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Minute on the clock: Asif Muhammad

23 October 2020 by
Minute on the clock: Asif Muhammad

The director at Macellaio RC restaurant group in London and partner at restaurant consultancy and accountancy firm Main Course Associates tells Katherine Price about the future of Macellaio in London, his advice on business survival and the opportunities he sees in the market.

Tell us about Macellaio RC and Main Course Associates.

We've built Macellaio RC as a strong brand and have been overwhelmed by the continued industry and public support during Covid-19. There has been a period of consolidation, but we aim to press on with our business plan. We have just launched Casacosta, a delivery brand that conveniently supplies Macellaio RC's quality products to people in the comfort of their own homes.

Main Course Associates (MCA) is a consulting business that offers exactly what restaurants require to navigate safely through Covid-19 and lockdown to stability and profitability.

We are targeting the Netherlands as our next international opening, with Cambridge in the UK in Q1 of 2021, while we are continuing to expand our London client base through our Mayfair office. It is about helping our clients to solve their problems and to reach their full potential.

Are you seeking further expansion for Macellaio RC?

We want to leverage the strength of the brand and business to continue expanding. Our immediate focus is to open a new site in Soho, so it's business as usual really. There are some interesting opportunities in the market. We are also looking at a couple of other cities in the UK for openings in 2021.

Aren't you also looking to bring a brand from Florida over to the UK?

We launched a ‘clean eating' pescatarian brand in Miami, which is within a casual dining space. We are looking at suitable locations in London and targeting an opening in Q1 of 2021.

Is the UK market still attractive for restaurant brands? Is London?

Oh, yes, for sure. With everything happening it is very easy to get caught up in some silly questions. We ought to remember that the UK is an incredible country and London is still the centre of the world and that is not going to change, especially when it comes to food and its diverse hospitality culture.

So, yes, as someone who runs a specialist firm providing support to the hospitality industry, I have no doubt that London remains a very attractive market for restaurant brands. Due to Covid, there is definitely an adjustment in the rental market, which I think represents a new chapter for London. Though I must admit that the next 12 months will still be challenging, until a vaccine is found.

What is your advice to restaurants right now that are trying to survive?

Cash is king, it always has been and will remain so. Therefore, manage your cash and its flow as best as possible. Invest in getting the right finance team – a good financial director or a chief financial officer on board is critical.

The next thing is to leverage your supply chain and keep an eye on your margins, but don't get hugely caught up in this right now.

We are also advising clients to review their business plans and exits – this is a good time to do so. It is a little like climbing a mountain: an occasional glance towards the summit keeps things in check for longer term objectives, but you have to tackle the immediate challenges first. And offer clear, conscious and bold decisions to your teams.

And what would you advise start-up concepts looking to break into the market or take advantage of property opportunities?

A well-thought-out business plan is crucial. I see many a business fail because they did not plan properly. It is not a linear line, so you have to remain adaptable, but ensure you raise sufficient cash at the beginning.

There are some great opportunities at the moment in the property market, and with ‘adjusted' rents or longer rent-free periods, you can get a longer runway.

Also remember to add a Covid/lockdown clause in the lease – the essence of which is that both parties (you and the landlord) will sit down and negotiate in good faith in case of another scenario such as Q2 of this year.

Be sensible with valuations, ensure your numbers stack up, do not over-leverage and lastly, think outside the box, but please do not try to reinvent the wheel.

Think outside the box, but please do not try to reinvent the wheel

What opportunities do you see in the current market?

The current market offers interesting propositions, with adjustments to consumer behaviour, the property market and the industry lobbying the government for better legislation.

Ultimately, this is an industry of passion and people, and with the diversity, independence and ambition of the UK, the only way is up. I personally, and my firm MCA, remain bullish about the future of the sector, though prudent in the short term.

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