Toot in Plymouth: Restaurateur Edmond Davari tells us more about his latest venture
PUBLISHED: 11:05 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 11:05 04 December 2018
SU CARROLL breaks bread with charismatic Devon restaurateur Edmond Davari as he embarks on a new venture
Edmond Davari has been a familiar face on the restaurant scene in Plymouth and Exeter for more than three decades, setting up some 20 establishments, with names like Souk, Asia Chic, Zucca and Rocco y Lola to take diners around the world on a plate. But his own world came crashing down when, in 2013, he went into voluntary liquidation.
He started his career in the Westcountry running catering and bar operations at the Theatre Royal Plymouth over three decades ago and his own story is every bit as dramatic as anything you’d see on stage.
Edmond grew up in what was then Persia, now Iran, where his father was a finance director for an American company which employed 35,000 Americans.
At the age of 18 he came to England to study computing and business management at Oxford Brookes University. He knew very little English and was a long way from home where there was a lot of uncertainty and political unrest.
His family were Christians and his dad worked for the Americans - both situations which would cause difficulties for the family. In Iran they were burning books on street corners and he was alarmed, when travelling to his cousin’s by train, to see similar scenes in a wintry Britain.
“The revolution is happening here,” he told his cousin. Apparently, Edmond had never heard of Bonfire Night…
As it is, he’s never made a living from his degree subject, finding himself in the hospitality industry almost by accident. To make money the young Edmond went for a job as a washer-up in a kitchen and – as always – dressed in a smart suit.
He takes up the story: “I was there for two hours and they asked me all sorts of questions like could I change a barrel? I said of course! I came back for a second interview and they said they were going to sack the general manager and wanted me to take on the job. I was just 20.”
It was the beginning of his career and Edmond worked all hours to make the best of it, learning as he went along. He arrived at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in 1984 and then branched out with his first restaurant, the fondly remembered Sardis just behind the theatre. It later became the popular Lorenzo’s.
It was the start of his empire – cleverly decorated restaurants with wide appeal in a variety of forms. There was Mexican inspired Papa Joe’s, Italian flavours at Zucca, Moroccan spice at Souk, Eastern promise at Asia Chic, Cuba, The Painter, The Fish Market – the list goes on – and Rocco y Lola named after his two children.
“I was opening restaurants left, right and centre and they were all doing well,” he says. “The banks were throwing more money at me and I was offered the chance of two restaurant spaces in Sutton Harbour, close to my Fish Market restaurant and where the BBC were planning to move their studios.
“I spent a lot of money because I wanted it to look really nice. I opened Asia Chic and Rocco y Lola in September 2008 and then the banks collapsed, the Royal William Yard opened with more competition and people found they could pay for food with their supermarket loyalty cards.
“The business just ran out of steam and I kept it going for another three years, putting my own personal money into it. It was killing me and I was completely exhausted and I couldn’t sleep. When insolvency finally came it was a relief. I signed the papers and that night at midnight we locked up. The next morning I went past the restaurants and they had been completely stripped by the bailiffs. Everything had gone. I felt everyone was pointing the finger at me and saying ‘failure’.”
A proud man, Edmond didn’t leave the house for two months and admits he had hit rock bottom and felt he couldn’t go on. But he did. He set up an outside catering company and began taking the food he had loved growing up to events, fairs and festivals.
Having taken diners around the world with his food, the menu at the brightly coloured restaurant he opened six months ago is closer to home – the Persian flavours he grew up with. The sounds, smells and tastes at Toot (it means mulberry) are all evocative of his childhood – the Persian chicken and saffron rice, the kebabs, falafel, hummus and baba ganoush.
He’s still got the catering business but is happy to have more time with his family and his loyal customers.
Five years after losing his restaurants what made him open Toot?
“Ego!”, he laughs. “I’m like an old singer who retires and then has a comeback tour. I had no plans to open a restaurant and this came up. What I’m enjoying now is more interaction with customers, it’s just like the early days.”
Toot is at 46 Mayflower Street, Plymouth.