Comptoir Group is confident that the vision and strategy it has put in place will enable it to grow its top line this financial year, chief executive Nick Ayerst tells MCA.

Speaking on the back of the Lebanese restaurant group’s full year results for 2022 yesterday, Ayerst – who was appointed CEO in October last year following the departure of Chaker Hanna – admitted that it would be “a difficult year” due to the challenging trading environment but said it was working as hard as it could to mitigate cost pressures from food price inflation, energy and labour.

Trading in the current financial year has been strong, finance director Michael Toon tells MCA.

While the group doesn’t publish its like-for-like (lfl) numbers, Toon said sales were in strong lfl growth and had been outperforming the CGA Peach Tracker data every week of 2023 with the exception of the period over Ramadan.

“If we are comparing ourselves to our cohorts, we are more than happy with where we are,” he adds.

In terms of growth, the group is focused on expanding its Comptoir Libanais casual dining brand, as well as looking at opportunities for its QSR concept Shawa.

“We are in a position where, from a cash point of view but also operationally, we are keen to open a couple of Comptoir […] so we are talking to property agents about finding suitable locations,” Ayerst says.

The group has also been working on the format of Shawa and is hoping to get the brand into a position where the business can trial “a sort of revised and updated model” towards the end of this year.

“We have got two sites, both in shopping centres, so we want to make sure that we have got a proposition that has got broad appeal across lots of different locations.”

International opportunities

While the focus for the group, in terms of cash investment, is predominately on the UK market, a core part of its strategy is growing its franchise sites – the majority of which will be overseas.

It has opened two restaurants with its franchise partner HMS Host during FY22 – in Stansted Airport and Doha Airport, and the group has just signed head of terms with a new partner for a site in a major European airport which it is due to open later this year, Ayerst reveals.

Realigning the vision

Since Ayerst joined the business he has been working to realign the whole group’s vision and “paint some pictures of what the future will look like”.

He took over last autumn from interim CEO Jean-Michel Orieux – now non-executive director – following the departure of former CEO Chaker Hanna and chair Richard Kleiner, in response to call from Comptoir’s founder and creative director Tony Kitous for the pair to resign.

Ayerst said that although the boardroom dispute had to be made public, due to the fact it’s a listed company, from the senior team down to the staff in the restaurants, “there wasn’t a huge impact on the general moral of the organisation”.

“You may look from the outside and assume that it was worse than it actually was. So what was pleasing to me, when I came in, was that fundamentally it was an organisation that was in good health – good financial health as you can see from the results – well loved by its customer base and with strong loyalty to the brand and to each other from the team’s working within the business.

“My job has really been to focus that, to understand that, and to realign people’s vision.”