There's no denying the restaurants and bars sector has been thoroughly stress-tested over the last five years or so. But, as we move through the new post-recession recovery, there has been a significant positive shift towards dining in Bristol, not just by consumers but by investors too. With an improving economy, the increase in city centre living and the general public’s attitude towards eating out, the number of consumers looking to spend their pounds in the city has significantly increased. Combine this with a vibrant, dynamic area that has a passion for food and drink, not to mention the local availability of fantastic produce, and you’ve got a restaurant and bar sector going from strength to strength.
The ethos of making best use of quality, local ingredients seems to be the bedrock of Bristol’s food and drink scene. From James Wilkins’ Michelin-starred Wilks to the traders at St Nicholas Market, as well as at the numerous food and drink festivals held in and around the city, there is a pride and passion for local produce that gives a vibrancy to Bristol that other cities struggle to copy.
While this is a common thread that runs through many of Bristol’s success stories, it is not to say that everywhere is the same. Rather, the variety and diversity of Bristol is one of its key attributes. Wilks and its fellow Michelin Star holder Casamia offer fine dining at its best, but they compete for local consumers’ attention with the likes of the meat heavy Grillstock Smokehouse and tapas operator Pata Negra.
The city is also a big follower of national trends: the inexorable rise of the burger (Atomic Burger; The Burger Joint); the renewed interest in craft beer (Zerodegrees; Beer Emporium); a focus on cocktails (Milk Thistle; Hyde & Co); the popularity of street food events (Bristol Eats; Bristol Food Connections Festival) etc. However, it does so with its own style, verve and attitude.
There’s a sense that Bristolians make a concerted effort to be supportive of local independents as they want them to succeed and feel a part of that success. What’s interesting though is that by supporting the local ‘underdog’, people have helped businesses such as Loungers, which was founded in Bristol in 2002, establish a solid platform for growth and expansion away from the city as well.
And Loungers is not alone. Last month saw private equity-backed Las Iguanas acquired by Casual Dining Group for a reported £85 million – not bad for a restaurant that started off in 1991 on a quiet street in Bristol. Meanwhile, operators such as Turtle Bay and Boston Tea Party are all making an impact far beyond their local roots; the likes of Friska, Hotcha and Aqua Group are also beginning to spread their wings.
National brands are benefiting from the local appetite too. We have MEATLiquor set to open in the city later this year, and San Carlo Group is going from strength to strength having invested another £500,000 in its Bristol site.
The brilliantly positive attitude that pervades will continue to generate new ideas and concepts, but it will also continue to welcome those from outside the city that enrich an already diverse food and drink culture.
As a corporate finance adviser, I’m excited at the prospect of more expansion and more success stories to come. Investors have a renewed sense of confidence in the restaurants and bars sector, especially having proved how resilient they are through the recession. This, combined with the quality of concepts and operators in and around Bristol, will no doubt pave the way for future transactions.
In July, Consultancy.uk featured an economic outlook analysis of the Bristol region.
An article from Kieran Lawton, a mergers and acquisitions Director at advisory firm BDO.