Carluccio’s can hit 200—Kossoff

Carluccio’s can double in size in the UK, grow internationally and roll out its new cut-down brand Via, co-founder and chairman Simon Kossoff told the Casual Dining show today (24 February).

Talking to CGA Peach’s Peter Martin on the first day of the show, Kossoff reflected on the brand’s growth to around 100 UK sites since it launched in 1999, with ten new ones now launching a year. The latest of those is a cut-down grab and go ‘Via’ Carluccio’s, launching on Tottenham Court Road this Friday (26 February). It will offer coffee and pastries in the morning, then hot items at lunchtime and opening into the evenings too. “There’s clearly potential for multiple stores [for Via]. If it’s successful then we’ll push it out as hard as we can, but the plan at the moment is to test it.”

Kossoff sees potential for doubling Carluccio’s to “something north of 200” sites around the UK in all. Recent openings have been beyond London, and that trend will continue as long as property prices are so high—leading Carluccio’s to look at regional towns instead. Travel hubs have been proving fertile ground too. “It’s been the property equation that has proved too difficult for us in London.”

Carluccio’s has also launched around 20 more sites internationally, with a second opening due in the US this week. “We all know the US is a massive casual dining opportunity… if you’re successful there you can do as many as you like, which makes it too attractive to ignore.” The first site has gone down well, though it has been a challenge to find good staff, Kossoff said. “There are some things that are easier and some that are harder [than in the UK], but the best thing is that people love what we do.”

The market has been transformed since Carluccio’s launched, Kossoff said. “The biggest changes are in the quality of delivery and intensity of competition… There are so many plenty of people delivering really great quality in food and service now.”

It has prompted Carluccio’s to evolve its concept, including the addition of more evening offers, including extra bar space and more sophisticated drinks ranges, like cocktails and craft beers. “The look and feel has changed over the years, and we’ve made it a bit more night-time,” he said. “It’s constant evolution—no Carluccio’s looks like the last one… the changes might be small but you see quite a development in style.”

In an ultra-competitive market, brand identity is crucial, Kossoff said—and in Carluccio’s case that means authenticity and transparency. “You’ve got to be clear on what your brand is, and it needs to be a simple enough message that your audience can understand it instantly. People are so busy now.”

After 17 years driving the Carluccio's expansion, Kossoff has now stepped aside to the position of chairman, guiding future strategy and helping his team develop rather than overseeing day to day operations. “Really I’m starting to be an outsider looking in—and that helps, because it gives me some independence,” he said. “I’ve been fiddling around with the brand for 17 years, and that’s one reason why I’ve moved to bring some new blood in.”

More time has also led Kossoff to take up other non-executive roles, including at Thai group Giggling Squid and Mexican brand Chilango—where the same dedication to food quality applies, he said. “For me personally it’s about the food… I’m judging things on my tongue rather than a spreadsheet.”

Kossoff also reflected on his involvement in the ‘Undercover Boss’ TV series—a move that was regarded as very brave in many quarters. “The whole experience was utterly amazing… it looked slightly stage-managed, but being incognito with the team wasn’t… and that gave me access to what people were thinking in a way I hadn’t had before or ever will again.” It didn’t have much impact on sales either way, but changed Carluccio’s internal culture and improved staff engagement, he said. “In the same circumstances I’d definitely do it again.”