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Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Harvey Smyth, Gondola Holdings

01 July 2011
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Harvey Smyth, Gondola Holdings

Overall ranking: 9 (ranked 12 in 2010)

Restaurateur ranking: 3 (ranked 4 in 2010)

Harvey Smyth - Snapshot

Harvey Smyth is chief executive of Gondola Holdings , which has more than 600 restaurants, including the ubiquitous Pizza Express, Ask and Zizzi brands, and is second only in terms of outlets to pub-restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers in the UK. Its newest brand, Byron, an upmarket burger offer launched in 2007, now has 14 sites. The group employs about 16,500 people, serving more than 40 million meals a year. In the year to 30 June 2010, sales improved 7%, with turnover at £545m and underlying earnings up 6.5% at £112.4m.

Harvey Smyth - Career guide

Smyth graduated from Bristol University with a BSc in biochemistry. He joined accountants Arthur Andersen, where he qualified as a chartered accountant.

In 1996 Smyth became finance director at sandwich retailer Pret A Manger and rose to become deputy chief executive and UK managing director in 2000. Here he oversaw its growth from 35 outlets in London to more than 150 worldwide, with a turnover of £150m.

He assumed his current role at the Gondola Group in 2003 after the £278m acquisition of PizzaExpress by private equity firms TDR Capital and Capricorn Ventures International (CVI) .

Gondola was set up to float the restaurant brands owned by private equity firms TDR and CVI, which also owns the Nando's chain of chicken restaurants. TDR and CVI retained a majority stake following the flotation.

Paternoster Acquisitions, a bid vehicle formed by private equity firm Cinven, took the company private again in 2006.

Harvey Smyth - What we think

Despite the fact that he runs Gondola, one of the largest restaurant groups in the UK, Smyth has tended to avoid the limelight. In fact, since the group's takeover by Cinven, Smyth has virtually taken a monk's vow of silence.

Concentrating on the business does seem to be paying off. The PizzaExpress machine shows no signs of running out of steam, perhaps due to its canny ability to tempt cash-strapped consumers via discounts. Smyth has also made concerted efforts to attract a more upmarket crowd to Pizza Express restaurants, signing deals with chefs Theo Randall and Francesco Mazzei.

Some 379 of the company's 626 restaurants are PizzaExpresses and Smyth has told the press there is room for at least 200 more in the UK.

Last year, Smyth decided to revamp PizzaExpress and its smaller sister brands Zizzi and Ask. He told the Times in November 2010: "The big thing for us is continual evolution and innovation. What we're doing is a transformation - it's the physical look and feel of the place, but it's also looking at how we recruit and train people, the style of service and the menus."

At a time when many in the industry have scaled back their opening programmes, the company has continued to grow, opening 28 new restaurants across the brands in 2009-2010. The performance of the 28 new restaurants exceeded internal targets fuelling even more ambitious plans for the number of new openings in the coming year. The target for June 2010-2011 year-end is to have opened 40 new restaurants.

As the restaurants succeed in a variety of locations, they have the flexibility to seek opportunities in a wide range of places.

In addition, Byron, the "proper hamburgers" business, has now started to achieve critical mass. In the Eating Out In The UK 2010 report, Allegra Strategies names Byron as one of six "up and coming brands".

In the Times Smyth said the group's low average spend, ranging from £13-£17 per head, helped by promotions, continued to draw in customers. "We have gained market share in the downturn and that's a mixture of value and innovation, but also familiarity."

Harvey Smyth's ranking in the 2010 Caterersearch.com 100 >>

The rise of the healthy fast-casual chains >>

Hospitality ownership over the past 25 years >>

Byron to open 14th site >>

Gondola Holdings website >>

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