David Taylor, co-founder of Balans Soho Society, says he hopes to roll out the company’s dawn till dusk café format, which he described as “the original casual dining concept”.
He said he hoped to replicate the success of the original café on Old Compton Street with the new Seven Dials’ site which opens this month, before expanding across London. He said he also hoped to add to the four-strong restaurant estate.
He said expansion outside of London would be a consideration further down the line but was not currently a priority.
Taylor acquired the UK arm of Balans in 2013 after he bought out the late Prady Balan, with whom he founded the company in the 1980s. Taylor was backed by a small team of investors including William Jackson and Alistair Gibbons of Bridgepoint.
He spent last year investing in the existing estate, including extending the Old Compton Street cafe and rebranding Balans as Balans Soho Society. He said the estate had seen an immediate boost from the investment with like-for-like sales for the first five months up 15%.
With the acquisition of the Monmouth Street site he said the group’s next stage of expansion was now beginning.
He said: “In the beginning when we set up what was originally Old Compton Café, Soho was a very different place. Now there is some kind of eatery every couple of yards but back then we had very little competition. We stumbled on a way of working without really having any idea of where it could go.
“We started as a sandwich bar – very much what Pret was doing but years before they were around. Then we started building a trade late at night because the clubbing scene was really taking off and people wanted somewhere to go after.
“We were there before Café Rouge or any of those brands that are all over the high street now. We were approached by Whitbread once who could see the potential in what we had. We were the original casual dining concept.”
Taylor said when he became involved with the business again after taking a back seat throughout the 2000s he spent a lot of time trying to pinpoint its brand values.
He said: “I’ve worked for McDonald’s and United Biscuits so I know the corporate world and it’s a million miles away from what we are at Balans. There is a bohemian spirit that runs through the business and a lot of that comes from the fact that it was forged in Soho and developed with the area.
“I still don’t see a lot of people doing what we’re doing. People talk about all day dining but who is operating right through from breakfast to 3am and having a really loyal audience throughout those dayparts?
“Starbucks and Pret are now looking at evenings offers – and it looks like they’re finding it challenging – but we have been doing that from the start. For whatever reason people accept Balans as a place they want to be at different points during the day and for different reasons.”
On the Monmouth Street site, he said: “Shaftesbury are proactive landlords and they know the kind of business they want to be associated with. They liked the independent feel of Balans but I suppose they were reassured that we’ve already proved we can operate multiple sites.
“It is a gamble to try to recreate what we have in Old Compton Street but the conditions seem pretty favourable. There are four theatres nearby, a lot of independent businesses.
“If the format works there then we will definitely look for more.”
Taylor said he was keen to add to his head office team as the company expands and said he was currently to get some property expertise into the business on a part-time basis.
On the future for the business, he said: “I want to grow the estate and get more exposure for Balans. After that we’ll have to see what the best direction is to take it forward.”