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Robin Rowland is Chief Executive of the revolutionary Japanese restaurant chain YO! Sushi.
Over the past ten years, under Rowland’s leadership, YO! Sushi has grown from a London-only sushi restaurant to an internationally renowned brand, operating 63 unique, conveyor belt restaurants worldwide.
YO! Sushi has enjoyed global success as a result of Rowland’s leadership. His vision is based on building successful teams, constant innovation, flat structure and above all a trusting, rewarding and fun environment in each and every restaurant. Rowland describes his job as juggling the five P’s – People, Product, Property, Promotion and Profit – focusing on a spirit of constant evolution.
When Rowland joined YO! Sushi in 1999, the brand ran only three restaurants growing to 12 restaurants by 2003 when Rowland led the first management buyout. Rowland and his team then grew the number of restaurants rapidly to 30 by March 2008 which saw a second management buyout by its current investors Quilvest and the YO! Sushi Senior Management team including Rowland. YO! Sushi now has 51 UK restaurants and serves over 3.5 million customers a year, throughout its 51 privately owned UK restaurants and its 13 franchised international restaurants.
Rowland began his career in 1984 with Whitbread Inns followed by a move to Grand Metropolitan and Scottish & Newcastle. This wealth of experience saw Rowland rise to Senior Operations and Groups Franchise positions with City Centre Restaurants. Rowland joined YO! Sushi in 1999, taking the reigns as CEO in 2000 and has been steering YO! Sushi to success ever since.
Rowland’s contributions to the industry have been recognised with a number of awards including a Catey Award for Group Restaurateur of the Year (2008), Best Individual by the restaurant industry, at the Retailers’ Retailer Award (2007) as well as being listed in Who’s Who (2009).
YO! Sushi was also recognised with a R150 award for Best Restaurant Design in 2009. This was important recognition for Rowland and his team as the YO! Sushi ethos is to never build the same restaurant twice. The brand continues to thrive on each restaurant's individuality as they continue to open more restaurants. Trips to Tokyo inspire both the restaurant menu and design, offering a true taste of Tokyo at each restaurant.
A Londoner born and bred, Rowland lives in a 17th century farmhouse with his wife, three children, three dogs and a micro pig called Harley. Robin also enjoys driving a London taxi around deepest darkest Surrey in his spare time.
Comment on Robin Rowland from Caterer article covering the 100 Most Powerful People in Food.
Robin Rowland is the chief executive of YO! Sushi <http://www.yosushi.com/> , which was founded in 1997. The company, which is owned by private equity firm Quilvest <http://www.quilvest.com/accueil/index.php> and the senior management team in the UK, owns, operates and franchises 64 conveyor-belt sushi bars - 51 in the UK - offering a mix of traditional Japanese and Western recipes in high streets and concessions, along with a home delivery service called YO! To Go.
The 22-year-old Robin Rowland joined Whitbread Inns in 1984 as area manager in charge of a mixed estate of 20 venues that included a Michelin-starred restaurant, a pilot Brewers Fayre and a nightclub. He moved on to Grand Met Retail in 1988 to manage Old Orleans Restaurants, which he grew from five to 20 sites over the next four years.
When Scottish & Newcastle bought the business in 1992 Rowland became restaurant operations director, running an estate of 80 food operations that embraced country hotels, central London dining pubs and themed restaurants.
By his mid-thirties, keen to return to the London restaurant scene, Rowland joined City Centre Restaurants (now The Restaurant Group) in 1995 to turn around its Mexican chain, Chiquito. He then spent the next 18 months as group franchising director seeking UK and international development partners.
Rowland joined the fledgling YO! Sushi as chief executive in July 1999 and, in 2003, led a �10m management buyout of the company - backed by Primary Capital - when the group had 12 sites and sales of �12.5m.
In May 2010 YO! Sushi launched a new site in central London featuring a new design concept, a cocktail bar and a new menu.
Since joining YO! Sushi, Rowland has steered the group through some early poor site decisions - and brand extensions - that included the sale of two poorly performing restaurants and the three YO! Below bars.
He has overseen rapid expansion with the backing of private equity funding and secured franchise partners to test the concept overseas. He has also won over a string of challenging landlords – including Selfridges <http://www.selfridges.com/> , Harvey Nichols <http://www.harveynichols.com/output/Page1.asp> , Harrods <http://www.harrods.com/harrodsstore/> , Railtrack and BAA – to position the brand in a number of high-profile locations.
The rapid expansion has not been driven in typical chain fashion, however. Rowland’s ethos is to never build the same restaurant twice, with lighting, seating, video screens and uniforms all flexible depending on location. The food offering is also fluid, with the entire menu of about 90 dishes reviewed at least once a year.
Rowland has also worked hard to drive customer loyalty, building a database of 250,000 people, each of whom has signed up to its YO! Love Club and receives a monthly news e-letter. It seems to be working, with about 20% of YO! customers eating there regularly once a week.
Rowland is certainly not one to rest on his laurels, and May 2010 saw the launch of a new 70-seat London restaurant inspired by current trends from Tokyo, featuring interiors with a red-and-black colour scheme and a "heaven and hell" theme. YO! Sushi’s signature conveyor belt snakes around the entire restaurant, making it accessible from every seat, offering a range of 50 new dishes available only at the new Market Place site.
Speaking to Caterer, Rowland said: “We went to Tokyo to see what’s happening in the Japanese restaurant scene and came back with a range of new design and menu ideas which we have introduced at this restaurant. We have no plans to roll out all of these new elements but will see which work and take individual ideas to new sites.”
YO! Sushi is on track to open 10 new outlets in 2010, with the next sites set to open at Edinburgh airport, Milton Keynes and London’s Festival Hall.
“Future expansion plans depend on us finding the right sites,” Rowland said. “We’re not in a numbers game, but realistically we’d like to open between five and 10 sites a year.”
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