Chakra has received “substantial” investment from an unnamed British family backer to launch an estimated nine Chakra restaurants and six delivery kitchens over the next 48 months.
The original Chakra, which opened in Kensington in 2012, is currently closed for a revamp and will relaunch this month as part of a “full reset” of the brand.
The first Chakra To Go kitchen will launch in Wimbledon this summer followed by a full-service Chakra Riverside restaurant in Kingston-upon-Thames in June/July.
Varma told BigHospitality he is targeting a similar expansion footprint as The Ivy, initially focusing on affluent residential areas within south west London and possibly towns such as Guildford and Winchester.
After 16-18 months the group will look at sites in north London and beyond to St Albans and Cambridge.
“The gap between Greater London and the M25 has been fairly neglected and there is a lot of wealth that has gone out to those areas,” he says. “People don’t all want to drive in to London to find a good quality offering, so we’re bringing Chakra to them.”
Menus will be similar across all sites, including ‘old favourites’ from Kensington and a separate vegan menu.
Dishes will include crispy puffed pastry filled in a tangy avocado, cumin yogurt, tamarind sauce and nylon sev; tandoor chicken simmered in tomato and cream masala; and a classic black dal cooked overnight.
Time to expand
Despite the well-documented troubles facing the restaurant industry this year, Varma says now is a “good time” for independent groups to grow.
“We all know that the mid-section of the restaurant sector is getting quite squeezed, and sites which independents were previously locked out of are starting to become available,” he says.
“Suddenly landlords are more receptive to us being an independent operator than a private equity-backed group.”
He adds that opening delivery-only kitchens will allow the group to expand more cheaply in the face of spiralling costs hitting the restaurant sector.
“There will be more trauma in all sections of the industry over the next 24-48 months because of Brexit and the lack of visibility about where the labour pool is going to come from,” says Varma.
“We’re facing that in a really big way when it comes to specialist Indian chefs. A very junior person can command £35k-£40k a year as a starting salary, and restaurant models are not geared up to have eight to ten staff at that level.
“A delivery capsule can operate where rent, rates and staff overheads are going to be marginally lower, so that allows that unit to have a better chance of success.”
Chakra will continue to work with Deliveroo and similar operators at its sit-down restaurants, but also intends to launch its only delivery portal and app going forward.
Its financial backer is on-board for a five-year plan which Varma hopes will put the brand "on the map".
“We don’t want to go in to the classic scenario of opening too many and overtrading,” he says. “There’s no rush but it’s good to know whenever an appropriate site comes up the funds are available.”