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Tue 11th Feb 2014 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Cold weather sends US sales down by 3.3% for McDonald’s; strong in Europe: McDonald’s has reported better-than-expected global sales at established restaurants for January as gains in Europe and China helped the company offset a sharp decline of 3.3% in the United States. McDonald’s said worldwide sales at restaurants open at least 13 months rose 1.2% last month. But in the US, like-for-like sales fell 3.3%, a deeper decline than the 1.6% drop that analysts expected. The company blamed the cold and snow that hit large parts of the country. Sales rose 2% in Europe, which edges out the United States as its biggest revenue market, and were up 5.4% in the Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA) region, helped by growth in China. Meanwhile, the broader US restaurant industry saw a 0.9% drop in like-for-like sales as large regions of the country suffered from extreme winter storms. The Restaurant Industry Snapshot for January, released by Black Box Intelligence and People Report, showed the second consecutive month in which the industry has reported negative like-for-like sales. The results reflect an improvement of 1.1% versus the 2% reported for December 2013.“The industry continues to be locked in a market-share battle in which the number of guests in comparable stores has been steadily declining since the recession, and there are no signs of that trend reversing any time soon,” said Victor Fernandez, executive director of insights and knowledge for TDn2k, parent company of Black Box Intelligence.

Industry News:

Orchid Pub Company site flooded eight times in six weeks: An Orchid Pub Company site, The White Swan in Mansbridge, Hampshire, has now been flooded eight times in the past six weeks. Heavy rain a year after a £150,000 refurbishment has meant the worst flooding since 2007. In total floods have meant £60,000 in lost sales this year, plus £14,000 for cleaning. Manager Steve Hammond said: “It is the biggest nightmare ever, but will remain defiant and keep cleaning as best we can.” Orchid has earmarked £40,000 of investment to boost flood defences due to start next month.

Blackpool votes against EMRO: Blackpool licensing committee has decided against introducing an EMRO in the wake of a hearing that took place over four days last week. The Licensing Committee unanimously resolved to recommend to the full council that the EMRO, which would have banned alcohol sales between 3am and 6am, should not be adopted. Solicitor John Gaunt said: “Technically, the final decision remains to be endorsed by the full council, but it is very difficult to see how the council could overturn this unanimous recommendation following a full hearing and detailed consideration by the licensing committee of all the evidence filed. We were instructed by Funny Girls Limited, who operate some six premises in the Blackpool night time economy, five of which could have been affected by the proposed EMRO had it been recommended for approval.” ALMR strategic affairs director Kate Nicholls said: “In the current climate an EMRO is not sustainable when there are more viable measures on the table. It wouldn’t do anything to resolve the issues of crime and disorder and anti-social behaviour that the police are concerned about. The problems we face as a society are about irresponsible consumption – not about irresponsible retailing. We hope the leader of the council and the cabinet take the advice of their specialist committee and don’t slap an ASBO on the town.”

Gloucester decides a restaurant quarter is needed to attract older citizens: A new restaurant quarter could persuade swathes of Gloucester’s over-30s who do not want to come into the city in the evening to give it a second chance, councillors have decided Finding new ways to boost the city’s evening economy has been the focus of a special task force of city councillors over the past few months. They now argue that a new restaurant quarter, brighter street lighting and better transport links will help to drive people back into the city. Gloucester mayor Chris Chatterton, who has been involved in the task force, said: “There is a feeling that we cater well for a particular part of the population, but not so well for the 30 to 50-year-olds and the silver pound. We want to see a recognised restaurant quarter. People felt that there wasn’t a place in the city centre that was attracting them despite there being a few good, but isolated, restaurants on offer.”

Organic food bounces back after four years of falling sales: Organic food is making a comeback after four year of falling sales. Latest figures from Nielsen show that organic sales grew by just over 1% in 2013, following four years of falls. The UK organic food market is currently worth £1.24bn. Organic Food Trade chairman Paul Moore said: “Rising interest in the quality of food, where it comes from, availability and an improving economy are major factors in the growth of organic. In addition, we are better at explaining organic benefits to consumers.”

Indian restaurant owners employed 17 illegal staff: The owners of two Indian restaurants in Dorset have been fined after employing illegal immigrants. Brothers Sahid Miah and Mortuja Miah ran the Taj Mahal in Westbourne and Taj Mahal II in Poole – and pleaded guilty to employing illegal immigrants and money laundering offences. Carla Johnson, of Home Office Immigration Enforcement, said: “Since 2008, officers have carried out four operations targeting illegal workers at the two branches of the Maj Mahal in Westbourne and Poole. During these raids we found 17 people who had no right to work in the UK and we have imposed civil penalties of £45,000 on the employers over the illegal staff.” The older of the brothers, Sahid, also pleaded guilty to human trafficking and hiding an illegal immigrant at a restaurant. On Friday 24 January, the brothers were ordered to pay a total of £100,000 in a confiscation order, following a hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court. The fine must be paid within six months to avoid an 18-month prison sentence. They were also fined £5,000 for each illegal employee – totalling an additional £45,000.

Company News:

PizzaExpress takes New Brighton site: PizzaExpress has signed to take a site at Marine Point Retail & Leisure Park in New Brighton, the Wirral, taking the scheme to 96% let. PizzaExpress has agreed a new 25-year lease on Unit 8, totalling 3,000 sq ft (278 sq m) and will pay an annual rent of £50,000. Daniel Hynd, project director at site developer Neptune, said: “Since opening in late 2011, Marine Point has really established itself as a leading retail and leisure destination in the Wirral. Testament to this is the strong tenant line up it has attracted including Morrisons, Grosvenor Casino, Greene King, Prezzo, Starbucks, La Tasca, Chimichanga and Loungers. Many of our operators have reported outstanding trading since opening, which further reinforces the strength of New Brighton.”

JD Wetherspoon confirms Kenilworth negotiations: JD Wetherspoon has confirmed it’s in negotiations over a site in Kenilworth, Warwickshire (population; 22,413). Spokesperson Eddie Gershon said: “Wetherspoon has identified a site in Kenilworth and is in negotiations. But, at this very early stage, we are unable to comment further at this time.” The company has been linked to a plan for Abbey End shops to be transformed into a pub. The application seeks to combine the two into one unit with new fronting and a ground floor rear extension. The application will now go to Warwick District Council planners who will decide on the application over the next few months.

Orchid opens latest Pizza Kitchen and Bar site: Orchid Pub Company has re-opened the Red Lion in Cosham as its latest Pizza Kitchen and Bar site. General manager Ian Durrant said: “The £250,000 investment into the pub includes a complete re-organisation of the layout. Internal areas are being re-planned to incorporate the open pizza oven so people can see their fresh dough pizza being created. Overall, the pub will feel far more warm and cosy with new linked zones and an eclectic mix of soft furnishings. Customers will have a choice of different styles and heights of seating, with both informal arrangements and more structured seating booths. We’ve worked hard to maintain the traditional pub values but bring a new lease of life with proper home-cooked pizza and a great range of world drinks.”

11,000 apply for jobs at new Center Parcs in Woburn: The new Center Parcs resort at Woburn has received more than 11,000 job applications - nearly eight times the amount of vacancies available. The recruitment drive for Center Parcs Woburn Forest started in July 2013 for 1,500 positions, including roles with on-site restaurants and retailers. The company, which has four resorts in Britain, said that more than half of the positions had been filled. More than four in ten (41%) new recruits are between the ages of 16-24, and the vast majority (92%) of applicants have come from the local area (within 15 miles of the new site). “It’s fantastic to have received so many job applications for the new site already, and especially exciting that we’ve been able to offer opportunities to so many young people at a time where many of them are finding it tough to start their careers,” said Judi Leavor, a HR director at Center Parcs. Some specialist roles had attracted interest from as far away as the Isle of Man and Inverness, the company added.

Third Malones opens in Scotland: The third Malones Irish bar has opened in Scotland, occupying the former Universal bar on Sauchiehall Lane. Owner Simon Keane already operates Malones in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Referring to other Irish bars in Glasgow, he added: “One thing they don’t have is the authenticity. They’re run by chains and not people with an Irish background. All our pubs are Irish-owned and Irish-run. We can claim to be the real deal because we are. We promote the friendliness of Irish people, which goes down so well in Glasgow because Glaswegians are exactly the same.”

Grand Union launches new food and cocktail menu: Eight-strong London-based Grand Union Group, which is led by Adam Marshall and has investment from Luke Johnson, has launched new food and cocktail menus. The new food menu has inspired by the burger bars of New York. Homemade pizzas are also on the menu and can be completely personalised with ‘build-your-own’ toppings. Further Grand Union openings are in the pipeline.

Celebrity Masterchef winner searches for first gastro-pub: Atomic Kitten star Liz McClarnon, winner of Celebrity Masterchef, is searching Merseyside to find her first gastro-pub. The former singer has been adding to her skills at a professional cookery school since Christmas. “I’ve been doing butchery and fishmongery – it’s a really hands on course and I’m covered in cuts and burns,” said McClarnon. “I want to do it properly – it’s not just a case of me putting my name to something. I want to be in there cooking, doing all the hard work.” She has been training at Ashburton Cookery School in Devon.

Whitbread launches employee assistance programme: Whitbread has launched an employee assistance programme (EAP) for more than 40,000 employees after trialing the scheme with 4,000 employees. The EAP, which is provided by and charity Hospitality Action and is available across the catering and hospitality industry, is currently provided to 70,000 employees from 30 organisations. The EAP includes: advice and help sheets; web chat and telephone helpline, 24/7, 365 days a year; personal counseling; legal information and guidance; financial planning and debt advice; addiction support for alcohol, drugs, gambling or other addiction issues; hardship grants; a confidential whistle-blowing service; critical incident de-briefing and mediation. Patrick Dempsey, managing director at Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants, said: “At Whitbread, we carried out a trial of the scheme with 4,000 of our employees, across all our brands, and experienced a high level of employee usage with very positive feedback from management and staff regarding the service and advice given. I am delighted that we have now adopted the programme across the whole of the Whitbread estate, more than 40,000 employees, and we are extremely happy with the service provided. Businesses that subscribe to the scheme will also be supporting the hospitality industry’s charity enabling them to continue with their vital work.”

Red Bull reports 3.1% volume growth in 2013: Energy drink producer Red Bull has reported 3.1% volume growth in 2013. It sold 5.387bn cans worldwide, an increase of 3.1%, generating $5.04bn in revenue (2.2% up year-on-year). The company stated: “In spite of the financial and global economic climate our plans for growth and investment in 2014 remain very ambitious and envisage an upward trend.” Red Bull now has 9,694 employees and operates in 166 countries (up from 8,966 and 165 last year, respectively).

Shepherd Neame sells Folkestone pub to Elvis impersonator: Shepherd Neame has sold a well-known alternative music venue in Folkestone that closed in 2012 to an Elvis impersonator. The Oranges in Apsley Street closed when the last tenants said they could no longer compete with cheap beer prices at other town centre pubs. But now Shepherd Neame has sold the pub to Elvis impersonator Paul Kun Yu Chang from Folkestone, who plans to rename it the Memphis Bar, after his idol’s home, and re-open it within the next month.

Adam Hyman – Richard Caring buys London bank building: Restaurant consultant Adam Hyman has reported that sector investor Richard Caring has bought the former Natwest bank site in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, beating more than 40 other offers for the space. Hyman added: “He is expected to open a restaurant there. Caring’s Caprice Holdings is also launching a restaurant soon in Covent Garden.” Meanwhile, Hyman reports that Sonny’s owner Rebecca Mascarenhas has bought the former Wallace & Co site on Upper Richmond Road, Putney. She plans to open Bibo, a modern Italian trattoria seating 70. Chris Beverley, formerly of Theo Randall at the InterContinental, will be head chef.

Two-Michelin-starred chef to open Bath restaurant: Chef Martin Blunos, who earned two Michelin stars when he ran Lettonie in Bath, is to open a new restaurant, called Blunos, in the city this month, located at The County Hotel on Pulteney Road. The opening comes 13 years after he closed Lettonie in Bath. He said “It’s very exciting because this place has not been a restaurant before so people won’t be comparing it to what was here before.” Blunos will be serving almost only fish – there will be one meat dish, and one vegetarian. Blunos added: “It will be a short menu, and it will be decided by what we get in that day. If we only have turbot, halibut and red mullet then that’s what we have. We’re also going to do Fruits de Mer and lobster and chips. It will be a bit of fun for the kitchen and the menu will be written every day. The furthest you ever are from the sea in Britain is about 80 miles and we are a damn sight closer than that here. We will be getting our fish up from Looe and Plymouth, oysters from Sussex and smoked fish from Chew Valley Lake.”

Stonegate demolishes structurally unsafe Yates’s site: Stonegate Pub Company has begun the demolition of a structurally unsafe Yates’s site in Barrow town centre pub. Yates’s in Barrow shut when the building was found to be structurally unsafe at the end of March last year. Stonegate applied to Barrow Borough Council last summer to demolish the Duke Street building. The application was granted in September and demolition was due to start at the beginning of November and scheduled to finish by 16 December. But is understood the work was delayed until the New Year following concerns from traders who claimed it could impact on their Christmas trade. Work to pull down the building has now started and is scheduled to last around two months. A spokesman for Stonegate stated: “We are considering our options as to the future of the site.”

Côte to create 600 jobs in 2014: French brasserie brand Côte is set to create up to 600 jobs across the UK in 2014. Côte, which has 47 sites, plans openings in Kingston-upon-Thames and Manchester in March, with a further two in Wokingham and Cobham due to open their doors by the summer. A Bishop’s Stortford site will follow towards the end of the year. “It’s an exciting time for Côte, and we are looking for talented and ambitious individuals to join us on our incredible journey. As a result of our rapid expansion there are many exciting career opportunities available, and we can offer excellent opportunities for future promotion and career advancement through our Career Development Programme,” said joint managing direct Harald Samuelsson. “We are also looking at other sites to open in 2014, in line with our target of a minimum of ten restaurants a year.”

Brewhouse & Kitchen ‘looking for up to ten sites’: Brewhouse Pub & Kitchen (BP&K), the EIS-funded operation started in 2011 by Simon Bunn, a former Mitchells & Butlers executive, and Kris Gumbrell, ex-chief executive of Convivial London Pubs, has “an aspiration to grow up to ten sites”. Bunn told Propel. “Nothing is cast in stone, this is dependant on opportunity and site selection,” he said. “We may have fewer and bigger or smaller and more. Numbers aren’t really that important. What’s important in the profit generation and trajectory of the business.” BP&K raised just under £4m in its first round of fund-raising, and its first brewpub was a former JD Wetherspoon pub in Portsmouth, which opened a year ago, The White Swan. Its second site has been secured in the Brewery Square development in Dorchester, once home to the Eldridge Pope brewery. “We are working in urban areas currently, but I’m sure a rural destination could work,” Bunn said. “Consumers are seeking more than a visit to pubs just for a beer. Pubs with more reasons to visit provide more opportunities to extract sales from their guest base. Adding the brewing element to the pub provides great credentials around drink, in addition to the home-cooked-to-order food we have on offer.” In-house beers now account for 35% of drinks sales, Bunn said. BP&K offers the opportunity for people to brew for themselves using the pub’s kit. “There isn’t anyone in the market doing what we are doing in the way we are doing it.” Bunn says. “We sold 70 brewing experiences over the Christmas period at £50 per person. Not only do we access some guests who may not otherwise visit, we also turn this into first-class advocacy. They come back time and time again, and they bring many friends and family with them. Doing things out of London, which are more unusual, is a real pull: our range of fruit beers are very strong, with high sales among the mainstream fruit cider brigade. This provides an opportunity to return for a different experience. For diners, our menu has beer recommendations, draught and bottle, so we always have an appropriate match for the dish you are eating. Adding your own production plant within the pub makes it more complicated. Brewing is like adding another kitchen to your outlet,” Bunn said. “However, brewers are recruited more easily than head chefs. Small organisations can compete in a very different way. We battle on quality, and not price. We have attempted to be a brewpub with a difference: most are geared to men. We have a selection of our own glassware which is designed to be female-friendly: we worked with Bournemouth University on this.”

Benito’s Hat set to open sixth site: Burritos and margaritas restaurant group Benito’s Hat will open its sixth venue, on the former Mother Mash site on Leadenhall Street, in mid-March. This follows the successful opening of its Farringdon branch in November and other sites at Kings Cross, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Goodge Street. The 1,800 square foot restaurant and bar spread over three floors. New to Leadenhall is a hidden ‘Margarita and Mojito Bar’ on the upper level and two burrito creation lines - ensuring customer wait times are kept to a minimum. Founder Ben Fordham said: “Our Leadenhall restaurant is perfectly positioned in a high footfall area and will provide a fresh and exciting food and drink offering that is ideally suited to the fast pace of the City. This year, we are looking to strengthen our team and aim to reach a target of ten branches by the end of 2014.” Leadenhall marks the second restaurant to open since Benito’s Hat secured a £1.4 million investment with the majority of funds coming from UK-based Calculus Capital last year.

Inception Group plans sixth opening: Innovative bar operator Inception Group is to open its sixth venue in London – a “mountain cabin and dance saloon” called Beavers. Set to open in Chelsea in the spring, the late-night bar aims to conjure up the spirit of “winter cowboy log cabins” in the snowy mountains of Wyoming such as the ski resort of Jackson Hole. It will feature stuffed grizzly bears, moose heads and beavers alongside a warming wood-burning stove, cowhide and furs as well as cowboy memorabilia, old wagon wheels and antler-horned hanging lamps. Group’s founders Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling have taken inspiration for the new site from their holidays in mountainside cabins. Inception Group also runs 1970s-style Disco London, 1980s-themed club Maggie’s, speakeasy bar Bart’s, Italian bar-restaurant Bunga Bunga, and Mr Fogg’s, inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.

M&B examines entry into Irish market: Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) is sizing up expansion opportunities across Ireland, with up to six potential locations already thought to have been identified in Cork and Dublin, the Irish Examiner has reported. M&B is initially focused on introducing its family-themed restaurant brands such as Harvester and Toby Carvery but the company is also thought to be looking at opening an All Bar One, according to The Examiner. A spokesperson for the group told the Examiner the group doesn’t comment on market rumours specifically, but added: “M&B is always looking at opportunities to grow its business and, so, it continually monitors opportunities across a wide range of markets.” M&B’s entry to Ireland follows the lead of other UK pub companies focusing on the Irish market for expansion. JD Wetherspoon has already stated it could open between 30 and 50 pubs here over the coming decade, with the first arriving in April in Dublin and a second to follow in Cork. Greene King has also been linked with potential investment. It has been suggested by the Irish Examiner that M&B could open up to 20 premises, across its various brands, in Ireland over the next four years with both board approval and cash apparently in place to do so.

Mitchells & Butlers lines up Miller & Carter opening in former Ant & Dec bar in Newcastle: Mitchells & Butlers has submitted a plan to convert the former Lodge bar in Newcastle, once part-owned by Ant & Dec, into a Miller & Carter steakhouse. The Lodge closed late last year after PBR Leisure, which also owned Blu Bambu on the nearby Bigg Market, called in restructuring specialists Zolfo Cooper after experiencing problems due to the “challenging economic climate” last year. Mitchells & Butlers want to turn The Lodge into a 450-capacity venue. Grey Street, with The Lodge situated at the bottom, has undergone a restaurant renaissance. Cafe Rouge, Browns, Las Iguanas and Japanese restaurant Osaka have joined The Living Room and Zizzi’s on the street, with Carluccio’s also opening last year at the top. In the next few months, Harry’s Bar & Grill will also open opposite the Theatre Royal and, just a few metres away at Monument, Jamie’s Italian is set to open later this year.

Nicholson’s launches beer with world record number of hops: Nicholson’s, the Mitchells & Butlers brand, has launched a beer, Top of the Hops, which has an unequalled 2,014 British hop varieties. No two batches are identical, meaning customers get a fresh experience every time they drink from a new one. Top of the Hops is the product of a partnership between Peter Darby of Wye Hops, Nicholson’s pubs, and Great Yorkshire Brewery. Each year, Darby grows thousands of hop varieties as he seeks to develop better ones, but only ever uses a small fraction of each plant’s harvest in his research. So in 2013, Nicholson’s and Great Yorkshire bought all remaining flowers from 2,014 of the different strains Darby had cultivated that year. Once these are dried, a slightly different blend goes into each Top of the Hops batch so the beer is constantly evolving and intriguing. Ben Lockwood, Nicholson’s brand manager, said: “With people’s continued interest in, and greater understanding of, hops and their role in beer’s diverse flavours, we’re delighted to work with Peter on this project. Our guests come to expect innovation from us, and we’re happy to be supporting Britain’s hops industry.”

Christie + Co sells two South Shields pubs: Agent Christie + Co has sold two public house in South Shields. The sale of The West Park and The Riverside completed either side of the New Year. The former was a large four-storey corner building overlooking parkland to the front, whilst the latter was a smaller pub on the north side of the town. Licensed sector specialist Mark Worley said: “The West Park has been bought by a firm of local developers, for conversion to residential use. It was always going to attract alternative use, given the diminishing trade in a challenging economy, the size of the building and the high-density residential surroundings. The Riverside, however, is being retained for licensed use and has been purchased by a very experienced local operator who is expanding her portfolio. We wish her well in this new venture which we are sure will be good news for the locals.” The West Park sold off an asking price of £255,000, whilst the guide price on The Riverside was £120,000.

South Kensington hotel sold off £40m asking price: Acting on behalf of Spanish clients Mazabi Gestión de Patrimonios, Christie + Co and HVS Hodges Ward Elliott have sold the boutique 4-Star Queen’s Gate Hotel to a private investor off an asking price of £40 million. Located in South Kensington and close to the Royal Albert Hall, the Natural History and Science museums and the Kensington shopping attractions, the hotel is comprised of 90 bedrooms, within four Victorian houses David Creamore, director of London Hotels for Christie + Co, said: “The sale of this hotel reflects both the demand for assets in this particular part of London and the bullish prices now being achieved on a regular basis in the capital.”

Millennium & Copthorne buys 480-bedroom New York hotel: Millennium & Copthorne Hotels has bought the Novotel New York Times Square, a 34-storey building situated at 226 West 52nd Street in New York City, in the heart of the Manhattan theatre district. The building contains the hotel, limited office and retail space and a penthouse apartment. The purchase price is $273.6m (approximately £166.7m at today’s exchange rate), to be paid in cash. Completion of the acquisition is expected to occur during the second quarter of 2014. The hotel is a four-star property with 480 guest rooms and was built in 1981. The most recent audited results for the hotel show a pre-tax profit of $2.1m for the 327-day period ending 31 December 2012. Profit during this period reflects non-repeating cost items and the earnings impact of a significant refurbishment that commenced in the second half of 2012 and completed in November 2013. Upon completion of the sale, the hotel will continue to be managed, as at present, by an affiliate of Accor SA under a management agreement which has an initial term that ends on 31 December 2038 and may be extended by the manager for up to three successive 10-year periods. The remainder of the building is subject to two primary long-term leases, one for the first four floors of office and retail space and a separate lease for the top-floor penthouse space. The seller’s interest as landlord under those leases will be assumed by the company as part of the transaction. M&C chairman Kwek Leng Beng said: “I am delighted that we have secured this transaction. Times Square is one of the world’s top tourist destinations and this beautifully refurbished property will undoubtedly increase our share of the international travel market in New York, one of our three key gateway cities. The property is an important strategic investment for Millennium & Copthorne Hotels and will complement our existing midtown and downtown Manhattan hotels without adding significantly to central management costs.”

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