By Scott Wright

HOSTMORE, the recently listed hospitality company that owns the Fridays chain, is looking at new sites to expand its latest brand in Scotland – despite the deteriorating economic backdrop.

Robert Cook, the Scot who formerly ran Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, told The Herald the company had identified cities such as Perth and Stirling for the roll-out of the Fridays and Go “fast casual restaurant” brand after a successful launch in Dundee.

The Tayside outlet was Hostmore’s first in the city and the first Fridays and Go to open anywhere. Mr Cook explained Dundee had been chosen because it is a large university city, and because of the footfall it attracts, which is in part down to the city having two football teams.

He said: “We have had a fantastic opening in Dundee, the city has taken to it well. We have had great revenues and learned a lot in the process of launching our Fridays and Go, which is fundamentally to compete in the arena of Five Guys and a little bit more of a higher price than McDonald’s and Burger King. You can go in, order on screen, you can grab and go, you can sit in or you can have deliveries at home through Deliveroo and Just East.

“But it has been a fantastic start. It gave us a lot of confidence after six weeks of trading to really look at rolling that out. [There is] no reason why, given the demographic and the city sizes, we will in time no doubt look at something like Stirling, Perth or Inverness for more Fridays and Go; maybe even some of the peripheral towns of Paisley, Kilmarnock etc could be places we could go to.

“[The] early indications are this is a growth brand for us.”

Hostmore was created when Fridays demerged from Electra Private Equity in November, and floated on the stock market. Before floating, it opened its inaugural 63rd + 1st, New York-inspired cocktail bar in Glasgow, in the former Gusto restaurant on Bothwell Street. Now it is poised to open a 63rd + 1st in Edinburgh on the former Café Rouge on Frederick Street.

Mr Cook hopes to take the 63rd + 1st brand to Aberdeen and St Andrews.

He said: “We think 63rd + 1st is a university town, affluent student population type offering, so St Andrews and Aberdeen would be obvious places to look for that in Scotland.” There are now three 63rd + 1st outlets in the UK, with the others based in Cobham and Harrogate. A further outlet is planned for Cambridge this year.

Mr Cook said the 63rd + 1st in Glasgow had seen a notable uplift in trade after the requirement to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces was lifted.

He added: “Scotland has always been very strong for Fridays – we have got four in Glasgow, two in Edinburgh, two in Aberdeen. That, and Essex, on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis compete for the top region within Fridays, and Glasgow Buchanan Street, having been around since 1993, is really the powerhouse of the Scottish business.

“Although saying that, Union Square Aberdeen has had a really good 18 months since we reopened, as has Fort Kinnaird and all the Glasgow properties.”

Elsewhere in the UK, the company will next week open a Fridays outlet in Chelmsford, taking the total to 85, with further openings planned for Durham and Barnsley this year.

While Hostmore is keen to expand, Mr Cook acknowledged the challenges presented by the economic backdrop, with inflation now forecast to rise to more than 10% by the end of the year.

Mr Cook said the company was “hedged quite well” with regard to major overheads such as fuel and meat, but emphasised that it is “not just those big-ticket items that are seeing inflation”.

Noting that rain had been causing problems with lettuce and tomato growing in Spain, which was pushing up prices, he added: “We are not only seeing inflation, we are seeing some shortages again. From a staffing point of view, there is no question we have had enough applications. The quality of application is getting better. But there is a high level of poaching going on.”

In March, Hostmore posted an operating profit of £12 million for the 53 weeks ended January 2, following a loss of £7.8m the year before.