seeing how the Americans had evolved the burrito into a more Western-centric food was a big factor. ‘
I’d certainly agree that Mexican food is on the up, what with restaurants like Wahacca, El Burrito and Mestizo, all in London’s gatronomic mix and Tommi Miers‘s recent TV series Mexican Food Made Simple , but what is next for Poncho No.8, more restaurants or retail products?
‘So many options for where we can go, and whereas we’ll always experiment with different ideas like Ceviche, and Soho’s unique restaurant, more City branches are likely. We think the trend will move south towards Central and South America. We did a limited time offer of Ceviche – fresh fish cured with lemon and lime juice which is Peruvian in origin, but can be found throughout Latin America. Look out for some cevicherias popping up soon.’
Having tried ceviche in, of all places Edinburgh, I will look forward to that, but finally I could not resist asking whether Nick could cook or was he was just the brains behind the operation?
‘Er, neither! Frank is definitely the cook, and we both share strategic and operational decisions. My most particular role is directing the brand and voice of the company which I think is incredibly important. People like companies to reflect the personal element that exists in all of them (after all any business is run by people). Our company is all about funky food, great service and helpful service, and it’s vital to get this across in everything from the design of the shop, to being on hand to go drop some burritos off to a customer ourselves if we’ve got high demand!’
That’s got to more fun than being a banker!
The topless beauty was swilling coffee at one of Cafe Nero’s pavement tables in Frith Street as I made my way back to Oxford Street. I wonder where she kept her change?