Dragons' Den two years ago - to thrive and expand continually since its launch in 2006. Co-founder Faisal Haque tells Sue Guilfoyle how the company is putting wraps on the map
What inspired you to open the first branch?
Mexican food has always been huge in the US, so we wanted to bring the concept to the UK. We opened the first store opposite Liverpool Street station and it took a huge amount of investment: £150,000 in personal savings, £200,000 from the bank and £80,000 worth of asset-based finance. It was a tough start and initially we made a loss of £10,000 a month for the first year.
Were customers not receptive to the Mexican concept?
Quite the opposite! The shop itself was really busy and profitable, but we were paying huge amounts of money to support the central kitchen. It was more about the infrastructure. We knew the model worked, but we needed to get to three shops to break even.
How did you turn things around?
In 2012 we hit five branches, costs finally stabilised and we were making a profit. We restructured the business so that it had its own management team and paid off all the debt too. This allowed the business to expand rapidly and today we have 100 staff and 13 stores. Eight are franchised and five are company owned.
What's been your biggest investment this year?
We have just opened a new branch in Manchester and we have just invested £1m in a new 2,000 sq ft central kitchen in Stratford, which will be able to supply any store in the UK. It will be ready in October and supports our mission to open more branches outside London. Some of the money raised was from crowdfunding - we set a goal of raising £400,000, and after an incredible response we ended up raising double that.
So where next?
We're looking at places like Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds - the key large towns outside of London. We'd like to open five more branches a year for the next two years. Our goal is to hit 20, maybe 30 sites. This should be a lot easier now that the infrastructure costs are taken care of.
How has your role within the business changed as it's grown?
Introducing a management team meant I could take a step back and focus on other projects. We have always ordered online, from suppliers such as JJ Food Service, and I noticed that more caterers are starting to shop this way, so I launched a price-comparison site designed specifically for restaurants, cafés, bars and retailers called Improve That Price. It compares prices of more than 40,000 products from the big wholesalers, which we track every day.
What would you say will be the big food trends for 2016?
Consumers will continue to want healthy high-protein, low-carb and meat-free options. While chicken is the most popular filling on our menu, we also get a lot of demand for our vegetarian Caribbean roti, made with pumpkin, chickpea mix and tamarind, and our vegetarian Mexican burrito, made with peppers instead of meat.