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exclusive Las Iguanas and Bella Italia may come to Belfast as The Big Table Group eyes up Northern Ireland

The Big Table Group, which owns Las Iguanas and Bella Italia, wants to bring brands to Belfast


Big Table Group chief executive Alan Morgan

Big Table Group chief executive Alan Morgan

Big Table Group chief executive Alan Morgan

Restaurant business The Big Table Group is keen to bring its Latin American chain Las Iguanas to Northern Ireland, Business Telegraph can reveal.

The casual dining group, which also serves dishes inspired by Mexican, Brazilian and Argentinian cuisine, has said it’s planning to open 50 new restaurants UK-wide in an expansion strategy set to create 1,250 jobs.

A spokesman for the group said Northern Ireland was under consideration for new openings of Las Iguanas, and its Bella Italia chain. The company also owns Cafe Rouge. 

A spokesperson told Business Telegraph: “We’d love to bring Las Iguanas and Bella Italia to Belfast — it’s an exciting time for both brands, and we know there’s strong demand from customers in Northern Ireland.

“We’re looking for leisure destinations and busy city centre locations, so we’re keen to hear from landlords about any suitable sites.”

Its menu includes a birria quesadilla, described as “folded tortilla filled with cheese & tender beef in a chipotle consommé with spices & ancho chilli, dipped in beef dripping & pan-fried. Served with jalapeño & onion salsa & extra gravy.”

Big casual dining chains have had a mixed experience in Northern Ireland.  

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Last year The Restaurant Group closed up to 120 of its Frankie & Benny’s chain around the UK, including its Sprucefield Park unit outside Lisburn. However, the Frankie & Benny’s restaurants at Victoria Square in Belfast and Boucher Place are still open.
Its sister chain, Wagamama, has remained popular here, with restaurants in Victoria Square and Dundonald.
Colin Neill, the chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said Las Iguanas’ could prove to have a more “stand-out offer” than competitors.
”In the casual dining scene, we have lots of good Northern Ireland operators, so others struggle to cut through.
“But this one is different, and could bring another offering to our high street. That’s important, because our high street is struggling.”
He said the hybrid model of working, with people spending a few days working at home while coming into the office on other days, would mean shops in some town centres would struggle for custom at times.
Mr Neill said high streets therefore had to focus more on offering experiences and leisure. He added: “Hospitality is certainly going to be key driver in the high streets of the future, so the wider the food offering, the better.”
The Big Table Group said around £35m will be injected into the new openings to take its portfolio to 200 restaurants across the UK. Meanwhile, £19m will be pumped into 70 major refurbishments across its estate.
Of the 50 new sites, the group said it will open 35 Las Iguanas outlets across major UK towns and city centres, almost doubling the number of restaurants in the Latin American chain.
The company said Las Iguanas has “exceeded all expectations” after reopening following the relaxation of pandemic restrictions earlier this year.
The brand opened a site in Plymouth last week and is due to open another in Southampton this year.
It comes after Big Table hired former KFC executive Paul Stokes as the group’s head of acquisitions to lead its growth strategy.
Big Table Group changed its name from the Casual Dining Group last year after it was snapped up by private equity firm Epiris following the impact of the first Covid-19 lockdown.
Chief executive Alan Morgan said: “Las Iguanas has consistently proven to be an extremely popular choice with consumers, and now is the perfect time to grow the brand across the country, targeting high footfall locations in major towns and city centres.”