Founder and CEO Brody Sweeney explains how Camile Thai Kitchen aims to stay ahead of the curve in the restaurant sector
Tell us about Camile Thai Kitchen
Camile Thai Kitchen is the UK and Ireland’s fastest-growing Thai food chain, serving the niche market of healthy, gourmet takeaway food.
Camile Thai was founded in 2010 with a vision to offer consumers a delicious, guilt-free alternative to the traditional food options and when ordering food for home delivery.
What challenges did the COVID-19 crisis present and how did you overcome them?
Like the rest of the hospitality industry, we felt the impact of COVID-19 on our business, but our location strategy of opening restaurants in suburban areas, early focus on food delivery and significant investment in technology laid the foundations for smoother trading over the last 12 months.
Though our dine-in business has been closed for the majority of COVID due to restrictions, we saw an increase in our digital ordering. We ensure our team works in a safe place and delivers our food in a contactless way. We were, and still are, providing a service to many customers who still rely on us.
At the end of May 2020, Camile Thai launched a lower-cost franchise model that targeted venues such as hotels, pubs and restaurants that had been forced to close due to lockdown measures, but which had professional cooking facilities that could be converted into ‘cloud kitchens’ for home delivery, even while they remained closed.
Through this innovative new franchise programme, hotel, restaurant and pub owners were able to maximise their kitchen space and bring new options to market, increasing revenue almost immediately with easy-to-prepare items designed for delivery.
As well as this, last year we became the first chain in Europe to deliver food by drone.
How do you see the rest of 2021 panning out?
This year we will continue to focus on technology, as it’s a core part of our strategy. We believe the industry is changing rapidly when it comes to technology and we want to be ahead of that curve.
As well as that, we’re going to continue to push our ‘franchise as a service’ venture and grow the hotels, pubs and restaurants format via business owners with well located, but underused commercial kitchens in cities and towns across Ireland and the UK.
The goal of this venture is to enable such businesses to pivot to offer Camile Thai’s delivery menu and help them continue to operate with a new home delivery revenue stream, despite continued lockdown measures.
What are your franchise plans this year?
In 2021, we will be opening 15 new locations across the UK and Ireland, which will lead to the creation of over 300 full and part-time jobs. We’re also looking to raise €10 million to progress our business strategy further.
What type of partners are you looking for and in what territories?
As we continue to target the UK and Ireland as territories for Camile Thai locations, we’re continually in search of franchising opportunities and partners. In the UK, we’re focused on south east England for the moment.
We’re looking for partners who have done their research - those who know what type of franchise is best for them and understand the benefits of working in an established company.
Camile Thai wants to work with people who are driven and hard-working and look forward to helping our company grow. We’re also looking for franchisees who want to open multi-unit businesses. Most of our existing franchisees have opened, or plan to open additional units. Our largest franchisee currently started with one, now has seven and is building his eighth and ninth unit. This is good for him and good for us.
Tell us about your ‘technology-centric strategy’
Our goal is to provide consumers with a healthy, guilt-free takeaway meal. From start to finish, technology is involved in that process - from the initial order all the way through to the delivery of the order - and for that reason, we lead our business with a technology-centric strategy.
In 2020, in addition to our traditional full-service neighbourhood restaurants, we transformed underused commercial kitchens and converted them into cloud kitchens, which has proven to be very effective for our business. It’s a new restaurant model with no storefront and no tables and chairs.
More and more existing restaurants are now venturing into cloud kitchens because of their operational efficiency and low start-up costs, which will continue to play a massive role in the food industry.
We also have the privilege of being the first chain in Europe to deliver food via drone. Using drone delivery not only allows a larger geographical number of customers to have access to our menu but further progresses the automation that is coming to the industry and we are extremely happy to be part of that process.
In addition, this year we plan on working with a kitchen robotics provider to automate many of our operations. Through these varied technological endeavours, we aim to continue to be ahead of the curve within the restaurant industry, which is why our strategy is so technology-centric.
Where do you see the business in five years and what role will franchising play?
The goal is to continue to scale at a faster rate than we’re currently growing at over the coming years.
Franchising will be hugely important to the success we see, as we plan that about 80 per cent of new outlets will be opened by franchisees and most of those by existing operators.
In five years’ time, Camile Thai will still be the fastest-growing Thai food chain in the UK and Ireland - and hopefully beyond that. With our technology-led thinking, we’ll remain industry leaders.