Gusto Leeds Now Open...
By Clare Burnett
Deputy Editor, Yorkshire
THE Gusto brand is set to open further Yorkshire sites as it continues a nationwide rollout under chief executive Sue Crimes, a businesswoman who mirrors the glamour of her restaurants.
Ms Crimes made the move from restaurant manager to chief executive of the Gusto brand in her 19-year career with Living Ventures, the previous owners of Gusto.
With the help of Palatine Private Equity, in 2013 she led a management buy-out of Gusto from the group (which is also a parent of The Alchemist, The Botanist and Blackhouse restaurants) to continue on her path of UK-wide domination.
Tim Bacon and Jeremy Roberts, the founders of Living Ventures, supported her wholeheartedly, investing in the Gusto business and holding places on the board as chairman and non-executive director.
Clearly a little independence does a woman good; Gusto, as of 31 March 2014, turns over £16.4m and employs more than 400 staff across sites in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Knutsford and Liverpool, to name but a few.
The launch of the Leeds branch of Gusto on Greek Street is not the firm's first foray into the region. It already has a site in Cookridge as a legacy of their acquisition of the Est Est Est brand in 2007, and Ms Crimes and her team have developed the restaurants from these inherited sites into something well-put together with considerable dedication.
The Greek Street restaurant will have 160 covers over a 4,000 sq ft, and will lead the way for further sites in Birmingham in November, and Edinburgh.
With such aggressive expansion plans and a track record of success, its no wonder Palatine puts her forward as a poster-girl for their portfolio of companies.
Ms Crimes said: "The Cookridge Gusto is really successful, considering we normally do things the other way round, developing satellite sites in affluent suburbs around the city with a main site in the centre to cater to a large corporate audience.
"Our Greek Street site is perfect. It also helps, rather than hinders us, that Gusto was in Cookridge first because people know the brand and we trade really well in Cookridge.
But Ms Crimes is not one to stand still for long, and she is already looking to Harrogate and York for the perfect space for her next venture.
She has made a versatile brand and is bringing that flexibility to the new site. "With the Gusto in Leeds," she said, "we've moved the design of the restaurant on to be more fitting for the area. We want it to be warm and accessible, but also stylish.
"In Glasgow and Manchester, we developed sites in the ‘grand cafe' style. But with Leeds I want to experiment with a softer, more romantic feel."
Having so many sites across so many cities means that Ms Crimes has a clear picture of the dining scene in each region and maintains enough brand flexibility to be able to adjust new sites to their surroundings.
She said: "Leeds is not as busy as Manchester, but that also means it's not as saturated. I think the biggest issue we'll face is getting people in throughout the week.
"We need a hook to get people in, I want us to become a destination, aspirational restaurant for the Leeds community."
A exacting order, but one that Ms Crimes and her team are well equipped to handle, and she remains hands-on when it comes to each new opening.
She excitedly and knowledgeably discussed the "cleverly engineered menu" at Gusto, which includes not just Italian staples such as pizza and pasta, but also higher-end offerings of lobster, sea bass and prosecco.
Ms Crimes said: "Women are definitely a target audience - after all it's women that make the decision where to go for dinner!
"We want to remain approachable though, we have a strong corporate following in our other sites, and I want to appeal to everyone, and that's all about creating the perfect dining experience.
"We invested £1m in the Leeds site because we are serious about making it a success here.
"It's 100% harder to crack the Leeds market but hopefully by the time we've opened in just over a month, we will have nailed the visuals, softened the brand and made it accessible to the people of Leeds."
"We want to woo people to the brand, and Living Ventures is already synonymous with good service across our other brands, The Alchemist and The Botanist as well as Blackhouse.
"Continuity in the restaurant business is all about maintenance. If you want to survive, always look pristine, maintain high quality level of food, and keep an eye on the details, such as lighting and music. thats how you maintain momentum and levels of sales."
Her attention to detail and impassioned dedication to each new site clearly has made a recipe for success.
Ms Crimes, like many people, juggles home life and business but her passion for the business shines through. She said: "You can have it all. You can adapt, and as long as you're passionate about what you do it doesn't feel like work. I love it."
GUSTO ~ Restaurant and Bar: Italian for taste and enjoyment
Inspired by the elegant charm of a classic Italian ristorante with a contemporary buzz and a modern, stylish interior, GUSTO brings the true "taste and enjoyment" of Italy to our guests.
GUSTO - it's all a matter of taste!