Brody Sweeney - Founder Camile

Camile Thai founder Brody Sweeney is looking to fill a very specific gap in the market.

Since launching in Dublin in 2010, Sweeney has grown the business to 36 outlets and recently announced plans to open a further 15 sites across the UK and Ireland, creating over 300 jobs, this year.

Currently, the brand’s Irish presence far outweighs that of the UK. It has just six London stores, and plans to open a further seven in the capital, starting with Twickenham, Epsom and Streatham in coming months.

Subsequently, its share of the UK Thai restaurant market is comparatively small to the likes of Giggling Squid or Rosa’s Thai Café, with almost 60 restaurant sites between them, but according to Sweeney, Camile’s concept offers one distinct and very important difference.

“Giggling Squid and Rosa’s are focused on dine-in predominantly, even if they’re forced into delivery,” he tells MCA. “Whereas delivery is in our DNA.”

Before the pandemic, around 70% of Camile’s sales were off premises, with each site – despite some offering up to 70 covers – doing more than half of its sales through delivery and takeaway.

Because of this delivery-focused model, Camile was one of the few operators to benefit from the onset of the crisis; it reported a 59% increase in UK system sales in 2020 and a 40% uplift in Ireland.

It is in this point of difference, and the understanding that “brands like Wagamama may do better dine-in than us but we do better delivery,” where the business plans to move forward.

“We think there is an opportunity to build a nationwide chain of high-end, Thai home delivery-focused restaurants,” Sweeney says. “We think we could build a Domino’s for Thai food.”

In Ireland, the brand is already over half the size of Domino’s – with 30 sites compared to the pizza chain’s 50 – and as its latest opening announcement suggests, it hopes to mirror this growth in the UK, starting with South London.

One way it will look to propel its success is in the advancement of its tech solutions. The business is looking to raise €10 million towards its digital developments this year and is in the process of trialling both drone delivery and kitchen robotics.

As the first restaurant company in Europe to launch commercial deliveries by drone – it has so far delivered around 1000 orders using the technology – Sweeney sees drone deliveries forming a core part of Camile’s proposition in coming years.

Travelling at 50mph, with an average flight time of 90 seconds, he says the tech – upon approval by the aviation authority – provides an innovative solution to many of the issues facing delivery operators at present.

“They’re quicker, more environmentally friendly and cheaper than motor delivery,” he says. “Drones are perfect for delivering in a two- or three-mile radius of the restaurant, and perfect for our average order size.”

Eventually, the business will look to deliver up to 70% of its orders via drone, he says, though around 30% will still require car-delivery because of issues with accessibility, or if orders are made from a central-city or public building.

As part of a consumer’s order-by-drone journey, they will be sent an aerial image of their location and asked to select a specific drop-off spot from a grid overlay, making the technology ill-suited to heavily built-up or high footfall locations.

“London would be a little bit difficult because you wouldn’t want to drop food into a public space and it would be difficult to deliver to the 11th floor of an apartment block,” Sweeney explains. “It’s suited to suburbia, and that’s our sweet spot.

“We’re not just doing this for the hype, we’re going through the process of getting it licensed properly. It won’t be rolled out this year, but we’re very optimistic for next year.

“It’s all about trying to do a better job of getting to food to consumers quicker, hotter, and at a better quality.”