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Top 100: Steve Holmes, Azzurri Group

19 April 2018 by
Top 100: Steve Holmes, Azzurri Group

Overall ranking: 77 (New entry)

Restaurateur ranking: 24 (New entry)

Snapshot

As chief executive of Azzurri Group, which operates the well-known Zizzi and Ask Italian brands, Steve Holmes heads one of the biggest casual-dining firms in the country. The company also runs 19 Coco Di Mama restaurants, a quick-service pasta restaurant with branches across London, and it backs the fledgling Radio Alice brand, an incarnation of popular Italian pizzeria Berbere with two restaurants in London's Clapham and Hoxton. In its most recent published accounts, Azzurri Group reported a 10% increase in turnover to £249.3m for the 53 weeks to 2 July 2017, compared to the 52-week period the year before. Pre-tax profit grew 9.4% to £19.3m in 2017, up from £17.6m in 2016. Azzuri Group has around 280 restaurants in total.

What we think

Holmes stepped up as chief executive of both Ask Italian and Zizzi back in 2014 when it was still owned by Gondola Holdings. He had previously been managing director of Ask Italian.

In February 2015, private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital completed the acquisition of the Italian-themed, casual-dining restaurants for £250m. The deal prompted a string of refurbishments across the estate and further additions to the business, such as the acquisition for an undisclosed sum of Coco di Mama later in 2015. At the time, Coco di Mama had just six stores; it now has 19, with Holmes planning for a total of 40 over the coming years.

"We think it could grow into a nice business. We are definitely going to focus on London initially, the City as well as the West End, but we don't see it stopping at London in the long term," Holmes told The Caterer at the time.

Holmes is known for his strong emphasis on good service as well as for cultivating relationships with "expert friends", such as Michelin-starred chef-restaurateur Theo Randall in a bid to keep up an emphasis on quality. He has enjoyed a period of success since the Bridgepoint deal, and in 2017 the company hailed an "overall strong performance against a more challenging backdrop".

However, it hasn't all been plain sailing. The company became embroiled in the continuing controversy over how restaurant firms reward their staff with tips and service charge. In 2016, Zizzi announced that it would split its service charge 50/50 between front of house staff and kitchen teams, where previously it was 70/30 in favour of waiters. Meanwhile, choices for free staff meals have been limited to margherita pizza or a pasta with tomato sauce. The announcement came shortly after the introduction of the National Living Wage, though Zizzi said that the changes were not related.

Elsewhere, the company has won praise for being forward-thinking and alive to changing behaviours among consumers. At the start of this year, it announced that Zizzi had seen a 150% rise in the sale of vegan dishes since the launch of its vegan menu and it has won a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Vegan Food Award for its rustica margherita, with tomato, vegan mozzarella alternative (made with coconut oil) and basil.

Holmes has also been looking at expanding the brands into the takeaway and home delivery markets, both of which are becoming more important for the business. He said earlier this year: "Last year we increased our sales both through Deliveroo and owned channels, and we have since invested significantly in developing state-of-the-art takeaway packaging for Zizzi."

Further information

Azzurri Group hunts for more sites amid double-digit profit and revenue growth >>

Azzurri Group to acquire Coco di Mama >>

Zizzi announces four new UK restaurants and entry into Ireland >>

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