Busaba ramps up UK expansion

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soho

Busaba Eathai currently has nine restaurants in London (Panton Street pictured)
Busaba Eathai currently has nine restaurants in London (Panton Street pictured)
Alan Yau's casual-dining Thai chain Busaba Eathai has confirmed plans to double its estate over the next three years, with two new London openings in 2014 and an extra focus being placed on further expansion outside of the capital.

Off the back of a solid set of annual financial results, the Phoenix Capital Partners-backed group, which currently has nine restaurants in London and one in Oxfordshire,​ will open in Shoreditch and Kingston in the summer and is now actively looking for more sites in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol.

Busaba’s finance director Brigid Hughes told BigHospitality: “We’ve always held a cultish following among our loyal customers. We want to maintain this reputation and to bring the Busaba experience to even more people.

“We also want to remain the preeminent Thai brand in the UK - the plan is to grow to 20 sites within three years and we are busy developing the pipeline to deliver on that plan.Our private equity investors Phoenix (which bought Busaba in 2008 for £21.5m), along with our bankers, are hugely supportive of our roll-out plan.”

Turnover up

Hughes’ comments come as Busaba Eathai reports increased turnover and EBITDA for the 2012-13 financial year. Despite the challenging economic environment and ever-increasing competition in the casual dining market, the business posted a turnover of £23.78m – up by 13.2 per cent year-on-year.

“We’ve managed to improve our profitability whilst not compromising on our service standards,” added Hughes. “Since its inception, Busaba Eathai has never compromised on quality. We believe this has enabled us to retain our loyal customer base whilst continuing to attract new customers.”

Thai food trends

Speaking of the increased nationwide competition in the Thai market with other expanding groups such as Koh Thai Tapas​ and Giggling Squid,​ Hughes said it was important for Busaba Eathai not to get complacent.

“We believe the Busaba experience is unique and the fact that we continue to have queues at our original restaurant 15 years after opening is testament to that. However, we’re not complacent about the competition and continue to innovate in order to remain ahead of the market. In fact, our head chefs are in Thailand this week, looking at the latest Thai food trends.”

Busaba Eathai was founded in 1999 by visionary restaurateur Yau (career timeline below). The group’s existing sites are in Wardour Street, Store Street, Bird Street, Panton Street, Old Street, Floral Street, King’s Road, Westfield and Westfield Stratford shopping centres, and Bicester Village in Oxfordshire.

Opening dates for the upcoming Busaba Eathai restaurants in Shoreditch and Kingston have not yet been confirmed.

Alan Yau: Timeline

  • 1962 - ​Born in Sha Tau Kok, Hong Kong
  • 1974 - ​Moves with parents to King's Lynn, Norfolk, where they open a Chinese restaurant
  • 1990 - ​Trains with McDonald's and is offered a franchise site in Hong Kong, which he turns down
  • 1992 - ​The innaugral Wagamama opens in Bloomsbury, London
  • 1996 - ​A second Wagamama opens in Soho
  • 1997 - ​Loses control of Wagamama to the venture capitalists who funded the expansion of the business
  • 1999 - ​Opens the innaugral branch of Thai restaurant Busaba Eathai in Soho
  • 2001 - ​Hakkasan opens in Hanway Place, Bloomsbury
  • 2004 - ​Yauatcha, based on Taipei teahouse, opens on Soho's Broadwick Street
  • 2006 - ​Awarded an OBE for services to the restaurant industry
  • 2007 - ​Opens Japanese restaurant Sake No Hana on London's St James Street. Hakkasan branches open in Istanbul and Miami
  • 2008 - ​Helps develop Cha Cha Moon - a take on Hong Kong's no-frills street noodle stands - which opens off London's Carnaby Street. Hakkasan and Yauatcha are sold to Tasameem for £31m. Busaba Eathai is sold to private-equity firm Phoenix Capital Partners for £21.5m. Yau opens Princi on Soho's Wardour Street
  • 2009 - ​Steps back a little from the restaurant industry and moves to Hong Kong
  • 2010 - ​Launches Bettys Kitschen (now named St Betty) in Hong Kong. Yau is ordained as a Buddhist monk at Wat Dhammakaya, Thailand
  • 2012 - ​Former Pied à Terre chef Shane Osborne takes over the kitchen at St Betty. Princi in Soho launches a pizza offering. ​Naamyaa, a sister restaurant brand to Busaba Eathai with a more approachable, all-day focused Thai dining style, opens in Islington
  • 2013 - ​Yau buys The Endurance pub in Soho, which is set to re-open later this year as a Chinese gastropub.

(The above timeline was taken from the August 2012 issue of Restaurant magazine​.)

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