German venture capitalist firm Mayfair recently acquired a majority stake in the company which operates its pizza, pasta and salad restaurants in 26 countries around the world.
Although since being founded in Hamburg in 2002 the brand has grown to more than 100 individual Vapiano sites with a number in development, there are currently only two venues in the UK - both in London.
Phil Sermon, who was recently appointed by Mayfair to head up the Vapiano operation in this country, told BigHospitality there were a number of target markets for expansion of the brand but the UK has been identified as the 'number one priority' and focus for investment.
"We have the capital to invest in significant expansion from the two successful operations which we already have and we are very, very keen to do that straight away," he said.
Sermon, who has previously worked for Stonegate Pub Company and as head of food for J D Wetherspoon, is now working to identify potential sites in London to facilitate the ambitious expansion plans. It is understood the company is looking to open a third restaurant as soon as possible but would not rule out opening a fourth at the same time with a view to moving to a portfolio of six within around 18 months.
Although globally the Vapiano restaurants are a mixture of managed, franchised and joint venture sites, in the UK the expansion will only be into managed venues for the foreseeable future.
Both London restaurants, in Great Portland Street and Southwark Street on the South Bank, are large operations with around 400 covers each. Sermon explained the right location for the brand was between 6,000 and 10,000sq.ft in the capital or busy provincial cities and towns such as Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.
Diners at Vapiano receive a card on the way in which is marked for each item of food they choose. Various stations offer cooked to order pasta or pizza available in different price bands. The restaurants also serve salad, antipasti, various specials and traditional Italian desserts under a dolci menu as well as a tailored drinks offering which is different in each country depending on preferences and tastes.
The food, which is all produced on site, is then paid for on the way out when diners hand their cards in to the till at the end of the meal.
"The brand is very well received around the world and in the UK. For me value for money is the most important thing - whether you are eating at a greasy spoon or Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons," Sermon said. The UK managing director added that he believed Vapiano, which is named as a nod to a traditional Italian proverb, offered something different to the restaurant scene despite the large number of rival Italian concepts.
"The product is fresh, the size of the portions is generous and we don't skimp on expensive ingredients. It is very competitively priced with high product quality in quality fit-out restaurants," Sermon concluded.