Fish hooks on to diner concept with 12 new restaurants

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The Independent Online

Fish, the restaurant operator formerly known as BGR, is on target to roll out its branded Fish! diner concept at 10 locations by the end of this financial year, emulating the success of large restaurant chains such as PizzaExpress. A further 12 sites are set to open next year, bringing the total to 26 outlets.

The group, which sold its three flagship restaurants last year for £11m to focus on its Fish! brand, yesterday announced the promotion of Paul Gilligan, to chief executive from chief operating officer. Mr Gilligan joined Fish last August from PizzaExpress, where he was responsible for opening between 35 and 40 sites a year.

Tony Allan, the chairman and founder, said: "We're very pleased with the speed of Paul's rollout. He's been instrumental in getting sites open, hence his appointment as CEO." Mr Gilligan replaced Jeremy Ormerod, who resumed his old post of finance director.

Fish, which supplies more than 300 restaurants with fish and meat through its food supply group, Cutty, reported profits before tax for the six months to 30 April of £615,000 down from £759,000 the previous year. The group said operating profit, on a continuing basis, had increased sevenfold over last year to £601,000 from £71,000. Turnover on continuing activities increased to £8.4m from £6m.

Mr Allan called recent food scares "a double-edged sword" for business. "Our speciality food division suffered because of foot-and-mouth but that was counteracted by the fact that a lot of people started eating fish instead of meat," he said.

The group, which is AIM-listed, opened three Fish! restaurants, two in London and one in Birmingham, in the first half. Three other out-of-London outlets are up and trading and a further three will open in the autumn, in addition to two in London. Mr Allan said the brand's appeal lay in its affordability. Meals cost between £15 and £25 a head.

Analysts say this could differentiate Fish! from restaurant groups such as Chez Gerard, which charge more per head and have found it difficult to expand outside London.

Initial City scepticism at the group's ambitious expansion strategy has been tempered by the rate of its rollout. Ian Berry, an analyst at Beeson Gregory, said: "Early indications are very encouraging, new openings are on target or are doing better than the business model. Paul Gilligan has done a good job; he is obviously highly competent and committed."

Mr Allan sees few pitfalls with his group's expansion plans. "Unless, that is, we get an outbreak of suicidal sardine syndrome and the country stops eating it," he quipped. Fish shares fell 7p to 196.5p yesterday.

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