Casual dining crunch – or munch?

This week’s article in the Guardian on the casual dining crunch made for salutary reading. Casual dining chains are in crisis. Site closures and restructuring appears to be the order of the day. Jamie’s Italian, Byron, Strada, are all struggling, and that’s just a few of the ones we’ve heard about. Countless others are doubtless in trouble but have not yet “come out”. It seems to be a perfect storm of Brexit.

The rising costs, growth in the home delivery market and other factors all colliding to make it impossible for chains to avoid losing money. Private equity and cheap debt are being blamed for having thrown huge sums at brand roll-outs in recent years, which are now beginning to fall apart. The competition for the key sites has driven up lease premiums to an almost absurd level. So, it’s a storm all right, but who will survive and live to see another day and hopefully a general market improvement?

Darwin & Wallace

I will be speaking next month at the Global Restaurant Investment Forum (GRIF) in Dubai and showcasing an investor success story of what I believe is a remarkable business which has been managed with both vision and extreme discipline. The company in question is Darwin & Wallace, which comes from the brilliant Imbiba stable, who have such an outstanding record of success in the London bar/restaurant scene.

Darwin & Wallace’s mission is to create a 21st century interpretation of a London pub. The company has been trading for five years and in that time has only opened five sites – the sixth is about to open next month. Finding the sites has been difficult and has required patience and discipline. The company has not paid excessive premiums for sites and has not been in a rush to expand.

Another factor which has favoured Darwin & Wallace is the absence of a cookie cutter approach. All developed separately, the businesses are individual. Research consistently shows that people prefer single ownership restaurants to branches of chains and Darwin & Wallace is a chain that’s not a chain. Each site has an individual style and personality, with an emphasis on local fresh food and drink.

Wherever the company has opened, it has brought not only high quality food, drink and service. It also has brought style and personality to each of its locations in places like Clapham, Chiswick and Richmond. The business consistently makes money. Despite the downturn and the challenge of strong competition in a number of its locations. The MD’s mantra “more home than high street” means an accent on comfort and design which resonates with customers.

I look forward to showcasing this brilliant business at the GRIF event in three weeks’ time, and hopefully proving that there are still plenty of opportunities for talented casual dining operators and that for some, it is definitely more munch than crunch.

Interested in investing?

Martin Sherwood GRIF DubaiFor more information on Darwin & Wallance, or any of the Imbiba companies, contact Martin Sherwood on 020 7843 0472 or

Join me at #GRIF 2018, 12-14 March in Dubai where I will be speaking about the latest restaurant business trends. Meet 300+ international attendees including restaurant investors, owners, operators, franchisors, concepts and designers. Use discount registration code ‘GRIF25’ while registering to save 25% on your delegate pass. Learn more

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