Franco Manca owner hungry to expand into cut-price empty sites
A RESTAURATEUR who used the early Nineties recession to rapidly expand Pizza Express is hoping to pull off the same feat again with dining chains Franco Manca and the Real Greek.
David Page, boss of Aim-listed Fulham Shore, said he had been inundated with requests from landlords to take on sites left empty by rival chains that had fallen victim to the coronavirus lockdown.
He sees the recession as an opportunity to aggressively expand on the cheap by taking advantage of shuttered sites previously used by rival firms. The entrepreneur said: “We are being offered sites now that we would never have seen nine months ago. The cost for us for expansion is going to come down over the next two or three years.”
Mr Page said that he was considering opening up in a string of sites previously occupied by Italian restaurant Carluccio’s, which had 71 outlets and employed 2,000 staff when it went bust in March.
It will cost Fulham Shore just £150,000 to repurpose a former Carluccio’s because the stores are already kitted out. Previously, the chain would typically spend £650,000 on opening a Franco Manca pizza restaurant.
Speaking as Fulham Shore raised almost £26m in new loans and more than £2m from shareholders, to fund a growth spurt, Mr Page drew parallels with the economic crisis three decades ago. He grew Pizza Express from 80 to 200 restaurants in five years by taking advantage of low property prices.
Fulham Shore is presently focused heavily on London, with nearly 40 Franco Mancas in the capital and fewer than 20 outside it.
Mr Page said: “It is very similar to 1989 to 1992 when there was a really bad recession in the UK. Pizza Express floated in 1993, and we floated at just the right time because we had three or four years in recession and [there were] properties that were dirt cheap and you could open restaurants for a very low capital expenditure. I feel that we are in the same situation today. The survivors and the ones the public wants will be able to expand with much cheaper capital expenditure on each site.”
Mr Page said that Fulham Shore had been performing well before it was turbocharged when the Chancellor’s Eat Out To Help Out discount dining scheme was introduced this week, offering customers up to £10 off their meal from Monday to Wednesday in an effort to kickstart the economy.
He said: “Rishi [Sunak] is pulling whatever levers he can. The latest one… has been a big success because we have taken all staff off furlough. So instead of being a drain on the Government, we are now employing people.”
Franco Manca sales have more than doubled this week compared to the same period last year, with a rise of 130pc. They are up 148pc at the Real Greek. Mr Page said: “The last three days have been the most incredible of [my career]. I’ve been in restaurants 40 years and never seen anything like it.
“If the public really like, and need to have, this really great offer, perhaps we could do something without Rishi in September and October to keep the people coming in.”