San Carlo is “well positioned” for future growth as it looks towards a period of international expansion, MD Marcello Distefano tells MCA.

After hitting gross sales of £100m last year, he says, “it feels like we’re at the start of something. We’re really excited about the next five years.”

The premium Italian dining brand, founded in 1992, by Distefano’s father Carlo, sees a “huge amount of opportunity internationally”, but will be remain agile in responding to growth prospects in the UK.

Describing some challenges in the at-home market, including minimum wage increases and availability of quality staff, he adds, “I do think however, there’s going to be lots of opportunities over the next 12 months.” 

“It’s not like we’ve got an exit plan. So, we’re quite happy building the team, and really focusing on the cultural aspect of the business. It feels like a great moment to secure what is great about San Carlo and get ready for the next stage of growth. We’re here for the long haul.”

San Carlo - Cicchetti Knightsbridge

In the next 18 months, San Carlo will put a “real focus” on Signor Sassi and the Cicchetti brand, with six international openings lined up, including Miami, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco. It is still in talks for further sites.

“We are focused on growing the existing brands, but don’t get me wrong - we’re always chomping at the bit to do something a little bit new,” Distefano adds, with any potential to bring a new concept into the portfolio sure to stay firmly in the Italian space. 

In the meantime, keeping the existing business up to date will entail significant investment this year. “We’re always very conscious f the fact San Carlo has been around a long time and we don’t want customers to get bored of it. And lucky for us, we do have different brands, with different positions in the market, to be able to do that.”

Last year, the business spent around £4m on a major refurbishment of San Carlo Liverpool, its first experiment to realise “the ultimate evolution of San Carlo.” The aim is to roll this out through the more historical restaurants, with a further £2m refurbishment of San Carlo Flying Pizza in Leeds currently underway, and Manchester next on the list. 

“We understand that our customers are very aspirational and we’re reflecting that in the design,” says Distefano, who describes an ambition to create a “lifestyle brand”, with curated artworks, and even its own branded candles- “We’re looking at a 360-degree attack on the senses.”


Discussing the business’ positioning, he explains, “We are seeing different parts of the market performing at different levels, it’s a lot more polarised than ever used to be. 

”Where we are at that premium end of the market, it is about making people feel special, making people feel good. And that has to come from every element. From the moment you enter the restaurant; the smell, and the feel.”

Menu-wise, “you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Real Italian food is simple and classic.”