Eat Out With... Gavin Adair

Gavin Adair
24/10/2017 - 10:41
Gavin Adair, the ex-Wahaca commercial and strategy director’s, joins Rosa's Thai Cafe at a time when the company continues to grow its stable of restaurants in the capital, with its most recent opening being in Seven Dials. Maria Bracken sits down with him.

What is your background?

Prior to taking on this role I was commercial and strategy director at Wahaca for four years. I had responsibility for quite a broad range of things. This included everything from marketing, food development; property, acquisition; risk and strategy and commercials. So a pretty broad remit overall.

But to go back a few steps further, I started life as a chartered accountant in one of the big accountancy firms. I spent eight years doing that in the UK and internationally. I then came back to London and went on to do an executive MBA at London Business School. It was at this point that I realised I no longer wanted to advise, I wanted to do.  So I completed the MBA course and moved into finance based roles as well as doing some independent consulting. I then joined Channel 4. I was there for about four years and got the typical tap on the shoulder to move into a finance role within the restaurant industry. The first step into hospitality was when I held a role at Ask Italian who were part of Gondola. I joined them as finance director. It was an interesting way to learn about restaurants. I then left them after three years to move into general management. It was this point that I joined Wahaca, four years ago.

How did you get into Wahaca?

Tom Byng who used to run Byron introduced me to Mark Selby at Wahaca. I was looking for a bit of advice. I wanted to work for a business with 5-15 sites, with growth opportunity, and that's exactly where Wahaca was at that time. I met Mark for a coffee to pick his brains. Wahaca had 7, maybe 8 sites when I first joined. It now has 27 sites which includes two of their spin off businesses DF Mexico and Burrito Mama. That's actually what I did to begin with. So when I first joined, my role was to develop what is known as Burrito Mama and DF Mexico. So I developed the concepts and opened and managed the restaurants. I spent two years doing that. The plan was to continue running with these businesses but it was hard graft. There was no work life balance, it was all work, work work. So it was at this point that I switched into the group commercial and strategy director role And what a fantastic job it was.

How did you get from Wahaca to here?

Mark and I became quite close. It was a complete wrench to leave. I wasn't looking to move at all. In his words, I was his right hand man. I actually got in touch with Alex Moore, co-founder of Rosa Thai, to have lunch with him, with my agenda being, to find out how they were trading in a couple of locations where we were thinking of opening new sites. There was no hidden agenda to move. We met for lunch. Alex was very open about the business and its challenges. He was trying to pick my brains about the brand and vice versa. I had always loved the Rosa Thai brand. I said to my wife that night, I am going to keep a close eye on these guys as they are going to need somebody in 6-12 months.

Three weeks later, Alex text me asking to meet for a beer.  The rest, they say, is history.

What is your role?

 Alex is looking for someone to run the business for him, as he takes a step back. As long as you respect the culture, you can change things in the business.  So the road was pretty clear for me right from the start.

One of the beauties of coming across is, obviously it is a great size with 10 sites,  it has some infrastructure and it's in double digit like for like growth. There's nothing broken but there are lots of opportunities to build on those inheritant strengths.

What is your vision?

Mexican has had a pretty high profile in the last year but I think Thai is in a great place and nobody has managed to own that space yet. Rosa's is authenctic and it's not themed. It's not somebody's interpretation of what they think a British person's Thai resttaurant is like. It's just confident and good quality. This gives us the perfect opportunity to own the space.

What comes with this is significant growth opportunity but not just growth for growth sake. I think there are plenty of opportunities in London and certainly outside of london.

Identify any challenges facing the business

You have the obvious ones such as consumer confidence, price increases, labour costs, apprenticeship levy, rates and rents. The slighty smaller sites mean we are less exposed to the rent review farce. But we are going to have to deal with the increse of labour costs. I'm not sure how Brexit will pan out for us, other than having an impact on consumer confidence. We have a very heavy Thai workforce versus a European workforce. Ultimately everyone is facing real challenging times, but if anything there are costs opportunities. And it's not just in food costs it's across the cost base.

Who is your competition?

Rosa's has defined its competition to this point. I am more looking at businesses like Dishoom, Franka Manka, Pizza Pilgrims, so premium casual dining brands with vibrancy and honesty around them, as well as authenticity. You can't ignore the Thai market, but not everybody is thriving in that field.

Identify up and coming trends in the industry?

Other than the obvious ones, Mexican, Thai. I think burgers are overdone. If you had asked me that question a year or two ago, I would've said BBQ. I also think vegetarian and vegan are big industry wide trends.

How does your menu work?

Each of the sites has its own menu driven by the chefs. Here (Seven Dials site) we have a Northen Thai menu. Where the head chef is from influences what those dishes are. This all supports the authenticity and individual look and feel of each restaurant.

Who do you admire most within the industry?

I haven't met anyone more innovative than Mark Selby at Wahaca.

Would you ever consider opening retail/transport hubs?

We're not in retail parks, shopping centres etc. Will we do that? I don't know. A good strategy is about staying absolutely focused on what you do - so not chasing breakfast, not trying to develop different concepts. It's about good quality, consistency and customer experience.  My focus over the next 12 months is to leverage the strengths that are already there which is the quality of the food offering.

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