The Parogon Group will open a new Orange Tree site in Cheshire next year, and is looking to secure a site for a new venue within the year, founding director and MD Richard Colclough tells MCA.

The Staffordshire-based restaurant operator, founded in 2007, currently runs nine restaurants in Staffordshire, Cheshire, and Shropshire, including The Swan With Two Necks in Blackbrook and The Orange Tree in Newcastle. It will open its tenth restaurant under the Orange Tree brand and is looking at a number of other sites, Colclough says.

The group recently announced plans to open 10 new sites by 2025, following a gearing up of its expansion strategy following the pandemic.

“We’re a cash-rich business and withstood the rigours of being closed,” he says. “All our sites are destination sites, not city centre sites, so we weren’t affected by office workers not returning to city centres when we reopened.

“We had a strong bounce back and retained staff well, and now we’re capitalising on the strong position we’re in.”

The Parogon Group has also strengthened its senior team and has strong financial backing from Santander, Colclough reports. Growth plans will focus on the existing strategy of transforming landmark sites into destination venues, with “tons of scope” to grow within Staffordshire and surrounding regions.

Manchester, Derby, and Nottingham are all targets for expansion.

“We don’t see a national spread straight away,” Colclough adds. “We stick to what we do and replicate that where we can.”

New sites will be in the same big format as existing venues, with a minimum of 150 covers, high visibility, and outdoor spaces all on the priority list. Earlier this year, the group introduced a finder’s fee of £5,000 for its next venue.

“We’ve grown at a steady pace with big cash-intensive sites, mainly freeholds,” Colclough says. “It’s a different model to casual dining groups taking leasehold sites. All our sites have an individual feel and different menus.”

Despite its positioning as a premium dining experience, Parogon has a broad range of customers, with the difference being in their frequency of visits. Some customers may come in multiple times a week whereas others come for a special occasion.

“It’s definitely not the case that we can survive on people in Bentleys only…it’s premium quality at an accessible price,” he explains. “We wanted to provide fresh food, service, and quality for a special occasion but also a great quality meal for people who would regularly eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant.”

Restaurants have seen “softening demand” in the first half of the week since April, with customers cutting back on weekday visits, he says. The group is re-engineering the menu to keep prices within its target range and retain value for money.

It has also increased investment into staff training to maintain retention rates, as well as improving efficiency amidst rises in utility bills, which are the primary concern for the group at the moment.

“There’s not much we can do to mitigate that except be as frugal as possible with energy,” he told MCA. “We’re striving to put efficiencies in place to offset [rises].”

“As the consumer becomes more discerning, it’s essential we get better all the time,” Colclough says. “They go out less often and make sure it’s a great experience when they do.

“We’re expecting a difficult 12 months ahead.”

Despite entering a recession, the group is continuing to invest in both new and existing sites and is confident in its resilience.

“We started off going into the 2008 global financial crisis; we’re used to these catastrophes…any challenges are to be embraced.”