Overall ranking: 53 (80 in 2012)
Restaurateur ranking: 16 (22 in 2012)
Mark Selby and Thomasina Miers are the business partners behind the 25-strong Wahaca restaurant group. Since opening their first Wahaca in London’s Covent Garden in 2007, they have taken their Mexican street food concept across the capital and then nationwide, with sites in Manchester, Southampton, Liverpool and Edinburgh. They also operate two sites under the DF/Mexico street food brand, as well as a single Burrito Mama venue, all in London. The businesses are backed by Capricorn Capital Partners, the firm behind Nando’s and Selby’s former employer.
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Both Selby and Miers took unconventional routes into the hospitality industry, but accrued valuable experience in entrepreneurial activities and financial management along the way.
Selby’s working life encompassed Merrill Lynch and easyCar and the development of restaurant models with Capricorn Group (now Capricorn Capital Partners) before he decided to open his own affordable Mexican restaurant in London, teaming up with Miers to do so.
Miers was the winner of BBC Two’s MasterChef in 2005. Her background had been in VAT consultancy, digital strategy and marketing before she went to the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland in 2001. She opened a large cocktail bar in Mexico City in 2003 and spent nearly a year in Mexico learning about the local cuisine. Following her MasterChef win, she spent six months at the Petersham Nurseries Café, working for head chef Skye Gyngell.
In August 2007, Miers and Selby opened Wahaca, a restaurant inspired by the fresh food markets of Mexico, using free-range meat and sustainable fish, and committed to recycling.
Wahaca has amassed plenty of accolades, including the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Sustainable Restaurant Group of the Year award in 2012, and the Restaurateur of the Year – Group Catey in 2016.
The company had been expanding relatively rapidly to its current tally of 30 sites, but has hit the pause button after a tough latter part of 2016 in which 200 staff and 160 diners fell ill with norovirus. The group closed its Manchester restaurant first, in October 2016, and another eight sites followed when it became clear it was not an isolated incident.
As a result, the annual accounts for Oaxaca, Wahaca’s parent company, show that the business went into the red for the first time since it began to file annual accounts in 2010. Loss before tax was £4.7m for the 52 weeks ended 25 June 2017, down 883% year-on-year from a pre-tax profit of £640,000 the year before. The company reported a modest year-on-year increase in annual turnover of 0.4% to £46.6m for the same period. Exceptional costs as a result of the norovirus outbreak amounted to £700,000.
It was a setback for the business, but Miers and Selby have confronted the issue head-on and re-engineered their supply chain. Speaking to The Caterer, Selby said it was a “life-changing” experience that led to a reassessment of every aspect of the business, although he stressed that Public Health England did not find fault with the group’s systems (the agency couldn’t pinpoint a precise source for the norovirus outbreak but a supplier seems the most likely route).
Having returned to Mexico and New York last year to re-immerse themselves in Mexican cuisine, Miers and Selby aim to regroup. “It has hurt us as a brand. There is no doubt about that; let’s not pretend it hasn’t. So we thought, let’s just spend a year looking at everything and make sure we are going to come back stronger and better, with brilliant food, great teams and a great vibe,” Selby told The Caterer.
Mark Selby: “We are going to come back stronger and better” >>