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Mon 18th Feb 2019 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Sector like-for-likes down 1.8% in January: Britain’s managed pub and restaurant groups saw like-for-like sales fall 1.8% in January compared with the previous year, according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker. Pub and restaurant operators both saw a drop in sales, although pubs did marginally better with collective like-for-likes down 1.4% against 2.5% for restaurant chains. Overall like-for-like trading in London was essentially in line with the rest of the country, down 1.9% compared with a 1.7% fall outside the M25. The big contrast was between managed pubs and group-owned restaurants in the capital, with the former down 0.5% against a more significant 4.1% sales decline for restaurants in January. The difference in performance was less stark outside the M25, with pubs’ like-for-likes down 1.6% and restaurants down 2.0%. “After strong trading over the festive season, which saw sector like-for-like sales 4.1% up on 2017, operators will be disappointed there has been no follow-through into January – even though the weather, and in particular the lack of snow early in the month, was better than last year,” said Karl Chessell, director of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM. “However, it is worth remembering January is always a relatively quiet month. The first big test of the year for the market is the February half-term holidays, then Easter – although this year Brexit is bringing more anxiety for the industry. Branded restaurant operators continue to have a tougher time than pubs despite many closing under-performing sites in the last year. That is most marked inside the M25, where competition is more intense and consumers are more likely to look for, and find, somewhere new to try. Despite Dry January, drink sales in pubs held up better than food sales, down 0.7% compared with a 2.0% fall, suggesting underlying food growth in pubs appears to be peaking as competition and choice in the out-of-home sector increases generally and premiumisation of the drinks sector stimulates alcohol sales.” Trevor Watson, executive director, valuations at Davis Coffer Lyons, added: “The figures are indicative of the malaise affecting consumers in the post-Christmas period. Trading prospects are likely to remain weak, which mirrors statistics for the wider UK economy where there is a clear indication of a slowdown. The strongest innovative operators that continue to exceed customer expectations in terms of service and value are trading well, as indicated in Christmas trading statements.” Total sales across the 49 companies in the Tracker, which include the effect of net new openings since this time last year, were ahead 0.4% compared with last January. Underlying like-for-like growth for the Tracker cohort, which represents large and small groups, was running at 1.2% for the 12 months to the end of January.

Industry News:

Social Strategy In A Day opens for bookings: Social Strategy In A Day, an event aimed at allowing companies to develop and hone their social media strategy, has launched and is open for bookings. The event features all-new content and insights to allow companies to increase brand exposure, broaden their reach and ensure their digital marketing really delivers. Propel has partnered with digital marketing company Digital Blonde for the one-day advanced workshop, which will cover everything a marketing department should be thinking about when it comes to social strategy. The event takes place on Thursday, 4 April at One Moorgate Place in London. Sessions will include how to drive business via social media, how activity works for different generations, the power and empathy in great storytelling, and marketing and what it takes to be a trusted brand on social media. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium members and £345 plus VAT for non-members and can be booked by emailing anne.steele@propelinfo.com
 
Simon Townsend to feature in next video for Propel Premium subscribers: Ei Group chief executive Simon Townsend will feature in the next 30-minute video for Propel Premium subscribers, which will be sent out on Friday (22 February). Townsend gives his views on the challenges of leadership during a period of immense change. Premium subscribers receive regular video recordings of key speakers from Propel events and conferences. Other videos have featured sector investor Luke Johnson; Ceviche founder Martin Morales; City Pub Company founder Clive Watson; brand strategist Ian Dunstall; Chozen Noodle chief executive Matthew Kirby; Coaching Inn Group founder Kevin Charity; consultant James Hacon; Imbiba partner Darrel Connell; Sticks ‘n’ Sushi group chief operating officer Andreas Karlsson; Mowgli founder Nisha Katona; haysmacintyre partner Andrew Ball; Carluccio’s chief executive Mark Jones; Swingers co-founder Matt Grech-Smith; Morar HPI deputy managing director Martin Dinkele; John Upton, former managing director of Leon and now board member of Motherclucker and Naked Deli; David Singleton, area vice-president, franchise operations and development EMEA/south Asia at Hard Rock International; and Loungers founder Alex Reilley. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, access to our database of 1,300 multi-site companies, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from insights editor Mark Wingett. His next piece will feature the second part of his views on what lies ahead for the sector’s big pub operators. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “We plan to compile an invaluable library of senior leaders and advisors offering insights and advice, a resource Premium readers can tap into.” An annual premium subscription costs £345 plus VAT for operators and £445 plus VAT for suppliers – plus £50 each for additional team members. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Pub closure rate slows to 14.5 a week but ‘still remains too high’, says CAMRA: The rate of pub closures in England, Wales and Scotland has slowed to 14.5 a week but the figure “still remains too high”, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has said. Findings by the organisation showed a total of 378 pubs shut between July and December last year. Of those, 339 were in England, where is now a total of 40,683 pubs. A total of 23 pubs shut in Scotland during the period leaving the country with 2,901 pubs while the 16 closures in Wales means it now has 3,612. The region with the highest number of closures was south east England, where 63 shut, while the fewest was in the north east, with 17. Despite the closure rate slowing from 18 per week, CAMRA has renewed its calls for fundamental action to save pubs. These include a reduction in beer duty to level the playing field between the price of beer paid in pubs and supermarkets as well as reviewing the business rates system. National chairman Jackie Parker said: “Pubs are a very important part of our national culture and are valuable community assets that help to combat loneliness and social isolation. It’s great we have seen a drop in the number of pubs closing, showing that our hard-fought campaign to get planning protection for pubs was worth it. Protecting pubs in the English planning system was a necessity and a welcome move from the government. However, it’s taken nearly two years for the trickle-down effects of the planning changes to show. Our politicians should back the asks of the Save Our Pubs Campaign in full, and show they are squarely behind pubs.”
 
Industry leading on tackling gambling harm, says UKHospitality: Current approaches to tackling gambling-related harm are sensible and effective but the sector will go further still, UKHospitality has said. The trade body has responded to the Gambling Commission’s consultation on the National Responsible Gambling Strategy, highlighting proactive work being carried out by the hospitality sector to tackle harms and promote responsible play. UKHospitality told the Gambling Commission industry-led partnership schemes should be prioritised as part of the national strategy and significant changes only implemented on the basis of clear evidence. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The sector is being proactive in tackling issues around under-age play and gambling-related harm. We take our responsibility seriously and we want to make sure gambling takes place in a supervised environment. UKHospitality regularly meets with other stakeholders, including the Gambling Commission, to work closely over shared areas of concern and develop best practice. With other hospitality representatives and our members, we have taken the initiative to work on an industry-led social responsibility code and enhanced staff training. We are committed to ensuring staff receive the best possible training and appropriate age verification schemes and messaging is promoted in venues. Many UKHospitality members also make annual contributions to the important work of GambleAware.”
 
BBPA calls for ‘break from blanket regulations’ as Welsh government opts to press ahead with minimum unit pricing: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has called for a “break from blanket regulations” after the Welsh government decided to press ahead with plans to introduce a 50p minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol. BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “We look to the Welsh government to provide clarity as to how and when MUP will be implemented. The BBPA has always been concerned about imposing conditions that penalise responsible drinkers and there’s no denying this decision will cause uncertainty. However, what’s important now is industry is given a break from further blanket regulations. This will also allow MUP to be properly assessed as a policy to reduce alcohol-related harm. The BBPA strongly supports policies and initiatives that target the minority who misuse alcohol and view this as the best way to reduce alcohol harm without penalising responsible drinkers. We have been very active, with the removal of one billion units of alcohol from the UK market as well as raising unit awareness, providing consistent labelling and promoting lower-strength products. When tackling alcohol-related harm, education and awareness as well as partnerships between industry, communities, police and public health authorities, deliver the most effective results.”
 
Newcastle Restaurant Week generates £600,000 business boost: Newcastle Restaurant Week generated a £600,000 boost to business for the 100-plus venues that took part, according to new figures. The scheme, which Business Improvement District company NE1 ran from 21 to 27 January, encouraged people to dine out by offering meals for £10 or £15-a-head at 112 of the city’s restaurants. A record number of people visited NE1’s Get Into Newcastle website, with 45,000 Restaurant Week vouchers downloaded. Stephen Patterson, director of communications at NE1, told Insider Media: “We love the vibrancy NE1 Newcastle Restaurant Week creates in the city and to see Newcastle full of people on what would otherwise be a quiet time of the year is great.”

Lunar Lemon founder publishes debut novel: Craig Melvin, founder of Lunar Lemon, the brand and business development company for the hospitality industry, will publish his debut novel this week. The Belle Hotel is inspired by the Roux dynasty and is a "salty romance set at a legendary Brighton hotel". Gregg Wallace, judge on the BBC show MasterChef, has given a cover quote – "fantastic story". The book is in Waterstones branches across the country.
 

Company News:

Six face arrest in Patisserie Valerie accounts scandal: Up to six people face arrest over the Patisserie Valerie scandal. Their names are highlighted in a report by the accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers into the alleged fraud at the company. They are said to have signed fraudulent cheques and sent emails discussing fabricating invoices, reports The Sunday Times. Patisserie Valerie collapsed into administration last month, three months after discovering a £40m hole in its accounts. Trading of its shares was suspended in October and it was revealed cheques worth millions of pounds had been used to artificially inflate the company’s cash reserves. The Serious Fraud Office has already made one arrest. A further five people are understood to be under investigation. Three are said to have been junior staff. They do not include the former executive chairman Luke Johnson, or non-executive directors Lee Ginsberg and James Horler, who are understood to have been interviewed as witnesses and not suspects. According to a source, the suspected fraud involved the double-counting of voucher sales to inflate revenues and the manipulation of costs, with business rates and VAT bills going unpaid. Between £10m and £12m was owed to HM Revenue & Customs. Up to 15 secret bank accounts are said to have been used to disguise the shortage of cash. Patisserie Valerie was bought out of administration last week by Irish private equity firm Causeway Capital, preserving almost 2,000 jobs.

The Breakfast Club founder – there was no ‘last-minute lifeline’ from bank and I could not be more optimistic about our future: The Breakfast Club founder Jonathan Arana-Morton has told Propel he could not be more optimistic about its future following a “misleading” report the company had been handed a last-minute lifeline from its bank. The Breakfast Club breached part of its banking covenant with Santander last year, which has agreed to waive the defaults, The Sunday Telegraph reported. However, Arana-Morton told Propel improvements to the financial performance over the past year led Santander to address the covenants and they were now at a level “most banks would lend to if we were to seek funding now”. Arana-Morton said: “In truth it was not a last-minute lifeline that Santander gave us. The business is in a healthy state with ten of our 11 sites making a profit, more than £2m in site Ebitda and an offer that guests are still willing to queue for, which in the current market is pretty good going. Santander has constant visibility on our results and it was the improvements to our financial performance over the past year that has led it to address our covenants. We and the bank expected these covenant levels to come down over the past couple of years but we all know what the trading environment has been like and we’re not alone in saying it’s been a tough time for our sector. It’s ironic the report has actually come at a time when we’re actually the most optimistic about our future, we think there’s huge potential for growth in this market for our brand.” The Breakfast Club had looked to raise funds for growth with a £750,000 campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube but decided to end the raise last month in favour of an alternative plan that dealt with key investors directly instead. At the time The Breakfast Club cancelled the campaign it had raised more than 70% of its target with the 4.49% equity it was offering in return giving the company a pre-money valuation of £15,969,000. Arana-Morton said he felt the valuation was “fair” and had a lower multiple “relative to other similar but less established businesses in our sector”. He added: “We’re currently in the process of finalising our plan for future growth. It’s a great business, with bags of heart and soul and a hugely loyal following. We are excited about what the future holds.” The Breakfast Club was founded in 2005 by Arana-Morton and sister-in-law Alison and has grown from a 20-seater cafe in Soho to a £15.2m-a-year turnover, 350-staff business.

High head office costs and £500,000 funding shortfall led to Mitchells of Lancaster's administration: Brewer and retailer Mitchells of Lancaster went into administration after directors failed in their bid to source a new refinancing package or investment to address an estimated funding shortfall of £500,000, a new document has revealed. The company, which suffered cash flow issues due to high head office costs and ongoing trading difficulties, was also facing enforcement action from HM Revenue & Customs over unpaid VAT and outstanding PAYE balances. A statement of proposals by administrators Steven Muncaster and Catherine Sheard, of Duff & Phelps, revealed there had been "a number of offers" for the pubs as well as the business and assets of Mitchells of Lancaster, which were currently being reviewed. The report showed when Mitchells of Lancaster bought York Brewery in 2008 it had an estate of 66 pubs. By the time the administrators were appointed in December 2018, this had fallen to ten – eight managed sites and two tenanted. Between 2009 and 2017, Mitchells of Lancaster reduced debt from circa £23m to £5m but its overhead costs remained largely the same, with the majority of these being borne from its head office. This coupled with a reduction in turnover had an adverse impact on the company's cash flow. In March 2017, Mitchells of Lancaster secured a new £3.5m facility from Assetz, which while sufficient to repay its previous lender in full and provide short-term working capital was at a "significantly" higher rate of interest, reducing profitability further. Mitchells of Lancaster attempted to reduce the Assetz debt with further pub disposals but was unable to secure deals at the same level it had previously. Mitchells of Lancaster secured an additional £750,000 loan from Resolve in March 2018 to meet overdue VAT liabilities. However, the funds were insufficient to enable Mitchells of Lancaster to be restructured, specifically the head office costs that remained high. With both the Assetz and Resolve facilities expiring in October and December 2018 respectively, the directors sought new funding arrangements and approached a number of lenders but were unable to secure a deal, leading to Duff & Phelps' appointment. The administrators closed Mitchells of Lancaster's head office and two pubs – Fibber McGees and 1725 Blue Anchor, both in Lancaster, resulting in 27 redundancies, including the directors. Assetz and Resolve are owed about £890,000 and £910,000 respectively and the administrators said there should be sufficient realisations from a sale for both to be repaid in full. Preferential claims from the redundant employees, with the exception of the directors, is estimated at £20,000 while unsecured creditor claims total an estimated 1,798,286. The administrators said any distribution to these creditors would depend on the impending sale. As previously reported, York Brewery was acquired out of administration in December by Black Sheep Brewery for an undisclosed sum. 
 
Rarebreed Dining exchanges on fourth site, year of consolidation before ‘phase two’ expansion begins: Restaurant company Rarebreed Dining has exchanged contracts on its fourth site, Propel has learned. The company has agreed to buy a freehold pub in Weybridge, Surrey, with the deal expected to complete in April. Managing director Jordan Hallows said the company would now look to consolidate for the next year before embarking on “phase two” of its expansion plans. The Weybridge deal gives Rarebreed Dining two sites in Berkshire (The Shurlock Inn and The Corn Stores, both in Reading) and two in Surrey. Hallows said: “The Weybridge site marks the end of phase one of our expansion. The next year will be about consolidating what we have and then we will go again with phase two of growth. That will include acquisitions of further freehold properties in the Home Counties. We believe there is still plenty of potential for us in Berkshire and Surrey but we will look a little further afield, such as Hampshire and Oxfordshire.” The Corn Stores, which opened in Forbury Road in December, features a 60-cover exclusive members’ lounge on the top floor of the three-storey building, which it bought from London brewer and retailer Fuller’s. The membership programme launched at the start of February and is already oversubscribed. Hallows added: “As part of our phase two expansion we will look at opening a second site with a members’ club if we can find the right location.” The Weybridge site will also house Rarebreed Dining’s new head office in five of nine rooms at the property. The remaining four rooms will be used as staff accommodation. Hallows said: “We open sites in affluent areas where property is very expensive so having staff live on-site helps when it comes to recruitment.” Rarebreed Dining’s other Surrey site is The Plough Inn in Cobham.

Domino’s Pizza calls off rally over fears of boycott: Domino’s Pizza has cancelled its annual awards day in April, after almost all its shop owners said they would boycott the event. The company said in an email to franchisees it was “disappointed” to hear there was “currently less appetite to celebrate as one team”, reports The Sunday Times. The email added: “With this in mind, we’ve taken the difficult decision to cancel the managers’ rally this year.” The company, led by David Wild, has come under increased pressure after store owners formed the Domino’s Franchisee Association to lobby for a greater share of profits – threatening to drag their heels over new openings.
 
Red Mist Leisure returns to Farnham as it launches tenth site: Pub operator Red Mist Leisure, founded by Mark Robson and Mark Williams, has opened its tenth site. The company has returned to Farnham, Surrey, to launch The Castle Inn having acquired the leasehold of a former Brasserie Blanc restaurant in Castle Street last month. Work has included extending the bar and redecoration throughout with new artwork, bric-a-brac and soft furnishings. The venue offers 70 covers in the main restaurant, 55 across two private dining rooms and 40 on its garden terrace. The move marks a return to Farnham for Red Mist Leisure, which sold The Wheatsheaf to Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame in October. Robson said: “We are thrilled to be back in the heart of Farnham with a location that allows us to be closer to the new East Street development. We have worked hard to build a strong and loyal customer base, which values the immense effort we take to ensure we are serving the freshest food and drink options.”

Marlon Abela forced to make substantial cash injection to prevent restaurant empire being liquidated: Restauranteur Marlon Abela was forced to make a substantial cash injection into his company to prevent it from being liquidated, it has been revealed. Filings for Marc, the parent company of his restaurants, showed it fell into liquidation towards the end of last year. Only a substantial cash injection from Abela saved the company, which has four venues in Mayfair – Morton’s Club, Umu, the Square and the Greenhouse. He is understood to be reviewing options for Morton’s. Between 2008 and 2016, Marc (Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation) posted pre-tax losses totalling £46.7m. The company relied on cash injections from the founder to meets its “day-to-day working capital requirements”, according to filings at Companies House. HM Revenue & Customs has served businesses where Abela is a director with 38 winding-up petitions — which seek to dissolve a company to recoup unpaid debts — since early 2016. Most were subsequently dismissed. Marc fell into liquidation in November, with accountant RSM appointed to handle the process. The cancellation of the liquidation was dependent on Abela injecting substantial personal capital. He told The Sunday Times the liquidation had been a “small and forgettable chapter” in the company’s history. He added: “We are immensely proud of our hard-working team, who continue to provide outstanding food and first-class service in an incredibly difficult and challenging market place. While London and the UK are experiencing uncertainty, I am pleased to report our businesses continue to buck that trend, and with the plans we have in place we will grow from strength to strength in the coming months and years.”
 
Former Cinnamon Club managing director to open south east Asian cafe in Fitzrovia for fourth London site: Former Cinnamon Club managing director Rohit Chugh is to open a south east Asian cafe in Fitzrovia, central London, for his fourth site in the capital. Chugh, who operates Indian street food restaurant Roti Chai in Marylebone as well as Indian restaurant Chai Ki and roadside-style bar and kitchen Toddy Shop, both in Canary Wharf, will launch new concept Bambusa next month. Bambusa will open from breakfast to supper at a site in Charlotte Street formerly occupied by cafe Mizuna. Bambusa will offer an “eclectic range of breakfast and all-day dishes with global influences, initially focusing on flavours from across south East Asia”. Coffee will be a bespoke Malabar house blend to accompany pastries and other sweet treats, Hot Dinners reports. Chugh opened Roti Chai in 2014 and Chai Ki a year later.

Just Eat sees second investor urge overhaul: Online food delivery business Just Eat is facing mounting pressure to merge with a rival after a second investor broke ranks to call for a shake-up. Last week activist investor Cat Rock Capital, which holds 2% of Just Eat, wrote an open letter to the firm's board demanding a major overhaul. Now another of its largest shareholders has broken ranks to back the call for action and has vowed to write to the board. A further three shareholders have also written to the board in the past week to express their frustration at poor communication from the company over an action plan they deem worthy of discussion, reports The Mail on Sunday. An investor who holds more than a million shares but wished to remain anonymous, said: “We believe Cat Rock's argument for a merger with a well-run peer is worth serious consideration. Just Eat needs exceptional management to make up for lost time and the best teams are already running leading online food delivery companies. We would be deeply disappointed if the board ignored this path for long-term value creation. We will be writing to the Just Eat board to express our support for Cat Rock's proposal.” In its letter last week, Cat Rock said the company should merge with a rival rather than continue its search to fill its vacant chief executive role following the departure of Peter Plumb. Just Eat said: “We take communications with all our shareholders extremely seriously. We are carrying out a thorough chief executive appointment process and we will update the market as appropriate.”
 
Brighton-based Trading Post Coffee Roasters opens third site: Brighton-based Trading Post Coffee Roasters has opened its third site. The company has launched the outlet in the North Laine area of Brighton, in Kensington Gardens. The outlet will feature a roof terrace, which will open in spring. Trading Post Coffee Roasters offers its own artisan blends that are “crafted with two generations of knowledge from its coffee roasters”. The fresh food menu is mainly organic, while the Kensington Gardens site will offer an all-day brunch menu. Operations manager Harry Woodhams said: “We are pleased to open our third site with this fantastic location in North Laine.” Trading Post Coffee Roasters’ other sites are in Ship Street, Brighton, which also houses its roastery and wholesale operation, and Cliffe High Street in Lewes. The company is looking to expand and is seeking premises in market towns in and around Sussex. The Kensington Gardens premises were acquired by Brighton and Hove-based agents Watkins Commercial, led by Emma Watkins, which is also leading the hunt for further sites.
 
Papa John’s launches free tuition programme for employees: Papa John’s has teamed up with Purdue University Global to provide free tuition for its 20,000 corporate staff as well as “significant” reductions for franchisee employees who enrol in the online degree programme. Employees are eligible for free tuition at the online-only institution if they have worked more than 20 hours per week for at least 90 days at a Papa John’s site. They can study 180 degree courses, including those outside specific hospitality programmes, reports Nation’s Restaurant News. Textbooks and course materials are included in the offer, while the application fee is waived. Employees can enrol in programmes for associate, bachelor or master’s degrees. Franchisee employees receive a 20% tuition reduction for associate and bachelor’s degrees and a 14% reduction for master’s degrees, as well as waived application fees. Course materials will also be paid for. Papa John’s president and chief executive Steve Ritchie said: “People are our most important ingredient and we are always looking for new ways to make Papa John’s a better place to work. We believe this is a unique tuition programme in our industry. We’re excited to partner with such a well-respected institution to help us deliver on such a robust career growth opportunity for team members who want to pursue their goals and further their education.”

Derbyshire-based holiday park operator reports turnover boost: Derbyshire-based holiday park operator Forest Holidays has reported turnover increased to £36,768,000 for the year ending 1 March 2018, compared with £36,520,000 the previous year. Underlying adjusted Ebitda was down slightly to £10,275,000, compared with £10,364,000 the year before. The company saw pre-tax losses narrow slightly to £1,434,000, compared with £1,453,000 the previous year. The company, which is part-owned by the Forestry Commission and backed by private equity firm LDC, has sites in Beddgelert in Snowdonia; Blackwood Forest, Hampshire; Cropton and Keldy in North Yorkshire; Deerpark, Cornwall; Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire; Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire; Thorpe Forest, Norfolk; and Ardgartan Argyll and Strathyre, both in Scotland. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “We are pleased to report a stable performance despite challenging trading conditions arising from wider economic and political uncertainty during the year. Investment in the ancillary offer in both Keldy and Deerpark delivered strong growth. In addition the group invested in an estate-wide upgrade to the in-cabin entertainment package, which was completed during the year. In line with the company’s strategy of providing all-year short to medium-term holiday breaks, occupancy levels remained at 2017 levels of 93% with average rentals up 3% year-on-year. Further expansion plans continue to be explored. The position of the group is very healthy, with lines of credit fully established on the back of a good trading performance.”

Urban Pubs and Bars opens Watling Street site: Urban Pubs and Bars, led by Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap, has opened its 19th site, a bar restaurant in the City of London’s Watling Street. Juno Rooms has launched across two floors at a site formerly occupied by Carmona Tapas Bar. Dishes include chicken ramen burger with fries in a cream bun, and crab linguine with garlic, chilli and basil, Hot Dinners reports. Last month, Urban Pubs and Bars secured its 20th site, a former JD Wetherspoon pub in Balham, south London, which will reopen in March. The company’s annual turnover is expected to hit circa £23m by April this year, while it achieved “strong” double-digit like-for-like sales growth during the four-week December trading period, with more than 20% like-for-like growth on food. In November, Urban Pubs and Bars acquired Salt Yard Group and its three central London restaurants for an undisclosed sum.
 
Pure Leisure Group submits Lancaster holiday park plans: Pure Leisure Group has outlined plans to build a holiday resort in Lancaster. The company has applied to Lancaster City Council to establish the venue on the site of a former sand and gravel quarry in Carnforth. Planning permission was granted for 138 holiday lodges, landscaping, access and parking in 2015, with Pure Leisure starting development work. It now hopes to establish a much larger scheme, reports Insider Media. Pure Leisure Group is owned by John Morphet and operates holiday lodge and caravan parks across the UK as well as a golf course, luxury apartment and villa estate in Barbados.
 
Vibration Group to launch multimillion-pound venue and events space at Greenwich Peninsula in September: Venue Lab, the Vibration Group company behind Printworks London and Landing Forty Two, will open a multimillion-pound events space in the capital in September. The company will launch Magazine London at the Greenwich Peninsula development, near North Greenwich tube station. The venue will offer a flexible 5,394 square metre space across two main rooms and two large mezzanine areas ideal for seminars. Magazine London will also feature an adjoining “showground” – a 13,985 square metre, 7,000-capacity landscaped area on the banks of the Thames that will take the venue’s total capacity to 10,000. Vibration Group has partnered with international property and investment company Knight Dragon on the project.
  
Checkit unveils new-generation food safety work management tools: Food safety technology company Checkit has unveiled a new generation of work management tools to help businesses “boost productivity and achieve hassle-free compliance”. Checkit has upgraded its work management, automated monitoring and operational insight tools with new features. Checks and workflows have become location-aware, while a user working on checklist applications can be interrupted to attend to problems in systems monitored by Checkit’s automated monitoring networks. Other new features include the ability to grab photos to add to records as work is carried out, and for policy documents to be made available to application users giving instant access to reference and training information and policy descriptions. This has been introduced alongside a new compliance consultancy service. Product and marketing director David Davies said: “Organisations that embrace technology will be better equipped to thrive in the economic environment of the future. The challenge has been to apply this to front-line workers with the right cost, flexibility and control. The new Checkit will bring this within reach for even more situations.”

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