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YO! Group appoints CEO

Following its recent acquisition of Bento Sushi (Bento), YO! Sushi (YO!) has appointed Richard Hodgson as Chief Executive Officer, commencing in December.

Hodgson was formerly Chief Executive Officer of Pizza Express, where he was instrumental in driving the internationalisation of the business.
As agreed with the Board when Mayfair Equity Partners invested in YO! in November 2015, and with the business delivering strong results and underlying like-for-like growth, Robin Rowland will step down as Chief Executive Officer but remain on the board as a Non-Executive Director. Rowland has led YO! for 18 years, taking it from three London restaurants, through three private equity transactions, to 97 sites worldwide. Today YO! serves seven million customers a year. Since receiving backing from Mayfair Equity Partners, Rowland has overseen a revitalisation of the brand, resulting in like-for-like sales growth of +5 per cent over the past 18 months. Eight new sites opened in the UK this year, as well as YO!’s first sites in Manhattan, Paris and Sydney.
The CAD100 million acquisition of Bento, the second largest sushi brand in North America and the largest in Canada, has formed a global, multi-channel, multi-brand Japanese food group. The Group is one of the largest sushi companies outside of Japan, with over 100 restaurants around the world, 550 partnered kiosks across North America, and fresh packaged sushi supplied to a further 1700 partner sites. The combined businesses have recorded sales of approximately GBP175 million over the last twelve months.
Hodgson brings considerable international restaurant and retail experience which will benefit the newly expanded and diversified Group. Prior to his role at Pizza Express, Hodgson was commercial director of Morrisons and Waitrose. At Pizza Express, he led its international expansion, opened well over 120 new restaurants including in South East Asia and China, acquired its international franchise operations in the UAE and the Far East, and developed its retail business through new deals with supermarkets and online delivery platforms.
Rowland says: “I’m pleased to pass the baton to Richard. Richard inherits a business that continues to go from strength-to-strength and is now poised for rapid expansion across the Group’s range of formats and geographies. I look forward to supporting the Group’s growth in a non-executive capacity.”
Hodgson says: “YO! Sushi has been an iconic consumer brand for the last twenty years, and the introduction of the Bento brand and offering presents a huge opportunity. I’m excited about joining the newly diversified Group at this pivotal point in its development, and working with the team as we capitalise on the new multi-channel multi-brand format.”
Eric Nicoli, Non-Executive Chairman of YO!, adds: “I’m delighted to welcome Richard to YO!. He is particularly well-suited to drive the next stage of the Group’s growth and development. He arrives with an impressive reputation for motivating management teams and a strong background in grocery that is rare in the casual dining sector. His extensive experience in food retailing will also help the Group achieve its full potential as a global, multi-channel, multi-format and multi-brand purveyor of Japanese cuisine.
“Over the past 18 years, Robin Rowland has taught the UK to know and love Japanese food and, in the process, has built YO! into an iconic brand and a sought-after place to work. He is well known across the industry as the operators’ operator. The board looks forward to benefiting from his ongoing insight and support.”

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