Russell Norman and his business partner Richard Beatty — the restaurateurs behind Venetian-inspired small plate group Polpo — have opened their first airport concession in Heathrow Terminal 3, 13 December.
Spuntino Terminal 3 will offers dine-in dishes familiar to visitors of its Soho location, as well as a range of takeaway options. Norman and Beatty signed a franchise agreement with The Restaurant Group (TRG) Concessions in February 2017, rubberstamping the introduction of their New York City-esque dive bar Spuntino brand to airports across the UK.
Spuntino — which means “snack” in Italian — has developed a new all-day-dining menu for the airport service, including breakfast, takeaway and an “on board” experience for customers. The sites offer comfort foods, small plates and cocktails in the same style that the 27-seater Soho restaurant has been serving since it opened in 2011.
The menu at Heathrow Terminal 3 includes the iconic truffled egg toast, as well as a few dishes in service of 2018 — and older — trends: macaroni cheese and a jackfruit burger.
Back in 2017, Eater spoke to Norman about the decision to move into airports, and specifically about the level of control his business will retain.
1. As well as your personal realisation that airports leave a lot to be desired, what inspired the decision to move into that market?
I think it is important to look at what appeals about a brand before embarking on any sort of business development. With Spuntino, although the Soho restaurant has always been understated and modest about its assets, it has had a very simple mission: to offer very tasty small plates of New York-inspired comfort food in a scruffy, cool and urban setting. We thought that this straightforward premise has a lot of currency in an airport setting and would appeal to a wider audience.
2. What is the nature of the partnership — how much control will you have in the franchise?
We’ve been talking to TRG Concessions for many years about doing something in airports, both with Polpo and Spuntino. It’s important to note the difference between TRG and TRG Concessions, by the way. The former creates and operates brands like Garfunkel’s and Frankie & Benny’s, the latter operates concessions for brands that already exist in the terrestrial world. Therefore, the core values of Spuntino are as essential to TRG Concessions as they are to us. There would be no point doing this otherwise. The partnership allows us to reach new locations and new audiences, but with an outfit that understands the importance of recreating an authentic experience. We control everything.
3. How are you sure that TRG will safeguard what is such a unique and independent brand?
TRG Concessions have a very strong track record in this area. The chances are, you will have eaten in one of their franchise airport restaurants without knowing it because they, along with their brand partners, make sure the experience is identical to the bricks and mortar version in the outside world. We are also working with our architects, SODA, who have designed most of the recent Soho House openings, so we are extremely confident we can and will deliver an authentic Spuntino experience.
4. Can you talk a little more about plans for an “on board experience”?
I have always loved Fortnum and Mason hampers. The feeling of anticipation and excitement you get when you open one is a bit like being a kid at Christmas. Spuntino will create its own style of take-on box full of goodies to eat and drink. These are being carefully designed so as not to annoy other passengers (no smelly fast food) but might include thick, deli-style salt beef sandwiches, freshly made doughnuts and pre-mixed, bottled Negronis.
Update: July 25, 2018, 10:25 a.m.: This article was updated to report on the first opening, with the interview edited to reflect the new information.