Underdog, the London-based food and drink operator, has sold its Marquess Tavern pub in Islington to fund the rollout of its Hawksmoor steakhouse concept.
The company, run by Will Beckett and Huw Gott, disposed of the site on Canonbury Street for £175,000 to an independent party who is looking to enter the sector.
The group plans to open two further outlets under the Hawksmoor brand in the City of London in 2009 and is in the process of looking for sites.
Beckett said: “The sale has given us the financing as well as the free time and energy to concentrate on pushing Hawksmoor forward.
“We plan to open two new sites next year and build the momentum from there.
“We were younger and single when we launched the Rechurch pub and we are now more interested in the restaurant side of the business, which is where we also like to spend our time.”
The partners want to appoint an experienced chairman to head the restaurant rollout and are searching for someone who is able to understand the challenges facing the industry, as well as looking for investors.
Beckett said that they had decided to focus on expanding Hawksmoor rather than their Green & Red restaurant and bar as it appeared to have been better received and to attract a higher spend than the Mexican outlet, which specialised in food from the Jalisco region of Mexico.
Hawksmoor has an average spend per head of around £100, with most of its customer base drawn from the City.
The next outlets are set to be bigger than the existing 65-cover restaurant on Commercial Street and to be better located, with Beckett hoping to find a suitable site right in the City of London.
Beckett said: “The plan is to retain the restaurant and cocktail bar layout, as well as the simple menu and offering, although the new sites will be even smarter.”
Talking about the risks of opening new sites in the current economic climate, Beckett said that Hawksmoor had not currently seen a fall in customers or in the amount they spent.
He admitted, however, that although the Hawksmoor brand had continued to be very popular and the formula appeared to be one that worked well, nothing was certain in the current climate and that there were downsides to focusing on a niche business, with the risk of Foot and Mouth and BSE ever present as all their beef was sourced from the UK.
Beckett also said that cost rises were likely to affect margins, with the Green & Red business recording gross profit down by 5% due to increasing food prices, with the soaring price of avocados being one of the main concerns.
He nevertheless said that running only a few brands simplified things operationally and would leave them more time to concentrate on their consultancy business.