San Carlo sets its sights on international expansion

By Shwetali Sapte

- Last updated on GMT

San Carlo sets its sights on international expansion

Related tags San Carlo Group Italian cuisine Marcello Distefano Middle east Us Multi-site R200

San Carlo Group is preparing to open at least six restaurants in the next 18 months, according to managing director Marcello Distefano.

Speaking at Restaurant​’s R200 conference in Manchester last week, Distefano said the Italian restaurant group would open in Miami, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, Vietnam, and Morocco, adding to an existing international portfolio in countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai and Thailand.

Distefano also said that like-for-like sales in the UK were in double-digit growth despite an expected decline due to maturity and increasing competition,

“We were afraid San Carlo would be seen as an older brand as new, younger brands popped up,” he said. “You’ve got to adapt to a new market, but without over-adapting. The caveat is to find the right balance and retain consistency and brand identity.”

The 24-strong group is turning its attention to overseas expansion, with Distefano describing it as an “exciting market” with opportunities for businesses.

“Saudi is a strong market, with a higher average spend per head even without alcohol,” he said. “Dubai is also doing well, while Qatar is quieter but a different market.

“We took learnings from Kuwait, where we tried putting a casual dining mindset onto a premium product. It didn’t work.”


Coming to America

The group will make its US debut later in the year with an opening in Miami planned for September or October.

“America is really exciting. There are certain places around the world that really benefited from Covid and stayed open - Miami was one, Dubai was the other,” said Distefano.

The Miami site will be under a franchise model but with San Carlo management and will be a test site for potential future expansion.

“They are putting the investment in. If this works we will then go in as investors and look to grow it.

"It’s just tasting the market first and seeing how it works."