It is hard to describe Richard Bigg, founder of Spanish restaurant group Camino without it inevitably seeming reductive. Prior to becoming a serial restaurateur, he spent his youth travelling across South America, bartending in Aspen and New York, competing in Formula Ford Championships and has held just about every job in hospitality outside of being a chef. Appropriately named, Richard Bigg has lived decidedly large. Nominative determinism aside, it is when Richard landed in Spain that he found the culture that his life would become deeply intertwined with. In collaboration with head chef Nacho del Campo, he introduced favourites such as Arroz Negro, Presa Ibérica, and the much-loved Cortado to the UK. Translated from Spanish, Camino means ‘way' or ‘path'. Richard speaks to New Business and take us on a journey alongside his own.

Your business portfolio has been built on a love for Spanish culture, how and when did that begin? 

My first trip to Spain was in 1984 in a little old black Mini, travelling down through France with my girlfriend in July and all the way down to Malaga. Driving across the high-altitude plains of the Meseta in the blazing heat, then back up through Extremadura, Madrid and Catalunya was a whole new experience for me and a real adventure. I was hooked and have been back every year since, these days 5 or 6 times.

Was Camino your first venture, and how did you secure funding?

My first venture was in fact a bar called Cantaloupe in 1995. It was the first bar in Shoreditch, hard to believe now but a virtually unknown area at the time. It didn't really have any concept other than being ‘the kind of bar I'd like to go to with my friends'.

Business expertise arrived in the shape of Nigel Foster who became my ideal business partner - and remains so to this day.

Funding was secured by putting my house on the line for my share, which my first wife wasn't too thrilled about. But the venture was going to fail over my dead body. Amazingly it turned out to be just the right thing at the right time, even winning Time Out Best Bar in London in 1997.

What were you looking to achieve when you opened your first Camino Restaurant?

Having travelled extensively across Spain for well over 20 years I wanted to create an authentic representation of the country's fantastic food and wines in a terrific atmosphere, and accessible to all.

A year after opening, Nacho del Campo from the Basque Country joined us as head chef - bringing huge experience from working in Barcelona and in UK restaurants including Michelin starred Bibendum. Today he is our Executive Chef. He insists on high quality ingredients with the best provenance and was pioneering, putting dishes on the menu that had not been seen before in the UK such as Arroz Negro and Presa Ibérica (the meat from the pig which provides Jamón Ibérico), which have both been widely copied since.

Did your experiences working in bars and restaurants while travelling, influence the standards you have set in your own ventures?

Definitely! I spent a year working mainly as a bartender in the USA in the mid-80s in Long Island and Aspen Colorado and was astonished to witness the huge gulf between the standards of service in America and in the UK at the time. I learned vast amounts and came back determined to open my own bar.

Did you ever have ambitions to be the man wearing the toque?

Not quite sure what you mean - a beanie?!

What is the Big Chill music experience? 

The festival was a wild ride. We joined forces with the founders and helped grow it from 8,000 people to 40,000. I knew how to run a bar in a building but how to run up to 11 bars in a field on a hillside with a couple of lakes was a whole different matter - a steep learning curve!

In 2004 we found a site in Brick Lane and Big Chill Bar was born. We aimed to emulate the hedonistic vibe from the festival and luckily for us it hit the ground running.

Two years later we opened another Big Chill in King's Cross - way bigger with 3 floors, a mezzanine, roof terrace, 4 bars and regularly packed out.

As a UK ambassador for Rioja, wine is clearly a passion. When did this begin, and what is it about a great wine that excited you?

From about 5 or 6, when my grandma used to offer us a tiny glass of sherry. Booze was always in the family as my dad used to work for a brewery. We even had a keg of beer in the house - my dad couldn't tell when my brothers and I helped ourselves.

What is your approach to curating a wine list for your restaurants?

We aim to have the best wines we can get for the money in a variety of styles to best represent what Spain has to offer right now. Since Covid we have had a succinct list and this seems to work well for the customers, no poring over a mighty tome.

Every 6 months Hannah, our Head of Drinks, and I blind taste everything and select the wines on pure quality. We check any new wines we are considering and ensure new vintages are up to scratch.

What makes working for, and with Camino so special?

We treat our customers like our friends and the same goes with our staff and suppliers. I regularly hold a ‘Bigg lunch' which gives our new recruits a chance to sit down and have a slap-up meal with the best food and wine and get to be treated like our customers. I add some depth to all they have learned during their induction, giving the background of where it all began and our whole approach.

Every year we have several staff trips - either around the UK to visit suppliers or general days out for our Big Chillers or to Spain for the Camino crew, educational and huge fun for all.

No two Camino venues are exactly alike. How do you decide on a new location, whilst keeping each restaurant unique?

Each has a similar feel, but they are certainly not cookie-cutter. They are warm and welcoming with a touch of rusticity and decorated with items I have picked up in second hand markets and antique shops in Spain. King's Cross was a bit of a bold (some said insane) choice as the area was still quite rough in 2007 but the building and courtyard are uniquely characterful. Monument has a huge following of local workers and Shoreditch is a still a great destination all these years later.

Your latest opening, Bar Rioja, is the only dedicated Rioja bar in the UK. What else makes it unique?

Well, the single-minded approach of only offering Rioja wines is the main thing, possible simply because the region has a vast array of different styles of wines made from its 14 permitted grape varieties. The wines are a fantastic combination of tradition with innovation and modernity, with a mix of classic blended oak-aged styles aged, to ultra-modern offerings focused on the vineyard in site specific locations, similar to Burgundy.

The high altitude across much of the region is a huge advantage for the wines to counteract global warming and one of Spain's secret weapons for its wines.

The bar itself has great character despite its tiny 28-person capacity; a charming and romantic candle-lit space with hundreds of wine bottles adorning the walls, and a huge map of the region on the back wall.

Every wine is available by the glass - this was a crucial move so you can try the best wines without the expense of buying a whole bottle.

I'm passionate about the region - this year I'm going on a staff trip in March, on a cycling trip with some mates May, and with my wife after a tour across northern Spain in June. Can't wait!

You have previously stated that you feel you never really work a day in your life. Is your business your hobby?

Ha ha ! well yes if you have a job that you love it really doesn't feel like work. It's simply about getting up in the morning and being eager about the day ahead. It really helps that everyone is on board with our ethos and core values and we have such fantastic people, quite a number of whom have stayed with us for 10 years or more.

What would your advice be for a fledgling restaurateur in 2024?

Start small with minimal financial risk - opening a stand in a food market is probably the best way to go. In a partnership be extremely clear on role division. Hardly original of course but invariably best to avoid opening a business with a friend - there's so much to go wrong including losing the friendship. It can work brilliantly of course - just look at extraordinary success of Will Beckett and Huw Gott from Hawksmoor and Shamal and Kavi Thrakar from Dishoom, who are not just friends but family!

What next for Richard Bigg and Camino?

We do have a few other ideas up our sleeve. It was great fun achieving the ambition of opening Bar Rioja having had the idea for years. We could do more of these, or other variations on the Spanish theme.

I do think these days you need a very clear strong identity and I think the more focus and identity you have the better.

I did have a yearning to do something Argentinian having travelled extensively there 3 times, however I think best to stick to what I know and love best so it would almost certainly be a variation on the Spanish theme.



1986-87 - bartending in Long Island New York, and Aspen in Colorado

1987 - assistant manager, The Dome, Islington (Trust House Forte)

1990 - assistant manager, Palio, Westbourne Grove (Whitbread)

1992 - general manager, Jamaica Wine House, EC3

1994 - general manager, Simpsons of Cornhill, EC3

1995 - opens Cantaloupe in Shoreditch, first bar in the neighbourhood

1997 - Cantaloupe wins Time Out Bar of the Year

2000 - opens Cargo in Shoreditch

2002 - opens Market Place in the West End

2004 - opens Big Chill Bar, Brick Lane

2006 - opens Big Chill House, Kings Cross

2007 - opens Camino, Kings Cross

2008 - Camino wins Observer Food Monthly Best Bar in Britain Award

2009 - sells Market Place, Cargo and Big Chill Festival

2010 - opens Bar Pepito (first dedicated sherry bar in the UK)

2010 - Bar Pepito wins Time Out Bar of the Year

2019 - Rioja UK Ambassador Of The Year On Trade: Richard Bigg - ‘Rioja Recognises'

2020 - Richard Bigg ordained as a member of the Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino 2020

2023 - Bar Rioja opens on site of Bar Pepito