Philip Sandzer on return to Shelley Sandzer with international remit


On 31st January at the annual Client Breakfast, we announced my return to Shelley Sandzer to spearhead our growth in the international arena. Since that moment, things have been hectic to say the least.

Over the last two months, I have met dozens of operators in various countries looking to venture beyond their comfort zone into foreign markets. This is an extremely exciting opportunity and we have grabbed the initiative with both hands.

Obviously, there is a real estate requirement as the common denominator, but it is the variances in the set-up that is so fascinating and challenging. Some clients want to ‘go it alone’, some require partners or investors, other want to find franchisees or licensees, and there seems to be a ground swell of interest in management/turn key opportunities, particularly in 5-star hotels.

This final category is the future so far as I can see. Hotels struggle to make their F&B profitable and indeed, attractive to their guests. They have the best locations and if the operator can save vast sums on their capex and operate under a management agreement, it is win-win for both parties.

I have often been asked why hotels struggle to make their restaurants work. There are two simple reasons in my opinion. Firstly, they are usually unreasonably expensive and soulless. No one wants to be ripped off and so they have low occupancy and are quiet. Secondly, most hotels use their dining room for breakfast. Why would anyone want to eat in the same room twice in one day, especially when there are usually amazing local restaurants to explore in the surrounding city? If you are able to offer world-class brands within your hotel, you will attract locals and external customers staying elsewhere, and then the place might be jumping. We see the success of this in Dubai and Las Vegas particularly, where most 5-star hotels and casinos operate in this way.

What else is happening? Over the last two weeks I have visited Hong Kong and Dubai and have found the F&B offer in both cities to be incredibly exciting.

There are fantastically talented people running multi-brand restaurant groups. They offer high quality, well-constructed cuisine at sensible prices and are extremely busy. Hong Kong is booming and whilst Dubai is going through a difficult period, the cream has risen to the top and trade is good.

I ate in some amazing restaurants run by passionate group owners. One thing they all have in common is extremely talented executive chefs. Not celebrity chefs. I personally believe that the days of eating in an establishment with the chef’s name above the door are numbered. They tend to be vanity projects and are failing one after the other.

Notable operators from my visits that are getting it right in Hong Kong include the well-respected Black Sheep Group who operate 20 different brands. I visited New Punjab Club which just received its first Michelin Star, and Ho Lee Fook, both of which were outstanding, offering modern Indian and Chinese food respectively. 

Similarly, the hugely vibrant and emerging Pirata Group run 10 concepts. Pici is a world-class Italian brand, offering pasta served with delicious sauces, freshly made in front of you from scratch in their kitchens. The best Cacio e Pepe I have ever eaten.

In Dubai it is a similar story. Blackspoon Group have four fantastic concepts. We tried them all in two days. Allo Beirut has turned fast casual Lebanese food upside down and is serving 600 customers a day. Bombay Bungalow offers stunning Indian street food with plenty of vegetarian options and mocktails, being a dry restaurant. Ibn AlBahr Seafood Restaurant occupies a wonderful beach location on The Palm and offers an array of fresh fish caught locally by their Fisherman partner and sold by the kilo. Accompanied by fresh salads, dips and cool beer or glass of rosé, the experience is unique. 

Blackspoon’s must visit, Masti, is an Indian influenced tapas restaurant in the La Mer Beach development. They offer incredibly well-presented cocktails from the centerpiece bar, along with 150 varieties of gin in the Gin Salon. This is party central, with Ladies Nights, Jazz Nights plus weekend offers. 

There are many more operators I could go on to mention, all with global aspirations. We at Shelley Sandzer will be doing our bit to help all of these successful operators, both with locations and finding local partners or investors, advising them in key markets around the world. 

We are currently working on behalf of our clients in Hong Kong, London, Dubai, Prague, Berlin, New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. We have local partners to help us and so far, our clients are benefiting from a 'one stop shop' platform, something that hasn’t existed before for F&B operators. 

Global retailers, multi-national office occupiers and distribution companies have awarded global mandates to real estate firms for years. We like to think that we are pioneering this service for our F&B clients. Small steps and spring shoots, but we are encouraged by our start.

My personal view, not shared by all, is that London, whilst having seen a revolution in F&B over the last ten years, lacks vibrant brands. Too many stick to the rules and rarely take risks. The two-hour table puts paid to any spontaneity, you might just be having an unexpected great time and want that next round of drinks or more dessert to be told the table has to be vacated.

I am enjoying better experiences, seeing great food and drink options and overall having a better time when out of the UK.

These emerging global brands will come and hopefully shake things up a little.

I personally can’t wait.