David Page, the chairman of Fulham Shore, has told MCA that he still sees the potential the treble the size of the Franco Manca estate and at least double the number of Real Greeks.

Page spoke to MCA on the back of yesterday’s half-year announcement which set out the group’s plans to ramp up its openings pipeline in FY2020. Page said that while this year the group will open four sites, next year will see eight new Franco Mancas and two the Real Greeks. Areas being targeted include Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff. The group is likely to get possession of its Edinburgh site – in the St Andrew’s Square development, in March/April, Page said.

On the reasons for confidence in a challenging market, Page said: “Our new restaurants are doing well and our existing restaurants are serving more customers. We are throwing off about £6m per year in cash and each of our new restaurants costs about £600k now, so we think we can open 10 next year.”

He added: “We are likely to be more weighted towards outside London. Bristol was one of our most successful openings and Oxford and Cambridge are trading at higher levels than the London restaurants. In fact, London competition is still quite intense despite the CVAs. We have experience of rolling out nationally and we can see the impact of going outside London and how the levels of competition are reduced.

“We are mainly looking at slightly larger footprint sites out of London but we are just going to have to accept the sites that are available at reasonable rents. The most important thing is that we are not dragged into paying the silly rents that other people have paid over the past few years, and which are responsible for a lot of the problems you have seen.”

Fulham Shore finance director Nick Wong told MCA that the group was seeing attitudes shift among landlords, but it was far from universal.

He said: “In central London those high rents aren’t really coming down but we are seeing a lot of deals coming through where there are some decent capital contributions coming through from landlords. No doubt as time passes the deals will get better because not may groups are opening restaurants.”

However, Page added: “The problem is the disconnect between landlords and operators. As an example, our latest Franco Manca opening in Aldwych is on a rent of £135,000 a year, whereas the ex Strada right around the corner is being marketed at £244,000. It’s a question of the expectations of landlords catching up with the reality of what is happening in the market.”

On the eventual scope for Franco Manca and The Real Greek across the UK, Page said: “We originally wondered how many Greek restaurants we could get to in the UK and we are already at 16. We think we can at least double that and with Franco Manca we think we can treble the current level of 43.

“However, because of the way we run the business and the fact that we own a lot of the shares, we can take a measured approach, depending on what the market conditions are like. Just because we are opening 10 next year doesn’t mean we will accelerate from that into the next year.”

Page said there were no plans to adapt the model at either of the two brands, adding: “What we have proved is that if you keep it simple your quality is more reliable. That’s what the public want. If you keep it simple, you can also offer your menu at a lower price. I think going forward people will go back to much more simplified menus. That sense of do one thing and do it well is starting to return.

“Price is also something that has to be tackled - the data shows that people prefer discounting yet all the people who are furiously discounting are in trouble. I don’t understand why they continue down this road. They have to do it because in some cases our competitors prices are 40% or 50% higher than we are.”

Wong said that investing in people would continue to be a key focus going forward and that the company was looking at how it could strengthen its employee benefits.

He said: “We are looking at how we can extend the reach of the original plan from our founders, who gifted a lot of shares to staff. We are looking at how we can replicate that going forward. When staff have shares they act differently.”

Meanwhile, Page said he remained an advocate of having staff involvement in board meetings, saying: “We don’t do discounts and we don’t spend on marketing so we don’t have that much that is confidential. It’s all about operations so why wouldn’t we want staff there?”