Spanish-style casual-dining operator La Tasca is set to start spending heavily on redeveloping the restaurants in its 46-strong estate, after its Creditors Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) completed without legal challenge last week.
Simon Wilkinson, who joined La Tasca as chief executive last year, told Caterer and Hotelkeeper the process would allow it to free up more cash to redevelop its remaining sites.
The La Tasca brand has suffered from an ailing reputation in recent years, having been part of Robert Tchenguiz's Laurel Pub Company, which fell into administration in 2008, before being demerged from its subsequent owner, Bay Restaurant Group, in early 2011.
The latest restructuring process, which began in late August, saw La Tasca relinquish leases on 16 sites. Creditors also agreed a rent reduction on 19 sites and a monthly instalment plan for rents on the remainder.
The restaurant group now has 42 restaurants under the La Tasca brand and four La Vina venues. The 16 sites the company left behind, many of which were not trading under the La Tasca brand, accounted for a £2m annual loss.
The reduced rent burden means that La Tasca can now plough any free cash generated from its operations back into redeveloping other sites. Its financial backers, Icelandic bank Kaupthing and German financier Commerzbank, have agreed not to receive interest on the loans it has made to the business for a period while La Tasca works to turn its reputation around.
The move complements a series of measures the company has embarked upon since its demerger to re-establish credibility with its customers - a tough task, given that in the first full week of running the La Tasca business after its demerger from Bay Restaurant Group, the company received 85 complaint letters from customers to its head office in Luton.
Recent actions include ditching its former supplier for Fresh Direct, which allows it to use Spanish produce wherever possible, as well as a new menu designed by executive chef Antonio Bennetto. The all-day menu offers a range of Spanish dishes but also makes more of the restaurant chain's paellas, coinciding with its "Paella to the People" marketing initiative, which has seen Bennetto touring La Tasca's restaurants to offer masterclasses to regular customers.
Other initiatives include a new, simpler staff training initiative called HOLA, which demands certain basic standards of customer service, as opposed to the 80 service steps the company previously used. From this autumn breakfast will also be served at seven of the 46 sites,
Meanwhile, seven sites have already been redeveloped in line with La Tasca's new brand identity, which moves away from the darker, 1990s colour schemes to a lighter, airier look. As a result, the company's guest recommend scores now average over 90% weekly, Wilkinson claimed.
The business is also keen to focus on further international franchise development under Ellie Frost, who previously led international expansion for Jamie's Italian. La Tasca already operates five sites in the USA.
Wilkinson said: "La Tasca management is confident that a successful CVA process will ensure the business moves forward profitably and attracts new investment, which in turn will allow reinvestment in the existing estate and a programme of acquisition and expansion both within the UK and internationally."
By Neil Gerrard
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