Julian Metcalfe

12 May 2005
Julian Metcalfe

Overall ranking: 25

Restaurateurs ranking: 5


Julian Metcalfe is the co-founder and creative director of Prêt à Manger, the fourth largest player in the £3.5b UK sandwich bar market and the sixth largest company in the £1b branded coffee bar sector. The group, which turns over £150m a year, has 130 outlets and employs more than 2,200 staff.

Metcalfe is also the founder of the Itsu chain of conveyor-belt sushi restaurants in London, which has branches in Chelsea, Soho, Canary Wharf and Hanover Square.

Career guide

Metcalfe, who is in his early forties, opened the first Prêt in London's Victoria in 1986 with co-founder and friend Sinclair Beecham, whom he met while the two were studying property law in London.

He opened his first Itsu in August 1997 and, in 2000, stepped back from the day-to-day operation of Prêt to focus on the new brand,

Fast food McDonald's £50m acquisition of a 33% stake in Prêt in January funded a rapid expansion overseas. Metcalfe returned to Prêt as creative director in 2003 following two years of losses.

What we think

Prêt's focus on nutritious food-to-go revolutionised the sandwich bar market when it opened its first branch in 1986, which was serving more than 7,000 customers a week within its first year.

Prêt focuses on high-quality ingredients and rejects obscure chemicals and genetically-modified substances. Food is freshly-made each day and packaged in recycled cardboard rather than plastic to highlight its freshness. Any unsold produce is donated to the homeless at the end of each day.

Prêt's success has won both Metcalfe and Beecham MBEs and the chain regularly gets the consumers' vote for food quality and cleanliness in Allegra's annual reports on the coffee bar market.

Within a decade, Prêt had grown to 45 stores but its most rapid growth has been in the current century. It opened its first overseas store in New York in 2000 and its international expansion accelerated after McDonald's bought a 33% stake in early 2001. In 2002 it moved into Hong Kong and, in a joint venture with McDonald's Company Japan, into Tokyo.

The group now has 10 branches in the USA and six in Hong Kong. Japan proved a harder nut to crack and the group exited the market in March 2004 after setting up 14 branches over an 18-month period.

Some shareholders objected to this rapid growth and its contribution to pre-tax losses of £6.7m in 2001 and £20m in 2002. This disagreement led to the departure of chairman Andrew Rolfe and deputy chief executive Harvey Smyth and the return of Metcalfe as creative director in March 2003.

By November, Metcalfe had introduced 70 new items to the menu and announced plans to close a number of loss-making stores but to open another 200 over the next four years.

A more comfortable lounge-style café-restaurant called Prêt Café was tested in the Putney branch in January 2004, boosting weekly sales by 50% and average spend to £6. It was followed by three more branches and, although it has been abandoned as a separate concept, the style will be extended to existing stores.

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