Category Archives: Hospitality

Roaring trade: a history of J Lyons (1894 – 1945)

J Lyons had become the largest catering business in the world within 30 years.

J Lyons is established, and the first tea rooms are opened
Barnett Salmon (1829 – 1897) and Isidore Gluckstein (1851 – 1920) established a successful chain of tobacconists.

Montagu Gluckstein (1854 – 1922), a salesman for the firm, lamented the poor state of catering at trade exhibitions. He suggested that Salmon & Gluckstein enter into the business of non-alcoholic refreshment. A trial was established whereby the business catered for the Newcastle Exhibition of 1887. Contracts for other exhibitions soon followed.

J Lyons & Co was established as a public company with a capital of £120,000 in 1894, in order to pursue catering further. The Lyons name was adopted to distinguish the company from the Salmon & Gluckstein business. The original stakeholders were Montagu Gluckstein, his brother Isidore Gluckstein, brother-in-law Barnett Salmon (maternal grandfather to Nigella Lawson) and distant relative Joseph Lyons. Montagu Gluckstein was the de facto chairman of the business.

The first Lyons tea shop opened in September 1894 at 213 Piccadilly. It had 200 seats and a £30,000 lease. After a year the shop had made a profit of £11,400, and the company was able to pay a dividend of ten percent.

The first Lyons Tea Room was sited at 213 Piccadilly
The first Lyons Tea Room was sited at 213 Piccadilly

The early tea room exteriors were enticing and extrovert, and the interiors were often glamorous, and intended to evoke the great Victorian exhibitions and Parisian cafes.

The Lyons tea shop girls went on strike in protest against low wages in 1895.

J Lyons establishes Cadby Hall
Cadby Hall was opened in Hammersmith to centrally produce baked goods for the company’s 17 tea shops from 1896. There were 37 tea shops in London by 1900, and expansion had begun in the provinces, with six branches in Manchester, four in Liverpool, and two in both Leeds and Sheffield.

Quality was good and prices were reasonable. The tea rooms were particularly popular throughout the daytime with lower middle class office workers. Cinema and theatre-goers patronised the chain on evenings.

The first Lyons Corner House was opened on Coventry Street in 1909. The Corner Houses were much larger than the tea rooms, with a greater appeal to the middle classes. Live bands and an informal atmosphere helped to cement their popularity. The Coventry Street outlet became the Lyons flagship outlet, and seated 2,000 diners on multiple floors. It was the largest restaurant in the world. A second Corner House, capable of seating 1,200 diners, was opened at the Strand in 1915.

J Lyons was one of the largest caterers in the world by 1911. Half a million meals were served every day through 200 shops and restaurants. The company employed over 12,000 people, including 2,000 people at Cadby Hall. The Cadby Hall works covered ten acres and included sixteen bakehouses, five cold storage rooms and three butchers’ shops.

20,000 people were employed by 1913. J Lyons was the largest baker in London, the largest tea merchant in the world and the largest restaurant operator in the world.

J Lyons dismissed all naturalised German and Austrian employees from its staff in 1914.

J Lyons also expanded into hotels, building the Regent Palace Hotel in London at a cost of £600,000. Opened in 1915, it was the largest hotel in Europe, with 1,028 bedrooms.

Lyons tea was far and away the market leader by 1915: five million packets were sold every week by 160,000 shopkeepers. The company accounted for one in four cups of tea sold in London.

Lyons had a capital of over £2 million by 1917.

Tea, coffee, bread, cakes, ice cream and groceries which had originally been produced for the tea rooms began to be sold directly to the customer, all manufactured at the company’s Hammersmith site.

In 1918 Lyons acquired two leading packet tea companies, positioned second and fourth place in the market respectively: Horniman of London and Black & Green of Manchester. The acquisitions were intended to increase Lyons’s market share in the North of England: Horniman was strong in Yorkshire and G&B strong in the North West.

The company had a share capital of £3.5 million by 1919. By this time Lyons was likely the largest catering company in the British Empire. There were 182 tea shops by 1919, making it easily the largest chain of its kind in the country.

Largest caterer in the world; Greenford plant is established
Cadby Hall was struggling to meet demand by 1919, so Lyons acquired a 30-acre freehold manufacturing site at Greenford, on the outskirts of London. Lyons opened the largest tea packing plant in the world there in 1920. Coffee, cocoa and confectionery production were also transferred to Greenford. It was the sixth largest manufacturing site in Britain.

J Lyons was the largest catering business in the world by 1921. Cadby Hall boasted the largest bakery in the world.

The Trocadero Restaurant was acquired in 1921.

There were over 22,000 employees by 1922. There were 160 Lyons tea shops in London, and a further 50 throughout Britain.

It was calculated that seven million people drank Lyons tea each week in 1922.

Lyons began construction on the Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch, the largest hotel in Europe, in 1922. It had 1,500 rooms and a Corner House.

The Coventry Street Corner House was extended in 1923 to create what was likely the largest restaurant in the world, with seats for 4,500 diners. It also boasted the largest chocolate shop in the world. It was open 24 hours a day.

An interior view of the Lyons Corner House on Coventry Street in 1942

Ice cream manufacture at Cadby Hall had reached the mass production scale by 1923.

Lyons was the 20th largest company in Britain by 1930, with a market value of £12.1 million and 30,000 employees. It was the largest catering company in the world. Over ten million meals were sold each week. Lyons held 14 percent of the packet tea market, with over 1.25 million packets sold every day. 600,000 Swiss rolls were sold every week.

The teashop chain continued to grow strongly until the onset of the Great Depression. Teashop losses between 1934 and 1938 totalled £374,000. Despite this, due to its manufacturing and hotel concerns, the company remained the largest catering company in the world in the latter half of the 1930s.

Lyons directly employed over 42,000 people by 1937.

Lyons produced 3.5 million gallons of ice cream in 1939.

Lyons had 253 tea rooms by 1939. Due to wartime labour shortages, self service was introduced to the tea rooms from 1941, and rolled-out across the chain from 1945.

Part II of this post can be found here.

Movers and shakers: a history of Burger King in the UK

Burger King struggled to find scale in Britain until it was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1989. Grand Met acquired the Wimpy hamburger chain and converted its outlets to the Burger King fascia. Roadside services operator Granada began to convert Little Chef branches to Burger King from 1996.

Early expansion in the UK
Burger King was established in Florida in 1953. Burger King was the third-largest fast food chain in the world by the 1970s.

McDonald’s had entered the British market in 1974, and Burger King followed, with its first British outlet established at Haymarket in central London from 1976.

Burger King planned to aim at a higher quality market McDonald’s. Its range of products were led by the Whopper burger, as well as fries, milkshakes and apple pies.

Burger King established its first restaurant outside London in Reading, Berkshire, in 1982, to take its total number of outlets to nine.

One of the earliest franchisees was Management Agency and Music, a record company co-owned by singers Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck.

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Burger King UK suffered from heavy losses in its early stages. The European operations headquarters were relocated from Zurich in Switzerland to London in 1983.

Expansion continued at a slow but steady rate: there were 14 outlets, including three drive-through locations, by 1987.

Burger King acquired eight Quick hamburger sites from Whitbread for around £7 million in 1988.

Wimpy acquisition and further expansion
Like many of the American fast food chains, Burger King struggled to succeed in the UK until it found a British partner. Burger King’s American parent company was acquired by the London-based hospitality giant Grand Metropolitan in 1989.

Grand Metropolitan acquired the British-based Wimpy Hamburger business, and converted 150 counter-service Wimpy outlets to the Burger King fascia. With 180 outlets, Burger King now had scale in Britain, which offered significant economies for the business.

Burger King offered faster service, a wider product range, and better training for staff than Wimpy.

Another large expansion came when roadside services operator Granada began to convert some Little Chef outlets into Burger King branches from 1995. Conversion of a Little Chef into a Burger King had the potential to double sales.

Burger King had 465 outlets in the UK by 1997.

There were over 500 Burger King outlets in the UK in 2018, with the vast majority operated by franchisees.

What next for Wetherspoons?

An abandoned pub
An abandoned pub

Wetherspoons now have 900 outlets, and plan to open a further 50 throughout 2014. The key areas for expansion are suburban locations, smaller market towns which hitherto lack an outlet, and the Republic of Ireland.

A sound case for expansion. However, Wetherspoons are known for operating pubs that have two to three times the area of an average pub. That limits the opportunities for expansion in small market towns and the suburbs. New build outlets are unlikely, with the large number of vacant pub premises littering the suburbs. Large outlets allow Wetherspoon to cut prices for the customer, as they maintain lower overheads.

Expect to hear the latest wheeze from Tim Martin then, stating the business case for smaller neighbourhood pubs. The words “convenience” and “community” will be bandied about. I maintain that half the empty suburban pubs in the land could be made viable if Wetherspoons began to operate from them. A lot of them are quite large anyway. All day food, family friendly atmosphere and cheap beer. Furthermore, suburban pubs with a largely local customer base eliminates the need for a designated driver. Remind me again why people would bother to go into the town/city centre when they access the same facilities in their own neighbourhood?

The hole story: a history of Dunkin’ Donuts in Britain

Dunkin’ Donuts has failed in the British market twice. Will it succeed on its third attempt?

1965 – 1968
Dunkin’ Donuts announced plans to establish a chain of 250 shops across Britain in 1965. The first outlet was opened at Ludgate Circus, London in October 1965. The venture was a “flop” according to The Economist, and the operation entered into liquidation in 1968.

1988 – 1999
The second attempt began in 1988. Somewhat frivolously, its British head office was at 48 Carnaby Street, London. Four outlets were opened in the Birmingham area, with a bakery at Leamington Spa. Six Dunkin’ Donuts (including a 24-hour branch in Glasgow) and a bakery in Livingston were established in Scotland. The plan was to open 100 outlets, with a focus on the London area. The outlets and bakeries were all closed down in 1999, after continuously losing money.

During its second attempt, Dunkin’ Donuts was actually owned by a British company, Allied Domecq, which has substantial knowledge of the local property and catering markets, as the owner of J Lyons (including the Wimpy burger chain) and 3,500 pubs.

2013 to present
Dunkin’ Donuts returned to Britain in 2013. Management may have been encouraged by the success of rival doughnut retailer Krispy Kreme. The chairman and chief executive of Dunkin’ Donuts in America is also a Brit. But Krispy Kreme clearly presents itself as a premium priced “treat”, whereas the Dunkin’ Donuts model is more of a value proposition akin to Greggs.

A history of TGI Friday’s in the UK

TGI Friday’s was one of the first American casual dining chains to expand overseas.

Whitbread had established the Beefeater restaurant chain in Britain 1974. Eager to replicate its success, Whitbread experimented with a number of new restaurant concepts in the 1980s. A 50 percent stake in the British franchise for Pizza Hut was to prove highly successful from 1982. The franchise for Quick, a Belgian fast food chain, was acquired, but the concept soon failed.

Whitbread opened the first TGI Friday’s in Britain in Birmingham in 1986. A former Wendy’s in Covent Garden, London was converted in 1987. The site enjoyed a £1 million makeover, and was an exact replica of the American model. By the end of the 1980s further outlets had been established at Birmingham, Fareham, Reading and Cardiff.292px-TGI_Fridays_logo.svg

TGI Friday’s had been established as a singles bar on the east side of Manhattan by Alan Stillman, a perfume salesman, in 1965. At a time when New York pubs and bars were aimed at men, Stillman made his bar brighter, cleaner and more domestic in order to make it more attractive to women. Daniel R. Scoggin was a customer who recognised the franchising potential of the restaurant, and instigated the roll-out of the chain across the US.

TGI Friday’s was the first chain of themed casual dining restaurants. The flamboyant bartenders were the direct inspiration for the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail (1988), which was filmed in the original Friday’s. The restaurant claims to have invented loaded potato skins in 1974, and helped to popularise nachos. After a few years, the chain began to attract families, particularly during the daytime.

The chain was an instant success in Britain. Whitbread had insight into the mindset of the British public, and knowledge of the property market. The Covent Garden site was the busiest TGI Friday’s in the world by 1992, and reputedly the busiest restaurant in Europe. In one week, its 260 seats yielded a turnover of £180,000.

There were 12 sites in Britain by 1993, and the average annual turnover was £2.5 million. According to Sally Dibb and Lyndon Simkin, Friday’s altered the UK dining scene “beyond recognition” due to its vitality, enthusiasm and tight quality control standards. The company hired staff with extrovert personalities, and the restaurants provided a theatrical experience. From the beginning, TGI Friday’s was an early example of a company that tried to be “nice”, to treat its employees fairly and to be a good corporate citizen.

The chain grew to 41 outlets by 2004. At this time, Whitbread indicated that it would divest the chain if profits failed to improve. Sales remained disappointing throughout 2005. Whitbread sold the chain to the American parent company, Carlson, for £70.4 million in 2007. Whitbread felt that it had grown the chain as much as it could.

Squaring off: Wendy’s Hamburgers in the UK

Wendy’s is the third largest hamburger chain in the world. It has tried to break the UK market twice, but now plans to return for a third attempt.

Wendy’s and Grand Metropolitan
The first Wendy’s outlet in Britain opened in London in 1980. For trademark reasons it was called Wendy, not Wendy’s. The operation was a joint venture between Wendy’s International and Grand Metropolitan, a large British hotels and brewing concern. Grand Met was an experienced local operator, having already enjoyed great success with the Berni Inn casual dining chain in Britain. A flagship Wendy outlet was opened on Oxford Street. The over-25s demographic was the target audience.

Grand Met exited the joint venture just one year after it entered it, and Wendy’s International assumed full control of the British operations.

Wendy expanded to 16 restaurants. However the high-cost of rents at its central London sites left the company struggling to make a profit. The sites, all of which were located in London and the South East, were sold to Whitbread for £6.8 million in 1986. The majority of the Wendy sites were converted to Quick, the Belgian fast food brand.

Wendy’s returns to the British market
Wendy’s returned for a second attempt at the UK market in 1992, with outlets at Shaftesbury Avenue and Oxford Street. Outlets were now branded as “Wendy’s”, and featured salad bars. The company announced plans to expand to 70 sites across Britain. The initial expansion concentrated on London and West Yorkshire.

There were twelve restaurants by 1996, including eight company-owned and four franchise sites. Wendy’s retreated from the British market for the second time in 2000. Some of its most prominent sites were taken over by McDonald’s, including Oxford Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, York Way near King’s Cross and Briggate in Leeds. Wendy’s blamed high property and operating costs for its failure in the British market.

Wendy’s announces plans to return to Britain
Wendy’s plans to return to Britain from 2021, with an initial outlet in Reading, Berkshire.

A lot on their plate: Fatty Arbuckle’s

Fatty Arbuckle’s was one of the largest casual dining chains in Britain during the 1990s.

Pete Shotton (1941 – 2017) and Bill Turner (died 1993), two friends from Liverpool, opened the first Fatty Arbuckle’s outlet in Plymouth in 1983. Shotton had been a member of the Quarrymen alongside John Lennon, later of Beatles fame.

Fatty Arbuckle’s was modelled on American diners, and had a retro Hollywood theme. There was a focus on large portions served on 13-inch plates. The restaurant was named after Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, one of the most successful silent film actors in the 1910s.

A second Fatty Arbuckle’s restaurant was opened in Bournemouth in 1985. Adrian Lee and his wife were appointed managers of the Bournemouth restaurant.

Adrian Lee was promoted to managing director of Fatty Arbuckle’s in 1988.

Bill Turner died in 1993, and Pete Shotton acquired his stake in the business.

Each new Arbuckle’s outlet was to prove an immediate success. Franchise outlets were opened from 1991, which allowed the chain to rapidly expand to 22 restaurants by 1995. Arbuckle’s was the largest American-style restaurant chain in Britain by 1997, with 42 outlets.

Arbuckle’s, with its focus on beef burgers and steaks, was hit hard when a BSE-epidemic struck Britain in 1996. 70 percent of its sales had been burgers. Pete Shotton sold his majority stake in the business to the turnaround experts, Alchemy Partners, for £5 million.

Alchemy was widely credited with reviving the fortunes of Arbuckle’s. More profitable leisure park sites were pursued over high street locations, and the chain peaked with 58 restaurants by 1999. “Fatty” was dropped from the name in order to appeal to health-conscious diners from 2000.

After making heavy losses, Arbuckle’s entered into receivership with debts of £6.8 million in July 2000. The loss-making majority of outlets were immediately closed down.

The brand and ten outlets were acquired by the Noble House Group, headed by investor Robert Breare (1953 – 2013), for a rumoured £1 million. Breare was charismatic; a hyperactive, shambolic and disorganised man, who enjoyed the good life. He was adept at acquiring companies, but lacked managerial skill.

The ten remaining outlets were closed down in 2006. Two former managers acquired the rights to the name and opened a revamped Arbuckle’s at Downham Market in Norfolk from 2008.

The American-style restaurant is still represented in Britain by TGI Friday’s, Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito (Tex-Mex), but other American-style restaurant chains such as Henry J Bean’s and Old Orleans have since closed down.

Central London rentals

Okay, so visited London for about a week. One thing really jumped out at me. In the provinces, Costa Coffee is by far the largest coffee shop chain, especially outside of the large cities. In London, I was astounded by the number of Starbucks in prime real estate locations. Costa takes smaller premises than Starbucks, on less prime real estate. And with the recent tax avoidance scandal that Starbucks UK was involved in, I can really believe that they don’t make any profit in the UK. I predicted that this was due to the high rentals that they were paying in central London. Turns out, I was right. I later found this from their website:

during our rapid expansion phase we positioned a high proportion of our efforts on prime, high street locations, and in particular in Central London where the cost of leasing is the highest in the UK. The result has been a group of stores that do not make money.

Yes, Starbucks are often full, but many of its customers seem to buy a £1.55 filter coffee and linger there half the day using the free WiFi to work. Costa avoided paying silly money for these sites because they are owned by Whitbread, masters of the UK property market. Whitbread’s knowledge of the market stems from decades of owning pubs, hotels and restaurants in the UK.

Recently, Starbucks has been closing down some of these unprofitable London sites, including three on Oxford Street. A recent report stated that the company was looking to close down 16 central London sites.

A company that avoided paying silly prices for central London sites was bakery chain Greggs. They have a mere handful of sites in the area. And it’s not as if they’re under-represented in outer London. Upmarket Wimbledon high street has two Greggs for example.

I find the Starbucks unprofitability case interesting, because I think people assume that when a brand is brash, bold, highly visible and obviously splashing the cash around, that it is successful. Another instance of this is the many incarnations of the Virgin brand: yes, there are some successful Virgin brands, but look at the high profile failures like Virgin Cola, Brides and Vodka.

Pints of interest: the rise of J D Wetherspoon

J D Wetherspoon has been consistently innovative throughout its history. It has demonstrated a tendency to follow its own path, and has proved willing to take calculated risks.

Tim Martin (born 1955), was born in Norwich, the son of an executive for Guinness.

Martin qualified as a barrister, but had no desire to practice. He had wanted to be a squash professional but that didn’t work out.

Martin enjoyed a drink at Marler’s Bar in Muswell Hill, London. It was one of relatively few free houses (not tied to buy beer from a brewer) in London at the time.

The proprietor, Andrew Marler (born 1953), had acquired the lease when it was a betting shop, and converted it into a bar. Martin entered into the lease with Marler from 1979.

JD Wetherspoon logo

The pub was renamed Wetherspoon’s from 1980, after a teacher of Martin’s who struggled to control his class. Sales were brisk, largely due to the fact the the pub was free to sell beers of its own choosing. Martin realised there was untapped demand for free houses.

Martin reinvested his profits and acquired debt to expand the business. He opened his second pub in a converted car showroom at Crouch End in 1981.

J D Wetherspoon was incorporated in 1983. Martin was keen to expand the company, but was hampered by the lack of pubs on the property market at the time. As a result, he converted unconventional premises such as former banks, supermarkets, churches and cinemas. The company quickly gained expertise in securing drinks licenses for new premises and gaining planning permission.

The company grew with its standard offering of low prices, cask ale, and no music. Comparisons began to be made between the chain’s values and the ideal English pub as described by George Orwell. Whilst the similarities were initially coincidental, Martin consequently adopted Orwell’s template, and a number of outlets are named after Orwell’s essay title, The Moon Under Water.

Tim Martin sold a 25 percent stake in the company to Scottish & Newcastle, a large brewer, for £1.5 million in 1988. The chain began to sell Scottish & Newcastle beers such as Younger’s Scotch Bitter and Theakston’s Best.

J D Wetherspoon was floated on the stock exchange in 1992. By this time there were 44 pubs, all situated in London.

Wetherspoon introduced its all day food menu from 1993, and dedicated one third of its pubs as smoke-free areas. Its new pubs were double the normal pub size, and had almost double the average turnover, although margins were lower.

In 1994, the Financial Times reported that the chain was selling Guinness stout at lower prices than the two major supermarkets, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Wetherspoon had grown to 300 outlets by 1999. An advantage of converting former banks and supermarkets was that the company was able to significantly reduce its tax bill due to benefits from capital allowances. Its rate of corporation tax was three percent in 1998, and five percent in 1999. Wetherspoon therefore had a significant incentive to expand its number of outlets, and it helps explain how and why the company expanded so quickly. The legal loophole was closed in 2001.

Wetherspoon experienced its first major misstep when it entered Northern Ireland in 2000. As Wetherspoon sells its beer so cheaply, it normally requests a discount from breweries. However, Guinness refused to discount their beer in the country, claiming that the Northern Ireland market had increased marketing, staff training and quality control costs. Therefore Wetherspoon did not stock Guinness, and as a result, nobody came to their pubs. The company was forced to accept Guinness’ terms, or else risk failure in Northern Ireland.

Outlet sales were four times that of the average pub by 2001. That year, Wetherspoon began to wholeheartedly push its food offering, taking on the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s with its own range of coffees and burgers, and expanding into breakfasts. The company was highlighted for its notably clean toilets.

In 2002, the company rolled out a second brand that it had acquired from Wolverhampton & Dudley. Called Lloyds No 1, it functioned as a Wetherspoons by day, but as a nightclub in the evening.

In 2005, the company banned smoking in all of its pubs, ahead of the smoking ban. In 2006, 9am openings and TVs (on silent) were rolled out across the chain. The company claimed that its coffee sales matched those of Caffe Nero, the coffee shop chain. By 2007, 50 percent of all sales were food related, influenced in part by the smoking ban.

In January 2009 Wetherspoon introduced the recession-busting 99p pint. The beer offered was Greene King IPA. The brewer baulked at their main product being sold so cheaply, and the offer was switched to their lower profile Ruddles Best brand.

From April 2010, all pubs opened at 7am for the breakfast market. This was not altogether successful, and opening times have since largely been scaled back to 8am. Nevertheless, the company was second only to McDonald’s in the breakfast market.

Wetherspoon entered the Republic of Ireland market from 2013. Tim Martin remains keen to open outlets in France, having explored potential sites in Paris, Calais and Lille.

One the trail of the origins of the Slug and Lettuce

Slug and Lettuce is a British chain of bar restaurants with 70 outlets.

Slug and Lettuce was established as a pub chain by entrepreneur Hugh Corbett, who had a background in the hotel industry. Corbett brought a degree of trendiness and relative luxury to his pubs, with an increased focus on wine and food. His pubs were all given nonsensical names, which differentiated them from their competitors (eventually Slug and Lettuce became the standard name).

Corbett stripped out the carpets to leave stripped pine boards, removed the curtains and installed large glass windows. This meant that people could look into the pub from the street, and the new light and airy open plan design made the pubs more attractive to women.

Corbett cannily located the first Slug and Lettuce in Islington, which was beginning to undergo gentrification due to its proximity to the newly liberalised City of London.

There were nine outlets by 1989. The chain was considered by some commentators, such as Roger Protz, to draw much of its influence from the then-popular Firkin pub chain.

Slug and Lettuce was sold to David Bruce for £2.25 million in 1992. Bruce began to pursue the relatively untapped female market in earnest, imitating elements of the upmarket Pitcher & Piano chain and increasing the emphasis on food.

Slug and Lettuce underwent another rebranding, aimed at creating an English pub/Continental bar hybrid, in 1995.