Maurice Abboudi runs modern Japanese restaurant group K10 as executive director with his business partner, Chris Kemper, the first operations director of Yo! Sushi. He talks to Neil Gerrard about the challenges of running a kaiten (conveyor belt) site in London and why he feels the restaurant market is in for several lean years
How challenging is it to run a kaiten-style restaurant in London and what are the challenges?
Maintaining the quality and consistency is the hardest part, and to do that, you need great people. It's all about the people, the processes and the product. Kaiten restaurants need to be fully staffed as we produce the food as the customers take it off the belt. We serve 600 takeaways and 200 eat-in customers in a very tight window.
You can serve up to 80 different dishes at any given time. How do you maintain quality?
It's a major challenge. We have our processes and at 8am it's like a military exercise. Prep and mise en place is vital, otherwise we could not do what we do.
You recently launched the Beer & Buns pop-up, which has become a permanent restaurant. What gave you the idea?
Beer & Buns developed out of a frustration that I couldn't get great beer and a tasty, reasonably priced meal. In London, a reasonably priced meal means pizza, burgers or a big chain, and none of these places serve great beer.
Beer & Buns has the largest collection of Japanese craft beer in the UK - and the food is so tasty. You can come in for a beer, a couple of buns, some super-crispy wings, play some foosball or pinball, listen to some 1980s or 1990s music, and have a great time, all for less than £15 a head.
Do you plan to roll out more?
We have been inundated with proposals. Don't forget, this started as a pop-up just 18 months ago. We are looking at various options - watch this space.
Can you see yourselves operating outside London, either with K10 or Beer & Buns?
Yes, absolutely. But we have plenty of opportunities in London and that's where our focus is for now. We need to establish a strong foundation in London and then expand. We are not arrogant, brave or foolish enough to believe we can open anywhere we want and it will be an instant success.
How do you feel about the state of the restaurant market? Where are the challenges and opportunities?
We have had several good years and I think we are going to have several lean years. The weak pound will increase input costs, rents are unsustainable, rates in London are increasing, the national minimum wage will hit a lot of operators, pension contributions are kicking in - lots of pressures from costs and margins.
It's great to pay people well and to have pensions - we fully agree with that - but rates, VAT, National Insurance, rent reviews, etc, are not within our control. Something will have to give, otherwise we will have a few large brands and street food. Small operators will be squeezed out.