Big Mamma's UK expansion plans on hold in light of Government's handling of Coronavirus crisis

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Victor Lugger (left) with Big Mamma co-founder Tigrane Seydoux
Victor Lugger (left) with Big Mamma co-founder Tigrane Seydoux

Related tags Big Mamma brexit Immigration Coronavirus

French restaurant group Big Mamma may row back on its UK expansion plans, saying the Government’s poor track record during the Coronavirus crisis has led to greater uncertainty over how it will handle Brexit.

Big Mamma co-founder Victor Lugger tells BigHospitality ​that while the impact of the pandemic hasn’t stopped the group from thinking about expanding its operations further, it has led to a rethink about where the group will focus those efforts in the short-term.  

“We entered this crisis as a strong company, and that has not changed,” he says in BigHospitality​’s latest UnitedWeStand podcast.

“However, the way the Government has handled the [Coronavirus] crisis in the UK has put us off pushing forward with further development in the UK until we know more about Brexit.”

Big Mamma, which was founded in Paris and operates several trattorias across France, currently has two restaurants in London: Gloria in Shoreditch, and Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia.

The group had submitted plans to add a third site to its UK estate in Covent Garden​ and has been looking at other areas of London for potential sites. It was also exploring the idea of opening a food market in the capital​. 

However, having been disappointed in the Government’s approach to the pandemic, Lugger says any plans the group did have are now on hold.

“Having failed to realise the need to include tronc in the Job Retention Scheme, and given how vague the rules, procedures and advice to the public has been, it’s clear this Government is not handling the situation smartly,” he says.

“And that means I have no reason to think they’d handle the Brexit situation any differently.

“Brexit presents a wealth of challenges on our industry. It may lead to tariffs on imported European produce we order in; and to troubles with hiring staff.”

Lugger’s comments represent a marked change to the optimism about Brexit he felt a year ago. 

Speaking around the time of Gloria’s opening in spring 2019​, Lugger said: “At the bottom of my heart I think it’s going to be OK. We’ll either have no Brexit or a managed Brexit, in which case it will be fine, and if there’s a no-deal Brexit then it’s going to be complicated for a time but it will also be fine.”

However, the challenges presented by the potential rise in labour costs associated with the Government’s proposed points-based immigration system could now make expansion in the UK unviable for the business.  

“Businesses will be faced with the cost of labour going up. And with other overheads, like rent, not going down, for now there’s no way to compensate. And while there remains so much uncertainty regarding these issues, I would rather look to develop the business in other European countries including Spain, France, Italy and Germany.

“It’s painful, not just for the business, but for me personally, as I love living and working here.” 

You can listen to the full interview with Victor Lugger in the next UnitedWeStand podcast, which will be live on BigHospitality tomorrow (29 May).

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