How sustainable chain Lussmanns hopes to attract new customers and accelerate expansion

Founder Andrei Lussmann explains how he's targeting the younger demographic and his plans for breaking out of Hertfordshire.

10 July 2018

Way back in 2002, when Lussmanns Fish & Grill first opened, breakfast was the biggest proportion of business. After the brand left North Kensington for Hertfordshire, however, the morning munch got ditched in favour of focusing on lunch and dinner. Now, 16 years after the sustainable concept debuted, it is bringing brekkie back.

“[We are] trying to open up Lussmanns to a younger crowed, to encourage people who might not know who we are,” says founder Andrei Lussmann. “There’s something about breakfast that is quite low key, quite relaxed, unstressed. I think people are more likely to give something a go [at breakfast] than going out for dinner.”

Served only at the Hitchin location, Brit classics like ham and eggs and smoked haddock (Marine Stewardship Council certified, of course) sit alongside Middle Eastern favourite shakshuka and ever-popular crushed avo on sourdough. The thinking is that breakfast provides a less expensive – and thus low risk – opportunity for new customers to try the chain.

Lussmann describes it as a bit like speed dating for the millennial crowd, who are much more interested than older generations in provenance and the ethics of food – part of the brand’s core ethos.

If it works, Lussmann may extend breakfast to Harpenden, though he’s in no rush to roll out the morning menu en masse. “I like the idea of different restaurants offering different offerings,” he says. “It makes it ever so boring if everything is the same.”

Plus, he’s not convinced that there’s an extra revenue stream there to be exploited. Perhaps in London, but not in Hertfordshire towns.

Not that Lussmann plans to stay contained by one county for much longer.

On the hunt for unloved spaces

It’s been a slow build for the restaurant group, which has amassed a total of five locations over almost two decades. The ambition now is to ramp up the speed, with a new opening every year.

“We are bound to jump into a new county soon, it’s got to happen, I think we’ve exhausted Hertfordshire,” laughs Lussmann. “My job is to find undernourished, unloved old restaurants that have run their course, go in there, give it a good cosmetic makeover, give it some love, inspire some staff to get back in love with hospitality and make it busy.”

With more properties, the brand will have greater negotiating power with suppliers. “There is value in terms of economies of scale,” notes Lussmann, adding, “Part of our future is growing in order to remain competitive – and by that I mean also creating the opportunity to develop individuals who want to grow with us, rather than becoming a business that’s becoming flat and stale.”

Where will Lussmanns go next? While its namesake founder has been looking at properties in Farnham, he remarks that it’s probably a bit too far away from the existing portfolio. There’s a logistical safety in proximity, as the restaurants can help one another with supply and support in the case of problems.

It’s a model Lussmann points out was successful for Pizza Express in its early days, which is why most of his attention is on towns that are within 20 minutes’ drive of current eateries, towns such as Bishop’s Stortford and Bedford.

Competition outside the capital

While Lussmann may have been early to catch on to the profitability of getting into smaller population centres, he’s certainly not alone anymore.

Fellow fine-casual chain The Ivy set up shop down the road from Lussmanns in St. Albans just a couple of months ago. “The Ivy are reportedly spending £2m on each site that they refurbish – it’s a sum of money that I can’t even discuss!” says Lussmann, who uses a tighter budget to perform regular mini renovations on his restaurants.

He believes that while people often consider London to a more competitive landscape, it’s a case of different types of problems. The market may be less crowded in commuter towns, for example, but customers expect better service and a cheaper menu compared to the capital. “And if we don’t achieve better value and better service, they will give me and the business a very hard time, because Lussmanns is their local,” he says.

Pushing the sustainable slogan

Lussmanns’ sustainable message is one that chimes well with a Britain that is becoming increasingly aware (even addicted) to mindfulness. Where before the brand was relatively reticent about promoting its carefully selected produce and environmentally conscious practices, these elements are increasingly influential among the 18 to 34-year-old segment.

The menu highlights that 95% of the food is grown or produced in the UK, while 100% of the waste is recycled.

Hand in hand with this come considerations about how to buff up the veggie options. “I think that plant-based food has got to be something that we all take seriously,” he says, remarking that he toyed with the idea of changing the full name of his restaurant to Lussmanns Fish, Grill & Plants.

“I do feel our relationship with plant-based food has to improve, and how we do that is by creating dishes that are so exciting and interesting that if you eat meat or you eat fish, you wouldn’t even consider that it isn’t meat.”

For inspiration, he’s been looking to Silo, headed by Douglas McMaster, as well as Tim Bouget’s Ode.

Both act as benchmarks for Lussmann, who hopes to build a bigger chain by displaying the best qualities of local restaurants – at a controlled rate of expansion, of course. 

“Because we haven’t gone on this bender and just gone mad to roll out at all costs, we’ve created a really strong, supportive community of customers who really get it and really appreciate what we’re about.”

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