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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 24th Mar 2014 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Ed’s Easy Diner eyes 100 sites: Ed’s Easy Diner, the 1950s American diner brand, is eyeing expansion to 100 sites across the UK and is understood to have received private equity interest, according to The Times. The brand has expanded quickly since 2009 when it was the subject of a £1.75m buy-out by its chairman Stephen Greene. It has grown from three sites – located in Soho, Bluewater and Trocadero – to 24 across the UK and two franchised sites in South Africa. In the year to September 2013, turnover rose to £17.6m compared to £9.4m the year before, with like-for-like sales growth of 2.4%. Underlying earnings more than doubled to £2.24m from £1.01m in the year previous. Another eight openings are lined up for this year with Lord Street in Liverpool, Monk’s Cross in York and Victoria Place at Victoria Station the next confirmed openings. The company hopes to have 100 sites by September 2018. Ed’s Easy Diner is led by Andrew Guy whose career has included six years working in the US and a period as chief executive at The Restaurant Group. Guy told Propel recently: “The best business decision I ever made was accepting an invitation to work in the casual dining restaurant business in the US when I was in my early 30s. Ultimately as director of operations for a small restaurant group, I lived and worked for six years in Houston and San Antonio, Texas. The opportunity was a great challenge I couldn’t miss out on, and a lot more exciting than the position that I had at the time. The decision influenced the rest of my working life. On my return, I joined Bob Payton as ops director at My Kinda Town, and he wouldn’t have considered me without the US experience. That led to meeting Phillip Kaye and City Centre Restaurants and, via other changes and jobs, finally to Ed’s Easy Diner. One way or another, I’ve sold hamburgers for most of my career, and I’ve never had a concept with a tablecloth.”
  

Industry News:

Vietnam’s first McDonald’s serves 400,000 customers in the first month: The first McDonald’s to open in Vietnam, located in Ho Chi Minh City, has served more than 400,000 people in its first month. Heading up the Vietnamese franchise company is the Prime Minister’s son-in-law Henry Nguyen, who spent time flipping burgers in the USA as a teenager and says that it has always been his dream to open a McDonald’s in his home country. The outlet opened on 8 February, and within 24 hours had served almost 22,500 customers. Nguyen, who is married to the daughter of the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, reported that 61,980 Big Macs were sold in its first 30 days of business and that the number of customers had already exceeded ‘even what we thought were pretty high expectations’. The average wage in Vietnam is about US$150 a month and the cost of a Big Mac is US$2.82 and a Value Meal is US$3.99.
  
Former Punch Taverns chief operating officer makes finals of non-executive awards: Adrian Fawcett, former chief operating officer of Punch Taverns and current chairman of sector cash advance company Liberis, has been nominated as a finalist in The Sunday Times Non-Executive Director Awards 2014. Fawcett is also chairman of Park Holidays UK and has been nominated principally for his work as chairman of Silentnight Group, which has undergone a turnaround since 2011. There will be five category winners, which will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on 3 April. Liberis is currently lending £1m a month to the hospitality sector.
  
Lickfold community considers move to buy DJ Chris Evans pub: Members of the community in Lickfold, West Sussex, have held a meeting to discuss the launch of a ‘community right to bid’ on The Lickfold Inn, which is owned by DJ Chris Evans. The community has to register its intention to bid on the pub, and if it bids, have a further four and a half months to raise the £775,000 to buy it. The presenter and Radio 2 DJ bought the pub in 2007 for more than £1m, but closed down the 15th century gastro-pub in 2010 after it struggled to make a profit. Evans has now put it on the market. The cost of buying and renovating the pub is put at around £1m.
  
County’s first co-operative pub opens: West Yorkshire’s first co-operative pub, The Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge, opened on Saturday (22 March) after a share offer raised £130,000 to buy and refurbish the pub. It had been threatened with closure because of the ill-health of the landlady, Julia Warren. More than 200 regulars, local people and pub fans from across the country become shareholders in the co-operative, and contracts for its acquisition by the co-operative were signed last Thursday. The Fox and Goose is now one of 25 co-operative pubs across the UK.
  
Hotelympia to be staged next month: World-leading chefs and celebrated industry figureheads, hot button issues, the future of hospitality, awards ceremonies, debate, discussion and innovation are promised for Hotelympia, the UK’s largest hospitality trade show, which returns to London’s ExCeL between 28 April and 1 May. The Institute of Hospitality’s Peter Ducker is chairing a discussion on the evolving role of the chef, not just as provider of food, but as commercial asset and social media commentator. 2014 food trends will be examined by Propel’s managing editor Martyn Cornell, alongside Oisin Rogers, general manager of The Ship in Wandsworth and creative director of Ampersand events, Natalie Mainwaring. Visitors can go to www.hotelympia.com and register now for a free ticket to Hotelympia saving the £25 entrance fee.
  
PizzaExpress fined £8,000 for serving pizza with a screw in it: A Huntingdon PizzaExpress has been fined £8,000 after serving a pizza with a screw in it. At Peterborough Magistrates’ Court last week, PizzaExpress admitted serving a pizza containing a screw to a customer on 6 April last year. The restaurant also admitted failing to ensure dough trays were kept in good repair as there was evidence of loose and missing screws and brackets. Magistrates fined PizzaExpress £4,000 for each of the two charges as well as a £120 victim surcharge and £2,889.68 costs, leaving the company with a total bill of £11,009.68. A PizzaExpress spokesman said: “We have rigorous controls in place and set ourselves very high standards for the safety of our food, which is why this is extremely rare. We have apologised to our guest and taken extra measures to prevent this happening again.”
  

Company News:

Thai Square restaurant chain reports jump in profit: The Thai Square restaurant chain, which is operated by a vehicle called Catering UK Limited, has reported a jump in profit. Turnover declined slightly to £16,622,263 in the year to 30 June 2013 from £17,979,313 the year before – £1.6m of turnover in the current year related to turnover at a hotel which has now been transferred to a subsidiary company, Thai Square Hotels. Gross profit margin rose to 77.5% from 75.5% and profit before tax climbed to £788,089 from £152,809 the year before. The business is owned by Haim Danous and Michael Cohen.
  
Licensed Wholesale Company reports big jump in turnover after collapse of WaverleyTBS: North west wholesaler Licensed Wholesale Company has reported a near-30% surge in turnover in the year that covered the period after rival WaverleyTBS collapsed. Turnover rose to £156,652,272 in the year to 30 September 2013, up from £126,191,195 the year before. Pre-tax profit rose to £4,280,055 compared to £3,591,692 in the year prior. The company reported that “current year turnover and gross margins of its subsidiaries are exceeding budgeted expectations”.
  
Sunday Telegraph – YO! Sushi and Las Iguanas coming to market: YO! Sushi, led by Robin Rowaland and owned by French private equity firm Quilvest, and Las Iguanas, led by Steve Hill and owned by Bowmark Capital, are both exploring a sale, according to The Sunday Telegraph. Quilvest is hoping to sell YO! Sushi for around £120m, twice the £51m it paid in 2008. Meanwhile, La Iguanas is values at around £100m. Both companies are reported to hired bankers Canaccord to explore a sale, although the Las Iguanas sale is not expected to get underway until later in the year. Meanwhile, The Sunday Telegraph repeated last weekend’s reports that Gondola Holdings could sell PizzaExpress separately before exploring a float or sale for its Ask and Zizzi chains in a seperate deal.
  
Barburrito opens 11th site: Award-winning burrito restaurant Barburrito has opened its eleventh UK store, this time on London’s Holborn Viaduct. The UK’s first burrito bar, launched in Manchester in 2005, is now the first with a national presence, with a portfolio covering Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and London. The new store represents a £400,000 investment and will create 15 jobs. It shows Barburrito’s commitment to establishing a strong London presence, with other stores at Paddington Station and Farringdon already open. Chief executive Morgan Davies said: “We are delighted to have opened a burrito bar on Holburn Viaduct. With a thriving office community and the new Amazon head quarters above our store, this is a great location for our eleventh restaurant. We started the great burrito race in the UK and are now looking to reinforce our brand on the streets of London.”
  
Starbucks Howard Shultz – we’re opposed to a rise in the minimum wage: Starbucks chief executive Howard Shultz has expressed his opposition to a proposed rise in the minimum wage in the US. He said it could have the “unintended consequences of job loss, and that the suggested $15-per-hour wage could backfire on workers because the increase will hurt small businesses – especially restaurants – already struggling with the high cost of food, energy and labour”. He added: “I suspect that most companies, especially small and mid-sized companies, would not be able to afford it.” He even stopped short of supporting the President Barack Obama’s $10.10 per hour proposal, claiming it could hinder companies from providing benefits to workers.
  
Patisserie Holdings files accounts that show staff numbers nearing 2,000: Patisserie Valerie owner Patisserie Holdings has filed accounts at Companies House that show the company increased its UK workforce to 1,909 staff in the year to 30 September 2013 compared to 1,558 the year before. The company, which saw Ebitda rise to £12.3m in the year compared to £9.9m the year before, reports in its filing that more openings will occur in the current financial year than the 19 that the last financial year saw. The company has already opened seven sites in the current financial year and “all are delivering encouraging levels of trading”. The company stated: “New sites are measured against cash payback and return on capital expenditure with a target in excess of 40% return on investment and two-year payback on average.” The acquisition of the 23-strong Philpotts sandwich chain on 28 February this year brought total site numbers to 137. Turnover stood at £58,954,606, up from £49,511,423 the year before.
  
Steakhouse couple open third restaurant: A couple who started their first steakhouse restaurant in 2010 just outside King’s Lynn in Norfolk opened their third venue, in Milton Keynes, on Friday, with plans for more openings to come. Steve and Tracy Hutton started Middletons Steakhouse and Grill, a 70-cover restaurant, in a former pub, The Crown, in the village of Middleton. In December 2012, they opened a second, 160-cover outlet in Norwich city centre. Rob Spillings, Middletons’ operations manager, said: “We are ambitious, but we don’t want to put pressure on ourselves and will make sure that we are in a strong position when we grow. Steve and I have spent a lot of time planning how to move the business forward. We wanted to make sure that we are building on solid foundations. We opened in Norwich only when we were sure that we had a winning formula and the right (business) model.” Spillings said a “significant six-figure sum” had been invested in the Milton Keynes development. The site had been chosen for demographic and geographical reasons. “Milton Keynes has diverse economic roots, a huge catchment area and a large educational establishment, similar to Norwich,” he said. “We wanted to test ourselves in the wider environment. It’s another step up for our business.” The opening of the latest restaurant means that there are now more than 100 people on the payroll of Middletons. 
  
Zizzi to open fifth outlet in Manchester: Zizzi is to open a fifth restaurant in Manchester, in Piccadilly Gardens, this Saturday, 29 March. It will join Zizzi restaurants in Spinningfields, the Corn Exchange, Trafford Centre and on Wilmslow Road. The £1m development spans two floors to accommodate 220 diners. The interior design has taken inspiration from the nearby Piccadilly station. The 35 jobs created by the restaurant’s opening bring the number of Zizzi employees in Manchester to 160. Rob Lake, the operations manager, said: “We’re really excited to join the existing Zizzi community here in Manchester and are proud to invest in the redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly Gardens – we have high hopes that this will be a flagship restaurant for the north.”

Eclectic Bar Group to open new concept behind a pawn-broker’s shop: Eclectic Bar Group is to open its new concept, Dirty Blonde, this week, a premium bar and restaurant behind a pawn-brokers shop in Brighton, East Sussex. Located on the site of the former Madame Geisha venue in East Street and set to open on 27 March, the New York-inspired Dirty Blonde will bring an ‘injection of vintage styling and 1920s decadence to Brighton’. The bar and restaurant will be concealed behind a pawn-broker’s shop which will sell or trade vintage ephemera, from guitars and brooches to cigar cases and perfume bottles. The shop operates as a separate business in the care of specialist vintage buyers. The 320-capacity bar and restaurant will open six days a week from midday until 3am and from midday until 11pm on Sundays. Named after a cocktail found in New York by Eclectic chief executive Reuben Harley, Dirty Blonde’s cocktail menu boasts up to 30 speciality beverages – a mix of pre-prohibition and prohibition era aged cocktails, martinis and signature blends. The bar food offer will include the Dirty Brunch served from 12 noon to 3pm. Customers can choose home-made pancakes, waffles and muffins, or, for savoury aficionados, dishes like truffle and chive scrambled egg on a toasted bagel or the Yankie mini dog with mustard, smoked ketchup and crispy onions. Other bar dishes will include small plates, burgers, dogs, sandwiches and salads. The restaurant menu will be New York fusion. After 9pm, the pawn-shop becomes a meet-and-greet area. “Dirty Blonde clearly illustrates Eclectic’s plans to continually enhance and evolve its portfolio,” said Lee Nicolson, Eclectic’s operations director. “We are currently looking at several potential sites for Dirty Blonde venues across the UK.”
  
Nick Batram – Domino’s is on fire: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Nick Batram has issued a note saying that Domino’s shares are moving closer to buying territory with the company “on fire” in sales terms in the UK. For now he has a ‘Hold’ recommendation. He said: “For the first seven weeks of the year, UK like-for-like sales were +14.6%. Even allowing for the soft comparative in 2013, this was still an impressive result. Given the volatility, it is very difficult to predict just where Q1 will come out. The second half of the first quarter in 2013 was particularly strong (up double-digits). Therefore we would expect a decline from the 14.6% reported at the time of the finals. The share price has drifted back post the final results and, given the uncertainty in Germany and ahead of a new CEO, this is not surprising. At the current time, we don’t see a need to rush in, but the shares are moving closer to buying territory.”
  
New on-line job board for the sector has launched: A new online job board for the hospitality sector has been launched, Hospitality Jobs UK. Marian Stredwick, head of operations, said: “After monitoring other leading job boards and talking to companies and independent operators who regularly advertise on line, it is apparent that there is an ever increasing demand for an alternative job board that will attract candidates and ensure recruitment spend is used efficiently and effectively. Hospitality is one of the fastest growing markets and identifying great candidates quickly and before your competitors is key to the success of any business. Digital evolution is huge and we will be utilising the best technology to attract candidates from sources that potentially would not be seeking employment within the hospitality sector.” Propel readers are offered a 50% discount on advertising for 12 months contracts. For information please email marian@hosptalityjobsuk.co.uk quoting “Propel” or call 0844 800 6011.
  
Stonegate invests £120,000 in Slug & Lettuce refurbishment: Stonegate Pub Company is creating ten jobs in Milton Keynes with a £120,000 refurbishment of its Slug & Lettuce site. The investment will also see the introduction of Costa Coffee. Meanwhile, 20 jobs are to be created by Stonegate as The Crown and Crooked Billet, Woodford Green, Essex, re-launches following a £200,000 refurbishment. The listed building, situated on Cross Road overlooking the village green, will be sympathetically refurbished, both internally and externally.
  
Fine & Country Inns to co-invest £500,000 with Punch Taverns in Yorkshire landmark: Fine & Country Inns is to co-invest £500,000 with Punch Taverns in the historic Stafford Arms in the village of Stainborough, creating 30 new jobs. Fine & Country Inns owner Gary Hunt spent two decades in the late-night leisure industry creating and operating award-winning venues. He said: “Following my extensive experience in licensed leisure I could see there were tremendous opportunities in providing high quality country inns with restaurant facilities. Fine & Country Inns was designed to develop historic venues in picturesque Yorkshire villages, transform their interiors and provide modern British cuisine using locally-sourced, fresh produce topped off with exceptional service. At The Strafford Arms we plan to create a classical contemporary venue that has all the modern benefits of the 21st Century whilst retaining the charm of its historic past. We have a tremendous line up of both national and local real ales and craft beers, we will be open every day for afternoon tea and have put together extensive exotic tea and coffee menus.” The venue is expected to open at the beginning of May.
  
TGI Friday’s launch online extension to Training Academy: TGI Friday’s is launching an online extension to its Academy of Excellence. The Online Academy will allow team members to learn and develop wherever they are in the country, and provides cutting-edge courses and online-based learning aimed at a variety of levels and experience. The Online Academy will play a crucial part in training and development of its new Friday’s ‘family members’. Jacqui McManus, director of culture and people development, said: “The launch of the Online Academy is a great asset for the learning and development of the Friday’s team. It allows our team members to take control of their learning, showing them clearly where they are currently on their development path, and letting them know the next steps needed to progress, being tailored to each team member. The Academy is part of our vision to support career development within the hospitality industry.”
  
Award-winning gastro-pub operator plans burger venture: Former hotelier and gastro-pub owner Andrew Coggings is to open a locally sourced, sustainable burger restaurant in Brighton. He has acquired the lease of the 50-cover Blenio Bistro in the Seven Dials area of Brighton two months after selling his award-winning gastro-pub, The Preston Park Tavern. Under his ownership, The Preston Park Tavern became one of the most successful food pubs on the south coast and last year was voted ‘the most sustainable pub in the UK’ by the Sustainable Restaurant Association. He intends to close and refurbish the site before opening it in mid-April as ‘Coggings & Co.’, which will serve locally-sourced burgers along with a range of beers, lagers, soft drinks and wine, mainly originating from Sussex. Coggings added: “After eight years of running one of the busiest gastro-pubs in Sussex, I was ready for a new challenge. The idea of using all my experience of running an ethical, sustainable pub to create a great, local burger restaurant was too great an opportunity to resist.”
  
Scottish council leader challenges JD Wetherspoon to do its bit over problem gambling by not installing fourth machine: Dundee council leader Ken Guild has asked JD Wetherspoon to withdraw its application for an extra gaming machine as part of a personal battle against problem gambling in Dundee. An application had been made by Wetherspoon to install a fourth gaming machine at its Capitol bar on Seagate. But the council leader strongly disputed the need for a fourth machine, saying that “when drinking and gambling, inhibitions are lost and people are more at risk of problem gambling”. He added: “This premises already has three gaming machines and now wishes to have a fourth. I would not be at all happy with that.” Eddie Gershon, a spokesman for JD Wetherspoon, said: “Our management staff would not allow people to drink more than they should do. We understand the concerns of the council leader and obviously it is a view that is heartfelt. However, we are set to put a fourth machine in the pub and we do not believe that any problems will arise as a result of that.” Meanwhile, the company is lining up three more openings in Devon, where chairman Tim Martin lives. It is in negotiations on sites in Teignmouth and Okehampton, but is not confirming the exact locations at this stage. It has also identified a site in Tavistock. 
  
Pub operator Dorbiere reports rise in profit: Pub and hotel operator Dorbiere, which has the same owners as wholesaler Licensed Wholesale Company, has reported pre-tax profit rose to £743,494 in the year to 30 September 2013, up from £483,740 the year before. Turnover was £12,012,352, up around £8,000 on the year before.
  
New Belfast nightclub opened after £750,000 investment: A new nightclub opened in Belfast at the weekend creating over 90 full and part-time jobs. Villa, which bills itself as a luxury nightclub, opened on the site of former club venue Mynt on the Dunbar Link – Mynt closed last year. The site has undergone a £750,000 revamp and now spans three floors with 18 VIP booths. Villa will open five nights each week and host student nights on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, while at weekends it will open as an ‘exclusive club spot for over 21s’.
  
Mexican restaurant to open at Brakspear pub: A new Mexican restaurant is set to open in a Brakspear pub in Henley next month. Pachangas will open at the former home of The Beer Tree pub on the corner of Duke Street and Greys Road at the end of April. The Brakspear pub is currently closed after landlord Paul Campion handed in his notice in October. Campion, a New Zealander, took over the pub, then called The Boathouse, in January 2012 and changed its name.
    
Hydes completes third major investment in Quality Inn estate: Hydes, the north west brewer and retailer, has completed the third major investment in its Quality Inns estate. The Packhorse pub in Affetside, near Bury, Lancashire, now features an open plan bar with adjacent areas for drinkers and diners as well as a dedicated dining area and a drinking terrace offering superb views over the open countryside. Craft, premium and cask beers and fine wines feature heavily alongside an extensive menu offering freshly-prepared dishes that centre on the use of seasonal and local sourced ingredients. Hydes managing director Chris Hopkins said: “Steeped in history The Packhorse has long been an inn full of character – a popular spot for drinkers, diners and walkers and the new reshaped business is performing tremendously well, indeed much beyond our expectations.” Other Quality Inns sites to see investment are Jolly Thresher in Lymm and The Coach and Four in Wilmslow. 
  
Company plans to revive long-gone pub: The company behind The White Cloth Gallery cafe-bar in Leeds is seeking planning permission to turn a stretch of Crown Street in the city back into the pub it was more than 80 years ago. Think Architecture and Design has submitted a listed building application to Leeds Council for change of use to public house and take-away for numbers 3 to 7 Crown Street, which were the site of The Crown and Fleece Hotel until 1930, on behalf of Vektor Investments Management, a property management company that is a backer to The White Cloth Gallery on Aire Street. The application said the proposals for Crown Street involve considerable repairs and renovation to the three properties, to return them back to their former use as a public house, with a new Crown and Fleece creating a “pub/dining experience”. Think Architecture said approval of the application would be an important step in finding a suitable tenant, with independent operators being targeted. 
  
Former Hydes brewery to become apartments: A scheme to create 64 apartments in the former Hydes Brewery in Manchester has been announced. The Queens Brewery on Moss Lane West was built in 1861, and Hydes took over the site in 1899. Hydes left Moss Side to move to Salford in December 2012. The £8.5m conversion by Knight Knox International and Forshaw Land & Property Group will see the brewery house studio, one, two, and three-bedroom apartments.
  
St Austell tests 100-year-old beer: Cornish brewer St Austell is carrying out tests on the contents of a 100-year-old bottle of beer found buried in a beach. The bottle, in “immaculate” condition, and which still contains some alcohol, was found at St Piran’s Oratory, near Perranporth, Cornwall. The green glass bottle is stamped with a St Austell Brewery logo, while the cap features a swastika logo, a popular good luck symbol at the time. The bottle is believed to have been left in the sand by a worker in 1910 while he was helping to build a concrete structure to protect the coast from the sea. A St Austell Brewery spokesman said tests are being carried out to determine which beer was in the bottle.
  
TV bakery show winner launches cafe: The winner of the ITV show Britain’s Best Bakery has opened an on-site cafe after a surge in new business. The Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge, Suffolk, was established in 1946 by Jonathan and Miriam Wright and is now run by the third generation of the family. Last month it was named overall winner of the Britain’s Best Bakery title, beating 60 other UK bakeries in the process. The company secured a £90,000 loan from Lloyds to refurbish the shop’s interior and invest in new baking equipment, and also to open a cafe at the bakery. Co-owner David Wright said: “Winning the Britain’s Best Bakery competition was a fantastic start to 2014 and a real testament to the hard work of all of our team. Since the show aired we’ve seen a surge in new business and we’re keen to capitalise on this as much as possible. Feedback from many of our regular customers suggested there was scope to open up an on-site cafe, so we also used some of the investment from Lloyds to launch this and we’ve since recruited five new members of staff to support it.”
  
Wendy’s follows Burger King with pay-by-phone app: Wendy’s in the United States is rolling out a program that lets customers pay using their smartphones, following a similar scheme announced by Burger King last week. Wendy’s has been testing the mobile payment option over the past year and said the majority of its circa 5,800 US locations are now ready to accept the payments. Burger King said last week it would introduce a mobile payment program at its US restaurants in April. Starbucks has said 14% of all purchases in its US stores now come from mobile payments. It also says customers who sign up for the app tend to visit more often. Brandon Rhoten, vice-president of digital at Wendy’s, said: “You look at the numbers that Starbucks puts out, and it’s pretty amazing.”
  
Marston’s exchanges on four properties worth £18m: Midlands-based brewer and retailer Marston’s has exchanged contracts on four properties worth £18m, according to Property Week. It has acquired a 1.8 acre site on Clydesdale Way, Belverdere, south east London from Norman Retail Belverdere and a property at Stonestile Lane, Hastings from Millwood Designer Homes. Marston’s will also refurbish and extend farmhouse outbuildings at Pen Y Bont, Mold, north Wales, acquired from receiver of Eatonfield Developments. The company has also secured a site in Haverford West, Pembrokeshire, which it will co-occupy with a 60-bedroom Premier Inn. Steve Roberts, head of acquisitions for Marston’s, said: “We are aiming to open 25 to 30 pubs a year so it is crucial we keep our pipeline flowing. These latest exchanges will ensure we are on schedule to meet our corporate acquisitions target.”
  
Zonal reports turnover growth, profit drop as it invests: Zonal Retail Data Systems, the sector Epos provider, has reported sales growth but a second successive fall in profits as it invests in staff and technology. After pre-tax profits of a combined £5.3 million in 2010 and 2011, Zonal saw them fall to £158,667 in the year to June 2013 from £1m in 2012, according to Companies House accounts. The company cited its “policy of continued high investment in research and development with a spend in excess of £4m”. Turnover at Zonal has trebled since 2009 to £41.3m, including a £5.1m rise last year. The company increased its headcount again, from 231 to 260, including an addition of six in research and development, adding more than £1m to staff costs, which pushed administrative expenses from £13.8m to £16m.
  
Eagle Eye to seek Initial Public Offering: Surrey-based digital consumer engagement platform Eagle Eye is to pursue an IPO next month in a bid to raise around £5 million. The company deals with managing customer offers and analysing the resulting data – and its customers include Mitchells & Butlers and Gondola Group. Floating on AIM, the firm hopes to use the funds raised to acquire a major competitor. Eagle Eye’s software manages the supplying and redemption of customer offers. It then allows you to collect and analyses the data obtained as a result, securely and in real-time.
  
Oakman Inns confirms ninth site: Oakman Inns & Restaurants has confirmed that it has secured the site of the former Veer Dhara Indian restaurant in St Albans, which will become its ninth site. Following an £800,000 fit-out over the next few months, the site is planned to open in July and will operate as The Beech House, the same name as the site Oakman Inns opened in Beaconsfield a year ago. It will provide 30 new jobs. Oakman Inns chief executive Peter Borg-Neal said: “We’ve decided to use The Beech House name again as the St Albans’ site is in a similar, modern style of building based in the busy pedestrian-friendly centre of St Albans on the corner of St Peter and Catherine Streets. I love the idea of having this mix in our estate of old and new buildings that lend themselves in some way to our ideas on the way we think pubs, bars and restaurants should be. We think the people of St Albans will appreciate the style of The Beech House – and as we know how well that has done in Beaconsfield (we thought) why not call it the same?” The Beech House in St Albans will seat 100 guests and will provide a day-long service to their guests from “breakfast to dinner, from coffee with pastries to tapas with wine and all-stops in between.”

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