Wok & Go parent company Pheby Food Concepts Group plans to open 170 new sites over the next five years, founder Des Pheby has told MCA.

Currently, the Chester-based business operates 15 Wok & Go UK stores, plus three internationally, alongside two restaurants under its Neapolitan Pizza concept, Dough Dough. Because of the crisis, the group’s capacity for material expansion was limited last year – opening just two Wok & Go stores and one Dough Dough site in Liverpool – but its growth pipeline continued to escalate.

During the first lockdown, the company signed a mini-franchise deal for its first oversees brand, Canadian-based concept Crepe Delicious, which it plans to roll out across 25 stores in the next five years, starting with Maidstone and Banbury.

For Wok&Go, which Pheby describes as the “foundation” of the company, deals agreed prior to and during lockdown will see a 39-strong expansion in London for the same period, as well as 25 stores each in Kent, Manchester, Ireland and the M1 corridor.

With the franchise market particularly active as a direct result of closures and job losses caused by the crisis, Pheby said the pandemic has also highlighted the value of PFC’s multi-brand dark kitchen model.

“We looked at what might make us and our brands more attractive to potential buyers,” he said. “And to differentiate our business, we operate dark kitchens out of our bricks and mortar brands.”

With every Wok & Go site, DFC partners are offered at least two virtual brands, and a choice between concepts including The Ramen Company, Artisan Wrap Co. and Jack Burrito, to operate on-site.

“We’ve been doing dark kitchens for about three years, so we were in a decent position when shit hit the fan,” Pheby told MCA. “In this period delivery could be sufficient to cover your overheads, and that’s what it’s done for us.

“We haven’t necessarily made money, but we’ve managed to pay all our bills, and when we are open it adds to the revenue.”

For its two-strong Dough Dough concept, Pheby said the fallout of the pandemic has proved equally fruitful, as the number of fully fitted site opportunities in high-footfall locations continue to grow.

The brand has two restaurants in Warrington and Derby ready to open in coming months, and Pheby plans to reach ten restaurants by July 2021.

“We’re looking at opportunities for light-touch conversions in sites where operators unfortunately haven’t been able to get through this period,” he said. “Two of our Dough Dough sites were ex-Prezzo and ex-Las Iguanas, so they were almost fully fitted and ready to be converted into our brand.

“The idea is that we become a multi-branded hospitality group. We want to be more than just Wok & Go and more than fast food.

“There’s always opportunity from adversity, and we’re not sitting idly by.”