How to build a restaurant empire: Victor Lugger, co-founder of Big Mamma group

He's one half of the team behind some of the most popular restaurants in Europe. But it's been a long road to get here...

The day I fell in love with cooking was the day I left home. My mother and my grandmother are the most amazing cooks. Once I left, I realised that I’d have to do it myself. So I got on the phone, at the age of 20, and I asked my mother: ‘How did you cook this? How did you cook that?’ At first, I was terrible — I made all the usual mistakes, and a lot of inedible food. But slowly I got better. And the better I got, the more my love of food grew. 

When I was a kid, I had a very dull vision of professional life. I always thought I wanted to be a corporate CEO, and I went to business school in order to get into that world. After I graduated, it only took me three months to realise that I was probably not suited for that long, steep corporate ladder. To me, it was way more exciting to take risks, be out of my comfort zone, innovate, and break rules — just like in my cooking.

I met my partner Tigrane at business school, and we soon decided to launch Big Mamma. The name came from his wife, Erika. We were really struggling with what to call the company, and she said: “You guys are trying to recreate a very homely, comforting, generous, self-indulgent place”. Tigrane would always say it was an “antidepressant place — we are building restaurants that are an antidote to the Sunday blues.” To us, this felt very “Mamma”. The “big” part came from our ambition, as Erika pointed out. We always wanted to do things bigger, crazier, with wilder ambition. “Big Mamma” seemed to say just that. 

 One of the first restaurants we opened was a pop-up in the South of France. It had a 150-seat terrace, with 40 seats inside. One memory in particular stays with me. It was 10pm, and the place was full, inside and out, on just our second ever week of running a restaurant. It was May, so it was a bit chilly — but warm enough to dine al fresco, and there were nearly 200 clients sitting down. In the middle of service, as sometimes happens down in Luberon in the South of France, the weather suddenly turned. In came the fearsome mistral wind, closely followed by a monsoon. I remember standing on that terrace in the pouring rain, with every client staring at me. I felt like a rabbit in the headlights — I was so panicked I couldn’t even move.

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