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BGF INVESTMENT ACCELERATES BAR SOBA BRAND'S RAPID EXPANSION; BGF invested PS3m in Bar Soba in December 2016 to help the company to establish new outlets. Here, we find out more about the two parties' relationship...

BGF's varied portfolio of companies includes casual dining concepts but Bar Soba is different in that it's got the daytime trade, the evening diners and the late night drinking trade.

We all know that there are some challenges in the pub and restaurant sector, but this enterprise is in a good place due to its trading hours, strong brand and variety of customers.

We invested PS3m in December 2016 to help Bar Soba roll out more sites. What attracted us was that Brad Stevens is a real entrepreneur who effectively built Bar Soba from nothing.

In the 18 years that it has been trading, many bar concepts have come and gone, but Bar Soba is now an established part of the landscape. There aren't many Scottish companies which could have achieved what it has done.

For BGF it's all about finding entrepreneurs with ambition. People like Brad are hungry, they realise they have value in their business right now, but they appreciate that there will be a lot more value later down the line. They continue to grow because they can see the bigger picture.

Bar Soba has a great management team, and a strong board, which I sit on. They have taken on a former operations director with Yo Sushi, and also recruited a finance director from the car industry with roll-out experience.

These appointments have bolstered the board in a way that allows Brad to concentrate on what he is good at.

Bar Soba has several new sites in the pipeline - our focus is to make sure we go at the right pace and pick the right sites, and that will be dictated by Brad and the team.

For BGF there is no predetermined exit timeline. If things take longer that's no problem, or if we decide to go a bit quicker further down the line, that's also absolutely fine. We are prepared to increase our stake as followon funding is a large part of our business.

It's great to see a company established in Glasgow expanding and taking its concept down south, as the direction of travel is typically the other way.

We are very excited about the opportunities ahead!

BAR SOBA is built on three pillars: cocktails, street food and music. We're not a casual dining brand - first and foremost we're a cocktail bar that does great food, served up with a modern soundtrack from local and international DJ's. It's a winning combination and we have thrived for 18 years in a tough and competitive market. At the moment we are operating from five sites, but we aim to grow that significantly over the next few years.

We opened our first Bar Soba in Mitchell Lane in Glasgow city centre in 1999, but we didn't start to grow the brand until 2012 expanding into the West End of Glasgow in Byres Road and also into Edinburgh. We then consolidated and strengthened the brand before opening up in Leeds and our third Glasgow outlet in 2015. We are now preparing to open new premises in Newcastle, Liverpool and Derby with a few more locations in the pipeline.

Because of the way we have put the brand together - a great product that doesn't take itself too seriously at a price point that people want to pay - we figured it will fit easily into mid-size cities as well as bigger ones.

The Bar Soba brand is predominantly aimed at the 18-35 age group, and attractive to women as well as men. With our concept, we get three bites of the cherry: lunchtime customers, the dinner market and then the late night trade. This ability to "sweat our property assets" will help as we move into England, where licensing hours are more extensive, meaning that we can do more late at night.

It was the initial investment of PS3m from BGF that has enabled us to expand and also to grow our management team and board. This has allowed me to concentrate on strategy rather than juggling day-to-day operations. We will look for an exit at some point, whether that's a sale to an industry buyer or private equity house, and we will continue to work with BGF to get there. We are in the most exciting space in the industry at the moment, and with BGF's support and willingness to follow its investment, anything is possible!


BGF's Gemma Hamilton on Bar Soba

Bar Soba's Brad Stevens on BGF
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Insider Monthly
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 3, 2017
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