Yo! Sushi: Quilvest exits the conveyor belt

Capital V #7 | 1H2016

Under Quilvest’s ownership and stewardship, from 2008 to 2015, YO! Sushi almost tripled in size and underwent transformational growth.

Japanese food, especially sushi, entered the European market long ago with dedicated restaurants now available in nearly every mid-sized town. From downtown sushi corners to high-street and Michelin-starred hotels, one can find a wide variety of westernised sushi offerings well adapted to European tastes.

One of the first European commercial successes in this field is clearly YO! Sushi, a UK-based Japanese fast-casual restaurant chain founded in London in 1997 by entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe, one of the original stars of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme. YO! Sushi, which is known for its conveyor belt system and theatre-style kitchens, serves over six million customers a year through its 91 restaurants worldwide. These include 75 company-owned sites across the UK, four company-owned sites in the US and 12 franchised restaurants in the Gulf.

One of the first European commercial successes in this field is clearly YO! Sushi, a UK-based Japanese fast-casual restaurant chain founded in London in 1997 by entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe, one of the original stars of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme. YO! Sushi, which is known for its conveyor belt system and theatre-style kitchens, serves over six million customers a year through its 91 restaurants worldwide. These include 75 company-owned sites across the UK, four company-owned sites in the US and 12 franchised restaurants in the Gulf.

The sushi chain, which has an annual turnover in excess of £80 million, made private equity headlines in November 2015 when Luxembourg-based Quilvest Private Equity successfully sold its controlling stake in YO! Sushi t to Mayfair Equity Partners for £82m (approximately €114million). Under Quilvest’s ownership and stewardship, from 2008 to 2015, YO! Sushi almost tripled in size and underwent transformational growth, with net revenues almost tripling and recording a compound annual growth rate of 14% despite the economic crisis. The company also successfully expanded internationally, in existing territories such as the Middle East as well as in new territories such as Norway, Denmark and more recently the US, where Quilvest actively supported YO! Sushi in structuring and setting up its US expansion strategy, including the opening of four company-owned restaurants in Florida and New Jersey.

YO! Sushi was sold in a competitive auction process which started in April 2015 and is rumoured to have attracted interest from other PE firms such as Morgan Stanley, Mistral Equity, Inflexion Private Equity and 3i Group.

Quilvest acquired YO! Sushi from PE firm Primary Capital in March 2008 for an undisclosed amount, when the company had approximately 30 restaurants in the UK. At the time, the chain was already present in a number of international locations but it required the support of a new experienced investor like Quilvest to help drive its further development and expansion, both in the UK and abroad. Primary Capital backed the £10 million management buy-out of YO! Sushi in August 2003 out of its second fund, Primary Capital II.

Appetite from private equity firms for Japanese restaurant chains has been on the rise with Bain Capital acquiring a stake in Skylark and Permira in Akindo Sushiro, both well-established Japanese chains. The fact that all have intentions to expand internationally will probably increase competition on the market and further moves for mergers and acquisitions will certainly be in the menu.

Quilvest Private Equity

Quilvest Private Equity is the private equity arm of the Quilvest Group, a leading, global, independent wealth manager and private equity investor, with a presence in Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.

Since 1972, Quilvest Private Equity invests and accompanies private small and medium sized companies in their strategic development over the long term. With a team of nearly 100 professionals investing both directly into companies and in funds and a global footprint (in Luxembourg, Paris, New York, London, Hong Kong and Dubai), Quilvest Private Equity manages approximately €4.4 billion of assets.

The private equity house is an active investor in the restaurant and hospitality sector. Following its successful investment in YO! Sushi in 2008, Quilvest became the largest shareholder in 2011 of Tortilla, a rapidly growing UK-based chain of Mexican quick-service restaurants, which has grown from 7 sites at the time of Quilvest’s investment to 27 sites in the UK today.

Quilvest Private Equity offers investment opportunities to its private and institutional investors on a large range of direct investments, private equity and private real estate funds, and through strategic partnerships, with a total alignment of interests.

Quilvest Group

Held by the same family for seven generations, Quilvest is an international financial group born from an industrial success at the end of the 19th century.

With approximately €34bn of assets under management, Quilvest is a leading global independent wealth manager and private equity investor dedicated to wealth preservation and generation.

Internationally present with 13 offices in 10 countries and a team of nearly 400 professionals, Quilvest is an international group established in all major financial centers. Quilvest’s sophistication, history and stability attest to the consistency and trustworthiness required to manage the wealth of private investors, families and institutions alike.

Simon Woodroffe, the man behind “YO!”

Simon Woodroffe dropped school at the age of 16 and spent most of his career in the entertainment business designing and staging concerts for the likes of Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder and George Michael. He founded YO! Sushi in 1997, introducing the UK’s first conveyor belt sushi bar. The concept turned dining out into a complete entertainment experience, featuring call buttons, robot drinks trolleys and Japanese TV. The first restaurant opened in the heart of Soho and became an overnight phenomenon.
As a “Dragon” on BBC Two’s worldwide hit programme Dragons’ Den, and due to his entrepreneurial success, Simon has developed a strong reputation on the worldwide public speaking circuit. The restaurant concept evolved in the meanwhile to further YO! Brands. The first YOTEL opened in 2007 as a solution to “boring and expensive hotels” and YO! Home is on track to bring in 2016 the “re-invention of the city apartment”.