News Archive

Las Iguanas wins Operator of the Year for Innovative Kitchen Design

This accolade recognises the significance of a well-designed kitchen to achieving a happy team of chefs, impeccable service and outstanding food, and aims to recognise multi-site operators that have invested in new kitchens and spent time identifying the right design and lay-out to ensure operational excellence.

In a change from tradition, this category was decided following a live ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitching session that took place at the Commercial Kitchen show on 4th June 2019.

The finalists each had five minutes to outline the key innovations that have shaped their kitchen environments over the past 12 months – with an expert judging panel making the final decision.

All the participating finalists delivered a tremendous pitch and were all worthy winners.

Las Iguanas makes no secret of the fact that the structure of its kitchens is very different to your standard operator and that is one of the main reasons it has been able to remove complexity from its set-up while proudly giving chefs the tools to produce more than 30 different sauces and salsas in-house every day.

Carefully-crafted kitchen templates support a philosophy based entirely around efficiency, ensuring teams can build and execute quickly without compromising quality.

A willingness to embrace new cooking platforms and methods of regeneration means its kitchens are not averse to incorporating alternative technology if it means the chain can support its goal of delivering authentic South American cuisine to its customers.

Glenn Evans, head of food development at Las Iguanas said: “This award recognises how we’ve grown and what we’ve done to introduce innovative equipment. We have evolved our kitchens to serve the needs of both our customers and our chefs.”

Bella Italia guarantees choice with biggest ever new menu launch

Bella Italia, the leading Italian-style family restaurant, has further delivered on its commitment to provide guests with a wide and varied choice of quality Italian dishes with the launch of its biggest ever new menu this May.

The menu, which has been developed by Bella Italia’s executive chef, Vittorio Lettieri, showcases the company’s continued focus on innovation, as it launches a range of specialist dishes for those with dietary requirements, boasting over 20 options for vegans, vegetarians, and customers seeking gluten-free and dairy free options.

Reflecting the growing consumer trend for healthier alternatives, a selection of the new dishes will build on Bella Italia’s existing lower calorie range. These include: Gamberoni Spirali, a dish under 300 calories with spiralised carrot, golden beetroot and courgette with king prawns in a spicy garlic and tomato sauce; and three new salads, all under 600 calories, called Giardiniera, di Verona and Parma Bufala, to name a few.

Indicative of its rich Italian heritage, the company has also launched a series of traditional main dishes, such as Cacio E Pepe, a dish dating back to Roman times, featuring Gramigna pasta with chicken and pancetta in a pecorino cheese; and Tagliatelle Capra with pomodoro and pepperonata sauce.

Marc Saunders, Head of Brand at Bella Italia, said: “Ethical and healthy dishes are becoming increasingly important factors in where consumers decide to eat, which has been an important influence in our latest menu innovation. In a highly competitive market, you have to continually move forward and evolve as a brand in order to stand out on the high street. Crucially, we’ll always do this whilst staying true to our identity and brand DNA, which for us is creating genuine Italian dining experiences to enjoy with friends and family.”

James Spragg appointed Casual Dining Group Chief Executive Officer

Casual Dining Group (“CDG”), the operator of c.280 mid‐market restaurant brands including Bella Italia, Las Iguanas and Cafe Rouge, is pleased to announce the appointment of James Spragg, currently Chief Operating Officer, to the position of Chief Executive Officer, effective from 29th April.

Rooney Anand, Chairman, commented: “I am delighted to announce this appointment and to welcome James to the Board. We
conducted an extensive search and selection process that left us in no doubt that James is the right leader for this company. He has an intimate understanding of the business, having most recently served as Chief Operating Officer, and will bring fresh ideas and energy to the role of  CEO. Our industry continues to face challenges, however we see a host of exciting opportunities that we believe CDG can capitalise on under James’ seasoned leadership.”

James Spragg said: “CDG is at an exciting time in its journey. We have great restaurant brands, a talented team including a highly experienced new Chairman, and high quality and supportive shareholders. I am delighted to accept this new role and to push forward with a series of new initiatives and growth opportunities.”

Casual Dining Group announces positive current trading and prior year results for 2017/18

Casual Dining Group (“CDG”), the operator of c.280 mid-market restaurant brands including Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge, reports its annual results for the prior year (year ended 28 May 2018), and provides an update on current trading. The group also announces 7 new UK openings and a further 7 franchises openings in Ireland and the Middle-East in 2019 and is embarking on a major refurbishment of the core estate which will cover 30 sites.

Steve Richards, CEO of Casual Dining Group, commented:

“Over the past 18 months we have taken proactive steps to underpin the company’s future growth potential, at a time when the sector has faced unprecedented challenges. We successfully refinanced with our existing shareholder and lender group, reached positive agreements with our property partners, and invested and diversified across our brands. Despite the ongoing market challenges, Casual Dining Group has outperformed the market over the past 11 months, recording like for like sales increase of 2.6% with an improving trend of a 4.2% increase in like for like sales for the 13 weeks since the New Year.

The historic performance in the prior year, reflects the difficulties the wider sector faced but we are confident that our proactive measures, the support of our shareholders, and our diversification by brand, channel and geography mean CDG is strongly positioned.”

Current Trading highlights

  • Stable like for like trading of 2.6% for the 11 months since June 2018 – with a particularly encouraging start of the 2019 calendar year with like for like sales increase of 4.2% for the 13 weeks since the start of the year
  • Successfully negotiated new terms with landlords following refinancing
  • 7 new franchise openings in Ireland and the Middle East
  • Significant investment in UK estate planned with 30 major refurbishments

Operational highlights

  • Increased diversification by channel;
    • Double digit delivery growth: dedicated brands e.g. Blazing Bird via partnerships with Deliveroo, Just Eat and UberEats
    • Partnerships with Tesco, Three Mobile and Cineworld delivering double digit growth
  • Digital-first approach and strong brands continue to drive bookings and growth
  • Significant external cost increases partly mitigated by procurement savings, productivity improvements and cost efficiencies
  • Continued investment in menu development, food and drink quality, and innovation

Prior Year Financial Summary 2017/18 

  • Revenue of £327.4m down 0.5% (2017 £329.0m)
  • Un-invested like for like decline[1] of 0.6%,
  • Adjusted[2] EBITDA down £4m, from £29.9m to £25.9m

Prior year balance sheet and capital structure overview

  • Restructured balance sheet to position the business for growth with low gearing and access to funding from existing shareholders, as required
  • £30m cash injection to fund future growth projects
  • Following a mark to market revaluation by the lender group, the balance sheet was restructured resulting in a non-cash, goodwill write-down of £209.6m
  • Concluded successful discussions with landlords to optimise estate for profitable growth.

[1] Uninvested with no excluded sites

[2] Adjusted for non-recurring and one-off items

CDG supports refugees with innovative training programme

Casual Dining Group (CDG), one of the UK’s largest independent restaurant companies, has completed an industry leading pilot programme that aims to support Syrian refugees in gaining the necessary skills and experience to transition into the world of work.

The programme, run in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), World Jewish Relief, and SPS Training Solutions, saw nine refugees spend three weeks during March training to work in the hospitality industry.

The first and second weeks focused on theory, giving the course members the necessary skills to prepare them for work, such as interview training. This theory was then put into practice over the third week, where they gained first-hand industry experience working at a Bella Italia and Café Rouge site in Coventry.

Following the successful programme, CDG has offered employment to three of the course participants; while a further three members have been given provisional offers for when vacancies arise. Building on the success of the pilot programme, the respective parties are now in talks about replicating the programme on a wider scale.

Claire Clarke, Group HR Director, Casual Dining Group, added: “The hospitality industry is a phenomenal place to work that’s inundated with opportunities for driven people, regardless of background. We were delighted to work closely with the DWP, SBS, and World Jewish Relief to pass on our operational expertise and support this worthwhile and progressive initiative.

“As a business, we have created a sophisticated and robust series of training and development programmes to support with the progression of our employees. This programme is a great example of how we can utilise this experience as we look to support people with the necessary skillset to enter the industry.”

The initiative, which is the first of its kind for the hospitality industry, forms part of the Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) run by World Jewish Relief. The programme supports those who have come to Britain as part of the Home Office’s schemes for vulnerable resettled refugees.

It operates in Coventry and across Yorkshire, and all programmes are tailored to each refugee individually, helping them to develop the skills and identify the opportunities they need to secure sustainable employment, thereby enabling them to integrate fully into British society.

Janice Lopatkin, Programme Director UK for World Jewish Relief said: “This cohort of refugees can provide the hospitality industry with a highly skilled, extremely driven and talented group of new recruits. We’re proud that this programme is boosting British business by supplying such a high calibre of candidates whilst also supporting the refugees to become self-reliant, contributing and valued members of British society.”

Paul Scott from the DWP’s National Employer and Partnership Team, added: “I’m delighted that this initiative has been so successful”

CDG grows its industry leading learning and development programme

Casual Dining Group (CDG), one of the UK’s largest independent restaurant companies, has further developed its industry leading learning and development programme by adding a range of new courses in partnership with UK universities, following the promotion of Claire Clarke to Group HR Director.

Previously the People Director – Concessions, Franchising & Central at CDG, Clarke is now responsible for overseeing all strategic HR decisions across CDG. This senior appointment is a direct result of the implementation of the new learning and development programmes.

The additions to the programme demonstrate the company’s ongoing commitment to investing in its people and attracting quality talent into the hospitality industry and across all areas of its business, with a particular focus on marketing, strategy and finance.

The first of the new programmes, a BA (Hons) Business Management Degree run in partnership with Leeds Beckett University, enables operations managers and support centre leaders to complete a fully funded degree alongside their day job.

This 30-month course, which is open to all qualifying employees, has 12 spaces and combines an honour’s degree and apprenticeship levels 5 and 6, with both practical and classroom learning to give candidates the skill set they need to progress within the business.

Alongside the Business Management programme, CDG has also introduced a chef programme at University College Birmingham, targeting students completing level 2 and above and providing them with a gateway to work at CDG’s core brands.

Finally, CDG has also introduced an Elevate programme, targeted at high-performing general managers within the business that are looking to progress to multi-site leaders. The course, which has 12 spaces, upskills employees over a year long programme split into four modules, that provide insights into areas of the business they may not get exposure to.  Each applicant will be assigned a personal tutor for the duration of the course.

All of these programmes have been designed to complement CDG’s Leadership Academy programme that was initially launched at Bella Italia before being rolled out across the business. The academy consists of three programmes; Stepping up, Emerging Leader and Future leader, aimed at all levels within the business looking to progress to the next level.

Steve Richards, CEO, Casual Dining Group, said: “Our employees are the beating heart of our business and we’re dedicated to investing in them and providing them with the courses and tools they need to progress. Equally important is attracting quality talent into the hospitality industry and demonstrating the range and wealth of opportunities available in our vibrant sector. I firmly believe these courses will help us with these focuses.

“There is a real appetite in the business to offer more training and development programmes, and build on the excellent work of our HR teams. Working with universities allows us to share knowledge and best practice and put together industry leading programmes that attract and retain the best employees.”

Claire Clarke, Group HR Director, Casual Dining Group, added: “We truly care about our people and their progression within the business, and wanted to positively promote a career in hospitality, demonstrating that it’s possible to progress from entry level to management at ease.

“With these programmes in place, we’re able to offer a clear career path and clarity for each individual. The onus is on the individual and every course participant will be the driving force behind their own progression, we simply provide the tools, structure and advice they need to take the next step in their career. I’m thrilled to be leading these industry-leading programmes and look forward to working closely with each individual during the course.”

Other existing training programmes CDG offer include bespoke apprenticeship schemes, in partnership with Remit Training, that support the career development for existing staff and new recruits in kitchen, front of house and management roles.  It also offers a programme in partnership with Heathrow Employment & Skills Academy, providing recruitment, apprenticeships and training for employers who operate at Heathrow Airport – the courses provide a number of modules, from customer service training to learning a foreign language.

Casual Dining Group appoints Rooney Anand as Chairman

Casual Dining Group (“CDG”), the operator of nearly 300 mid-market restaurant brands including Las Iguanas, Café Rouge and Bella Italia, announces the appointment of Rooney Anand as Chairman of CDG from December, replacing Martin Robinson who has stepped down having been with the business since 2014.

Rooney has been Chief Executive Officer of Greene King, the UK’s leading pub retailer and brewer, for 14 years and is stepping down at the end of April, 2019. He is credited with turning Greene King from a small regional brewery and pub business into the UK’s leading pub company. Rooney was named ‘Business Leader of the Year’ at the 2016 Lloyds Bank National Business Awards and brings a wealth of experience gained at the highest levels in the hospitality sector to CDG. He was also recently appointed Chairman of WorldSkills UK, the education and skills charity from January.

Steve Richards, CEO of Casual Dining Group, commented:

“We are delighted to welcome Rooney to CDG as our new Chairman. Rooney brings with him exceptional sector experience and everyone at CDG is looking forward to working with him.”

“On behalf of the board, I’d like to thank Martin for his contribution to CDG over the past four years and we wish him well.”

Rooney Anand, Chairman of Casual Dining Group commented:

“I’m very much looking forward to supporting Steve and the management team, helping them to build on the solid foundations they’ve established at CDG as they continue to grow and develop the business in the fast moving and competitive casual dining market.”

Matthieu Boulanger, Member & Global Head of Private Credit, KKR commented:  

“We are very pleased to have Rooney join the CDG leadership team. He brings a wealth of experience and we believe he is uniquely placed to identify growth opportunities whilst steering the company through the challenges ahead.”

CDG wins tender to open Warrens Bakery site at Bristol Airport

Casual Dining Group (CDG) has added another famous eating-out brand to its growing concessions and franchising portfolio, after winning a tender to open a Warrens Bakery franchise store at Bristol Airport.

Award-winning Warrens Bakery, which was founded in 1860, is the World’s oldest Cornish pasty maker and recognised as one of the top three craft bakeries in the UK by the baking industry. The new site at Bristol Airport will take over from an existing Soho Coffee site, in the Autumn.

The 84-cover venue will be located landside in Bristol Airport, selling all day menu options ranging from hand-made pasties, pastries and fresh sandwiches, alongside hot and cold drinks.

This latest agreement with Warrens Bakery is an important addition to CDG’s portfolio of brands, allowing it to tap into the lucrative grab-and-go market in the UK, primarily targeting airports and major train stations for future growth.

Mark Nelson, Managing Director of Concessions and Franchising, Casual Dining Group, said: “We are delighted to be working with Warrens Bakery; it’s a highly respected, quality brand with a strong heritage that allows us to enter the grab-and-go space. The look and feel of the site is rich and authentic, just like its food, and we’re confident it will be well received when we take it to the wider market.

“While this first partnership opening is at an airport, I very much see the opportunity to target other major transport hubs across the UK with Warrens Bakery sites, bringing award-winning Cornish pasties, hand-made sandwiches, sweet treats, fresh coffee and excellent service to commuters and travel-weary passengers when they need it most.”

In recent years, Warrens Bakery has taken home an impressive array of awards, including World Champion and British Pie Gold winner for its leading pasties as well as frequent Great Taste and other awards.

Mark Sullivan, Chairman of Warrens Bakery, said: “We’re delighted to be working with CDG and opening a Warrens Bakery outlet at Bristol Airport. We’re a brand with an incredibly rich heritage and we want to find franchise partners that we know will uphold and deliver our values and brand standards. In CDG we have found the perfect partner, they are operational experts and together we can take Warrens Bakery to new profile destinations across the UK in a variety of formats ranging from café to kiosk.”

Bella Italia raises £100k for the Dreams Come True Charity

To celebrate a landmark £100,000 raised over the past 30 months for the children’s charity Dreams Come True, Bella Italia presented a cheque to the chief executive, Richard Aston at the popular Italian restaurant’s Islington site in conjunction with the charity’s 30th birthday.

The money, which has been raised by donating 25p from every Lenticchie pasta dish sold across its 110 UK restaurants, alongside other fundraising activities, has gone towards making the dreams of 30 young people with serious illnesses come true.

Dreams Come True is a UK children’s charity with a mission to enrich the lives of children and young people with serious and life-limiting medical conditions by offering them unforgettable experiences to fulfil their dreams, and ultimately create long lasting memories to share with family and friends.

Celia Pronto, Chief Customer Officer, said: “We are delighted to be able to work with a charity like Dreams Come True. Bella Italia is a brand that believes in the importance of family and friendships and this charity really reflects our brand values. We are thrilled our partnership with Dreams Come True has been able to give young people facing tough circumstances memorable experiences and help make their dreams come true.”

Richard Ashton, Chief Executive of Dreams Come True, added: “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our 30th Anniversary than to have the team at Bella Italia raise £100,000 in 30 months, which has allowed for 30 dreams to come true for our children. On behalf of our dream recipients and everyone at the charity I want to say thank you to Bella Italia for helping us make a real difference and fulfil the personal dreams of children and young people with serious and life limiting conditions.”

CDG signs exclusivity deal for Las Iguanas, Oriel and Bella Italia in UAE

Casual Dining Group (CDG), the operator of nearly 300 mid-market restaurant brands including Café Rouge, Bella Italia and Las Iguanas, has agreed a new franchising deal for its Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Oriel Grande Brasserie brands in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was officially announced during a launch event attended by both parties at Las Iguanas, Royal Festival Hall, 30 October.

The deal with RELAM Investment gives exclusivity to open and operate the brands in the UAE for the next four years and stipulates it will open a minimum of 11 restaurants over the period. The partners are currently looking at several high-profile locations in Dubai for the debut site, and are also keen to explore opportunities in Abu Dhabi for further openings.

The agreement represents a partnership between RELAM Investment and CDG, who will become its primary food and beverage partner in the region. RELAM Investment is a well-respected global investment company based in Dubai, specialising in a range of investments, including real-estate and technology. After recently committing to invest £300m into technology and real estate in India, this will be the company’s first food and drink investment.

The deal sees the first ever franchise for Oriel Grande Brasserie, CDG’s premium all-day restaurant concept, that currently operates three sites, all of which are at airports. While the food across all of the brands will be reflective of their UK counterparts, all of the sites will be ‘dry’, but will serve a range of specially created mocktails which were showcased on the launch night.

The move adds further momentum to CDG’s growing overseas franchise portfolio, which already boasts agreements in Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Ireland; to name a few. The group is exploring further franchising opportunities in Asia, Europe and North Africa.

Mr. Sultan Ali Rashed Lootah, Chairman & Managing Director of RELAM Investment, added: “When we look for partners, we don’t just want well-known brands, we want operational experts who are the best in class and reflect our company values. CDG specialises in creating unique and memorable customer experiences and we are confident there is significant demand for its brands across the UAE, as the taste for European cuisine rises. The food scene across the UAE, particularly in Dubai, is vibrant and exciting at this moment in time and we are very much looking forward to working together on this new partnership.”

Casual Dining Group

Welcome to Casual Dining Group, operator of some of the UK’s favourite restaurant brands including Café Rouge and Bella Italia.