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The Caterer

Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio

12 May 2005
Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio

Overall ranking: 81

Restaurateurs ranking: 25

Snapshot

Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio are the couple behind Britain's fastest-growing restaurant chain, Carluccio's Deli Caffés. This chain of 20 Italian cafés in London and the south-east of England each incorporates an Italian food shop and a deli.

Antonio, a prolific TV chef and cook book author, is also the chef-patron of the fine-dining Neal Street Restaurant in London's Covent Garden. Next door is Carluccio's, a food shop and deli specialising in Italian food and fungi, topics on which Antonio is frequently consulted as a leading authority.

Career guide

Antonio was born in 1937 in southern Italy but was brought up in the North-west, where he learnt the art of mushroom and truffle hunting. After working as a correspondent in Italy, he moved to Vienna for two years where, missing his native food, he began to cook at the age of 18.

He spent some time in Germany as a wine merchant, a role he resumed when he moved to London in 1975. In 1981 Sir Terence Conran invited him to become managing director of the Neal Street restaurant which Antonio now owns. He married Priscilla, Conran's sister, the same year.

From 1975, Priscilla had held various roles such as stylist, buying director and trend forecaster at Conran stores including the Conran Shop in London, Habitat France, Habitat Mothercare and Storehouse.

In 1991, the couple opened the Carluccio's shop and deli and, in 1994, set up a wholesale arm that now supplies more than 150 independent delis with Carluccio-branded products. The first Carluccio's Deli Caffé opened in November 1999.

What we think

The idea of taking the Carluccio's brand to a larger audience via the more informal deli-cafés was hatched by Priscilla, who secured the funding and brought in three former directors of the My Kind of Town restaurant group to run it.

As director of marketing and product development, Priscilla oversees the plans and designs while Antonio, as president, handles the menus and staff training. In 2003, he set up a cookery school with Westminster Kingsway College for chefs across the café chain.

Since 1999, the chain has expanded rapidly to 20 sites across London, Surrey, Kent, Berkshire and Oxon and now employs more than 800 staff. In 2004, it was identified as the UK's fastest-growing hospitality company in the Sunday Times Fast Track 200j, which placed it 48th in the overall rankings. The chain has achieved annual sales growth of 90.39% and turned over £19.7m in 2003.

The cafés enjoy all-day trade and go into profit within a month of opening. Their high turnover allows the Carluccio's to target higher-rated premises that competitors avoid. The in-café shops, which sell complete meals and 150 lines of Carluccio's branded products sourced from Italy, currently account for 22% of turnover.

Expansion will continue at a rate of around five to six new café-delis a year in and around the M25 area. However, one high-profile analyst is predicting an ownership change this year on the grounds that "The world and his wife want to buy this business."

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