A franchise made in foodie heaven

Having established itself in the Harrods Food Hall, luxury pan-Asian food concept Pan Chai seems destined for franchising glory at home and abroad

A franchise made in foodie heaven

If there is one industry that accommodates franchises like no other, the eating-out arena can stake a fair claim. Firstly, it continues to be a lucrative and popular market; recession or no recession. Equally, there is probably something to be said for the lure of owning a restaurant. However, the vast majority of growth is currently being seen most in the fast-food domain. There is yet to be any significant movement in the traditional restaurant sector when it comes to franchising, nor has there been much differentiation in the types of cuisine on offer.

This, though, is where Pan Chai comes in.

For starters, the luxury pan-Asian restaurant concept can boast having a flagship outlet in the Harrods Food Hall. Needless to say, such a positioning has put the brand in fairly good stead as it sets foot on its franchising journey, with five new sites planned before the end of this year. “For us, when we are creating a brand for the restaurant sector, being in the Harrods food halls is almost like the window to the world,” says Andrew Lloyd, director at Pan Chai. “It gives us so much exposure and it puts you on such a high platform to launch a product. It was the perfect route for us and we have learned a lot of stuff from the way that Harrods works and the types of standards they expect.”

Of course, it is reasonable enough to ask how one goes about securing a place in the Harrods Food Hall. Well, the stature and reputation that Pan Chai owner and restaurateur Eddie Lim brought to the table had some part to play. Lim already has the likes of Awana and Singapore Garden under his belt. That’s not to mention Mango Tree, the much-lauded Thai restaurant in Belgravia which has sites worldwide and now shares the floor space with Pan Chai in Harrods.

This ultimately gave the company some artistic licence – so to speak – over what sort of offering would materialize in Harrods. “They wanted us to take over the sushi bar, but they said they’d seen a 30% increase on the Chinese customers coming in,” explains Lloyd. “So we did a little bit of research on this and said it would be more suited to a pan-Asian restaurant. It is somewhere that people can go and have a dish from the region of Asia they love.”

Unsurprisingly, Lim and Lloyd have had little chance to breathe since Pan Chai’s April 2012 Harrods launch. Not only has the restaurant gone down a storm, but work has begun in earnest in taking the concept nationwide with a franchise model. Thankfully, this is another area where the pair has considerable experience. “We have got a few brands within the group and we have always done franchising on a worldwide scale,” Lloyd comments. “We sat down and thought we should really focus on the UK market because we are a UK company. So we decided to start franchising in the UK with Pan Chai and, being really passionate about franchising and the way we market that as a group, it is the perfect route for us.”

These credentials have been recognised by the British Franchise Association (bfa), which has accredited Pan Chai as a provisional member. Lloyd adds: “That gives us a real push in the right direction. When people come to us, they know that we have got an approved body saying we have got a proven system in place that you can follow and you can have a sustainable business.”

Pan Chai’s franchise proposition is certainly an intriguing one, with three different concepts up for grabs. On top of the quick service restaurant (QSR) outlets akin to the flagship Harrods site, franchisees will also have an opportunity to open fine dining and casual dining versions. Lloyd explains that this is part and parcel of a desire to take the luxury pan-Asian dining experience to as wide a reaching  audience as possible.

“Our target market will vary between the different models because it will be on the level of spend,” he says. “I would say the casual will be accessible to most people. The fine dining will be at that higher spend that may be out of the reach of most people but it will still be accessible.”

And whilst the initial focus is on the fine dining outlets, Lloyd envisages a situation where Pan Chai franchisees are operating a handful of sites, potentially under each of the three banners. “The people who come on board could have one QSR, one casual and if they feel like going into the fine dining sector, they could have a fine dining unit as well.”

Naturally, the ideal Pan Chai franchisee will possess the qualities required to maintain the level of class and quality cuisine being offered in Harrods. “The franchisees that are coming on board are hopefully going to be multi-site operators, and people from all different backgrounds,” says Lloyd. “They have got to be passionate about food and they have got to be passionate about business.”

The target of five restaurants by the end of 2014 is also reflective of the need to retain control of the brand in the early stages of franchising. “We have got to grow organically,” says Lloyd. “We don’t want to grow too quickly and not be able to maintain the control and checks that are needed to make the level of restaurant that everyone is expecting.”

Nevertheless, international expansion is firmly on the agenda for Pan Chai, as one would reasonably expect. “Even though we are concentrating on the UK market, we are looking at global markets,” says Lloyd. “In five years’ time, I would like to say that we have really got control of a sector where nobody else has come in and standardised the pan-Asian concept in a franchising manner.”

We can already hear the stomachs of the British public rumbling with anticipation. 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod
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