Sri Lankan restaurant in UK takes local cuisine worldwide | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan restaurant in UK takes local cuisine worldwide

12 March, 2023

The Coconut Tree (TCT) is a multi-award-winning restaurant chain offering Sri Lankan street food and artisan drinks in the UK. Founded by a group of Sri Lankan youth, who followed their eldest cousin to Cheltenham from London, The Coconut Tree is more than just a bar and restaurant. It’s a family and a family brought together by a vision of bringing its Sri Lankan heritage to the place the group of youth now calls home.

Having found accommodation above an old pub in Cheltenham, the youth saw the opportunity in transforming the quaint pub into something more. After many hours of sweat and hard work, the Coconut Tree in Cheltenham was born, with the doors opening in November 2016. From the outset, the restaurant has been a huge hit with the locals, winning numerous awards within months of opening. TCT has since grown to nine restaurants in Bristol, Oxford, Cardiff, Bournemouth and Bath, Reading and Birminham. A plan is under way to set up restaurants at 35 new sites by 2026.

In recent years, Sri Lankan food has surged in popularity in the UK, with The Times identifying it as a new food trend, and BBC Food attributing its popularity to “most of the food world looking towards healthy living, meat free options and exciting new cuisines”. In 2019, eminent food critic Jay Rayner visited the Cheltenham restaurant, citing a “raucous, rough-edged enthusiasm to the food” which manages “that rare trick of being totally laid back and completely on point at the same time.”

With a tremendous growth record over the past four years despite challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the group remains in a strong position which will be further enhanced by the opening of new UK sites and the development of a franchise model, taking TCT to new markets. Employee headcount has increased from below 10 in 2016 to 320 in 2022.

TCT’s aim is to ‘Shape Sri Lankan Eats’ in England and Wales, with a mission of introducing more people to the incredible Lankan cuisine and hear people saying ‘let’s go for a Sri Lankan’ as you would hear with an Indian or a Chinese.

The group has a target of introducing Sri Lanka and its food to a quarter of a million customers in the UK each year. TCT also plans to expand into Sri Lanka, Europe, Australia and the United States through organic growth and a franchise model.

Recognising the importance of strengthening its roots with Sri Lanka, TCT is also looking to find a local partner to take various projects and operations forward. The restaurant owners said they want to create opportunities back home in Sri Lanka by providing career training and capacity building to improve the hospitalities back home and open up doors to young Sri Lankans for opportunities abroad.

Imran Mannan, an employee at TCT said, “I started working at TCT almost two years ago and immediately noticed the positive atmosphere and the importance TCT gives to its employees. It is a great workplace to grow and develop both professionally and personally. It’s inspiring to work for a forward-looking, growing organisation such as The Coconut Tree which wants to do the right by their customers and employees.

Another employee Dinal Wanigasuriya said, “It has a very supportive work environment with a lot of flexibility. I enjoy working at TCT as my colleagues are very friendly and approachable for any problem, whether it is professional or personal.”

Sandeepa Jayasuriya said, “In 2021, I was privileged to begin my journey with TCT. The more I worked at this place 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.”