Over the years, Zen has become one of Durham’s go-to foodie spots – and for good reason. The highly popular Asian fusion restaurant is under new ownership following the purchase of its entire issued share capital for an undisclosed sum by local entrepreneurs, Zak Newton and Sam Gadd.
Trading under a newly registered company, Zen UK Holdings Limited, the pair instructed Durham City’s leading law firm, Swinburne Maddison LLP (Swinburne Maddison) in May to act on their behalf in the purchase of the restaurant business, which has been successfully owned and operated by Sam Gadd’s parents, Nigel and Deborah Gadd, for almost 15 years.
Swinburne Maddison worked closely with the Gadd’s’ retained accountancy and business advisory firm, Azets, to conclude the deal, primarily ensuring that they implemented the agreed terms of the tax clearance provided by Azets and advising the new owners on areas of risk.
Commenting on the transaction, Swinburne Maddison’s Alex Wilby, a partner in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, said: “We were delighted to be instructed by Zak and Sam as they embark on their ownership of Zen, which is a highly popular restaurant.
“We also enjoy a good working relationship with Azets and, as always, it has been a pleasure to work with Stephen Harris and the tax advisory team.
“Whilst this was a straightforward matter, we hope our work simply marks the start of a longer-term relationship with Zak and Sam, which may involve us in other areas of legal practice as the pair build their business empire in the future, which I am confident will be a huge success.”
When launched in 2008, Zen quickly established itself as the north’s first high-end Thai/pan-Asian fusion restaurant. It operates with an entire Thai kitchen team and a menu that is mostly authentic Thai-inspired dishes, balanced by a western twist.
Zak and Sam are no strangers to the hospitality industry, currently owning two other venues within Durham – Tango, which specialises in delivering good vibes and quality food as well as the Rabbit Hole, which also offers distinctive pan-Asian fusion dishes.
They have both been involved in Zen in some capacity since 2020 and with its acquisition now complete, having seized on many different retailing concepts prior to Covid, the two entrepreneurs have their sights set on future expansion, as Zak explains: “Before the lockdown we operated several business concerns – from barbers’ shops and tattoo studios to blockchain and social impact concepts – but after taking a step back, we realised that time is on our side and some of the best opportunities are within our area of expertise.
“We are fortunate in possessing complementary skills – Sam is great at identifying future trends and opportunities while I am best at making them happen. Additionally, Sam is a chef and a very good one at that, so we are now at a stage where our efforts are best spent away from the venues, enabling us to come up with new menus and concepts and ensuring the business infrastructure is running smoothly.
“Since we have been involved with Zen, we have taken the business digital with our takeaways and reservations managed primarily online, as well as streamlining and improving systems – the most recent innovation being our revamped Fire Garden, which officially opened last month and is proving very popular with our customers.
“We already have our eyes on another establishment within Durham City and we are currently working on taking the Zen concept to a second city-centre location. Then there is our Zen2go takeaway model, which is set to go into its own venue soon. So, the future is looking very exciting indeed.”
The sale of Zen has enabled Nigel and Deborah Gadd to invest their energy and vast knowledge of the restaurant business into a new venture and far from retiring, they have recently acquired Vennels café in Durham city centre and already started work on transforming the venue and its menu.