Bek Narzi

18 Sep. 2019
The colourful views of a pioneer

Although Bek Narzi’s (by his own admission huge) ego was killed by the painful, multi million pounds failure of his first restaurant, he remains one of the food and beverage industry’s most colourful characters: cocktail pioneer, TV star, bar show and awards promoter, bar owner, bar tools designer, restaurateur and educator… We’ve probably missed a couple of things on the way. Last May, we had a long chat with him during the first edition of the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur Awards — he was a finalist. A lot of things were said, we tried to make sense of them (his brain is on turbo all the time) and here is how it reads…

« I don’t really believe in cocktails », Bek started. As an initial answer, this might be the most striking we’ve heard all year, especially coming from a man who was introduced to mixology by none other than Sasha Petraske, whom he describes as the Jerry Thomas of our time. « People think that I’m a mixologist and, yes, I do have a bartending experience, but I’m more into managing the brains of the young generation to create a platform, a culture and an atmosphere for them to grow within food and beverages ». So Bek believes in education. And since most of Bek’s current projects with Pachamama, the group he launched in London with his brother, are billed as restaurants first and foremost, we guess he believes in food. 

And yes, he does: « I’m cuckoo about food. Food is the future. Alcohol will slowly be dying. We now have non alcoholic gins… People are into healthy-living. They drink less and less ». Now obviously, since Bek is a spirit lover (with a particular fondness for pisco) and still spends a lot of time addressing bartending audiences, we can safely assume that the downfall of alcohol will play out in slow motion. Still, if it’s inevitable, young bartenders would be well inspired to pay attention.  « The drinks industry contains so many elements. It’s service, it’s PR, it’s marketing and you need to study them all, to perfect them all. When I was consulting for Four Seasons, some top managers told me that the whole idea in hospitality is that your guest sleeps and has a sweet dream. Our target is that we don’t f**king wake them up from that dream », he quips. Translation: to be able to provide for you guests needs — which are very simple to understand but ultimately difficult to fulfil — you need to be a master at many things, and not only at drinks making.

Bek views his experience in fast food chains early on in his career in the same light. « KFC, McDonald’s: it was like going to the army to learn discipline, structure, systems… Why did I go to Starbucks? I wanted to know everything about coffee and I wanted to understand how they make everyone love Starbucks, even though it’s not the greatest coffee ». His meeting with Sasha changed everything and he went into cocktails. But after a few years, the man who went to the fast food army to learn didn’t feel like a soldier anymore. « I wanted to have my own business but I needed money. Today, Asia is booming. But in 2007 it was Russia. It was a virgin opportunity. So I left London. » This is where Bek really became a household name with his cocktail program at City Social (one of the world’s most admired bar in the early 2010’s), which led him to becoming the mentor of the new generation and, quite literally (with his tv program), the face of Russian cocktail culture.

Although he remains very active in Russia, with his bar Happy End and a lot of other business activities, Bek’s focus over the last few years is London. There was that first restaurant, ending in financial failure. But, as he says, « mistakes are your life’s best teachers ». And now, with Pachamama, things are only looking up with four venues and more to come. « We are slowly building our brand. It’s quite organic. It’s all about finding a location we want to be in. I have plenty of offers to open abroad but it’s difficult enough for me to travel from one restaurant to another in a Uber. I’d rather have them all in London, taxi distance, and sell in ten years »

See, Bek has it all planned: he has an exit plan. « I want to become a chef. I sell my restaurants, I buy a little boutique hotel, with my own vineyards, lemon and orange trees…I’ll go to Bahamas over the summer, write books and the rest of the time I’ll cook at my hotel and drink red wine everyday », he quips. Or not: he seems deadly serious. For us, it’s hard to see Bek not jumping on and off planes to work on new projects and train the new generation. But this is a very driven man and, quite frankly, nothing would surprise us.

François Monti