Husband and wife team James and Louise Rusk have made their mark on Glasgow’s food scene with The Butchershop Bar and Grill, Hutchesons and The Spanish Butcher. The last of these restaurants is where we find them, sat together with a coffee, ready to start a busy day.
Their focus for the last few weeks has been on a major refurbishment at Hutchesons, which has unveiled a stylish new-look for their flagship venue as they introduce The City Grill and 158 Club Lounge.
Originally opened in 2014, Hutchesons quickly became a firm favourite in the city centre with its focus on Scottish steak and seafood. Now comes the next stage of their renovation of a landmark building in the Merchant City.
There is a renewed sense of purpose as The City Grill takes over on the first floor, with its dramatic double-height main dining room, and the 158 Club Lounge opens on the ground floor with its slick new cocktail menu.
It’s been a progression from their first location, a neighbourhood steak joint in the West End, into the city and they plan to continue to grow their business. Glasgowist sat down with Louise and James for a chat about the story so far.
When did you first realise that restaurants were interesting places to work?
James: Working in restaurants is the only thing anyone’s ever paid me to do. I went to art school, got a degree in sculpture, was in rock bands the whole time, I wanted to be a rock star. To supplement my income, I worked in restaurants, and I was lucky enough to move out to New York. I was following the bright lights. I worked at an amazing place called Balthazar for an incredible restaurateur, and he’d actually been a filmmaker back in the day.
What he discovered, and what I learned about, was the artistry of restaurants. The theatre of restaurants. Also I love business, I love managing teams, bringing all of these things together. I love to eat, and also, I had core skill sets, obviously I’d gone through the ranks, and then I got the bug. And I did try to get out of restaurants one time and it just failed completely because I realised it’s a personality set thing as well.
There’s certainly a performance side to the restaurant experience.
Louise: It’s very theatre-esque, so it does certainly set the stage. There’s the whole journey, and you get to design it. All the elements of how you are met, what happens at the table, everything. It’s all thought out, there’s a process. It’s a major creative industry to be in, it’s not just about food, it’s everything from design to the graphics, to get it right it takes a lot of different angles to bring them them together.
How did you gravitate towards restaurants Louise?
Louise: Probably a little bit through James. When I met James, he was already involved quite heavily with all the restaurants. We decided to open up our own. I think from a younger age, I come from more of provincial Ireland, so I didn’t grow up in a city-esque kind of scenario, so when I started travelling, and certainly by the time I was eighteen, things had started to open up for me.
I realised it’s not just chicken dinners and country dishes. So it opened up a lot. I loved the social aspect of restaurants, and when we met each other, that’s what we loved to do, our socialising time, was restaurants, and enjoying a conversation with friends and family.
With James’ background, it just felt natural to progress into restaurants. And I’d already been in business before that as well, it was the fitness industry so it was a slight change in what we were doing but still had that business aspect so it felt right.
James: I was very lucky that I met Louise, because Louise already has businesses, so Louise’s business acumen- she already had an infrastructure, an understanding, relationships with lawyers and things. And really understood a lot of that. It was a great synergy, because the restaurants business, it’s called the restaurant business, you’re running businesses, you’re running people, you’re running teams, you’re creating employment.
Louise: Yeah, the operational side of things you’d been doing for a long time, but also we both understood the importance of values and a vision to create a really successful business. I think just through chatting and through dreams, what work could we go to, what can we do … we just sat down, put a plan together, and then seven years later here we are.
So what are the values of the business then?
James: Building our teams, building our people. We have the power to make people feel great, that is our absolute mantra. And it’s in every single one of our employees, and when you get that, and they trust us, it makes sure that we’ve got great environments.
What was the idea for your first restaurant, The Butchershop Bar & Grill? What was the concept for the menu?
James: I think … tasting chips [laughs].
Louise: I’m Irish, I mean, we eat chicken and steak. And steak was a huge thing. We opened back in 2010, it was that kind of lull in the economy.
So sometimes when you see a lull you maybe grab the opportunity of it, maybe other people don’t see. There wasn’t any kind of neighbourhood steakhouses, there wasn’t any of that kind anywhere. We’re still having this massive emphasis on the quality of our produce, we have a bit of a rock and roll feel, a bit of fun.
James: We serve the best. We do serve the best steak. And have fun, too. Customers can enjoy themselves. And that goes through all our businesses. We put on Smoove & Turrell, and serve the most awesome steaks on the planet.
Louise: I think you’ll find when you see our menus and you experience our atmosphere, we create the scenario we love to dine in, it’s very much our personalities. It’s not staged, it’s not created, it is us, putting in how we love to dine. So when the menus are produced, when we choose what kind of produce is on it, or with our steakhouse route, and we like to rock with music, and we like the pulse of the restaurant, that’s what we feel is needed.
So everything has to come together. Great food, great service, and amazing atmosphere.
James: And the lighting, making it a bit dark, and the tables- some people think they’re a little close together, you know, because that’s part of it. That’s a decision-making process. And that’s part of the great thing, we get the buzz.
Looking at Hutchesons City Grill, that was a huge project.
James: Yeah. And it continues to be a project. And it will always be. And we were not naïve at the start of that process, we went from one restaurant, we were really lucky, we really engaged in the process and got some great people around us to help us then to fulfil the vision. And we work on it.
That is one of those places, in a restaurant of that size and with that kind of offering, it takes a lot of work.
It’s a very unique offering because we still want to keep the quality. It’s a place where we are heroes or we fail, it’s that type of business, and we’re very lucky, we have a lot of customers that really love it and really engage with it. And also it gives us that balance, because you’ve got the Butchershop, got Hutcheson’s and then we opened this as our third place, The Spanish Butcher – which is completely different again but it is fun.
I wonder what attracts you to particular locations, streets or spaces for your restaurants?
Louise: We’re attracted to spaces, so it has to be the right space for us to then kind of invest into it. In the case of The Spanish Butcher, the street had had a bit of, to use that word again, a lull, and it’s come back again now. We kind of saw that there was an opportunity to create something special and unique.
One of the conversations we’ve always had when we opened up Hutchesons was, you’ve got to create a vibe in an area. It’s not just about yourself, everything that area will bring and attract people to. We always felt there was that small gap between the city centre and Merchant City, and I do feel this bridges that gap. So you’ve got that lovely natural stream now to walk along, you’ve got Miller Street, you’ve got Virginia Court, you’ve got Ingram Street.
With the refurbishment at Hutchesons, are you also fine-tuning the menu?
Louise: Little bit of fine-tuning, I mean, Hutchinsons has always been primarily steak and seafood. When you look at our group now of restaurants, it felt more in line to be our city grill. And we’ve got our neighbourhood grill, it fits.
So it’s a little bit of enhancing the interiors obviously, all the original features, but it’s just the little tweaks here and there, and tweaks to the menu, and we’re really excited about it. It’s going to look fab.
James: You get that itch. There’s a couple of little areas where it’s like, “you know what, we could make that better”.
Louise: As you say, it’s been three years so you learn the building really well, you have to.
James: That customer flow, how they come in, where you go, what you do, and you can make that a little bit clearer maybe. So with introducing the restaurant as our city grill and private dining, maybe it’s given us an opportunity to make that clearer.
So, with the downstairs area, are you looking for folk to come in there and use it as a bar, or for a light bite, glass of Champagne, evening lounge? What’s the idea?
James: I think all of those things. You know, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, downstairs the pub is open for breakfast and then we do brunch, and it’s a big steak and seafood menu. And you know it’s just a tweak on the menu, bringing some of our bigger cuts in there as well, and a whole reserve cuts range.
Louise: That’s upstairs. But the 158 Club Lounge, the way I would look at it is it’s probably a little bit more a speakeasy bar, so early, late evenings, it kind of calms down, you’ve got your cocktails, your champagne, you can have oysters, that kind of thing.
That’s the way it can be used. DJ’s at the weekend, so it’s got that real speakeasy feel to it. But still keeping that old-school classical glamour. And then upstairs is your grill. Still with the best steak, still with seafood, still having your oysters- in that environment, you know you’re in for a good time.
To go back to the beginning, where did the drive come from to say, I can do this, I can save this building and make it into a restaurant?
James: It’s the process. So with Hutchesons, we drove past, say there was a sign up, and Louise went, “call them”. I said no but she persisted, so I did, and I’m standing in the building with Louise half an hour later with the goosebumps all over your arms and thinking “just be cool, just be cool”. We’ve got this, we’re going to handle this.
Louise: I think with, especially Hutcheson’s, such an iconic building. It started to become quite a subconscious landmark to people so you… how many times you drive past it and it just started disappearing a little bit. It wasn’t open, it had no purpose.
James: Was it eight years?
Louise: It was eight years. So it did start becoming that sleeping giant, and we did see a sign go up one day and it was like, what is this? What is happening with this building? Wouldn’t this be an amazing building that just had people in it all the time? It’s a restaurant at heart.
James: And we were lucky, we were lucky.
Louise: But we drove past it so many times, just kind of glancing. That was the motivation to make it something.
James: And from that we’ve met so many incredible people along that journey who are now part of our journey from loads of different professionals. And it’s about that process which allows us to then do The Spanish Butcher which will allow us to move forward and create more opportunities.
It was almost a transformative experience for the entire business then.
James: It really was.
Louise: A turning point.
James: It really showed people, because when we were going to open the Butchershop – it’s hard when you’re looking for a site, when you’re talking to people, and you’re going, “look we’re awesome”, and they’re like, “what have you done?” and the answer at that stage is “nothing, but we are awesome”. And they’re like “yeah but we need to see how awesome you really are”. We were very lucky to get that start, and then we really built from that. I suppose, the thing is, we’re slow. It’s thought out. And Hutchesons then gave us the idea that we could really do this, and that propelled us. It was very transformative.
What do you think of the food scene in Glasgow right now?
James: We as a city are expanding, growing, getting cooler, getting better, there are great opportunities that are created that are created from all the different sectors.
Louise: It’s a great dining city. There’s a lot of great places. the more quality comes along, the more the operators are driven to make something different. People are going to start recognising Glasgow as a real hot spot for dining.
James: So many of us have travelled and spent time in other places and are now back. And as we travel and grow in our experience we want to bring that back to our city, to create businesses to create opportunity. And then, it’s a sort of ripple effect as it goes out. Like everything it takes time.
You talked about dreams earlier. What are the current dreams?
James: We are working on our new place and we’re hoping that will be open …
Louise: Early, I would say, early 2018. It will be city centre. It is going to be phenomenal. It’s very eclectic what we do, and each restaurant has their own unique personality. I think that’s just – we just gravitated to that style of growth rather than you know, rolling maybe one thing out. But that’s not to say that might not happen in the future, it’s … all the doors are still open, we just have to choose what path we want to go down.
Hutchesons City Grill
158 Ingram Street
Glasgow G1 1EJ
T: 0141 552 4050
Mon – Thurs 12pm – 12am
Fri – Sat 10am – 1am
Sunday 10am – 12am