Talking points

An interview with co-founder of Coco di Mama

At our recent event we spoke to entrepreneur Daniel Land, one of the founders of the restaurant chain Coco di Mama

29/01/2018

Lifelong friends Daniel Land and Jeremy Sanders founded the Italian food chain Coco di Mama when they were just 26 years old and opened their first restaurant, in London’s Fleet Street, in 2011.

Last summer they sold the 18-restaurant chain to Azzurri, the private equity-backed group that owns Ask and Zizzi, in the kind of deal that is a dream for many entrepreneurs. At a recent event hosted by the Cazenove Capital Entrepreneur Group, Daniel told the story of Coco di Mama to an invited audience of businesspeople.

Finding investors

Before starting the business, Daniel worked at Merrill Lynch and Jeremy was at Bain & Co, but after five years they wanted to do something different. The chance came when Jeremy spotted an Italian quick-service restaurant in Paris and they realised that there was nothing like it in London.

“No one had taken the most popular food in the UK, Italian, and done it in a good quality, quick format,” explains Daniel. “We thought it was a good way to really capture people at lunchtime; people like us who are sitting at their desks and would love to leave their desks and get a really tasty bowl of hot pasta in less than 30 seconds.”

While they knew they had spotted a gap in the market, they needed to raise the money to open the first restaurant so began approaching investors. Several recognised the opportunity, including respected restaurant investor Arjun Waney, who is behind establishments such as London’s Arts Club and Zuma, as well as Stuart Rose, then chairman and CEO of Marks & Spencer.

Down to business

“We decided on Fleet Street for our first site because we wanted to pit ourselves against the big boys of ‘quick-food’ service,” says Daniel. “We thought if we could compete with them in the heart of the city we would have a good business. If we couldn’t, then what was the point?”

When they opened their second restaurant at London Wall, Rose agreed to become chairman. By 2015, they had further sites across London at St Paul’s, Monument, Houndsditch and Margaret Street and attracted the attention of Azzurri, which took a majority stake in the business. Azzurri wanted a quick-service chain to complement its other Italian brands.

Exit this way

Two years and 12 stores later, Daniel and Jeremy agreed a deal for Azzurri to buy them out of the business altogether. Daniel explains: “By then we had grown the business to 18 restaurants, we had set up an amazing central team, we had created a great brand, and we had set the business up for success.

“We were a fast-growing business but we felt there was so much exciting stuff going on in so many different areas of the world and in so many different sectors. We didn’t think we wanted to be in the business for the rest of our lives and we fancied doing something else. We had no idea what and we still don’t, but that’s really OK.”

Author

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