With family at the heart of everything they do, it’s no surprise that the dynamic duo behind Al Forno feel at home inside their latest venture. Julie Martin finds out more…
Directors Erdal Kuzgun and Liam Percy opened their third Al Forno restaurant just a few short weeks ago at Sandgate Park in Ingleby Barwick, and already it’s become the destination of choice for many of the hundreds of families living close by.
Stunning industrial chic styling by Iain Crowder, from Newcastle-based Collective Design, provides the wow factor at the venue, which can seat 120 diners over two floors.
For Liam and Erdal – or AJ as he prefers to be called – it was a case of building the business from the ground up.
When they were given the keys to the Ingleby Barwick premises it was little more than a brick and steel frame.
“It was a blank canvas, there was nothing, not even any windows,” said AJ.
With their other Al Forno restaurants in Middlesbrough and Darlington well established, the pair focused a huge amount of time, energy and enthusiasm into shaping the Ingleby Barwick venue.
Former engineer Liam said: “It’s the first time Al Forno has embarked on such a project, so as well as being excited we were a little apprehensive. But as there was literally nothing here it meant we could shape the building the way we wanted.
“We put our trust in Iain and the team from Collective Design, and we are Milestone for family restaurant chain absolutely thrilled with the results. It’s everything we hoped it would be and we’ve had some fantastic feedback from customers.”
Liam and AJ wanted the restaurant to reflect Al Forno’s commitment to family, food and friends, and they knew that to be successful in Europe’s largest housing estate they had to get everything just right.
They’ve since overseen every aspect of the build, from the fitting of the gloriously enormous windows to developing a fantastic 35-strong team and designing the incredibly tempting menu.
Remaining true to its roots, Al Forno offers a range of superb, fresh Italian food, excellent wine and outstanding service.
AJ and Liam are also firmly committed to using as much fresh produce as they can from local suppliers, and they’re delighted to have been working with several local companies since they began their culinary journey 12 years ago.
The opening of the new restaurant marks a milestone for Al Forno. It means Liam and AJ have created more than 100 jobs since they opened the first restaurant in Middlesbrough in 2005.
Five years later came Al Forno, Darlington – which also boasts a champagne bar – but for a long time AJ had his sights set on opening a venue in Ingleby Barwick.
That dream has now become a reality, and while the pair know it’s early days for their new venture, the number of diners they’ve already welcomed through the doors has surpassed their expectations.
“The first day we opened we had a queue of people wanting a table, it was incredible,” said AJ.
“It’s been busy ever since, with people taking advantage of our special Sunday lunch sharing platters, our European-style afternoon tea and our sizzling steak nights.
“We’re also open for breakfast which is something new for us, and that’s proving popular with people on their way to work or families looking for a great way to start the day.
“We are taking a long-term view. We want to be here in 20 years’ time and we want to be a family favourite where people of all generations can sit round the table eating, drinking and enjoying spending time together.”