Britain’s impending exit from the European Union will not deter industry legend Luke Johnson from investing in UK restaurant businesses, the serial entrepreneur said yesterday.
Johnson, who is chairman of private equity house Risk Capital Partners and best known for his involvement with Pizza Express, said that he still has an appetite for the foodservice market regardless of changes to the economic and political landscape.
“I’ve been investing pretty consistently for decades and I’m not going to stop now,” he said. “I think that you’ve got to take a view that if money’s sitting in the bank, it’s earning you nothing, so I would rather put it to work in businesses that we believe can grow and we can help.”
Johnson’s most recent industry investment came in April when he purchased a stake in steak chain Gaucho. Johnson said he had invested a “substantial” sum in the business.
Johnson, who has overseen more than 500 restaurant and pub openings in his career, believes that despite the worries Brexit caused, the British economy is fundamentally strong and consumer confidence remains high.
He said: “I haven’t noticed any [negative economic impact]. Overall so far, even on consumer confidence I think the weather has had a bigger impact over the last few months in terms of trading in my businesses.”
But he added that Brexit has resulted in a worry for operators about labour and staffing.
“It will be harder for EU citizens to come here and work, and clearly a good chunk of the staff, particularly in London, who work in restaurants, bars and hotels, are from the EU. So if the government were to introduce serious barriers to entry for new immigrants, then that would be a problem. And an even bigger problem for the industry would be if the government insisted if those who were currently living and working here weren’t allowed to stay.”
Johnson was speaking at the Lunch! trade show, where he took part in a Q&A session on day one of the event.
Johnson is currently chairman and part-owner of Patisserie Holdings, Bread Ltd (the firm behind the Gail’s Artisan Bakery chain), as well as chairman and part-owner of Feng Sushi, a London-based chain of Japanese restaurants specialising in home delivery, casual-dining chain 3Sixty Restaurants (comprising Ego Restaurants and Rocket Restaurants) and contract catering firm Genuine Dining.
He is also chairman and part-owner of pub group The Draft House, and chairman and co-owner of London bar chain Grand Union, Majestic Bingo and Small Batch Coffee.