With his ‘fine fast food’ brand Yolk, Nick Philpot is looking to disrupt London’s grab-and-go market and prove that convenience-led dining isn’t a barrier to quality

Yolk has accelerated expansion this year, with new openings in Soho, Canary Wharf, and London Bridge, with an eye on wider expansion, founder Nick Philpot tells MCA’s sister title BigHospitality.

“We’ve got five now, and sites six and seven are currently in various stages of legal negotiations, which we hope to get open in the next six months or so,” he says. “That’s already a big acceleration for us. We moved very slowly to begin with, but we feel we’re now in a position where we can do that.”

Big ambitions

Philpot notes that the pandemic has changed Yolk’s growth strategy. While previously the group was entirely focused on five-day operations in central and City locations, it’s also now looking at ‘office plus’ areas, as he calls them, like Canary Wharf, which benefit from both office and residential footfall, with a view to opening those sites seven days a week.

Then there’s the impact Covid had on Yolk’s chief high street rivals, many of which were forced to close sites or enter into Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVA) as a result of the pandemic. “We think it’s really great time for a small ambitious business like us that’s trying to grow, as we can get opportunities that we wouldn’t have gotten before.”

“Previously, it was all about covenant, but with Covid and all the CVAs it showed that larger firms can’t always be relied on to pay rent. It doesn’t mean they’ll never go with them, but they’re more open-minded about taking a chance on a brand like ours.

“We’re super ambitious. In terms of London, we look at brands like Leon that has more than 50 sites and we see no reason why we can’t do that. And then I think there’s a lot of opportunity beyond that too.”

That includes taking the brand beyond the capital, with Manchester mooted as a possible target area; and potentially into transport hubs including train stations and airports. There’s even the suggestion of making a move into the roadside dining space further down the line.

Yolk pots

A shifting strategy

Whereas Yolk’s sites in the City used to be consistently busy throughout the working week, now there’s a noticeable dip in trade on Mondays and Fridays.

“It’s loads of up and down, but we are basically where we were pre-Covid. The tricky thing for us is that Friday used to be a big day, but it isn’t quite what it was. And that’s shifted elements of the strategy.” This has included exploring the addition of an evening menu, which is currently being trialled at the group’s New Street Square site.

“It’s an evolution that makes sense with our brand feel and aesthetic. We always thought we had a feel that could segue into the evenings but have never engaged with it before. You can’t just rely on being busy at breakfast and lunch anymore. It worked before the pandemic, but now it’s about exploring other opportunities and sharpening our focus.”

Yolk Nick Philpot

Going to work on an egg

Despite the name, Yolk doesn’t really fit into the growing market of egg-focused breakfast and brunch concepts – the likes of Egg Slut and Egg Run – that have hatched within the fast casual space in recent years.

“We don’t see ourselves as occupying that market really,” says Philpot. “They’re much more separate, conceptually. Their sites are often neighbourhood locations with plenty of seating, which we might do down the line, but it’s not something we’re looking at right now.

“I’m into brands like that, though. I was always frustrated by the paucity of breakfast options, but I think that’s shifting. And places like that show there is an underserved demand for it.”