Brits abroad: Restaurant groups eye US expansion

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

A bite of the Big Apple: Hawksmoor is on its way in 2017
A bite of the Big Apple: Hawksmoor is on its way in 2017

Related tags: New york city, Us

The US could experience an influx of British operators on its shores in the next few years with a number of restaurant groups looking at opportunities across The Pond.

British steakhouse Hawksmoor will open its first overseas restaurant​ next year in the new World Trade Center site in New York.

“While this is obviously a big deal for us and our company, I hope it’s also a small recognition of how exciting the London restaurant industry is,” says co-founder Huw Gott. “The two cities are on par in terms of quality, variety and excitement.”

Hawksmoor is not alone in looking to the US for growth. Jonathan Downey, co-founder of London Union, hopes to bring street food markets to major US cities in the future. Philadelphia and Detroit are potential targets for the company, he says.

Chain restaurants

As well as London Union’s markets, Downey believes the high quality of some of the UK’s restaurant chains would be attractive to US consumers. “Wagamama has really got its shit together, and I love brands such as Leon, Itsu, Wahaca and Byron,” he says. “Chain restaurants in the States aren’t very good. Ours are great.”

To date, UK brands have had limited success in cracking America, with large chains such as PizzaExpress having tried and failed. However, the latest influx of UK players overseas is expected to make more progress.

Burger & Lobster kick-started the latest wave of UK brand migration when it opened its first overseas restaurant in New York last year, which now serves some 2,000 people a day at weekends. A couple more Burger & Lobsters are expected to open in Manhattan over the coming year or so. 

Having secured a flagship site overlooking Madison Square Park in New York City, due to open in May, Wagamama says it plans to open more restaurants in the city as the US becomes a focus for the group this year. Simon Cope, global brand director for Wagamama, describes it as “a really exciting time” for the chain as it looks to crack the critical US restaurant market.

“We’ve talked about wanting to expand significantly in the US with a target of 50 to 60 sites in the next five to six years,” he says. “We hope to open four to five in New York in the next 12 months.”

Carluccio’s is set to open its second Stateside site, in Maryland. The group’s first US restaurant opened last summer in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and chairman Simon Kossoff says the debut restaurant is performing well.

Leon, which includes former Burger King chief executive Brad Blum as a non-executive director and US company HMS Host as a franchise partner, has indicated a desire to cross The Pond. Northern-based Living Ventures is also understood to be considering bringing its cocktail bar and restaurant brand Australasia to New York. 

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