Wagamama looks to expand in the US



New Wagamama chief executive Steve Easterbrook is carrying out an early review of the noodle restaurant's US operations with a view to expansion.

The Sunday Telegraph understands that Mr Easterbrook, who took over at the pan-Asian chain last August, is keen to explore the possibility of increasing Wagamama's footprint in North America.

Wagamama currently has only three sites in the US in and around Boston.

Part of the review will focus on the cities and geographic areas in which Wagamama would be most suited, as well as whether it would be best to fund the expansion itself, work with a partner, or develop a franchise model.

Mr Easterbrook, the former Pizza Express and McDonald's UK chief, is understood to be in the US this weekend, although it is unclear if his trip is directly related to this review.

One source said that it was too early to call the work a strategic review, but described the US as a key part of the company's future, in addition to continued expansion in the UK.

Wagamama opened five sites in the run-up to Christmas, and is due to open another five in the first months of this year, including London branches in Holborn, which opens on Tuesday, and Finchley, which opens next month.

Part of Mr Easterbrook's remit is to increase the penetration of Wagamama across the UK. It currently has 82 restaurants in the UK, compared to Pizza Express (NYSE: EXPR - news) which has approximately 400 locations. As well as the three in the US, it has 37 sites in countries as diverse as Denmark and Qatar which are operated under franchise.

Current trading in the run-up to Christmas is understood to have been strong, with both sales and profit increases in double-digit figures compared to the same period last year.

Wagamama has benefited from choosing not to discount by offering two-for-one deals on its meals, setting itself apart in the sector as a destination which customers want to go to.

Mr Easterbrook's arrival came after private equity firm Lion Capital sold the business to rival Duke Street in a March 2011 deal thought to value the chain in the region of £215m.

Wagamama did not comment.