Bella Italia is a “massive profit machine”, says CEO

Bella Italia - Milton Keynes

Italian themed restaurant chain Bella Italia has become a “massive, massive profit machine” for owner Casual Dining Group following a repositioning of the business, its CEO has said.

CDG took over the chain three years ago and conducted a huge refurbishment programme that has seen more than half of its store estate transformed. It is on course to open its 150th Bella this year but believes it can eventually double that figure.

“I am not kidding when I say that Bella makes more profit than most of the high street brands you’ve heard of. It is a massive, massive profit machine,” said CEO Steve Richards. “It has been around in its various forms for 37 years and it is a fantastic operation, much-loved and really well-known for good value. But when we bought it, there was limited food quality and service was a bit tired.

“Part of the makeover has involved refreshing it and making it modern. We have completed something like 75 refurbishments now and there are only another 20 to go. The internals are now very vibrant, bright and highly relevant for today’s market. But it is still Bella Italia, we are not trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater here because this is a great brand.”

Richards said that CDG has repositioned Bell and moved it much more towards the themed dining end. Prior to that it was “sitting in that deep discount, overly-supplied pizza business”, he said.

“We wanted to develop an experience brand where people could come in and have a main meal, have a snack, have a coffee and buy into something a bit different than just £7.99 for a margarita. Pizzas now are around 20% of the sales mix. The grill section is equally as large as the pizza section these days and we have been embarking on a process to broaden its breadth to make it appeal to a wider family, value demographic.”

Bella Italia has also stepped up its focus on sourcing authentic ingredients, with its buying teams visit Italy to negotiate with quality Italian producers. “Our USP is being built around filled pasta and fresh pasta ranges and we are spending a lot of time in terms of improving our pizza as well as our grilled section,” continued Richards. “The business is in double-digit growth, delivering great returns for us, and staff turnover is massively down. We will very soon have 150 in the ground, but we think there can be 300 in the UK. It has great prospects.”

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