Hugh Russell’s inspiration to open ‘The Russell’ came from his family roots back home in Jamaica. “All of us were responsible at home for cooking and cleaning. Even if it was peeling potatoes or seasoning the chicken. Growing up we were all domesticated.” So when Hugh immigrated to the U.S., it was about the same exact thing… real food over moments with loved ones.
It was when Hugh was working at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Food and Beverage that he started seeing a lifetime career for himself in the food industry. He could see people’s joy when they dug into a flavorful recipe, and that is when he fell in love with the idea of owning a restaurant.
Thirteen years after opening his first location on historical Pratt Street and just a few short weeks ago, Hugh opened his second establishment, ‘The Russell Grab & Go.’ With Hugh’s new space, he is now able to create 100% authentic Caribbean cuisine something he was limited to before with the original space, and it’s a smaller kitchen.
“So the plan has come to life, and it’s an abundance of joy. And people have been coming in saying hey, we’ve been waiting for this, you’re finally bringing some flavor to downtown. This is home. This is where I belong. And people have been embracing the idea and the culture of what I am able to bring.”, explains Russell.
A downtown resident for years, Hugh is vocal about the lifestyle Hartford affords him. “I love talking about Hartford because when I came from Jamaica I came right here and I’ve embraced this culture of downtown. I do everything downtown… I shop in downtown, I dine in downtown, I walk through the parks. I learned how to appreciate the arts here. There’s so much to do in downtown [Hartford].”
More than just a restauranteur, Hugh is also passionate about helping the Hartford youth learn about the hospitality business and find career paths within the industry. “My goal is to expand into the perimeters of downtown and to create jobs for the local youth of Hartford. That is my number one priority. Even here, I try to bring kids from the north and from the south. Not to just teach them about how to plate and serve food, but to also learn about the hospitality industry. Because it’s not always about food, it’s also about the service aspect of a business. You can go anywhere and get amazing food, but its the service that brings you back.”
As we concluded our discussions we Hugh, we were left with a powerful and inspirational message. “I consider Hartford mine. And Hartford can be anyone’s, but you have to believe in the city first. You have to believe in the culture… the richness of the culture, believe in all the amenities that downtown has to offer. I think it’s important for people to come and experience this. Believe in the city, believe in the people. … I embrace the city, and I welcome everyone to make Hartford theirs.”
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