31 January 2022
Las Iguanas’ Race to Rio tour, one of the hospitality sector’s best and longest-established employee incentive trips, is returning after a three year COVID-induced hiatus. The 2023 trip will be the company’s biggest yet, with more than 20 superstar team members set to pack their bags and their flip flops to jet off to Rio de Janeiro in the spring.
Places on the all-expenses paid trip to Las Iguanas’ cultural home nearly 6,000 miles away in Brazil have been secured through a series of incentives running over recent months, including Mystery Diner scores, along with VIP seats awarded to the General Manager of the year and the two runners up at last autumn’s Big Table Group conference. The final places will be decided early this year, with the lucky travellers heading off on their big adventure in April. In the meantime, Race to Rio ‘24 will kick off in January with opportunities to grab a seat on that flight throughout 2023.
First established in 2008, this will be the 13th Race to Rio tour, and this year’s winners will enjoy a whirlwind week away, with a fun-packed itinerary. They will scale the heights of Sugar Loaf Mountain and visit Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer perched above the city. In between a trip to the Sambadrome, the home of Rio Carnival, and taking in a football match at the iconic Maracanã stadium, there will be plenty of chances to soak up the Copacabana vibes on the beach, hit the water for a boat party and sample plenty of Caipirinha cocktails at the home of Las Iguanas’ Magnifica Cachaça in the mountains behind Rio. The team will also drop in and say hi to the kids at Las Iguanas’ partner charity Projeto Vidançar in the Alemão Complex favela.
Race to Rio is just one of a whole host of incentives at Las Iguanas alongside a wide range of group-wide benefits. In total around 40 people will head off on their travels this year, with further annual excursions to Cuba and Mexico set to take place in conjunction with suppliers, while plans are also underway for Iguanacamp, the summer Support Managers’ conference and social. Regular competitions and prize draws, like the monthly ‘Your Rent Paid’ giveaway and on the spot ‘Nice-ness’ rewards also keep things exciting.
Alan Morgan, CEO of Big Table Group, said: “Las Iguanas is a genuinely fun and exciting place to work. People join because they love the Latin American vibes, but they stay because of the family atmosphere and the incredible, money-can’t-buy experiences we’re able to offer. Our Race to Rio trips have had an amazing impact on so many people throughout our business over the years, and I’m thrilled that more team members than ever will have the opportunity to enjoy this trip of a lifetime this year.”
As part of The Big Table Group, Las Iguanas is also able to offer their teams a host of valuable benefits including 50% team discount in all of the group brands (Las Iguanas, Bella Italia, Café Rouge, Amalfi and Banana Tree), 25% Friends and Family discount cards, a ‘Spend & Save’ platform along with discounted gym membership and cheaper tickets to Merlin attractions. The ‘We Care’ Employee Support package in place includes virtual GP and mental health support access and financial or legal advice. Wagestream, the real time finances-tracking tool, is also available to everyone as well as access to loans and savings through Salary Finance. Charity Days and Spend a Day With… are great opportunities to give something back or get an insight in to the workings of the wider group.
14 November 2022
John Baker has been appointed as the new Managing Director of Bella Italia. A senior operator with a wealth of leadership experience, John has held roles with Pizza Hut, Debenhams and more recently with Krispy Kreme, where he was chief operating officer.
John started his career with Allied Domecq, before joining Mitchells & Butlers. He was also Operations Director at Betty’s and Taylor’s of Harrogate.
Also joining Bella Italia is Megan Trimble, who recently started as Marketing Director. Megan spent three years with Tim Hortons UK & Ireland, and previously worked at The Restaurant Group and EAT.
Bella Italia, which operates 70 restaurants across the UK, is part of the Big Table Group, which also owns Las Iguanas, Café Rouge and Banana Tree. This summer, the Group restructured to ensure greater focus on brand performance and allow teams to dedicate all of their time, energy and resource to a specific brand, creating new Managing Director, Chief Operating Officer and HR Director roles within Las Iguanas and Bella Italia in the process.
28 September 2022
The Big Table Group, the operator of Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge, has announced the acquisition of the fast-casual Pan-Asian chain, Banana Tree, adding a new cuisine flavour to its family of restaurant brands.
Founded over 30 years ago by William Chow, Banana Tree is famous for its authentic, exotic and delicious street-food inspired dishes, with flavours from Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. The business started as a single site in Maida Vale, London and currently operates in nine high-footfall locations in the South East – across London as well as prime sites in Chelmsford, Milton Keynes and Oxford.
The Banana Tree’s Pan-Asian proposition adds a key culinary category to the Big Table’s existing portfolio of restaurant brands, and is a complimentary extension aligned with key consumer trends including flavourful, fresh and convenient food, at an affordable price point and with favourable sustainability credentials – with 40% of its menu being plant-based.
Anne Chow will continue to lead the brand as Managing Director, reporting to The Big Table Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Alan Morgan. William Chow, an architect by training, will return to his original passion and work on the design of the planned new Banana Trees with the Big Table team.
Commenting on the acquisition, Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer, The Big Table Group, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming the Banana Tree team to the Big Table Group. Creating, growing and acquiring high-quality, complimentary brands with widespread consumer appeal is a key part of our growth strategy and therefore Banana Tree is an excellent addition to the business.
“Anne and William have built a brand with an extremely loyal following, superb food and guest scores, plus excellent financial metrics, and we see great opportunities to grow the business, taking it into new towns and cities around the UK.”
Anne Chow, newly appointed Managing Director, Banana Tree, said: “We are very excited about this new chapter with The Big Table Group, and look forward to working with our new colleagues and bring our beloved brand to new customers across the UK. We also would like to thank Will Baxter and Payam Keyghobadi of DSW Corporate Finance who have gone above and beyond in their advisory role on this transaction.”
Last year, The Big Table Group – which is backed by leading private equity group Epiris – announced plans to open 50 new restaurants and refurbish 70 existing sites over the next three years, investing £35m in new openings alone. The investment programme will take the group to 200 restaurants across the UK, while the company intends to invest a further £19m to refurbish its restaurants.
06 July 2022
The Big Table Group, the operator of Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge, has announced the addition of two brand new Las Iguanas restaurants at Center Parcs, taking its total number of restaurants at Center Parcs’ five UK holiday villages to fourteen.
Guests will soon be able to enjoy the spirit of Latin America and sample Las Iguanas’ iconic and authentic flavours at Center Parcs Elveden Forest and Sherwood Forest, doubling the number of Las Iguanas sites at Center Parcs to four.
Just in time for the late summer season, the new 284-cover restaurant and bar in Elveden Forest will open in August, creating 40 new jobs for the local area.
The 269-cover restaurant and bar in Sherwood Forest will open in November, creating 40 new jobs for the local area.
Big Table Group and Center Parcs extended their successful partnership in 2021 with a new six-year deal. The group operates four brands at Center Parcs, with Bella Italia, Café Rouge and new premium Italian casual dining concept, Amalfi, in addition to Las Iguanas. Center Parcs’ five luxury family holiday villages, at Whinfell Forest, Sherwood Forest, Woburn Forest, Elveden Forest and Longleat Forest, welcome 2.1m visitors each year.
Alan Morgan, Chief Executive, The Big Table Group, said: “Our long-term partnership with Center Parcs demonstrates a strong relationship and acknowledges the continued demand for our brands at its villages.
“Las Iguanas has consistently proven to be an extremely popular choice with guests of all ages, so it’s fantastic to add two more locations to our portfolio, and for Las Iguanas to become part of the Center Parcs experience for holidaymakers at Elveden Forest and Sherwood Forest.”
Damaein Houghton, Group Food, Beverage and Retail Operations Manager, Center Parcs, added: “Las Iguanas is a household name and has been a real hit with guests at Woburn Forest and Longleat Forest, so we’re delighted to be bringing it to two more of our villages.”
Last year, Big Table Group announced the its ambition and strategy to open 50 new restaurants and refurbish 70 sites over the next three years, investing £35m in new openings alone, which would take the estate to 200 restaurants across the UK, while the company intends to invest a further £19m to refurbish its restaurants, with 70 major renovations in the pipeline.
15 June 2022
Big Table Group, is piloting a partnership with Pudu Robotics, the global leader in commercial service robots, in an effort to boost innovation and elevate the dining experience, becoming the largest restaurant chain in the UK to introduce robot technology.
The retrieving robots, affectionately named ‘BellaBot’ are currently being trialled at the Bella Italia in Center Parcs Whinfell Forest. Designed to support team members with everyday tasks, the BellaBot features four shelves in the centre of its ‘body’ structure to carry plates. Once loaded, the cutting-edge robotic waiter interacts with guests when delivering food to diners to encourage customers to take their ordered dishes from the BellaBot. The BellaBot can be programmed to conduct certain movements around the restaurant to allow customers to take their desired dish in a buffet-like style.
In Bella Italia, the BellaBot has been designed to rotate to the side of the table, allowing the staff to hand over the client’s plates, automating many supply-side processes. In special occasions and festivities, the robot can be arranged to perform and entertain whilst effecting its allocated tasks. For instance, in the case of a guest’s birthday, the robot can display customised wordings on its external frame and sing ‘Happy Birthday’.
Commenting on the new initiative, Lisa Gibbons, Chief Operating Officer, Bella Italia, said: “We’re always open to innovative solutions which benefit our teams, improve service and improve our guests’ experience, so we’re delighted to pilot the BellaBot. By having intelligent robots conduct simple tasks, such as retrieving dirty dishes, our teams are able to focus on doing what they love and delivering an amazing experience. It’s still early days in the trial, but we’re looking forward to seeing the impact that having an extra pair of ‘paws’ has on dining satisfaction.”
Peter Shaw, Sales Development Manager for the Pudu Robotics, said: “Big Table Group are interested in their teams giving guests a great time, not in how many plates they can carry. We’re grateful for the opportunity to work with Bella Italia, and we’re looking forward to seeing the BellaBot make teams’ lives easier, and improve the experience of their customers
28 March 2022
Monday, 28th of March sees the launch of Amalfi, the new Italian inspired restaurant opening on Argyll Street, minutes from Oxford Circus station in the heart of Soho. The restaurant will offer a contemporary dining experience focusing on elevated simplicity, serving Italian inspired dishes, alongside an exciting cocktail menu. Amalfi will bring the relaxed Italian warmth of the Amalfi coast directly to the heart of Soho.
The restaurant will be split across two-floors serving 152 covers, as well as an outdoor terrace seating up to 20 guests for al fresco dining during the warmer months. Mosaic marble flooring, terracotta tiles and a relaxing private garden room seating up to 22 guests will create a calming oasis, infused with the very essence of the Amalfi coast. Garden-inspired surroundings including, ceramic plant pots, lemon trees and a large plant light chandelier will drape over the main staircase, creating a tranquil yet memorable dining experience.
Open for lunch and dinner, Amalfi will offer Soho locals and passers-by an array of delicious dishes, signature starters and memorable main courses.
The drinks menu has been carefully designed to offer guests a new drinking destination hotspot in the very heart of Soho. Guests will be able to choose from an array of drinks including cocktails, non-alcoholic cocktails, wine, beer and soft drinks.
Alan Morgan, CEO of The Big Table Group says, “We can’t wait to bring Amalfi to the Soho area. With a rising demand for effortlessly luxury dining we are excited for Londoners and visitors alike to experience all that the new restaurant has to offer.”
For further information on the opening, please visit: https://www.amalfi.co.uk
Address: 25 Argyll Street, Soho, London W1F 7TU
21 Nov 2021
Café Rouge in Haywards Heath has closed for a major renovation, with a new and improved restaurant set to open at the end of November.
TripAdvisor’s number 1 ranked restaurant in Haywards Heath, Café Rouge, on The Broadway, won a Travellers Choice 2021 award after earning consistently great reviews from diners. Locals can rest assured that the restaurant will be reopening in time for the festive season to bring people together again for great food and drink.
The new and improved restaurant will celebrate Parisian dining and the best of French cuisine, delivering relaxed quality and great value through a warm and inviting environment, excellent service and a carefully constructed French-influenced menu. The range will feature some classic favourites such as the signature Beef Bourguignon as well exciting new dishes including a more serious selection of vegan dishes like the Cauliflower Steak Frites.
The brand will retain the DNA of the Parisian Grande Brasseries that originally inspired Café Rouge, whilst embracing colour, softness and texture to provide all-day comfort for all occasions, whatever time of day. The restaurant will also benefit from increased outdoor seating, as well as outdoor lighting and heating, enabling al fresco dining on the Broadway all year round.
Steve Worrall, Brand Director, Café Rouge, said: “Haywards Heath is one of our standout restaurants, with a great team providing fantastic service. This is a big step for our business, and I couldn’t think of a more deserving restaurant to receive such an exciting refurbishment. We’re counting down the days until we can open again.”
Locals can expect the same much-mentioned exceptional service and welcoming staff, with the current team at Café Rouge Haywards Heath returning to post upon reopening.
General Manager, Javier Llopis, said: “Something very exciting is coming to Haywards Heath. The new restaurant is going to look incredible. Our team can’t wait to open again and serve the local community.”
The new restaurant will be offering a range of promotions and special offers on reopening. Locals should sign up to their mailing list at https://www.caferouge.com/sign-up to be the first to hear about them.
Café Rouge is owned by Big Table Group, who operate more than 150 restaurants across the UK and Ireland.
23 March 2021
After six years with the business, Chief Executive Officer James Spragg is to step down from Big Table Group. He will be succeeded in April by Alan Morgan, currently CEO of GLH Hotels.
Commenting on the development, Mike Tye, Big Table Chairman, said: “James has led Big Table Group through an unprecedented time of challenge for both the business and sector.
“On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank him for his many achievements during his six years in the business, as not only CEO of The Big Table Group, but previously as Chief Operating Officer, and MD of both Café Rouge and Bella Italia. Everyone at Big Table wishes James all the very best in the next chapter of his career.
“At the same time, we are pleased to have appointed a successor. Alan Morgan brings a wealth of leadership experience gained across the hotel, leisure and hospitality industries and I know he will be a great addition to The Big Table team.”
As well as GLH Hotels, Alan Morgan has held senior roles at Rank Group and Spirit Pub Company, and joins the business just weeks before many Big Table restaurants will reopen after a period of lockdown.
Mike Tye added: “Alan is just as keen, as am I, to get out and about in our restaurants, and enjoy some of the best experiences in the industry.
“We have all been so impressed with the resilience of our colleagues over these past 12 months; with their passion for their restaurants, brands and delivering great service, and the energy to get back to doing what they all do so well.”
09 February 2021
The Big Table Group is pleased to announce that a new premium Italian brand is to open on the site of a former Strada restaurant later this year. Amalfi will open once lockdown has been lifted at Woburn Center Parcs and will offer a delicious range of food and drink inspired by that served on the Amalfi Coast.
This move comes as part of an agreement to extend the residency of 12 restaurants owned by The Big Table group at various Center Parcs locations across the UK, all of which are due to be fully refurbished within the next two years. There are two Las Iguanas, four Bella Italia, five Café Rouge and now Amalfi to add to the group.
"This new long-term contract demonstrates the strong relationship between The Big Table Group and Center Parcs and acknowledges the continued demand for our Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas brands in high volume, high-quality locations" says Lloyd Bloom, brand director of concessions and franchising at The Big Table Group.
"Despite what is a very uncertain time for all, we are extremely excited to be looking ahead, with the refurbishments across the locations, as well as the introduction of Amalfi."
15 January 2021
Bella Italia, part of the Big Table Group has been awarded the title of the 8th best place to work in the 2021 review from Glassdoor.
This is the highest placed restaurant group and is testament to our fantastic teams and internal engagement.
14 September 2020
The Big Table, which was recently formed to acquire and operate the Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Las Iguanas restaurant brands, has appointed Mike Tye as its non-executive chairman.
With extensive board-level experience across the out-of-home food and drink market, Tye will work closely with Epiris, the private equity firm which supported the acquisition in August, and a senior management team led by CEO James Spragg and CFO Adrian Walker.
Tye has more than 30 years’ board and leadership experience in the UK restaurant and eating-out market. He is currently chairman of private equity-backed Moto Hospitality, and of privately-owned Haulfryn Group and vice-chairman of Prostate Cancer UK. He is former CEO of Spirit Group and recently stepped down as a non-executive director of The Restaurant Group PLC. Additionally, he has led Costa Coffee, David Lloyd Leisure and Premier Travel Inn. Mike also sits on the Council of UK Hospitality.
Commenting on the appointment, Epiris Managing Partner Alex Fortescue said: “We’re delighted to be working with Mike. There are very few individuals in the UK leisure and hospitality market with Mike’s accomplishments, standing and experience, and we are confident he will be a tremendous asset to James and the team at The Big Table.”
Tye commented: “With a talented management team in place and supportive, experienced investors, The Big Table represents an exceptional opportunity to build a first-class UK restaurant business. These are challenging times, but this is a strong business with brands that are popular with customers, and it is well placed to overcome the current uncertainty and deliver growth over the years ahead.”
The Big Table comprises over 150 restaurants across its three core brands and its formation safeguarded more than 4,000 jobs across the UK. Epiris’ investment in the business has enabled it to reopen its restaurants over the past month. Around 140 sites are now welcoming guests, with the remaining openings planned for the coming weeks.
01 August 2020
A new business formed by private equity firm Epiris has successfully concluded a deal to take control of the Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge restaurant businesses, in concert with the existing management team led by CEO James Spragg.
In a process handled by AlixPartners, the business formerly known as Casual Dining Group (CDG) was acquired from administration, preserving more than 4,000 jobs across the UK and over 150 restaurants trading as Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge.
The new business, through which Epiris has made the acquisition, is to be called The Big Table.
Epiris has invested significant cash into the business to help spark a rapid unlocking of the group’s operations, with its restaurant businesses starting to reopen across the UK next week. It has also made a further commitment for future funding. The new business will carry no external debt.
James Spragg commented: "This is a very positive outcome for the business. We are delighted to have concluded this process and to be working with such experienced and knowledgeable investors. We inevitably emerge from this process as a leaner business, and one that is now equipped to navigate the challenges the industry faces, safeguarding thousands of jobs."
Ian Wood, Partner at Epiris, said: "In common with most of the sector, The Big Table’s restaurants have been closed since late March. We will work with James and his team to re-open the restaurants, bringing over 4,000 people off furlough to enable customers to enjoy dining out again. This transaction will enable the business to trade through the uncertain months ahead and invest in its three strong brands to deliver an even better experience for their customers."
Clare Kennedy of AlixPartners added: "We received a significant level of interest in the group which is a testament to the strength of its management team, the affection in which its brands are held by the public and the quality of its people. We are extremely pleased to have been able to help the group find a new investment partner with such strong industry credentials and we wish both parties and everybody who works at The Big Table all the very best for a successful future."
The management team, led by Spragg, with Adrian Walker as CFO, will look to reopen the business over the coming months and build on the robust financial performance it was delivering before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The group plans to open as many restaurants as possible during August – in time to get behind the UK Government’s national Eat Out to Help Out initiative.
The new Big Table moniker is a reference to a far-reaching internal culture programme at the former CDG business that championed togetherness, diversity and inclusivity amongst all members of its business.
Spragg added: "This has been an extremely difficult and unsettling time for our teams and we’re pleased to now be planning to reopen our doors and re-focus our attention on what we do best, creating great experiences for our guests."
The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Epiris is a top-decile* private equity firm which invests in opportunities to transform businesses in partnership with exceptional management teams. It targets control positions in UK-headquartered businesses with an enterprise value of between £75 million and £500 million, deploying between £40 million and £150 million of equity.
For further information, please visit www.epiris.co.uk.
Epiris is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
*As at 30 March 2020. Gross IRR does not reflect adjustments for investment management and administration costs. Comparator data supplied by Preqin. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
15 May 2020
Las Iguanas, part of Casual Dining Group, has joined the Feed Our Frontline campaign and will be providing 1,800 hot meals a week for NHS workers at the Birmingham Heartlands and Queen Elizabeth hospitals.
The initiative, which will operate out of the company’s Temple Street branch in Birmingham, will see meals delivered three days a week starting from the 12 May. The meals include a range of the Latin American restaurant’s popular dishes, such as: Vegan and Beef Chillies; Burritos; and Brazilian Curries.
The restaurant has put a range of strict extra procedures in place to ensure the safety of all team members involved, which includes social distancing measures between staff and delivery drivers, contact-free handover of prepared meals, and regular sanitisation of the pass.
Feed Our Frontline brings together a coalition of well-known restaurants and food providers to provide free meals for frontline NHS workers who are battling the Covid-19 pandemic. It is funded by the FeedNHS initiative launched by Damian Lewis and Matt Lucas, and currently serves over 10,000 meals a day across the UK.
If you would like to donate to the initiative, please visit justgiving.com/fundraising/feednhs.
14 April 2020
Bella Italia, part of Casual Dining Group, has committed to providing 1,000 free meals to NHS staff serving on the frontline during the Coronavirus crisis this month.
Dedicated Bella Italia team members reopened the company’s South Kensington branch and began preparing freshly cooked pasta and pizza from its spring menu this week. The team are working with Deliveroo to provide the meals every week over the next month, as part of the delivery provider’s campaign to make 500,000 free meals for NHS workers.
The meal donations, which have received heartfelt praise from the West London NHS Trust, are the latest in a number of efforts Bella Italia has implemented to support the NHS. When the nationwide lock-down commenced, sites gave away their fresh food to the NHS, as well as elderly members of the communities they serve.
Lisa Gibbons, Brand Director at Bella Italia, commented: “This initiative, which the entire team has got behind, is indicative of our amazing team culture at Bella, something I’m immensely proud to be a part of. We’re delighted to contribute to this scheme and do our bit to support the NHS through these difficult and unprecedented times. As always, the safety of our team and guests is absolutely paramount, so we have taken extensive precautions and introduced new procedures and protocols to ensure that we can meet this commitment.”
Bella Italia also offers 50% off the total bill to all NHS workers and first responders, via a small number of sites that remain open for delivery via Deliveroo.