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Wed 6th Feb 2019 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Luke Johnson supportive of legal action against Patisserie Valerie auditor following £21m Assetco damages award: Patisserie Valerie chairman Luke Johnson has confirmed he is supportive of potential legal action against Grant Thornton. The announcement comes after the auditor was told to pay damages of £21m for negligence in the performance of its audit of fire and rescue services firm Assetco. Patisserie Valerie went into administration last month after failing to agree a deal with its banks following the discovery of a £40m black hole in its accounts in October. Grant Thornton is currently under investigation for failing to spot financial irregularities in Patisserie Holdings’ accounts and has faced a backlash after its chief executive David Dunckley told a House of Commons committee his firm did not look for fraud when carrying out audits. Johnson told Investor’s Champion the Assetco case had “possible relevance for a claim against them [Grant Thornton] as Patisserie Holdings’ auditors” and confirmed he would push administrators to instigate similar action. In 2011, Grant Thornton admitted incompetence in the performance of its audit of Assetco after the company lost 90% of its value following an accounting scandal. This resulted in a £2.27m fine from the Financial Reporting Council, while former audit partner Robert Napper was charged £200,000 and excluded from membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Assetco brought a negligence claim against Grant Thornton for about £42m, which culminated in last week’s award of damages of about £21m – the largest court-ordered award against an auditor in Britain. Johnson confirmed it would be the responsibility of the administrators currently managing the company to take action against the auditors. Partners at KPMG were appointed as joint administrators in January and their role is to act in the best interest of the company’s creditors, including Johnson, who provided a £10m loan in October after the accounting failures were first revealed and extended an interest-free loan to help ensure payment of January salaries. Other creditors include the company’s lenders, landlords and suppliers, all of whom are likely to be out of pocket after the collapse of the £450m company, and staff who have missed out on several months of pay.

Industry News:

Full speaker schedule revealed for Propel Multi Club Conference, two free places for operators: The full speaker schedule has been revealed for the first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2019, which is open for bookings. The full-day event takes place on Thursday, 7 March at the Millennium Gloucester hotel in London. The speaker line-up is Graeme Smith, co-head of financial advisory services at AlixPartners; Mark Ashley, author of Be Better Than Yesterday and former director of retail operations at Geronimo; JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin; Nathan Wall, operations director of Managed Investments at Ei Group; Alastair Scott, co-founder of food-led operator Malvern Inns and Catton Hospitality; Ted Kennedy, owner of Pebble Hotels and veteran operator of pub assets; Martin Hayes, co-founder of Craft Beer Co; Ian Payne, chairman of Stonegate Pub Company; Joe Grossman, founder of the nine-strong Patty & Bun brand; and James Hacon, British Takeaway Award judge and founder of Think Hospitality. Multi-site operators of pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets can book up to two free places by emailing Anne Steele at anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Pubs and restaurants see double-digit growth as consumer spending records modest January rise: Pubs and restaurants saw double-digit growth in January compared with last year as consumer spending saw a modest increase following a December dip, according to new data. The findings by Barclaycard, which sees almost half the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, saw overall spend grow 2.9% year-on-year as spending on essential items rebounded and consumers continued to prioritise value for money. The overall rise was driven by a 6.4% increase in spending on everyday essentials – the highest level for five months. Supermarket expenditure climbed 6.8% – the highest growth since April 2017. Brits continued to eat and drink out as pubs saw spending grow 15.0% and restaurants 11.0%. This was despite the average transaction value falling 2.3% in restaurants, with customers taking advantage of continued discounting in the sector. Non-essential expenditure saw an increase of only 1.7%, with the January sales failing to bring retailers relief. Clothing and department stores experienced their fourth month of consecutive decline, contracting by 0.9% and 0.6% respectively. Consumers continue to remain cautious about their expenditure, with more than two-thirds (70%) seeking more value for money in their purchases. Furthermore, more than half (54%) are worried a rise in the price of everyday items will have an impact on their spending power in the near future. Looking at the wider picture and the spectre of Brexit, consumer confidence in the UK economy has fallen to 30%. Barclaycard director Esme Harwood said: “Despite a modest uplift in overall consumer spending retailers continued to struggle as the traditional January sales period wasn’t enough to entice shoppers to spend. Consumers will continue to prioritise value for money, especially as many have concerns about potential price increases on everyday essentials.”

Goodbody – wet-led pubs to continue outperforming in 2019 but hope for food-focused operators: Goodbody leisure analysts have argued wet-led pubs will continue to outperform in 2019 but there is also hope for food-focused outlets. They have also upgraded their forecasts for Greene King and Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), maintained their view on Marston’s and lowered their recommendation on JD Wetherspoon. Goodbody stated: “The past 12 months represented what should be considered a good outcome for UK pubs given the inflationary headwinds the sector faces, particularly in the context of other bricks and mortar retail performance. The operators in our coverage delivered well operationally and, importantly despite some doomsday predictions, consumers still enjoy eating and drinking out. This broadly led to a stabilisation of profit forecasts for the first time in a number of years, although we would caveat weather and events were broadly helpful. It is well established that wet-led pubs are seeing the benefits and we expect this to continue to be the case in the year ahead. For the food-focused operators, year-on-year comparatives will be easier this summer, which will be helpful for near-term forecasts. We move M&B to ‘Buy’ as we believe there is scope for re-rating towards its ten-year average, deleveraging of the balance sheet, the estate is continuously improving, and earnings progression. We believe M&B has made the correct decision in cutting the dividend as it reduces balance-sheet risk, gives management flexibility, and the debt to equity transfer will compensate investors for the lack of yield. Greene King outperformed our expectations this year and the group is now delivering like-for-like growth driven partly by its Value Service Quality programme and its wet-led estate. Our view is Greene King will retain its dividend into FY20 and, as a result, we upgrade to ‘Hold’. Marston’s has recently reduced its expectations for capex as it seeks to de-lever. We agree with this strategy, and capex as a percentage of sales still looks healthy. However, with high leverage and low levels of cash attributable to debt paydown we retain our concerns about the long-term sustainability of the dividend. Despite Wetherspoon showing the strongest top-line momentum, we lower our profit forecasts owing to the increased level of investment in staff and repairs. These lower forecasts lead us to reduce our recommendation from ‘Buy’ to ‘Hold’, although we would highlight its defensive characteristics.”

Foodservice price inflation falls month-on-month in December as fish and butter costs ease: Foodservice inflation fell month-on-month in December with evidence pressures are starting to ease in some categories, the latest Foodservice Price Index from CGA and Prestige Purchasing has revealed. In December, fish price inflation fell to its lowest level since July 2018. Fish, which had been tracking at high inflation levels for most of 2018, fell thanks to the build-up of salmon supplies, excellent production in Scotland and increased availability from Chile. However, with the impact of Brexit still uncertain and reduced quotas for cod and haddock still in place, price movements are likely to remain volatile and inflation could remain high in 2019. The oil and fats category also saw a sizeable easing in year-on-year inflation as butter prices continue to soften, falling 8%. However, the soft drinks category recorded a significant rise, partly driven by the impact of the sugar tax during the Christmas trading period. Seven of the ten categories of the index showed inflation compared with December 2017, but the overall inflation figure fell month-on-month. The soft drinks category has replaced fish in the top two inflationary categories this month, with inflation significantly up against December 2017 owing to strong demand in the mixers market in particular as well as the sugar tax – although month-on-month movement was better, falling 1.4%. There is more downward movement in the sugar category, with a year-on-year decrease in inflation of 14.9%, mainly down to overproduction. In other categories, inflation in meat and poultry is also down against December 2017, while in contrast the vegetables, fruit and dairy categories are all showing year-on-year inflation. Prestige Purchasing chief executive Shaun Allen said: “While overall inflation remains at a high level in the foodservice market, it is encouraging to see some much-needed downward movements across a number of categories this month. However, with the departure date from the EU less than two months away and the uncertainty of what potential impacts this could have on the food and drink supply chain, we are likely to continue to see high levels of volatility during 2019.” The Foodservice Price Index is jointly produced by CGA and Prestige Purchasing using foodservice data drawn from 7.8 million transactions per month. More information on specific categories is available on a subscription basis.

Industry employers and job centres unite to promote hospitality sector as great place to work: Employers, trade bodies and the Department for Work and Pensions will launch Hospitality Works next Friday (14 February), a three-week campaign that will promote the hospitality sector as a great place to work. Sector businesses are getting involved by offering taster sessions and visiting schools. McDonald’s, Caffe Nero and YO! Sushi are among operators that have signed up to take part so far. For the third year running Fred Sirieix, general manager of Galvin At Windows and presenter of BBC show My Million Pound Menu, will be the face of the campaign. Hospitality Works has created more than 8,000 work placements since its launch in 2015. The campaign, promoted by the hashtag #JobsWithaSmile, aims to highlight career opportunities in the sector and alleviate skill shortages.

SIBA pens open letter to Treasury minister regarding SBR review: The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has written to minister Robert Jenrick regarding the Treasury’s review into the Small Brewers’ Relief Fund (SBR). The letter asks Jenrick to clarify there will be no cuts to SBR and seeks confirmation the Treasury is considering smoothing the relief curve above 5,000HL. It also asks the minister to confirm a full public consultation will follow the questionnaire that was issued to brewers last week. SIBA has also published analysis from its independent costs benchmarking survey of small brewers. SIBA said the analysis compared directly with the EE report, published by the Small Brewers Duty Reform Coalition (SBDRC) last year. It said the analysis showed the SBDRC had “significantly underestimated” the actual costs of brewers of every size, “undermining its case and strengthening SIBA’s case for positive SBR reform”.

CAMRA brands education space trial a success: The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has hailed the success of an education space it piloted at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. Attendees took part in a range of informal activities throughout the festival, including cask and keg tastings and the chance to learn about the brewing process and ingredients. Festival-goers also learned about CAMRA’s Save Our Pubs campaign and the organisation’s latest publications. CAMRA said the stand fulfilled its commitment to “play a leading role in the provision of information, education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry”. CAMRA information and education manager Alex Metcalfe said: “The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We wanted to provide unbiased, technically accurate information in an informal and hands-on setting. Many festival-goers shared their support and encouraged us to continue building and expanding our educational support.” The organisation said it hoped the pilot would pave the way for educational areas at other CAMRA festivals.

Best Bar None national winners revealed: Best Bar None, the Home Office-supported community safety programme operated by pubs and bars in the UK, has revealed the winners of this year’s Best Bar None Awards. Plymouth won best overall scheme for the second year running, while Sheffield was highly commended. Wrexham was named most innovative scheme, while Barnsley scooped the best new scheme category. Simon Lane, city licensing manager for Exeter, was singled out for the outstanding commitment award. The awards ceremony was hosted by Best Bar None chairman Lord Smith of Hindhead. He said: “Best Bar None continues to go from strength to strength. Last October saw the launch of the new Central Scheme, which means Best Bar None can now accommodate venues that fall outside existing regional schemes. This is a major step forward and we will work hard to extend its reach in 2019. Other exciting news has been the launch of a pilot scheme with Manchester Airport Group to improve standards of air-side alcohol retailing across the UK’s biggest airport group.”

Licensing update: Licensing solicitor John Gaunt & Partners produces a useful monthly summary of topical issues. To access the latest, click here

Company News:

Deliveroo hits 80,000-restaurant milestone, 60% rise since September: Deliveroo has said it is now working with 80,000 restaurants across the globe, a 60% rise since September. In 2018, Deliveroo worked with 130,000 delivery riders across 13 markets and now has its own global workforce of 2,500, with more than half (1,300) based in the UK, where the company is headquartered. Deliveroo said it was also improving its offer to riders by launching a Cash Out feature on its app that enables riders to receive their fees instantly at the tap of a button if they wish. Deliveroo said it had also teamed up with UK fintech company Portify, a digital tool that offers users support filing tax returns online, support with personal budgeting, and a range of perks and rewards. Deliveroo UK managing director Dan Warne said: “We will continue to find new and exciting ways to be the partner of choice for restaurants and to ensure we are offering riders the well-paid, flexible work we know they value. We are proud to be helping local economies in all our markets, in particular in our fantastic home, the UK.” Last month, Deliveroo appointed Inés Ures as its new chief marketing officer.

Jones Bar Group to launch karaoke concept in Leeds after acquiring The Pit from Arc Inspirations: Jones Bar Group, which operates the Roxy Ball Room brand, is to launch a karaoke concept after acquiring The Pit in Leeds from Arc Inspirations. Loop will open at the venue in Merrion Street later this month featuring retro arcade machines, prosecco pong, beer pong and five private karaoke booths. Arc Inspirations chief executive Martin Wolstencroft told Propel: “We have taken the strategic decision to sell our Pit site in Leeds. This will enable us to focus on the investment and expansion of our core brands as we continue our exciting growth journey, opening sites in targeted clusters and branching out into different cities. All the fantastic team will be redeployed to our other bars across the city. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the many guests who have enjoyed the experience at this venue over the years and look forward to welcoming them to our Banyan, Manahatta and Box sites in the city.” Loop brand development manager Joel Mitchell said although the Leeds nightlife scene had “rocketed in the past few years”, he saw a “huge gap in the market for an upfront party bar”. Jones Bar Group operates seven Roxy Ball Rooms, including sites in Huddersfield, Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham. Arc Inspirations operates 17 bars across the north of England.

Honest Burgers teams up with Brighton businesses ahead of restaurant launch: Honest Burgers, which is backed by Active Partners, is teaming up with Brighton businesses ahead of the launch of its restaurant in the city later this month. The company will open its venue on Monday, 25 February at a site in Duke Street previously occupied by restaurant Pascere. In the run-up to the launch, founders Philip Eeles and Tom Barton will take over the kitchen at the West Hill Tavern and operate the Honest Burgers Field Kitchen – a converted Land Rover Defender – at Holler Brewery’s Brighton base, with the companies partnering to create their own beer, The Duke, for the restaurant. The new venue will feature the brand’s signature burgers and rosemary fries, while the soundtrack will be created in partnership with local independent store Resident Records. The launch will be a homecoming of sorts for Barton and Eeles, who met in the city and served their first burgers at the Brighton Food Festival in 2010. Barton said: “We met some great people who helped us open a tiny restaurant in Brixton, and then a few more. Eight years later we’re back here opening a restaurant in Brighton. To say we’re chuffed is an understatement.” Since the first Honest Burgers site opened in Brixton in 2011, the brand has grown to 27 venues in London and one each in Bristol, Cambridge and Reading. Its pipeline for 2019 includes openings in London Bridge, Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester. Last week, the company appointed Wagamama regional director Brian Gillan as operations director. Gillan will start his new role in April.

NewRiver completes Hawthorn Leisure integration: NewRiver has completed the integration of the Hawthorn Leisure pub business. The integration includes combining all IT, finance and HR systems and means all NewRiver’s 671 community pubs – 22% of its portfolio by value – are now managed by the Hawthorn Leisure platform. The integration will have an immediate positive impact on NewRiver’s FY19 funds from operations thanks to the unlocking of £2m of the £3m of annualised cost synergies identified by NewRiver at the time of the acquisition in May last year. The unlocking of the remaining £1m of synergies is expected to follow in FY20. In its latest quarter Hawthorn Leisure saw like-for-like Ebitda per pub increase 0.8% and a 4.3% increase in the two weeks to 31 December 2018. The debut pub within a NewRiver shopping centre has also opened – The Keg & Kitchen at The Ridings in Wakefield. NewRiver chief financial officer Mark Davies continues to chair Hawthorn Leisure, with Gerry Carroll as chief executive. To ensure continuity for pubs transferring to the Hawthorn Leisure platform, several employees of NewRiver’s former external pub management company, LT Management Services, will also join the Hawthorn Leisure team. Davies said: “I am delighted we have reached this significant milestone in our community pubs business. The integration of Hawthorn Leisure and transfer of all our community pubs to its management platform will bring immediate benefits in terms of synergies, greater operational insight, and the sharing of expertise and best practice throughout our entire portfolio.” Carroll added: “With a strong set of shared values and a highly passionate, experienced and hard-working team, I am confident Hawthorn Leisure will continue to grow as a fully integrated part of NewRiver.”

Out of The Woods opens fourth London site, in Battersea: Out of The Woods Restaurant Group, run by Jasper Gorst, has opened its fourth site in London. Gorst has headed south of the Thames to launch The Oak SW11 in Battersea having transformed the former Butcher & Grill in Parkgate Road. The Oak SW11 serves the group’s signature pizzas alongside an Italian and Mediterranean-focused menu. There is also a wine list featuring bottles from across Europe with a heavy emphasis on France and Italy, while the bar offers a stripped-back cocktail menu. The 3,500 square foot venue features two dining rooms, a counter bar and lounge. The design incorporates 3D tiles, banquettes and a long table seating 16. Gorst opened The Oak W2 in Notting Hill in 2001 followed by The Bird In Hand in Brook Green in 2011 and The Oak W12 in Goldhawk Road two years later.

Multi-site operators take on Star Pubs & Bars sites in Edinburgh as company invests £960,000 in capital: Two multi-site operators have taken on Edinburgh pubs with Star Pubs & Bars as the Heineken-owned company undertakes a major investment in the city. Star Pubs & Bars is investing £960,000 in four pubs in the Edinburgh area during the first quarter of 2019, creating 40 jobs. The Annfield and The Victoria will both have kitchens installed and offer barista-style coffee to broaden their appeal throughout the day. Star Pubs & Bars is investing £325,000 in a £500,000 refurbishment of The Annfield with Scottish multi-site operator Neil Douglas. The pub, which has been closed for a couple of years, will reopen at the end of March as a neighbourhood bar serving gourmet burgers. It will be renamed Basil’s in reference to 1960s modernist architect Sir Basil Spence and feature exposed brick walls, concrete panelling with painted slogans, a block wood bar and bench seating. The nine-week refurbishment will turn two rooms into a single, 80-cover eating and drinking area. The Victoria, which has been closed since September, will reopen at the end of March with a “distinct European offer”. Renamed Damm27, the pub will feature a new central bar with exposed stone walls and timber and tiled floors. The opening is a partnership with Andy McCartney, who recently launched Embargo in Glasgow. Other Star pubs to benefit from investment are The Scotsman in Cockburn Street and The Spylaw in Colinton. The company also plans to invest £340,000 in city centre pub The Phoenix and is looking for a licensee. Star Pubs & Bars will invest £1.21m in its Edinburgh pubs during January and February.

Nico Simeone to open first site outside Scotland with Belfast launch: Glasgow-based Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone is taking his Six by Nico concept to Northern Ireland. Nico will open a restaurant in Waring Street in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. He is investing £500,000 in the venue, which will be the third Six by Nico site and first outside Scotland. The restaurant will open next month at a site formerly occupied by Quartisan cafe, creating 40 jobs. It will follow the same format as the other Six by Nico sites, with a six-course tasting menu changing every six weeks to reflect a new theme. Simeone told the Belfast Telegraph: “Belfast is the perfect location for our next venture and I couldn’t think of a better location than the vibrant food and drinks scene at the Cathedral Quarter.” Simeone also operates gastro-pub Public House by Nico and the 111 by Nico restaurant, both in Glasgow.

International cyber cafe brand Wanyoo Café makes European debut, in London’s West End: International cyber cafe brand Wanyoo Café has made its European debut by launching a site in London’s West End. Founded in Shanghai in 1998, Wanyoo Café operates more than 1,100 cyber cafes in more than 50 cities worldwide, including in the US, Australia and Canada. The brand has made its UK debut in Charing Cross Road at a 5,330 square foot site set across two floors. Wanyoo Café chose Central Cross due to its position bordering Chinatown London and its connectivity to Covent Garden, Soho and Leicester Square. Wanyoo Café director Zhaorong Chen said: “This prime position is perfect for our European debut and has great visibility and connectivity. London has one of the world’s most diverse populations and we are excited to welcome a whole new customer base to Wanyoo Café.” Andrew Price, asset executive at landlord Shaftesbury, added: “Video gaming has become a community activity, attracting vast numbers of spectators and contributors seeking to enjoy a shared passion. We have seen first-hand the immense popularity of Wanyoo Café in China and are confident it will be a successful addition to the capital’s line-up of unique leisure experiences. We are delighted the brand has selected this location for the first move of its European expansion plans.”

Kokoro signs for Basingstoke shopping centre: Sushi and bento brand Kokoro has signed for a site at the Festival Place shopping centre in Basingstoke, Hampshire. Taking a 1,300 square foot unit in the grab and go area, Kokoro will serve freshly made east Asian dishes, sushi and sashimi. The restaurant will be Kokoro’s 23rd branch following the opening of its flagship site in Kingston-upon-Thames in 2010. Kokoro joins The Sushi Maki, which opened at the AEW-owned centre in December as a second site for the concept following its debut in Newbury, Berkshire. Festival Place is home to more than 30 restaurants, cafes and bars including Nando’s, Wagamama, PizzaExpress, Casual Dining Group-owned Las Iguanas, Giraffe, Azzurri Group brand ASK Italian and Gourmet Burger Kitchen. The agents for Festival Place are Cushman & Wakefield and Lunson Mitchenall. CBRE is the managing agent.

Ei Group partners with Devon-based restaurateurs to relaunch Salcombe pub: Ei Group’s leased and tenanted division Ei Publican Partnerships has partnered with Peter and Christine Milton to reopen The Kings Arms in Salcombe, Devon, following a £370,000 joint investment. The Miltons operate a seafood restaurant and wine merchant in Salcombe and previously ran an Ei Publican Partnerships site in the town for many years. The Miltons’ sons will help them run the new-look Kings Arms, which will relaunch on Saturday (9 February). The refurbishment, funded by a £300,000 investment by Ei Publican Partnerships, features a revamped bar and terrace and a new kitchen. The upstairs restaurant will feature a terrace and offer locally sourced seafood, while the downstairs restaurant and bar will focus on traditional pub classics. Christine Milton said: “We are hugely excited to have the opportunity to revive this pub and bring it back to a community venue. It’s a big site but we’re confident with our knowledge of the local market and expertise in running hospitality businesses, The Kings Arms will be a great success.” Ei Publican Partnerships senior regional manager Peter Gatling added: “This is a key site in an admired location. Christine and her family have a tremendous track record of running hospitality businesses in the town and I have no doubt they will make it a success.”

Victor Garvey closes Sibarita to launch first City of London solo site: Spanish chef and restaurateur Victor Garvey has closed his Covent Garden restaurant Sibarita to focus on a new opening in the City of London. The concept, Barullo, will launch in Aldgate in March and will be Garvey’s debut solo site in the City. Garvey, who also owns Catalan restaurant Rambla in Soho, will launch Barullo in Bevis Marks at a space formerly occupied by James Cochran EC3. Barullo will offer Spanish food with a Catalonian focus ranging from classic tapas dishes to paella. The full menu will also be available for takeaway or delivery and will feature dishes such as kiko fried chicken, roast and pressed suckling pig, and toasted coconut ice cream. Garvey also plans to launch Bar Jaleo in Soho this year, Hot Dinners reports. In January 2018, Garvey took ownership of Sibarita and Rambla under the umbrella of the newly incorporated Garvey Restaurant Holdings.

Grocer and kitchen concept Melrose and Morgan fails in £250,000 crowdfunding campaign to expand across London: Grocer and kitchen concept Melrose and Morgan has failed in its bid to raise £250,000 on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to expand into other London neighbourhoods. Founders Ian James and Nick Selby were offering 12.20% equity in return for investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £1.8m. However, Crowdcube has announced the campaign failed to reach its funding target by the closing date. Melrose and Morgan planned to use the funds to open two shops in 2019, aiming for ten by 2022. The brand currently operates two shops in the capital, in Primrose Hill and Hampstead. The pitch states: “Having launched in 2004, we have established a firm business model with two shops, a central production kitchen, our own brand of products spanning more than 50 skus, and a wholesale business. The business has undergone an extensive restructure including the appointment of a new management team, the refurbishment of each site, rebranding, relaunch of the website with a fine food offering and new product development. We sit in a growing sector and research shows the food-to-go market is expected to increase 28% and the UK grocery market grow 15% in the next five years.”

Michelin-starred chef Rohit Ghai to launch Indian dining concept at Boxpark Wembley on Saturday: Rohit Ghai, former executive chef of Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Jamavar, is to launch an Indian dining concept at Boxpark Wembley on Saturday (9 February). Ghai and business partner Abhishake Sangwan will open KoolCha offering an extensive menu of Indian comfort food. The offer will focus on traditional north Indian flatbread “filled with innovative flavours” and served alongside dal, raita and chutneys. Ghai will also give secret family recipes a contemporary twist while the drinks menu will feature iced tea, cocktails and Indian beer. Ghai and Sangwan have headed a number of successful operations in the past including Hoppers, Trishna and Jamavar, where Ghai was awarded a Michelin star. KoolCha is the second solo venture for Ghai and Sangwan following the recent launch of fine dining restaurant Kutir in Chelsea. Ghai said: “KoolCha will be a new pan-Indian restaurant concept that promises to reinvigorate the Indian food space. We are excited to launch KoolCha at Boxpark Wembley, which will provide a great platform for our brainchild to flourish as part of London’s most exciting casual dining community.” Boxpark founder and chief executive Roger Wade added: “Rohit has worked at an impressive number of world-class restaurants and KoolCha will be no different. Who knows, could this be the first Michelin star for Boxpark?”

Safestay reports full-year revenue up 39%, identifies 15 cities for roll-out: London-headquartered hostel operator Safestay has reported revenue increased 39% to £14.6m for the year ending 31 December 2018, compared with £10.5m the previous year. The company expects to deliver Ebitda of at least £3.4m, compared with £3.2m the year before. Occupancy rose to 75.6%, compared with 72.8% the previous year. The company is poised for European roll-out with 15 European cities identified having raised £10.36m in December. It added hostel sites in Barcelona, Brussels and Vienna while it has completed a 73-bedroom extension to its Elephant and Castle site in London. The company has four UK sites – two in London and one in York and Edinburgh – and nine in Europe – three in Barcelona and one each in Brussels, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Prague and Vienna. Chairman Larry Lipman said: “The focus is to grow the brand and the company has the capital to support an increase from the 13 sites today to more than 20, at which point the business will become self-funding and increasingly gain from economies of scale and brand growth.” 

Portsmouth-based brewer Staggeringly Good extends crowdfunding campaign, reports 100% year-on-year sales rise in January: Portsmouth-based brewer Staggeringly Good has extended its £300,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to quadruple capacity. The brewer is offering 10.71% equity in return for investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £2.5m. So far, 330 investors have pledged £165,780 with 19 days now remaining after the campaign was extended by two weeks. Staggeringly Good also reported a 100% year-on-year sales rise in January boosted by the launch of its bar and events venue The House of Rapture. A company spokesman said: “Crowdcube is extending our raise in response to any nervousness from investors caused by Brexit and launching our campaign just before Christmas. The encouraging news is our bar and events venue, The House of Rapture, is now in full swing and our bar and shop sales have gone from £8,860 in January 2018 to a whopping £17,446 in January 2019, so to say we have smashed it would be an understatement! The buzz created around our new venue has been immense and with a large number of people contacting us to book the venue, the calendar is filling fast. Our cheese and beer night brought in more than 170 customers and filled both our taproom and new bar to the max. This was complemented by another busy Portsmouth FC home match, with many supporters seeking out the most unique pre-match drinking spot in the country.”

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