Korto promises a little taste of the Mediterranean in North London's Muswell Hill – and not just from the food. Guests can expect a warm welcome. Owners Russell Stinson and Paul Tocher are both natural born hosts. Back in 2018, they were ready to hit 'go' on their restaurant dream – at an old Tandoori house that had been up for sale and spotted by Tocher a few years before. In December 2019, Korto opened its doors with a menu focussing on healthy choices, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes.
Much like the rest of the world, Korto's story took on an unexpected turn in March 2020 with the emergence of the global Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Stinson and Tocher found their entrepreneurial spirit unleashed once more and took the lockdown period as an opportunity to 'pivot' their brand by setting up a coffee roastery.
The duo's ravenous appetite for hospitality – and their infectious spirit – has grown over many years of friendship – originally sealed over a bottle of wine. As the wine flowed, so did the mutual desire and a drive to create exciting new ventures flourish.
Tocher trained as a chef and is an experienced restauranteur.
The partners couldn't have come from more different working backgrounds. Tocher trained as a chef and is an experienced restauranteur. He had been part of the team to open what was The Great Eastern Hotel and The Orrery. While Stinson's background derived from the city; however, he decided to take his finance and systems experience and moved on.
The pair's first venture was a cleaning business that serviced the hospitality sector, targeting Michelin-star restaurants. Together Stinson and Tocher built a proven management team and a prestigious client base.
"For us, one of the most important things was that the restaurant lived up to a homely name," Stinson says.
After the successful sale of this company in 2017, the partners were hungry for a new challenge, and turned their expertise from specialist outsourcing to property portfolios.
Eventually, their passion for food and wine drew them back into the hospitality world. Tocher explains "After amassing a property portfolio, we had come to realise that we wanted to combine all this success with a love of good food and wine and try something new. I had already spotted the perfect site for a restaurant a few years before, out on a run close to where I live near Alexandra Palace. We discovered that the Tandoori restaurant was back on the market, and we knew it had to be fate on our side" says Tocher. Russell and I had a passion for flavoursome food and great service, and we wanted our next endeavour to be part of London's constantly evolving food scene."
The vision was for Korto to become known for the modern, urban flavours that the pair love to cook at home. An added garnish is relaxed old school hospitality mixed in. "For us, one of the most important things was that the restaurant lived up to a homely name," Stinson says.
Stinson says, "Our first choice was 'Yard Food,' which was thrown out by Companies House for being too popular. We wanted to make sure that our invitation was to a relaxed, wholesome and delicious experience. Similar to the dishes we wanted to serve. There was nothing for it but another bottle of wine. We eventually arrived at 'Korto', which means 'Yard' in Esperanto."
The philosophy of Korto is very simple. A place to meet with family and friends, bring the dog, drink great coffee and eat fresh, seasonal food.
Tocher says: "Covid [and going into lockdown] was devastating. But we work in an industry that is a rollercoaster of a ride. It's constantly going at 100 miles an hour. This is a time where you have to be humble and focus on the positive – even one good thing. Take that and work with it."
The lockdown provided something that the pair had been lacking time. And so, this period became dedicated to pivoting their business model and letting their entrepreneurial juices flow. The partners are now appealing to Korto fans with a new business specialising in coffee. The big reveal is under wraps for now, and the owners are hugely excited for their next business foray.
Korto is open seven days a week from 9am to 3pm, and reservations can be made on 0208 292 5841 or via the website.
Visit the Korto website for further information and menus.