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Business Profile - Koh Thai Tapas
19/09/2016 - 07:00
Koh Thai Tapas is a regional Thai boutique group looking to go national. Maria Bracken speaks to CEO Andrew Lennox to find out how they are looking to achieve this goal.
Koh Thai Tapas is an award winning restaurant brand, launched in 2009 by Lennox, along with two other business partners, Nick Billingham and James Hampton.
Frustrated by the restaurant scene which, according to Lennox, seemed to either follow the pattern of great food delivered with a stuffy fine dining experience or great ambience accompanied by mediocre food quality, the trio set about creating the Complete Dining Experience (CDE). This, says Lennox, is the core driving factor behind the strategy of the business.
Inspired by the company's cultural homeland in Chaing Mai, Thailand, Koh Thai Tapas launched its first site in Bournemouth and has not looked back since. The Boscombe site was an instant hit and won 'Restaurant of the Year' at the Bournemouth Tourism Awards 2010. Further restaurants followed: Bournemouth (December 2011), Southsea (December 2012) the first two restaurants away from the south coast, Bath (May 2013) and Bristol (Feb 2014) and its first Koh Noi in Sandbanks (Apr 2014).
The group, which is made up four separate concepts - Thai Tapas Restaurant & Bar, Thai Tapas Restaurant, Koh Lounge and Koh Noi Tapas Bar, now has 12 sites and is looking for further expansion. "We have a five year plan where we aim to take the company to 21 restaurants during the next phase of expansion. We aim to build three restaurants per year. Our focus is primarily secondary market towns. That's our sweet spot."
However, London is not on their radar at the minute. "We might look to open a site in London in four, maybe five years time. But it's not something we are interested in at the minute, despite customers constantly asking us about it. London is such a conjested market. Whilst we would do very well in London, the rents are just too high for us."
Central to Koh’s success is its emphasis on staff training and retention. "We have a work bible which is 25 chapters long which shows our staff how we do what we do. It's all about attention to every detail. The experience doesn't start when the diner enters the restaurant, it starts when the diner calls up to make a reservation. The experience ends when you say goodbye to that customer. It is about every single part of that experience."
This focus on people has paid off in the last year with the group seeing profits up ten-fold, its turnover has risen by around 20% and its Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) has doubled.
It is reflected in 2013 when the group won Best Employer in Hospitality. It is now ranked number 10 in the UK.
Other award wins for the group include scooping the Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 in the Dorset tourism Awards, being named finalist in the Business Growth of the Year Award in the Dorset Business Awards 2015 and a nomination in the Restaurant Company of the Year in our Eat Out Awards 2015.
Although expansion is a priority for the group, Lennox says this year is all about their people. "It is crucial that we are attracting the right kind of people. For us it is all about that personality and then rewarding it. It's about how we can make our experience better for the people we employ. After all, this is what our customers see when they are getting served."
Lennox says Koh attracts customers from all walks of life. "We are not a restaurant chain targeting a niche 'set'. You can come and spend just £11 on a Phad Thai and a beer or spend as much as £400 on a champagne-fuelled boozy dinner for four."
Top sellers on the menu include the Green Curry (£7.25), Koh's Own Chicken satay (£6.50) and its 24 hour ribs (£8.50). Everything on offer is Thai Tapas, however diners are given the option of having some items served as a main meal. Lennox believes the whole tapas and sharing plates trend is a massive growth sector. "We were definitely ahead of the curve when we launched Koh Thai Tapas. We are taking Thai dining back to basics. In Thailand you don't have a set dish which you eat yourself . A dining experience should be an enjoyable one. Tapas allows your service model of informal dining to get to know your customer."
Lennox says the opportunities for the business going forward are to make sure any further growth is sustainable. "It is going to be an interesting market over the next few years, but we are well placed with dealing on a global scale.
"I think we are going to see a lot of expansion this year but I think we will also see a big focus on people. We have had a successful year so far, but this has all come from focusing on our people and putting the right systems in place and having the right tools for growth."