Kit Chapman is adamant that Exeter's Brazz will be a roaring success. "The city has never seen anything like it before," he says. "With our fine food, big welcome and modern, jazzy, theatrical design, we can't possibly fail."
That is something that the 70 or so investors, who have each put in a minimum of £10,000 to meet the opening costs of nearly £1.2m, will be delighted to hear. As backers of Brazz through the enterprise investment scheme of the newly formed English Brasserie Company (EBC), set up to operate the venue, they are expecting a good return.
The dramatic, 200-seat brasserie and bar has a stunning, blue, starlit dome above a sweeping staircase and giant tropical fish tank, lending a touch of cosmopolitan chic. The corporate colours of clotted cream walls and blue trimmings, together with Italian ceramics and brightly coloured paintings by Susanna Bailey, ensure that this is an altogether more approachable eaterie than the host of minimalist establishments that now throng London. But it has to be: open 364 days a year, from 10am to midnight, it must be welcoming to everyone.
Chapman, who serves as EBC's managing director, is brimming with enthusiasm for the project, which marks his first venture outside Taunton, the town with which he has become synonymous since his return in 1976 to join the Castle hotel, run by his family now for almost 50 years. Following the success of the first Brazz, which opened adjacent to the Castle nearly two years ago, his sights are now firmly set beyond Taunton.
Within five years he expects to see between five and 10 Brazz outlets being operated by EBC throughout southern England. After Exeter, the next Brazz is likely to be in Bristol, with locations such as Cheltenham, Worcester, Poole and Guildford earmarked for the future. However, the original Taunton Brazz, due to its inextricable links with the Castle, will remain outside EBC's remit.
From the outset, Chapman had plans to turn Brazz into a national brand. "I knew that if we could succeed in Taunton, then our chances of success elsewhere were high," he says. "As a small market town with a population of only 65,000, Taunton was potentially high-risk. Exeter, by contrast, is a large regional centre with a population of 130,000. As well as being home to a Crown Court and a strong commercial and professional community, it has a university with 10,000 resident students and a cathedral which attracts 500,000 visitors every year."
The 140-seat Brazz in Taunton, set up at a cost of £500,000, now has an annual turnover of £1.25m. Turnover for Exeter is projected to be the same, a figure that should be easily achievable, given its greater capacity.
Despite all the advantages of a seemingly ready-made audience for Brazz on its doorstep, Chapman is far from complacent about accepting that customers are simply going to flood through the doors. With the benefit of seven years' experience in the advertising industry during his 20s, he has orchestrated a far-reaching marketing campaign, costing £17,000, to guide EBC's first outlet through its launch. The same thorough approach won Chapman the 1999 Catey for Best Independent Marketing Campaign, for his work on the launch of Brazz in Taunton.
One week prior to the opening at the end of March, the Exeter Brazz launched a six-week advertising campaign in the city's two daily newspapers, the Western Morning News and the Express & Echo. Eye-catching, half-page colour advertisements, flagged by mini-ads on the front page, depict the restaurant's logo - a giant B and now a registered trademark - in various culinary guises. The accompanying text, "Where you'll want to be", can be adapted to suit particular occasions, be it Mother's Day ("Where you'll want to be with Mother") or Christmas ("Where you'll want to party"). Put together by Peter Vincent of the Morris Agency in Bristol, the campaign is intended to be far-reaching.
"Restaurateurs can be very stuffy about advertising, but we proved in Taunton that it works," says Chapman. "It might not be suitable for outlets like the restaurant at the Castle, which has more of a limited market, but for Brazz, which has got to appeal to a much wider audience - everyone from grannies and grandchildren, families and young people, men in suits and secretaries - it has its place."
There was also a more targeted campaign. First, a two-part direct mail shot was sent to 3,000 well-chosen local residents. The first package enclosed a sachet of sugar, emblazoned with the Brazz logo and the words: "A little sweetener… that could win you a big night out. Hold on to your sugar - all will be revealed." This was followed, a few days later, by a leaflet with broadcaster Ned Sherrin pictured on the front and the words: "Why Ned Sherrin can't wait for 30 March". Inside were details of what Brazz would have to offer, together with an opportunity to win a Brazz party for eight people (by handing in the sugar sachet) and a "two for the price of one" offer on food.
Second, 1,000 brown paper Brazz goodie bags containing promotional literature plus bars of chocolate, PostIt pads and boxes of matches - all printed with the distinctive, blue Brazz logo - were hand-delivered to local businesses, hotels and guest houses.
The opening party, with Sherrin performing the honours, itself attracted editorial coverage. An announcement by Chapman, between the Champagne and the canapés, that head chef Nick Fisher would be creating a unique chocolate dessert for Brazz, called Cathedral Pudding, was destined to provide another ongoing news story for the local press. With a 10% proportion of all takings for the pudding being promised to the Exeter Cathedral Music Foundation for the education of choristers, articles on the money raised and photo opportunities of cheque presentations are likely to follow.
With few people in Exeter likely to have escaped the fact that Brazz has now arrived in the city, Chapman is confident that they will enjoy the experience of the venue once they arrive. Focus groups held at the beginning of the year with potential customers confirmed that his vision for Brazz - which, he told potential investors in a statement, has "its roots in old-fashioned hospitality but injects the buzz of the age" - is the right one.
However, he is clearly aware that his vision will be maintained only by rigorous and ongoing training of the team of 30 staff. As well as undergoing a concentrated two-week induction programme, all staff will take part in regular training sessions on Monday mornings, when Brazz will close. "We will lose money in the short term by closing, but the long-term benefit will be to our advantage," says general manager Ian Fitzgerald.
Meanwhile, Chapman's marketing campaign appears to be coming up trumps. Turnover during the first week of trading was £31,000, equating to an annual figure of £1.6m - well beyond target. "We are thrilled with the early business," he says. "In fact, we've been hit by numbers so much higher than we were expecting straight away that we are having to put a ceiling on our capacity until we recruit at least another five members of staff."
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 27 April - 3 May 2000