Tell us about the restaurant
It’s very neighbourhood-centric. We like to think of it as a modern take on the traditional Italian restaurant model. Tony [Manconi], who owns the chain [which is part of the family-owned Romet restaurant group], has been a chef for years and is very passionate about the food and hospitality we deliver. The menu is based around classic Italian cuisine, primarily focused on pasta and pizza. Popular dishes include the spaghetti with pecorino cheese, Gran Padano cheese, black pepper, butter, bayleaf served on a parmesan wheel; the Figo pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, rocket, parma ham and parmesan shavings; and pappardelle pasta with slow cooked and shredded wild boar
How many sites do you have at the moment?
We currently have two restaurants open: a flagship in Stratford that opened in November 2019, and a second site in Brentwood that launched in September last year. We do have also have a third restaurant, in Leyton, which we had originally hoped to launch in March this year, but we’ve decided that we’re going to wait until we’re able to open it for dine in. In the meantime we’ve been working to ensure the site is ready to go as soon as it needs to be, and also use the time to develop the brand and concept in order to get us in a position to grow the business and establish more restaurants as the restrictions lift.
What are your plans for expansion?
Figo is an eminently scaleable concept; the aim is to eventually reach about a dozen sites. We really want to grow across London, and already have a number of areas earmarked to possibly move into including King’s Cross and Shoreditch. Obviously, we’ve had to dampen down our expectations for expansion this year because of the ongoing restrictions, but going into 2022 we certainly hope we can open another three restaurants. The growth has to be organic, though. We don’t want to echo the mistakes of casual dining chains in the past and just rush in and open a load of restaurants in quick succession. Our approach is very measured; looking at the business model, analysing the costs and sales forecasts to make sure the site is sustainable.
Do you hope to take advantage in the changes to commercial tenancies caused by the pandemic - fall in premiums and lower rent costs - to help drive your growth?
There will certainly be opportunities. For a strong, independent group like us it’s a chance to potentially compete with the larger operators, and pitch for sites where we may not have got a look in before. We’re already seeing it; agents are approaching us and asking if we’re looking for sites. And the ones we’re seeing in prime areas are not ones we would have been given a chance to look at before.
Are there any restaurant groups that have helped inspire your vision as you’ve built the business?
We’ve always been huge admirers of Dishoom and what they do. They’ve got the holy trinity of what you need for a great hospitality business: great food, great service, and great venues. The team has worked incredibly hard over many years to get its offering right, and you can get a sense of that no matter which of their restaurants you visit. They’ve also been very sensible in the steps they’ve taken when scaling the business too; both with their location choice within the capital and in biding their time before expanding regionally.
Would you ever want to expand Figo regionally?
It’s a massive, personal aspiration of mine to take the chain outside of London, but only if we were sure the location was correct. We would likely look at secondary towns and cities with good footfall. Somewhere like Brighton is a city that I think would work well; and Edinburgh is another. But we’re not there yet - there’s plenty of places in and around London we want to target first so we can build that foundation, which will allow us to be a bit more adventurous.