Simon Blagden is the managing director of Jamie Oliver's high-street restaurant chain Jamie's Italian, which earlier this month opened its first central London outlet in Canary Wharf. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn about the new site and where the business is going
Caterer What's the latest Jamie's Italian outlet like?
Simon Blagden It's a 200-seat restaurant in Canary Wharf that also includes a 40-seat terrace overlooking the water. It's the only restaurant in Canary Wharf that you can drive up to, as it's a stand-alone operation and not part of a shopping mall. Interiors are a lot more contemporary than at some of the other restaurants, as it is housed in a very modern building and we wanted the design to reflect that. It includes a lot of copper and zinc, leather booths and banquettes as well as retro 1960s Italian images.
Caterer How has the restaurant been received by the Canary Wharf audience?
SB It has been received really well so far. I think the Canary Wharf crowd was really surprised by the price point of the restaurant - the average spend for lunch is £20 - and the fact that you can be in and out for lunch in 45 minutes. There were quite big queues at first, which, while it's great for business, can put some people off. But we do look after the diners in the queue and send bread, meats and cheese around so they don't get fed-up.
Caterer How many restaurants do you have now and how many are still in the pipeline?
SB Canary Wharf is our fifth outlet after Oxford, Bath, Brighton and Kingston upon Thames. We have two more sites opening this year, with Guildford and Cardiff launching in September and November respectively. Next year we'll be opening more restaurants, in Cambridge, Leeds and Covent Garden.
Caterer Where do you see the group in five years?
SB We'd like to have a Jamie's Italian in every big city or suburb of the UK. However, we don't want to open too many outlets and spread ourselves too thin so that the concept stops being special. We are also expanding internationally and will launch our first overseas franchise in Hong Kong next year.
Caterer How did you get the job as managing director?
SB I was operations director at PizzaExpress before joining Jamie's Italian and one day got a call from Wagamama chairman Ian Neill asking me if I would be interested in joining the group. I was very lucky to get involved right at the beginning of Jamie's Italian when it was little more than an idea.
Caterer How involved is Jamie Oliver in the running of the restaurants?
SB He's not particularly involved in the day-to-day running of the restaurants but he has a very big part in how the restaurants are run. I speak to him every week and he is at the restaurants as often as he can be, and every idea and decision we make is bounced off him first.