Comptoir to refurbish ‘matured’ sites but maintains prudent approach to new projects

Comptoir Libanais has vowed to develop its property pipeline “with caution” but will still open at least two new restaurants this year and revamp a number of “matured” sites to give them a more modern look.

Over the past year the company increased the number of sites it runs by five to 26, including its first Comptoir branches in Oxford and Reading, and another Shawa outlet. It also has three franchise operations.

“Sales at the newly-opened sites are developing steadily and have grown towards maturity as expected,” explained chairman Richard Kleiner, who said the company would be investing in bringing some of its older stores up to date.

“We are currently looking to refurbish some of our existing matured restaurants which have been trading for over four years to give a fresh look and innovation with new designs,” he revealed.

Comptoir has committed to two launches this year, with one in Birmingham opened last month, and another London site at London Bridge scheduled for the second half of 2018. It also has two overseas opening planned.

“Aside from the two new planned openings in 2018, the group is adopting a more cautious approach to openings and expansion, which will allow the group time to consolidate its current position and for the existing operations to fully bed-in and mature,” explained Mr Kleiner.

When Comptoir floated on the London Stock Exchange two years ago, it earmarked a more aggressive roll-out plan but the board has since taken a “prudent” approach of scaling back the number of new openings in light of the more challenging conditions faced by the sector. Mr Kleiner said there would now be a heavy focus on ensuring that all sites are operating effectively, with a particular emphasis on newer restaurants.

Comptoir’s turnover increased 38% to £29.6m last year, although adjusted EBITDA was 58% lower at £1.1m due to a rise in administrative costs incurred following the opening of new restaurants during 2016 and 2017.

The consolidated statement of comprehensive income for the year shows a pre-tax profit of £460,000 compared with a £1m loss the year before, which includes a profit arising on disposal of the group’s Central Production Unit freehold property of £1.3m.

After adding back this profit on disposal and other non-trading items, including a credit in respect of the group’s share-based payment scheme of £200,000 and opening costs totalling £500,000, the adjusted pre-tax loss for the group totalled £400,000.

Bosses said that trading in the first two months of the current year has been in line with board expectations, and they anticipate strong sales in the second quarter. The company is currently putting in place several marketing initiatives, including a new menu, ahead of the critical summer trading period to promote sales at both existing and new restaurants.

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Tony Kitous, Comptoir Libanais

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