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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 5th Feb 2019 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Tortilla boss – there’s scope to treble UK estate: Richard Morris, managing director of Mexican restaurant group Tortilla, has told Propel there’s scope to treble the size of the company’s UK estate. Morris said he plans to open six sites this year to add to the brand’s 36-strong portfolio. He added there were also potential opportunities to expand on the seven franchised sites in the Middle East. Speaking on the back of the company reporting record sales in 2018 with like-for-likes up 6%, Morris said: “We had a fairly quiet year in terms of openings with the market being pretty deflated, only opening in Harrow, but we have a good pipeline for this year and we are also starting to build for 2020. Who knows what’s going to happen given the uncertainty over Brexit. We’re keeping our heads down, continuing to focus on value and quality. In terms of the market, I think this year there will be a levelling of the playing field. There are plenty of opportunities out there for us. I think trebling the size of the estate is realistic – many businesses have over-expanded and taken ‘marginal’ sites with high fixed costs. That has never been our strategy and the evidence in the market shows the problems that can cause. There are also opportunities overseas because it’s a very franchise-friendly business.” Morris said five of the six openings planned this year were secured, including in the Cornmarket in Oxford and an undisclosed site in central London. A couple of other outlets are also in negotiation. The company opened its first “Baby” Tortilla in Putney in November 2017 – a site specifically designed to cater for residential online orders. At only 700 square feet, the concept is half the size of a regular Tortilla restaurant but with an evolutionary kitchen design that delivers the same offering as any other site. Morris revealed the site had almost paid back on its investment and he was now looking to expand the format. He added: “We were one of the first adopters of delivery and quickly realised we had a product that suited it. We have a central kitchen so we don’t need lots of space. With sites being about 1,000 square feet, we should be able to keep fit-out costs and rent reasonable. We think there are definitely a few more of those ‘village-type’ locations in London that suit the model." Morris said 2019 had started “quite well”, with like-for-like sales up. He added: “The model works because we are well priced and offer a good product. It’s still a fairly differentiated offer and you can customise it if you want. We sit above fast food but slightly below casual dining businesses, which I think helps our appeal in the market.”

Industry News:

Propel Multi Club Conference open for bookings, two free places for operators, Joe Grossman to present: The first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2019 is open for bookings. The full-day event takes place on Thursday, 7 March at the Millennium Gloucester hotel in London. Joe Grossman, founder of the nine-strong Patty & Bun brand, will talk about ten challenges he has overcome in his journey from leading the marketing at Roast to finding a unique position in the better burger market. Multi-site operators of pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets can book up to two free places by emailing Anne Steele at

Chef Ferran Adria to relaunch elBulli as laboratory and ‘museum of culinary innovation’: Spanish chef Ferran Adria is to reopen his renowned elBulli venture next year – but not to serve food. The former three Michelin-starred restaurant on the shores of Catalonia’s Costa Brava was named the world’s best eatery four years in a row but will now house a laboratory and “museum of culinary innovation” when it relaunches. Adria told Star 2: “The mission of elBulli1846 is to create quality knowledge of restaurant gastronomy and everything that surrounds it.” The “1846” in the name is a tribute to Auguste Escoffier, the Frenchman dubbed the “king of chefs, chef to kings”, who was born in 1846 and popularised haute cuisine. The original elBulli, named after a French bulldog owned by the German-Czech couple that built the place in 1961, shut eight years ago following heavy losses, despite its huge popularity. With an investment of about €10m (£8.8m), elBulli1846 is scheduled to open in February 2020 in the same cove on the north east coast of Spain as the original. The parallel museum will offer guided tours by appointment only.

Three free scholarships offered on UK’s only Chinese catering diploma: Three free scholarships are being offered on the UK’s only Chinese Culinary Arts (Lu Ban) Diploma. Applications for the one-year Level 3 Diploma – an industry-recognised qualification – are being accepted with candidates beginning the course at the end of February while continuing in their current job. To be considered, applicants will need to have gained a Level 2 Diploma or been working in a commercial kitchen for at least two years. The Chinese Culinary Arts (Lu Ban) Diploma was launched in October and has backing from Tianjin School of Cuisine, Chinese Cuisine Association, Tianjin Cuisine Association, Tianjin Municipal Education Commission and the Tianjin Food Group. Collectively, they are looking to increase the number of skilled Chinese chefs in the UK to avoid a chronic shortage in the country’s restaurants. This diploma is the world's first UK-regulated qualification outside China. The programme, which has been developed by Coventry-based PAM Education and delivered by Crawley College, is a mix of online learning and practical assessments taught by Chinese master chefs who have graduated from the Chinese cooking school in Tianjin. Study includes twice-weekly online tutorials, weekly practice in the workplace kitchen, plus assessments in the specially designed Lu Ban kitchen at Crawley College.

CAMRA gears up for final Great British Beer Festival Winter in Norwich before moving to new home: The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) will hold The Great British Beer Festival Winter in Norwich for its final year before it moves to a new, as yet undisclosed, UK location. The event, which will take place from 19 to 23 February at St Andrew’s Halls, is the winter counterpart to CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival. The event includes the Champion Winter Beer of Britain competition, with the winning beer served throughout the festival. The event marks a wider celebration of beer in Norwich, with local pubs hosting a range of Fringe events throughout the month such as treasure trails, competitions and featured brewers. Organiser Martin Ward said: “This is the last year it will visit the historic centre of Norwich. We hope to make this festival the best one yet, with even more fantastic brews on tap, great food, music and exciting events in the city’s pubs.” The new location of the winter festival will be unveiled on the opening day.

Company News:

KPMG – ‘number of options’ on the table for Patisserie Valerie: Patisserie Valerie’s administrator KPMG has said there are a “number of options” on the table for the chain. Proposals from prospective buyers range from the purchase of the entire business to smaller parts of it, KPMG said. Bidding for Patisserie Valerie, which has been grappling with the fallout of an accounting fraud since October, moves into a second round this week with management presentations set to take place in London and Birmingham. David Costley-Wood, partner at KPMG and joint administrator, said: “We are encouraged by the scope of offers received from trade and finance buyers for all and for parts of the business. We will now take a number of these offers forward and hope to be able to make progress in short order. We’d like to thank employees, suppliers, creditors and Patisserie Valerie’s loyal customers for their invaluable support in helping us continue to trade the business over the past two weeks.” Patisserie Valerie’s parent company and main trading subsidiaries were placed into administration last month when it failed to renew its banking facilities after revealing the £40m black hole discovered in its accounts in October was worse than first thought. A total of 70 stores and concessions were closed immediately with up to 900 staff losing their jobs, with 51 of the stores being marketed by Savills as sites for immediate occupation. A total of 122 sites remain open.

Martin Williams to open restaurant that will train victims of modern slavery: M Restaurants founder and Gaucho boss Martin Williams is working with an anti-trafficking charity on plans to open a restaurant in the UK that will train victims of modern slavery. Williams said he hoped to replicate the concept of Dignita, an Amsterdam eatery run by charity Not For Sale, which supports trafficking victims through vocational courses. Dignita has three sites in the Netherlands, with at least one opening planned for this year and further European expansion on the cards. Now the charity is working with Williams to bring Dignita to the UK. Williams told the Press Association the management team of his London-based brand M Restaurants could run it as a standalone site or incorporate it as a permanent fixture in an existing restaurant. Last week, M Restaurants started two weeks of serving a special menu at its Victoria Street branch to raise money for Not For Sale. The launch of the pop-up also raised £1m of donation pledges over ten years.

Glee Clubs’ like-for-like sales rise 13%: Comic Enterprises, which operates the Glee Comedy and Music Venues, has reported like-for-like sales for 2018 up 13% at £3.64m and site Ebitda up 41% to £674,832. Chief executive Mark Tughan said: “Trading has been strong at all Glee Clubs, with all four sites showing increased profits and two sites now showing Ebitda margins in excess of 20%. Our core weekend mixed-bill comedy was up 9% but we recorded like-for-like sales increases of 12% for midweek touring comedy and a rise of 59% in music and special events income. We have managed to invest across the group in many areas, including people and marketing. Our fifth site in Glasgow opened last weekend to critical acclaim and we have high hopes this will deliver more than £1m in sales reasonably quickly, alongside a very high return on capital. It’s a good time to be right in the heart of the experiential leisure sector and we’re confident we can drive profitability further as well as open new sites.”

Quiznos continues to build pipeline as it doubles UK estate: American sandwich company Quiznos is continuing to build its UK pipeline as it doubles its estate in Britain. Sites have been secured with work under way in Lewisham, Wood Green and Wandsworth in London as well as Dartford, Glasgow, Guildford and Watford. These sites will add to the brand’s outlets in Bromley, Maidstone, Hounslow, Stratford and two in Luton. The company stated: “Our sandwiches offer better ingredients and better financial returns because of our long-standing business model, which sees franchisees as the number-one priority. Our property team is working day and night to secure the best sites around the country and identify new sites in cities our franchisees want to open in.” The Canadian division of the company, Quiznos Canada, secured the franchising rights in the UK in 2002. Quiznos, which is known for its toasted sub sandwiches, was founded 30 years ago in Denver, Colorado, and now has franchises in 40 countries.

Bonnie Gull co-founder to launch chef-led fish shop, deli and seafood bar in Chelsea: Alex Hunter, co-founder and managing director of British seaside restaurant concept Bonnie Gull, is to open a venue in Chelsea that will operate as a fishmonger and delicatessen by day and seafood and champagne bar at night. The Sea, The Sea will launch in Pavilion Road in April offering seafood sourced from mainly British fish markets. Working with Bonnie Gull and other London restaurants, the venue will operate a 24-hour stock turnaround policy to ensure all produce is sold within one day of arriving in-store. The brand will promote sustainable species and minimise single-use plastic. The venue, which is named after the Iris Murdoch novel, will also host masterclasses on seafood-related activities such as oyster shucking, curing and fish filleting. Appearances by guest chefs such as Ikoyi’s Jeremy Chan and Londrino’s Leo Carreira have also been scheduled. In the evening, the oyster bar will convert into a champagne bar offering small plates, bowls and shellfish platters. Bonnie Gull operates seafood shacks in Soho and Fitzrovia, while Hunter launched grab-and-go concept Salt ‘n’ Sauce in Oxford in March 2018.

Wagamama launches vegan full English breakfast: Wagamama is launching its first vegan full English breakfast to meet growing demand. The “full vegan” includes two pieces of maple “bacon” made with seitan, a meat substitute made from gluten, and beetroot and seitan sausages instead of pork. Eggs have been replaced by scrambled turmeric tofu, while the meal also comes with grilled tomato, wilted spinach, sautéed sweet potato and shiitake mushrooms. The breakfast will launch at Wagamama restaurants at Gatwick and Heathrow on Wednesday (6 February). Executive chef Steve Mangleshot told the Daily Mail: “When we create vegan dishes we primarily want them to taste amazing so anyone can enjoy them, not just vegans. I’m particularly proud of the full vegan as everyone loves the variety of a cooked breakfast and the range of flavours we have compiled in this dish makes sure this is guaranteed to excite everyone’s taste buds.” Wagamama’s move comes as a host of operators introduce vegan dishes. Foot-to-go retailer Greggs launched a meat-free sausage roll last month, which sparked a war of words on social media but saw several branches sell out only a day after it was unveiled.

Punch launches recognition reward scheme: Punch has launched a recognition reward scheme – #OurAwesomePeople. The scheme aims to celebrate successes and recognise individuals for positive behaviour or “doing something simply awesome”. The initiative was developed by a team of Punch employees as part of a strategy project and is being rolled out to internal teams with a plan to extend it in the summer to publicans, their teams and suppliers. Individuals can recognise their own colleagues with recognition cards and #youareawesome chocolates and for those deemed to have really made a difference there are cash prizes ranging from £25 to £1,000. Chief executive Clive Chesser said: “We need awesome people to be able to operate this fantastic hospitality business and creating this initiative will enable us to encourage the very best ways of working and collaborative teams internally and externally. We want to recognise and reward valued employees and our publicans and their teams for the excellent work they do. We will also be including our suppliers, who go that extra mile in delivering what is brilliant. Everyone who makes our pub customers get the very best experience will be eligible.”

Lazeez Group opens Lebanese tapas and cocktail bar in South Woodford for third London site: Lazeez Group, which operates Lebanese concept Lazeez Tapas in Mayfair and Boxpark Croydon, has opened a sister site in South Woodford for its third London venue. Tapas and cocktail lounge Liban Tapas has launched in George Lane featuring Middle Eastern-inspired decor, banquettes, booths, marble tables, a sunroom and a large terrace with heaters and rugs. The 150-cover venue prioritises ingredients from Lebanon such as spices, tahini, olive oil and labneh, while owner Emilio Malik works closely with London’s Lebanese community, including bakers and butchers. The venue makes its own falafel, houmous and pastries while the drinks list includes fresh mint tea, cocktails such as the Lebanese Gimlet, a gin and tonic menu, and Lebanese wine and beer. Turkish coffee is made in front of guests on a sand burner and served with sticky dates to round off a meal. Malik said: “I wanted to open a restaurant with a sharing culture as in the Middle East but within a more refined setting and a first-class service”.

Hall & Woodhouse opens new-build Swindon pub featuring full-length narrow boat inside: Dorset brewer Hall & Woodhouse has opened a new-build site in Swindon, Wiltshire. The company has launched the venue at the Wichelstowe Canalside development. The Hall & Woodhouse in Wichelstowe features a full-length narrow boat inside, the Lady Rose, where people can serve their own beer. The building in Peglars Way is split into sections and is designed around the Woodhouse family and their interests and passions. It features a bar and pantry with long bench-style seating and a dining room offering more formal cuisine, reports the Swindon Advertiser.

York-based Sardinian restaurant Il Paradiso opens third site, in Leeds: York-based Sardinian restaurant Il Paradiso has opened its third site, in Leeds. Paolo Silesu has launched the venue in York Place. The concept is inspired by Silesu’s boyhood on the Italian island with dishes including seafood risotto and back squid ink linguine, reports Leeds Live. Silesu launched Il Paradiso in York in 2012 before adding a site in the nearby village of Sutton-on-the Forest in 2017.

Boxpark welcomes four new operators to Croydon: Boxpark has welcomed four new street food operators to its site in Croydon, south London. Ladle, which offers soup, stew and curries served by the ladle, grill specialist The Argentinian Grill and Asian concept The Noodle Bar have become part of the line-up. They have joined vegan pasta restaurant Raveoli, which launched at Boxpark Croydon at the end of 2018 offering handmade ravioli made daily from scratch.

JD Wetherspoon to close Kidderminster town centre pub: JD Wetherspoon is to close The Penny Black in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. The town centre pub will close at the end of September following a “commercial decision”. A Wetherspoon spokesman told Worcester News: “We can confirm The Penny Black will close. There is no definite date but it’s likely to be towards the end of September. We understand the pub’s loyal customers and staff will be disappointed and we thank them for their custom and loyal service over the years. This is a commercial decision taken by the company. All staff will be offered alternative jobs within Wetherspoon pubs.” The Penny Black is named after the world’s first postage stamp, which was created by Kidderminster resident Rowland Hill in 1840. A statue of Hill stands outside the town hall, a short walk from the pub. The closest Wetherspoon pub to The Penny Black is the George Hotel in nearby Bewdley.

Former Noma chef to launch Iranian concept Nutshell in Covent Garden: Former Noma chef Leonardo Pereira is to launch Iranian concept Nutshell in Covent Garden. The restaurant will open in St Martin’s Lane in the spring offering Pereira’s own take on Iranian cuisine and cocktails but using British produce. Pereira has teamed up with husband-and-wife team Mohammad Paknejad and Marwa Alkhalaf for the venture, which will offer snacks such as hay-infused yogurt, freshly baked flatbread and torshi (pickled vegetables). Dishes will include raw scallop with Iranian caviar, and leg of goat with grilled onions, buttermilk and coriander, Hot Dinners reports. The restaurant will be set across two floors with table seating upstairs and counter dining on the ground floor.

Rutland-based, European-style coffee house eyes expansion: A European-style coffee house in Rutland that specialises in vegan treats is eyeing expansion. Scandimania, which is owned and operated by Joshua Thirlwell and fiancée Julia Falk, has been based in High Street, Uppingham, since March 2017. Selling a selection of freshly baked Scandinavian cuisine, the company now plans to lease another property as a second site. Thirlwell told Insider Media: “The shop has been a real success and, after two years, we’re in a position to expand and we’re looking to lease a similar property in another town.” Falk added: “Having studied nutritional health and worked in restaurants, I felt I was ready to run a shop of my own with Josh and, when we saw the shop was available to lease, we just went for it. I used my knowledge of recipes from my home country and made sure I included plenty of vegan options, which has appealed to customers and really taken off. We’ve taken on staff, made business plans for the future and are ready to go.”

Taco Bell to continue rapid UK expansion with second Glasgow site: Mexican restaurant brand Taco Bell is to continue its rapid UK expansion by opening a second site in Glasgow. The venue will be operated by franchisee The Adil Group. The move comes little more than a year after the brand opened its first Scottish site, in the city’s Sauchiehall Street. The new restaurant will open at a KFC site in Argyle Street that is currently closed for refurbishment to sub-divide the unit. The Taco Bell restaurant will offer more than 100 seats. The brand’s UK portfolio has expanded rapidly to more than 30 sites. Earlier this month, Taco Bell general manager of Europe Jorge Torres said the brand could have more than 200 restaurants operating in the UK within the next five years if the market’s appetite for the brand “takes off in the way I expect”. He said: “During the next five years my dream would be to get to 200 restaurants in the UK. I think there is so much potential.”

Ascot Brewing Company hits target in £250,000 crowdfunding campaign: Ascot Brewing Company has hit target in its £250,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to move to larger premises and buy equipment to meet demand. The brewer, which was acquired by local businessmen Chris Davies and Mike Neame last year and is based in Camberley, Surrey, raised more than £270,000 on Crowdcube at the start of last year to ramp up brewing capacity. In its latest funding round, the company raised its equity offer to 20% in return for investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £1m. So far, 267 investors have pledged £253,850 and the campaign is currently “overfunding”. The pitch states: “To accelerate the next phase of growth we are raising further capital to move premises and equip the brewery appropriately. We aim to increase brewing capacity and our sales team, meeting demand for kegs and cans in the UK and for export; increase revenue by maximising value from our brewery, web and brewery shop, and micro-pub; roll out contactless ‘smart pump clips’ to pubs that will instantly answer consumer questions about a beer’s style, hops and process; and test-market Ascot House Amarillo handcrafted gin using our knowledge of hops, flavours and aromas.”

Team behind boutique hotel Ampersand launches City of London sister site: The team behind South Kensington boutique hotel The Ampersand has launched a sister site in the City of London. Vintry & Mercer has opened in Garlick Hill offering two restaurants and a cocktail bar, taking inspiration from the City’s historic trading guilds. Former Nobu and Zuma chef Chris Golding is overseeing the food offering at the 92-room hotel. Vintry Kitchen is an Asian tapas restaurant with the lunch and dinner menu featuring bao buns and sandos with fillings such as fried tofu with kohlrabi and apple vegan coleslaw alongside small plates, salads and desserts. Mercer Roof Terrace offers modern British fare such as oysters and steak, while basement cocktail bar DND, which stands for “do not disturb”, has its own entrance and features velvet chairs and art deco detailing alongside snacks, small plates, tacos and sliders.

Marston’s has Diss hotel plans dismissed: Marston’s has had its plans to build a hotel behind its Thatcher’s Needle pub in Diss, Norfolk, rejected. The company applied to South Norfolk Council to build a hotel and five retail units in Park Road. The hotel was to feature 27 en-suite bedrooms across two floors. In total, 153 car parking spaces would have been created along with 20 cycle spaces, an increase from the current 71 spaces. Marston’s plans to build a 60-bedroom hotel and restaurant on the site were approved in 2011 but later abandoned. The company then built the Thatcher’s Needle, which opened in October 2013.

Greene King hits £5m milestone for Macmillan Cancer Support: Brewer and retailer Greene King has raised £5m for its charity partner Macmillan Cancer Support. Greene King has reached the milestone in only six years, with £1m raised in the past seven months alone. Its next fund-raise initiative, launching this month, will see the company partner with charity Pennies, a digital alternative to the traditional collection tin, which will invite Greene King customers to make a 25p donation to charity when they spend more than £15 and pay on a card machine using chip and pin. Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand said: “We are proud of how our team members have worked tirelessly with real passion and enthusiasm to raise much-needed funds to support people with cancer. With our Pennies scheme about to launch across all our pubs, this will further increase the donations we generate for this important cause.”

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