Overall ranking: 33 (new entry)
Restaurateur ranking: 9 (new entry)
Bristol-based café, restaurant and bar group Loungers has quietly grown to more than 100 suburban sites across the country. Founded nearly 16 years ago by friends Alex Reilley, Jake Bishop and Dave Reid, it is Reilley who has been the public face of the business for much of that time. The business is split between two brands – the Lounges, which serve as local cafés/bars, and Cosy Clubs, which are slightly more premium and female-focused. Such is the company’s rapid rate of expansion that keeping track of just how many of each there are is something of a challenge, but at the time of writing there were just short of 100 Lounges and 20 Cosy Clubs. In the year to 23 April 2017, turnover leapt from £68.5m in the previous year to £91.8m, while underlying EBITDA rose from £8.4m to £12.3m.
What we think
Reilley is no longer overseeing the day-to-day running of Loungers, having handed the reins over to chief executive Nick Collins, but there is no denying the influence he has had – and continues to have – over the direction of the business.
Perhaps the company’s single most effective weapon is its ability to fly under the radar. While it has grown to a size that, at least in terms of number of sites, rivals the larger casual-dining chains, ask customers and they are likely to believe that their local Lounge is an independent business. To an extent they are right – each has its own name and distinct identity – but Reilley has been clever to ensure that the scale of Loungers has remained relatively unknown, while simultaneously not being ashamed of the fact that it is becoming a big business.
Reilley, winner of the Pub and Bar Award at the Cateys in 2014, also deserves plaudits for recognising the value of locations that comparable operators simply wouldn’t have touched with a barge pole.
In a recent interview with The Caterer, Reilley took great pride in pointing out that the Lounge in Keynsham, Somerset, was the company’s third-best-performing venue. “The nice thing for us as a business is that we are more often than not completely surprised ourselves when certain sites just charge off like a train and never look back,” he said.
The company has ambitions to go much further. Lion Capital bought a majority stake in the business at the end of 2016, valuing it at £137m, and both Reilley and Collins have talked in terms of being able to grow Loungers to 400 sites, although the precise timescale for that is not defined. Regardless, Loungers’ and Reilley’s impact on the hospitality sector looks set to increase.
Loungers’ turnover passes £90m mark >>