Graham Ford, the former Jackson & Rye and Benito’s Hat chief executive, has stepped down as chief operating officer of Bill’s, the Richard Caring-backed chain, MCA has learnt.

Ford, who used to work at Tragus, had been with the 82-strong business since the start of 2016.

At the same time, Sarah Hills, formerly managing director of Wagamama UK, has been appointed as executive operations director of Bill’s. Hills has been aiding Richard Caring’s restaurants business since last May.

Earlier this week, Richard Caring, the serial sector investor, told MCA that he did receive approaches regarding Bill’s last year, but that he didn’t think the 82-strong chain was “dressed well enough to be sold” and that “it needed help”.

Caring said: “We had approaches for Bill’s, but at that point I wasn’t close enough to the business and we went through a situation with the business of it getting tired. We had approaches at that time but I didn’t think it was dressed well enough to be sold, I think it needed help. That’s why we have got behind it and that’s part of the reason why David (Campbell) has joined us. I think Bill’s has a great future, it needs a bit of love as it got left behind a bit. We have a new management team in place, and I think we have a clear strategy in place to make it work properly.

“We are going through a refurbishment programme at Bill’s. We have completed four, there are 82 sites across the country, the menus are very different, the price point is very different and the image is very different. I think the Ivy is very much a premium proposition, whereas Bill’s is much more casual, almost borrowing a bit of Soho House in its imagery.”

Last year saw a false start with the company carrying out three refurbishment, which Caring admits he didn’t spend enough attention on and that they were too close to the Ivy Collection in look and feel.

He admitted: “When I saw what they had done I had a nervous breakdown and they were ripped out immediately and changed. Bill’s is trading around the market level, I will be totally honest with you and the market is probably down around 3-4%. Where we have the sites refurbed they are doing extremely well, much, much better than that. I am confident we can lift this business, hugely, over the next 18 months or so. That means taking our foot of the expansion pedal and concentrating on improving the existing estate.”