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Harlequin chief to expand restaurant business

SANJAY Majhu has revealed he is eyeing sites in Glasgow and Inverness under a plan to expand his Harlequin Leisure restaurants business although he said conditions remain tough in the trade.

VENTURE: Sanjay Majhu is in talks to buy an outlet in Glasgow, in which he plans to open an Indian restaurant under a new brand. Picture: Martin Shields
VENTURE: Sanjay Majhu is in talks to buy an outlet in Glasgow, in which he plans to open an Indian restaurant under a new brand. Picture: Martin Shields

The entrepreneur said he is in talks to acquire a business with a sizable outlet in Glasgow, in which he plans to open an Indian restaurant under a new brand.

Mr Majhu is also planning to move into the Highlands by opening a new restaurant in Inverness, under the Ashoka brand which the group is best known for.

He wants to capitalise on the rapid growth of the city in recent years. "The Highlands are a target for us, especially Inverness," said Mr Majhu.

The planned expansion reflects Mr Majhu's confidence in the growth potential of the Harlequin business, which he bought from entrepreneur Charan Gill in 2005.

The company describes its Ashoka Restaurants operation as the largest and most popular Indian restaurant group in Europe.

Glasgow-based Harlequin also has operations in Dundee and Livingston.The company opened its first outlet in Edinburgh in March last year.

Mr Majhu said this had got off to a slow start. He indicated there was an element of opportunism in his planned expansion in Glasgow.

Mr Majhu said a lot of people who operate restaurants decide to close down or to sell up in January, after the Christmas season. "I was not going to do it, I would not expand unless it was a really good unit," he said, adding: "It's in a very good location and it will not impact on any of our other restaurants."

There is little sign the recovery in the broader economy has prompted an increase in spending in restaurants yet.

Mr Majhu said like-for-like sales fell 5% in December compared with the same period in the preceding year.

Harlequin operates its restaurants through franchise agreements. "I have put a lot of pressure on franchisees to up the ante," said Mr Majhu.

Asked what that meant in practice, he said: "The customers know there's an unconditional expectation of special offers. You are going to have to discount."

In Harlequin's case this has included offering vouchers and doing two for the price of one type deals. Mr Majhu said a lot of sales are now coming through internet channels like the Just Eat takeaway ordering service.

Harlequin uses its Yes on Deals website to help generate sales.

The businessman said leisure businesses had to respond to the power the internet gives consumers. "People expect things to be ordered quicker and with a discount."

However, Mr Majhu said the outlook is much less gloomy than for some time.

In December 2013 Harlequin saw like-for-like sales fall 25% on the preceding year. He expects the group to increase profits in the current financial year.

Harlequin Leisure Group increased earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to £490,000 in the year to March 2013, from £221,000 in the preceding year.

Its portfolio comprises the Ashoka and Ashoka Shak chains, the Green Chilli Cafe in Glasgow, and the Las Ramblas Spanish restaurant in Bearsden.

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