All stories
February 5, 2019

Sven Erik Renaa: What it takes to run 3 successful restaurants

Meet Sven Erik Renaa and learn what it takes to run 3 successful restaurants and what it meant for him to receive a Michelin star.
February 5, 2019

Before 2016 the Michelin guide only included Norwegian restaurants located in Oslo, that was until the prestigious guide visited Stavanger for the first time in 2016. Same year the highly awarded Norwegian chef Sven Erik Re-naa’s playground RE-NAA was acknowledged with a Michelin star by the prestigious guide, the first Norwegian restaurant outside Oslo to receive a star.

We have met with Sven Erik Renaa to discuss what it takes to run three successful restaurants concepts and to know more about what it meant for him to be the first Norwegian restaurant outside Oslo to receive a Michelin star.

One of Norway’s most sophisticated chefs

Sven Erik Re-naa is born and raised in Trøndelag – with an Italian father. He started his career at Britannia Hotel, where his mother also worked. He then moved to Oslo, where he worked at Anden Etage at Hotel Continental and Bærums Verk, before he went to the legendary Park Avenue Café with renowned chef David Burke. After New York Renaa returned to Oslo as Head Chef at Brasseriet Hansken, where he stayed for three years before he became Head Chef at ORO with Bocuse d’Or winner Terje Ness. Renaa then left for Stavanger and The Culinary Institute of Norway, where he worked as an advisor and as Coach for the Norwegian Culinary team (junior and senior) for 8 years before opening RE-NAA Restaurants in 2009.

Three restaurants under one roof

Restaurant RE-NAA is considered chef Sven Erik Renaa’s playground were he lives out all his gastronomical ideas and ambitions. Renaa is a tiny restaurant with 20 seats.

“RE-NAA is going to be one of the best restaurants in the Nordic region, and I’m also convinced that it is.”

Beside the Michelin starred restaurant RE-NAA, Sven and his wife owns and operates two other restaurants: RE-NAA – Matbaren, a bistro-style restaurant with 60-70 spaces were the food is prepared on a coal-fired grill centrally located in the restaurant and RE-NAA – Xpress, a breakfast and lunch restaurant with it’s own bakery providing bread and cakes for all the restaurants. In addition to the three restaurants, Sven and Torill also operates catering and rental of banqueting facilities in connection with the restaurants.

Tell me about the philosophy of RE-NAA? 

“My food is not complicated. I don’t have 20-30 chefs making prep, service and complicated garnishes. So all my food needs to be practical, showcase the essence of the products involved and be delicious. We are striving to simplify and showcase each element as clean and pure as possible, you should taste Rogaland and hopefully know a little more about our region, our nature and our traditions after dining at RE-NAA.”

“Our motivation ‘Perfect simplified’ helps to craft meaningful experiences for the people around us. This mission inspires us to jump out of bed each day and guides every aspect of what we do.”

You constantly strive to deliver the best possible guest experience. What does guest experience mean to you? 

“Positive guest experiences are everything for us and I feel that many restaurants strive more to please their own ego than the happiness of the guest. Positive guest experiences mean for us first and foremost a ‘returning guest’ that will come and visit us again hopefully with new guests and family. This way more and more people learns about RE-NAA and Matbaren.”

“Re-naa is about giving people more than just fine food. We strive to create a ‘wow’ experience. It must be both fun, cool and have the necessary details to make it stand out.”

Why did you open RE-NAA? 

“I love to cook and missed it so much, so I simply couldn’t let go of the idea even though I was pushing 40 at the time. The idea of running both a Bistro and a Fine Dining restaurant was simply to intriguing.”

“I consider RE-NAA as my playground. I have an extreme focus on details. Everyday I receive a small batches of carefully selected ingredients and are changing courses all the time always striving to deliver at the high level.”

In 2016, Re-naa became the first Michelin starred restaurant outside Oslo. What does it mean to you? 

“The Michelin star was first of all a huge ‘pat on the shoulder’ to all the staff contributing to make the best guest experience possible. In addition, it’s was of course a confidence boost for me and my wife as well. It was an energy boost to get such an acknowledgement in the Michelin guide and to be the first outside of Oslo also is an extra dimension for us. As a chef you never stop learning, it’s an eternal journey always with room for improvement. As a chef you never think; now is enough.”

Stavanger is known for their strong food culture. What did it mean for Stavanger to have their first Michelin-starred restaurant? 

“It felt like the whole Region came along celebrating with us. It made not only us proud, it made Rogaland proud, it furthermore helped to show tourists and foodies more about our region. Receiving the star was therefore great for both Stavanger and Norway as a destination. I don’t believe there are that many candidates for Michelin stars in Norway, but we are the greatest region for product quality and we need to get balder in telling our story without copying others. Hopefully we inspire other restaurants by showing that there are opportunities outside Oslo.”                            

You are both a father and a husband while being of the most sophisticated chefs in Norway, winning numerous awards and prices. How do you manage to run Norway’s best restaurant and two other concepts? Can you describe what it takes? What are the sacrifices? 

“The biggest sacrifices are time. Less family time and almost no leisure time. You must sacrifice time. That’s how simple it is. You can’t travel with friends or family on weekend getaways. You can’t be the best by only investing 8 hours a day. You need to invest your spare time to read books, study the details and work hard. This is one of my greatest talents, that I always put in a lot of work in what I do, but it is also what I am paying the price for today. Each day I am paying the price for investing in my career. Being a chef with ambitions simply requires you to invest both time and lots of work to stay at your best.”

“I have worked hard my whole life, but the only one I feel I have neglected is my eldest daughter that now lives in Copenhagen. She was not very familiar with her father before she was a teenager. I should have spent more time with her, but back then I paid to much attention to my career which was about to speed up, getting involved with the Norwegian national team, becoming Norwegian chef of the year in 2000 while helping Restaurant Oro in Oslo to get a Michelin star. I feel that I am in a good place in life now with my other two kids and my wife. Today I have become better to manage my time compared to before. Today I have a lot of great staff who help me fill in the gap when I am not present.”

How do you manage to constantly stay updated and innovative – required to stay at your best?

That is probably the one thing that will eventually stop the restaurant and me. The day when I no longer feel that we have the right energy and creativity to develop our concept, is the day I will do something else. Well another type of restaurant.” For now I stay updated by traveling, eating, being in the nature, reading and testing on my free time.

You and Torill are known to be extremely passionate about the way you run RE-NAA. Can you try to describe this passion? 

“Because we look at RE-NAA as coming into our living room. We are extremely focused that everything needs to be perfect in all the possible ways. We are also very committed to the restaurants, we have a lot of energy and are both somehow competitive also. We are both we to putting huge amounts of work, soul and price into driving the restaurant. Even if it goes beyond family life, leisure time and everything else.”

Your ambition was to become of one the best restaurants in the north. Is this ambition fulfilled? 

“In my mind a chef’s ambition or his restaurants, is never fulfilled. That day you close the door and do something else. There are a lot of goals to reach still for us and for RE-NAA and it’s the road to, and not the end result, that fills us with the correct amount of craziness and commitment.”

What is your future ambitions with Re-naa?

“Evolving it to the next level, refining, inventing, investigating, keep on testing and continue to make delicious food and seeing smiling faces. I am extremely obsessed with the fact that I am not allowed to fall into the “safe life”, where I am repeating myself.”

Keep exploring

Stay in touch
Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest stories and insights from the new generation of restaurateurs directly in your inbox