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Fri 16th Jan 2015 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Stonegate ‘new generation’ student pub proving to have broader appeal: Stonegate Pub Company’s ‘new generation’ student pub, aimed at evolving the former Mitchells & Butlers ‘It’s A Scream’ student brand, is proving to have wider demographic appeal. The new concept is billed as a student ‘home from home’, featuring fast Wi-Fi, craft beer and televised sport but is attracting a broader group of technology-savvy customers. The first new concept venue opened last year at the Southfield in Middlesbrough. Eight more sites have followed, with another four due this month. The broader appeal of the evolved brand has meant that venues that are less dependent on the student market, such as the Faraday in Epsom, a former Bramwell Pub Company Smith & Jones pub, have been converted. Dan Cowgill, interior designer at concept originator Spatialized, told Premier Construction magazine: “Stonegate’s brief was to completely modernise the student pub market, with clear emphasis on creating an interactive, group-led space where crafted beers accompany a menu of ‘brilliant burgers and delicious dogs’. Since the opening of the first new concept site within a former ‘Scream’ branded pub, the apparent broader appeal of the brand has meant that venues which are less dependent on the student market, such as the Faraday in Epsom, have been converted and are enjoying big successes. It’s been great to see not only students but office workers enjoying the group trestle tables at lunchtimes, and the general public interacting with feedback walls and contributing to the chalk board mural.” Vince Williams, concept development director at Stonegate, added: “We had a number of pubs in student areas trading under our ‘Scream’ brand which had become out of touch with the market. We primarily considered student lifestyles and needs, but also broadened this concept to appeal to a much wider population of younger affluent professionals. Students are now much more mature than they were in the 90’s and, thanks to modern technology, are much more conversant with the modern world and the breadth of offers around them. ‘Scream’ was actually invented before people had mobile phones, which shows how much things have moved on. The new concept took into account what is trending in the market, from the usage and zoning of the new design, through to the food and drink offer.”

Industry News:

Charlie McVeigh to present at Propel Multi Club Conference in March: Draft House founder Charlie McVeigh is to present at the next Propel Multi Conference on Thursday 12 March, held at the Lancaster Hotel, near Hyde Park, London. He will talk about offer evolution, the craft beer movement, experimenting with spirits and boxing clever in the London property market. Operators of multi-site companies can book up to two free places by emailing

Douglas Jack – foodservice prospects for 2015 are good despite concerns over discounting and supply growth: Numis Securities' leisure analyst Douglas Jack has argued that sector prospects are strong for 2015 despite concerns over supply growth and discounting. He said: “Even though on-trade food supply and discounting are concerns, we believe 2015 prospects are good for the sector. The Peach Tracker has been positive for 21 consecutive months, outperforming the retail sector in 14 of the last 15 months, consumer spending is becoming weighted towards events and pay weeks, resulting in higher spend per occasion. Discounting activity appears to have risen during the quieter periods, particularly in value-led pubs. We believe prospects are good for 2015: Longview Economics estimates that consumer discretionary cash flow will rise 5% this year; food and fuel costs are falling; the share of food spend that is out of the home rose to 42% from 40% last year, thereby accommodating the growth in restaurant supply. Our preferred stock is the Restaurant Group ('Buy'; TP 760p), which is positioned away from the supply growth and discounting.”
£400m Peak Resort leisure development unveiled by Prime Minister: Work on a £400m tourism development, Peak Resort, at a site on the outskirts of Chesterfield, Derbyshire is to start between March and April this year. It will be built on a reclaimed open-cast mining site close to the Birchall Estate at Unstone, near Dronfield. The integrated all-weather, year-round leisure, health, sport and education destination will create 1,300 new jobs and was formally announced by Prime Minister David Cameron during a visit to the United States yesterday. A new regeneration investment organisation, bringing together the two investors, Birchall Properties, led by Rupert Carr, and the US-owned Grand Heritage Hotel Group, will be created to lead the project. The project, which brings together leading hospitality, university, sport and medical expertise, will have 600 holiday apartments, hotel and hostel units with 250 woodland lodges.

BII chairman Anthony Pender promises to make body 'more relevant’: The new chairman of the British Institute of Innkeeping, Anthony Pender, who co-founded the five-outlet Yummy Pub Company has promised to make the organisation more ‘relevant’ and ‘respected’. In his first official interview, with BIIBusiness magazine, since being selected for the role in November, Pender said: “The BII is still respected, but I don’t think people feel it’s relevant to them at the moment.” He said he believed the industry wanted an organisation that truly represented its members and needed a strong professional body to support its workforce. Pender admitted the BII had "lost its way" but welcomed the goodwill within the sector for the organisation’s future. The BII offers a comprehensive range of support services designed to help members meet all the challenges of running their businesses. This includes 24-hour legal helplines, one-to-one mentoring, comprehensive HR support, significant discounts on a range of products and services and twice-weekly e-shots giving advice and updates on a range of topics. Pender has promised to focus on supporting the needs of BII members as well as raising standards and promoting careers in the sector. He said he believed the role of the BII was also to help people realise their career aspirations and nurture the business leaders of the future. “It’s really important that we bring young members on board and give them the tools to progress their careers. It’s a message we need to bring to the regions and out to young people,” he said.

Chipotle suspends US sale of pork after supplier fails to meet animal welfare standards: The US fast casual food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill has temporarily suspended the sale of pork at hundreds of its restaurants this week after a supplier failed to meet the company’s animal welfare standards. The chain only serves its pork, carnitas, from animals raised humanely and without the use of antibiotics. A Chipotle spokesman, Chris Arnold, said: “This is fundamentally an animal welfare decision and is rooted in our unwillingness to compromise our standards where animal welfare is concerned.” Arnold said the noncompliance was discovered after a routine audit of suppliers. Purchases from the supplier, which was not named, have been suspended, leaving some restaurants without pork. Arnold did not say how many restaurants were impacted, but reports indicate about one third of the chain’s more than 1,700 US locations were unable to serve carnitas.

Cookery school co-owned by Gordon Ramsay to open new training restaurant: The Tante Marie Culinary Academy, the UK's oldest independent cookery institution, which is co-owned by the celebrity chef and restaurant entrepreneur Gordon Ramsay, is developing a fully functioning training restaurant which will open to the public in the spring. The academy has just moved premises from Carlton Road, Woking, Surrey to Alexander House, Commercial Way, in Woking town centre, where the 8,000 sq ft premises include a demonstration theatre, eight professional training kitchens and lecture rooms, as well as the training restaurant. Andrew Maxwell, managing director and principal of Tante Marie, said: “We are thrilled to open the doors to our larger and more impressive facilities. We have really exciting plans for the further development of the academy, that will not only enhance our courses and qualifications but will also offer applied experiences for our students through their work in the training restaurant. Our professional courses and Cordon Bleu Diploma qualification have put Tante Marie on the map as a leading international cookery school. It has been the spring board for thousands of chefs who are now running successful businesses and enjoying careers in food and gastronomy around the world.” Ramsay bought the Tante Marie school in 2008.

Work with the sector to achieve public health goals, says ALMR: The ALMR has responded to the launch of Labour’s public health approach by welcoming measures to promote personal responsibility, but warned against rising levels of bureaucracy and added costs for businesses. The Labour Party has today set out its approach to public health before this year’s election pledging to shift the emphasis to personal responsibility and set maximum levels of fat, salt and sugar in children’s food. ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We are pleased to see the Labour Party raise the issue of personal responsibility regarding health issues in the approach to public health. We want to work with local and national authorities to provide customers with all the information they require to make informed choices regarding their own health. What we want to avoid is any additional bureaucracy that will only hinder licensed hospitality businesses efforts to provide great experiences for customers who are choosing to dine out. Partnership schemes have the ability to direct the focus towards personal responsibility without the need for further regulation. There may be times when regulation is needed, but only as a matter of last resort and we will continue to lobby for increased focus on voluntary and partnership measures to provide our customers with informed choices and healthy options.”

Company News:

NY Slice raises £300,000 on Angels Den crowdfunding platform: The take-out and delivery stone-baked pizza restaurant business NY Slice has raised £300,000 on the crowdfunding platform Angels Den in return for 25% of its equity. The company aims to be the UK’s fifth largest pizza delivery firm, and claims to offer a better quality pizza that its larger rivals. The pitch states: “NY Slice has become a Glasgow phenomenon in only one year. Acclaimed by critics, bloggers and national media, it is taking the local market by storm. Our authentic New York offering of pizza by the slice and whole pizzas up to 18 inches for dine-in, takeout or delivery is revolutionising pizza in the city. We have invested significantly in creating and perfecting a model that is easily scalable across the UK and beyond. With the appropriate funding we can grow to from seven stores in Year One to 80 in Year Five.” The company's chief executive is Chris McColl and its franchise director is John Irvin, who oversaw the growth of the O’Briens sandwich franchise to 48 sites in Scotland.

Just Falafel rebrands as JF Street Food: The UAE-based fast food chain Just Falafel has rebranded itself as JF Street Food in an effort to boost its operations. The company will be choosing a new look and menu to match its new identity. As part of its rebranding, the fast food chain has also launched a global design competition to redo the signature on its caps and aprons worn by staff. A separate contest will be held to choose a mural that will feature in its outlets. Mohammed Bitar, the company’s founding partner and managing director, said: “Having recently taken Just Falafel back to basics with a completely revamped menu, we wanted our staff and restaurants to get a fresh look to go with it.”

McDonald’s UK launches soft skills campaign: McDonald’s UK has launched a new campaign to promote "soft skills" such as communication, interpersonal, and teamwork capabilities in a UK-wide scheme backed by the entrepreneur James Caan and organisations including the CBI, the National Youth Agency, LearnDirect and Barclay to help improve soft skills in the workplace. McDonald’s has invited Caan to lead a three-month consultation on current practices and attitudes towards soft skills. The campaign was launched after research by McDonald’s which found that despite soft skills contributing £88bn to the UK economy, employers, the government and educators are ill-prepared to support soft skills sufficiently, which will see a lack of such talents in the workforce by 2020. Jez Langhorn, chief people officer at McDonald’s UK and Northern Europe, said: “Soft skills like communication and teamwork are incredibly important to our business because of the impact they can have on our customers’ experience. As integral as they are to the performance and progression of our employees, I know that we can do more to recognise their importance, which is why we are launching this campaign."

Nightclub company No Saints set to leave unsecured creditors £2.62m out of pocket: No Saints, the operator of Wonderland nightclubs and Jam House that was led by Luminar founder Stephen Thomas and which went through a pre-pack administration in July 2014, is likely to leave unsecured creditors owed £2.62m, the latest administrator's report states. At the moment, HMRC is owed £332,000 and trade creditors are owed £2.3m. The administrator, FRP Advisory, began a sale process in late June with 26 interested parties issued with details of the business. Final offers were submitted at the start of July, with No Saints' existing management bidding £1.73m successfully for the seven trading sites under a vehicle called Exeat Leisure. Among the largest unsecured No Saints creditors are Land Securities (owed £462,000) and X Leisure (owed £261,849), Milton Keynes Council (owed £194,000) and Maidstone Council (owed £186,000).

Marston’s overcomes discovery of slow-worms at Torquay new build: Marston’s has reported that the discovery of slow-worms, legless lizards, at its new-build pub-restaurant in Torquay has not slowed its progress. The Wighton, at Edginswell business park, had seen its plans to open in late February threatened when the burrowing lizards were discovered earlier this month. However, a spokesman for Marston's Inns and Taverns, said: "I can confirm slow-worms were found on the site during the building works. The necessary precautions were taken and no slow-worms were harmed during the construction of the pub. Work continues to progress well and we are still due to open as scheduled in February." The pub will create 45 new jobs and cater for 180 diners when it opens. It is named after the last sailing lifeboat stationed in Torquay.

Wetherspoon plans for Edinburgh super-pub on hold: A scheme to turn the Picture House in Edinburgh into a JD Wetherspoon “superpub” have been put on hold. Councillors on the city's planning committee were expected to give the proposals the green light this week, but have now delayed their decision. The committee said it needed more information and would be holding talks with Police Scotland and environmental health experts. Wetherspoon bought the Lothian Road venue in December 2013, amid protests that one of the few live music venues in the Scottish capital would be lost. More than 13,000 people signed a petition, while a parliamentary motion opposing the change won cross-party support. Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi has welcomed the decision to investigate the planning application further. He told the Edinburgh Evening News: “I share the concerns of many music fans that a unique and much-loved music venue might be replaced by a chain superpub, which would be a damaging blow to Edinburgh’s live music scene. A superpub would have a detrimental impact on the amenity of the area, increasing alcohol consumption and fuelling antisocial behaviour.”

Tommy Tucker, sibling to Claude's Kitchen, opens in Fulham: The Tommy Tucker, a new gastropub from the team behind the award-winning Claude's Kitchen and the Amuse Bouche champagne bar in Parson's Green, West London, opened yesterday (Thursday) in the former Pelican in Waterford Road in nearby Fulham. The Claude's Kitchen team, Claude Compton, Jim Morris and George McCab, said before the opening that they wanted to create a pub they "would choose to call their local". Compton's menu for the Tommy Tucker was described as "hearty pub grub".

Woodstock’s Bakery seeks £150,000 to expand: The Milton Keynes-based Woodstock’s Bakery is seeking to raise £150,000 in return for 20% of its equity through the crowd-funding platform Angels Den to pay for its expansion. The pitch states: “Woodstock's produces and sells breads, pastries and cakes made from scratch, by hand in its own bakehouse. All products are made without the use of improver or preservatives. Breads include traditional, continental and sourdough. We sell from our retail premises and deliver to a growing number of wholesale customers. We also sell fine teas, hand-roasted coffee and luxurious hot chocolate to take away. There is an expanding range of freshly prepared sandwiches and soups supported by produce such as cold drinks, locally sourced jams and apple juice. Woodstock's is the only artisan or craft bakery within the Milton Keynes and wider North Bucks area. We believe we have a scalable retail brand. Importantly, we can capitalise on an untapped wholesale market. Funding would allow larger baking premises and opening further retail outlets."

David Muñoz's long-delayed London restaurant launch announced for March:
The long-delayed launch by the three-Michelin-starred chef David Muñoz of a restaurant in Mayfair, London will now take place in March. According to Richard Vines, chief food critic at Bloomberg, the chef made the announcement of the planned opening of the London StreetXo at an event in Madrid this week, and added that an opening in New York would follow. The opening, at 15 Old Burlington Street, will be Muñoz's first outside his home country, where he runs the DiverXo and StreetXo restaurants, both in Madrid. The London StreetXo was originally meant to open in June last year, but was pushed back to the end of 2014, and then delayed again, with construction problems taking the blame. The restaurant will be open 14 hours each day, and early reports said the dining room will have a central open-kitchen with chefs front and centre, interacting directly with diners. In an interview with the Spanish website Gastroactitud last year, Muñoz said the restaurant would have a large U-shaped bar with two kitchen islands, and also a large cocktail bar. Muñoz, who worked in the UK at Nobu and Hakkasan among other places before going back to Spain to open his own restaurant, promised to be in London at least two days a week. The menu has been flagged as a "unique representation of street food", inspired by Muñoz's travels from London to South East Asia "and everywhere in between".

Iconic London music venue to re-locate:
The iconic London music venue 12 Bar Club is to re-open in a new location. The venue, in Denmark Street, Central London, will shut its doors permanently this week, despite a petition on which had been signed by more than 25,000 people, including Soft Cell's Marc Almond, the Kinks' Mick Avory, and The Who's Pete Townshend. The Islington Tribune reported that a new outpost of the venue will open this week on Holloway Road in North London, at Phibbers pub. The 12 Bar's manager, Andy Lowe, has said of the new 12 Bar: "Obviously, there will be lots of teething troubles as it is such a new and different environment in every sense but it is an area that does have music venues, some of which do well and some not so well. Buffalo Bar used to be just down the road from our new place and that was great. There is a large student demographic in the area so there is a lot of potential there, as some venues have been well sustained around here, but others have not."
Wahaca offers free food in exchange for cutlery return: Wahaca is offering free food diners who return the brand’s brightly coloured spoons this month. The Mexican chain is giving people until the end of January to recoup some of the 4,000 spoons stolen each year. Wahaca, which was co-founded in 2005 by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers, has outlets in 16 London locations and one in Cardiff. The company is offering a free bowl of tacos to any customer willing to walk into one of their restaurants and hand back their sought-after brightly coloured plastic spoons. The amnesty was first launched in 2012. The restaurant has since recovered approximately 100 spoons a year since it started offering food for spoons.
HSBC pays Ossett Brewery Pub Company loan redress: Ossett Brewery Pub Company, led by Jamie Lawson and Mike Inman, has reported that it received cash payments of almost £591,000 from HSBC last year by way of loan redress. The annual accounts do not specify the exact nature of the redress but do state that the redress, £103,000 of which was interest, was related to two loans that had been advanced to the company in previous accounting periods. The company total borrowings reduce by £431,000 during the year – it is currently has £1,806,000 of bank loans, down from £2,246,000 the year before. The company's turnover rose to £5,610,000 in the year to 31 March 2014 from £4,257,000 the year. Pre-tax profit was £849,000, up from £298,000 the year before, thanks to the exceptional gain of £591,000. Ebitda was £518,000, down from compared to £606,000 the year before. Company accounts indicate that turnover growth was due to securing two new leased pubs, the Black Bull in Rothwell and the Old Peacock in Leeds. The gross profit margin dropped to 54.8% from 58.1% the year before. Ossett Brewery said: “The marketplace is very competitive and whilst prices have been kept as low as possible, the cost of goods has increased with all major suppliers and hence gross margin has fallen as a result of these pressures. Rent, premises costs and labour costs have increased in line with the growth in the business and the new leasehold pubs.”
Leeds restaurant that pioneered iPad ordering closes after seven months: A restaurant in Leeds city centre that encouraged diners to order their food via iPads has closed after just seven months. Teppan Two Sixty, run by managing director Bokmun Chan and his wife Yin Mei Chan, who also own the popular Pan-Asian restaurant The Orchid in Harrogate, took over the former Casa Mia Indian restaurant site on the corner of Millennium Square and Great George Street in June last year. The restaurant's executive chef was Kenneth Poon, the former Michelin starred head chef of the Dorchester, and the food was served on a hot plate heated to 260°F so that customers could cook it to their taste after it arrived. At the same time customers ordered via iPad, which their orders going straight through to the kitchen. Bokmun Chan told the Leeds List website before the opening: "In under five minutes it’s on your table – so there’s no waiting or looking at your partner or thinking, 'Should I say something?' After 20, 25 minutes you can be leaving. This is a concept that is very new, I’m very excited, I believe it is revolutionary.” Speaking after the closure, Yin Mei Chan told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We put all our heart into it and we will learn lessons. We are hoping to relaunch it and we are looking for a site in Harrogate or Leeds and maybe a more manageable site. Our plan is to maybe find a more suitable site with more passing footfall in the daytime. It is a good concept and we are fine-tuning our menu as well with more choices. We need to put it in the right place and follow it up with good marketing. It is a new concept and we need to work on getting that across.” According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, "a London-based cocktail bar company" has approached the Chans with the possibility of taking the restaurant's site over, and talks are "ongoing".
Reuters – sale of Middle East's largest foodservice operative Americana is faltering: The sale of the Kuwaiti food company Americana is close to being put on hold, partly due to differences on price, Reuters has reported. Americana, backed by Kuwait's billionaire al Kharafi family, operates franchises for restaurant chains including Costa Coffee, KFC and Pizza Hut. The group has a market value of 1.13 billion Kuwaiti dinars (£2.5 billion). Reuters reported in April last year that Americana was exploring a sale with the investment bank Rothschild. The private equity funds KKR and CVC were among the main contenders for the business in a lengthy bidding process that also attracted interest from the Saudi food producer Savola Group, among others. Americana said in November last year that the Kharafis were in preliminary talks with various parties. But the sale is faltering because offers have so far failed to meet price expectations and buyers have struggled to reach agreement with the al Kharafi family, Reuters stated. Americana, founded in 1964, claims to be the largest restaurant chain operator in the Middle East and North Africa region. It operates more than 1,200 food and drink outlets globally

Boutique hotel and restaurant land delayed by pair of roosting bats: Roosting bats have delayed plans to transform a derelict mansion into a boutique hotel and restaurant, thought developers hope the scheme will go before planners this March. The historic Plas Brereton estate near Caernarfon in North Wales has been empty for more than a decade after previous plans to re-develop the site failed. But the site, close to the Menai Strait, was bought last year, and in July Business Post revealed that the developer Cabot Park wanted to change the main mansion house into a nine-bedroom boutique hotel. It also wanted to create 20 holiday units on the grounds and extend the main accommodation to bring in a restaurant with 120 covers. The discovery of bats in the mansion has caused a delay to the planned re-development but Cabot hopes it is now close to bringing the project before Gwynedd council's planning committee. Patrick Anderson, from Cabot Park, said: “The planning department have been accommodating and discussions have gone well. We have been slowed down by ecology issues and in particular two bats in the main house. We are doing a bat mitigation plan to deal with this issue."
Restaurant chains 'will fight' for new Lincoln waterfront site: A new restaurant proposed for the waterfront in Lincoln will have top chains "fighting it out", according to a report on the development. The two-storey restaurant and bar would sit opposite Chimichanga in Brayford Wharf North and just a few yards from a 100-seater Wagamama that opened in 2012. Neil Murray, a Lincoln councillor responsible for economic development at the city council and a director of Investors in Lincoln, said: “This is the final building we want to put up along there. This new restaurant will make the area even more attractive, bring in more footfall and give people more choice.” The plan is to offer a long lease to a restaurant to get funds to clear Brayford Pool, Murray told the Lincolnshire Echo. The development would replace the existing viewing platform, currently closed because it is unsafe.

Solita owners buy fine-dining Aumbry and next door restaurant in Prestbury to create super-site:
The Manchester burger and grill restaurant Solita has taken over the former fine dining venue Aumbry in Church Lane, Prestwich as well as the adjoining Bombay in Bury New Road to create a “super-restaurant” in Prestwich. Solita's owners, Franco Sotgiu and Simon Pogson, are now planning an extensive refurbishment to open the combined venue as a huge new Solita restaurant in May. Sotgiu and Pogson had revealed earlier this month that they were keen to open in North Manchester, with a third restaurant to sit alongside their Northern Quarter and Didsbury venues. They had initially secured just the Bombay Indian restaurant, but last week, in an unexpected twist, Aumbry's chef-proprietor, Mary-Ellen McTague revealed she was not renewing her lease and would be looking for a new site in Manchester, and Solita took the opportunity to secure the adjacent site too. It will create one of the largest restaurants in the area, with 150 covers, as well as a 50-seater al fresco dining courtyard. A central kitchen, butchery and meat maturing room will be built on site, where a full time butcher will be employed to prepare steaks, burgers and other grill items for all three Solita sites. Sotgiu said: “Prestwich has been in our sights since early last year when we looked at a pub to convert, but the deal fell through. The Bombay gave us an entry to Prestwich but we were always concerned that the site was going to be on the small side for us. The unexpected option to deal on the Aumbry site too has been a welcome bonus.”

Bill’s to open in Peterborough next month: Bill’s is to open its new restaurant in Peterborough city centre on 9 February. The restaurant replaces the Lakeland store in Church Street. Founder Bill Collison said: “ We are very much looking forward to opening our restaurant in Peterborough. With plenty of cosy booths and larger sharing tables for gatherings and celebrations, we are hoping we will be a hit.

Ruby Tuesday closes only English outlet after 18 months: The American restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday has closed its only outlet in England, 18 months after opening a 4,300 sq ft unit in the centre of the Brewery development in Cheltenham. However, according to the chain's UK franchisee, "developments in hand" could see new openings in major British cities. The chain still has a venue in the St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff, which opened in 2010, and which franchisee Steve Mayo said was "flying". However, he told the Gloucester Echo, the Cheltenham branch had suffered from being in "a bit of an outpost". Mayo said: “I think we might just have been too far out of town, and not enough in people’s faces here. And there are some major brands here that we probably couldn’t compete against.” Rival chains at the still-uncompleted Brewery complex include Chiquito, Frankie & Benny’s, Harvester, Nando’s, Prezzo and The Real China. Mayo said: “ We couldn’t hold on for the new development to be finished, really. We only have two units in Britain and we couldn’t compete against the bigger brands here.” However, he said, Ruby Tuesday head office in the United States has decided it wants to focus on capital cities and major cities, and there were "developments in hand in London, Birmingham and Manchester." Ruby Tuesday currently has around 735 outlets in the United States and around 40 in 12 different countries overseas, including Canada, Chile, Egypt, Hong Kong, Iceland, Kuwait, Romania and Saudi Arabia.

Booker reports non-tobacco like-for-likes up 2.6% in most recent quarter:
The wholesaler Booker Group has reported total sales, including Makro, rose by 1.4% on the same period last year in the 16 weeks to 2 January 2015. Booker like-for-like sales (excluding Makro) were 2.5% higher with non-tobacco like-for-likes up 2.6%. The company said: “Booker Wholesale, our cash and carry division, had a good quarter. Customer numbers were up and sales were on track. Overall, Booker Direct, Chef Direct and Ritter performed in line with expectations. The Makro turnaround is on track. Non-tobacco sales were down 6.5% in the 16 weeks as we continued to exit non- profitable, non-professional categories. We have now converted nine Makro outlets to the new, improved format. Sales in India continued to make progress from our six branches. The outlook for profits and net cash for the year remains in line with expectations." Charles Wilson, Booker's chief executive, said: "This was a good quarter, with Booker Group continuing to make progress in a challenging market. Our non-tobacco like-for-likes were up 2.6%. Our plans to ‘Focus, Drive and Broaden’ remain on track. We continue to improve the choice, prices and service to catering, retailing and small business customers in the UK."

Chatime to launch tenth Bubble Tea Store in Cambridge: Chatime, the Taiwanese bubble tea specialist, will open its tenth UK store in Cambridge on 26 January. The new outlet, at 85 Regent Street in Cambridge city centre, will offer customers eight different styles of bubble tea, with a 63 varieties and eight different topping options

Christie & Co – the majority of unviable pubs have now been sold: The majority of unviable pubs have now been sold off and the quality of assets has improved over the past 24 months resulting in average business price increases of 8.6%, leading to a sector that is arguably healthier, more vibrant and sustainable than it has ever been, according to Business Outlook 2015, the annual state of the markets report by the property agent Christie & Co. Many of the pubs that were poorly located, outdated, under-invested and faced too much competition have now been sold off, it said. Christie & Co’s head of pubs, Neil Morgan, said: “This has now left an industry that is leaner, fitter and more sustainable. The volume of distress driven disposals has declined over the last couple of years, as has the percentage of pubs sold for alternative use. Some 80% of pubs transacted by Christie & Co during 2014 were sold for ongoing pub use, a 13% increase on the previous year.” The freehouse market has steadily grown over the past few years as pubcos released assets back into the market to pay down debt, the company said. There are now more pubs in private ownership than ever before, and Christie said it expected the number of privately owned freehouses, currently at 20,000, to overtake the number of tenanted and leased pubs by the end of 2015. Managed houses also continue to be in big demand and short supply, which is prompting pubcos to transfer suitably large assets from their leased and tenanted estates, it said.
Christie & Co – restaurant sector growing in value: The overall value of the restaurant industry continues to grow with average business property prices in the restaurant sector increasing by 11.1% during 2014 as the economy improved resulting in more confidence and an increased frequency in eating out, according to Business Outlook 2015, the annual state of the markets report by the property agent Christie & Co. Christie & Co’s head of restaurants, Simon Chaplin, said: “We have seen confidence in the sector improve and the replication of the success of some London restaurant chains across the UK has resulted in investors being more willing to fund national expansions. Whilst traditional restaurateurs may struggle to rival trusted brands, which are able to provide a familiar and reliable customer experience, there is still a good market for individual sites, with some 82% of Christie & Co’s restaurant sales being on behalf of private vendors.” As the economy improves and more discretionary spend is available, consumers are returning to the restaurant table and not only demanding quality, but also improved diversity and value, the company said. This is resulting in opportunities for every type of business to take some of the market share, from street food vendors to casual branded chains. Looking ahead to 2015, Christie said it expected to see continued private equity interest in the restaurant sector. It said it was also likely that there would be potential for consolidation, as operators look to fast-track their expansion or some brands falter.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen partners with LiveREs to take mobile app reservations: Gourmet Burger Kitchen has become the first major fast-casual burger chain to use a mobile app to take reservations at its 62 restaurants across the UK. Started in early November as a way to ease holiday crowding, the table-booking function is continuing. Customers who log into the GBK smartphone/tablet app can select a location, meal, time and number of people, although large parties may need to book by phone still. "We started it over Christmas and it worked rather well," the chain announced on its Facebook page. GBK has partnered with the online booking system liveRES to develop the booking program, which provides the company with valuable customer data. Katie McDermott, GBK's marketing director, is quoted on the LiveRES website as saying: "More and more customers are choosing to book online either at home on their PC or on the move over a mobile device. We are pleased to be working with LiveRES on a reservations system that works well for both our staff and our customers."

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 Harvester brand director Steve Cash are to feature in live sessions held 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, in 2013. 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 email to book. 

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