Earlier this week, our sister publication M&C Report learnt that the business appointed Michael Gottlieb as its non-executive chairman as it looks to expand in the UK and Europe. And Kua ‘Aina’s co-founder Edward Bardos says he has been ‘encouraged’ by the increased popularity of the existing 60-cover venue on Carnaby Street as he considers funding options.
Coincidentally speaking to BigHospitality during a coffee break at an ‘access to finance for growing businesses’ event in London earlier today, Bardos said: “The current site we have here is quite small and off-pitch, which is why we’re looking for something bigger.
“We’re actively looking for extra funding and extra sites – I’m looking for enough money to fund two sites at first. We don’t have a specific overall target, but we think ‘20 by 2020’ sounds quite nice.
“The new restaurants will be in central London, ideally in the West End or perhaps on the fringes of the City. Premiums are just so high at the moment so it might have to be two smaller sites or one prime site.”
Speaking of the variety of funding options available, Bardos – a former Lehman Brothers employee – revealed that crowd-funding has become an ‘attractive proposition’, following in the footsteps of Isaac McHale’s Clove Clubwhich opens in Shoreditch this month.
“Crowd-funding is a great idea,” Bardos added. “We were actually thinking about it for our original store. Everybody wants to feel like they own a bit of a business and I think crowd-funding makes a restaurant quite accessible.
“We have a strong cash-flow business but funding just doesn’t seem to be available from the banks. We’re looking to our existing investors along with some new investors.”
Kua ‘Aina, meaning ‘country bumpkin’, originated in Hawaii in 1975. The chain now has three outlets in its homeland along with 20 in Japan, operated under license.
Surfing the wave
The existing London site, which launched in April 2011, underwent a major revamp in January of this year with a refurbishment of the interior, enhanced branding and a revised menu.
A lava grill takes centre stage on Kua 'Aina's menu, with homemade marinades and seasonings accompanying burgers and sandwiches, as well as fish, chicken, turkey and vegetarian options.
Following the recent flurry of Burger restaurants in the West End, Bardos added: “We’re happy to surf the wave of burger joints in London and we’d like to become known for offering one of the best burgers in London – but that’s only about 40 per cent of what we sell, so we don’t want to get swallowed up by the wave.”
The business’s new non-executive chief executive Gottlieb was former chief executive at Rocket Restaurants and is a current non-executive director at 3Sixty Restaurants. Bardos added that there are also ‘options’ to expand Kua ‘Aina into the rest of Europe, in locations such as Rome, Oslo and Porugal.