Luke Johnson investment ‘unlikely to make Lussmanns overnight City darling'

16 May 2016 by
Luke Johnson investment ‘unlikely to make Lussmanns overnight City darling'

Hertfordshire restaurant group Lussmanns Fish & Grill is looking to expand following investment by entrepreneur Luke Johnson (pictured), but founder Andrei Lussmann has told The Caterer that growth will be sustainable and that the group is unlikely to become an overnight City darling.

Johnson has taken a major shareholding in the group and a seat on the board of directors. While Lussmanns will open its fourth and fifth restaurants this year, and another three next year according to its founder, Johnson has made a fortune from scaling food businesses at speed.

Becoming chairman of PizzaExpress at the age of 31, Johnson helped grow the business from 12 sites to 250 in six years. He then started Signature Restaurants, which owned the Ivy, J.Sheekey and Le Caprice, as well as the Belgo chain, and developed the Strada restaurant concept from scratch through to 30 sites before selling the business. He is also the majority owner of contract catering firm Genuine Dining and his private equity house, Risk Capital Partners, has numerous stakes in food businesses.

But Lussmann, who worked under Johnson at PizzaExpress, said: "In the short term we are looking for a very measured approach to growth". Too many high street chains become "diluted", he added, which he hopes to avoid.

"Luke's arrival is not to suggest for a minute that we are going to grow at some electric speed. Luke understands that I have no interest in growing it at a pace that will lose integrity."

However, he said there was "a very interesting conversation about where we go in the long term", and sees no reason the group could not achieve a national footprint.

Initial expansion will focus on the home counties north of London, before looking toward Surrey, Kent and East Sussex.

In the immediate term, the focus is north and west of its current operations, with Lussmanns likely to open its next operations around Tring, Berkhamsted and Woburn.

The group is already looking for sites and Lussmann said that is where Johnson's involvement makes acquisition slightly less difficult.

"It means out covenant strength is not as poor as it was. I am used to only getting sites that nobody else wants. Three of our four sites are ex-chains. When they haven't done well, no other chain wants it… So you have a pretty hard job of trying to turn it around. With Luke on board it means, while we might not be able to compete with Côte for a site, we will be able to compete at the next layer down."

But he stressed that additional finance would not make the business complacent, and reiterated that growth of the business, which currently serves 3,000-4,000 covers per week, must be sustainable.

"Luke's investment is fantastic because he understands the value in not growing too quickly. But by the same token, if you grow too slowly you lose traction. So it is finding a balance," said Lussman.

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