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Fri 17th Jan 2014 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Inventive Leisure launches ‘best-in-class’ drinks offer: The Revolution vodka bar operator Inventive Leisure has launched what it calls a “best-in-class” drinks proposition across its bottled, draught and wine ranges. A review of its original offering of 12 bottled beers and ciders found that just one was in growth. After research among Revolution customers and in the independent market, a new bottled drinks range, which is a mix of the best of the high street with the best of the independents, has been launched. Customers can now choose from 30 bottled beers and ciders including Duval, Chimay and Quilmes, spanning everything from 4% to 9% ABV. Since the implementation, sales have increased by 12%. In the draught beer range, all the beers were changed, with a move away from standard lagers into the world of craft beers, world beers and pilsners. Customers now have a choice of seven draught beers and three draught ciders across such brands as Peroni, Estrella, Blue Moon, and Staropramen from the Czech Republic. The service style has also changed, with the bottled and draught range now served in branded glassware. Since its introduction, sales have increased by 3%. The wine list has doubled in size while substantially increasing the quality of both entry-level bottles and the premium range. Myles Doran, director of drinks trading at Inventive Leisure, said: “We reviewed what we were selling and then what we were doing under the Evolution Programme and realised that our product offering simply didn’t suit the high-end environment we’d created under the programme, or indeed the target audience. Through research, we found that the range of drinks offered was not conducive to the consumer group we were targeting, so we set about creating a ‘best in class’ drinks proposition across all drinks categories.”

Industry News:

First Propel Multi Club Conference of 2014 open to bookings: The first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2014, to be held on Thursday 13 March the Lancaster London Hotel, Lancaster Gate, central London, is now open for bookings. Multi-site pub, restaurant and foodservice companies can claim up to two free places each. E-mail to reserve places.

George Osborne signals support for minimum wage rise to £7: Chancellor George Osborne has given his support to a significant rise in the minimum wage. The Chancellor did not suggest a new level for the wage but his officials have been studying the effects of an increase from the current level of £6.31 an hour to £7 by 2015. Pushing up the minimum wage will “make sure that we have a recovery for all and that work pays”, the Chancellor said. “Just as we were all in this together in the crisis, I want to make sure we’re all in this together in the recovery,” he added.

Luke Johnson buys 9.75% stake in stockbroker Arden Partners: Sector investor Luke Johnson has spent almost £1.4m in buying a 9.75% stake in the small stockbroker Arden Partners, raising speculation that Patisserie Valerie will explore a float. Johnson said: “I think smaller-company stockbrokers are going to have a great year. This will be the best year for new issues for at least a decade. There is a huge return of interest among institutional investors. The specialist smaller company funds have had inflows of cash. Great news for the market.” The Times reported that Johnson will look at listing some of the companies he has backed through Risk Capital Partners. Executive deputy chairman Jonathan Keeling said: “We are very pleased to have Luke on board and his network of private equity contacts will expand Arden’s reach among smaller companies.”

Pubs and breweries earn Leeds high position in NYT’s list of places to visit: Leeds has gained international recognition after being named in the New York Times’s list of the best places to visit in 2014. The list puts Yorkshire in 22nd place, above the Seychelles and Dubai, and praises the county’s ale trail and two popular Leeds pubs. The Victoria Hotel on Great George Street in the city centre and the Cross Keys on Water Lane are acknowledged for pulling pints on traditional hand pumps. The county’s historic breweries, including Samuel Smith and Timothy Taylor, are also mentioned.

London visitor numbers surged by 20% last summer: The number of foreign tourists visiting London surged by 20% last summer to a new record. There were almost 4.9 million visitors to the capital between July and September, official figures revealed yesterday. That was up almost 19.5% on the Olympic summer of 2012 and smashed the previous high of 4.7 million set in 2006. Mayor Boris Johnson said: “These incredible figures prove that London is without doubt the greatest city on the planet. With so many fascinating museums, the best theatre scene in the world, more green space than any other European city, numerous top sporting venues, a low crime rate and much else besides, it’s no wonder that people from all over the globe are flocking to London in record numbers.”

Technomic names consumers’ choice in US fast-casual segment: The research and insights firm Technomic has revealed the restaurant chains that consumers rate as superior, based on five menu and experience-related pillars of excellence. In the fast-casual segment, the Consumers’ Choice Award winners are: McAlister’s Deli – children-friendly; Firehouse Subs – pleasant, friendly service; Zaxby’s – craveability; Panera Bread – social consciousness; and Jason’s Deli – availability of healthy options.

Company News:

Dunkin Donuts firm signs Liverpool FC partnership deal: Liverpool Football Club and Dunkin’ Brands have signed a multi-year partnership. Dunkin’ Brands is the parent company for both Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Billy Hogan, chief commercial officer at Liverpool FC, said: “Dunkin’ Donuts will be our official coffee, tea and bakery provider, and Baskin-Robbins will be our official ice-cream provider. Fans across the globe will benefit from this partnership as Dunkin’ Brands look to expand their business in locations including the UK and Asia, bringing exciting partnership activation to new territories and ultimately helping to bring fans closer to the club no matter how far away from Anfield they live.”

Salisbury Pubs celebrates 15th birthday: Salisbury Pubs, the award-winning Chilterns-based gastro-operator led by David and Becky Salisbury, celebrates its 15th birthday today. Becky Salisbury told Propel: “We arrived at The Alford Arms on a cold frosty 17th January 1999 and wondered what the hell we had let ourselves in for. It took us a day to straighten everything out and we opened the doors on the 18th. The Alford will be treating all its customers to free fizz tonight.” The Alford Arms, Frithsden, one of the four pubs operated now by the company, won Hertfordshire Dining Pub of the Year within 18 months of the Salisburys arriving. There have been just three managers (including the current one) during the entire 15 years. One of those went on to run another pub in the group and the other is Jo Colleta, who was promoted to become the company’s operations manager. The Alford Arms was named by The Times as one of the UK’s top 20 gastro-pubs last year.

Mitchells & Butlers loses Premium Country Dining Group site for two months: Mitchells & Butlers has lost one of its Premium Country Dining Group outlets, the Bathampton Mill, near Bath, for two months. It was flooded on Christmas Eve and will remain closed until the end of next month. Heavy rain left the Bathampton Mill surrounded by several feet of water, filling the cellar and damaging equipment in the kitchens. Sally Ellison for M&B said: “There has been extensive damage to the restaurant following the floods, we have begun repair work and we hope to re open later in February.”

Lovely Pubs reports December like-for-likes up 12%; invests £200,000 at The Farm: Lovely Pubs, the Birmingham area gastro-pub operator led by Paul Salisbury and Paul Hales, has reported December like-for-like sales up 12%. The flagship Farm site took just under £100,000 in one week to set a new company record. A synthetic ice rink was installed at the pub for the duration of the school holidays. Salisbury told Propel: “The week between Christmas and New Year was brilliant and we did very well on corporate bookings. I wouldn’t recommend the synthetic ice rink – it cost £7,000 and we took £5,500 although, to be fair, the weather was against us and parents were probably also buying drinks.” The company is investing £200,000 in extending The Farm with a “big wood-burning pizza oven” and the creation of a further 38 covers, adding a glass conservatory. January trade was holding well, said Salisbury, with The Queen’s Head, Bromsgrove, the company’s newest pub, taking £42,000 last week.

Doubts about future of No Saints Basingstoke site: Doubts have surfaced over the future of the Wonderland nightclub in Basingstoke, which has failed to open for two weekends. The venue is operated by No Saints, the company led by nightclub veteran Stephen Thomas. Last week, people were seen taking stock and sound equipment out of the nightclub, and removing the club’s sign from above its front doors.

Drake & Morgan to launch seventh site next month: Drake & Morgan, the London bar company led by Jillian Maclean and owned by private equity firm Bowmark Capital, is to launch its seventh site, The Fable, in the newly developed Sixty London in Farringdon on Wednesday 12 February. The Fable will encompass three bars, a dining area, florist, library, deli, wine room and mixology tables. The 10,000 square foot venue seats 436 or holds 1,000 standing and is spread over three floors, with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing natural light to flood the space. Taking inspiration from Aesop’s Fables, a statement wall has been created using books as wallpaper, adorned with sketches of hares and tortoises alongside a clever booth area made from stacked books.

Food and Fuel opens retro-site and lines up one more: Food and Fuel, the London gastro-operator headed by former Spirit boss Karen Jones, has opened Maggie’s Vintage Beats and Breakfast, a retro-style licensed cafe, in Pitshanger Park, Ealing, West London. The company operates a sister site called Mel’s Vintage Beat and Breakfast in Earlsfield, South West London. Meanwhile, its latest acquisition, the former Grosvenor pub in Hanwell, West London, which has been closed since autumn last year, will see a refurbishment before it re-opens. Food and Fuel’s Peter Myers said: “The intention is to refurbish the pub, architecturally, to its former glory in the coming months.” Food and Fuel also operates three Coco Momo sites and six gastro-pubs.

TLC to open second Grand Central US diner at the end of February: TLC Inns, the award-wining pub and restaurant operator led by Steve and Jo Haslam, will open its second Grand Central US diner at the end of February in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Grand Central Ely follows Grand Central in Basildon and involves the £250,000 refurbishment of The Boathouse, which was previously operated by Cambscuisine. The new site is close to an existing TLC Inns venue, The Cutter. Steve Haslam said: “Ely has a fantastic eating-out scene now compared to what it had a few years ago when, to be honest, the majority of people went out of the city to dine. But the majority of restaurants are pubs or Italian eateries. We felt there was a huge gap on the market for an American-style grill that doesn’t just serve pizza and pasta but steaks, burgers, ribs and shrimps. The Grand Central restaurant in Basildon has gone down an absolute storm – we’re confident it will be just as popular here in Ely.” Like-for-like sales at the Basildon site have increased 18% since April last year, with food up 15% and wet sales increasing by 3%.

Wetherspoon’s £4m new-build in Ilfracombe to open in spring: A rare new-build pub in Ilfracombe from JD Wetherspoon, costing an estimated £4m, will open in the spring. The Admiral Collingwood, which will seat 500 customers, is being built on Wilder Road in Ilfracombe and is due to open on 22 April. Architect Paul Harrison said: “The design was borne out of the site’s position close to the sea, and the concept is a seashell. The whole thing revolves around the domed roof. We could have gone for something to fit with what’s there already, but we didn’t feel that was appropriate. We’ve gone for something unique and dynamic. The whole emphasis at Wetherspoon has moved towards food and that has informed the design. It’s exciting because Wetherspoon don’t do many new-builds. It’s going to be iconic and, hopefully, promote more interest and activity in Ilfracombe.” Meanwhile, JD Wetherspoon has applied for planning consent to create a garden terrace on the roof of its land-locked Justice Mill site in Aberdeen. The application said: “The proposal incorporates the removal of the existing roof to enable the opening up of a new roof terrace. The design aims not only to increase the footfall but enhance the building, making it more desirable for the user.” People have until the end of the month to comment on the plans for the pub, which will be the subject of a report by planners before being considered by the city council.

Ribble Valley Inns reports 15.5% festive like-for-likes: The Lancashire-based pub operator Ribble Valley Inns, founded by Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft, has reported 15.5% like-for-like sales growth in December. Chief executive Wayne Chapman said: “Our teams did a fantastic job and we served over 20,000 covers in this busy period. We opened on Christmas Day for the first time. and this proved to be an extremely popular decision, with excellent feedback from our customers. The trading results demonstrate that the Ribble Valley Inns’ proposition of top quality, seasonal local food served in a premium pub environment is well and truly on the consumer agenda.”

Spirit leased division launches new menu for licensees: A new menu is being launched to Spirit leased licensees this week, alongside an online food ordering system. The new menu is being demonstrated in cook-offs around the country, where licensees will also get the chance to use the new online Spirit Direct food shop. The new menu includes new dishes such as the Ultimate Big Dog, a huge hot dog with trimmings; a brand new 100% beefburger selection; and fajitas, as well as popular dishes such as fish and chips, and sausage and mash. Each licensee will be fully trained on all the new dishes and how they should be cooked and served. They will also receive new point-of-sale material to help them launch and promote the new dishes. Chris Welham, the managing director for Spirit Leased, said: “This is where working with our managed branded pubs comes into its own, and we can access great-quality products and food alongside menu and food development expertise, which is then passed on to our licensees as a package. It takes all the hard work and time out of devising a menu that sells, and costing it to ensure you get the margin you want. With our online food shop launch, the ordering of food products can be done 24/7 by licensees, providing more flexibility as well.”

Footballer Ryan Giggs re-launches his north west restaurant: Manchester United star Ryan Giggs has re-launched his north west of England restaurant, George’s, in Worsley, near Salford. The venue is named after the Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who built St Mark’s Church in the village. Giggs owns the venue with his business partners Kelvin Gregory and Bernie Taylor. It was previously the Italian restaurant Milan. The partners decided on a rebrand last year, to reflect a more varied menu of classic British dishes and grill specialities. The menu has been created by head chef Andrew Parker, formerly of the four-AA rosette hotels Michael’s Nook and The Devonshire Arms. The eatery reopened as George’s just before Christmas, and the owners are planning an invite-only launch bash later this month to celebrate the new look.

Nando’s to open 25 sites in 2014: Nando’s is to open 25 sites this year in the UK. One of the first openings takes place in Taunton, Somerset on February 5. Nando’s has signed a 20-year lease to occupy the right-hand unit next to the clothes store Fat Face in North Street. Nando’s was formed in 1987, setting up its first restaurant in the United Kingdom in 1992 and, to date, and has 255 restaurants across the country.

Marston’s gets go-ahead for Torbay new build: A Marston’s new-build pub has won a planning go-ahead on the outskirts of Torbay, Devon, despite the fears of local residents. Marston’s will build the pub at the gateway to Edginswell business park in Newton Road, Torquay. It will be on former open space close to local homes, and residents had voiced concerns over noise, smell, light pollution, drainage and potential parking problems. They were also unhappy at the proposed closing times of 1.30am at the weekend and 12.30am during the week.

Vapiano appoints GM as it prepares to open third site: The Italian fresh-casual dining restaurant group Vapiano has appointed Dagmara Glesmer-Salamon as general manager of its restaurant in Great Portland Street, central London. She succeeds Alex Fisher, who has been named as general manager of Vapiano’s third restaurant, in Wardour Street, Soho, London, which will open later this year. Glesmer-Salamon joined Vapiano in Great Portland Street as an assistant manager in September 2012. She will oversee 100 staff at the restaurant.

easyHotel opens site with £9 rooms: The budget hotel chain easyHotel, owned by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, has opened its new 125-bedroom Glasgow hotel a fortnight ahead of schedule, with rooms priced from £9. The property, on Hill Street, was previously owned by an easyHotel franchisee, Glasgow eH (Trading), until falling into administration. Sir Stelios acquired the hotel six weeks ago for £2.3m. The new opening takes the easyHotel estate, stretching from Edinburgh to Dubai, up to 21. Just one other site, in Old Street, on the edge of the City of London, is owned by the company, with the other 19 under the ownership of franchisees. A third company-owned property, a 103-bedroom hotel in Croydon, South London, is due to open in the summer.

Spirit hopes to re-open fire-destroyed pub in summer: Spirit Pub Company hopes to start work in March on rebuilding a waterside pub in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire which was gutted in a blaze last summer. Hartford Mill, at Hartford, is expected to reopen this summer, a year after the building was destroyed in an early-morning blaze. Damage was so severe that most of the site had to be levelled and the pub will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Spirit Pub Company said: “Following the devastating fire at Hartford Mill last year, we’re pleased to confirm plans have now been submitted to build the pub with a similar basic layout as before, including the children’s Wacky Warehouse soft play area. A planning decision is due at the end of February and we hope to start work in March with a view to opening in the summer.” An electrical fault was blamed for the fire, which was spotted at about 4.30am early last August.

Belfast’s Crown reopens a day early: The Crown bar in Belfast, renowned for its 19th-century mirrors-and-tiles interior, has opened a day earlier than expected after it was found to be trading without a licence. The pub is owned by the National Trust and leased to Mitchells and Butlers, which blamed a failure to renew the pub’s licence since November 2012 on an “oversight”. The Crown closed temporarily when the error was discovered, and a legal hearing to renew the licence was due to take place today (Friday). However, the hearing was brought forward to yesterday, and the pub was given permission to reopen. Two other bars in Northern Ireland closed this week because of licensing issues. Colin Neill, chief executive of the licensing trade group Pubs of Ulster, said: “This has no doubt been a difficult week for one of our most iconic pubs but we are glad to see that common sense has prevailed and the licence to sell alcohol has been granted. We hope the other pubs that have closed this week as a result of licensing issues will be given the same treatment and are dealt with as swiftly as possible.”

£1.5m boutique hotel and restaurant opens in Nottingham: A historic building in Nottingham city centre has undergone a £1.5m transformation into a new boutique hotel, bar and brasserie. The Bentinck Hotel is located on Station Street and now has 13 luxury bedrooms. The hotel is also home to The Citizen, a modern 40-seater brasserie. The building dates back to the 18th century and has been developed to a high standard, while maintaining many of its period features. “It is great to see such a beautiful building brought back to its former glory,” said Ken Burt, owner of the Bentinck Hotel.

Whitbread asks to surrender Swallow Hotel lease: Whitbread has asked to surrender the lease on the landmark Swallow Hotel in Stockton on Tees after efforts to find a new tenant failed. The building, owned by Lathe Investments, has stood empty since closing in August 2009 with the loss of about 70 jobs. Whitbread holds the head lease of the Swallow but had sub-let it to another tenant, which went bust. In a letter to Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham, Whitbread said none of the “several inquiries and proposals” it had received relating to the Swallow “have proved viable”. To “try and move matters forward” Whitbread now want to surrender its leasehold interest. Simon Hobbs, estate director at Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants, said: “The lease to Whitbread limits what can be done with the premises, so I believe this is the best option available and will allow the landlord to invest in or redevelop the site without restriction.”

Tour operator starts cafe chain: The founder of a tour operator turning over almost £5m a year is planning a cafe chain based initially in the cities his tour business coaches depart from. Robin Worsnop runs Rabbie’s Small Group Tours, which takes tourists to the Highlands and Islands, the Lake District, Hadrian’s Wall, Devon and Cornwall. He plans to open the first Rabbie’s Cafe at 6 Waterloo Place in Edinburgh on 24 February. Further cafes in Glasgow, Dublin, London and a second in the Scottish capital are expected to follow. After that, Worsnop, who owns the business with his wife Martha Robinson, is looking to grow the chain to a £200m business within 10 years. The first Rabbie’s cafe, which is costing £1m including a £150,000 fit-out and a ten-year lease, will occupy a former wedding shop in a Grade A listed building close to the Balmoral Hotel. It will focus on salads and sandwiches made with ingredients sourced as locally as possible, as well as freshly-made smoothies and gluten-free goods. It will have a strong emphasis on coffee, and its baristas will be known as “Rabistas”. The building will also double as the company’s head office and also take over from the High Street as the departure point for Rabbie’s tours from Edinburgh. Worsnop told the Herald newspaper: “We have it in mind that we may need a second one in Edinburgh to cater for the number of customers we have. Forward thinking, we are looking at whether if we start operating from other cities we might open a cafe first, to give us a bit of an infrastructure base. Beyond that, if all goes well we will eventually look at rolling it out in its own right.” Rabbie’s Small Group Tours was established in 1993. It employs 80 staff, and took 50,000 passengers on more than 4,000 tours in 2012 from its bases in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Dublin.

Gordon Ramsay to open new restaurant on 4 February: Chef Gordon Ramsay will open his new restaurant, London House, on 4 February. It takes over a space vacated by the Bennett Oyster Bar in Battersea, South West London. Head chef is Anna Kelly. It offers a modern European menu with a focus on local British and artisan ingredients. It will feature a separate drinks lounge serving bespoke and traditional cocktails, London-brewed beers and a carefully selected wine list.

Edmond Shipway appointed to YO! Sushi roll-out: Building firm Edmond Shipway has been appointed to oversee YO! Sushi’s new store roll-outs and upgrades. The most recent scheme, located in a grade II listed building in the heart of Chester, follows the successful launch of Edmond Shipway’s first project for the restaurant chain at the UK’s newest shopping centre, Trinity Leeds. It is the third of a roll-out of stores across the UK which will include a new development at Heathrow’s Terminal 2. Edmond Shipway has also created a bespoke YO! Sushi building manual, which is to be used as a template by the group across the UK. Ken Latham, director of Edmond Shipway in Manchester, said: “We are delighted to be involved with these developments, working with a hugely popular brand. Our appointment to the roll-out is further testament to our project safety team’s excellent track record in the field.”

Booker reports non-tobacco like-for-likes up 4.1%: Food wholesaler Booker Group has reported that total sales in the 16 weeks to 3 January, including Makro, rose by 19.1% on the same period last year. Booker like-for-like total sales (excluding Makro) were 2% higher, with non-tobacco like-for-likes up 4.1%. Booker Wholesale, its cash and carry division, had a good quarter. Customer numbers were up and sales were in line with expectations. Booker Direct, Ritter, Classic and Chef Direct also had a good quarter. Chef Direct, the foodservice business launched in 2012, is now supplying more than 250,000 meals a day to clients.

Mint Group profit down 72%: Mint Group Holdings, whose venues include the Infernos nightclub in Clapham, south west London, Elk Bar in Fulham Broadway and the Bison and Bird in South London, saw turnover more than halve in the year to March 31 2013, from £1.09m to £490,000, and income from group undertakings fall 65% to £1.4m. The fall saw the company’s profit before tax drop from £4.7m in 2012 to £1.3m. The picture was better at its subsidiaries, with Obar Ltd seeing sales up 5% and operating profit of £1.1m, while at Renbar Ltd sales were up 9% at £1.65m and operating profits up 27% to £248,000. After an interim dividend of £20.05 a share paid on 22 November 2012, no final dividend will be paid, but the total distribution of dividends for the year to March 31 2013 will be £3.92m. Mint Group is headed by Alex Rutherford and Olly Bengough.

Two 4-star hotels come to market: Agent Christie + Co has been appointed to market the 4-star Crowne Plaza, London Ealing and Holiday Inn, Bromsgrove hotels. Both hotels operate under leading global franchise agreements with InterContinental Hotels Group. David Creamore, director of London hotels for Christie + Co, says: “Off the back of recent London hotel sales in 2013, we anticipate the capital’s growing demand for such investments and lack of supply will result in a huge response.” Gavin Wright, director of hotels at Christie + Co’s Birmingham office, said: “Opportunities such as the Holiday Inn Bromsgrove are limited. Situated in the busy Midlands hotel market, close to the main motorway network, this high profile hotel is certain to generate significant interest.” Christie + Co has placed an asking price of £16.5 million on the Crowne Plaza, Ealing and £3.95 million on the Holiday Inn, Bromsgrove. The hotels are being sold on the instructions of David Oprey, Richard Toone and Adrian Hyde, Joint Administrators Pedersen (Ealing) Limited and Pederson (Bromsgrove) Limited.

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