James Rusk and his wife Louise opened The Butchershop Bar and Grill opposite Kelvingrove Art Gallery four years ago. Specialising in aged-on-the-bone steaks, not to mention innovative cocktails, sparkling oysters and chunky Ayrshire chops, the restaurant’s buzzy ambience has built a loyal clientele.
James’ next project is Hutchesons which is billed as ‘a new dining experience in a grand European setting’. Scheduled to open towards the end of May/beginning of June, the restaurant and bar complex will give a new lease of life to the former Hutcheson’s Hall Hospital on Ingram Street.
Unstoppably enthusiastic, James has big ambitions for Hutchesons and can’t wait for its ‘rebirth as one of Glasgow’s iconic architectural landmarks’.
The 5pm Dining blog chatted to James about his imminent city centre venture as well as Glasgow’s changing restaurant scene and his aversion to raw celery.
How long has Hutchesons been in the pipeline?
JR: We’ve been working on it for over two years. All the planning permissions have been granted; the licence has been granted and, towards the end of last year, construction started on its rebirth as one of Glasgow’s iconic architectural landmarks. We are looking to be open this spring.
What will it be like?
JR: It will be a real steakhouse and seafood restaurant in a grand European setting. We will be open in the morning for coffee and croissants with newspapers and WiFi. Then it transitions into light lunches in the Boardroom bar downstairs. We will do afternoon teas and then upstairs, in the Grand Hall, we will have Hutchesons Grill with great steaks and whole fish grilled on the bone.
It’s a big building. Does it feel like an ambitious project?
JR: It’s a £1.3 million fit out. We want to provide a quality product with quality service in a quality environment. It’s so cool and although it has a grand scale, it has an intimate feel. We have built this rock ‘n’ roll, bad boy steakhouse in the West End. Hutchesons is our city centre idea. We’re hoping that it’s the birth of an icon. What’s great about this venture is that it will give people a chance to come in, hang out and enjoy the building. It’s what the customer wants it to be. Customer comfort is key.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
JR: I was a student at university in Newcastle and worked as a waiter. I tried to be a rock star but the only job anyone paid me to do was being a waiter, doing the door, working the bar and so on.
You also did a stint at Keith McNally’s Balthazar in New York. What did you learn there?
JR: It’s all about the customer and the environment the customer is dining in. The theatrical aspect of it is important but the customer is king. It’s everything from how the menu feels; to what the salt and pepper shakers look like and how you are presented with the bill. Every detail matters and it has to be consistent – it has to be that way every single day. If you provide a consistent experience then the customer knows they can trust us and trust what we do. Customers have to trust you as a brand.
What I loved about working with the McNally school was that I loved design and running restaurants means being involved in design. I love people and running restaurants means I get to be with people. I like being in charge and making things happen and a restaurant is a military operation. I like structure. I’m process-led but also have an artistic side. Running a restaurants allows you to do all this. You get to create these environments.
If you could change one thing about Glasgow’s restaurant scene, what would it be?
JR: What we are improving at is the connectivity between businesses. The message that we all send to visitors to the city is becoming stronger. Come the summer, we will have the Commonwealth Games on our doorstep. Brand Glasgow will be on display in front of the world and I want to make sure that we are looking good.
I don’t want any of these visitors leaving our city and saying, ‘Well, it was OK’. All our team are getting more Glasgow welcome training. If a customers asks them where X is then they can show them and suggest alternatives and bring it to life.
Organisations like Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and VisitScotland are doing a tremendous amount of work. This year, we’ve got the Commonwealth Games, MTV, The Big Weekend, Homecoming and Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. The level of advertising that Glasgow is getting around the world is incredible and it’s up to us to portray our city as an incredible destination. We’re getting better at that and we could always do more.
People are out there busting their asses to make this an awesome city. I keep on asking myself and my team what can we do to play our part?
OK. Enough proper questions. Anyone in the world can cook you a meal. Who will it be?
JR: Jimmy Page.
What’s the most exotic thing you have ever eaten?
JR: A live lobster which was gutted in front of me. The body was scooped out and served as sushi. The other half was used as decoration. Not one of my proudest moments. There was sake involved.
Is there anything you couldn’t eat?
JR: Raw celery. I don’t know why. I can pretty much eat anything but celery… no.
You’re cooking a special meal at home. What is for dinner?
JR: A big Sunday feed. My wife is Irish and I have been put through the Irish training to become Master of the Potato. As long as there are at least five or six different types of potato with different shapes and textures then I have a happy wife and family.