“We want our destiny in our own hands”: Marco Mendes on MJMK’s crowdfund

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

The co-founder of the restaurant group behind Casa do Frango and Santiago Lastra’s KOL on expansion plans

Related tags Casa do Frango Marco Mendes MJMK restaurants Casual dining crowdfunding Multi-site R200

The co-founder of the restaurant group behind Casa do Frango and Santiago Lastra’s KOL discusses its expansion plans.

MJMK, the group behind Portuguese piri-piri chicken restaurant brand Casa do Frango and a partner with Mexican chef Santiago Lastra and AngloThai’s John and Desiree Chantarasak, has launched a crowdfunding campaign​ to raise funds for further growth. Hosted on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, the group is looking to raise a total of £1m to fund the expansion of Casa do Frango across London as well as to open a second concept with Lastra. 

You’re an established business. Why have you taken the crowdfunding route?

We only have friends and family invested in the business, and that was a choice that myself and Jake [Kasumov, MJMK co-founder] made early on. We have been approached over the past four of five ears by private equity on a number of occasions and we have entertained conversations - we even got to a terms sheet at one point - but it’s not us. We are very involved in the business, we are very passionate about it, we know what we want to do, and we didn’t want institutional investors on board at this stage so that we can maintain control of the business.

Were there any concerns about taking a less conventional route to fundraising?

I was always apprehensive about something I didn’t understand, but when I learned more about it, it made sense to me. We realise it is an opportunity to tell our story to a larger audience and get customers to come to our restaurant and be a part of the journey. 

How would you describe MJMK?

It's a dynamic business model and it’s a diversified one - it is different to some of the more mature examples out there. What we have is a number of pillars that underline the business - fine dining and premium casual, across Portuguese, Mexican and Thai cuisine. 

MJMK-launches-crowdfund-to-expand-Casa-do-Frango-and-launch-second-concept-with-Santiago-Lastra

Your target is £1m. Are you confident you can reach that?

We have done a big friends and family round of fundraising, and this crowdfund is part of the same round. We realised that we had the opportunity to do a bit more of a public raise to finish the process. As a Crowdcube investor you invest on the same terms. We are confident we will reach the target and get on with our business plan. 

What do you see to be the benefits of crowdfunding?

We see it was an opportunity for us to grow our brand identity and are keen to use this as way of making it clear [to people] what we are doing and to allow people to be a part of it. With crowdfunding, people who are passionate and want to be part of the story can be involved but they are not looking to tell you how to run your business and how to scale. We are by far and away remaining majority shareholders and we will make the decisions we believe to be right. We want our destiny in our own hands. 

How are you looking to spend the funds?

We are looking to grow Casa do Frango. We are not looking to make Casa a chain, but we want one in every neighbourhood in London. Ultimately, it’s chicken and chips - southern Portuguese comfort food. If it’s in London Bridge, how often are people in west London able to go? The first new Casa will open in June in Victoria, which is a big moment for us. We’re really looking for that captive audience where working professionals and tourists are bustling around. It’s a very busy area, which is what we thrive on. Beyond Victoria, we want to open in London areas that we know we will be busy all the time. Part of the charm of Casa is it being a bustling restaurant. We want to turn the grill on at 11am and not turn it off until 11pm.

Santiago-Lastra-named-in-50-Next-list

And you’re opening a second site with Santiago Lastra (above)

It’s a project we have been working on for a very long time. KOL is such an important restaurant, we are very connected to it emotionally, and we have another special concept lined up, which is at a more approachable price point. There are no further details because we want Santiago to be the first person to express what that looks like. I can say that it’s certainly right there on the cusp of being ready. We have sites in the running but haven’t signed a lease yet.

You’ve also been trying to open AngloThai in central London. How’s that going?

We haven’t found a site that works yet. There was a possibility we would have already been open with AngloThai, but what we are really focused on as a business is that everything has to be absolutely perfect; the site has to be beyond any doubt right with the right landlord and if something doesn’t fit it won’t work. The site we had wasn’t right and we [MJMK and John and Desiree Chantarasak] have collectively said it’s too special to mess around with. It’s super frustrating but moving forward together we can find an opportunity we can strike on.

Cuba-inspired restaurant and bar La Rampa closed earlier this year. What happened there?

We are a restaurant group first and foremost, but we had a bar group that was Vinegar Yard and La Rampa. Effectively we want to streamline our focus to restaurants, and La Rampa was more a bar than a restaurant. It was a pandemic deal that we did when we were still growing the bar business and we’ve since realigned our focus. We could have kept going but we decided against it, so we agreed with the landlord to surrender the site. 

Your plans so far only include London. Are there ambitions to go beyond the capital?

Yes, and they are not too far down the line. We need to make sure that our London plan is really crystalised to a degree – I’m not saying we have to open every London site before we look at other cities, but we need to have that fully formed before deciding what’s next. Manchester is an obvious example; one has to look at Manchester as one of the most important next cities for a brand like Casa. For the other brands there is certainly a possibility, but it’s too nascent to be discussing them at this point. They need to mature more. Obviously, KOL is a legacy one-time restaurant. There is also the opportunity for international expansion. There is more exciting stuff in London that we need to get done before we look at opportunities outside it, but it’s not too far away to be discussing it.

 

 

 

 

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