Fast-casual chain Leon has reported record sales, up 24.5% to £95m, and a fifth year of revenue growth in its financial results for 2018.
It said the response of guests to its plant-based menus has been a "huge boost" for the company. In January 2018, 46% of sales were vegetarian and 34% vegan. By January 2019, sales were up to 64% and 55%, respectively.
To maintain the momentum, Leon launched its Plants Aren't Just for Veganuary campaign at the start of this year, which began with the successful launch of the LOVe burger.
The company delivered steady earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of £3.5m, despite absorbing around £1.7m of additional costs from higher wages, business rates, food prices and the start-up costs of opening in the US.
EBITDA in the UK rose 8% to £3.9m. During the year, the company's strong trading also enabled it to reduce net debt by almost half to £3.1m, giving it a strong financial platform for further expansion.
Leon, which started in 2004 with its first restaurant on Carnaby Street, added nine more restaurants in 2018, creating around 225 jobs. It now has 63 restaurants across the UK, Europe and the US, 54 of these in the UK.
The group plans to accelerate its new store opening programme, particularly overseas, including between 15 and 20 new restaurants in the next year. Around half of which of these will be in the UK, with restaurants set for Wimbledon, London's Southbank and Leeds.
Co-founder and chief executive John Vincent said: "We have all seen the struggles being faced by the casual dining industry, with cautious consumers choosing carefully at the same time as businesses contend with increased costs, and so we take nothing for granted. However, seeing the business deliver 18 consecutive months of like-for-like growth whilst opening a further nine restaurants shows we're responding to the challenge in the right way.
"We took some big steps in 2018 to take the Leon concept to new markets including the US and Ireland, and this expansion will pick up further pace in the year ahead."
The group is backed by two principal investors, GP Investments and Active Private Equity.