A FAMILY favourite food chain has plans to open 10 new restaurants across the UK this year.
The pan-Asian restaurant chain opened its first new site of the year in Bentley Bridge in Wolverhampton on Monday, as it said demand from consumers was growing.
The chain, which is known for casual dining on bench seating, has more than 170 restaurants across the UK after first launching in London 32 years ago.
It is set to open sites this year in locations including St Enoch’s in Glasgow, Epsom, Doncaster, Chatham in Kent, and Watford.
The openings will create about 500 jobs including kitchen porters, waiters, chefs and general managers, Wagamama said.
It had made half of its menu meat-free.
Mr Heier said: “Our teams have done an excellent job in continuing to elevate our guest experience and we very much look forward to welcoming more guests to our benches as we head into 2024.”
Sales at Wagamama restaurants jumped by more than a 10th in the half-year to August, on a like-for-like basis compared with the same period the year before.
It opened six new sites in 2023.
Wagamama’s owner The Restaurant Group (TRG) was bought by US private equity giant Apollo, which agreed to buy the business for £701 million, including debts, in October 2023.
It sparked a takeover battle for TRG, which also owns the Brunning and Price pub group, with Pizza Express owner Wheel Topco also considering making a bid for the group.
But it pulled out of a potential offer because of “market conditions”.
TRG last year agreed to sell off its loss-making restaurant chains Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquto to Big Table Group – the owner of Bella Italia, Las Iguanas and Banana Tree.
TRG said it would pay £7.5 million in cash to Big Table for it to buy its struggling leisure division.
Alan Yau, 60, opened the first Wagamam restaurant in Bloomsbury, London, in 1992 and had queues around the corner within three months.
Some 30 years later the Asian-inspired restaurant chain Wagamama is worth £559million and boasts 172 sites across the UK.
Speaking to The Sun Alan previously revealed his three ingredients to success: soup, noodles and topping.
But it didn’t come easily.
Alan started out working in the kitchen of his parents’ Chinese restaurant in King’s Lynn, Norfolk.
“I was in my late 20s and I grew up around Chinese restaurants,” he said.
“I really wanted to do a Chinese restaurant or takeaway but more ambitious. I wanted to create a Chinese McDonalds, fast food.”
But he hit a stumbling block almost immediately when he couldn’t figure out how to speed up wok-based cooking.
He added: “A burger is simple. It’s three ingredients – the bun, patty and filling. But Chinese food was more complicated.”
His idea seemed dead in the water.
It was only when his sister’s lodger, a 19-year-old Japanese student, pointed out how much she missed the ramen back home, that Alan found his solution.
He would go on to name his restaurant after the friendly nickname her pals used because of her middle-class upbringing – Wagamama, meaning spoilt.
He said: “Ramen had the same components of a burger. It was soup, noodles and topping. I was blown away. I thought it was incredible and decided to follow through with turning it into a restaurant.”
Alan opened his first Wagamama in the basement of a building along a small alleyway near the British Museum.
It was an immediate disaster.
The usual customers, Japanese immigrants, were furious Alan had dared switch the traditional pork-based recipe to chicken.
He said: “The initial reaction from the community was extremely negative. The first three months were very tough.”
But just weeks later the restaurant was featured in Time Out and the Evening Standard.
Suddenly eager foodies queued down the street for the chance of a seat at Alan’s communal dining restaurant.
He added: “It was a turning point. We were always full and had a constant queue. It wasn’t easy but we made it work and then it proved to work really well.”
By 1998 Alan sold Wagamama to work on other business ideas.
And he’s previously described watching its rapid growth as “like seeing your baby brought up by strangers”.
But his success didn’t end with Wagamama.
He turned to fine dining and opened restaurant Hakkasan in a basement down a back street off Tottenham Court Road.
It won a Michelin star in 2003.
He sold two restaurants, Hakkasan and Yauatcha, in 2008 for £21.5million.
Meanwhile, a Wagamama worker has revealed what your order says about you – and the dish you should never get.