Big interview: The Cream team

Big interview: The Cream team

Creams Cafe, the largest dessert-only restaurant group in the UK, was established back in 2008 and quickly began supporting franchisees nationwide. Impressively, it has managed to open one new location every month since the end of last year.

It recently opened its 50th store, doubling its existing locations with new stores planned in locations including Gateshead, Bournemouth, Bristol and Liverpool, while also rolling out a new menu nationwide. Aside from this impressive expansion its online support alone is huge, with the chain’s 122,000 Facebook fans averaging around 2,000 likes per post.

CEO Handley Amos took the time recently to talk us through the chain’s impressive expansion…

What’s your background?
I decided that hospitality was a great option while studying, despite the fact that everyone seemed to look at it as way of earning money while they studied, but no one seemed to regard it as a long term prospect. I worked my way through the ranks in My Kinda Town in the early 90s followed by a five-year stint developing five concepts in South Africa.

I then moved back to the UK to work as a director looking after London and the south of England for Nando’s back when there were only 12 stores. We developed the model and brand and spent 12 years helping to grow the estate to 240 restaurants.

I was then headhunted by Change Capital Partners to develop the UK part of the largest chain of restaurants in Italy, Rossopomodoro. I spent five years remodelling the concept to fit the UK market, looking at how we could enhance the Italian operation.

After a short stint as a consultant helping foreign restaurant groups come into the UK market, I was headhunted to become CEO of Creams Cafe. The plan is to develop the model of the business both in the UK and internationally.

And that of the business?
Two friends, Adam and Balal, came up with the concept back in 2008 after spotting a gap in the restaurant market, opening the first site in 2010. The success of the first store brought store two and three in quick succession. They were approached to franchise the business and the story started to accelerate.

They have doubled the size of the estate every year since 2010 and set up an ice cream factory producing Italian gelato to help supply the growing estate. They now have a very strong support structure ready for the future domestic and international growth plans.

What is the business’s USP?
A very strong brand presence with high quality Italian gelato. The menu changes three times a year offering a strong menu for all seasons, and we deliver over 50% of our sales from hot food.

Your growth has been impressive. How have you managed to achieve this?
Our growth has been achieved organically with very little marketing. We have 30 applications for franchises very week, along with current franchisees growing the estate. We have built a very strong support structure that is growing ahead of the curve to make sure we have no growing pains.

Making sure we have the best people around us with strong industry experience is helping. We now have a team that finds the sites for the franchisees, a development team helping the design and construction, and a dedicated training team helping the new employees get up to speed. Ongoing support comes from the regional business manager, the training team, marketing and PR, as well as procurement making sure we are getting the best prices and logistics for our franchisees

How do you ensure the quality remains high as you continue to expand?
Central distribution. New product development and our own production help keep the product at a high quality while compliance and audit teams keep an eye on our brand standards.

How important is social media to your business?
Very important. Our key customers are 16 to 35 years old so social media is a strong part of their life. We have a very strong, loyal following and engagement is very high across our social media. We are about to launch a campaign giving £1 to charity for every ‘like’ we receive.

What was the thinking behind your new menu? What will it include?
The last menu went live at the beginning of July and the focus was on choice through build-your-own, as well as launching our new product, the Bubble Pop Waffle, a sundae in a waffle wrap. The next menu launched in November will include winter warmers and a savoury selection.

How has the trend for healthier eating affected sales?
It hasn’t affected our sales yet, but we are working on developing the menu to cater for this growing trend. Continually improving the quality of our ingredients is just as important to us as the health aspects. We are a treat after all.

What are your-best-sellers?
Waffles account for 30% of our sales and are our biggest seller. Gelato is a huge part of our offering being part of most dishes on the menu.

Do you have a typical clientele?
Typically it is teenagers, young adults and young families. We are slowly growing the age range but we keep focused on our core.

What one tip would you offer on running a business like this well?
Be passionate about the product and the business. Dessert parlours are an exciting new part of the industry, so evolving and developing continuously is key to staying ahead. The great thing about a franchise business is that we give the guidelines to making it work well, you just need to follow them. Having great people around you makes this process smoother and more successful.

Finally, what are your plans for the future?
We are developing the brand to keep it fresh, as well as the offering changing three times per year. We are also developing new formats to grow the UK estate to 300 sites over the next few years. Internationally our plans are to open in two new countries per year and we are currently putting the infrastructure in place ahead of this.