Wasabi backer Ashton Crosby has described how the coronavirus crisis has forced the brand to overhaul its property strategy.

Speaking on MCA’s The Conversation, Crosby said Wasabi’s core London centre-based, office worker and commuter proposition had been totally disrupted by the crisis, necessitating a rethink.

The Capdesia managing partner said the grab and go brand was managing to reach its work-from-home customers via delivery instead, and was well placed to capitalise on demand, as well as reach customers via its grocery range.

He described Wasabi’s CVA as a “necessary evil” after a number of landlords refused to engage or negotiate a move to variable, turnover based rents.

Describing how Wasabi has looked to stay relevant while footfall has collapsed, Crosby said: “We really rely on office workers and commuters, so without people back at work, naturally, those heavily office grab and go businesses will suffer.

“That said, the industry will eventually bounce back, it’s just a question of when. It’s an incredibly resilient segment, grab and go, you just have to take a view on when that happens.”

The investor said residential sites like Ealing, London Bridge, Camden and High Street Kensington had become some of the brand’s most popular, while delivery had seen a large uptick in volumes.

“If we hadn’t invested in great packaging, and looked at how our food travels, and made sure that it travels well, then it wouldn’t be as well suited for delivery,” he said.

“We’ve been able to basically withstand a bit of the covid disruption by the change in customer behaviour towards more delivery, which we can obviously handle well.”

Supermarkets and the wholesale range have also been a “huge driver of growth” for Wasabi, he said.

“You have to be nimble and pivot, and as Pret said very vocally, go to where your customers are and get them food.

“It’s meant we’re rethinking what the future of our property strategy looks like, because it’s not more zone 123 office worker, commuter and transport hubs. It will change naturally.”

He went on to describe the CVA process, adding: “It was basically a necessary evil. Unfortunately, I don’t know many businesses, if any in hospitality, that could sustain 2019 fixed rents on the reduction in sales that we’re seeing.

“We also have very little ability to forecast when that top line will recover, and that’s probably the most difficult thing when you think about your fixed cost base. naturally hospitality businesses are very operationally levered,

“We initially tried to negotiate consensually with all of our landlords and we basically just asked everybody if they would be willing to move to variable rents, obviously that way you equally share in the risk together.

“I’d say about half of the estate were supportive, and were very happy to figure out a way to keep us in the unit.

“Another third were willing to negotiate, but playing hardball, and asking a lot of questions.

“And around 15% landlords refused to engage, would not pick up the phone or answer emails, or if they did said sorry, you have a legally binding contract, we expect you adhere to it.

“I’m thinking, in what planet are these people living? We clearly pay rent for footfall to convert that into sales, we have 50%, or even up to 90% less footfall, how can we possibly afford the rent?

“So we were forced to undergo a CVA, and all we really did was move our rent to variable rents, and link them to our new turnover, that way everybody at least shares in the risk.”