Matt Scriven, managing director of Bitters ‘n Twisted Venues, has told MCA that recruitment problems have forced him to look outside of Birmingham for further growth.
Scriven said the influx of big name brands had left independent operators in Birmingham struggling to find skilled staff.
He said the company’s focus would instead be on growing the South American cantina concept Bodega across the Midlands. He said he expected to open two sites a year under the brand, with Derby, Coventry and Nottingham all on the radar.
He said the early difficulties in building trade at its Worcester site meant he would avoid market towns until the brand had more exposure.
Scriven was talking on the back of the company’s financial results for the year to 31 August, which showed turnover up 21% to £6.9m across the eight venues operated during that period. Like-for-like sales were up 6.4% to £6.1m.
On trading in the current year, Scriven said: “This year has been a real challenge because of the sheer number of new openings in Birmingham and the inevitable pull for customers to check those out. It’s definitely not as strong as in previous years but we’re still very much in like-for-like growth.”
On the challenges of operating in Birmingham, he said: “Birmingham has had a Michelin star reputation for a while now and on the back of that has developed a bit of a foodie scene. But in terms of big brands coming to town, there was a sense that they were all waiting for the big shopping centre developments and as they have opened they’ve all swarmed in.
“We’re in that middle period where a lot of the big brands come in and suck a lot of the resources. Eventually people will want to move away from those big brands and hopefully we can do well there.
“For the now growth is probably going to be focussed on the wider Midlands. If a great deal came up we would look at it but we’ve had so many problems with recruiting for new venues and have had to compromise on our plans for sites, which is not the way we want to go.
“I’d look in Birmingham suburbs but for now the focus is on more Bodegas in the wider Midlands areas.”
The third Bodega will open in Leicester in July and Scriven said it will be the focus for the group’s expansion.
He said: “There’s obviously a lot of competition in the fast casual market these days and in the south American dining scene but it’s a nice offer. We’re not looking at national expansion or getting private equity involved but it’s a nice growth opportunity – probably of two sites a year.
“Derby, Coventry, Nottingham, perhaps Lichfield. Less so the market towns. I don’t think we have a strong enough identity yet. Worcester has been a challenge. It’s a fledgling brand and it takes time for them to discover and trust in you. You’re also fishing from a smaller pool in terms of recruitment.”
He said the whisky and smokehouse concept Bourbon & Rye had recovered after a slow start in November. He said there was still the potential to expand the concept but stressed it was not currently a priority.
He said he was keen to add to the company’s operations structure to support further growth.