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Tue 2nd Sep 2014 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Hugh Osmond enters exclusive talks to buy Strada: Entrepreneur Hugh Osmond has entered exclusive talks to buy the Strada chain, through his Sun Capital Partners business, for circa £40m, The Times has reported. A successful acquisition would see Osmond return to the world of pizza for the first time since he exited the PizzaExpress business he grew with Luke Johnson and David Page. Osmond is reported to have drawn up a plan to revitalise the brand, which is being sold by Tragus Group, led by Steve Richards, as part of a restructuring that has involved entering Company Voluntary Arrangements with its creditors. The Strada estate is thought to have drawn interest from a number of trade buyers, including Prezzo and Nando’s. It has a number of sites producing Ebitda of £400,000 plus but generally is regarded as in need of catch-up capital expenditure. However, the business, headed by James Spragg, is thought to have recorded positive-like-for-like sales in recent weeks. Strada was sold by Hugh Osmond’s former business partner Luke Johnson to leisure entrepreneur Richard Caring in 2005 for £57m. The business was sold just 18 months later to Tragus, owned by Blackstone at the time, for £140m. At its height, Strada has an estate of around 70 sites. One City source told Propel: “Strada has suffered underinvestment for a number of years but, as a brand, it is far from dead. Judicious investment could certainly take it back to its former position and Italian food is clearly an enormous market in the UK.”

Industry News:

Birmingham restaurant wins top Good Food Guide independent award: Birmingham’s Carters of Moseley has been named the UK’s ‘Readers’ Restaurant of the Year’, by the Waitrose Good Food Guide, published on 8 September. Carters had previously been shortlisted for the award after being voted the ‘Readers’ Restaurant of the Year’ for the Midlands in June 2014. The Guide received more than 30,000 nominations from members of the public, before announcing ten regional winners who represent some of the best local dining experiences to be had around the country. To qualify for the awards, aimed at championing neighbourhood eateries, restaurants needed to be independently run and offer regional or local produce where possible. Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor of The Good Food Guide, added: “It was a tough judging assignment this year – every one of our regional winners was operating at such a high standard. But ultimately Brad Carter and Holly Jackson’s small neighbourhood restaurant won our hearts and the Good Food Guide’s Readers’ Restaurant of the Year award. Exceptional friendliness, sheer professionalism, value for money and food that is not only delicious but also properly prepared, seasonal and locally sourced may be a simple recipe for success, but not many manage to get it so right.” Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias of Casamia, Bristol have taken the prestigious crown of Chefs of the Year. Casamia also secured the 39th spot in the Top 50 restaurant listing in the Good Food Guide 2015.

Three-month street food event opens in Shoreditch: Restaurant consultant Adam Hyman has reported that a three-month street food event is opening in Shoreditch. In his weekly news bulletin, he said: “A three-month crazy golf pop up event with a rotating list of street food vendors opens this week in east London. Swingers, organised by the Institute of Competitive Socialising, is located in an old warehouse in Shoreditch. Street food operators include Pizza Pilgrims, Patty & Bun, When Mac Met Cheese, Butchies and HIX Fishdogs.”

BrewDog founder – ‘we want to list for £1bn in five years’ time’: BrewDog founder James Watt has told The Times that he wants to list the company with a £1bn valuation in five years’ time. He said: “You’ll laugh at me but we want to list for £1bn in five years’ time. We’ve got the road map with annual targets. We think it’s an achievable target.” Watt reported turnover will hit £32m this year, up from £18.9m last year with 65% of sales coming from exports to 50 markets. About 10% of beer sales come from the company’s 22 bars. “We love the chaos of fast growth,” Watt told The Times. “If we don’t have that, we’re not pushing hard enough.”

Linking guest and staff feedback a major opportunity for restaurant and pub groups: Customer and employee engagement are both vital components of strategy for companies in the eating and drinking-out market, but few operators are consciously linking the two together, new research by CGA Peach for customer experience specialists InMoment (formerly Empathica) has revealed. The Customer Engagement Survey 2014, based on a poll of nearly 100 senior executives from leading restaurant, pub and bar chains, found that just over 90% of companies see guest feedback as a top five key performance indicator (KPI) for their business, including 22% that have it has their number one KPI. Although that still leaves 10% who only rate it as ‘moderately’ important and not a key focus. While 95% believe employee engagement is ‘very important’ in driving customer engagement, one-in-seven don’t actually track it and just 16% correlate employee engagement against customer satisfaction – although 33% say they intend to. Most common methods of measuring levels of staff engagement are by staff turnover and exit interviews, rather than by engaging while still on the workforce – although 54% of respondents do use online or paper surveys. “With the customer experience so dependent on service and staff quality, not to mention employee morale, this appears a major gap in the market’s insight. There’s a need for more joined-up thinking, especially when it comes to front-line teams,” said Peter Martin, vice-president of industry research experts CGA Peach, which conducted the research. The survey suggests that a more systematic approach to both staff and guest engagement is needed if firms are to pull out more meaningful insights to improve their operations. The survey’s five main recommendations are: improve board-level buy-in – lead from the top, deliver at the front; get HR, marketing and operations to talk to each other and share data – especially amalgamating customer and employee feedback; link employee recognition and reward to customer KPIs; introduce real-time feed-back to frontline managers (and teams); and better understand the drivers of engagement.

Company News:

Pizza Hut turns the capex tap on at Scottish sites, look for more sites north of the border: Pizza Hut is embarking on a £1.7 million investment programme in its Scottish restaurants. Having recently unveiled a revamped site at Hamilton’s Palace Grounds retail park in Lanarkshire, the firm has now turned its attention to refurbishing its other “flagship” venues at Silverburn in Glasgow and Aberdeen’s Union Square shopping centre. Head of operations Mike Spencer told Scotland on Sunday that he was keen to add more restaurants to the 31 sites that Pizza Hut currently operates north of the Border. “We’re represented in most of the main markets in Scotland, but I’d like to see some more,” he said, adding that a site near the Ikea store on the outskirts of Edinburgh was among the possibilities. “Scotland has always been a very well-established, and now mature, part of our business that has done extremely well. As part of this investment we’re looking to bring our estate, menu and service up to the next level. There has been considerable competition in the casual dining sector over the last five years or so, so this continued investment will ensure we stay ahead of the game. Other casual diners have grown their market share in the evenings and we see this investment as a key opportunity to be more relevant for couples going out before the cinema or family events at the weekend. This is where the business tends to grow after the re-imaging of the restaurants.” Spencer said profit and sales figures have grown for the past two years and the firm has been outperforming the industry average over the past 12 months. “That gives us encouragement that we’re doing well at the moment and the new look and feel is significantly outperforming our core estate, with an uplift in sales of up to 35% in those restaurants that have been refurbished.”

Douglas Jack upgrades Prezzo to ‘Add’ from ‘Hold’: Numis Securities leisure analyst Douglas Jack has upgraded his Prezzo share recommendation to ‘Add’ from ‘Hold’ ahead of interim on Thursday, 11 September. He said: “We forecast profit before tax rising 11% to £9.5m (no consensus), slightly lagging growth in store space. We believe the risk to forecasts is on the upside, and are upgrading to ‘Add’ from ‘Hold’ following recent weakness. Average sales rose 2.5% in 2013 (3.6% in H1; 0.8% in H2), by our estimates, amid reasonably good trading conditions. Against tough comps (particularly for the circa 10% of sites close to cinemas), we forecast H1 average sales growing slightly due to larger openings for the Prezzo brand. Ebit margins fell 40bps in 2013, despite total sales growing 15.3%. This third consecutive year of margin decline was caused largely by extra training, marketing and facilities management costs. We forecast margins falling by 15bps in H1 due to expectations of minimal average sales growth. This may be over-cautious: we believe the company has been able to push price increases through and both food and utility cost inflation were running at just 2%. This year, Prezzo should open 28 restaurants (18 Prezzo, seven Chimichanga and three Cleaver), paid by internally generated cash-flow. Expansion could exceed this as: management has stated that the site pipeline is “better than ever”, in addition to which there has been press speculation that Prezzo might acquire part of the Strada estate to fast-track expansion. We believe forecast risk should be on the upside. For the full year, our £22.4m PBT forecast (consensus: £22.8m) assumes flat average sales and slight margin erosion. In H2, average sales and margins should benefit from larger site openings, easier average sales comps and slowing food cost inflation. Also, over the next year, the company is planning to reduce voucher activity and emphasise loyalty, which should support gross margins. Prezzo’s rating has eased slightly to 9.8x EV/Ebitda (18x P/E), having recently peaked at 11.7x EV/Ebitda (22x P/E). Although the rating is still high, we believe there is sufficient self-financed growth and upgrade potential to drive the shares.”

YO! Sushi US franchisee secures three more sites: YO! Sushi’s US franchisee One.23 Entertainment, which has signed to open 50 sites in the US over the next six years, has signed leases on three sites in New Jersey and Florida, The Times reports. The sites are located in shopping malls in Sarasota, Tampa and Short Hills, New Jersey. The first opening will be at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in New Jersey.

Baumann puts brasserie on market to focus on new steak and lobster concept: Chef Mark Baumann has put his eponymous Baumann’s Brasserie in Coggeshall, Colchester, Essex, on the market to focus on his new steak and lobster concept Bourgeee, due to debut with a £1m opening in Southend this month. He has run the restaurant in Stoneham Street, Coggeshall for 28 years and has put the leasehold on the market for £175,000. He plans to sell Baumann’s Brasserie, which will continue to trade until it is sold, as a going concern, retaining the 20 staff. Baumann’s spokesman said: “Mark is now part of a hugely exciting new business venture, Bourgee, that is launching the first of 15 steak and lobster venues on Southend seafront following two years of development. While the brasserie continues to enjoy phenomenal success and critical acclaim, Mark feels it is hugely important to evolve. He has enjoyed a fantastic 28 years at the brasserie, however, given the scale of the Bourgee concept, he has taken the very difficult decision to focus purely on the new restaurant group and move on from Baumann’s Brasserie.”

La Sala wins licence for first UK site: La Sala, the new Spanish restaurant brand being brought to the UK by a team headed by James Horler, has been granted a licence for its first site after agreeing to shorten its opening hours. La Sala – whose Marbella branch has featured on The Only Way Is Essex – plans to open its first UK restaurant at the former Deuces nightclub in Chigwell Road in Woodford Bridge. Redbridge Council’s licensing sub-committee agreed to give the restaurant the go-ahead – but only with a licence running until 11.30pm on weeknights, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and 10.30pm on Sundays. The restaurant has also been allowed a special licence for Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, licenced until 1am and closing at 1.30am. Its external roof terrace will also have to close at 9pm, with the number of people allowed at any time limited to eight.

TGI Friday’s reports flying start at new Gloucester Quays opening: TGI Friday’s has reported a flying start at its latest opening at Gloucester Quays with more than 13,000 people served within the first four weeks. Chris Ponsford, general manager at the Quayside TGI Friday’s, told the local newspaper: “Business has been absolutely booming since we opened in Gloucester. We have served well over 13,000 guests, which considering we are only in our fourth week is a truly phenomenal figure. We are busy all day every day, both with guests having a meal and those popping in for a drink at our thriving bar. The team here is doing an incredible job looking after the huge influx of guests and the feedback from those who have been in has been extremely positive. There is clearly a huge appetite for Friday’s in Gloucester and we couldn’t have had a more successful opening few weeks.”

New smokehouse concept opens in Southport, La Tasca to take Bella Italia site: A new barbecue cafe concept, the Brass Pig, has opened in Southport’s Bath Street, serving up slow-cooked and smoked meats, from pulled pork, to beef brisket, home-smoked sausages and burgers. Edward Morrison Weights co-owns the barbecue cafe with his wife, Kate. A key part of the restaurant is its smoker, imported from the US and adapted for use inside. Meanwhile, La Tasca is taking over the vacant Bella Italia site in the town.

Brasserie Blanc – ‘we’re likely to sell the freehold on our pub’: Brasserie Bar Co chief executive Mark Derry has told Propel that the company is likely to undertake a sale and leaseback of its freehold pub, the Hare in Harrow Weald, Middlesex which opened around six weeks ago. The company bought the freehold for circa £1m from a private individual and then invested a further £400,000. Derry indicated that the company is minded to sell the freehold given the company’s leasehold property portfolio.

Joule’s Brewery opens first site dedicated to craft beer: Joule’s Brewery, the Shropshire-based brewer and retailer headed by Steve Nuttall, has opened its first site dedicated to craft beer – The Lower Chequer in Sandbach has undergone a three month refurbishment. Manager Dean Carter said: “The renovation work is fantastic, it’s really brought a modern twist to the pub without taking away from the traditional look, and it will be a big boost for the town.” Trudie Meredith, marketing controller for Joule’s, said the Lower Chequer was the first of a new wave of pubs the brewery is looking to launch. She said: “We’re really excited by the opening of the pub, it’s a place with a lot of character. It’s going to be a great mix of old and new, and we’ve got a lot of plans to follow up the Lower Chequer. Craft beer is something that has grown a lot, and it will be great to run it alongside our traditional beers.”

PizzaExpress launches “random acts of pizza” campaign for September: PizzaExpress has launched a ‘random acts of pizza’ campaign for September. PizzaExpress is asking people to nominate the person they’d most like to spend quality time with at PizzaExpress, who could be rewarded with free pizza. Random Acts of Pizza has been created to support PizzaExpress’ Quality Time campaign, which runs from yesterday (1 September) for one month. The campaign states: “After an exciting but expensive summer, Quality Time is about getting back to the things that really matter – spending time with the people we care about without spending a fortune. The campaign draws upon the generosity shown by Reddit subscribers, who started to ‘pay it forward’ by giving free pizza to random strangers hoping for a cheesy reward. To find out more visit www.pizzaexpress.com and to nominate someone for free pizza, tell @PizzaExpress using #RandomActsOfPizza.”

Agent AG&G negotiates 80% business rates reduction: Agent AG&G has reported that it negotiated a more than 80% reduction in the rateable value of the Four Horseshoes’ pub in Luton. “As with other cases we’ve seen, the Inland Revenue’s valuer was highly optimistic when setting a rate of £32,500 a year and was assuming a stellar trading performance,” said partner Anthony Alder, who put in an appeal on the pub’s behalf. “In fact, the pub had been through some turbulent times over the past few years and had seen its trade fall. We were also able to show that trading at comparable pubs in the area was also much less than assumed. The adjudicator, after seeing all the evidence, accepted our proposed rateable value of £6,250 – less than a fifth of what had been set.”

Dublin city centre hotel expected to fetch up to €30 million: A Dublin city centre hotel is expected to fetch up to €30m after being placed on the market. The 132-bedroom Temple Bar Hotel, in the heart of the tourist hot spot, is described as being “highly profitable” with a vibrant food and beverage business. The three-star premises also includes Busker’s Bar & Cafe and the Alchemy Night Club. The site is being sold as a going concern by commercial real estate agents CBRE for FBD Property & Leisure, which operates hotels and golf resorts in Ireland and Spain. “The sale of the Temple Bar Hotel offers Irish and international hotel investors an outstanding opportunity to acquire a prime and profitable asset in a key international capital city,” said Dermot Curtin, director of CBRE Hotels. “Profitable and well established Dublin city centre hotels rarely come to the market and this sale is especially significant as the Temple Bar hotel is being offered unbranded, freehold and with vacant possession.” The successful buyer of the hotel – which is being sold by private treaty – may be able to add a further 27 bedrooms which are currently subject to planning permission.

Pizza takeaway owner seeks to open ‘ethical’ coffee shop: The owner of a pizza takeaway business is looking to open what they say will be a unique coffee shop in Burnley. Mohebolla Frueh, who runs Pronto Pizza takeaways in Burnley and Nelson, wants to open a cafe in Burnley town centre serving “ethical” and organic coffee and food. Frueh said: “We are now looking to use our experience and expertise to develop a new business idea, which we have been planning for the past few years. We are hoping to introduce a new food and coffee experience to Burnley. We will be selling a range of coffees that will be classed as ‘bean to cup’, which will be ethically sourced and locally roasted. We will also be offering home-cooked food using organic and locally produced ingredients.” A planning application has gone in to Burnley Council to convert a unit in Bank Parade formerly used as bag drop for a Cash for Clothes business. Frueh said: “The reason why we are particularly interested in this building is because of its location and its overall character. Internally, the ceiling is high and we think by combining the industrial style with a modern twist it will make it feel spacious and light, creating a quirky new design. Externally, the building represents the heritage of buildings built in earlier times and also represents historical importance to the town of Burnley.” The decision on whether to allow the building to be converted is likely to be made by the council in October.

Bath Ales signs sponsorship deal with Bath Rugby Club: West Country brewer and retailer Bath Ales has signed as official partner of Bath Rugby in time for the start of the new season. The two-year agreement, which starts immediately, is the biggest partnership deal the brewer has ever committed to and signals a significant investment by the business. As part of the new relationship, Bath Ales’ branding, featuring the award-winning beer brand ‘Gem’, will be included on the team’s shorts throughout the season. Robin Couling, managing director of Bath Ales, said: “We’ve always had an interest in Bath Rugby and they are a great fit with us. As our local team we have been supporting them from the stands for many years – and it’s very exciting to be involved in an official capacity now. The Rugby World Cup is being held in the UK next year and there will be increased focus on the sport so it’s a great time to get involved and support a local team that is among the elite national and international club sides”.

Bury entrepreneur makes £600,000 investment in brewpub: Bury entrepreneur Lee Hollinworth, who operates Automatic and Malt Bar, is investing £600,000 in re-opening The Clarence next month, housing the Silver Fleet Brewing Company in the basement. The four-storey building also features a ground level pub, a first floor restaurant, a second floor exclusive cocktail bar called Fallen Angel and an area for staff meetings and offices on the top floor. The ground floor bar, which can trace its roots back to 1905, is based in the exact location that the original bar was situated. Staff discovered this by taking up five layers of flooring, to level out the uneven surface, and eventually uncovered tiles that marked the layout of the bar.

Grand Union to offer Haven Breast Burger in October: London bar group Grand Union will raise money for breast cancer support charity The Haven during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. Adding a limited edition ‘Haven Breast Burger’ to its menu, Grand Union will donate 50p to The Haven for every £10 burger sold. Renowned for its classic cocktails, Grand Union will also offer a pink ‘Haven Cosmopolitan’, donating 50p from every £5 cocktail sold. Available from 1 to 31 October at all eight venues across the capital, the Haven Breast Burger includes a healthy grilled chicken fillet, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a brioche bun, accompanied by skinny fries and a side of slaw.

Mountain Range Restaurants partners Catton Hospitality: Catton Hospitality, the leading industry provider of workforce planning software, consultancy and training, has signed a deal with Mountain Range Restaurants (MRR), the four strong alpine-oriented pub chain. MRR is implementing Catton’s S4 Labour software, which helps the hospitality industry to forecast sales and roster staff accordingly. “Having worked with Catton before I was impressed by their expertise, flexibility and overall customer service,” said Greg Mangham who heads up MRR. “I had seen Catton’s S4 Labour system and thought this would be the ideal way to enhance productivity ratios without impacting our service reputation.”

Neville and Giggs line up hotel and restaurant scheme for Manchester: United star turned leisure entrepreneur Gary Neville is set to re-develop Manchester’s iconic Bootle Street police station. Neville and former team-mate Ryan Giggs have formed a consortium to build offices, bars, restaurants and a four or five-star hotel around the historic building, off Deansgate, in partnership with the council. It is the latest in a series of major property ventures by Neville, who is currently building Hotel Football in partnership with Giggs at Old Trafford – it is due to open later this year. His consortium, the Jacksons Row Development Company, has already bought – or is in the final stages of buying – the other various parts of the 300sq ft parcel of land between Albert Square and Deansgate, including the synagogue on Jackson’s Row. It already has a major luxury hotel operator on board.

Wahaca plans mid-October opening in Brixton: Mexican street food brand Wahaca is planning to start trading in Brixton in mid-October, with an opening in the ground floor of the former Bradys pub in Atlantic Road. The new Wahaca branch will occupy the former bar and function room of the Bradys/Railway Hotel pub, which was the subject of a long campaign by locals to retain it as a community asset.

JD Wetherspoon set for 2am opening at new Muswell Hill site: JD Wetherspoon is to open until 2am at its proposed new Muswell Hill site, Mossy Well on the site of the old Village pub, which closed in 2013. Rather than apply for a new licence, the company has taken on the Village’s, allowing it to stay open until 2am. Ben Rogoff, founder of the group Say NO to Late Night Licensing, said the area had changed a lot since the original licence was granted. He said: “There’s a primary school right opposite where this pub is going to be. The make-up of the area has really changed, this is a quiet residential area now, and it’s really time for the council to look at the licensing policy for the area”. Wetherspoon has applied to extend the serving hours of the pub to allow them to begin selling alcohol at 9am. It also plans to extend the licensed area, allowing them to serve alcohol on the basement floor. A spokesman for Wetherspoon said the firm is a “responsible pub operator”, adding: “We believe that when pubs are run well and in a responsible manner, which ours are, then people act accordingly.”

KFC launches pulled chicken, inspired by street food: KFC has introduced its menu’s biggest overhaul in 20 years, including a range of non-fried, street-food-inspired “pulled chicken” dishes. Launched yesterday (1 September), the pulled chicken range comes ahead of the brand’s 50th anniversary. It will include the ultimate burger, chicken twister wrap and the lower-calorie lil’wrap, and has been designed to reflect the growing street-food trend, including slow-cooked BBQ meats, as well as provide a nod to the brand’s Kentucky heritage. The pulled chicken range includes a blend of white and dark chicken breast, plus a Kentucky-inspired BBQ sauce. The meat is rubbed with a dry spice mix, including paprika, cloves and chilli, and then covered in a molasses-based sauce. It is then slow-cooked for almost two hours.

Jamie Oliver to return to the US to publicise YouTube cooking destination: Chef Jamie Oliver is returning to the US this month to publicise Food Tube, his 18-month-old YouTube cooking destination and to promote his upcoming US cookbook. The US campaign amounts to a comeback for the chef whose “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” an ABC reality TV show, won an Emmy and headlines in 2010 for visiting a West Virginia school district in an attempt to get elementary school students to eat better. But the next year, Oliver created a stink when he was denied access to LA schools. The show was canceled and Oliver retreated to Britain. Oliver will take part in an Advertising Week panel called “The Game Changers: Engaging a Digital Native Generation”. Food Tube is almost at one million subscribers, the kind of scale to entice major brands to promote their products. By comparison, fellow British chef Nigella Lawson has just 1,675 YouTube subscribers. YouTube cooking-channel hosts are charging up to $50,000 for brand mentions and a commitment to tweet a couple of times about products soon after promotions, research by The New York Post suggests.

Enterprise offers licensees discounted MatchPint deal: Enterprise is giving its publicans the opportunity to boost their sporting events by teaming up with MatchPint, the innovative app that connects more than 250,000 sports fans with pubs each month. Following a successful trial of the app across Beacon pubs, the fully supported tenancy scheme operated by Enterprise, the app is being made available to the core estate with an exclusive 30% discount on the annual subscription fee between now and 30 September. Sports fans use the app and its website to find which pubs are showing which sports fixtures nearby. MatchPint is available for free from the iPhone app store and Google Play Store. Andrew Parker, retail operations manager for Beacon at Enterprise Inns, said: “At Enterprise we’re always looking for ways to support our publicans and help them grow their businesses and MatchPint is a great tool for sports pubs. We introduced the app across our Beacon Estate in time for the World Cup and the results were fantastic. Our customers saw a significant increase in the number of customers during World Cup games, including many new customers who discovered their pubs via the app. It’s simple for publicans to use and can really boost business for those pubs with a sporting focus.” MatchPint also works in collaboration with brands to provide pub-goers with special offers on drinks. During the trial across the Beacon Estate, customers who came to watch the UEFA Champions League final could enjoy a free pint of John Smith’s ale or Fosters by checking in on the MatchPint app and generating a one-time redeem voucher. The offer was redeemed 267 times across 42 Beacon outlets.

London Evening Standard reviewer gives Cafe Football a red card: London Evening Standard reviewer Grace Dent has criticised the quality of the food at Cafe Football, opened by Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville at Westfield Stratford City. She wrote: “Cafe Football is a clever concept that should make oodles of money. The menu is jam-packed with comfort food with novelty names such as Karren Brady’s pie mash n’ liquor, Nev’s noodle pot and Giggsy’s Red Dragon sausage, the football blares out loudly during the game, then during the interval loud Nickelback and Sum 41 dross fills the air and the staff dole out ‘half-time oranges’ (it’s actually a citrus parfait in the shape of an orange). It’s silly and it’s fun, but more importantly, if you have an ardent football fan in the family, it’s a brilliant compromise so your clan can all dine together when a match is on. There’s nothing I don’t love about this concept. Except, that is, the food.”

Preston multi-site operator plans micro-bar: Preston multi-site operator Jeremy Rowland is planning to open a “micro-bar” gin and beer house in Friargate, Preston in a former hotel which was once a “disreputable” drinking den dating back more than 200 years. The Plough Inn, built around 1796 and renamed the Hotel National in 1882, gave up selling alcohol decades ago. But parts of the original alehouse still exist – particularly the cellar – and will be incorporated into the new bar if the city council gives the go-ahead to return it to its former use. The new-look “Plau” micro bar is designed to be an “intimate venue holding up to 50 customers, where people can meet and enjoy independently produced craft products in relaxed and beautiful surroundings,” according to applicant Rowland who also has interests in other licensed premises in the city, including The Continental. “This is a hidden and important piece of Preston’s heritage,” he added. If the plans are passed, work is expected to start in November, with a December opening a possibility.

Lapdancing venues could be banned in Cheltenham: Lapdancing clubs could be banned in Cheltenham. The borough council has been asking people if they want to see a limit placed on the number of venues in the town with a sexual entertainment licence. The option of setting the limit at zero is on the table. Councillors sitting on the authority’s licensing committee will be presented with the results of an extensive public consultation when they meet on Friday. They will be tasked with recommending a way forward which will then be sent to the borough council’s Liberal Democrat cabinet for a final decision to be taken later this year. The borough council has already been petitioned to set the limit at zero.

Dorchester coaching inn freehold offered for £950,000: The Wessex Royale Hotel, a18th century coaching inn in Dorchester, is for sale with agent Christie + Co off an asking price of £950,000. The 3-Star, 27-room hotel is located in Dorchester’s town centre. Jonathan Hill, Director of Hotels for Christie + Co in Bristol, said: “The Wessex Royale Hotel is a popular venue locally, catering for non resident bar and restaurant trade which includes several clubs and societies including lunch and dinner clubs. Its large function room hosts many parties, seminars, conferences/meetings, special occasions, along with some wedding reception business. There is certainly scope for new owners to further develop the food and beverage side of the business together with weddings and functions.”

Paul UK reduces losses as new CEO makes mark: Paul UK reduced its losses in 2013 as turnover climbed 1.7% to £23,773,540 from £23,366,832 the year before. Pre-tax losses reduced to £115,496 from £1,432,484 the year prior thanks to the benefits of structured controls and procedures even though they “only started to be recognised during the second half of the year as these controls took time to implement across the business”. Like-for-like growth was 0.7% compared to a 0.3% decline the year before. Gross profit margin increased 3.4% to 74.4%. EBITDA improved from 3.7% in 2012 to 7.8% of turnover. Overall average transaction value increased to £5.52 compared to £5.49 the year before. Better understanding of staff rotas and requirements at store level resulted in an 0.2% improvement in staff costs on the year before. A new chief executive Jean-Michel Orieux arrived in January 2013 and began putting in place “the building blocks to return the business to profitability and ensuring a clear business focus was established”. Orieux also began to develop the key elements of the business – “consistency of product quality, service levels and timely product placement”. The company reported “previous underinvestment needed to be addressed and the business undertook mini refreshes across the store portfolio to brighten the customer’s environment”. Two major refits were undertaken and six are planned for 2014. Leases at four smaller sites will be surrendered with terms agreed for surrender at the Leadenhall site. The company stated: “During the year under review, the directors agreed a new five-year business plan focusing on the development of larger shops in appropriate locations and started to look for the first time at shops outside London. Product and menu development during the year has supported the plan with the company looking to offer customer an all-day dining experience from coffee and croissants in the morning through to lunch and afternoon tea and cake and into the evening with a bistro-style menu offering typically French dishes accompanied with a glass of wine. The development was trialled towards the end of the year.” The five-year business strategy focuses on driving sales and growth through the acquisition of larger shops which can provide an all-day dining offer in an environment which will encourage longer dwell times and increased transaction values. The acquisition programme for 2014 is focused in the main within London and the Home Counties where the management team can “manage and oversee the development and ensure the exacting standards expected of the product, which is freshly produced in store and customer service matches expectation”. The company said it would continue to review its existing store portfolio and implement a structured closure programme where stores do not fit into the five-year strategy.

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