Stuart Ralston.



What is your business called?

I own the Aizle and Noto restaurants in Edinburgh.

What does it offer?

Aizle serves a creative tasting menu, which focuses on seasonal cooking using great produce. We create the menu on a daily basis, based on the freshest produce we can get our hands on. Now we’re in autumn, the list of ingredients features the likes of partridge, wild halibut, and we have some lovely sea buckthorn from Gullane.

Noto, which only opened in August this year, is a casual, all-day dining concept with a bar that focuses on sharing food and wine producers. The menu was inspired by my time living in New York City and Barbados. I based the concept on the types of restaurants I would visit after my shifts in the kitchen. The menu includes North sea crab, warm butter, sourdough and Beef tartare, yuzu kosho, egg yolk, grilled bread.

To whom does it sell?

As both restaurants have a completely different concept from each other the clienteles they serve vary. Aizle is perhaps more of a destination restaurant, visited by both local and international guests alike; it’s currently placed fifth in the Trip Advisor Travellers’ Awards for Best Fine Dining Restaurants in the UK.

Noto has a strong local following and is more of a neighbourhood hangout but it’s only been open for a few months so this may develop.

What is its turnover?

Aizle is £600,000 to £700,000 and Noto is budgeted to take the same.

How many employees?

Around 20 across the two sites.

When was it formed?

Aizle opened in April 2014 and Noto in August 2019.

When did you take the plunge?

Before opening Aizle, I was just bored of working for other people. I have worked under some amazing chefs and built up a reputable career within the industry, but I wanted to make my own decisions and shape my own company. I love being my own boss; it’s more rewarding when you have built a company from scratch.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I grew up in Glenrothes, Fife, and left home at the age of 16 to work in a range of different venues to gain experience. These included The Roman Camp in Callander and Greywalls Hotel, Gullane. After this, I was offered a job at Gordon Ramsay’s first American venture – Gordon Ramsay at The London in New York, which earned two Michelin stars.

Five years later I was working at Lower Slaughter Manor hotel in Gloucestershire when I received a call from a global head hunter asking me if I would be interested in a job at the Sandy Lane in Barbados. I became Chef De Cuisine at Sandy Lane and lived the dream, cooking for the likes of Rihanna and Simon Cowell. However, one day, my wife and I were at the beach and started talking about opening a small, tasting menu only restaurant in Edinburgh. What started out as a casual conversation materialised three years later. It’s the best decision I have ever made.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I saved almost every penny for three years and opened Aizle on a £25,000 budget .

What was your biggest break?

Getting a job at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Living in New York really shaped me, and I met some incredibly talented people along the way, including my amazing wife Krystal.

My time in New York inspired not only the food in Noto but also the name. When I arrived in the Big Apple, I got my start dates wrong and arrived two months early. I had nowhere to stay and little money and I knew no one in the city. I met eccentric, man about town Bob Noto who put me up until I got on my feet. He introduced me to the New York dining scene and the most extraordinary people I have ever met.

When I worked for Gordon, I was determined to prove myself. I worked in every station of the restaurant to develop my skill set. The main things I learned were discipline, speed, accuracy and how important is it to maintain high standards in a restaurant. There were no shortcuts and organisation played a huge part in the daily operation. Being the youngest in the kitchen, I learned a lot from the team, they had vast international experience and really made an impression.

What was your worst moment?

I have had some challenges as a result of working to excess and not taking care of myself over the years. This led me to change how I was working as well as how my staff were working. Last year I implemented a four-day week at Aizle to give my staff and I time to recharge and spend time with our families. It is the best thing I have ever done, and not only has my staff retention soared, so have the profits.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Running my own business allows me to change things that don’t work and to try new things. I also like to have input from my staff: being able to shape who we are as a group is so powerful.

What do you least enjoy?

Dealing with non-creative things like HMRC, VAT, wastage companies and council rules. General bureaucracy gets on my nerves at the best of times.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Governments do that would help?

Have a better understanding of how small businesses work and their effect on local communities It would be brilliant to have a fairer balance of tax between SME’s and large firms.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

One thing that always sticks with me is: Remember the people you meet on the way up will be the same people you meet on the way down.

How do you relax?

Spending time with my wife and son and being present during those times makes me forget all the negatives. I also run around 20 – 25 miles per week; it helps to clear my mind.