Nightcap eyes portfolio expansion as CEO ‘proves critics wrong’ after pandemic-launch

Bar operator Nightcap hit £15.5m in net sales during its first full year of trading, as it lines up 25 new site openings this year.

Boss Sarah Willingham, whose group owns Tonight Josephine and the London Cocktail Club, told CityA.M. she had “never been prouder” to work in hospitality than during the pandemic.

The company launched in early 2021 and acquired the Cocktail Club, the Adventure Bar Group and Barrio, as well as listing on the London Stock Exchange.

“People said ‘what on earth are you talking about?’, setting up a hospitality business when there wasn’t even a vaccine out, in the middle of a pandemic. It has worked out the way we hoped it would,” she explained.

The operator has plans to open 25 new sites in 2022, with locations in millennial and student areas on the agenda.

“As we expand, we are looking at major cities,” Willingham said, with targets for sites including Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham and Exeter, to list just a few. 

“We want to be able to take advantage of the fact the property market is as it is and there are some great sites that are available now for good operators,” Willingham said.

The bar group posted a net sales increase of 46.2 per cent across its 27 venues. Like for like sales increased 22.4 per cent for the 26 weeks ended 26 December. 

While other businesses have been left reeling after fresh Covid guidance meant cash flow took a heavy hit last year, Nightcap was protected by having a hefty £9.5m in the bank.

“We were very lucky, there are a lot of people who run independent bars who will have needed that Christmas. Those two weeks should have been the biggest turnover weeks of the year for the whole industry.”

The company did experience waves of cancellations of corporate bookings, as offices were forced to cancel Christmas gatherings as work-from-home guidance was re-introduced.

However, Willingham said the company has been buoyed by these bookings rescheduling for later on in 2022.

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