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Fri 17th Feb 2017 - Update: Comptoir Libanais, Faucet Inn, Scottish licensing proposal, family eating out boost
Comptoir Libanais founder – ‘2017 will be quieter year for expansion’: Comptoir Libanais founder Tony Kitous has said 2017 will be a quieter year for expansion following a whirlwind end to 2016 for the Lebanese canteen concept. Last year was Comptoir Group’s busiest for growth, with six restaurants launched between September and December, as well as the acquisition of Beirut street-food brand Yalla Yalla from administration. Kitous said he and chief executive Chaker Hanna, who he credits for making the brand as strong as it is today, were being careful not to grow the Comptoir Libanais business too quickly. They plan to open five restaurants in 2017, three of which are already on the horizon – one in Reading and two in Oxford. Its requirement for restaurants are 2,000 to 3,500 square foot sites with high footfall during lunch and dinner times and at weekends. Last year, the group’s turnover was £21m, in line with its forecasts but, at a time when restaurateurs’ margins are being squeezed, Kitous is honest about factors that could hamper Comptoir Libanais’ expansion. He told Property Week: “It is still a work in progress. We are by no means perfect. There is a lot of work to do and there are challenges ahead – operationally, economically and politically. Everyone is nervous about what this year will bring. Rents are going up and I’m not sure how sustainable that is, not just for us but for everybody.” The birth of Comptoir Libanais came as a result of Kitous’ desire to bring Lebanese food to the UK. He said: “I used to get jealous when I walked along the high street and saw French, Italian, Chinese and Thai restaurants. Lebanese food is good, simple, healthy and affordable. I couldn’t understand why nobody had done it. We’re not complacent – we need to ensure we look after our existing business and our people very, very carefully.” The first Comptoir Libanais opened in Westfield London in 2008 and the company has since expanded to 17 sites. As well as Comptoir Libanais, the company also operates the Shawa brands as well as the Levant and Kenza restaurants.

Faucet Inn enters talks to acquire Royal Vauxhall Tavern in Lambeth: Faucet Inn has confirmed it is in talks to buy the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in Lambeth. The pubco, which owns 11 bars in London, is in negotiations to acquire the grade II-listed venue from Austrian property company Immovate. The news follows a two-year campaign, led by night tsar Amy Lamé and backed by stars including Sir Ian McKellen, Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady, to retain the landmark pub as a gay bar and performance space. Supporters celebrated after securing listed status from Historic England, obtaining Asset of Community Value (ACV) designation and backing from Mayor Sadiq Khan. This month, Lambeth council awarded the pub “sui generis” classification, giving it further protection and prohibiting the top floors from being turned into flats. However, Immovate is trying to sell a controlling interest of shares in the holding company, rather than the building. This means the pub’s ownership could be transferred without triggering ACV legislation that would give the community time to raise funds to buy it. Faucet Inn managing director Steve Cox said talks with Immovate were in the “early stages” and the company was conducting “due diligence”. He added: “If we did acquire the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, we would invest in the premises and look to improve the existing operations.”

Proposal lodged to give Scottish pub tenants ‘more choice over drinks sales’: A proposal has been lodged to give Scotland’s pub tenants “more choice over drinks sales”. Labour MSP Neil Bibby has tabled the proposed Member’s Bill in Holyrood with a consultation set to open on Monday (20 February). It would make it fairer for tenants of pubs who have a tied arrangement with pubcos. Under the current arrangements, these tenants often have a contractual obligation to buy some or all products from the pubco, which can restrict the choice of beer, cider, wine and spirits available as well as forcing tenants to sell more expensive drinks. Bibby’s proposed bill would provide Scottish licensees the same opportunities afforded to their counterparts in England and Wales. A Pubs Code came into force in England and Wales in May 2016 that introduced more relaxed rules. A new voluntary code was recently introduced in Scotland but is not adhered to by all pub companies and does not go as far as the statutory code in England and Wales. It is estimated there are nearly 1,000 tenanted pubs in Scotland. The proposal was welcomed by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the Campaign for Real Ale and GMB Scotland. Bibby said: “This proposal is about fairness, choice and jobs. Fairness for Scotland’s publicans, greater choice for pub customers, and an opportunity to protect and create jobs in Scotland’s pub and brewing industry. Scottish pub tenants should have the ability to opt out of the tied arrangements if they wish. I know from speaking with tied pub tenants in my own area in the west of Scotland how one-sided these arrangements can be. Access to a fair and reasonable market rent for premises, without strings attached, should be a right for Scottish publicans. They will then be free to source and purchase products as they see fit on the same basis as other pubs in Scotland and pubs in England and Wales. Times are tough in the pub sector. Scottish licensees that choose to opt out should have the flexibility they need in a crowded and competitive marketplace to react to changes that could affect their business – from new pubs opening in their area to changes in the way people socialise. My proposal would give them that flexibility.”

Historic England says Neville and Giggs skyscrapers would be ‘own goal’ for Manchester: The £200m St Michael’s development planned for Manchester, a project backed by former United stars Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, would “harm the city’s unique heritage and damage its historic core”, according to government agency Historic England. Objecting to the plan, which includes building two skyscrapers up to 31 storeys high and demolishing a historic pub, police station and synagogue, the agency said the development would “jar against the grand civic buildings which define this part of Manchester”. The consortium behind the St Michael’s development comprises The Jackson’s Row Development Partnership, of which Neville and Giggs are part, real estate firm Rowsley, Beijing Construction and Engineering Group, and Manchester City Council. Plans were submitted last month to deliver the “biggest statement in architecture Manchester has seen in modern times” and create 1,000 jobs. Historic England planning director Catherine Dewar told The Business Desk: “We are deeply concerned about how this scheme would affect some of Manchester’s most precious heritage. It would have an impact on people’s appreciation and experience of the stunning town hall and library but would also erase different layers of this area’s history, irreparably damaging the special character of the surrounding conservation area. This historic area of Manchester deserves a thoughtful scheme that responds to, and doesn’t try to dominate, its surroundings.”

Adults spending four times more on family meals out than on cigarettes and alcohol, first rise in five years: UK families are splashing out more in restaurants for the first time in five years and less on alcohol to drink at home, according to the latest family spending survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The average weekly bill has remained relatively unchanged during the past three years – at £528.90 – but spending on eating at restaurants and visiting hotels has risen to £45 a week, while the amount on alcohol and cigarettes has plunged to £11.40 a week, the Daily Mail reports. Average households now spend 10% of their income on restaurants and hotels. Households spend most of their money on transport and rent or mortgage, equivalent to 14% each for an average family. London families spend the most weekly (£652), while those in north east England spend the least (£423). The ONS credits record-breaking employment levels and rising amounts of disposable income for the surge. Aqua Restaurant Group which encompasses Aqua Shard, Hutong and Aqua London, said recent trading figures backed the survey’s findings as consumers opted for “moments over material”. Deputy operations director John Wiltshire told Propel: “Following a really busy December, Aqua Shard and Hutong have both continued to be busy in January, well up on last year. At Aqua Shard, we serve brunch at weekends and recently noticed a large increase in covers on par with that which we would normally expect in the final quarter of the year towards Christmas. Every weekend, brunch is particularly busy with families. We also had the strongest Chinese New Year we’ve ever seen at Hutong, with many families dining together over the whole weekend. It’s an extremely encouraging start to the year – a typically quieter time in restaurants – and lovely to see people enjoying themselves and spending time with friends and family. The rise of families visiting fits the recent trend of consumers opting for moments over material.”

Day Without Immigrants protest closes restaurants across the US: Hundreds of restaurants across the US locked their doors yesterday (Thursday, 16 February), many displaying signs expressing solidarity with striking workers participating in the “Day Without Immigrants” protest. A number of operators were affected by the protest, some offering limited services, while other sites closed for the whole day. The protest by some foreign-born workers took place to show the “impact immigrants have on the US economy” and formed part of a growing movement of strikes and boycotts intended to demonstrate displeasure with the Trump administration’s promise to seal the US-Mexico border and his suspended ban on citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries. There are more than eight million undocumented immigrants in the US workforce, making up a disproportionate number of workers in several industries, especially the foodservice sector. Immigration activist Maria Fernanda Cabello told The Guardian: “Through non-cooperation of our labour and by not purchasing, we’re making a really bold statement that this country is sustained by us.” Cabello, who is helping to organise a larger-scale Day Without Immigrants on 1 May, said the purpose of the protest was to move the conversation from whether immigrants were “wanted” to whether they were “needed”.

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