Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab hopes to grow Mooli’s – the Soho-based Indian wrap concept he acquired earlier this year – into an ‘Indian Pret A Manger’.
The co-founder of The Cinnamon Club and owner of Roast restaurant in London’s Borough Market bought Mooli’s, which offers a tight menu of roti rolls and Indian street-food items, in a pre-pack administration earlier this year.
Like a number of other players in the sector, Wahhab has identified a demand for high quality and prepared-to-order takes on the sandwich – the staple of the British working lunch – priced at £5-£7.
Several Vietnamese operators have moved into the alternative premium sandwich space over the past year or so, with specialist bánh mì (a baguette filled with meats, lightly pickled vegetables, fragrant herbs and mayonnaise) bars.
Hugh Trung Bui, the restaurateur behind Cay Tre and Viet Grill, recently opened Vietnamese deli and bánh mì specialist Keu! in Shoreditch, while well-established Camberwell restaurant Café Bay opened a similar proposition in Holborn called Banh Mi Bay.
And it’s not just ethnic riffs on the sandwich. US concept Earl of Sandwich launched its first UK site last year in St Paul’s, London, and offers premium submarine sandwiches. Artisan panini specialist Spianata & Co has strayed from its City stomping ground for the first time to open a site on Mayfair’s Berkeley Square, bringing it up to six branches in total. Spianata’s bread is baked fresh on-site throughout the day and most sandwiches cost around £5.
At present, these specialists are largely restricted to the capital, but Wahhab believes the model would work in other cities, a view echoed by Spianata & Co owner Stefano Nicolai. “Our concept would work in places such as Bath, Oxford and Bristol but at the moment the focus is on the West End of London. I want to see how the concept works with non-office workers,” he said.
Alternative premium sandwich concepts can generally trade from A1 (retail) premises, making for greater availability of sites, lower premiums and rents, and greater likelihood of obtaining central, high-footfall locations. A1 sites restrict most primary cooking methods but – fortuitously for the sandwich sector – baking is allowed.
Going mixed model (offering both takeaway and eat-in) increases volume and offsets the revenue lost from not trading in the evening, although increasingly premium sandwich concepts are opening later into the night.
This article first appeared in the August issue of Restaurant magazine. To subscribe to the monthly magazine, click here.