Franco Manca owner hun­gry to ex­pand into cut-price empty sites

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Oliver Gill

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.”

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