Pub and Bar Award
Sponsored by Bidvest 3663
2014 Winner: Alex Reilley, Loungers
Friends Alex Reilley, Jake Bishop and Dave Reid founded Loungers in 2002. Since then, the business, which started as one small Bristol restaurant with just 10 tables, has grown to nearly 50 sites across the country and it shows few signs of slowing down.
Loungers, steered with seemingly boundless energy by managing director Alex Reilley, has adopted a canny business model of opening sites in densely populated suburbs and secondary high streets, which enables them to become hubs of the local community.
In fact, Reilley recently predicted that the group's Lounge format (currently at 40 sites) could "easily" grow to 350, and more openings are also planned for its premium Cosy Club brand (currently at seven sites).
"A lot of the success we have had is because we are not seen as a major player by our customers," Reilley told The Caterer in a recent interview.
"That is going to be the biggest challenge to us. We always say the facade of the business is very cuddly. But if you peer behind the curtains there is a very aggressive machine behind it."
"It is no coincidence that a lot of the established casual-dining brands are desperately trying to have a broader appeal, with a breakfast offering. The likes of PizzaExpress, Zizzi, Giraffe - they have all gone into that space. Gone are the days when people stuck strictly and rigidly to the lunch-dinner format," Reilley said in 2012. "I think that level of flexibility and lack of structure with the Lounge concept is part of its success. We have one menu in the Lounge and it is served from 9am to 9pm. Nothing stops."
Every site also has a community board, and hosts local activities and initiatives such as a book swap scheme and local community group meetings, as well as quiz nights and fundraising events for local charities.
Reilley also takes a strong personal interest in the interior design of each site alongside an in-house build team that works to transform units into an eclectic retro home from home featuring quirky design touches ranging from statement light fittings sourced from decommissioned aircraft hangars, to 1940s easy chairs, and bespoke mismatched chairs and tables.
The judges praised the business for its ability to trade strongly (company EBITDA stood at £4.4m in the year to April 2014) in secondary locations that other operators might overlook, as well as for its well organised, systematic approach that has made it one of the fastest-growing casual dining businesses in the country.
What the judges said "Loungers has created one of the products that is fit for its time - clever use of conversions from retail, a product that is truly all-day and a value
proposition that appeals to its market. Then it delivers it really well and grows it fast. Few people combine all of the above. A real financial success story."
"We think Alex Reilley stood out as an individual, who was passionate about the Loungers concept and has shown fantastic business growth from
humble beginnings. It shows how expanding can be achieved through times of recession."
James & Kate Mackenzie
Shortlisted Josh Eggleton, The Pony and Trap
Tom Peake, Nick Fox and Mark Reynolds Renaissance Pubs
Alex Reilley Loungers
Craig Bancroft, co-founder, Ribble Valley Inns, and managing director, Northcote
James Mackenzie, chef/proprietor, The Pipe and Glass Inn
Kate Mackenzie, manager/proprietor, The Pipe and Glass Inn
Jillian MacLean, managing director, Drake and Morgan
Andrew Pern, chef-owner, The Star Inn at Harome
Hamish Stoddart, co-founder, The Peach Pub Company
Ed Turner, managing director, Geronimo Inns