Wagamama - Japanese for wilful or naughty child – is a chain of Japanese noodle-based restaurants with a growing global presence. UK and US sites are company owned and operated, while overseas branches in Europe, the Middle East and New Zealand are run by franchisees.
Launched in 1992 by pioneering Hong Kong-born restaurateur Alan Yau, Wagamama was innovative and cutting-edge from day one, regularly attracting long queues. Inspired by traditional Japanese ramen bars (and adding sushi to the menu in 2012), it offered quality, healthy Oriental cuisine at relatively low prices and at high speed within an environment that was both minimalistic in decor and high tech. It was one of the first UK restaurant groups to use hand-held personal digital assistants to take orders and, in 2010, became the first hospitality operator to launch an iPhone ordering application.
Trendy and ground-breaking, it was not positioned as a destination restaurant but instead targeted people on their way to somewhere else.
Wagamama expanded rapidly out of the niche market and into the mainstream after Yau sold his two London outlets in 1998 to investor group Graphite Capital. New boss, hospitality veteran, Ian Neill deconstructed the business so it was systems-driven rather than chef or personality driven and signed the first of many overseas franchise agreements the same year.
When Neill won the Catey Group Restaurateur of the Year award in 2001, the judges summed up the chain as attractive, sexy, fun, accessible, classless – and profitable
Despite achieving Cool Brand and Super Brand status and scoring highly on consumer surveys, volatile financial markets made Wagamama a surprisingly hard sell to investors during the 2000s and 2010s.
In 2004 a planned flotation on the Alternative Investment Market was put on ice for talks with two venture capital firms which collapsed – but one, Hutton Collins, elected instead to inject expansion funds into the company.
Hutton Collins retained its interest in the group by backing its £102.5m sale to private equity firm Lion Capital in 2005.
A lukewarm response from investors scuppered Lion Capital’s attempts at a £215m stock market flotation and a subsequent auction in 2007, and a £250m auction in 2010.
It met with success in 2011, when Wagamama was sold to current owner, private equity group Duke Street Capital, for £215m, again with financial backing from Hutton Collins.
Lion Capital doubled Wagamama’s UK tally to 70 outlets and opened three in the USA.
Duke Street announced its ambition to reach 300 UK sites by ramping up the opening programme to 20 new restaurants a year – a number that it announced in late 2014 would increase to 50 a year.
Marketing, property and international franchising director Simon Cope
Number of overseas franchised stores 28
Franchised Wagamamas are present in:
The Republic of Ireland
Europe (Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Malta, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey)
Middle East (UAE and Qatar)
Turnover: £32.5m (2003: £25.3m)
Pre-tax profit: £3.5m (2003: £2.6m)
Financial year end: 28 April 2004
Address:70 Wardour Street