Tragus has completed the re-organisation of its management team, with James Spragg set to make a quick return to the company as managing director of Café Rouge and Andrew Walker, the former managing director of Pret A Manger UK, appointed to the newly-created role of managing director of business development.

Spragg - who will step down as managing director of Strada at the end of this month - replaces Peter Blake as managing director of Café Rouge and the group’s Belgo bar and brasserie business.

Walker’s appointment will be seen as an indication of the group’s ambition. His new role will see him head up innovation – including both new product development and new concept development – capital investment and international franchising.

He will also evaluate Tragus’s portfolio of brands and assist in evaluating wider market opportunities for the group, further hinting that the company may look at acquisition opportunities to help reach its goal of growing its current c200-strong estate to c500 restaurants.

In line with its growth strategy, the Steve Richards-led group recently hired three new acquisitions managers as it continues to target a significant number of new openings.

Nick White will continue to oversee Bella Italia, which is currently undergoing an extensive brand refresh and expansion drive; 12 new Bella Italia locations will open this year and a further 26 sites have been secured for opening over the next 18 months.

Richards said: “These senior appointments bring to a close the re-organisation of Tragus and I’m delighted that the go-forward management team is now all in place as we embark on delivering on our growth strategy.

“The Board and I would like to record our thanks to Peter for his hard work and dedication to the group.  He has been instrumental in helping us restructure the business over the past six months, and has also led the evolution of Café Rouge in that time.

“I am pleased to be welcoming James back to the group.  He is an experienced and talented operator who brings with him an impressive track record.  Having led PizzaExpress and more recently having returned Strada to growth, it’s clear that Peter is leaving Café Rouge in very good hands.

“I am delighted that Andrew, who has very impressive and highly-relevant experience, will be joining the group.  His appointment is a significant development as we plan the future of our business and our brands.”         

M&C Report revealed yesterday that the management team that oversaw the return to growth of Strada and its subsequent £37m sale to Hugh Osmond’s Sun Capital Partners vehicle, is to leave the company at the end of this month.

Alongside managing director Spragg, finance director Zoe Tindall is leaving to join Soho House Group as group finance director.

Current Strada operations director John Cronin has been promoted to the role of chief operating officer with immediate effect. At the same time, Jackie Freeman, formerly finance director of PizzaExpress, will be joining the business on 27 October as its new chief financial officer, while Osmond becomes executive chairman.

Comment by M&C Report editor Mark Wingett

At the same time that as his old company Novus was rolling the dice one more time to bring some much needed stability to its management team with the appointment of Toby Smith, Steve Richards was moving into place the final piece of jigsaw in the formation of his new management team at Tragus. Both companies should now benefit from a period of calm after a stormy 18-24 months, although you feel that Novus may need to go through some more pain to fully get back on the road to growth.

As soon as the Strada deal was completed, it was always felt that Richards would look to try and bring James Spragg back into the fold at the earliest opportunity. It is thought that hesitancy on the part of new owners Sun Capital in regards to Spragg’s ongoing role allowed Richards to firm up that interest.

The pair have a successful history. Spragg, who spent two years as commercial director at Novus Leisure and has also held roles at Whitbread, Scottish & Newcastle, Pizza Hut and PizzaExpress, played a key role in aiding Novus with its successful integration and brand repositioning of Balls Brothers and Lewis & Clarke – a process that went a long way in driving through its eventual sale to LGV Capital and Hutton Collins.

He repeated the trick this summer, helping Strada return to growth and overseeing its successful £37m sale to Sun Capital Partners. As Richards points out, he is an experienced and talented operator, and at the same time he has a growing reputation as a turnaround specialist. Café Rouge should provide him with another good challenge in that respect.

Peter Blake is also an experienced and talented operator. Highly-regarded at Whitbread, he was head hunted by previous Tragus chief executive and Costa Coffee managing director John Derkach, for the Café Rouge role. Unfortunately, it seems that both were unaware of how much restructuring the business needed when brought on board by previous owners Blackstone. Blake should not be short of offers to stay in the sector.

The appointment of Andrew Walker, who impressed as managing director of Pret A Manger, should garner most interest. Richards has not been backward in coming forward on what he believes the “new Tragus” can achieve. Walker will play a key role in developing that vision and making sure it comes to fruition. The group, which appointed current Center Parcs chairman and former Wagamama chairman Martin Robinson as its new non-executive chairman last month, has capex funding of £110m in place to invest in its existing estate and acquire a significant number of new sites.

It also has a franchise agreement in place for Café Rouge to launch and expand in the UAE, with the first site under the agreement with Diamond Lifestyle - a Dubai-based hospitality company managed by Al Masah Capital Ltd - expected to open in Dubai next year.

Having shuffled their deck, Richards and Tragus’ backers will hope they now have a winning hand.