Niall MacArthur never planned to launch a sandwich chain. He wanted to get into coffee, just like Starbucks. “I’d seen two on the same street in Vancouver,” he says. “Starbucks’s growth was phenomenal.” But when the former investment banker put together a business plan to launch a copycat outlet back in London, he soon found a flaw in his scheme. “I couldn’t work out how to make a profit doing coffee with London occupancy costs,” MacArthur explains. “So I decided to do food instead.” He launched the first branch of Eat near Charing Cross Station back in 1996. Nearly 13 years later, he’s about to open his 100th shop, and turn over £80m. Has MacArthur been affected by the recession? “Actually, we’re continuing to expand,” he says. “Property is cheaper and much more available and the market for good quality subsistence food is still strong. Not many people are trading down from us to the supermarkets. But plenty are trading down to us from the over-priced delis and restaurants.” And, quashing all rumours of an imminent sale, MacArthur reveals that he plans to grow the business to a 200-strong chain by 2011. “We might go abroad too,” he says. “But international expansion is the graveyard for many an inflated British ego. It can be a huge drain on the business. However, I won’t rule it out. Eat has huge transportability.”

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