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Thu 3rd Jan 2013 - Red Hot World Buffet and December trading

Story of the day:

Red Hot World Buffet to open flagship £2.7m site with 27,000 square feet of space later this month: Red Hot World Buffet will open a £2.7m site, occupying 27,000 sq ft, in Nottingham’s Cornerhouse complex on 24 January. The 500-seater restaurant will create 120 new jobs. Helen and Parmjit Dhaliwal launched the first Red Hot World Buffet venue in Nottingham eight years ago. Helen said: “When we opened the first restaurant in 2004 we revolutionised the idea of a buffet and completely turned it on its head to offer freshly-cooked global cuisine at great value. Since then we’ve launched six other venues around the UK and have learnt some valuable lessons along the way. Now it’s time to put this all in to practice and return to our hometown to give something back. Our new restaurant is the first of its kind and will attract people from all around the UK, who will flock to Nottingham to witness this milestone in culinary history.” Chinese cuisine is a key focus for the restaurant, with hundreds of ingredients for diners to create a varied meal during their visit. An eight-metre sushi counter offers a constant supply of freshly rolled items to accompany a plethora of East Asian dishes cooked fresh to order in the Thai and Chinese kitchens. A fresh taste of the Mediterranean is offered in the Italian kitchen, where handmade pasta and dough is crafted and a state-of-the-art oven, the first of its kind in the UK, fires an array of tailor-made pizzas. Diners heading to the gourmet burger counter can build their ideal burger, choosing what spices go into their freshly-made 100 per cent beef patties. Apart from a selection of garnishes and condiments, customers can also choose which type of homemade, hand-cut fries they wish to accompany their burger. Corporate chef Deepak Bahuguna, who helped to mastermind the concept, said: “Absolutely everything is made on-site, from the potatoes for the fries to the pizza dough and everything else you see. It’s all about choice, quality, freshness and fun - we want our guests to enjoy their food their way. “There are no rules or limitations, you define your dining experience - whether that’s the ultimate in fine dining with an intimate meal for two or a huge celebration with dozens of your family and friends.” Deepak helped to design the restaurant’s double chocolate fountain as well as an authentic cold-stone creamery, manned by gelaterie staff, who can whip up ice cream sundaes according to diners’ taste.

How was December trading in your business? E-mail

Propel Multi-Club conference: The first Propel Multi-Club conference takes place at One Moorgate Place, London EC2R 6EA on Tuesday 19 March and multi-site companies can book two free places each on a first come, first serve basis. The speaker list will be unveiled later this month. E-mail to book places.

Propel Quarterly magazine available online: The winter 2012 edition of Propel Quarterly magazine is now available to view online at

Industry news:

Trend for women only restaurants emerges in London: A trend for women-only restaurants and bars has emerged in London. The independently-owned bar and restaurant in Soho’s Frith Street, Sofakingcool, is to become “women-only” themed from 1 February and renamed KC’z Bar. Recently opened private members’ club Grace Belgravia only admits men for dinner on Thursdays and has an annual fee of £5,500. KC’z Bar general manager KC Gates told the London Evening Standard: “We want it to be a place women can come to after work. It’s not about preventing men from coming in but it is about putting what women want first. It is by women for women and it is not just for gay women. Networking is the main thing.” Other female-only venues in London now include The Sorority club in Holborn, STK, a female-friendly American steak chain, and Dea Latis, a beer-tasting club. Actress Eva Longoria is also to launch the London branch of her She steak restaurant group.

Chicken kiev becomes a retro-hit at Primo: Primo, the Shaftesbury avenue Avenue restaurant that opened last month, has found its re-introduced retro classic, the chicken kiev, has become a surprise hit - it’s become the most popular dish on offer with up to 40 per cent of customers choosing it. Head chef Claudio Barchieri told the London Evening Standard: “The response has been amazing, night after night it is the most popular dish on the menu and already people are telling us they will be returning for it.”

Luke Johnson – entrepreneurs understand the role of story-telling: Restaurant sector private equity investor Luke Johnson has highlighted the importance of story-telling for entrepreneurs. In his Financial Time column he stated: “Accomplished entrepreneurs learn to master the art of storytelling, and realise that it is a vital tool for inspiring teams into action. Entrepreneurs know that we are each authors of our own script, and can change it if we summon enough determination. I’ve met many self-made men and women, and all of them have imagined their own journey. They are not fantasists but practical people who have invented a life for themselves – and persuaded others to help them achieve it. We all grew up listening to stories: they are the way we learn about the world, and why we love entertainment such as the theatre, books, films and television drama. People and organisations which represent an authentic experience are more likely to forge a bond with the public – be they a manager giving staff directions or a brand promoted with brilliant advertising.”

Fabric nightclub joins the ALMR: High profile London club Fabric, established in 1999, operated by co-founders Keith Reilly and Cameron Leslie, has joined the ALMR. The 1,400 capacity nightclub in Smithfield is the fourteenth late night business to join the Association since its merger with BEDA in May 2012. Cameron Leslie said: ‘’Although Fabric has always been a proudly independent nightclub, by joining the ALMR we are giving ourselves the best possible insight and support to respond to the rapidly changing landscape of the nightlife economy and the significant challenges we face as a consequence.’’ ALMR chief executive Nick Bish said: ‘’It is fantastic that a clubbing institution like Fabric gets what ALMR is about and understands that we are best placed as a voice for the late night sector’’

Flagship Hoxton training restaurant closes: The flagship Hoxton Apprentice training restaurant, which oversaw long-term unemployed cooking for the Queen, has been forced to close. Founded nine years ago by Prue Leith and social entrepreneur Gordon D’Silva, the Hoxton Square business shared the same vision as Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and won awards for its work helping hard to reach youngsters to become chefs, waiters and bar staff. But the social enterprise came under the umbrella of the employment charity Training For Life, which closed at the end of November. Closure is linked to the coalition government’s move nearly two years ago to scrap the Future Jobs Fund, which gave money to apprenticeship schemes. Val Corbett, the director of the Hoxton Apprentice, said: “It is no co-incidence that an estimated 6,000 charities have gone into administration since the last election. Training For Life tried to buck the trend but filling the financial gap was impossible.” An impressive 70 per cent of The Hoxton Apprentice’s 650 apprentices went on to secure prestigious placements in restaurants.

Nation’s Restaurant News editor forecasts 2013 value push in the US: Nation’s Restaurant News executive editor Robin Lee Allen has forecast that price wars in the US will intensify this year. Said Allen: “We’ve seen 55-cent Whoppers from Burger King, 99-cent Loaded Grillers from Taco Bell, and $1 drinks and ice cream at Checkers and Rally’s. At McDonald’s, $1 Snack Size Fish McBites and $1 Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger loom on the horizon. Sure to follow in 2013: Increased friction between franchisors and franchisees as margins shrink.”

Simon Theakston – drinking a pint is like holy communion: Simon Theakston, who runs the Theakston’s Brewery in Yorkshire, has argued the UK pub is in the process of evolution to reflect customer needs. He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We don’t have shipbuilding, coal mining and the mills any more. Those industries all employed thousands of men who needed refreshment at the end of their working day. So the pub is changing to reflect the needs of its customers. But it’s still the place where you can stand next to a doctor or a dustbin man and sort the world out. When you engage with a pint of beer, it’s like holy communion. It’s a solemn contract between me and my customer.”

Rooney Anand – social norms on drinking alcohol have gone: Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand has renewed his call for minimum pricing in an interview in The Daily Mail. He told the newspaper: “The social norms that played a part in learning how to drink sensibly have gone. Woman drinking is another big difference. Women quite rightly want to be seen as equal to men and that has to be applauded, but they can’t be equal to men when it comes to drinking because they are smaller, so trying to match men at drinking is foolish.”

Company news:

Wetherspoon buys Broughty Ferry hotel: JD Wetherspoon has bought the mothballed former Jolly’s Hotel in Broughty Ferry, a suburb on the eastern side of Dundee with a population of 13,155. The property had been on the market with an asking price of £1.2 million for more than year with trading company Tay Hotels collapsed into receivership in summer 2011. The site was one of the most popular venues among late-night drinkers in Broughty Ferry, boasting three public bars including a main lounge which also served as a mini nightclub. Wetherspoon has been linked with Jolly’s Hotel for 18 months but a deal for the operator to take charge of the premises fell through last December. In addition to the bars, the Gray Street hotel has a total of 24 en-suite letting rooms.

Singaporean businessman buys St John’s Hotel: Singaporean businessman Loh Lik Peng has bought the 15-bedroom St John Hotel in the west of London, which went into administration shortly after winning a Michelin star, The Times has reported. Chef Fergus Henderson and partner Trevor Gulliver will no longer be involved in the business although head chef Tom Harris will stay on.

Spirit launches “missed Christmas” promotion at Fayre & Square: Managed company Spirit has launched a missed Christmas promotion at its 140-strong Fayre & Square brand. The brand is looking for people whose Christmas lacked sparkle whether mum spent the day at work, dad was called up for duty or Lady Luck simply did not shine. The winner will receive £1,000 cash as well as a family meal at their local Fayre & Square, backed by the pub’s ‘no quibbles’ guarantee. Helen Wallace, brand manager for Fayre & Square, said: “We want to do our bit to make sure this festive period is a memorable occasion for all the right reasons. For many people Christmas can be a bittersweet time – especially for families who can’t be together. So we’ve enlisted our very own Faerie Godmother to wave her wand and deliver festive joy to the most deserving family. Tell us why it should be you and we could be giving back the Christmas you and your family missed – no quibbles.”

Douglas Jack issues buy recommendation on Domino’s UK shares: Numis Securities leisure analyst Douglas Jack has upgraded his recommendation on Domino’s share to “Buy” from “Add”. He said: “Domino’s Pizza’s full year trading update is due on Tuesday. We believe the company should be well placed to achieve 2012 earnings expectations and generate strong growth in 2013, supported by greater expansion and higher margins. Following recent weakness, we are upgrading our stance to Buy from Add. UK like-for-like sales, up 5.1 per cent in Quarters One to Three, are assumed to rise 3 per cent in 2012E, requiring -1 per cent in Q4 (which accounts for one-third of annual sales). We believe like-for-like sales are unlikely to decline due to: Quarter Four advertising being up circa 90 per cent; extended trading; and strong performances from new products, especially twisted dough balls and stuffed crusts. In 2013E, we believe there is limited upside to like-for-like sales forecasts, but we believe faster expansion, margin growth and new developments (such as the gluten free menu, one-to-one smart marketing and higher e-commerce advertising) could result in growth picking up.”

Muller Property to appeal Marston’s pub plan: Muller Property Group’s is set to appeal after its mixed-use scheme, Old Mill Quarter, which includes a Marston’s new-build pub restaurant, was refused by Cheshire East Council. The local authority planning committee rejected the plans on the grounds of the threatened impact on existing retailers and highways. However, Colin Muller, chief executive of Muller Property Group, said: “Clearly we are disappointed in the council’s decision, as we feel our plans for Old Mill Quarter will bring many benefits to the local area. Our proposals will not only deliver the shops and services that so many local residents have said they would like to see in the town, but also create 600 plus new jobs, something that is badly needed in the current economic climate. Our scheme has the full support and commitment of named occupiers - Premier Inn and Marston’s. There is no other scheme in Sandbach that can guarantee delivery of jobs - we can and the Old Mill Quarter development will deliver the majority of these jobs within the next three years.” Muller added: “Old Mill Quarter would also stem the loss of trade from the town, reduce the number of trips by car and generate new business for existing retailers.”

Award-winning Preston pub owner expands to second site: Jeremy Rowlands, who operates the New Continental in Preston, is to expand to a second site - a planning application has been made by his company, New Continental Properties, to change the former Co-Operative building on Ormskirk Road from a restaurant into a bar. The listed building, known as Sheraton House, is built in the Edwardian Baroque style. Part of the property was previously a Chinese restaurant, So Noodles. The application states the new pub would be able to open from 9am to 4am on Monday to Sunday. The New Continental on South Meadow Lane re-opened in Autumn 2008 and has been twice named as CAMRA’s real ale pub of the year in West Lancashire.

Locals raise the cash to re-open one of Scotland’s oldest pubs: A community has raised the £160,000 required to buy The Crook Inn at Tweedsmuir, which dates back to the 17th century, and was closed almost six years ago. A community campaign to raise £160,000 to save the hostelry site hit its target, hours ahead of a deadline set at the end of 2012. The Borders community now wants to raise another £1m to renovate the inn. The Crook Inn - first licensed in 1604 - shut in 2006 and plans were lodged to turn it into accommodation. The proposals, put forward by its owner, were rejected by the Scottish Borders Council and that decision was upheld by the Scottish government after a public hearing.

Brewdog reveals results of prototype challenge: Scottish brewer and retailer Brewdog has revealed the results of its 2012 prototype challenge. A spokesman said: “It was the biggest and best yet, and in terms of the voting it was also the closest ever. We brewed three brand new prototype beers and let (customers) vote on which of the three (they) wanted to see us brew permanently in 2013. The beers were available both online and in all Brewdog bars.” Over 650 votes were cast and the results are: 1st Place Cocoa Psycho (40.88 per cent); 2nd Place Jack Hammer (37.54 per cent); 3rd Place Nuns with Guns (21.58 per cent).

St Austell landlord quits after 12 floods in 12 weeks: A St Austell landlord has given up his pub, The Sun in Mevagissey, Cornwall, after being flooded 12 times in 12 weeks. Tony Ginn took over The Ship Inn in Mevagissey in October. He said: “We’ve been very unlucky. It’s now flooded 12 times. We’ve had five or six really bad ones. I’ve had enough.”

Orchid offers 50 per cent off food with Platinum Dining Club card: Managed operator Orchid is offering 50 per cent off food until Friday 8 February for customers who have a Platinum Dining Club card. Meanwhile, chief executive Rufus Hall has revealed his thoughts on what lies ahead this year: “2013 could be another tough year for the economy. The best businesses in tough times are those that continue to invest in their people and focus on customer service. We’ll be doing plenty of both of those things.”

Bakewell loses Costa Coffee fight: Traders and residents in Bakewell have lost their battle to stop Costa Coffee opening an outlet in the town. The initial planning application was rejected by the members of the Peak District National Park Authority in July amid concerns that the establishment would harm the town’s character and put jobs at risk. But an appeal was lodged by Costa immediately afterwards and the original decision has now been overturned.

Greene King Horse Factor competition attracts 4,000 entrants: A talent competition, Horse Factor, run through Greene King’s Hungry Horse brand attracted 4,000 entrants. Singer Sarah Eden-Winn, 26, from Weston won £10,000 in the final – and a day in a recording studio. She said: “I entered in the hope it would help me boost my career and the prize sounded too good to not give it a go.”

Pizza Hut to offer free Wi-Fi across restaurants: Pizza Hut UK has partnered O2 to launch free Wi-Fi across its UK restaurants. The roll-out started last month and is already available in 100 restaurants, with the full deployment expected to be completed in early 2013. Customers sign-up once for O2 Wi-Fi and can then use the service in any Pizza Hut UK Dine-In restaurant, or at any of O2’s Wi-Fi estate of hotspots in over 6,000 locations nationwide.

JD Wetherspoon manager admits £18,000 theft: A JD Wetherspoon pub manager has admitted taking thousands of pounds from the company to feed his “out-of-control” gambling addiction. Ian Gregory, 37, was in charge of the David Macbeth Moir public house when he took more than £18,000 of takings in a bid to wipe out his betting debts. The pub boss placed punts of up to £500 on football matches and other sports events after taking the cash from the bar in Musselburgh, East Lothian. Gregory, from Thankerton, Lanarkshire, was caught out when his boss noticed a large amount of cash takings had not been placed in the company’s bank account as usual. Instead of having the cash banked, Gregory had deposited around £6,000 into his personal bank account, while splashing the rest at the bookies and online betting sites. Gregory later admitted to his boss that his “gambling addiction was out of control”. He will be sentenced later this month.

December trading updates:

TCG reports 2.5 per cent like-for-like sales increase in December; reports sale off the agenda: Managed operator TCG has reported like-for-like sales were up 2.5 per cent in December. News of December trading comes as the company also reports it is no longer up for sale – the company sold a number of sites last year when it was on the market. Chief operating officer Nigel Wright said: “The TCG management team have now agreed a further extension to the banking facilities and are about to start a new programme of capex and other investment in the estate. The potential sale of the company, which dominated much of 2012, is now off the agenda, and we are able to focus on running our business and making sure that each of our pubs and bars is the very best in its local area.” In the run up to Christmas, a number of TCG’s food led venues in London and the south east achieved record sales, while its Locals and Bars businesses led the way from 22 December onwards.  Wright said: “With Christmas Day on the Tuesday, the overall trading period obviously moved back slightly compared to last year, which provided a superb week of double digit growth in the week up to Sunday 23 December.

All Our Bars reports like-for-likes up 5.9 per cent in December: All Our Bars, the operator of 35 bars led by Paul Wigham, has reported like-for-likes sales were up by 5.9 per cent in December, inclusive of New Year’s Eve. Overall sales are were by 22 per cent on 2011. The company reported Central London remained relatively flat despite busy middle-December weeks. Like-for-like sales in Greater London were 6.9 per cent up and 7.3 per cent up in the Home Counties. The fall of the Christmas days meant that people were away from Central London and in their home areas for longer periods. New Year’s Eve continues to be a struggle in pubs. In central East Grinstead, for example, four pubs and one nightclub (around 50 per cent of the stock) were closed on Monday evening. However, customers in the Greater London pubs showed more willingness to go out for New Year. Wigham said: “We are very pleased with the result against a backdrop of a difficult retail economy. We are bullish about opportunities in this coming year but that is tempered with caution that rising operating costs, combined with flat consumer demand, will make pub operating a distinct challenge. The continued re-investment in standards and training will be key to success moving forwards and we are particularly well placed to develop our business.”

Ego Restaurants reports like-for-likes up 14 per cent: Ego Restaurants, led by James Horler, has reported like-for-like sales growth of 14 per cent at its eight suburban restaurants in December. Business was boosted by creating two price-points with the food offer 25 per cent less expensive on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday compared to the rest of the week. The four-strong wet-led sister company Rocket Restaurants, which is rated as offering the fourth best pizza in London, had positive trading, too, with like-for-like sales up by seven per cent. The new 3,000 square foot Bishopsgate restaurant exceeded expectations and traded at over £50,000 per week for the key weeks of December. The newly refurbished Rocket@Saltwater in Nottingham had sales growth of 20 per cent for the period. Horler told Morning Briefing: “Advance bookings were significantly ahead of last year and we are generally pleased with the outcome. Out of London trading appears to have stabilised and may even be improving. We’ve had a very strong seven months at Ego Restaurants. Generally, the corporate market is up by 15 to 20 per cent on a couple of years ago.” This month, Ego is offering 30 per cent discounts and Rocket has launched a series of five offers across the week, including a “Friendship Friday” offer where discounts ratchet up based on bookings – pre-booked parties of two receive a 25 per cent discount, parties of three receive 33 per cent and a group of four earns a 50 per cent discount. Ego Restaurants is aiming to have its Christmas 2013 menus completed by the end of February this year with a launch in Spring planned.

Innventure reports December like-for-likes up 7.2 per cent: Innventure, the six-strong operator of pub restaurants led by former Mitchells & Butlers executive Chris Gerard, has reported like-for-like sales rose by 7.2 per cent in December – with sales up around nine per cent if New Year’s Eve, which fell into the last December full week last year, is included. Gerard said sales growth overall hit 23 per cent if the company’s latest opening, the Cross Keys in Saffron Walden, which opened in May 2012, is included. The third week of December, which ended on 22 December, showed the most improvement with 18 per cent like-for-like sales growth. Innventure posted six per cent sales growth in the first week of December with flat sales in the second week. The company’s star performer was the Broadway in Letchworth, which posted two weeks of sales in excess of £50,000 net during December.

Atmosphere Bars and Clubs – Christmas was a sober affair: Operator of Chicago’s Atmosphere Bars and Clubs has reported that Christmas was a “sober affair” although Christmas bookings were up 50 per cent on last year, generating 20 per cent of December income. Chief executive Paul Harbottle said: “Like-for-likes sales are still being assessed in detail, with New Year’s Eve falling into a different period this year versus last. However, indications are that sales were down on last year by circa ten per cent. Christmas this year was a planned event. The spontaneous after work party or extended night out did not happen to the same extent as last year. Underlying walk-in custom was in line with a normal month rather than a normal December. Mad Friday (21st December) was excellent and extended into the weekend, with Saturday being as busy as Friday. However the weekend of 28th and 29th December was poor, but consistent with the level of trade six years ago, when Christmas fell on a Tuesday. New Year’s Eve was a good night, with total company sales level on a par with last year. On a positive note, five venues (20 per cent) delivered record ever sales in one of the five weeks leading up to the New Year.”

Inventive Leisure – Revolucion de Cuba sites performed well: Revolution vodka bar operator Inventive Leisure has reported that sales in December were broadly flat on a like-for-like basis. But the company reported it was pleased with the outcome after the first two weeks of the month saw sales down. Chief executive Roy Ellis told Morning Briefing: “The overall result was good if you play around with the numbers – the first two weeks of December were not great and numbers were down. The way Christmas fell was better than last year with a “genuine Friday” – a final working day. Christmas Eve is normally more subdued that a normal Saturday. This year we had the Saturday trading and then a Christmas Eve to follow.” Ellis said the company’s embryonic four-strong estate of Revolucion de Cuba rum bars had all performed exceptionally well – the Manchester site took just short of £200,000 in the third week of December. “We’ve been flying in Manchester – we’d love to open more Revolucion de Cuba sites.” 

No Saints Group reports double digit like-for-likes: No Saints Group, the business run by nightclub veteran Stephen Thomas, has reported like-for-like growth of 10.3 per cent at its two Jam House venues in December and 12 per cent at its four nightclub trading for a full year. Highlights included the Jam House in Edinburgh taking £104,000 in the third week of December and Jam House in Birmingham achieving turnover of £152,000 for the same week, with a 60/40 liquor and food split. The Milton Keynes Wonderworld site saw takings of £60,000 on New Year’s Eve whilst newly opened Maidstone site achieved sales of £46,000. Thomas told Morning Briefing: “Christmas couldn’t have fallen better for us and January like-for-likes will be helped by New Year’s Eve falling in the first trading week of the month.”

Luminar – slow start but New Year’s Eve beat expectations: Luminar, the UK’s largest nightclub company, has reported that December trading saw a slow start but New Year’s Eve was strong. Chief executive Peter Marks said: “New Year’s Eve exceeded our expectations, with the majority of our 56 strong estate operating at capacity. Our operating model allows for managers to set pricing and opening hours depending on the local market. Therefore, some of our clubs were fully booked on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day whilst others were closed. Overall, trading was as expected, with a slower start compared to last year but gradually building momentum to give us a strong finish.”

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