David Campbell, the executive chairman of Bill’s, has told MCA that the brand is moving on to the next stage of its “2020” refresh.

Campbell, who joined the Richard Caring-backed restaurant group last summer, said he would be “amazed” if news sites did not open this year but also said he would not rule out further churn of the c80-strong estate.

So far, 13 sites have been refurbished under the 2020 project, with another 10 to 12 expected to be completed by the summer and the rest of the estate to be covered over the following 12 months. The project encompasses design, menu, service and marketing. Campbell said the focus had been on re-engaging founder Bill Collinson with the business and seeking to recapture his original vision for the brand, while at the same time strengthening the evening offer.

He said that this project would be the focus for the short-term and that while area such as delivery (currently on offer in c10 restaurants) offered future avenues for growth, they were not a priority at the moment.

Campbell, spoke to MCA on the back of the announcement that like-for-like sales had grown 8.1% over the Christmas period. The group said its London restaurants were 10.8% ahead of the market (based on the Coffer Peach Business Tracker) over the six week Christmas period, and across the rest of the UK its restaurants traded 13.1% ahead of the market.

On the drivers of this growth, Campbell said: “A lot of it is back to basics. Bill’s has a great story and we’re in the very fortunate position of still having Bill involved in the business. All I did was get him out on the road and speaking to people in the restaurants again. Somehow, he had become a bit hidden and I wanted him to be front and centre again.

“I’ve always been a firm believer – and it was the same during my time at Wagamama - that the founders and the principles they established are really important. That’s not to say you want to go back and do the same thing they were doing 15 years ago but it’s about trying to understand what their initial drive was all about. In Bill’s that was about fresh, seasonal produce and that combination of being healthy and indulgent at the same time.

“Once you have that, the rest of it is about communicating those messages, talking to people about it, designing the menus around it and getting out around the country.”

On the initial learnings from the 2020 project, Campbell said: “The focus on dinner has come out of the testing we have done in places like Covent Garden. In a few places, we are trialling DJs and live music to enhance that evening experience. We have always been very well known for breakfast and lunch but perhaps not always an obvious choice for evenings. There’s a lot of potential there for us.”

On the potential for new sites, and equally for disposals, Campbell said: “If you have got a business that is 15 years, you have probably opened one or two restaurants in a place that hasn’t entirely worked out. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about recognising that and fixing it. We had that in Hoxton, which with the benefit of hindsight probably wasn’t the right location for a Bill’s. It’s a much more wet-led, independent part of London.

“I would be amazed of we get to the end of this year without opening new restaurants but I also wouldn’t rule out closing one or two if it’s necessary.”