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The Caterer

Robin Rowland

21 September 2006
Robin Rowland

Robin Rowland

Overall ranking: 37 (New entry)

Restaurateurs' ranking: 11

Robin Rowland - Snapshot

Robin Rowland is the chief executive of the fast-growing YO! Sushi restaurant chain that was founded in late 1990s by events promoter and stage designer Simon Woodroffe.

It owns and operates 29 conveyor-belt sushi bars offering a mix of traditional Japanese and Western recipes in high streets and concessions, along with a home delivery service called YO! To Go. All but six of the restaurants (in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Brighton and Bluewater) are located in London. It will also open two Yo! Kiosks in London in October.

The group also has six franchised outlets overseas in Dubai, Kuwait and Paris.

YO! Sushi, which will turn over £22.5m in 2006, employs 800 staff in the UK where it now serves two million customers a year.

Robin Rowland - Career Guide

The 22-year-old Robin Rowland joined Whitbread Inns in 1984 as area manager in charge of a mixed estate of 20 venues that included a Michelin-star restaurant, a pilot Brewers Fayre and a nightclub.

He moved on to Grand Met Retail in 1988 to manage Old Orleans Restaurants which he grew from five to 20 venues over the next four years.

When Scottish & Newcastle bought the business in 1992, Rowland became restaurants operations director, running an estate of 80 food operations that embraced county hotels, central London dining pubs and theme restaurants.

By his mid-thirties, keen to return to the London restaurant scene, Rowland joined City Centre Restaurants (now The Restaurant Group) in 1995 to turn around its Mexican chain, Chiquito. He then spent the next 18 months as group franchising director seeking UK and international development partners.

Rowland joined the fledgling YO! Sushi as chief executive in July 1999 and, in 2003, led a £10m management buy-out of the company (backed by Primary Capital) when the group had 12 sites and sales of £12.5m.

Robin Rowland - What we think

Woodroffe's concept of bringing freshly-prepared sushi to the masses in a high-tech and theatrical environment (customers choose colour-code dishes from the conveyor belt and order their drinks using airline-style call buttons) was an instant hit.

The first restaurant, which opened in London's Poland Street in 1997, was attracting queues down the street within seven days and was soon serving 4,000 customers a week.

The group had four branches when Rowland came on board in 1999 and he is the operational wizard that has piloted the group to success and more than 40 business and restaurant awards.

Woodruffe, the ideas man, retained a 22.5% stake in the business after the management buy-out and is now busy developing more YO! spin-offs (including the Yotel hyper-designed capsule hotels and the Body YO! spa planned for Battersea Power Station).

Since joining YO! Sushi, Rowland has steered the group through some early poor site decisions (and brand extensions) that included the sale of two poorly-performing restaurants and the three YO! Below bars.

Between 2001 and 2006, Rowland has boosted sales from £11m to £22.5m and Ebidta from £800,000 to £3.5m.

2006 has proved his busiest year to date with eight UK and five overseas additions to the portfolio.

Rowland believes he can expand the current conveyor-belt format of YO! Sushi to 100 restuarants over the next five years, split equally between the UK and overseas markets. He is currently in talks with potential partners to take the brand to the USA, Spain, Portugal and Russia.

A new phase of the YO! Sushi story debuted in October 2006 when the first two YO! Kiosks opened in London. Aimed at the lunchtime crowd, the kiosks are standalone units without the conveyor belt that sell fresh, bespoke takeway meals such as yakisoba noodles, Asian salads, sushi and miso soups.

Rowland's enthusiasm and team ethos has reduced turnover rates among salaried staff to just 20%, while 70% of managers are promoted from within.

Robin Rowland - Further information

YO! Sushi official website

YO! Sushi profile on CatererSearch

Read the entire Top 100 list here

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