Leon founder: 'Tuk shop will be a second engine of growth'

John Vincent, the Leon boss, has launched new Asian fast-food concept Tuk Shop, claiming it will be a “second engine” of growth for his company.
The pop-up opens on Monday in London, offering “the greatest hits” of Thai cuisine, from Pad Thai to Thai Green Curry. “In terms of potential I think this could be big,” said Mr Vincent. “But I don’t want to tempt fate; I want to get the first one right.” He said that the opportunity for an Asian fast-food player was “very large” in the UK. “Just look at Panda Express,” he said.
The American Chinese restaurant chain has 2,000 outlets worldwide. The launch takes place during a torrid time for the wider casual dining industry. Many ­rivals – including Strada, Jamie’s Italian and Byron – are shutting branches or slowing expansion. “As a company, Leon is investing and growing in a bad time for the sector,” Mr Vincent said.
Tuk Shop is a strategic move to ­secure more market share in the UK, he explained. “Many London landlords develop schemes with specific tenants in mind,” he said. “They will think: this is for coffee, this is for a Leon, this is for an Asian concept.” With Tuk Shop, Leon is now able to cover two categories. “Leon is the first engine and Tuk Shop is the second engine,” he said.
Tuk Shop is a joint venture with Aylmer Aaharn, the Thai food group co-owned by chef David Thompson. “David is the world’s best Thai chef and the granddaddy of the Thai restaurant scene,” claims Mr Vincent. Mr Thompson is behind Nahm, the Michelin-starred restaurant. Mr Vincent did not disclose the value of the investment but said: “The reason I’ve done Tuk Shop as a pop-up is to test the concept and menu without spending too much”.
Leon founder: 'Tuk shop will be a second engine of growth'

Leon has been a hit in the UK
He denied that Tuk Shop could cannibalise Leon’s growth. “I do not intend to divert any money that would have been used to grow Leon,” he said. “If and when we get the thumbs up from guests we will either put more money in to grow Tuk Shop in parallel or grow via franchising here and internationally.” Leon, which has seen compound annual growth of 44pc over the past four years, will launch 20 more outlets across Europe over the next two years.
Tuk Shop is being launched in the Shaftesbury Avenue branch of an existing Leon. “When we looked at the brand fit between Tuk Shop and all the potential locations, this was the site that stood out because people come to China town with the mindset to ‘eat Asian’,” he said.
“People have done Thai takeaways in the UK before but no one has done Thai fast food like this,” he claimed.
One ­rival in this category is Rosa’s, the Thai restaurant chain, which now has 11 branches in London and made ?8.1m in revenue last year. “We are fast food, not casual dining,” Mr Vincent said of Rosa’s. “And I hope and expect that we will be leading in terms of flavour and quality of ingredients.”
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