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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 16th Jan 2017 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

YO! Sushi plans to double openings this year, like-for-like sales strongly positive since last summer: YO! Sushi is planning to double its openings this year – with an opening in London Bridge and two in Glasgow already confirmed. The expanded opening programme is a sign of renewed confidence at the company a year after Robin Rowland returned as chief executive. Four new restaurants were opened in the UK last year, plus YO!’s St Pancras site was completely rebuilt and two company-owned restaurants were opened in the US. The company, now backed by Mayfair Private Equity, has seen like-for-like sales increases of 5%-plus since last summer in the wake of moves to evolve the company in a number of key areas. Menus have been redesigned with dish numbers increased from 70 to 100, while award-winning agency Paul Belford Design has overseen a refresh of restaurant design and brand image. Rowland has boosted the senior team with a number of key appointments, including operations director Michal Horan and people director Jo Childs, while a search is under way for a marketing director. Staff engagement and customer satisfaction levels have both improved dramatically in the past 12 months as measured by external third-party researchers. Rowland told Propel: “The planned openings this year will take us close to 100 restaurants operating worldwide by the end of the year. We’ve got our mojo back as a business and are definitely back on track. We have, for example, one of the top-three staff engagement scores in the UK, guest net promoter scores are top quartile, and the team has moved restaurant design on a long way as well.” Rowland reported new-site designs were more “operationally friendly” – its St Pancras site was reconfigured last year and is producing higher sales than before from half the space. The company is due to open another site in the US, this time a 65-cover site in New York close to Eataly in West 23rd Street, in the spring. Rowland is keen to stress the importance, however, of expanding in a measured way in the US. He said: “We are in the process of getting to understand the US market as we currently have sites in several different markets.”

Industry News:

Propel Multi Club Conference opens for bookings, Dan Einzig to present: The first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2017 is now open for bookings. Dan Einzig, food and beverage entrepreneur and chief executive of sector design agency Mystery, will look at current trends in Los Angeles and London, and learnings from innovative brand concepts his agency has helped develop, including Bubbleology, Za Za Bazaar, Yorica!, Rawligion and Dub Jam, its own Caribbean barbecue and reggae rum bar concept. The full-day conference takes place on Thursday, 9 March at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel, London. Multi-site operators of pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets can book up to two free places. Email Anne Steele on to book a place.
US restaurants show weakest like-for-like sales performance in more than three years: US restaurants closed 2016 on a sour note as December showed the industry’s weakest like-for-like sales performance in more than three years. The 4.3% drop saw like-for-like sales in the fourth quarter decline 2.4%, the worst quarter for restaurants in more than five years. Data company TDn2K’s The Restaurant Industry Snapshot, which is based on weekly sales from nearly 26,000 restaurants and more than 130 brands representing $65bn in annual revenue, also showed visits declined. December like-for-like visits fell 6.4%, the worst monthly result in more than five years. In the quarter, visits fell 4.6% – the last time the industry saw a similar result was during the recession, in the third quarter of 2009. TDn2K executive director of insights and knowledge Victor Fernandez told Nation’s Restaurant News: “To put the second-half sales downturn into perspective, the only two quarters with comparable sales worse than -1% during the past five years were the -1.1% in the third quarter and the very soft -2.4% results in the fourth quarter of 2016. Furthermore, restaurants have now posted four consecutive quarters of declining year-on-year sales.” The last time the restaurant industry posted four straight quarters of negative like-for-like sales was in 2009, at the height of the recession. That year was the last time the industry saw a quarterly like-for-like sales decline of more than 2%. For the full year, like-for-like sales fell 1.1%, a 3.1% decline compared with the previous year and the weakest industry performance since the recession. Average spend slowed in the quarter, with the 2.1% year-on-year increase representing a 0.4% decline from the average during the second and third quarters. In December, the best-performing industry segment based on like-for-like sales was fine dining – it was also the only segment with positive sales in the month. The weakest segments in December were family dining and casual dining. The year proved to be challenging for casual dining – it was the bottom performer in ten of 12 months in 2016. TDn2K chairman Wallace Doolin said: “We believe in 2017 and beyond there will be a widening gap in brand performance as the industry settles into the new reality of overcapacity in a share of stomach battle. The money ball question will be: ‘How do brands achieve coveted and profitable top quartile performance’?”

Luke Johnson – ‘Whitbread could head same way as Tesco because board lacks direct industry experience’: Sector investor Luke Johnson has argued Whitbread could “head the same way as Tesco because its board lacks direct industry experience”. Writing in his Sunday Times column, he said: “A few years ago I wrote about how Tesco had so lost touch with its business roots that not one serving non-executive director had direct experience in grocery retailing. We all know how that one worked out – a world-leading British business went badly wrong. I’m sad to say that another one of our great companies appears to suffer from the same disease. The board of Whitbread has ten directors. Not one of the six non-executive directors has any previous experience working in the hotel, coffee shop or pub trade, which is what Whitbread’s business actually is. Nor do the chairman, the chief executive or the finance director. So who really holds the operational management to account? I am confident I could put 25 key questions to the non-executives about the detailed economics and markets with which Whitbread is engaged that they would be unable to answer – because they simply do not possess the hands-on learning and judgment that comes from being in the industry for many years. One of the reasons this makes me despair is that it shows such contempt for the tens of thousands of staff working in the field at Premier Inn, Costa and Whitbread’s pub restaurants. It is as if the understanding of the craft of hospitality possessed by their 50,000 employees counts for nothing. Their imperial overlords somehow have such amazing awareness of how companies operate that they do not need to know any detail – that’s for the little people. This is the big picture illusion that leads to the decline and fall of outstanding firms. My writing might irritate the board of Whitbread, which includes people I should probably not annoy, but I feel the need to point out that the current plc model is broken.”

BHA partners with property advisors Altus to help with business rates challenges: The British Hospitality Association (BHA) has partnered with property advisors Altus Group to provide services to help BHA members reduce their business rates liability and update them on relevant changes to the business rates system. Founded 60 years ago, Altus Group represents more than 16,000 clients and “understands the intricacies of the hospitality sector”. BHA marketing director Phil Wade said: “An increase in business rates from 2017 is one of the substantial challenges many of our members face, especially considering the other cost pressures our industry is already having to respond to. The experience of Altus and its analytic capability means it has the comprehensive evidence on which to launch valid challenges and the insight to prosecute appeals at the most beneficial time.” Altus Group vice-president David Shuttleworth added: “Our focus on professionalism, responsiveness and quality of service is why we are now one of the largest business rates specialists in the UK, with more than 120 staff directly involved in rating across 13 offices nationwide. We have generated business rates savings of more than £400m since April 2010, achieving an average reduction for our clients of over 16%. We also have the largest rent and rates database in the country which, when combined with our own analytical software, gives us a unique advantage to achieve better results for BHA members in the hospitality sector. Whether a small independent or a multi-site chain, we look forward to offering our expert guidance and free consultation to all BHA members.” BHA members can arrange a free consultation by emailing
All-you-can-eat buffet restaurant introduces £2 charge for customers who leave too much food: An all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant in Dundee has introduced a £2 charge for customers who leave too much food on their plates. Taza Indian Buffet is supplying diners with a piece of cardboard with a square hole in the centre to measure how much food they have left on their plates at the end of a meal. If they leave more food than fits in the four-inch square, they have to pay £2 extra. The move comes after the restaurant realised it was wasting 600kg of food per week in leftovers. The card states: “If your waste fills this space and it won’t fit in your face then it is £2 per plate… and no stacking it up into a pyramid.” General manager Vaseem Salimi told the Evening Telegraph: “We will always have some food waste because everything we have left at the end of the day needs to go in the bin, but it is about cutting down on needless waste. This isn’t about us making money – it is to get the message across.” Figures from the Waste and Resources Action Programme revealed food waste costs the restaurant sector £682m a year, while the average cost of avoidable food waste is 97p per meal.
Pub17 to highlight rise of soft drinks: Speakers and exhibitors at Pub17 – the only dedicated trade show for the UK pub industry – will explore innovations and opportunities in the burgeoning soft drinks market when the show returns to Olympia London on 7 and 8 February. On day one, drinks industry journalist Robyn Black will be joined by a panel of experts for the Liquid Leadership discussion, where visitors will be able to learn about creating a winning drinks list and the latest category innovations. The panel will include Martin Hilton, of Purecraft Bars, restaurateur and publican Andrew Fishwick, George Nightingale, of Spoken Bar, and CGA Strategy’s Jonathan Jones. A wide range of soft drink suppliers will also exhibit at the event, from the trade’s big-hitters to artisan producers that are starting to make waves. Pub17 marketing manager Sam Chance said: “We are seeing big waves in the soft drink market at the moment. With the rise of the health-conscious customer who is consuming less alcohol and those who are more aware of the ingredients in products, it’s never been more important to provide a well-rounded soft drink offering. The increase in soft drink exhibitors at this year’s show highlights this and, with our Liquid Leadership talk, publicans will leave the show with a broader awareness and the knowledge to really capitalise on this trend.”
Speaker list finalised for Casual Dining 2017: Industry bosses from Marston’s, Hippo Inns, Geronimo Inns, Young’s, Fuller’s, and Living Ventures are the final additions to Casual Dining 2017’s keynote speaker line-up. They will appear at the event alongside more than 200 exhibitors showcasing a host of new products, equipment and services for the on-trade. The show, aimed at multiple and independent pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, and contract caterers in the casual dining sector, returns to the Business Design Centre in London on 22 and 23 February. As part of the event, Propel managing director Paul Charity will interview Bob Ivell, non-executive chairman of Mitchells & Butlers, while CGA Peach vice-president Peter Martin will talk to Noble Inns executive chef Neil Rankin. Boosting pub menu innovation and profitability is a key theme at this year’s show, and Marston’s chief financial and corporate development officer Andrew Andrea will discuss how the 183-year-old brand is attracting younger customers through embracing casual dining. Living Ventures chief executive Jeremy Roberts will talk about early days with the late Tim Bacon and how Living Ventures’ unique business model has evolved. The husband-and-wife team behind Hippo Inns, Rupert and Jo Clevely, will also share insights on the sector, focusing on meeting customers’ increased expectations through good food, service and innovative interior design. Chris Knights, group executive chef at Young’s and Geronimo Inns, will appear alongside Paul Dickinson, head of food at Fuller’s, in the show’s “Future of pub food” panel session, which will examine recent successes and trends shaping pub menus.

Company News:

Whitbread makes key changes to Premier Inn and restaurants executive teams: Whitbread has made a number of key changes to the executive teams in its Premier Inn and restaurants businesses, Propel understands. The company has appointed Paul Mitford as HR director for Premier Inn and restaurants and he will lead an integrated HR team across both businesses. Mark Fells becomes chief customer officer, taking additional accountability for the innovation and business development portfolio. Nathalie Pomroy is chief marketing officer for restaurants, taking additional accountability for innovation in restaurants and the food and beverage propositions in both Premier Inn and restaurants, including Thyme and Bar & Block. Phil Birbeck will remain as restaurants managing director while Simon Ewins and Richard McElroy will continue to lead operations for Premier Inn and restaurants respectively. Bhavesh Mistry will remain in charge of an integrated finance team supporting both businesses and Sean Darlington will continue as commercial director. As a result of the changes the roles of HR director and business development and innovation director for Premier Inn and the role of chief operating officer, brand developments in restaurants will no longer exist. Premier Inn HR director Amanda Brady has decided to leave the business at the end of the financial year while Russell Braterman will move to a new role within Costa as global innovation director. The company is working with David Murdin, who has worked for the restaurants business for six years, to explore potential roles within the business. 

Leon boss outlines US expansion plans, reveals 20% drop in job applications from foreign workers since Brexit vote: John Vincent, the chief executive and co-founder of natural fast food brand Leon, has outlined the company’s US expansion plans and revealed it had seen a 20% drop in job applications from foreign workers since the Brexit vote. Vincent will take the company to the US later this year with an opening in Washington. The company will decide on a location in the next two weeks and intends to open by the autumn. Funding for Leon’s early US expansion is most likely to come from “the existing balance sheet”, Vincent said. If Washington is a success further American locations will be considered, as will external investment. Vincent told the Sunday Times: “I expect in 18 months we’ll still have only three restaurants in America, but then we’ll really put the foot on the gas.” He added: “We want to be as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola, as ubiquitous as iPhones. That’s what we need to be to become the new fast food.” Vincent admitted Leon was still “too much of a middle-class brand” and would open “in an area of the UK that isn’t wealthy” by the end of next year. The lower rents would allow the brand to reduce menu prices but still offer the same range of food. He added: “You don’t dumb down. You don’t compromise. iPhones exist in the middle of poorest areas. Apple didn’t do that by trying to become mass [market]. The mass came to them.” Vincent said there had been a 20% drop in applications from foreign workers since the Brexit vote and added: “We can’t just have nuclear physicists let in, we’ve got to have people who can do this (work in kitchens).” Vincent founded Leon in 2004 with Henry Dimbleby and it currently has 43 sites. In 2015, sales grew 48% to £37m and are expected to have risen sharply again in the past 12 months.

HK4 Group closes remaining Base + Barley site to be replaced by new brand: HK4 Group, which operates Artigiano and the Terrace, has closed its remaining pizza and craft beer restaurant Base + Barley and will replace it with a new brand. The company has shut the venue in Exeter two months after closing the concept’s other site in Cardiff. HK4 Group has said the Exeter restaurant in Longbrook Street will reopen under a new brand. A spokesman told the Express & Echo: “Base + Barley permanently closed on Friday (13 January). The owners have exciting plans for a new brand that will open soon and more information about the plans will be released shortly.” Base + Barley was launched in November 2015 and subsequently opened a branch in Cardiff, which closed in November after eight months in business. It is not yet known whether staff at Base + Barley will be made redundant or redeployed to other businesses in the group. According to its website, HK4 Group was founded three years ago and now has annual sales of about £5m. The company has plans for national expansion of its Artigiano and Terrace brands. Sales are expected to exceed £5m in the current financial year, with profits of almost £400,000, rising to more than £10m of sales in 2017-18, with profits of about £1m.
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs to open first regional site this month, in Bristol: London-based coffee brand the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs will open its first regional site this month, in Bristol. The company has agreed a deal with Hammerson for an outlet at the Cabot Circus shopping centre. The 65 square metre coffee shop will be in the complex’s Quakers Friars piazza. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs chief executive Ashley Lopez said: “Bristol is a city on the rise, welcoming more people in the coming years and consistently performing highly on the intake of tourists and commuters from other parts of the UK, making it an ideal location for our new coffee shop.” Hammerson head of restaurants and leisure Sarah Fox added: “It is a fantastic result that the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has chosen to make its all-important first step outside London with Hammerson at Cabot Circus. Bringing a unique offer to Bristol, the new coffee shop will no doubt prove popular with our customers and clearly demonstrates the strength of the centre’s appeal.” The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs has 11 sites in London.

Banana Tree to open site in Chelmsford: Banana Tree, the eight-strong south east Asian restaurant group, is to open a site in Chelmsford, Essex. The company, founded by William Chow, will open the restaurant at the High Chelmer shopping centre on the former Co-op site. Banana Tree specialises in food from across the Indochina region and features pan Asian dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, and also has an extensive Oriental cocktail menu. High Chelmer centre manager Mick McDonagh told Essex Live: “Banana Tree is a really exciting and growing restaurant brand and I’m pleased that we’ve been able to help bring them to the people of this great city. Following on from the opening of Carluccio’s, Turtle Bay, Cote and Bourgee, we truly have a global food offering with dishes and menus that come from around the world. I’m thrilled that Banana Tree will also be opening this year.” Chow launched Banana Tree 21 years ago in London and as well as sites in the capital, it also has restaurants in Milton Keynes and Oxford. 

Inception Group launches bigger Bunga Bunga in Covent Garden: Inception Group, which operates bars, restaurants and clubs in south west and central London, has begun expansion of its Bunga Bunga concept with a second site, in Covent Garden. The company, owned by Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling, said the venue in Drury Lane “immerses guests in two different worlds”. Signalling a more sophisticated direction from the debut Bunga Bunga in Battersea, BungaTINI offers paninis, salads and signature pizzas during the day, transforming at night into a bar serving cocktails and small plates. The Bunga Bunga supper club downstairs offers a “theatrical journey” accessed through an industrial meat locker complete with blast chiller and carcasses. The 200-cover restaurant beyond offers an immersive dining experience with a central stage and two bars – a replica of Harry’s Bar (where the bellini was invented) and a casino bar with roulette wheel. There are also two private dining spaces including The Emperor’s Box, in which diners get an entrance to the club held aloft in a sedan chair, a seat on a throne overlooking the room, and the chance to give the gladiatorial thumbs up or down for the entertainment. Gilkes said: “This is a new, grown Bunga Bunga that has definitely not lost its sense of humour.” Inception Group’s venues include speakeasy Barts and 1980s-themed nightclub Maggie’s, both in Chelsea, and late-night 1940s-inspired bar Cahoots in Soho.

Investment fund secures major stake in Hubbox: Investment fund Provenance Investment Partners, which is backed by ex-BBC boss Greg Dyke and former Diageo chief Paul Walsh, has bought a major stake in British burger chain Hubbox. Provenance took a chunk as part of a deal that values Hubbox at about £5m, reports Hubbox was set up in 2003 by restaurateur Richard Boon in St Ives, Cornwall, with a view to serving American-style food, sourced from local farmers and bakers. Sources said Boon had sold a stake to the private equity firm for £2.2m to help fund expansion of Hubbox, which has sites in Plymouth, Truro and Exeter and plans to open one soon in Bristol. Provenance was set up by private equity executive Simon Henderson, backed by Dyke, Walsh and former Debenham’s chairman John Lovering. 
Young’s reopens Cotswolds coaching inn: London pub retailer Young’s has reopened The Blue Boar country pub in Chipping Norton following a major refurbishment. Acquired last year, the former Chipping Norton coaching inn on the cusp of the Cotswolds has been restored to its 16th century glory, with the addition of a seasonal menu of British classics and local brews on tap. The former stables have been turned into a dining room complete with high ceilings, exposed wooden beams and a hay-loft mezzanine. Brunch dishes include crushed avocado with poached hen’s eggs on sourdough toast, while mains feature lamb-shank shepherd’s pie with autumnal greens and, with a nod to the pub’s name, wild boar and sage sausages with creamed mash, shallots and gravy. Desserts include baked clotted-cream rice pudding. Local ales on tap feature Old Hooky, brewed only two miles away, and Premium Cotswold Lager, alongside Young’s Winter Warmer. Vodka and gin are also distilled locally by the Cotswold Brew Co.
Bristol-based baker Parsons to reopen eight Bath Bakery shops under threat of closure: Bristol-based, family-run baker Parsons is set to open eight stores belonging to Bath Bakery, which has ceased trading, making all staff redundant. Parsons had been in discussions to purchase the Bath Bakery shops but the deal was thrown into uncertainty when news broke that Bath Bakery had been placed into liquidation. However, the deal has now been completed following “tortuous” discussions and Parsons will reopen the sites – two in Bath and one each in Corsham, Foxhill and Westbury in Wiltshire, and Frome, Midsomer Norton and Weston in Somerset – within the next week and offer jobs to all those who had been employed at the stores. The Bath Bakery site in Bradford-on-Avon has already reopened under Parsons ownership. However, the fate of the bakery in Moorland Road, Bath, remains unclear as this shop was not part of the deal. Nick Parsons and Tom Curling, of Parsons, told Propel: “Our reason for being is to bring the joy of artisan bakery to local communities and neighbourhoods. We have been doing that for 90 years in and around Bristol and are so excited to be in Bath, where I hope we will be well accepted.”
Adventure Bar to open two sites in 2017 following record festive period, like-for-like sales increase more than 10%: The Adventure Bar, the four-strong London cocktail group led by Tom Kidd, plans to open two new sites in 2017 following a record festive period. The company reported like-for-like sales were up more than 10% during the eight-week festive period. It said its latest venue in Seven Dials added an additional 44% to overall total sales. During that time, the four sites served 47,000 guests, made more than 51,000 handcrafted cocktails and sold more than 32,000 beers. The busiest site in Covent Garden sold more than 470 of its best-selling cocktails in one day alone – hitting peak trading on the two “mad Fridays” prior to Christmas. Kidd said: “Our hard-working teams delivered a spectacular Christmas to all our guests, with take-up of special packages and pre-bookings hitting record levels. It has created an excellent springboard for the new financial year, with healthy growth in Ebitda ahead of expectations. It means we can significantly bring forward our growth plans, with an additional two new openings planned for 2017.”
Starbucks promotes deaf awareness through innovative programme: Staff at Starbucks in Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf, are taking part in a programme called We Sign Cafe, which promotes deaf awareness. The monthly sessions are hosted by deaf baristas Manu Sulaiman and Haytam Lakb, who provide instruction in British Sign Language (BSL). The store’s manager Toro Manca began studying BSL six years ago after receiving funding for sign language training from Starbucks. Inspired by a conversation with executive chairman Howard Schultz, Manca made recruiting deaf partners a priority, with We Sign Cafe his next step in building awareness of deaf culture. He said: “To improve deaf awareness is so simple. We just need to adjust the way we communicate. Think about the skills people have, not that they’re deaf. Think about the personality, skills and experience.”
Former Pidgin head chef to open first restaurant: Elizabeth Allen, former head chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Pidgin, is to launch her first venture, in London. Allen will offer diners a taste of what to expect from Shibui with a two-week residency at Carousel in Marylebone starting on Tuesday (17 January). Billed as a sophisticated approach to barbecue, Shibui will have European and east Asian influences, reflecting Allen’s dual British and Singaporean heritage. Pidgin in Hackney, east London, won a Michelin star in its first year. Since leaving her post there, Allen has founded Kaizen House, a restaurant launch company. Shibui, due to open in London later this year, is its first project, reports Hardens. Carousel offers its own menu at lunchtime with a rolling programme of guest chefs – many of them from abroad – in the evening.
Former Gordon Ramsay chef to open bistro and bar in Beverley: Former Gordon Ramsay chef James Allcock is set to open a bistro and charcuterie bar in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Allcock, who worked alongside Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing at Pétrus in The Berkeley Hotel, will launch The Pig & Whistle in Sow Hill Road in April. He told the Hull Daily Mail: “Beverley is a beautiful town infused with heritage and culture. The Pig & Whistle will complement this by presenting regional produce alongside some specialities from outside the UK. Whether you pop down for some Lindisfarne oysters before a show at East Riding Theatre or stay to enjoy a charcuterie sharing board, our ethos is that food can be both casual and a celebration.”
Manchester nightclub Sankeys to close: Manchester nightclub Sankeys, which has hosted performances by artists such as Daft Punk, Grandmaster Flash and the Chemical Brothers, is to close to make way for apartments. The club, which is in Ancoats on the edge of the Northern Quarter, opened in June 1994 as Sankeys Soap, in reference to Beehive Mill’s former use as a soap factory. It has since closed and reopened on several occasions. However, the Beehive Mill premises it leases has been sold to a developer with plans to convert it into apartments, reports Insider Media. The 0.4-acre grade II*-listed former cotton spinning mill, which dates to the early 1820s, had been for sale with agent Savills as an “exciting threshold development opportunity in the heart of Ancoats”. A statement from the nightclub said: “As many of you have seen we have been forced to close due to circumstances completely out of our control.”

Plans lodged for rooftop dining extension at Trinity Leeds: Plans have been submitted for a new restaurant and bar space at Trinity Leeds alongside a rooftop dining extension at the shopping centre. Land Securities has applied to the city council to convert a vacant unit above the Trinity Kitchen area at the western end of the centre to pave the way for occupation by a “major prospective tenant”. The 15,000 square foot space on the top floor of Trinity Leeds previously occupied by Boots would be converted into a restaurant and bar. Above this, a 2,500 square foot decked roof terrace overlooking Bond Street is also envisaged. Access to the roof terrace would be achieved by a dedicated lift from street level or main restaurant unit and via “feature” stairs, reports Insider Media.
Cottons to run series of free monthly rum masterclasses: Cottons Caribbean Restaurant and Rhum Shack is running a series of free monthly rum masterclasses at its Notting Hill site to celebrate clinching a world record. The company has teamed up with rum brands to offer industry staff, rum fans and novices alike a one-and-a-half hour class where they get to smell, taste and learn about individual rums, as well as learn how to mix the ideal rum cocktail. Classes already confirmed include a January focus on Angostura (famous for its iconic bitters but becoming increasingly known for their award winning Trinidadian rums); a February focus on Dominican Republic’s Brugal rum, which is gaining popularity in the UK; and leading Cuban rum Havana Club featuring in July. The masterclasses take place on the last Wednesday of the month – at 2pm for industry staff and a more light-hearted version for rum fans at 6pm. Booking is essential in advance through Cotton’s website. In October, Cottons’ Notting Hill site picked up the Guinness world record for the bar with the most varieties of rum commercially available – 372.
Paris-based Maison Kayser opens first UK bakery – in Baker Street: Paris-based French baker Maison Kayser, which operates more than 100 sites globally, has opened its first venue in the UK, aptly in London’s Baker Street. Founded by French baker and entrepreneur Eric Kayser, the concept offers sandwiches on artisan bread with fillings such as smoked salmon, speck and Comté cheese. The boulangerie offers quiche, pastries and bread, including the brand’s renowned sourdough, which is made with a natural liquid starter rather than commercial yeast. Maison Kayser in Baker Street seats 60 in its cafe and sit-down restaurant and is open from 7am to 11pm daily, with eat-in and takeaway options.
Away Resorts adds Sandy Balls to portfolio: Holiday park operator Away Resorts, which is backed by private equity firm LDC, has completed the acquisition of Sandy Balls in the New Forest, forming a group with six sites valued in excess of £100m. Sandy Balls is a five-star holiday village in the New Forest National Park, between Godshill and Fordingbridge, and provides accommodation including luxury woodland lodges, static holiday homes, camping pods and safari tents as well as fully-serviced touring pitches. The purchase of Sandy Balls is the second acquisition Away Resorts has made since LDC backed the secondary buyout of the business in April 2015. It brings the business’ portfolio of parks to six with Sandy Balls joining Tattershall Lakes in Lincolnshire, Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight, Mersea Island in Essex, Barmouth Bay in Wales and Mill Rythe on Hayling Island. Chief executive Carl Castledine told Insider Media: “Over the past eight years, we have built up a strong brand that has really hit the right note with UK holidaymakers. The demand for affordable UK holidays, particularly short breaks, is strong, and growing, as our record bookings for 2016 have shown.” With the addition of Sandy Balls, the business now has an annual turnover of more than £40m and employs 650 staff across its portfolio of sites.

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