Ex-Pizza Express CEO makes dramatic return to casual dining market

Richard Hodgson, CEO

Former Pizza Express chief Richard Hodgson is back at the forefront of the casual dining market after joining the expanded YO! Group as CEO.

YO! Sushi last week shelled out £59m to acquire Bento Sushi in North America and Hodgson’s role will involve overseeing the newly-formed combined business.

Hodgson brings considerable international restaurant and retail experience to the company. Prior to his role at Pizza Express, Richard was commercial director of Morrisons and Waitrose.

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At Pizza Express, he led its international expansion, opened more than 120 new restaurants including in South East Asia and China, acquired its international franchise operations in the UAE and the Far East, and developed its retail business through new deals with supermarkets and online delivery platforms.

Hodgson said: “YO! Sushi has been an iconic consumer brand for the last 20 years, and the introduction of the Bento brand and offering presents a huge opportunity. I’m excited about joining the newly diversified Group at this pivotal point in its development, and working with the team as we capitalise on the new multi-channel multi-brand format.”

He replaces Robin Rowland in the role. As agreed with the Board when Mayfair Equity Partners invested in YO! in November 2015, and with the business delivering strong results and underlying like-for-like growth, Rowland will step down as CEO but remain on the board as a non-executive director.

Rowland has led YO! for 18 years, taking it from three London restaurants, through three private equity transactions, to 97 sites worldwide. Today YO! serves seven million customers a year.

Since receiving backing from Mayfair Equity Partners, he has overseen a revitalisation of the brand, resulting in like-for-like sales growth of 5% over the past 18 months. Eight new sites opened in the UK this year, as well as YO!’s first sites in Manhattan, Paris and Sydney.

The acquisition of Bento, the second largest sushi brand in North America and the largest in Canada, has formed a global, multi-channel, multi-brand Japanese food group.

The group is one of the largest sushi companies outside of Japan, with over 100 restaurants around the world, 550 partnered kiosks across North America, and fresh packaged sushi supplied to a further 1,700 partner sites. The combined businesses have recorded sales of approximately £175 million over the last 12 months.

Mr Rowland said: “I’m pleased to pass the baton to Richard. Richard inherits a business that continues to go from strength-to-strength and is now poised for rapid expansion across the group’s range of formats and geographies. I look forward to supporting the group’s growth in a non-executive capacity.”

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