Santander funds feeding frenzy: Tortilla
Amid all the gloom around the difficulty for small businesses of raising bank funding, Euromoney is delighted to receive notification that Tortilla – a chain of fast-casual restaurants selling Californian-Mexican food in various City locations, including Canary Wharf, Leadenhall Market and Bankside – has just negotiated a £2.25 million loan from Santander Corporate bank to fund its continued expansion.
The chain has strong financial connections, being backed by private equity investor Quilvest, and has grown rapidly from its founding in the wake of the credit crunch in 2007 by Brandon Stephens, who had come to London from California to pursue his MBA at London Business School. Seeing the financial markets implode, Stephens instead quickly came up with his business plan for the restaurant.
Any mention of Mexican food always makes Euromoney think of the wonderful scene in Liar’s Poker, where Michael Lewis recounts the astonishing feats of gluttony performed by Salomon Brothers mortgage traders in the early 1990s. While they were making money hand over fist from each refinement in the new market’s technology, their behaviour regressed, culminating on Fridays.
"We’d order $400 of Mexican food," says a former trader. "You can’t buy $400 of Mexican food but we’d try – guacamole in five-gallon drums for a start. A customer would call in and ask us to bid or offer on bonds and you’d have to say: ‘I’m sorry but we’re in the middle of feeding frenzy. I’ll have to call you back.’"
None of this excess in Tortilla restaurants, we’re sure. Stephens comes across as a much more civilized character. "I grew up eating healthy, affordable burritos in California and I just couldn’t find anything like it over here," he says.
Average spend in the restaurants is closer to £6, even in its signature location in fashionable Islington. However, some of the restaurants’ generally positive, vegetarian reviewers offer a sour note. One tells London Eating: "While your meat-eating companions get served huge portions of meat, the measly scraping off the edge of a spoon of guacamole, which is the main component of the veggie option, leaves a lot to be desired."
That’s what Euromoney likes to hear. It sounds like Lewis Ranieri’s kind of place after all.