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Sticks’n’Sushi: An insight into a hybrid restaurant’s success

Following Sticks’n’Sushi achieving its highest earnings in its 28 year-long history, Catering Today sits down with Andreas Karlsson, CEO of the Danish sushi chain, to discuss the success.

What is the history of the business?

We are a Japanese restaurant with heritage from Copenhagen as two of our founders are half Japanese and half Danish. There are some elements of Nordic inspiration across our menu, but in essence, we have a Japanese kitchen, including both a hot kitchen and a cold kitchen with sushi and Yakitori.

The business was founded in Copenhagen in 1994 and it organically grew until we took a leap of faith and opened our first restaurant in the UK in spring 2012. Since then, we have grown the UK business to nine restaurants, seven of them located in Greater London, one in Cambridge and one in Oxford, and there are also four delivery kitchens in the Greater London area.

How have the delivery kitchens in London contributed to the record profits?

Before Covid, we had built a very strong takeaway and delivery business in Denmark, and a reasonable part of the business in the UK was takeaway and delivery. During Covid, that exploded and it gave us the courage to open up a couple of delivery kitchens in the middle of the pandemic to plug the demographic and geographical space between the existing restaurants that we have in London. 

We opened those delivery kitchens in areas where we couldn’t reach our guests if the distance was too far to either walk, cycle or drive. The four delivery kitchens have added a business equivalent of us opening up a full scale restaurant again. You can’t mimic the sales made in a restaurant into the delivery kitchens, but four of the kitchens have added about 10% extra in the top line of business during the pandemic. During the pandemic, we also kept the majority of our sites open and only did take away and delivery from them during lockdown.  

What do you think has contributed to the popularity of the Sticks’n’Sushi takeaway in the UK?

Everyone had been sitting at home and working from home, and were not able to dine out. It’s about how well you can create your product in a takeaway version, and for us, we do everything made to order. When our guests are buying our food and bringing it home, it’s restaurant quality they will enjoy and I think that is the key to our success, that we can ensure our product is equally as good as a takeaway product as the restaurant product.

How has the company’s management led to the success?

A couple of new colleagues have joined us; I had a new CFO and a new commercial director joining in the middle of the pandemic, so they’ve helped to share the workload and helped to continue trading through the pandemic. But ultimately, the success is down to each restaurant we kept open during the pandemic, and it is down to the leadership in each restaurant who have led the teams and stayed focused on operating safely and delivering our products during lockdown.

Given how Covid has impacted the industry in the past year, how has Sticks’n’Sushi adapted to meet customer needs? 

More so than adapting, we have adopted more of our takeaway and delivery. Post the reopening of hospitality, we have picked up on a corporate supply of food into offices. During lockdown, many people found us through our delivery and takeaway products and now they want it when they’re back in the office. We have more corporate catering demands coming in so we have found yet another leg on our chair.

How has the company encouraged employee retention throughout the pandemic?

The key to our success is staying busy and staying engaged with our team – that’s how you manage to mitigate the risk of losing staff. If we compare to other businesses who couldn’t operate, who had to down tools for three or four months, they were the one who lost a lot of their team members because they couldn’t provide them with the environment that the team was used to. 

For us, it was all about keeping alive and maintaining engagement with them throughout the lockdown period to make sure that you’re always communicating and letting them know what’s going on.

How have Covid and staff shortages adversely affected the company? 

The sheer general shortage in hospitality is a challenge for everyone, including ourselves, but we are fortunate enough that our restaurants are busy. When you have a business that is busy, you’re more attractive as an employer. Also, it comes down to ensuring that you treat your team extremely well so they want to work for you, so you need to facilitate and ensure that your environment, and what you provide to your team, is good.

What does the future of Sticks’n’Sushi look like? 

First and foremost, we will continue trading well in our existing restaurants; that paves way to being able to grow the business more. We’ve certainly not been a restaurant group that copies and pastes restaurant concepts, or just rolls out restaurants, we take great care when we open, design and build our restaurants; all of our restaurants are individually designed so they have their own character, look and feel. Everything around the core product is the same, but we pay attention to the physical space where we are opening, and take the demographics of the area to account, so that’s what we’re going to continue to do. 

Hopefully we will open a few more restaurants in the UK as well. I’m looking at a few more possible locations in the Greater London area; I hope I can secure one or more in the next year or so. Opening some more fantastic restaurants is the plan.

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