Julian Metcalfe, believes there is still plenty to achieve at itsu. Appearing at MCA’s Food to Go conference, he speaks to editor-at-large Mark Wingett about launching America, the huge potential of delivery, and why he won’t be launching a third brand any time soon
He may have been the driving force of two of the UK’s most well respected and popular eating out brands, but Julian Metcalfe says he does not worry about what people think.
If he did, he would never have dared launching his now iconic brands in the first place.
“We do what we do beautifully, and if it is executed with passion and energy, it will be fine,” he explains. “That’s the challenge. Not if people want it or not.”
He is discussing the process of launching in America, an ambition first mooted four years ago, and which began in earnest with a first site last year – with potential for more overseas expansion in Europe on cards if the US proves a success.
“The whole process is fascinating, but it’s very difficult”, he says, “Let’s see how it goes. If it goes well, it would be lovely to see Itsu in Germany or France.”
Back on home turf, Itsu’s regional growth is still in its relative formative stages, and he explains the evolution of the itsu offer as it expands.
“We have moved from a sushi takeaway place, to 50% hot food and eat in. Our mantra is healthy food, fresh not fried. It’s very different from what we did initially. You have to keep evolving.
Sites like Reading, Brighton and Manchester are on the whole doing brilliantly, he says.
And he sees delivery as a having huge potential for itsu, which currently amounts to 3% of sales.
“I think we are using Deliveroo and UberEats very effectively to deliver our food, it’s working very well. Itsu is designed to be eaten cold, and noodles, soups and rice travel quite well. The potential for delivery for us is huge.”
While itsu is not slowing down its expansion, it is being more cautious with site selection, while older sites are being brought up to date.
“We opened three in December – we’re just not rushing ahead and signing ridiculous deals. We need to work with landlords who are smart and fair.”
The grocery arm of the business, has helped drive innovation at Itsu, he says, with travels to Asia to buy food a source of inspiration.
Given his track record, would he ever consider launching a third concept? 100% not, he says.
“As Itsu has evolved the potential is unlimited. Trying to feed people really well with delicious affordable food is the most incredible challenge. The potential is unbelievable.
“Who doesn’t want to be able to eat really well for eight quid?”