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Fri 9th Jan 2015 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

City Pub Company’s Clive Watson – it was the best Christmas in 25 years: City Pub Company chairman Clive Watson has described festive trading as the “best Christmas” in a quarter century of his involvement in the sector. The EIS company, which comprises City Pub Company East (eight pubs and three being refurbished) and City Pub Company West (six pubs), said it had performed “extremely strongly across the whole of its estate” during the Christmas period. It concluded a year of significant progress where sales have increased by over 75%, driven by organic growth and acquiring eight new pubs. Watson said: “In 25 years in the trade, this is the best Christmas I have ever seen in businesses that I have been involved with and finishes a successful year for both companies with a flourish. It also gives us much confidence for the year ahead; to continue our rapid expansion and acquire more pubs. City Pub Company is going great guns and is probably two years ahead of where Capital Pub Company was after the same amount of time. We look forward to strong progress throughout 2015.” The most recent opening was the Temple Brewhouse on Fleet Street, next to Daly’s, which caters to a different clientele. Daly’s is currently being refurbished and will reopen in February. The City Pub Company has also strengthened its management team through the appointment of Tarquin Williams as full-time finance director from the beginning of March. He joins from The Ladies European Golf Tour and prior to that he spent 15 years at Fuller’s, latterly as finance controller. A new employee profit share scheme to be introduced this year will help to strengthen the entrepreneurial culture within the two companies. 

Industry News:

Prezzo shareholders to vote on recommended bid today: Prezzo shareholders vote today on whether to accept a recommended 126.5p-a-share bid from TPG Capital, which values the group at £303.7m. The deal requires a vote in favour by 75% of shareholders, with as much as 65% of the vote already committed thanks to the backing of the extended Kaye family. However, some remaining shareholders have argued the deal undervalues Prezzo. Complicating matters is the emergence of activist investor Elliott Capital Advisors, which has built a 14.5% stake since the announcement of a recommended bid in November.

Research shows paying more for all-you-can-eat buffet makes food taste better: Research in the United States has shown that paying more for an all-you-can-eat buffet makes the food taste better. Three researchers conducted a field experiment at an all-you-can-eat buffet to test whether the cost of the buffet affected how much diners enjoyed it. They conducted their research at an Italian all-you-can-eat buffet in New York, where over the course of two weeks 139 participants were offered a flier for an $8 buffet or a $4 buffet. Both had the same food. Those who paid $8 rated the pizza 11% tastier than those who paid $4. Moreover, the $4 group suffered from greater diminishing returns: each additional slice of pizza tasted worse than the $8 group found it. David Just, a professor at Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and one of the study's authors, said: "People set their expectation of taste partially based on the price, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, 'If I didn't pay much it can't be that good.' Moreover, each slice is worse than the last. People really ended up regretting choosing the buffet when it was cheap."

The Cloud – 2014 saw a 78% increase in traffic at 22,000 pub hotspots: The Cloud has reported a 78% increase in traffic across its 22,000 public wi-fi hotspots during 2014 as registered users clocked up 28 billion browsing minutes. Of this, 90% was done on a smartphone, but tablet use increased by 21%, a figure that the company expects to rise further in 2015 as users demand more data-intensive content such as video streaming. Android use on the network has also increased to 49%, with The Cloud’s overall user base growing from nine million to 12 million over the past year. The company has renewed deals with Caffe Nero and Wagamama. Virgin Media mobile customers can now access free wi-fi automatically thanks to another partnership. Roger Matthews, The Cloud’s commercial director, said: “The UK is a digital nation. We spend more money online shopping than any other country and almost 60% of us regularly access the internet from mobile devices. In business, the digital sector is now worth £71bn to the UK economy."

South West leisure firms to meet to pledge apprenticeships: More than a hundred Bristol hospitality businesses leaders, including restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers from across the region, will come together on 13 January at the Mercure hotel in the city to pledge jobs, apprenticeships and work placements for young jobseekers at the Big Hospitality Conversation. More than 250 attendees will be joined by the Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, and the Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton from the Pony and Trap in Chew Magna. Bristol’s visitor economy continues to grow steadily and visitor spend is in excess of £1bn annually, while the city is the fourth most visited in England and consistently placed 7th or 8th in the ranking of destinations by overseas visitors to the UK. Statistics indicate that Bristol attracts in the region of 1.6 million overnight trips annually, with one fifth of total domestic tourist nights spent in the South West, of which Bristol is the largest city.

Luke Johnson – Jon Moulton needs to do the decent thing to avoid demonising private equity:
Sector investor Luke Johnson has argued that Jon Moulton, head of the private equity firm Better Capital, need to do “the decent thing” an not press for the £20m his firm is owed in the wake of the collapse of City Link. Of Moulton, whose firm acquired the Walkabout operator Intertain last year, Johnson wrote in his Financial Times column: “Mr Moulton has taken something of a battering in the media since City Link’s demise, partly because it was disclosed on Christmas Day. But he is a robust and public critic of others, and a very rich man, so I am sure he knows the rules of the game. In my opinion, Better Capital would be unwise to seek repayment of its secured loans and interest from City Link until staff and partners have been decently treated. Mr Moulton might be within his legal rights to press for the entire £20m expected liquidation proceeds, but I suspect his reputation will suffer further damage if he does so. Of course, he might well argue that he owes his principal duty of care to the shareholders of Better Capital’s funds – and anyway, the administrator will decide the ranking of dividend payments. But I am confident Mr Moulton could find a way to compensate those who have lost their livelihoods, at least to a degree. If by his behaviour he demonises private equity, he does the industry that has made him wealthy a great disservice: in November he wrote that the “outcome is a matter of professional pride” for his investments. Moreover, I suspect sellers of distressed companies will be more reluctant to treat with Better Capital in the future.”
 
Colliers names Berkeley Street as London’s most sought-after restaurant location: Berkeley Street in Mayfair has become London’s most sought-after restaurant location, according to research by the property consultancy Colliers International. Rents in the area have risen by 67% in the past five years as would-be restaurateurs from around the world jostle for space, Colliers said. Dining room rents have increased to £125 per square foot, up from £75 in 2009. Rents in Marylebone by contrast are £90 per square foot. The shortage of available buildings in Mayfair is such that developers are also paying millions in “key money”, an extra payment to the landlord, to secure prized leases. Dan Taylor, head of retail leasing at Colliers, said: “The internationalisation of eating and drinking in London has been extraordinary. We have seen a continued influx of new brands from continental Europe, Russia, America, the Middle East and right across Asia encompassing every type of offer, from street food to fine dining.” Covent Garden and Leicester Square can extract more cash from tenants but Mayfair has seen by far the strongest growth since 2009, Colliers said.
 

Company News:

BrewDog outlines international expansion plans: BrewDog has placed Berlin and the US on the top of its list of international opening targets whilst revealing it has “a foothold or a bar in the works” in Norway, Brussels, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Rome. The company stated: “There are many locations that we are keen on – but as we begin the year, our prime focus is on one specific city and one very cool country. The city is Berlin – we had a number of sites there in mind, stretching back over the last eighteen months, but sadly none have come to fruition. We are still looking for that perfect site for BrewDog Berlin though, and really want to make it happen. We’re open to considering any area in the city, with minimum size being at least 150 square metres. The site must be able to be operated as a bar and we would consider sites large enough to also be a brewpub.” BrewDog also said it thought “the time is right” for BrewDog USA to become a reality. It stated: “(We) are really interested in sites on both the west and east coasts of America. For the west coast we are looking for a site that could operate as a brewpub; it would therefore need to be between 6,000-8,000 square feet and be able to obtain a licence for a bar and brewery. For our east coast location, we are looking for somewhere that would be operated as a bar only, and would have a minimum size requirement of 2,000 square feet.” The company also revealed it is looking for local partners to open bars in the Netherlands, Australia, Russia, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, South Korea and Denmark. 

Memories of China operator A to Z Restaurants reduces losses: A to Z Restaurants, led by John De Stefano, has reduced losses in a year that the company closed two loss-making restaurants, Memories of China Kensington in London and Aubergine in  Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Turnover from discontinued activities was £523,895, down from £1,954,175 the year before. The company also saw trading losses at its Alloro restaurant in the year. Turnover dipped to £8,913,000 in the year ended March 2014 from £9,157,000 the year before. There was a loss before tax of £39,000, against losses of £1,108,000 the year prior. A to Z said: “The group is now in a position where it can trade profitably from its central London restaurants.” It has trading losses of £1,177,000 to carry forward against trading profits.
 
Davy's reports LfL sales growth of 8.6% in bars and restaurants, and 2.1% for wine online: The London operator Davy's Wine Bars has reported a 8.6% uplift in like-for-like sales for the five-week period to 3 January compared to 2013. Chairman James Davy said: "A culmination of marketing Christmas early, a central pre-booked sales team to respond to the level of enquiries and ensuring our customers receive excellent service before, during and after their visit, have all contributed to the success. [This followed] double-digit growth for Christmas 2013 and underlines how hard the team have worked this year on planning, preparation and execution.” Davy's Wine Merchants reported a 2.1% LFL sales increase for the same period in online wine sales and wine shops, driven in great part by its loyal customer base and its rewards programme, Premier Cru, the company said. "We opened our third wine shop this year at Davy's Wine House in Holborn, adding to the successful Christmas trading," Davy said.
 
Chef plans to franchise deli concept, launches pie into supermarkets: The chef Barrington Douglas is planning to franchise his deli operation Barrington’s Deli, which opened in Huddersfield town centre last year. He plans to have ten franchised operations within five years. Douglas, who also runs the Huddersfield restaurant Discovery Bay, has turned food producer with his own range of pies, sauces and chutneys. This week, his jerk pork pies were on the shelves at 35 Tesco stores across Yorkshire and the North East. The Jamaican-inspired pies, made by the Huddersfield-based company Andrew Jones Pies, won a gold award at the 2014 British Pie Awards. The pies will be supplied to Tesco’s through The Locally Sourced Food Company of Thirsk, a firm which helps smaller producers break into the big supermarkets. Douglas and his business partner Richard Dennis were at the Tesco store in Huddersfield, where there were people waiting even before the pies were put on display. “There were lots of people wanting them, apparently all the staff couldn’t wait either, so they will be going fast,” Douglas said. “It’s a proud moment for both me and Richard. We have worked hard to get where we are.” His hot pepper sauce and two chutneys are also on Asda’s radar. Douglas said: “What we want is product placement in the supermarkets, who will then help build our brand. Once people know about us we can roll out the deli franchises. We have five people already lined up to take on a franchise. They will train at our Huddersfield deli and then launch out on their own. That is our five-year plan.”

McDonald’s to install 600 wireless charging stations in UK: McDonald's is installing 600 wireless charging stations for enabled mobile devices in 50 restaurants in the UK. It represents a major expansion of wireless charging technology, which is still in the early stages of deployment in public places. The charging stations from Aircharge are based on the Qi (pronounced "chee") wireless standard, which is backed by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC). Trial runs at UK stores proved so popular that some customers were prepared to wait up to half an hour to use the stations. John Perzow, vice-president of market development for the WPC, said: "This is a major step for McDonald's, but in a way, they are catching up with other restaurants across the world who have already deployed Qi in their establishments." 
 
Clapham pub with residential conversion consent sells for more than £1m: The former Inigo pub in Clapham has been sold by agent Davis Coffer Lyons on behalf of a private individual in a freehold deal off an asking price of over £1m. The pub was sold with planning permission to convert the building into three 2-bedroom flats on the upper floors with leisure use on the ground floor and basement space, which Davis Coffer Lyons is now marketing. The pub is ideally located within walking distance of Wandsworth Railway Station and Clapham Common Underground Station as well as a host of local amenities. Charlotte Wild, a pubs and bars negotiator at Davis Coffer Lyons said: “This is a great building in a fantastic location, however, the current orientation of the space needed addressing in order to make it viable. We are looking forward to finding a new leisure operator that will appeal for the sites new residents and vibrant catchment and hope to make a further announcement in the near future.”
 
Drake & Morgan targets Spring for eighth opening: Drake & Morgan will open its eighth site, The Refinery in Regent’s Place this Spring. A return to the name of Drake & Morgan’s first-ever opening, The Refinery on Bankside, the new launch will be spread across one floor amidst the offices of Regent’s Place, close to Great Portland Street, complete with bar, restaurant, deli and outdoor terrace. Pared-back décor comes courtesy of long-term designer-of-choice Fusion – light woods and clean lines with bright pops of colour – while food and drink will focus on fresh, seasonal menus and creative cocktails.

Geronimo Inns invites customers to come and eat Coco, the prize-winning bullock: The gastro-pub chain Geronimo Inns, owned by Young & Co, has invited customers to come and eat Coco, a prize-winning bullock, later this month. Coco, a Limousin X steer, won the Commercial Beef Champion title at the 2014 Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Coco was latterly owned by Geronimo Inns’ beef supplier, Taste Tradition of Thirsk, and has now been butchered. A spokesman said: “Now this does all sound a bit macabre, but it is important to Geronimo Inns that customers know where their food comes from and that when they butcher and cook meat it is given the due respect it deserves and as much of the animal is used as possible. So, for two days only on the 16 and 17 January, customers will be able to enjoy a set menu including the shin and legs at the Bull’s Head, the ribs at the Eagle, sirloin and shoulder at the Prince Albert, brisket and feather blade at the Phoenix Chelsea, short ribs and feather blade at the Lion & Unicorn and the flank and bavette at the Duke of Clarence.”

Wetherspoon extends hotel bedroom investment programme with £2.7m plan for Grimsby:
JD Wetherspoon wants to expand its strategy of turning unused upstairs space into hotel bedrooms with a £2.7m scheme to create 35 bedrooms above its site in Grimsby. The company has applied for planning permission to restore the unused first, second and third floors of the Yarborough Hotel in Bethlehem Street to create accommodation. JD Wetherspoon said the move showed a real commitment to the region after the company opened a new pub in Cleethorpes, the Coliseum Picture Theatre, last year, and the Joseph Morton in Louth, in 2011. It is not known when the upper floors of the Grade 2 listed building were last used. A similar planning application for 45 to 50 rooms was made in 1999, but never came to fruition. The Yarborough Hotel opened as a Wetherspoon outlet in 1996 following a £1m makeover after being snapped up for around £300,000. Eddie Gershon, Wetherspoon's spokesman, said: "We feel that it would be a worthwhile investment and would be beneficial to both the pub customers and to the town. It's not for us to say whether planning [permission] will be granted, but if it was we would be keen to open a hotel on the site sooner rather than later."
 
Carluccio’s confirms Bishop’s Stortford opening this month:
Carluccio’s has confirmed that it will open in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire on 30 January. Simon Kossoff, the chain's chief executive said: “We have been keen to open in Bishop’s Stortford for a number of years now and are delighted to have finally found the right site for us.” The restaurant, in former Cafe Rouge premises has 84 covers and six bar seats. It will employ 32 people and will operate al day.
 
M&B grants new chief operating officer share options:
Mitchells & Butlers has granted 61,738 share options to Phil Urban, its new chief operating officer who previously ran Rank’s Grosvenor casinos division. This option will be exercisable for the two-year period after the end of the performance cycle, subject to the satisfaction of performance conditions and on payment of the option exercise price of a nominal £1.
 
Richard Vine – Tom Kerridge’s second pub is a hit: Richard Vine, the respected food critic for Bloomberg, has declared that chef Tom Kerridge’s second pub, an Enterprise inns site in Marlow, Buckinghamshire called the Coach, is "top flight". Vine said: "The Coach is a gastropub more enjoyable than any new UK restaurant I visited in 2014. I realise this is way too early for predictions, but I'd be surprised if this place doesn't make my Top 10 list for 2015. The strength of the Coach lies in its cooking and dish creativity. In terms of ambience, the tables are shoe-horned in to the extent that you get up close and personal with other diners while trying to make your way through. Arrive late (there are no bookings) and you may find yourself at a counter facing a wall. Or you might stare at the TV screens dotted around the room, silently showing soccer. Kerridge means them to emphasize the pub ambience. They remind me of sports bars rather than the British pubs of my youth, when a meal consisted of a pint, a pickled onion, and a packet of crisps. (Cigarette optional.) But the food at the Coach: oh my. There are dishes to warm the cockles of your heart and any other internal organs in need of a gastronomic cuddle. If you arrive early and grab the seats at the bar directly looking into the kitchen, you can also watch your food cooking on the Rotisol, a French-made rotisserie. It certainly beats sports screens. Standout dishes include a whole quail, tunnel-boned (meaning the bones are removed while the skin is left intact) and stuffed with sausage meat and figs. The filling is up there with the best sausage you have ever tasted, with high-quality ingredients and the spot-on seasoning to be found across the menu. It's as fat and rich as I feel when I've got my bonus.” Kerridge's other pub is the Hand and Vine in Marlow.

Starbucks in US creates new vice-president of food role:
Starbucks has created a new vice-president of food, evenings and food business development for its business in the United States. The job has gone to Stefano Cordova, a veteran of restaurant chain research and development. Cordova said he would be responsible for supporting the growth of Starbucks' food programme during the breakfast, lunch and evening dayparts. Most recently, Cordova was executive chef and senior vice-president of food and beverage innovation for the Boston-based bakery-café chain Au Bon Pain. Before that he was corporate chef of Bertucci’s, also based in Boston. Previously, he was a corporate chef at the New York-based Restaurant Associates.

Greene King lines up Farmhouse Inn site near Leeds Bradford International Airport:
The Leeds-based property company Rushbond has agreed a deal with Greene King that will lead to a new Farmhouse Inn restaurant and carvery being built at its Airport West Business Park, adjacent to Leeds Bradford International Airport. After securing planning permission to build the 14,000 sq ft restaurant, which will create 75 new full and part time jobs, Greene King has acquired the two-acre site from Rushbond and immediately started work. Once complete the new restaurant will overlook the roundabout at the gateway to Leeds Bradford International Airport. Richard Baker of Rushbond, said: "We have worked closely with Greene King on this planning application and the development will be a fantastic addition for Airport West and the companies based there, and we are delighted to compete this deal. There is no doubt this Farmhouse Inn will be popular with both the local community and the rising number of visitors that pass through Leeds Bradford International every day. It will also offer the wide range of businesses based at Airport West a great place to eat and hold informal meetings, as well as attracting other potential tenants to the business park, making it a valuable asset to the development as a whole."

New 24-hour drive-through restaurant brand to open opposite Tesco’s in Merseyside: A new 24-hour drive-through restaurant brand, MJ’s, is to open opposite Tesco on the Formby bypass in Merseyside. The 250-cover restaurant is due to open later this year, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. MJ's says it will use fresh and locally sourced ingredients in all of its dishes. Its website declares: "All our food comes from producers we know and trust, so you can trust it to taste fantastic. All our chicken and duck is steam-cooked first so it's tender and juicy, then flash roasted for the crispiest skin. It tastes fantastic and it’s got much less fat than fried chicken. We only use the best Atlantic cod, and all our chips are made fresh from locally grown potatoes." The breakfast menu, served until 11am, includes filled ciabattas, porridge and granola, pancakes and "MJ's Frittata Feasts", including vegetarian options. There is also a selection of children's meals, including chicken and cod goujons.

Yummy Pub Company – we can double in size in 18 months: The co-founder of the Yummy Pub Company, Tim Foster, has forecast his five-strong pub company can double in size in the next 18 months. In his company blog, Foster said: “In 2014 we literally doubled in size from a bank manager's perspective, our turnover doubled, our like-for-like sales have ended the year far and above industry leading, and all because of one common theme – people. More lovely customers came to visit us than ever before, more spent their hard earned cash, supported in this process by our people, us and some amazing experiences. It's been a year of highs and phenomenal lows, but we've stuck to the vision; For every one thing that happens which is crap, we will do two things which are just plain fun. For 2014 it seams to have worked. I generally believe we can double again in the next 18 months, which will mean probably doubling the people that work for us, but I'm convinced I can still know all of them personally, still keep true talent in Yummy no matter who comes shopping (yes, agency people out there, we can see your activity and 'introductions').”

SSP opens the Cabin at Newcastle airport: The transport hub foodservice specialist SSP has opened the Cabin bar at Newcastle International Airport, which is part way through a £14m development of its departure lounge. Cabin claims to offer a "drinks menu to impress the most discerning customer" in partnership with Champagne Lanson, the beer brand Peroni and the independent wine merchant Corney & Barrow. The wine list includes a Chablis from Domaine Millet, an Argentinian Malbec by Bodega Ruca Malen, and Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moins 2002 vintage champagne. Customers can choose between small bites including salted cod croquettes or Cabin pate, while larger plates include mezze, charcuterie from a local farm and cheeses from the specialist retailer Pong. The decor at the Cabin is meant to evoke "the elegance of travel in a bygone era", with an island bar, "atmospheric" lighting, including tea-lights at tables, and bar stools upholstered in Tiffany blue.

New River Retail seeks to create new Hull City Centre restaurant: New River Retail, owner of the Prospect shopping centre in the middle of Hull, has unveiled plans for a new restaurant and gym in the centre. The property firm has proposed building the leisure development across two floors above Poundland, opposite St Stephen's shopping centre in Ferensway. The former TJ Hughes store is one of the largest retail units in the city, but has stood empty since the discount department and furniture chain closed the branch in 2011. Kathryn Shillito, city centre manager of the business support group Hull Business Improvement District, said she was thrilled the building could soon be brought back into use.
 
Penny Farthing sold off £1.59m asking price: The Penny Farthing, currently rated the number one hotel in Lyndhurst, Hampshire on TripAdvisor, has been sold to an overseas investor, Middle Eastern Ymat Investments, after being marketed at £1.59m. The hotel, which has two three-bedroom apartments, 21 en-suite bedrooms and a 40-cover restaurant, was placed on the market after 21 years of ownership by Mike Saqui. It has a turnover of £390,000 net per annum. Will Thomas, of Fleurets, which sold the hotel on behalf of Saqui, said: “The property is in the heart of the New Forest National Park and is a profitable, well-established three-star AA metro hotel with a good mix of both corporate and leisure trade all year round. Hence, we were not surprised about the strong interest generated."

Pizza Rossa passes £100,000 mark on way to new £150,000 fundraising target: Pizza Rossa, the artisanal pizza by-the-square-slice operator which has opened two outlets in London after a crowdfunding campaign which raised £440,000 in just 17 days from 119 people, is now more than two thirds of the way to raising another £150,000 from the public on Crowdcube. The company passed the £100,000 mark yesterday. Pizza Rossa, founded by Corrado Accardi, wants to raise the money to support working capital, focus on expansion opportunities, and support a concession in West London, a presence at street markets and food festivals, and pop-up sites in shopping malls and supermarkets. With 23 days left for the fundraising exercise to run, 65 investors have already pledged £100,180. A total of 10.2% of the company’s equity is offered for the full £150,000 of investment. The largest single investor so far in the current round has pledged £21,000.
 
Domino's to sponsor Hollyoaks: Domino's Pizza has signed a two-year, multi-million pound deal to sponsor the Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks. The sponsorship idents will feature a fictional production crew filming on the set of Hollyoaks when they are interrupted by a delivery and the call: “Who ordered Domino’s?” Hollyoaks was voted Best Soap of the Year at the British Soap Awards 2014, and attracts an average audience of 2.3 million viewers per episode, up 14% year-on-year, while regularly drawing the highest share of 16 to 34-year-old viewers to 6.30pm weekdays on Channel 4. The sponsorship also covers the show on E4 and the on-demand platform 4oD.
 
Property agent sets up Liverpool office: Colliers International is to open an office in Liverpool city centre as it steps up its activities in Merseyside. Colliers will take 390 sq ft of office space in the Grade II-listed India Building in Water Street on a three-year lease. Key clients and projects in the region include St Modwen’s Project Jennifer scheme in Great Homer Street and the £175m Cains Brewery Village, a mixed-use development site within the Baltic Triangle area. Andrew McFarlane, a Colliers director and head of the North West, Liverpool and Manchester city regions, said: “Our North West team is already working on some large and complex projects in the city. This new office will allow our teams, who already spend time travelling in and out of Liverpool on a weekly basis, a base from which to support our business growth ambitions in Merseyside.”

Drake & Morgan targets spring for eighth opening: Drake & Morgan will open its eighth site, the Refinery in Regent's Place, central London, this spring. A return to the name of Drake & Morgan's first opening, The Refinery on Bankside, Westminster, the new venue, with bar, restaurant, deli and outdoor terrace, will cover one floor amid the offices of Regent's Place, close to Great Portland Street. The decor, described as "pared back", with "light woods and clean lines with bright pops of colour", is by Drake & Morgan's long-term designer-of-choice Fusion. Food and drink will focus on fresh seasonal menus and "creative" cocktails.

National Geographic Society launches global collection of boutique hotels: The National Geographic Society is to launch National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a collection of boutique hotels in "extraordinary" places around the world. The lodges aim to offer an “outstanding” guest experience while supporting the protection of cultural and natural heritage and embracing sustainable tourism practices. The initial collection, 24 properties on six continents, includes hotels in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica and Machu Picchu in Peru. Lynn Cutter, National Geographic’s executive vice-president for travel and licensing, said: “The National Geographic brand is universally recognised for its commitment to exploring and protecting the planet, so we are uniquely positioned to unite and promote these exceptional properties and to set a new standard for tourism.”

Be At One reports 15% like-for-like growth in December:
The cocktail bar group Be At One, which is backed by Piper Private Equity, has reported an increase of 15% in like-for-like sales in the five weeks of December. Group sales for the company, which currently trades out of 23 bars, increased 30% to £2.6m. The group, which continued its successful expansion outside London in 2014, opening in Bristol, Milton Keynes and Bath, has a pipeline of eight sites for the next 12 months. December also saw Be At One open a bar in Greek Street, Soho under its late-licence club format, with a 3am licence six days a week. Steve Locke, the company's founding director, said: “We are particularly pleased with our December performance, which we believe has come as a result of the operational stability that we have within the business. We are also really proud of the menu innovations that we have made that have been so well-received by our guests and the marketing that we have been doing around the menu in order to promote our new cocktails. We are now looking forward to 2015, which has already had an exceptional start with our Try January campaign.” Be At One has launched a #TryJanuary campaign to encourage guests to try new cocktails during January, when many traditionally abstain from drinking. The group is using a feature on its smartphone app called Be Appventurous where guests shake their phone to generate a random cocktail suggestion which they can get for £5. The offer, which is usually only valid once a day, will be available for an hour every day in January in the hour after the regular happy hour. The initiative has been picked up by many multiple operators in the hospitality industry, including Punch Taverns, Charles Wells, Brakspear, the Laine Pub Company, Craft Beer Co, MeatLiquor and North Bar, as well as independent pubs across the UK.
 
Boston Tea Party ebitda near £1m: Boston Tea Party, the award-winning Bristol-based cafe chain, has reported 100% growth in group ebitda to just shy of £1m for the year ending 22 October 2014. Like-for-like sales growth of 11.5% for the year was driven by both increased transaction values and increases in footfall. Four recent new openings, not yet included in like-for-like figures, took the estate total number to 15 in 2014 and drove total net annual sales up 39% to £9.4m. A spokesman said: “Ebitda conversion improved significantly due to growing scale and sound business controls in place which also enable new openings to trade profitably faster. The exceptional sales momentum has continued into the new financial year with the two weeks encompassing Christmas showing like-for-like sales growth of 28%.” Managing director Sam Roberts said: “Our customers are treating us more and more as a destination, enjoying the ambience created by the unique design and fit-out of each of our cafes as a breath of fresh air compared to the many identical chains to be found on the high street. Our high-quality ethical values, such as serving only free-range meat and organic milk, is something that customers are caring more and more about and set us apart from others.” Boston Tea Party plans to open three new sites this year, one in Plymouth, a third site in Birmingham and a final one to be selected from the existing pipeline. Roberts said: “This year has been our best ever on almost all metrics and provides the clearest indication yet of the potential for future roll outs, making this a very exciting time in the lifecycle of Boston Tea Party.”
 
Ex-Leon staffers seek £2m to expand Pint Shop: Pint Shop, the award-winning Cambridge-based concept specialising in British meat and beer, is seeking a £2m investment from leading hospitality figures as it looks to expand to a second site in London. This is part of a comprehensive growth plan, with Pint Shop aiming to have a presence in all the big southern cities, and one northern location, within the next five years. The original site was the first new licence to be granted in Cambridge city centre for many years. Industry sources reports that the site sold 150,000 pints of beer in its first year and has achieved turnover per week of around £40,000. Richard Holmes and Benny Peverelli, who are co-owners of Pint Shop and previously worked as general manager and executive chef at the healthy food brand Leon respectively, originally approached their existing investors, raising over £600,000 in just one day. They are now looking for new investors, with the money raised due to be used to fund their flagship London site, scheduled for opening this year, as well as a second site in another UK city. Holmes said: “Our growth plans for 2015 are ambitious, which is why it is crucial that we have the right funding in place. We’re lucky to have already received investment from a number of renowned industry figures, including Steve Wilkins, founder of Little Gems Country Dining, and we value the advice and support they have provided us with. With this in mind, we’ve decided to approach the hospitality sector directly again for investment, rather than turn to VCs or crowd-funding. We think we offer an exciting opportunity for those looking to support a growing bar and restaurant business that offers something different. We enjoyed superb sales and critical acclaim last year and fully intend to build on this in 2015.” Pint Shop, on Peas Hill, Cambridge, specialises in meat, bread and beer, and took its inspiration from the beer houses of the 1830s. As well as specially sourced beers from smaller breweries, Pint Shop offers 60 gin options, including a pea-based gin handmade exclusively for the Peas Hill site.
 
Vanessa Hall and Steve Cash to take part in Professor Chris Edger's Multi-Site Management Masterclass: YO! Sushi's chief executive, Vanessa Hall, and the former brand director at Harvester, Steve Cash, are to feature in live sessions within Professor Chris Edger's Multi-Site Management Masterclass, being held in partnership with Propel, on Tuesday 24 February at One Moorgate Place, in the City of London. Professor Edger, who has just published his latest book, Leading at a Distance in Multi-Unit Enterprises, will focus on how area managers can create organic growth through the three-step process of engagement, execution and evolution. Professor Edger currently teaches at City University, Birmingham, where a number of the sector’s leading companies send their general managers to be taught. Darren King, last month’s winner of the 2014 ALMR Operations Manager award, graduated from its post-graduate Level 7 Multi-Unit Leadership and Strategy course in 2014, as did the 2013 ALMR Ops Manager winner, Barrie Robinson. Paul Charity, managing director of Propel, said: "This is a great chance for multi-site companies to refresh their thinking – and the thinking and expertise of key staff – as 2015 gets under way." Tickets are £295 plus VAT for ALMR members and £345 for non-ALMR members. CLICK HERE for more details or e-mail adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com to book.

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