Old dogs, new tricks: how restaurant chains are branching out

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Street food

Soho House's Dirty Burger brand is one of the many spin-off restaurant chains to gain pace in the UK
Soho House's Dirty Burger brand is one of the many spin-off restaurant chains to gain pace in the UK
The trend for restaurant chains to create separately branded spin-offs as a way of moving into new territory appears to be at an all-time high, with a number of branded players developing ‘satellite’ concepts over the past few months.

Wahaca is the latest group​ to get in on the act, with the launch next month of Burrito Mama. The standalone restaurant will debut at London’s One New Change development a few doors down from the soon-to open Wahaca, and will be takeaway-led – as well as having space for 30 covers.

It will serve LA-style burritos that are toasted, distancing itself from the main brand’s Mexican influences, and is scheduled to launch at a later date to the main restaurant, so it is viewed as a separate project.

“The hardest bit [about launching Burrito Mama] was that we have got such goodwill behind the Wahaca name,” says the group’s co-founder Mark Selby. “We are not pretending it’s not us doing it, but don’t want to confuse people either. Wahaca serves Mexican street food and has got a niche, this is different. It’s a separate brand that can be run by itself.”

The group currently has a takeaway option at its Charlotte Street restaurant called Wahacito, but Burrito Mama will be very distinct, says Selby. The idea behind the new brand will be to serve burritos within a few minutes, with the aid of self-serve ordering screens. The company is also building an app that will allow customers to order from their desk and jump the queue.

Branching out

A number of larger groups have also branched out into new territory under different guises. In April, Italian chain Prezzo launched Cleaver​, a chicken, burgers and ribs restaurant, at a converted Prezzo site in Cobham, Surrey, and La Tasca recently opened an independent-style concept, Bar y Tapas, in Brighton. It is said to operate independently of the La Tasca chain.

“Within our portfolio, we want Spanish concepts positioned in every market segment, except fine dining," says chief executive Simon Wilkinson. “This will be achieved with Bar y Tapas​ and a rejuvenated La Tasca. We’ve identified a further eight sites that we would potentially convert pending a successful trial in Brighton.”

The burger category is one area in particular where this strategy is becoming most prevalent. Tasty, the AIM-listed restaurant group, plans to open a pilot unit under the name Lucky Burger next to its upcoming Wildwood opening in Oakham, Rutland; and Ponti’s Group, operator of Ponti’s Italian Kitchen and Caffé Italia, is to launch Ranch Burger in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

The rollout of Soho House’s Dirty Burger brand continues apace, meanwhile, with sites in London’s Tooting, Mile End and Vauxhall set to open this year.

This article first appeared in the August issue of Restaurant magazine. Subscribe here​ or read the digital edition here​.

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