THE owner of the company behind the Tony Macaroni casual dining brand has unveiled plans to invest £5 million in expanding the group in the next 12 months.

Sep Marini has also revealed he has set up a new parent group name to unite the 19 restaurants it currently owns, which trade under a host of different brands.

Mr Marini said the Viva Italia group will give a single home to venues it runs under the Tony Macaroni, Mozza, Marini, Tony to Go, Tony Mac Delivers, Nardini’s (run in partnership with David Equi), Bar 1821 and The Wine House 1821 brands. And he will introduce a new loyalty card to offer rewards to customers and reinforce the message they belong to the same family.

Mr Marini, who focused on chip shops before moving into restaurants in 2007, announced the move while revealing he is forging ahead with the roll-out of the Tony Macaroni brand – around Scotland, England and Northern Ireland – despite tough conditions on the high street.

The company, which sponsors Livingston Football Club’s stadium and strip under the Tony Macaroni brand, opened its second restaurant in Aberdeen three weeks ago.

He forecasts the Marischal Square outlet, which complements its Mozza pizza restaurant in Union Square, will turn over £2.5m.

In the pipeline are further Tony Macaroni restaurants in Cumbernauld – part of a £2.5 million property development by Mr Marini which will also include a Costa Coffee Drive Thru –Glenrothes, Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh and in Northern Ireland.

An outlet in Belfast will be used as the “showroom” for rolling out a Tony Macaroni franchise, allowing individual operators to open their own restaurants under the brand, around the UK. An outlet in Bangor, Northern Ireland, will be the first franchise to open, though the Belfast outlet will be directly managed.

Northern Ireland and England will the target areas for the expansion of the franchise offer, which will be officially launched in January. As many as 20 franchise outlets could open in 2019.

Mr Marini said: “It is a good way to have rapid expansion, with not a lot of cost to the company, and obviously strengthen the group.”

Mr Marini added that he is also looking to expand his portfolio of directly managed Tony Macaroni outlets, with Perth, Inverness and Ayrshire in is sights, as well as a second outlet in Aberdeen.

The company currently employs around 700 people.

“We want to be in all the main towns,” Mr Marini said.

Meanwhile, the company will shortly open its new headquarters in Motherwell, where in addition to offices a Pizza Academy training facility has been developed.

Mr Marini noted conditions are tough for high street restaurant operators but said the spate of recent closures has created opportunities for its company, which currently employs around 700 staff. As an example, he said his Tony Macaroni restaurant at Glasgow Fort was currently “breaking records” after a neighbouring Prezzo outlet closed.

Mr Marini said: “The casual dining market has got quite a bad name at the moment, but I think the restaurants closing quite a bit at the moment is only helping us.

“Trade in the last four weeks has been very, very good, but trade in the previous four, five weeks was down a lot, and that was just due to the hot weather. It did have a big effect on our trading.”

Meanwhile, the company’s inaugural hotel, on Edinburgh’s Piccardy Place, is poised to host its first wedding on September 25.

The townhouse hotel, which trades as The Wine House 1821, is spread over five levels, and includes a cocktail bar, wine bar, function area and four boutique bedrooms. Each of the rooms are named after Zonin family wine estates in Italy.

The Tony Macaroni restaurant opened in October 2007, in East Kilbride, but the group didn’t really take off until it opened on Glasgow’s Byres Road in 2009, and rebranded simultaneously.

According to its most recent accounts, the company made a pre-tax profit of £79,936 in turnover of £14.6m in the year ended January 31, 2017.

Turnover had risen 10.4%, but profits had dipped from £735,515 as the under-performance of “associated” restaurants were brought under the Tony Macaroni brand before being sold.