In August last year the northern-based business opened a restaurant in York, which it followed up with a debut London site in Hoxton in December, both of which were venues previously operated under the Jamie Oliver brand.
“It could look a bit crazy, but we see opportunities within the marketplace,” said Howard Eggleston, Tomahawk co-founder, speaking at last month's Restaurant Conference.
“Timing wise it is horrific, trying to do this in lockdown was a crazy stunt but we are not funded by banks so we don’t have the pressure and we can make those decisions, which could look irrational to anybody on the outside. We take the opportunity and try and crack on.”
“We get landlords who laugh us off and I don’t take offence, we just move on to the next one. We have a one in 10 rule – we look at 10 sites and we generally get one.”
Tomahawk is currently in negotiations with two venues with more viewing planned for the future. “Even though we have no income and no trade there is no point in sitting idle. If this [hospitality] comes back to life on 5 May as some people are suggesting, we’ll be in a very strong position to open at least one by June with the potential for another one to open in July. We are still keeping a positive spirit in the Tomahawk group.”
Egglestone said the 12-strong business, which has venues in Teesside, Newcastle and Darlington, as well as a Rio Brazilian Steakhouse and a Pollo Chicken Shop, will look at more opportunities in the south of England, particularly in the suburbs and with dark kitchens.
He said the pandemic had created opportunities in terms of the availability of sites and that Tomahawk was in a good position to be able to take advantage of lower rents and site closures.
“We will take a chance – my entrepreneurial spirit is to have a go. It might feel a bit vulture culture, but from a business point of view if somewhere is 75% fitted out and there’s £300,000 to £400,000 of air handlers left above a ceiling, that’s money we’re not having to invest.
“The big groups can’t do that; everything has to come out and they start afresh, but we don’t have to. None of our sites look the same, they are different formats that are down to what we are picking up. We’re very chameleon in the way we can spin the units round.”
Another positive from the pandemic has been with recruitment, with Egglestone saying that finding a team for the London restaurant had been easier than normal. “There are opportunities that way. As long as you’ve got the cash to burn for as long as this goes on, out of it we feel like we’re going to have a really good team.”
Despite some positives, Egglestone described the current situation as heart breaking for the hospitality sector and predicted that only businesses with a strong cashflow would be able to survive.
“Without support from Government there will be an incredible impact. It’s heart breaking. To see it all go down the pan for everybody is horrible.”
“It will be the survival of the fittest and the survival of those with cashflow. If you don’t have that and you’re geared, or you’ve borrowed, or you have investors who want their money back you’re walking on the thinnest ice in the world in thick fog - it’s horrible.”
While he believes that restaurant businesses will go through this year “in a very disjointed way,” he said he hoped that customers would come back in 2022. He was less positive about the pub sector though, and said he would be changing the model of the group’s only wet-led operation to a food-led one as a result.
“The pub sector feels like it’s been ravaged. The Government do not want packed bars and clubs, it will go to seated.”