When private equity firm Hutton Collins began searching for a CEO to lead its portfolio company Wagamama two years ago, the smart money would have been on the job going to an individual with direct experience of the British restaurant sector. Instead they put their faith in leisure industry veteran David Campbell — and their choice has proved to be an inspired one. In joining the Japanese-themed casual dining group, David swapped a life of racing cars and music concerts for noodles and teriyaki beef, having previously served as MD of Allsport, the company responsible for all global Formula One advertising, and CEO of AEG Europe, the firm that transformed the Millennium Dome into The O2.
“His proven leadership and his experience developing some of the UK’s biggest leisure brands will be invaluable as we continue to expand Wagamama both in the UK as well as in other global markets,” declared then-chairman David Williams at the time of his arrival. He wasn’t wrong: turnover last year was up almost 20%, the number of stores it operates in the UK is edging towards 120 and it is currently in the midst of one of its most ambitious store renewal programmes to date.
What the chain has also understood is the importance of making its back-of-house operations the centre of attention. The sight of chefs tossing flaming woks in front of customers has become a core feature of the Wagamama experience for customers that appreciate a dose of culinary theatre. A new flagship restaurant on London’s Great Marlborough Street is the epitome of this new model, with a central open kitchen at the heart of the operation and a seating plan that combines its famous canteen-style benches with private booths. Wagamama’s senior team is one of the most experienced in the business, and key personnel such as executive chef, Steve Mangleshot, and global brand director, Simon Cope, have all played their part in moving the proposition forward. With plans to open another 45 stores over the next three years, David’s commercial nous will be vital for keeping it on track.
“The sight of chefs tossing flaming woks in front of customers has become a core feature of the experience”