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Mon 8th Feb 2016 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Fitch – almost half of the Wellington pub estate is ‘behind’ on maintenance, represents a risk: Ratings agency Fitch has issued a note that reports almost half of the pubs in the 778-strong free-of-tie lease Wellington Pub Company estate are ‘behind’ on maintenance investment and 12% of the estate needs more than £20,000 of catch-up investment. It issued a stable outlook on the company’s bonds and does not anticipate a change to the ratings over the next 12 to 24 months. But it added: “However, the deteriorating asset quality of the portfolio and continuing under-investment represent a risk and may put pressure on the ratings over the longer term.” The report stated: “The Wellington portfolio continues to be affected by weak operational performance, reducing number of pubs and on-going low capex spent. Total Ebitda has declined by a CAGR of 6.4% since the peak in March 2008, while Ebitda per pub declined by a CAGR of 4.7% within the same period. Favourable UK macroeconomic trends contributed to a pick-up in performance over the past 24 months. As of June 2015, 12-month Ebitda grew by 1% compared with the previous year. Revenue per pub is 2% higher on a year-on-year basis, while operating expenses have also increased marginally. Wellington is actively managing the portfolio by disposing of and acquiring new pubs, but the number of acquisitions is not sufficient to compensate for the closing number of pubs. Positively, the number of pubs on the long leasehold has been stable. The company’s low capex adversely impacts the property values and the profitability of the pubs, especially in current market conditions when tenants do not have the financial strength to make sufficient investments themselves. Fitch views this strategy as credit negative. The asset manager estimates that about 48% of the portfolio is suffering from noticeable deferred maintenance (at least £5,000 per pub), with 12% experiencing under investment of more than £20,000 per pub. The total average deferred maintenance costs are estimated to be just under £10m.” Last November Wellington reported an average uplift of 11.9% in rent at review. In a report to bondholders covering the quarter to 30 September 2015, the company stated: “The disposal strategy remains to sell bottom end and/or problem properties and those that have a higher alternative use value. 661 pubs (85% of the estate) are let on a long lease. Ten properties were re-let on a long lease during the quarter and there were five lease forfeitures. The estate is producing an annual income of £29.1 million, which is an 8.9% increase from last year. The average level of rental uplift achieved at review in the year was 11.9%.”

Industry News:

Lifestyle Hospitality Group companies in administration: An insolvency practitioner is calling a meeting of creditors of the Tiger Bills and Burgerfest operator Lifestyle Hospitality Group, which was previously led by James Eyre. The creditors’ meeting takes place on 16 February in Brierley Hall, West Midlands and has been called by Mayfield Insolvency – the meeting also involves creditors of subsidiary companies such as Tiger Bills Franchise.The administration comes around six weeks after the company aborted a Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign to raise £500,000 to expand its Burgerfest brand. It is understood that all but three of the companies sites closed early last month whilst Raymond Hampton replaced James Eyre as the company’s managing director. Mambo, Tiger Bills, Fast Eddies Pool Hall and Burgerfest in Torquay, all owned by the Lifestyle Hospitality Group, ceased trading last month. Lifestyle Hospitality Group had turnover of £6.69m in the year to 31 May 2015 and Ebitda of £800,000. It was crowdfunding to invest £3.5m over five years to expand Burgerfest. The pitch stated: “We are forecasting a steady increase in both sales and profits as the business expands. Over the next three years we forecast the following key financial milestones: year ending May 2016 – turnover £7.91m with pre-tax profits of £791,000; year ending May 2017 – turnover £12.05m with pre-tax profits of £1.76m; year ending May 2018 – turnover £15.6m with pre-tax profits of £2.77m.” Prior to forming the Lifestyle Hospitality Group, Eyre was a main board director of Eldridge Pope where he was responsible for the property portfolio as well as mergers and acquisitions.

Pub developer calls for a more balanced use of Asset of Community Value status: Pub developer REL Capital has called for a more balanced approach to listing pubs as Assets of Community Value (ACV) after seeing a pub listed as an ACV even though there was no objection to an application for change of use. The comments come after planning consent was granted for Change of Use and conversion of the Wiltshire Yeoman pub, Chirton near Devizes into a five-bedroom family home. Development is due to start in March when the ACV listing has been dealt with. Andy Scott, of REL Capital said: “We are glad the consent was granted – the pub had been closed for a long time, and clearly wasn’t viable, with multiple tenant failures and no local support. Our concerns remain over the mis-use of the 2011 Localism Act. The Act was designed for locals to protect and, in some cases, club together and buy their local community facilities. Increasingly, though, we are seeing parish councils listing former pubs as Assets of Community Value when there is no interest or willingness by locals to purchase the asset. In this case, there were no objections to the Change of Use from locals, and the parish council supported the move yet still nominated the pub as an ACV. Under the Act, those who consider the nomination also have no choice but to list as an asset, as the criteria they must consider whether there is a chance, in the next five years, it could be reused as a community asset. I support the Localism Act, but believe it needs amending so assets can only be nominated as an ACV within three months of the property being placed on the market. This would allow community groups a further six months protected period to raise funds and the opportunity to purchase whilst being marketed as a going concern if they genuinely wanted. Agents must ensure the locals are aware it’s available, and be clearly marketed. Equally pubcos or sellers are not obliged to accept the offer. But to list a pub as an ACV after 12 months of marketing, sometimes when the pub closes after both trade buyers and locals expressed no interest in buying seems a mis-use of the Act and disingenuous. Increasingly listings are often only in reaction to a planning application, in an attempt to thwart development. The ACV rules should assist locals but should be balanced from (the perspective of) pubcos and developers.”

Five square metre Cheltenham pod will roast coffee on-site: The Scandinavian Coffee Pod, a tiny take-out bar in St George’s Place, Cheltenham, is roasting its coffee on-site. Coffee roasting is normally carried out on an industrial scale from big warehouses but the Pod’s team of five do the job in a five square metre space. Co-owner James Ecendance told the Gloucestershire Echo: “We wanted to do the roasting ourselves so we can ensure the very best quality and grow the business. Before, we could only serve the people walking past but now we can supply coffee to any coffee bar in the UK.” A compact coffee roaster, especially made in Israel, has been installed at the site. Ecendance said: “It’s very compact and designed for small-batch roasting. It all came about because I worked in the coffee industry in Norway. I’m a product designer. This is about me putting two loves together – design and coffee – and the Pod is the result. Eventually I hope places like Waitrose take the coffee on.”

Industry urged to celebrate national beer day on 15 June: Breweries, pubs and drinkers are being urged to celebrate Britain’s national beer day on Wednesday 15 June. Last year saw the inaugural Beer Day Britain, instigated by beer sommelier and author Jane Peyton. The aim of the event is for people to go out and drink beer, ideally in a pub or bar, in an effort to show how important beer is in UK culture. For the 2016 event, There’s a Beer For That is the key partner, while major beer organisations are also supporting the event. National Cheers to Beer will take place on 15 June at 7pm, when drinkers will raise a glass of beer to celebrate the national drink. The organisers hope to get “National Cheers” trending on Twitter again this year. Breweries, pubs and drinkers can show their support for the event by downloading the Beer Day Britain logo at or by emailing

Celebrity chef named and shamed over Minimum Wage ‘slip-up’: A celebrity chef’s Tunbridge Wells restaurant has been named and shamed for failing to pay the Minimum Wage. Thackeray’s, where a tasting menu with premium wine pairing costs £193, featured in a list of 92 businesses listed by Business Minister Nick Bowles. The restaurant, founded by Richard Phillips, who has appeared on Ready Steady Cook, The Lorraine Show and Saturday Kitchen, was included because it failed to pay £211.70 to one employee. Manager Gary Beach said: “The situation that arose was a one-off which was rectified immediately.” He added it had taken place when a member of staff moved from one age-related pay bracket to another. Business Minister Nick Boles said: “As a one nation government on the side of working people we are determined that everyone who is entitled to the National Minimum Wage receives it. There is no excuse for not paying staff the wages they’re entitled to. Our policy of naming and shaming employers who ignore the law means there are consequences for their reputation as well as their wallets. In April, we will introduce a new National Living Wage which will mean a pay rise of over £900-a-year for someone working full-time on the Minimum Wage and we will enforce this equally robustly.”

Asda to sell wonky vegetables in response to Jamie Oliver challenge: Asda will be selling boxes filled with ‘ugly’ winter vegetables in 128 of their stores in an effort to reduce food waste across the supply chain. The winter veg boxes are an extension of their Wonky Fruit and Vegetable range, which was introduced to a handful of stores in January 2015 after Jamie Oliver challenged the supermarket chain to encourage its customers to buy produce with “knobbles and blemishes”. In the latest series of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, aired on Channel 4, Oliver and his co-presenter Jimmy Doherty revisited Asda’s wonky veg and called for the company to extend the range. The new wonky veg boxes are priced at £3.50 each and Asda says they contain enough to feed a family of four for a whole week. Customers will find in-season vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, leeks, onions and parsnips. There will be 20 boxes available in each store, to see if customers are keen to buy. Ian Harrison, Asda’s technical produce director, said: “Our shoppers absolutely love Wonky Fruit and Veg and we’ve seen sales steadily increase over the last year.” He explained that the boxes of ugly vegetables “not only save shoppers money but help farmers get more of their crop onto our shelves”.

Company News:

MasterChef winner Ping Coombes joins Chi Kitchen as consultancy chef: MasterChef winner Ping Coombes has joined Chi Kitchen, the pan-Asian concept by restaurateur Eddie Lim launched in partnership with Debenhams, as a consultant chef. Coombes, who was crowned champion of the BBC show in 2014, will create her own menu for the brand, which has sites at Debenhams in the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham and Oxford Street in London. Lim, who also owns the Mango Tree restaurant in Belgravia, London, told Insider Media: “I’m so pleased to be welcoming Ping into the Chi Kitchen family, she’s been a good friend of mine for many years. Her food is vibrant and exciting, we are confident that our customers are going to love what Ping will bring to the Chi Kitchen menu as well as attracting a new customers to our restaurants.” Coombes will now travel to Malaysia for a month to gain inspiration for the new dishes.

Red Squirrel Group passes 50% mark in £500,000 crowdfunding campaign to expand brewery and craft beer shop estate: Red Squirrel Group has passed the 50% mark in its £500,000 fund-raising campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to expand its brewery and craft beer shop estate. The Hertfordshire-based company, founded by Greg Blesson and Jason Duncan-Anderson, is offering a 9.80% equity stake in return for the investment. So far 158 investors have pledged £253,110 with 16 days remaining. The largest investment to date is £50,000. It plans to use the funds to expand its brewery operations and upscale its craft beer shops from three to ten sites. The pitch states: “Our beers are currently distributed within our chain of craft beer outlets under the ‘The Brewery Shop’ brand and within both the UK domestic market and export scene. We currently have three stores aimed to combine the welcoming and pleasant aspects of an old-fashioned boozer with the aesthetic and service of a high-end drinks retail business. There are plans in place to upscale the ‘The Brewery Shop’ model to ten outlets in provincial and mainstream towns within southern England, together with expanding our modern craft brewery, based in Hertfordshire, from 5,000HL (50,000 litre capacity) to 15,000 HL (150,000 litre capacity). This expansion is needed in order to meet the growing demand for our beer brands.” The company forecasts sales of £973,000 in the first 12 months, £2m the following year, and £4.6m by 2016/17.

Byron sets sights on restaurant at Birmingham cinema site: Upmarket burger chain Byron plans to open a 206-seat restaurant on the site of a former Birmingham cinema. Newly submitted planning documents suggest Byron have been eyeing the site for about 12 months. If approved, the restaurant would open from 11am to midnight, seating 182 inside and 24 outside, creating about 50 jobs. Azzurri Group-owned Zizzi initially wanted to open a restaurant at the site but withdrew its planning application after confirming it was opening an outlet in Brindleyplace. Built in 1869 as a Masonic hall, the four-storey, grade II-listed building, on the corner of New Street and Ethel Street, was converted into the Theatre de Luxe in 1908, changing its name to the Regent in 1922. In 1961, it became the ABC New Street until its closure in 1983. Its latest use was as an amusement arcade. Byron was founded by Tom Byng, who launched his first venue in London in 2007. It now operates more than 50 restaurants – mostly in London – with the nearest restaurants to Birmingham in Derby and Leicester.

Bath-based Society Cafe to open venue in Oxford city centre: Independent coffee shop operator Society Cafe, which has two sites in Bath, will open a venue in Oxford city centre at the end of February. The speciality coffee shop in St Michael’s Street will also offer loose-leaf teas and hot chocolate made from chunks. Fresh cakes will dominate the main bar and a specialist selection of filter coffees will be available at the purpose-built brew bar. Society’s decor will feature art by local students and artists, alongside bespoke furniture and lighting. Jane and Adrian Campbell-Howard, the husband-and-wife team behind Society, bought a hotel in the Cotswolds in 2000, which they ran for eight years, before running Richard Branson-owned site in Marrakech. Inspired by the new wave of independent artisan coffee shops coming out of Australia and New Zealand, the couple opened their own speciality coffee shops in Bath before expanding to Oxford which, Mr Campbell-Howard told the Oxford Mail, they have had their eye on “for some time”.

Bourgee front-runner for Chelsmford opening: Bourgee, the steakhouse brand that debuted in Southend, Essex, is the frontrunner to take a prime spot in Chelmsford High Chelmer development. High Chelmer general manager Mick McDonagh has revealed that Bourgee restaurant in Southend is the “front runner” to fill the fourth and final unit at the revamped Exchange Way al fresco dining quarter. The £3 million redevelopment, which is set to open this summer, could include Carluccio’s, Turtle Bay and Cote, according to Mr McDonagh, despite all three eateries already confirming they will open in Bond Street. McDonagh said: “Negotiations remain confidential but the three restaurants already being talked about are still interested and after whittling down half a dozen restaurants for the fourth unit, I can say at this stage Bourgee is the front runner to fill it. The Bond Street development hasn’t adversely affected our targets at all. The only one I suppose you could say got away was YO Sushi! It was because our development couldn’t come quickly enough for them so they took up an Aquila property in the High Street. That was the only brand we’ve lost and that was just down to timing.”

Italian restaurateur to launch first UK venture in London: Italian restaurateur Dr Antonio Chiodo is to launch his first UK venture in London. Chiodo is opening Al Matarello on the site of kosher restaurant Bevis Marks in Aldgate after acquiring the site through agent Christie & Co. The new venture will accompany Chiodo’s two successful restaurants in Bologna and will take influence from the region. Christie & Co associate director Stewart Harkness, who brokered the deal, said: “This is a great location to start in the City, being close to Aldgate Station and the wealth of commercial office buildings the area has to offer. Furthermore, there is extensive development being conducted just across the road, where it is said that a new hotel is to be built. All of which makes this site ideal for this new and exciting venture.” The process and development of the venture was supported by hospitality consultancy Sagitter One. 

There’s A Beer For That launches next phase of campaign through John Lewis partnership: There’s A Beer For That has launched the next phase of its campaign to reignite Britain’s love of beer through a partnership with one of the UK’s leading department stores, John Lewis. The initiative launched with an event on Thursday (4 February) at the department store’s Oxford Street Foodhall, where customers could try a tasting menu exclusively designed for John Lewis by There’s A Beer For That. Working with noted beer sommelier and in-store expert Annabel Smith, the partnership curated a five-mini-course menu, including fish, charcuterie and chocolate truffles, accompanied by a variety of beers, including pale ale, sour beers and lager, all brewed to match the food. The partnership follows the campaign’s successful in-store beer and food-tasting events in December at two Waitrose stores.

Spanish chef Victor Garvey to launch first solo venture in Covent Garden: Spanish chef Victor Garvey is to launch his first solo venture in Covent Garden, London. Garvey, who is the co-founder of Spanish restaurant concept Bravas Tapas and Japanese venue Amaru, both in St Katharine Docks, is opening Duende in maiden Lane. The restaurant, which is due to open at the end of the month and is recruiting for front-of-house staff, will bring a modern take on tapas rooted in Garvey’s Spanish parentage and childhood but influenced by his travels and experience of working in restaurants around the world. Garvey, who grew up in Barcelona, said: “The space is smaller and can accommodate about a third of what Bravas can, so we’ll be able to pay a bit more attention to every dish that comes out of the kitchen.”

Serendipity 3 opens diner in Dubai with another to follow, first outside US: Al Tayer Group has opened the first site for American diner concept Serendipity 3 outside the US at Dubai Festival City, with a second to open at City Walk 2 this month. The highlight of the menu at the new venues will be the Dubai Treasure Chest for four, consisting of a chocolate chest filled with ice-cream, waffle cones, cakes, berries and candy topped with whipped cream and hot fudge sprinkled with edible gold. Serendipity 3’s classic American-style foot-long hot dogs, pastas, burgers, sandwiches, desserts and breakfast options remain on the menu. The decor in both locations resembles a theatrical stage set and the year-round terrace at Dubai Festival City will feature “oversized birdcages” to host families and groups. David Singleton, vice-president of hospitality at Al Tayer Group, said: “We’ve worked very hard to replicate what the brand has become so famous for. This is an exciting chapter for Serendipity 3. What started out as a small, yet popular, restaurant will now be a landmark destination within the new development at Dubai Festival City.” Serendipity 3 co-founder Stephen Bruce, who operates two locations in the US, said: “We are honored to have the opportunity to satisfy our loyal customers from overseas as well as introduce our products to new ones.” 

Toby Carvery launches multi-reward loyalty smartphone app: Mitchells & Butlers-owned Toby Carvery has launched a smartphone app that offers multi-tier rewards to customers. Toby Carvery has partnered with UK technology provider Eagle Eye to develop the app in a drive to increase customer loyalty. Since its launch last month the app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, has secured more than 30,000 downloads and 18,000 registrations. Customers can buy eGift cards, locate their nearest Toby Carvery and book a table using the app, which also has a multi-reward digital stamp card that rewards customers for repeat visits, midway through completion of the card as well as at the end. This enables Toby Carvery to target customers with personalised offers and rewards based on their preferences. Janet Thompson, Toby Carvery head of marketing, said: “The new app showcases our investment in digital technology and innovative ways to drive customer loyalty and increase sales. Thanks to our partnership with Eagle Eye, we will be able to reward and incentivise our customers much more effectively, allowing us to understand better and provide them with the offers they want.” There are more than 160 Toby Carvery sites in the UK.

New Italian grill restaurant concept to open in Snaresbrook in May: A new Italian grill restaurant concept is set to open in Snaresbrook, north east London in May. Ben Milne and Joana Anastasiou-Milne will open Bombetta in Station Approach with its menu based on grilled meat from Puglia in southern Italy. Ben Milne told the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian: “We are so excited about opening in Snaresbrook. It just feels right for us. We love the High Street, we are local to the area, so we hope the restaurant is well received and a real special place for people to enjoy.” Bombetta will take up two thirds of the space with The Chef’s Deli, which supplies food to restaurant companies including Bill’s, Strada and Prezzo, occupying the remainder.

New restaurants driving growth in Oriental food consumption: The rapid rise in pan-Asian restaurants is driving the growth of Oriental food in the UK, according to a new report published to coincide with the start of Chinese New Year. UK Oriental grocer Wing Yip commissioned the Oriental Food Report, which revealed 94% of people have eaten Chinese food at home or in a restaurant. The independent research was conducted through an online survey of more than 3,000 consumers, as well as input from Horizons and CGA Peach. Restaurants, particularly new openings in and around London, are driving consumption, with 70% to 80% of those who eat Oriental cuisine other than Chinese – where the takeaway sector remains a big player – doing so at a restaurant. There are more than 4,000 Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants in the UK – an 18% growth in the past five years. Chinese food continues to dominate the favourite meal list, with sweet and sour chicken the most popular dish followed by Thai green curry. The Wing Yip report highlighted that consumer tastes are becoming more adventurous, with 39% liking to eat Thai food and 20% Japanese. Horizons said sushi is now the most commonly listed pan-Asian dish on branded menus. Brian Yip, managing director of Wing Yip, said: “This report highlights that consumers are becoming far more adventurous in their tastes and, with the number of pan-Asian restaurants growing, including some exciting new concepts, the future looks bright for the sector.”

Dublin pub groups merge to form €50m revenue-generating business, significant expansion promised: Two of Dublin’s major bar and restaurant groups are merging to form a near €50m revenue-generating business, with control of many of the capital’s leading hospitality venues. Frank Gleeson-controlled Mercantile Group is merging with Capital Bars Group, with the new entity to go under the Mercantile name, led by Gleeson. Dublin-based private investment firm Danu Investment Partners (DIP) and US investor group EMI-MR Investment will hold significant stakes. The two businesses bought Capital Bars for €15m in late 2014. DIP, headed by Setanta Sports founders Leonard Ryan and Michael O’Rourke, also owns UK franchise rights for Smith & Wollensky steakhouses. The new group promised a significant capital expenditure programme to upgrade venues and add others to the portfolio. Mercantile is due to open a new restaurant/bar this spring in central Dublin. Gleeson told the Irish Examiner: “This is a transformational deal for our businesses and will position Mercantile Group at the forefront of the sector in Dublin. We have ambitious plans to grow the business further, both in Dublin and internationally.” The new business will employ about 600 people and generate annual revenues of between €40m and €50m.

Welsh country house hotel with Michelin guide recommendations goes on market for £1.3m: The Hammet House Hotel near Cardigan in Wales has gone on the market for £1.3m. The property, which has traded as a country house hotel since 1960 and been under its current ownership since 2011, is being marketed by agent Christie & Co. It has an excellent reputation for food with two AA Rosettes and recommendations in the 2014 and 2015 Michelin guide. The current owners have extensively refurbished the accommodation to offer a contemporary take on a traditional country house hotel with 15 en-suite guest bedrooms, a restaurant, private Georgian dining room, library bar with open fire, a ballroom that can accommodate up to 160 guests, large car park and extensive grounds of approximately seven acres. John Coggins, of Christie & Co’s Cardiff office, who is responsible for handling the sale, said: “Hammet House is a fantastic opportunity for a new owner to acquire a substantial and unique country house hotel in a location that is truly beautiful. The business enjoys excellent levels of trade with year-on-year sales growth and good levels of profitability but with significant scope for new owners to push the business forward through developing the events trade and by adding additional guest rooms.”

Hi-Spirits reports turnover and pre-tax profit increase, plans review of company structure: UK spirits marketing and distribution specialist Hi-Spirits has reported an increase in turnover and pre-tax profit and as a result of customer base diversification is planning a review of the company’s structure. The company saw turnover rise to £16,455,440 in the year ending 31 March 2015, compared with £15,054,704 the year before, according to accounts filed with Companies House. Pre-tax-profit was also up to £122,868, compared with £94,369 the previous year. The company stated: “The company has experienced solid growth across all customer channels as a direct result of a strategy implemented 12 months ago to diversify the customer base, with particularly strong growth in the multiple retail channel. This has resulted in major listings in three of the top four supermarkets, and strong relationships between Hi-Spirits and the buying and management. The multi-layered contact plan executed by the company has resulted in strong ties between Hi-Spirits and each customer with the aim of making Hi-Spirits integral to the success of the customer’s own growth plans. Hi-Spirits has also broadened the product portfolio over the last 12 months and continues to attract a high level of interest from brands seeking UK distribution. New brands will be added to the portfolio as and when a suitable opportunity arises. In light of the growth the company has experienced over recent years, the company directors will be undertaking a review of the current structure of the business to ensure the company is in a position to maximise further opportunities of growth in the most efficient manner possible with little to no waste.”

Chick ‘n’ Sours restaurant owner to launch Chinese-focused concept in Dalston: The owner of chicken restaurant Chick ‘n’ Sours in Dalston, London, is to open a new Chinese-focused concept. Carl Clarke is launching Chinese Restaurant Syndrome this spring, which will be located underneath his current restaurant in Kingsland Road. The restaurant/bar will have a small menu with a whimsical take on Chinese comfort food, including re-imagined classics such as prawn toast and ribs as well as ever-changing ideas such as noodle crack. As with Chick ‘n’ Sours, cocktails will be a big feature. Clarke told Hot Dinners: “It’s going to be a fun kind of place I want to hang out in.”

Barnsley to get second Taco Bell alongside KFC drive-thru and Greene King pub at flagship business park: Taco Bell, a KFC drive-thru and a Greene King pub will front the flagship Gateway 36 Business Park at Birdwell, Barnsley. Yum! Brands-owned Taco Bell has only nine branches in the UK – with Barnsley having one of them at Town End. Three industrial units are already complete at the business park, which is being built off junction 36 of the M1, the Barnsley Chronicle reported. Other Taco Bell sites in the UK include London, Manchester, Nottingham, and Sheffield.

London-based chef launches first restaurant venture: Chef Ally Puttaroo, who has worked in London for ten years including at MasterChef judge John Torode’s Farringdon venue Smiths of Smithfield, has launched his first restaurant venture. Puttaroo, who is originally from Mauritius, has opened Indian restaurant concept Ghost Chilli in Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate. As well as dining-in, the restaurant also offers takeaway and delivery. Puttaroo told the Newham Recorder: “The most important thing to me is quality food using fresh ingredients together with top customer service. I’m not interested in the boring Indian food you get in Brick Lane where you have the red carpet, the waiters wearing waistcoats – that’s the old style. I work with modern cuisine made with quality ingredients, and I’m very concerned about health.”

Crowdfunded Bellfield Brewery set to begin production: Crowdfunded start-up, Bellfield Brewery, which raised £178,000 from 166 investors on Crowdcube, has started test brews prior to full scale production. The brewery plans to produce Gluten Free (GF) beers and lagers that taste as good as any craft beer. The startup, based in Edinburgh, considers itself the UK’s first dedicated gluten-free brewery and crowdfunded so that it can continue to expand and provide more retailers with their brews. The brewery stated: “Coeliacs have a serious autoimmune disease caused by an allergy to gluten. Many other people actively avoid gluten. That means you can’t eat normal bread, pizza, pasta, crisps, tortillas, ready meals, sauces, pastry, pies, soya sauce or chutneys – and the list goes on. Nor can you drink beer. For passionate beer drinkers who have to avoid gluten, it’s tough being denied one of the great joys of life! From our research the number of dedicated gluten free breweries in the world can be counted on the fingers of one hand (there are dedicated GF breweries in the US, Australia, Finland and Canada but none in UK – yet). We plan to join this elite group, producing beers and lagers that will be produced in small batches, using traditional brewing methods combined with non-traditional ingredients: a combination of art and science.”

Fenland council steps in to save third area pub: Fenland Council has added a third pub to a collection of pubs it has saved after rejecting a Marston’s bid to turn the Anchor at Wimblington into a convenience store. The council stuck to a policy that has also stopped the Black Hart at Thorney Toll and the Ship at Purls Bridge, Manea, being converted to homes. Public opposition in Wimblington to Marston’s closing the last pub in the village involved 205 objections, including the parish council. Now Fenland Council has applied its viability criteria and rejected Marston’s claim of a “lack of well-funded and experienced operators” prepared to take on the Anchor. The council also said Marston’s view of diminishing trade does not accord with the evidence of the pub having only been closed on few occasions since 2007 and significant investment in the business since 2013. The council concluded “there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the use is no longer viable” and indeed the fact it remains open “and seemingly vibrant” does suggest good usage. “The pub has also not been marketed and there is also significant support for it,” said the council. Marston’s were told that if the Anchor closed it would lead to an “unbalancing of the facilities within the village centre” which is not acceptable. Earlier last week, a government inspector backed the council’s strict rules on pub closures by telling the owners of the Black Hart at Thorney Toll – closed four years ago because of falling trade that they have not done enough to prove the pub is unviable. The ruling backed the refusal by Fenland District Council to allow its demolition and replacement with six homes. Karen Baker, the inspector who conducted an appeal, said: “There is insufficient substantiated evidence before me to justify the loss of the public house.” The pub, which sits alongside the A47, was closed in 2012 and later sold off by Elgood’s – it had been offered for sale with a guide price of £120,000. The appeal heard that there was no major concern by the parish council to retain it as a pub and they had backed the plan to build houses there. But the inspector agreed with Fenland Council that “insufficient evidence has been submitted to show that the public house has not been financially viable and has been marketed appropriately”. The decisions follow an earlier refusal to allow Wayne Bishop of the Ship at Purls Bridge to turn it into housing.

Full speaker programme for Propel Multi Club Conference on 16 March unveiled: The full speaker programme for the Propel Multi Club Conference on Wednesday, 16 March at Congress Hall, London, has been unveiled. Multi-site pub, restaurant and foodservice operators can book up to two free places by emailing Adam Dickinson on The conference series is the best-attended in the sector. Speakers are: Nicola Knight, analyst at insights firm Horizons, investigates the key trends in the UK foodservice market, including major menu trends, growth areas and discounting – and looks ahead to the key trends of 2016 and beyond. Adrian Blair, chief operating officer for Just Eat, provides an overview of the company’s role in the takeaway market, current key trends and future potential for operators to develop revenue. Steve Kenee, partner at investment firm Downing, talks about the firm’s long term investment partnership with Antic London, developing an estate of more than 30 London pubs, the businesses USPs, the risks and rewards of operating near the leading edge of urban regeneration and the development of non-licenced premises. David Singleton, vice-president of hospitality for Al Tayer Group, provides an overview of the foodservice landscape in the United Arab Emirates, the brands that are winning, the potential for UK brands and his company’s approach to growing sales. Punch Taverns chief strategy director Neil Griffiths outlines the company’s evolved strategy, involving as much as £300m of investment over five years, developing operator and trading agreements, expanding its fledgling concepts and brands, taking greater control of its retail offer and realising additional value from its property portfolio. Simon King, managing director of Burger & Lobster, talks about the progress of Burger & Lobster in London and elsewhere, the unique thinking and philosophy behind the brand, sourcing quality ingredients, recruiting and training staff, evolving the offer, expanding outside of London and international prospects. Phil Sermon, managing director of Vapiano, talks about progress in the UK as well as the company’s fresh approach to recruitment, training and development of its people and interaction with its guests. David Mooney, co-founder of New Moon Pub Company, arguably the UK’s most versatile food pub operator, talks about the company’s approach at country and city pubs, its Beef and Pudding concept, New York-influenced The Bronx brand, its pizza concept Casa Matta, evolution and future plans. Roberto Morretti, chief operating officer of Bill’s, talks to ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls about the brand’s USPs, trading all-day, developing a retail dimension and staying true to the brand founder’s vision. Henry Dimbleby and Jonathan Downey, co-founders of London Union, set out their progress in creating neighbourhood food markets based on experiential food discovery, crowdfunding, their plans to create the world’s greatest food market and the development of 12 London neighbourhood markets.

ALMR National Restaurant Association Study Tour to Chicago open for bookings: The Propel and Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) 2016 Chicago Study Tour is open for bookings. The trip, sponsored by CPL Training and Sky, takes place between Thursday, 19 May and Monday, 23 May 2016. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) draws 58,000-plus industry professionals from all 50 states and 100 countries, seeking the newest innovations and up-to-the-minute information about trends and issues. The ALMR trip provides: insights from industry experts on the rise in fast-casual dining, social media, new and emerging brands, menu development, staff management and a host of other issues – with 70 free education sessions at the NRA show. It also involves two tours of Chicago’s hottest concepts and a market overview briefing sessions from US experts. Paul Charity, managing director of Propel Info, said: “The NRA show combined with our tour of Chicago is a fantastic opportunity to find fresh inspiration and understand the emerging trends shaping the fast-changing US market.” To get more information or to book, email

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