19th September: Monika Linton

This week Elliot Moss is joined by Monika Linton.

Monika Linton is the Founder of Brindisa Ltd and Co-Founder of its sister company, Brindisa Tapas Kitchens Ltd. Brindisa is an importer, wholesaler and retailer of Spanish foods; while Brindisa Tapas Kitchens is a group of Spanish restaurants in London and Barcelona. She maintains a hands-on approach in both companies, as Managing Director of Brindisa and Brindisa Tapas Kitchens. The name Brindisa comes from the Spanish word, “brindis”, the act of raising your glass, so both companies are a celebration of Spanish food.

Monika’s love of foreign foods and culture was inspired from an early age in her birthplace, Africa. The exotic sights, sounds and smells of the local markets fascinated her throughout her early childhood and teens and were a stark contrast to life back at home in the U.K. 

The road to Spain started with the choice of Spanish as a second language at school, which she continued to study at university level, reading Modern Iberian and Latin American Studies (including Spanish language) at University College London. As a student, she lived for a year in Peru, and took holiday work hop-picking and harvesting in the Hampshire countryside. After university, she worked as a commis chef and then an English teacher in Catalonia. During these formative three years, working in the restaurant kitchens and immersed in daily life in northern Spain, she discovered and fell in love with Iberian food culture and ingredients.

On her return to the U.K., Monika was keen to use her Spanish language, yet was unsure of a career path to follow. However, she realised that the ingredients and flavours she had been enjoying in Spain were almost unheard of in the U.K. and that perhaps there was an opportunity for a business introducing them to the English market. Monika set up the legal entity, Brindisa Ltd, in 1988, with the idea of sending a pallet with Spanish wines and cheese to London. 

Monika quickly realised that wine was already a developed sector, however Spanish cheeses were completely unappreciated in the U.K. at that time. This was a defining moment for her and the future direction of the company. She was drawn to the earthiness of cheese and the strong links to the land, animals and people that produce it.

Monika’s first selection of cheeses caught the attention of some of the best chefs in London, who appreciated their unique tastes and artisan production and were doing something quite avant-garde at that time, putting their faith into Brindisa’s pioneering product range. Delis and foodhalls became interested and with more customers came more demand for Spanish products. Monika was able to seek out and supply many of the products she had come to know during her time in Catalonia and travelling around Spain.

By 1998, Monika’s wholesale business had been trading for a decade and had established a name for quality Spanish foods. She was based in a warehouse on the edge of Borough Market, which at that time was a purely wholesale fruit and veg market. It was initially with some open-warehouse evenings and some link-ups with other wholesalers based near the market, that Monika’s retail adventure began. These warehouse openings created a buzz and people began to see the potential for a retail market at Borough. Monika was therefore fundamental in the change and regeneration of the market and Brindisa has had a hugely popular shop there ever since. A further shop opened in Islington in 2001, which closed in 2008. In 2014 Monika opened a deli-café in Brixton.

It was always Monika’s dream to put Brindisa’s foods onto a plate alongside a glass of wine and to open a restaurant that would showcase her range and also bring many new Spanish foods to the table in the U.K. In 2004 she co-founded Brindisa Tapas Kitchens Ltd, opening a thriving tapas restaurant on the edge of Borough Market. In 2008 and 2013, three further restaurants opened in London and in 2015, two more will open in London and Barcelona, bringing the group to a total of six. Each of them is unique, conceptualised by Monika and her colleagues, with individual menus and interior décor.

Monika has now been running her import, wholesale and retail company for 27 years, and her restaurant business for 12 years.