Bill’s Restaurants, the Richard Caring-backed chain, has appointed Mark Fox, the former managing director of Starbucks UK, as its new chief executive, MCA has learnt.

Fox, who will join Bill’s at the end of this month, stepped down as UK managing director and vice president of operations at Starbucks, earlier this year after two years in the role. Previous to that he was chief executive of Pizza Hut UK’s delivery business and a restaurant director at Compass. He brings over 20 years of retail operations and franchise experience to Bill’s.

In his new role, Fox will oversee the continued expansion of the 74-strong brand’s full restaurant format together with evolving secondary smaller footprint cafe style formats - “Little Bill’s”.

Current chief operating officer Roberto Moretti and managing director Scott Macdonald will report into Fox.

In regards to an exit from the business, backer Caring said at the end of last year that “maybe in a couple of years from now we will be in a position to have a look at that”. Fox’s appointment will be seen as a rallying point for that eventual process.

Bill’s has slowed down its openings programme over the last six months, after previously opening c60 sites in three years across the UK under Moretti and Macdonald as joint managing directors. Moretti has been overseeing the group’s progress as chief operating officer since last November.

Moretti has admitted that the group is to spend most this year looking at how to maximise the brand’s potential, including looking at evolved formats. Earlier this year, the company appointed Graham Ford, the former chief executive of Jackson & Rye, to assist with the evolution of Bill’s as director New Format Development. It is thought that the company is working on a smaller coffee/bakery/deli format to complement its existing concept.

The company saw turnover for the year to 2 August 2015 climb 70.2% from £53.9m to £91.7m on the back of 24 openings, the full-year effect of new sites and continued like-for-like sales growth. Adjusted EBITDA for the year increased by 63.1% to £12.5m.

During the year, the group agreed a new £37m facility with new banking partner HSBC, which ensures it has the funding to continue its expansion plans over the next two years.

The group, which is set to open up to 15 sites this year, including the evolved version of its format, recently opened in Greenwich and also has an opening lined up in Sevenoaks, Bournemouth, Canterbury and Chelmsford.

Comment by MCA editor Mark Wingett

And then there was one. After the seemingly untidy decoupling of the joint managing director set up last year, Bill’s has brought more certainty to its management team with the appointment of the experienced Mark Fox. Make no mistake, his appointment should be viewed as the first stage in what backer Richard Caring and shareholders Andy Bassadone and Chris Benians, will hope will be the sale of the business they first invested in seven years ago.

The group doesn’t want for operational expertise. Both chief operating officer Roberto Moretti and managing director Scott Macdonald have proved their ability on that front. The excellent performance of the group is a glowing endorsement of their work. Fox’s appointment will bring more clarity for would-be investors and the proven experience of running national brands.

The group has already realised it needs to build on the impressive foundations it has put in place, hence the current period of introspection and the pull back on the level of openings. There is also talk of variable trading levels across the group’s estate. Fox will look to bring more consistency to the brand’s performance and offer, whilst his background in both the coffee and delivery markets will surely aid the group’s desire to evolve its model.

I said last year that after the breakup of the joint managing director set up and the decision to pull back its openings rate that the group was going to have to face some hard yards to get a sale process, which the majority of the sector expected to happen last year, up and running over the next 12 months. I didn’t rule out the possibility of a more established chief executive eventually coming on board at Bill’s, nor did Caring, Bassadone and Benians.

After three years with its foot hard on the expansion pedal it was only right that Bill’s should be allowed the time to ease off the throttle to assess its next stage of development and whether it had the right set up in place to navigate the road ahead.

Even Caring admitted he may have pushed the concept along “too far”, saying that it needed to be expanded at a slower pace. He stated: “We were very aggressive, yes, but now we want to be consistent, producing a good product. I think it was partly my fault by pushing it along too far. With Strada and Cote we put our foot on the accelerator. But sometimes you’ve got to control the urge to take over the world. So we’ve solidified Bill’s - it’s a super brand and we’re very proud of it.”

Caring believes there’s space in the country for maybe 180 to 200 Bill’s. It will now be up to Fox to build on the strong foundations already in place and provide the template for its next stage of growth to make sure would-be investor’s share Caring’s vision.