UK - Sri Lankan Chain The Coconut Tree Announces Plans For Global Expansion

Feb 22 2023.

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It’s November 2016 and five Sri Lankan friends are opening a restaurant. They’ve found a four-bedroom flat above an old pub in Cheltenham, UK and they’ve got plans for the tired old tavern. On a shoestring budget and days of sweat, long hours and hard work – the quaint old pub is now a bright, quirky Sri Lankan Street food resto-bar. The Coconut Tree is open for business.  

7 years later, The Coconut Tree is a multi-million-pound restaurant chain operating 9 restaurants across the UK in Bristol, Oxford, Cardiff, Bournemouth and Bath, Reading and Birmingham. The Coconut Tree mixes the art and style of Sri Lankan Street food and artisan drinks with the island’s uniquely informal dining setting and famed hospitality.

The award-winning restaurant chain recently announced its plans to go global in the coming years, sharing that they are seeking investors to fund the expansion. In 2019, The Coconut Tree recorded a turnover in excess of £3 million and continued to perform well during the COVID pandemic, recording a trade income of £10 million in 2021. With a tremendous growth record over the years, the group is now ready to take The Coconut Tree to new markets through a franchise model. In the group’s expansion strategy, it also plans to open a flagship restaurant in Colombo, adding that this would be the showpiece of the brand to make it truly Sri Lankan.  With the group developing, the staff that makes The Coconut Tree is also expanding.

From just 10 employees back in 2016, the group now boasts an extended family of 320 employees. As a brand that has grown organically over the years, its staff is the core of The Coconut Tree ethos and the working culture the brand has cultivated over the years is uniquely its own.

Leaving behind 15 years of hospitality management roles in Sri Lanka, the General Manager of the brand’s Bath restaurant Imran Mannan praises the group as a ‘great workplace to grow and develop both professionally and personally’. 

Imran Mannan

“I started working at The Coconut Tree almost two years ago and immediately noticed the positive atmosphere and the importance The Coconut Tree gives to its employees. In my current position as General Manager, my career has rocketed with the growth of the company. I’m proud to be a part of it. The Coconut Tree is truly an employer of choice for anyone looking for greater challenges in their careers”.
Naveen, who manages the group’s debut restaurant that started it all back in Cheltenham, adds that working for the brand is like living his dream.

Naveen

“Building a team who has the same enthusiasm as you and the overall Sri Lankan culture and hospitality is practised from the management to the core. We are treated as one family. I’m so proud to be in the journey of taking Sri Lankan Street food around the UK and to the world.”

There is praise for the brand that is synonymous among all employees of The Coconut Tree; for them, The Coconut Tree is beyond a mere workplace, it is an extended family – one that fondly reminds them of their families back on the island they call home.
 

Sandeepa Jayasuriya: “The Coconut Tree was started with a bunch of friends and continues to grow as a family. We will always have something to match your appetite to amaze you in a flavourful way. The more I worked at this amazing place, the more I fell in love with it. Within no time this wonderful team made my bad times into good times and good times into great times. We are simple but we are classic and uniquely Sri Lankan.”

Micheal Cooke who was recruited to the UK to join The Coconut Tree also reminisced on the close relationship between the management and the employees.
Micheal “The company has been very supportive from day one and has been in contact with us every step of the way. The benefits at The Coconut Tree are far superior to most restaurants. The company offers a guaranteed service charge and cash tips for all staff members on top of their salary. 50% discounts on all The Coconut Tree outlets, friends and family discounts, free shift meals and beverages while working and the company hosts a fun day activity for all The Coconut Tree staff members once a year where all outlets are closed, and everyone gets together as one big Coconut Tree family to enjoy and share their experience. It’s wonderful to be a part of a team where management treats their employees like family.”

Nina Wolff-Ingham “There’s a reason why The Coconut Tree was ranked as one of the best places to eat in Cheltenham by BBC Good Food… the food is amazing and so is the work! “Despite differing job roles, it always feels like we are on the same level and can speak freely as equals! We have trust between us and a firm loyalty to each other, which along with a scarily synced-up flow means we always run a good shift despite how busy it gets. It never feels like work, just like coming to see friends and enjoying taking care of others and making sure they have a fantastic and memorable visit”.

With ambitious plans for continually growing the business, both in the UK and internationally across Europe, Australia and the United States, The Coconut Tree aims to expand its workforce and magnify job opportunities for Sri Lankans globally to be a part of their thriving, inclusive workplace culture.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..


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