Vietnamese-style restaurant group Pho has announced a new expansion drive after receiving an £8m investment deal from NatWest bank.
The deal was done by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), with NatWest winning the project after competing with other banks for the business.
The first new sites to open will be a 200-cover venue in Manchester’s Corn Exchange in August, a restaurant in Birmingham’s new Grand Central Station in September, and a branch in Ealing in November.
The group has also appointed a new financial director, Mark Smith, to oversee the expansion, which is set to push the company’s number of sites to 30 across the UK within the next two to three years. Smith joins from his roles as financial and operations director at sports clothing company Sweaty Betty, a husband-and-wife-run business, which has worked in his favour when coming over to Pho, also a husband-and-wife-run company.
The expansion forms part of the company’s overall plans to open more sites, which were first announced in 2012 after a £5.2m investment from ISIS Equity Partners in the same year.
Pho was first opened in 2005 in London’s Clerkenwell, by Stephen and Juliette Wall, after they travelled to Vietnam and “fell in love” with the food. It now runs to 14 Pho locations, including 12 in London (including in Westfield Stratford, Soho, and Covent Garden), one in Brighton and one in Leeds.
Commenting on the new financial deal, Stephen Wall, Pho co-founder and managing director, said: “We are very happy […] we feel we have a great deal and terms. [NatWest] showed real hunger to get this done with us and we’re looking forward to working with them through this crucial next stage of growth.”
He added that the appointment of Smith was central to the company’s roll-out plans and growth strategy.
Luke Kingston, director, financial sponsors team at RBS, said: “RBS is delighted to start working with Stephen and the team at Pho and is proud to support the business through its next phase of growth.”
Libby Andrews, head of marketing at Pho, explained that the company’s plans for expansion would be a “take them as they come” approach, with the size and location of any new openings driven by the space itself.
The 200-cover Manchester site, for example, will be the company’s largest venue, but will still aim for an intimate feel, to replicate the sense of Pho’s smaller venues such as the most recently-opened, 50-cover Covent Garden restaurant.
The company has also recently unveiled a set of new dishes for the menu – including a vegetarian soup and salad and new sharing plates, alongside plans to make all the dishes naturally gluten-free in due course. Although not explicitly timed to coincide with the financial deal, the menu changes further serve to highlight the company’s growth, innovation and future aims, Andrews confirmed.
She added: “We opened before the street-food trend hit, and happen to be current at the moment. We’re about feel-good comfort food that is also good for you, and I think that’s a huge trend in dining right now.”
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