Darwin & Wallace has some sites outperforming expectations, with new openings under consideration in the new year, MD Mel Marriott tells MCA.

While the nine-strong London-based restaurant group is taking a cautious approach to growth, there are many parts of London remaining for it to tap into, such as Kensington and Shoreditch.

“Our long-term ambition is to get outside London,” Marriott says. “We’ve got a number of sites under consideration but we’ll keep an eye on trading during Christmas.”

In its latest accounts filed at Companies House, Darwin & Wallace reported £17.5m in sales for the year ended 29 May 2022, compared to £6.2m the prior year. Loss before tax for the period was £1.1m, up from a loss of £110,409 in FY21.

The group has stated it remains committed to both organic growth and acquisitions that fit the portfolio.

“As the results show, we increased our sales exponentially, even with Omicron,” Marriott comments. “We also explored our options, although we have an extraordinarily committed shareholder base.

“A number of people in our sector were looking at doing a listing at the time…we exercised due diligence and came through really well, on what we do, why we do it, how we operate, and what our potential is as a business.

“Hindsight shows it was the right decision to end the process.”

In its accounts, the Imbiba-backed group revealed it considered an Aim listing to provide liquidity for existing shareholders and capital for expansion, but ultimately decided against it.

“The initial exuberance of the investors and [post-pandemic] bounceback had mitigating factors,” Marriott adds. “Inflation began to rear its head, as well as the diminished workforce, cost of labour, strikes, and heat over the summer.

“On a positive note, we’ve got these incredible Christmas bookings, and some of our sites are outperforming at the moment due to resilient guests in terms of spend.”

While she expects the cost of living crisis to have an impact, Marriott says the business’ approach to sustainability has helped it mitigate food inflation.

“Our long-term stance on sustainability has helped us. We’ve always been nimble and seasonal with our menus.

“We’re taking a cautious approach to growth the next 12 months, but our overriding ambition is we would like to grow. We’re an ambitious company and people like what we do.”