Zen Group Focus On Expansion

Issue 96

Durham based hospitality firm serving-up success

If you go to Durham City and fancy a bite to eat, there’s a very strong chance that you’ll be enjoying a sandwich, burger or some seriously fine Asian fusion dining at one of the Zen Group’s restaurants, bistros or coffee shops.

You can choose from the Rabbit Hole and Zen restaurants. Tango burger and steakhouse and Whitechurch bistro.

They’re all very different and really do offer something for everyone.

Leading from the front are co-owners Sam Gadd and Zak Newton.

They’re a perfect team. Sam is the ideas man while Zak makes those ideas come to fruition.

Sam is also a terrific chef, which comes as no real surprise because he has the hospitality industry in his blood.

“Both of my parents, Nigel and Deborah, have a long history of opening restaurants and bars and apparently it became commonplace for me to be sat as an infant in the corner of a kitchen while everyone worked around me,” said Sam. “They had terrific success with the Seven Stars Inn and the Pump House in Shincliffe, and then concentrated on the Zen pan-Asian restaurant in the centre of Durham. They also opened the Gadds Townhouse hotel.

Since then, they’ve decided to focus their attention on other ventures so Zak and I felt the time was right to take over and grow the business to the next level.

I’ve worked in all of the restaurants but it was eleven years ago when I opened my own business…Tango…a burger and steakhouse on Elvet Bridge in Durham. That gave me my first real taste of what it was like to not only be part of a business as the manager and chef, but also learn how to run a business…the good bits and the not so good bits.

We’ve always believed that taking care of customers and staff has to be the main focus. Yes the food, surroundings and service need to be top-notch, but if you don’t have contended customers and don’t look after your staff, you’re going to struggle. We also encourage our staff to use their personalities, and if they have a good idea we do our best to make it happen.”

Sam and Zak have already got plans for the future. They’re a forward-thinking pair of entrepreneurs who can spot a business opportunity.

Their two latest ventures are the acquisition of the Whitechurch bistro (a lot of readers will remember when it was the New Inn) and relocation of Tango. Whitechurch will continue as a daytime bistro serving brunch until 4-ish, but will also offer a ‘grab and go’ service, no doubt aimed at the Durham University students and staff. Paninis and wraps will join the bistro offer and they will continue to serve the famous Sunday lunch.

Tango burger and steakhouse will be moving from Elvet Bridge to a much larger premises on Sadler Street.

“Tango has been hugely successful for us,” adds Sam. “The only problem was its size. Inside we could have around 30 covers while outside, in the fine weather, we could add a further 60. However, the £350,000 redevelopment of the old Bill’s restaurant means we will have 90 indoors.”

But really, this is the start of the future for Sam, Zak and the Zen Group. They have ambitious plans.

“We’re going to expand the Zen pan-Asian dining experience to other cities. We’ve already earmarked property in Edinburgh, Newcastle and York. We’re also looking at a Zen-to-go operation which offers customers the chance to grab something and take it back to wherever they work, or have it delivered to their home.

We’ve just refurbished and extended The Rabbit Hole on Hallgarth Street -the revamp means we now offer a truly unique Cantonese fusion dining experience- we pitch it as affordable luxury dining for all. Both Zak and I are very excited about the future.”

These are two guys to watch very closely in the world of hospitality. They know what works…and more importantly what doesn’t…they take care of their staff and they are keen to develop the Zen Group into one of the region’s leading hospitality companies.

Sign-up to our newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.