How Loungers became the business it is today

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

New brand: Loungers opened Brightside Exeter last year
New brand: Loungers opened Brightside Exeter last year

Related tags MA Leaders Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office

After more than two decades of trading, The Morning Advertiser takes a look at the history of multiple operator Loungers.

2002 – Loungers is born

The first Lounge was opened by Alex Reilley, Jake Bishop and Dave Reid in an empty opticians on North Street in Bedminster, in the south side of Bristol.

2007 – Bath Lounge opens

The first site outside of Bristol opened its doors in Oldfield Park, Bath. Velo Lounge was a former bicycle shop.

2009 – Expansion plans

At this point, Loungers had 10 neighbourhood café bars, based in the south-west and outlined aims to add eight new sites by 2010, expanding away from its Bristol base, with further goals to reach 30 venues by 2013​.

Also during 2009, Loungers opened a new site in a suburban part of Southampton​, spending £335,000 converting a former Pizza Hut in the Portswood area into Trago Lounge.

2010 – Personnel news and growth acceleration

Nick Collins joined the company as finance director while on the property side of things, Loungers signed a deal on its 17th​ site​.

Moreover, the year also saw the start of the Cosy Club brand with the concept starting its life in Taunton​.

2011 – Number 19 and funding update

Loungers revealed it had secured an additional £1m funding for expansion. The news came as it opened its 19th site​ – Santo Lounge in the Shirley suburb of Southampton.

The extra funding saw the business switch from RBS to Santander with the latter refinancing Loungers’ then existing £1.3m debt with the addition of £200,000 headroom into the business plus a £800,000 revolving facility.

The year also saw the third Cosy Club​, located in Stamford, Lincolnshire, housed in the town’s old Post Office delivery office.

That wasn’t all for the busy year that was 2011 though as in November of the same year, the business revealed it was expected to reach 29 sites by the end of 2012​.

2012 – Private equity

Private equity group Piper took a minority stake​ in Loungers, investing £16m into the business while co-founder Dave Reid left the group for sunnier climes in the south of France.

The company also confirmed the locations of its first four planning openings in the north-west – Liverpool, the Wirral and two in Greater Manchester.

In December 2012, the fifth Cosy Club​ opened in Cardiff, the biggest to that date and was the overall company’s 28th​ venue.

2014 – COO appointment

Early 2014 saw Nick Collins being appointed chief operating officer​, a promotion from his previous role as finance director.

2015 – Career progression

Just a year later, Collins was promoted to chief executive officer while Alex Reilley became executive vice-chairman.

2016 – Funding change

In December the following year, Lion Capital acquired a majority stake in the group while Piper Private Equity exited its investment.

Meanwhile, Alex Reilley became executive chairman.

2017 – Opening celebration

The spring of 2017 saw the group open its 100th​ site – Capo Lounge in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.

2018 – Accolades awarded

The new year of 2018 brought news of Loungers being named the UK’s fastest growing pub company​ alongside the news it had committed £10m to opening 16 new sites​ in the same year.

2019 – Rocketing revenue

The group unveiled its 150th​ venue​, which was also the group’s 11th​ new site in 2019 (Fosso Lounge in Wells, Somerset) while revealing it was also on course to open 25 new venues – comprising 20 Lounges and five Cosy Clubs – during the financial year to 19 April 2020.

Moreover, the company’s ordinary shares were admitted to trading on the AIM Market of the London Stock Exchange.

It also reported a revenue rise to £153m​ for the financial year ending 21 April 2019 – a £31.9m year-on-year increase.

This was followed by Nick Collins telling The Morning Advertiser ​the prospect of Loungers becoming a really big business was “terrifying”​.

2020 – Pandemic impact

The year the sector was forced to close down due to the coronavirus pandemic meant Loungers learned how to adapt to a ‘new normal’, meaning a number of Lounge sites offered takeaway for the first time. Following this, the business launched an order and pay app.

In August of 2020, café-bar operator revealed plans to open its 30th​ Cosy Club site in Birmingham and its first site in the Black Country, Lupo Lounge in Wolverhampton.

During this time the business also revealed two of its Lounges wouldn’t be among the sites that reopened after the first Government-imposed lockdown – Banco Lounge in Bristol and Allegro Lounge, Northfield.

2021 – Reopening boost

The reopening of indoor trading for hospitality following subsequent lockdowns meant Loungers reported like-for-like sales during the four weeks from Monday 17 May were up 26.6%​ against the same period in 2019.

The year also saw the business announce plans to open a further 10 sites​ in a trading update.

2022 – Record report and new brand announcement

Plans were unveiled to open at least 500 sites​ across the Lounge and Cosy Club brands, following a record year of financial and operational progress while it also opened its 200th​ site – Cosy Club Chester in The Arcade in 2022.

There were celebrations this year as the company marked 20 years since the opening of the first Lounge, in Bristol.

Towards the end of 2022 (November), Loungers announced the launch of a third brand – Brightside, with the aim of reinvigorating roadside dining in the UK​.

2023 – Brightside begins

February 2023 saw the opening of the first Brightside on the A38, south of Exeter followed by the second of the brand​ in June in Saltash near Plymouth.

The third opened in Honiton on the A3030 in August of the same year.

2024 – Recent news

More recently, Loungers announced the opening of Pionero Lounge in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, marking the group’s 250th​ site​.

In the recent Publican Awards, Alex Reilley was named Business Leader of the Year​ and  outlined his secrets to his success on The Morning Advertiser’s Lock In podcast​.

Just this month (April), the business announced three key appointments. Justin Carter, who has been in the company for nine years, was promoted from managed director to group managing director, taking overall responsibility for all three brands – Lounge, Cosy Club and Brightside.

There was also a new external appointment with Kate Eastwood appointed as Lounge managing director. She joined from Fuller’s as operations director where she was responsible for more than 100 sites in London and the south-east.

The third was David Matthews who was appointed Lounge operations director (north) after two successful years as regional operations manager, driving the expansion of the firm’s northern frontier.

The future looks bright for Loungers, including targeting in excess of 30 new site openings a year over the medium term.

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