Bubba Gump runs into London on the strength of shrimp
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company opened its doors in London in late September, the first location outside North America for the theme restaurant and market based on the 1994 movie Forrest Gump.
The 450-seat restaurant with a staff of 255 had lineups outside the store from day one, said Barry Nicholson, human resources manager for Bubba Gump UK. One reason is the restaurant’s location in the Trocadero complex in Leicester Square, situated on one of the busiest streets in the world with up to 250,000 pedestrians on the street per day in the summer months.
There are five restaurants inside the Trocadero, including the Rainforest Café, which also serves American-style food. But few competitors in the area, if any, focus on seafood and “certainly no others focus on shrimp,” he said. “We view Bubba Gump as being much more about the shrimp than about the Deep South culinary style.”
Bubba Gump features shrimp in more than 20 ways, as well as grilled fish dishes, baby back ribs and surf and turf items. Open daily for business, Nicholson said the response to the restaurant’s opening has been “totally overwhelming. People come for various reasons, some because they love the brand in the United States, some because they love shrimp, some because they love the Forrest Gump film and some just because they are passing by, due to the amazing location. Others are coming because they are curious or intrigued, following the huge hype in the media.”
With Mauro Petrociello as the executive chef at Bubba Gump, the London menu is almost identical to that in Bubba Gump’s San Francisco location, with only a few minor changes.
“We added fish fillets and chips to our menu, as well as minestrone, because it’s a hearty, well-known European soup,” Nicholson said. “But other than that the menu is more than 90 percent the same as the U.S. restaurants. We have people who come here and who know the restaurants from the United States, and they say it’s exactly the same food.”
Seafood at Bubba Gump is MSC-certified, much of it coming from farms in Southeast Asia. Bubba Gump UK sources its seafood from Galaxy Foods, a local seafood supplier that deals directly with producers and ensures that international regulations and standards are adhered to.
Petrociello and many other staff members were trained by Bubba Gump in the United States prior to the opening of the UK restaurant. The American team also traveled to the UK to train other staff members in the weeks prior to the opening and during the launch period.
The two-level restaurant has a market on the ground floor selling T-shirts, baseball caps, mugs, cups, pins, golf balls and other souvenirs from the film. The first floor restaurant is decorated with movie memorabilia, including The Gump House, set in the center of the restaurant. There will be continuous screenings of the movie and license plates on each table — the printed messages “run Forrest run” and “stop Forrest stop” let servers know when they are required.
Nicholson said the company will be looking to grow the market portion of its business, and that around 60 percent of diners at Bubba Gump were also buying retail merchandise. “Forrest Gump has a huge awareness and following here in the UK, much like the U.S.,” he said. “The movie is aired regularly, appeals to everyone and remains relevant.”
The franchisor of Bubba Gump UK is Al Murabakia, a property company based in Kuwait with expertise in the hotel industry. “They have plans to expand here as well as in the Middle East,” he said, adding that Al Murabakia anticipates opening four more Bubba Gump restaurants in the UK in the next four years. “It could be faster but much depends on finding the right sites,” Nicholson said. “We’ll be looking for locations in major cities but we need big units that can generate a big footfall, and there aren’t many of those around.” The negotiations for the Trocadero location took “quite some time,” he added, a couple of years before the site was ready and the restaurant could open.
Prices at Bubba Gump are comparable to other restaurants in the west and “definitely compare to the price of seafood sold in other UK restaurants,” he said. While the UK menu prices are not final, those available at time of publishing showed the most popular dishes as Forrests’ Seafood Feast, priced at GBP 15.50 (USD 24.31; EUR 19.58), the Shrimpers Heaven at GBP 19.50 (USD 30.59; EUR 24.63) and Shrimp Mac & Cheese priced at GBP 8.25 (USD 12.94; EUR 10.42). At Bubba Gump’s San Francisco location those items menued for USD 20.99 (GBP 13.38; EUR 16.89), USD 22.99 (GBP 14.65; EUR 18.50) and USD11.40 (GBP 7.26; EUR 9.17) respectively.
Nicholson expressed confidence about Bubba Gump’s continued success and growth in the UK. “It’s all about the shrimp,” he explained. “The UK is a great nation of fish eaters and no other restaurant in the UK focuses on shrimp.”