Overall ranking: 79 (new entry)
Restaurateur ranking: 30 (new entry)
Wagamama is one of the UK’s original Japanese-inspired restaurant groups, having launched its first restaurant in Bloomsbury in 1992 under founder Alan Yau. In 1997 the group was bought out by Ian Neill and Graphite Capital, who helped to steer the brand’s meteoric growth. It was sold for £102.5m to private equity firm Lion Capital in 2005, which in turn sold it in 2011 to Duke Street Capital. Chief executive officer Jane Holbrook took charge of Wagamama at a time when the pan-Asian restaurant group was entering an ambitious new phase. She joined as chief financial officer in 2014 before rising to chief operating officer to assist in the group’s Kaizen Project, a Japanese word meaning constant improvement and regeneration, which will see the restaurants refurbished and the chain expand overseas. When former chief executive David Campbell stepped down in April 2016, Holbrook took over to drive the project forward.
What we think
These are important times for Wagamama and, in Holbrook, the restaurant group has a chief executive fully immersed in its global domination plans. When Wagamama first opened 25 years ago, its minimalist design, healthy menu and communal seating revolutionised the high street. But in recent years, it has faced competition from smaller operators moving into the Japanese restaurant space, such as Shoryu, Bone Daddies and Tonkotsu. Holbrook’s role will be to fend off this competition at home while striving to turn Wagamama into a truly international brand abroad.
She joined Wagamama after spending five years at Whitbread, where she had a variety of roles, including running the internal consultancy team. Holbrook, a qualified accountant and holder of an MBA, then joined TDR Capital, where she worked closely with brands including PizzaExpress, Ask, Zizzi and GBK, before serving as group chief financial officer across Soho House, Caprice Holdings and the Birley Group.
Under Holbrook’s watch, Wagamama has continued to revamp dozens of sites. The blueprint has been its Uxbridge site, which relocated the kitchen to the ‘shop window’ to help drive footfall. October 2017 also saw the opening of the group’s first Noodle Lab in London, where it tests dishes and records immediate feedback from guests using a new digital platform.
Its international expansion plans – first laid out by former chief executive Steve Hill in 2010, when he eyed 650 sites in the US – are also back on track. Two new sites have opened in New York to add to the three existing ones in Boston. Meanwhile, franchise deals have been signed in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy to expand its presence in Europe. All of this saw a bump in earnings in 2017, with turnover increasing 15% to £257.7m, up from £223.7m in the year before. Pre-tax profit grew 25% from £28.5m up to £35.7m.
Jane Holbrook to take over as CEO of Wagamama >>