Full name: Arthur Liegeois
Role: Founder and Managing Director
Birthplace: Paris, France
Fun Fact: “My friends used to call me McGyver when I was a kid as I was always full of ideas and would fix everything with anything.”
So, let’s start at the beginning. You’ve lived all over the world, have a degree in law, and have worked everywhere from Apple to Brittany, where you made crepes. Could you tell us a little about your past and the journey that took you to today? Did you always know you’d end up starting a business in food and drink?
Hi Jack! Yes, I have lived in France, Ireland, Portugal and now the UK. My parents gave me the opportunity to travel from a very early. By the age of 18, I had travelled to Ireland, Greece, across France, Switzerland, Germany, Tahiti and the US.
I studied law before going to business school, and more recently also studies digital marketing. I was in corporate sales for most of my career but didn’t especially like it. You don’t build things; you sell existing things. You reach your target and then go beyond it, and then you are asked to make even more revenue the next month.
It was a continuous race to sell more and more. I worked at Devoteam in Paris, Oracle in Dublin and Paris, and then I moved to Portugal and helped launch a French startup called Smartbox, before coming back to Paris to work as a commis chef and pastry chef for a fancy restaurant called Le Pere Lapin. Then I worked as a business advisor for Apple Retail and finally moved to London.
I worked at Devoteam in Paris, Oracle in Dublin and Paris, and then I moved to Portugal and helped launch a French startup called Smartbox, before coming back to Paris to work as a commis chef and pastry chef for a fancy restaurant called Le Pere Lapin. Then I worked as a business advisor for Apple Retail and finally moved to London.
My true passion has always been food, and it was only once I moved to the UK that I decided to start my own business in food. It just came to me naturally after I started listening to myself and realised that I couldn’t continue living someone else’s life in the corporate world . . . and that I couldn’t do anything other than food.
And now onto Norigami itself. As far as I am aware the idea has existed in Japan since the early 90s, when a manga artist drew it and people started copying it. Before that, no one thought to make a sandwich shaped piece of sushi (right?).
Yes. Onigirazu is a concept that was invented in the 90s by Tochi Ueyama in his then famous manga series “ Cooking Papa”. It originated as a recipe from a male character who started cooking in secret to help out his newly-widowed mother.
At the time, men would rarely step into the kitchen. It became a revolution as people started making it for themselves at home, always experimenting with their own filings. It was granted the best food concept in 2015 in Japan.
Could you tell us about where you got the idea for the company from, and what the journey has been like up to now?
One day I turned 40 and I started thinking that living a corporate life was not as exciting as it seemed when I started working. It then took me a few years to decide what I wanted to do with my second life. It is only when I started listening to myself that I discovered how important it was for me to do two things: 1. Do something related to food, and 2. Create my own thing.
From then on, it’s all about trial and (many) errors, lots of time searching the web and wandering in street food markets all over London and abroad until Norigami turned into reality. It all started when I found this concept called
It all started when I found this concept called onigirazu on the web, and then I realised it could tick all the boxes of the current market trends at once by providing the ideal solution between the taste of street food, healthiness from quality ingredients and the convenience of a true eat on-the-go concept like no other! Everything in this concept has a meaning to me. Even the logo: black and white, just like…me! Haha!
On a personal level – what kind of food and drink are you most and least fond of? Your dream and nightmare foods, as it were?
Ok, that’s a tricky one, I must say. I was raised in France and fed by a father who was and still is an amazing cook as he has initiated me to everything fresh, authentic, and always with high-quality ingredients. French food therefore would be my first choice. But as I traveled more and more, I discovered other ingredients and food. Italian (other than the well-known pasta and pizza) cuisine is amazingly simple and tasty.
But the Portuguese excel in making fish and seafood, and the Spanish have astounding combinations of pintxos, also based on simple and tasty ingredients… Vietnamese is amazingly fresh and healthy. And recently I discovered spices in Indian food, and even more recently, by meeting more Japanese people, I was initiated into real day to day Japanese cuisine and I love it! I could continue forever! That’s why we develop recipes from all over the world . . . because why limit ourselves to only one when you can have them all?
My nightmare food is easier to answer: tasteless and processed food. My body is not a trash can and I don’t see any reason why I should consume any of these products!
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the sushi sandwich business?
My day starts at 6am by meditating and doing exercise, whether I go running or exercise at home. Breakfast is next, as it is my main meal of the day, and then it really depends on what needs to be done. When my chefs are working overnight in the kitchen, I join them and help them assemble and wrap up. We then send out the day’s deliveries. When we are running a pop-up, I then meet the team on-site to set-up, and then have an amazing few hours interacting with customers who are either first discovering
When my chefs are working overnight in the kitchen, I join them and help them assemble and wrap up. We then send out the day’s deliveries. When we are running a pop-up, I then meet the team on-site to set-up, and then have an amazing few hours interacting with customers who are either first discovering Norigami, or returning to try whatever they had already liked. I still need to get the business side of the brand progressing, so I need to finish the day with more strategic work and sometimes meetings and calls.
I try to have a routine but many things happen that I wouldn’t necessarily expect so I always try to have some spare time to manage them. And before going to bed, rather late, I always define my to do list for the next day, so that I know exactly where to crack on the next morning.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
Prior to Norigami, it was Shen I signed the largest deal to date for Apple France. Since then, there have been so many since I started this adventure! Last year we organised a supper club in Shoreditch. It was sold out. We had decided to produce a 3-course meal, with Norigami as the main, and the menu was so complex to make that even though we started early in the morning, we were still late and trying to start serving at 9pm.
I was surrounded by 3 amazing ladies who supported me all day and we finally managed to send out the first plates. Later that evening, even though we were all exhausted and stressed, I stood up on a chair and gave a quick speech. At that moment I realised that Norigami was really born and was the sum of the efforts of the team, back of house and front of house. That day was really special to me!
Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly from observation. I usually feel like this ingredient or that combination could be good, or could work, if we did it like that instead. Also from my palate. I eat a lot of food, I try everything. I like to experience all good things. My mind keeps all these flavours into my database. All I do is what sommeliers usually do, I combine things and see if it works.
What’s your philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Right now, it’s: we have two lives. And we start living when we realise we only have one.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Norigami is by far my biggest challenge. I have never accomplished anything of this size before. And I think that if I had known how difficult it would be, I would have given up right away! But it is also the most rewarding experience of my life, because every victory is worth the battle. As I was told at Apple, you can’t eat an elephant in one bite, so take one bite of it every day, and you’ll eventually eat it up.
Norigami has taught me a lot: patience, but also determination, to listen to others but keep your head clear and trust your gut feelings, be humble but do not give in, unless you come to the conclusion that it’s best for the business. And also that my corporate skills are very useful in a startup.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from, or do you have any specific influences?
My father is the best cook I know, and some of my favourite memories, from both my childhood and recent past involve cooking with him. He opened up my mind to flavours and combinations, and that passion has always stayed with me. He also used to be a food photographer, so the visual beauty of the food also influenced me from a young age.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I enjoy the creativity of creating something that didn’t exist before and I love interacting with customers who are happy with the experience that they’re getting. That human connection is what life is about, and being able to have that through my work is amazing. Least favourite would have to be paperwork . . . but hey, who loves paperwork?
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
It’s going to sound cliché, but it really is about believing in your inner voice, letting it speak up, letting it grow, believing in your idea, getting a strong team around you and refusing to give up. Never, ever, give up. If you believe in it, others, eventually, will too.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Well, there’s reality and there’s fantasy. In reality, I probably would have stayed in the corporate world. In my fantasies, I’d be getting paid to meet people and kite surf around the world.
If you could get anyone to try your food (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the dishes would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
Michael Jordan, because he was just so much better than anybody else. Herbie Hancock, because he is to me the most talented artist in the world. Steve Jobs, for being so critical and yet such a visionary that totally changed my perception of the world. Paul Bocuse (RIP), Alain Ducasse, Jean-Francois Piege, Thierry Marx, Alain Passard, to name a few, all of these chefs who love food so much and share it with others on a daily basis. And Amma, the spiritual leader who gives hugs full of love in India!
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you were forced to live on one kind of alcohol for the rest of your life (assume that your metabolism becomes specifically adapted to use this as your sole source of calories, so you had to drink this to survive) – which would you pick, and why?
Wine, wine, and wine. There are so many varieties with unique blends, combinations of flavours and stories to go with each.
If you had to employ any character from The Simpsons to come and work with you, who would you pick, and why?
Bart, of course. He’s full of ideas, and that’s what we love. When he sets his mind to something he believes in, he typically gets it done. And, with all of that writing on the blackboard, he’d be good at writing the specials each day.
You have acquired a pet T-Rex and are morally obliged to look after it. It is 13 ft tall at the hips, eats half a ton of raw meat a day, and likes taking long walks. What would you call it and what would you do to keep it entertained and housed?
His name would be ‘Mon Petit’ for obvious reasons. Back to my love of kite surfing, I’d build him a comfy home on a far-flung beach somewhere and teach him to fish. He’d become a mascot, so to speak, for kitesurfing in the area, and would stay constantly entertained with the coming and going of new people, the tricks on the water and the overall lifestyle. As long as I could keep him happy eating fish, the kite surfers would avoid ending up as his dinner.