Although it’s how I make my living, I am constantly surprised at some people who have a desire, often verging on the obsessional, to open a restaurant. The ones I am thinking of particularly spend their saner moments amassing large sums of money by doing clever deals in the world of business and finance.
One of the many perks of the rich is that they can afford to eat out often in the latest, trendiest and most expensive restaurants. Any business which is open to public view, as a restaurant is, allows customers a glimpse of how it works. I say a glimpse because what the punter sees is only the tip of the iceberg. However, turnover figures are calculated on the back of an envelope by counting the number of diners at peak time, and then once the seed is sown, it’s hard to uproot. The adrenalin experienced vicariously via busy waiting staff, and the warm convivial atmosphere work their spell.
Of course there are individuals who understand the business thoroughly, are able to identify fledgling brands and the talent behind them, and make a great deal of money, such as the oft-mentioned Richard Caring. But there are many more who just don’t get it.
As I walked down Wardour Street last Saturday afternoon, I noticed a large new premises which hadn’t previously featured on my radar. Looking from the opposite side of the road, I was intrigued, mainly because on a Saturday lunchtime in the middle of Soho, it was empty. Otarian has big plans for the planet. Each menu item gives information on carbon saving and footprint, although how it is possible to precisely calculate a 1.31kg carbon footprint saving on a small portion of Roasted Tomato Soup is a bit of a mystery.
Otarian has two restaurant premises in New York (although one has already had the misfortune to be closed till further notice due to water problems), and now two in London, the first being nearby, on Shaftesbury Avenue.
The first thing that hit me on entering was the smell: old oil from the deep fat fryer, and then the weird decor. It is filled with a mish mash of recycled furniture in a kind of worthy ‘sixties style. On the wall is a large screen showing a video demonstration of carbon footprinting. This entrepreneur has not understood the psychology of eating out. People do so to have a good time, doesn’t she know? Radhika Oswal, Otarian CEO/President, is the Australian wife of a billion dollar fertilising manufacturer. Instead of wasting all this money, why doesn’t she just give her surplus to the causes she champions. A lot more cost-effective.