With Iconic Project Management brought in to deliver its UK construction programme, Poke House has the tools to realise its ambition of establishing a vibrant restaurant brand across the country.
Poke House is on a mission; a mission to expand across the UK. The Italian-founded poke bowl brand was founded in November 2018 by Matteo Pichi and Vittoria Zanetti and opened its first UK site in September last year, in London. Building its presence across the country is integral to Poke House’s aims – as many as 65 sites are planned in the next couple of years, with the bulk of its estate expected to eventually be focused outside of the capital.
Achieving such robust expansion in a relatively short window is no easy feat, but through its exclusive partnership with Iconic Project Management, Poke House is on course to get its brand known across the country in the quickest time possible.
“Because we’re opening so many restaurants, we were looking for someone who could manage the project from beginning to end, manage multiple projects, and deliver them on time,” says Juan Mosqueda, UK operations director at Poke House. “That’s how our partnership came about.”
Building a strong business relationship
Iconic Project Management was recommended to Poke House by its main contractor, Thompsons, which had previously worked with Iconic on the UK restaurant programme for Canadian fast food brand Tim Hortons. Thompsons knew that Iconic could offer Poke House the right level of support to ensure its construction projects would be kept on track and delivered on time.
The two parties held an initial discovery meeting, which allowed Iconic to understand exactly what Poke House was trying to achieve. From this it was able to create a customised ‘Get it Built Right’ programme plan, which is now being used to get Poke House’s restaurants fitted out exactly as imagined.
“Dealing with one business cements a trust that is crucial to the long-term success of our expansion,” says Mosqueda. “While we have a head office in the UK, having our main base in Italy creates a lot of challenges. We needed a project manager that understood how the stores were built and what aesthetic specifications Italy would like to see, and be able to implement that across our UK estate as it grows.
“At the same time, they had to build a relationship with our business so we’re able to trust one another. That’s really important as Iconic have to deal with multiple construction companies and suppliers in both the UK and Italy, and manage them all at the same time.”
Darren Hewitt, director of project management at Iconic and Poke House’s main point of contact, describes Iconic’s role as being ‘reactors’. “Anything that’s project orientated; we pick up for [Poke House],” he explains. “If it’s part and parcel of a construction project then it is undertaken by us.”
With regards to site builds, Iconic acts as the eyes and ears of Poke House’s head office in Italy. Matterport digital twins are used to create 360° 3D photographs of each site as it is being constructed, allowing the overseas team to explore the sites and interrogate the progress of each build on a week-by-week basis.
“In essence we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for Poke House to transact its projects,” adds Hewitt.
Assessing site suitability
Iconic Project Management’s involvement in each Poke House site begins long before the build begins and, indeed, before the lease is even signed. Once a possible site has been selected, Iconic conducts an initial visit to view the location and assess it.
“We get involved right from the start, basically, in assisting Poke House from the point of view of will the environment work,” says Hewitt. “There are technical elements to consider, like does the site have sufficient power. The kitchens aren’t full cooking and don’t draw a massive amount of energy, but it does need to hit specific specification.
“We also look at data connectivity to make sure it has some, as that’s the kind of thing that can trip us up further down the line. And then we look at general size and constraints around how the site could be set out and laid out according to the Poke House design guide and how it could operate most efficiently.”
Iconic uses its own specialist to calculate the fit-out costs, and also creates a preliminary drawing of how the site will be laid out. Based on this assessment, Poke House chooses whether to proceed.
Not every site found has successfully fit the brief. Poke House had previously been looking at a site in Kingston, Surrey, for what would have been its outpost outside of the capital. “We had a site that was under assessment,” says Hewitt. “It was set over two floors, and the basement had restricted head height that would have meant anyone over six foot would not have been able to stand up comfortably.
“We looked at some options around trying to mitigate that by locating the kitchen on the ground floor, but effectively you’d be taking on a piece of real estate that you couldn’t fully utilise.”
“You can have a great location with great potential,” adds Mosqueda. “But if it needs a lot of work we need to know if it’s worth our time and viable for our budget.”
Negotiating the leases of each site is overseen by Poke House’s own in-house, but Iconic Project Management plays a role here too by reading and highlighting clauses and stipulations from both a responsibilities and entitlement point of view. This benefitted the group when signing for its forthcoming site at Battersea Power Station, where the lease entitled them to an £80k contribution payment from the landlord - something the Poke House teams in both London and Italy were initially unaware of.
Ramping up expansion
Through their partnership, Iconic Project Management is helping Poke House to fit out more and more restaurants in the UK. And through achieving the right standard of fit out, with the right finishes, fixtures and kitchen equipment, the brand is becoming a distinctive presence on UK high streets.
Looking at the year ahead, Mosqueda says the group is now ramping up its plans for growth with an aim to open between two and three sites a month in 2023. “We currently have nine sites we’re working on at various stages of development,” he says. “Five of them are currently undergoing building work, with the rest at early stages of securing and signing the leases.
They include new London sites in Battersea, Borough Market, St. Paul’s, St John’s Wood and Mayfair, which are expected to open in the coming months. And it also includes the group’s first regional location, in Cambridge, which is expected to open early next year.
Throughout, Iconic Project Management will be there giving Poke House clear direction for its construction projects and utilising its expertise to save the group stress, time and money.
Constructing lasting relationships: What Iconic Project Management offers its clients
Iconic Project Management exists to help its clients turn construction plans into reality, and guarantees to build their project on time and on budget. Everyone has a horror story of that building contractor who over-promised and under-delivered. It’s almost considered standard practice to under-quote in order to secure contracts but Iconic believes that’s counter-productive. Iconic has a four-point promise to clients which it believes should be the gold standard across the construction industry:
Controlling the construction project timeline is critically important. Projects that are delivered late can cause additional cost and an enormous amount of inconvenience. Iconic’s project managers are trained to produce realistic project management plans so clients can be assured that the timeline quoted is achievable.
Spiralling construction project costs are the client’s number one fear. Iconic believes it is reasonable to expect a project to stay within the agreed budget and therefore helps its clients set a realistic budget and makes sure its project delivery team stays within it.
Iconic believes that a completed construction project should not only be what the client wants but will be what it really needs. Iconic works with its clients to develop a brief that fulfils its client’s requirements.
Clients have the right to expect what is promised delivered on time for the agreed price. Iconic is confident that its sustainable approach to pricing and realistic project planning works.