Joe Teixeira’s dream of becoming a professional footballer was cut short by injury. But it seems nothing can get in the way of his latest goal: taking Harry Ramsden’s back to the top
To say that Joe Teixeira has an impressive CV would be something of an understatement. His career in the food industry has encompassed the likes of Pizza Hut, Burger King and, most notably, John Lewis. However, things may have played out very differently for the man who is now trying to rekindle the fortunes of Harry Ramsden’s.
After moving to the UK with his family at the age of 12, Teixeira had his sights set on becoming a professional footballer. He broke into the senior side at Barnet before earning a trial at high-flying Crystal Palace. But his footballing dreams were cut short by knee injury. “I had to put a stop to it and my father said, ‘You better get into the real world, son’,” says Teixeira.
Fortunately for Teixeira, he already had a decent grounding in food service. With professional football wages in the early-1980s incomparable to the astronomical levels of today, he had to supplement his income in other ways. “I was working at a restaurant in Barnet, which is where I first got into the industry,” he says. He also enjoyed a stint on board the SS Carnival cruise liner – working as an assistant food and beverage manager – before eventually joining Whitbread as a graduate trainee in 1984.
Two years earlier, Whitbread had brought Pizza Hut to the UK in a joint venture with PepsiCo Foodservice and it was at the pizza chain where Teixeira started to show his potential. Within three years of joining as a fresh-faced graduate, he became an area manager and later, following a stint with Burger King, he was flown out to Portugal to establish Pizza Hut in his native country. “They already had one site there: because they were operating it badly, the first thing I did was close it down, reformat it and reopen it,” he says. “We then started opening a number of sites and by the time I left Portugal we had 11 open and another five in the pipeline.”
Upon returning to the UK, Teixeira had a short spell at Bright Reasons – where he helped establish the brand now known as Bella Italia – before moving on to Greenalls Pubs and Restaurants. As operations director for Henry’s Cafe Bars, which had joined Greenalls’ portfolio as part of its acquisition of competitor Devenish, Teixeira set about imprinting his vision on the brand he’d first encountered at former employer Whitbread. “I never worked for Henry’s when I was at Whitbread but I saw it as a Parisian upmarket café bar,” he says. “Devenish decided to turn it back into a pub so when I got it, I repositioned the brand and it was very successful.”>
Teixeira’s exploits at Henry’s didn’t go unnoticed and, after six years with Greenalls, he was poached by Parisa Cafe Bars to help build its brand in the UK. The company was headed up by Nader Haghighi, who’d bought out Cellar 5, the off-licence arm of Greenalls, in 1997. He had a vision for a chain of bars that served food and sold an extensive range of wines at off-licence prices. “In Henry’s Café Bars you paid the retail price whereas in Parisa Café Bars we wanted the food to lead but not rip people off on wines,” says Teixeira. “So we had 250 different wines at off-licence prices and only charged the customer a £5 corkage fee.” The concept took off and three years later Parisa was acquired by pub operator SFI. “We sold it for a nice tidy sum and I bought a holiday home in Portugal,” says Teixeira. “I’m still enjoying it today.”
Given the rich experience he had under his belt, Teixeira thought it was time to strike out on his own. “I got some confidence, approached some banks and investors and was very close to buying the Pitcher & Piano chain from Wolverhampton & Dudley, which is now Marston’s,” he says. However, Teixeira was forced to lower his offer when September 11 threw the world into financial turmoil. With Wolverhampton & Dudley holding out for the original price, he had to pull out of the deal. “At that time, I still had to pay the mortgage and I was approached by John Lewis,” he says.
At first, Teixeira had some reservations about joining John Lewis but he was eventually won over by the vision of Gareth Thomas and Lake Mayhew, respectively the company’s retail director and managing director. “My initial thought was, ‘Why would I want to be involved in something stuck in the middle ages?’, says Teixeira. “But the plans that both Gareth and Luke had at the time really captured my imagination.”
As head of food service, Teixeira was tasked with transforming the catering offer in John Lewis’s department stores, which was basic to say the least. “They were still doing scones and that was about it,” he says. Over the space of almost ten years, Teixeira engineered an incredible turnaround for the business. “We grew profits to around £24m EBITDA from a loss-making position when I joined in 2001, which was quite a feat,” he says. It all stemmed from a decision to invest heavily in the training of kitchen staff. “Everybody in those times was trying to deskill to keep costs down, whereas I thought that John Lewis customers deserved more,” Teixeira adds. “So instead of deskilling, I upskilled. I always say to myself, ‘I arrived with a few cooks and I left with over 500 chefs in the business.’”
While he had originally only intended to spend two or three years with John Lewis, the fact that he stayed the best part of ten years owes much to Teixeira’s love of the company. “It was a wonderful organisation; the best organisation I’ve ever worked for in terms of looking after its people and its principles,” he says. “I was privileged to be part of that for ten years.”
But after an incredibly rewarding stint with the company, it was time for Teixeira’s next move. “Gareth had retired a year before and he encouraged me to expand my horizons,” he explains. “So I started looking around for my first CEO role.”
That role came with Boparan Ventures, the investment vehicle of serial entrepreneur Ranjit Singh Boparan. Previously known for his food-manufacturing businesses, Boparan made his first move into food service with the acquisition of seafood restaurant chain Fishworks in January 2009. A year later, he acquired Harry Ramsden’s from SSP and set his sights on expanding the popular brand to all parts of the UK. However, the optimism that came with the acquisition was tempered when Boparan discovered the company was in a rather sorry state. “It was probably in a worse place than he was expecting it to be,” says Teixeira, who was hired by Boparan in September 2011 with a simple brief: to reposition the brand and return it to the glory days of the late-1980s and early-1990s.
The first thing that struck Teixeira was the significant difference between the brand’s reach and the actual size of its network. “Every time I did some customer research, everybody said they loved Harry Ramsden’s – they thought it was the best fish and chips in the world. But when I asked them when they last visited, they couldn’t remember,” he says. “So despite its size – it had just over 30 restaurants when I arrived – the brand punched above its weight. It was almost a McDonald’s level of exposure but without the presence.”
Suffice to say, Teixeira saw a fantastic opportunity for the company; one it had failed to capitalise on thus far. “There are over 12,000 fish-and-chip outlets in the UK so my initial thought was: ‘If we are so dominant as a brand, shouldn’t we have 10% market share?’"
He also had an overarching vision for the brand that he believed could stand it in good stead for years to come. “I believed I needed to take Harry Ramsden’s beyond its Yorkshire roots and make it even more British,” he says.
To this end, Teixeira embarked on an extensive programme of site renovations across the Harry Ramsden’s estate. This included a £1m refit of its flagship outlet in Bournemouth, which currently holds the title of the world’s largest fish and chip restaurant. It also saw the closure of the company’s first ever restaurant in Guiseley, West Yorkshire, which was opened by Harry Ramsden in 1928. As Teixeira explains, it was a tough decision but one that was taken in the best interests of the company. “It was an exceptionally difficult decision, which was not taken lightly, especially considering the sentimental value associated with the property,” he says. “[But] that outlet in particular was in dreadful shape with property structural issues [that] required an enormous investment to correct and, quite simply, this made the commercial case untenable.”
Thankfully, with 25 years in the industry behind him, Teixeira wasn’t short of trusted contacts. “I was very fortunate,” he says. “I could go and handpick people from John Lewis and the other companies I’d worked for.”
The other area of the business that had been flagging was its franchise division. At one point, the company had partners in all corners of the globe and, around the turn of the millennium, had tentatively trialled some franchises in UK motorway service stations. But once again, Teixeira found himself having to start from square one. “I had to start from scratch because the franchise agreements were so basic,” he explains. “They lost some really quality franchisees because they didn’t provide the support. When you are franchising a business, you need to set the building blocks at the beginning.”
The first step was appointing a team of franchise lawyers and applying for membership of the British Franchise Association (bfa). “Initially we joined as associate members and we have now become full members,” says Teixeira. “Everything had to be put in place, including the support packages for financing with the banks.”
The focus now is on firming up a range of concepts to suit all locations, whether that’s a local high-street, high-footfall shopping centre or seaside promenade. In addition to the company’s full-service restaurants, franchisees can operate a traditional takeaway or a hybrid concept that offers assisted service like Nando’s. A fourth concept, which Teixeira describes as the ‘pub model’, is also in the pipeline. “We are always looking at the market and saying: ‘What fits Harry Ramsden’s?’” he says. “We are not going to bastardise it; we are going to keep it in line with our heritage but we are also going to adapt to the market, modernise it and make it relevant.”
Once the concepts are set in stone, Teixeira’s attention will turn to growth. Franchises have already been sold for Yorkshire, Scotland, West Sussex and the combined territory of Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. And that’s just for starters: Teixeira is aiming to open over 300 new outlets in the next five years, 100 of which will be company-owned and the remainder franchises. In light of these growth projections, it’s not a surprise that Teixeira is seeking franchisees who can operate multiple outlets. “We are looking for people who have got the capability to grow with us and open at least ten sites,” he says.
Beyond the UK, the company has recently launched in Qatar and is set to open its first outlets in Jeddah this month – marking its return to Saudi Arabia after a ten-year absence. With other deals close to completion, Teixeira is confident the brand is ready for a successful return to the international stage. “I believe the proposition is right, I believe we have got the supply chain right but, above all, the demand is there,” he explains. “There are a lot of American brands in both the Middle East and the Far East that work really well. They are [also] crying out for British brands and Harry Ramsden’s is the only bona fide British restaurant brand.”
In addition to further territories in the Middle East, Teixeira is currently targeting China, Hong Kong and tourist destinations around Europe. After that, his ambition is clear: to take Harry’s worldwide. “Everybody thinks I’m cuckoo,” he laughs. “But that’s the way it’s going.”