Dominic Walsh share his thoughts on Adam Breeden’s latest competitive socialising concept, assesses the strengths of Marugame Udon and ponders the rush of M&A activity from Alchemy Partners

Adam Breeden is the king of competitive socialising. You name it, he’s co-founded it: Puttshack, Flight Club Bounce, All Star Lanes and Hijingo Bingo. Next on the grid will be what we are told will be his “most ambitious and exciting project yet” – a state-of-the art F1 racing simulation experience “gamified for a mass audience”.

The idea of competitive socialising may appear to be a recent phenomenon, but in reality most if not all of the concepts devised by the entrepreneur are new, usually high-tech, takes on traditional pastimes.

So, for example, Puttshack takes crazy golf, gets rid of the pirate ships and windmills and introduces a state-of-the-art scoring system. Similarly, Flight Club takes darts and jazzes up the board and automatically does the maths on the scoring, dispensing with the most tedious bit of the original game.

The new F1 game is no different. Most of us have whiled away some of our seaside holidays in amusement arcades driving car simulators with very low-tech screens depicting the road ahead. To ensure that experience is translated into an authentic, high-tech experience, Breeden has brought F1 on-board as a partner with “a meaningful equity position in the new company”, called Kindred Concepts. For “meaningful equity position” read a stake of about 30-40%. The new company has also secured backing from leisure and entertainment sector investor Imbiba.

The £6m cost of developing and opening the first F1 venue, a 16,000sq ft site in Landsecs’ One New Change on the site of a Wagamama, an EAT and part of a Next store – tells you this is a serious enterprise: 60 simulators for customers to race against each other, a premium food and drink offer that is expected to account for 50% of turnover, thanks partly to a drinks partner providing a top quality cocktail offer.

Despite the cutting-edge nature of the technology, Breeden insists it is straightforward to play. “The concept is simple – it’s all about being the fastest,” he says, the aim being to “create something more premium without taking the fun away”.

Kindred Concepts says it aims to roll out “at pace”, with a mixture of owned and operated venues, joint ventures and franchise partnerships. The One New Change site is expected to open in November with as many as 30 venues due to be rolled out worldwide in the next five years in locations including the UK, the US, the top European cities, the Middle East and Asia.

No doubt, getting the F1 concept off the ground will keep Breeden busy, although his recent track record suggests it won’t be too long before he gets itchy feet again and starts thinking about the next pastime to get the competitive socialising treatment.

 

Bold but humble

 

When a company says it’s aiming to become one of the planet’s ten biggest restaurant operators by 2026, you would normally expect to be familiar with it. Yet until the last few weeks, I had never heard of Marugame Udon, let alone been to one.

I’m usually quite sceptical when I get sent press releases by obscure-sounding brands claiming they’re going to be opening 10,000 outlets in the next three weeks, but something about the Japanese concept made me want to find out more.

The group, which specialises in udon noodles, is a household name in Japan and Asia and has established footholds in the UK and US. The four that have opened in London so far are the beachhead to a push on Europe that will see another ten openings this year en route to a minimum of 106 (strange number!) by 2026.

Leading the charge is Keith Bird, the Marugame Udon chief executive and an operating partner at Capdesia, the private equity firm backing the European business. To speed up the rate of openings, Bird is on the hunt for franchisees capable of pushing the number of new sites to about 30-40 a year. By the end of this year, the former Gourmet Burger Kitchen COO is hoping to have the UK’s first franchise store open as well as signing up the first European partner.

The thing about Marugame Udon that impresses me is that it’s high quality but good value (mains start from £3.45), the setting is modern and cool yet is set up to push people through quickly and efficiently, and – in Bird’s words – it is “ambitious and bold but still humble”.

When people like me, who have never heard of Marugame Udon, are introduced to it, most will ask whether it is similar to Wagamama. One of its investors has the perfect riposte: “It’s twice as fast as Wagamama and half the price.” He might have added: “And several times the size.”

 

Reigniting M&A

Alchemy Partners appears determined to single-handedly reignite M&A in the hospitality sector. In the space of just a few days, the private equity firm snapped up Brasserie Bar Co from Soho Square Capital in an estimated £40m deal then turned vendor when it sold the Inn Collection Group for a rumoured enterprise value of £300m.

Given that Kevin Charity’s Coaching Inn Group was sold to Rooney Anand’s RedCat Pub Company six months ago for about £65m, or £3.6m per hotel, the £10m a pop apparently paid by the Harris family of Bourne Leisure fame and Kings Park Capital looks a full price, even allowing for some of the hotels being much larger.

Mind you, if anyone knows the value of Inn Collection it’s Jason Katz at Kings Park Capital. His private equity outfit backed the business for five years until 2018, and if he’s coming back in as an investor, you can guarantee he’s getting a good deal. The Harris family also know how to make money out of hospitality – and some.

Dominic Walsh is a business reporter at The Times