Talking Tapas with Ben Wright of Porta Restaurants
Ben Wright is the Co-Founder of Porta, a place for all those who can’t get enough of tapas. Here, you’ll find the most delicious plates – both hot and cold, of authentic Spanish food. There’s a focus on simple ingredients to produce the most vibrant tastes, and you’ll find in the restaurants a relaxed feel that’ll transport you to the middle of Madrid.
How did you get into the restaurant industry?
Like many in the industry, a Saturday job as a 14-year-old washing-up in a golf club near my parents’ house. That role evolved into kitchen work, cheffing (mainly bacon butties and burgers) and then to bar work – alongside the sixth form when I turned 18. I immediately fell in love with the industry – the fun and the camaraderie but also the hard graft, responsibility and being treated as an adult.
Where did you learn your skills?
When I was 19 and working as a wine waiter in a local pub-restaurant my colleagues and I was set a challenge by our manager; the person who sold the highest value of wine in a weekend would win a bottle of something-or-other. I quickly realized that acquiring a small amount of wine knowledge would put me ahead of the majority of my teammates, and also our customers. Just being able to pronounce Rioja or Chateâuneuf du Pape would help me sound like I knew something. The rest, as they say, is history.
Who has been your greatest influence?
In terms of life principals and embracing good food and drink, my parents and grandparent lead the way, but after university, I spent 8 years in London, initially with close friends launching a web-based business and then as a manager in a Soho media post-production agency. My best mate Eric and I learned a lot in those early days; writing business plans and pitching to venture capitalists. Born of penniless necessity (and the naivety of youth), our approach was “We need a web designer? We’ll teach ourselves. Do we need an accountant? We’ll teach ourselves.”. This principle was and still is Eric through-and-through. 20 years later in different industries and cities, we discuss these challenges weekly. A small amount of his work ethic and self-belief rubbed off back then and lead me to where I am today.
Tell us what it is like running a business with your brother Chef & co-founder Joe Wright…
Like any good partnership, you each need to bring something different to the table. Joe and I share similar tastes, but not to the point of predictability. Within the business, Joe’s focus is menu development and working with the chefs, whereas mine is leading the front-of-house teams, wine buying, training and the admin of running the business. Having distinct, separate roles is key to our good working relationship.
We tend to approach issues in different ways – if I can’t get my head around a particular challenge, I’ll speak to Joe; he’ll have a completely different perspective and between us, we’ll work out a constructive plan.
Tell us about the ethos behind Porta…
Simplicity and authenticity. It’s all about the ethos of a good traditional tapas bar – relaxed, informal and to an extent utilitarian. Good ingredients, good recipes, prepared with care and served without pretensions. Flavor not faff. We want Porta to be somewhere to have fun, a few drinks and enjoy yourself. We keep saying “we’re just a tapas bar”, it’s dead simple.
What is Porta best known for?
Hopefully great examples of classics tapas dishes served by nice people in a cool environment!
Which is your favorite dish on the menu?
A regular special is ‘Pulpo a la Gallega’ – a super simple dish of octopus, with potatoes, olive oil and paprika; all served at warm, kinda-room-temperature. Hands down it’s my death-row/desert island dish.
What’s your biggest achievement in 2018?
Opening Porta Salford was a big deal – the biggest project we’ve undertaken. The building was a huge old bank that we just fell in love with when we saw it back in late 2017. It has character and history in spades, and that’s what we always look for – glass boxes are just not our thing. The extent of the work required to bring it to life was daunting – not to mention expensive – but so worth it; it’s so satisfying to see it busy and buzzing, even in January!
What’s coming up for 2019?
I’d love to give you a serious business-focussed answer, but my wife Lorraine is pregnant with our first child. Due in April, this could be the biggest challenge yet!
Learn more about Pora here: www.portatapas.co.uk