High street meets corporate: Tortilla founder highlights burgeoning trend in restaurant site selection

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Westfield stratford, Shopping mall

Mexican chain Tortilla has eight sites in the UK having launched in Islington
Mexican chain Tortilla has eight sites in the UK having launched in Islington
The relationship between restaurateurs and landlords could be set to change forever, with an emerging trend of rival operators working together to obtain a large site, take it over and provide a range of different offerings.

That’s the view of Brandon Stephens, founder of Mexican restaurant chain Tortilla who, speaking at Restaurant magazine’s R200 Business Seminar held at the Corinthia Hotel earlier this week, also believes that in some circumstances there may not be a need for a landlord at all.

“High street meets corporate - I think this is a huge trend,” said Stephens. “There’s a company out there already that are bringing a range of different operators together into large areas, of say 6,000 sq.ft, and actually taking over the place and provide a range of different offerings within it.

“Of course, there’s a legal aspect to it, in how we actually deal with it all, and there’s the costs and complications involved. But I think that it will take place more and more as we slowly get are head around the issues like how we take the service charge and how the whole areas is managed.

“I think what you’re seeing with the likes Westfield Stratford shopping centre is that they’re now creating the perfect type of space for restaurants. But the question is, why can’t we all get together and organise that ourselves; do we really need a landlord to organise it for us?”

“A current example is 100 Moorgate, which is a unit that has about 1,000sq.ft on the ground floor and about 8,000sq.ft in the basement. It’s just crying out for an escalator to go down and open it up into a big food court, like a Selfridge’s food hall. What’s holding us back from doing that?”

Landlord-restaurateur relationship

Stephens went on to highlight that, as the retail sector is placing more reliance on online sales and thus reducing the number of physical stores on the high street and in shopping centres, the relationship between landlords of large, high-footfall sites and restaurant operators looks set to change. 

“Large landlords are going to have more of a relationship with operators directly,” he added. “Network Rail and Westfield Stratford have put in place specific F&B individuals that are solely responsible for looking after that sector.

“The result that we’re now seeing, especially in Westfield, is that the internal lobbying that takes place for better positioning of catering units, i.e. in the middle of a concourse as opposed to just on the top floor, has been incredible.

“The landlord now has a better understanding our financial metrics, and we have a better understanding of theirs, and we can instead find something that works for all parties, rather than just being shoved on the top floor.”

Restaurant site selection

Speaking alongside Stephens at Monday’s R200 event was Rob Lucy, head of property at Tortilla, which currently has eight sites in the UK. Lucy gave the following top tips for successful restaurant site selection:

  • “Know exactly what your target market is to actually discover whether or not you need to be in a certain place.
  • “Be aware of emerging locations and trends. A current example is Crossrail.
  • “When looking at any site, always think: is it close to a transport hub? Is there footfall generation there? Are my competitors in proximity and what type of operations are nearby? And what’s the customer base?
  • “Know your agents, you need to work with them closely and they will reward you.
  • “Share experiences with fellow operators. If you don’t know a particular town, speak to other operators there and find out what the area’s like.
  • “DTBS - Don’t take bad sites!”

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