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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 1st Apr 2019 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Wahaca building business for long term as it continues recovery from norovirus aftermath: Mark Selby, co-founder of Mexican restaurant brand Wahaca, has told Propel it is continuing to recover from the aftermath of the norovirus outbreak in 2016 that led to nine restaurants being closed and is focusing on building the business for the long term. Selby said it would take time but the company has had a “pretty good” year with positive like-for-like growth in its current year, while Ebitda was also up. Selby said: “It has taken Chipotle four or five years to recover from a similar thing so we are under no illusions there’s still a lot of work ahead but we feel are in a great place in comparison. We’re investing in our offer and people and making sure we are developing them. We’ve just moved into a new head office called Taco Towers – as that’s what we are known for in the business – and it has helped us to focus on our core product, while there’s a real positive mood about the place. We are blessed with having investors who are look six or seven years ahead rather than the short term. It’s about building a stable business that’s still here in ten to 20 years, not about short-term growth.” Selby said the brand was always looking to add and improve its food offer and was now focusing on its tacos rather than on some of the more niche dishes it had introduced in the past few years. With that in mind, Wahaca is introducing a new range of tacos, including a rib-eye and mushroom variety. Selby was speaking on the back of Wahaca lodging its accounts, which showed turnover increased 3% to £47,897,000 for the year ending 24 June 2018, compared with £46,557,000 the year before. Adjusted operating profit was up 28% to £2.7m, compared with £2.1m the previous year. Pre-tax losses increased slightly to £4,854,000, compared with £4,738,000 the year before. Selby said: “We are playing the long game so I look at that pre-tax figure in context. We spend a lot of money on our restaurants and continue to see cost pressures in terms of rent and service charges as well as the fluctuation in exchange rate. All these things have a big effect on the bottom line. As our sales improve, we are confident that figure will fall back in line.” Selby said the company would look to add to the 24-strong Wahaca estate but he reiterated growth had to be manageable. He added: “We have probably made the mistake in the past, as have other operators, of taking a site at a too high a rent and hoping to get the numbers to make it work. We’re much more careful now – but we are seeing rent levels come down and opportunities coming our way.” 

Industry News:

Nathan Wall to feature in next video for Propel Premium subscribers: Nathan Wall, operations director of Managed Investments at Ei Group, will feature in the next 30-minute video for Propel Premium subscribers, which will be sent out on Friday (5 April). Wall talks about Ei Group's progress with its managed investment scheme. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, regular video recordings of key speakers from Propel events and conferences, and regular columns from insights editor Mark Wingett. They also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has now grown to 1,400 businesses. An updated database will be sent on Wednesday (3 April). An annual premium subscription costs £345 plus VAT for operators and £445 plus VAT for suppliers – plus £50 each for additional team members. Email

UKHospitality demands formal public inquiry into business rates reform following annual hike: UKHospitality has demanded a formal public inquiry into the issue of business rates reform as the country’s hotels, hostels and guest houses were hit by an annual rates hike of £27m. Figures from the trade body also showed accommodation businesses are missing out on sector business rates reliefs to the tune of £73m. The figures were revealed as part of UKHospitality’s response to the Treasury Committee inquiry into business rates. As part of its submission, UKHospitality has called for action in a number of areas including the appointment of a Royal Commission to reform rates in the context of the wider business taxation system with consideration given to moving away from a property-based tax system; the need for relief to be more targeted on sectors that currently overpay; government reconsideration of the application of State Aid rules, which restrict the number of business that can benefit; and if State Aid rules are applied to relief, government should consider differential multipliers for certain sectors. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Today may be April Fools’ Day but for thousands of the UK’s world-class businesses in our sector business rates are no joke. These companies are in urgent need of help from the government. They are increasingly struggling from the effects of a disastrous rates revaluation and an archaic tax system that is shutting down the UK’s growth engine and threatening the millions of jobs they support in communities up and down the country. Business rates are outdated and urgently require reform. We are calling for a Royal Commission – a major formal public inquiry – such is the importance of this critical issue to the future health and prosperity of the UK’s high streets. The government must act to make the system fit for purpose in the 21st century.” Meanwhile, UKHospitality has appointed sector accountancy specialist haysmacintyre as its auditor. Andrew Ball, partner and head of hospitality at haysmacintyre, said: “The hospitality sector faces another challenging year and UKHospitality will play a vital role in supporting its members on this journey. It is an exciting time to partner with such an influential organisation as its embarks on a new chapter.”
Restaurants experience spike in positive reviews during March: Restaurants experienced a positive spike in reviews during March with the average social score rising to 4.2, up from 4.1 in February, according to the latest Feed It Back social review tracker. The statistics, which were taken from thousands of social reviews across the restaurant, quick service restaurant and pub industries, revealed the average social review scores for restaurants across all channels – Facebook, TripAdvisor and Google – experienced a 0.1 positive increase in March. Facebook rose to 4.4, Google increased to 4.2, and TripAdvisor to 4.0. Despite this spike in positive reviews, the average social review score for pubs and bars still outstrips restaurants, sitting at 4.3 in March after decreasing slightly from 4.4 in February. The driver behind this drop in ratings was a fall in the average rating across Facebook, which slumped from 4.7 in February to 4.6 in March. Looking across both sectors, the average social review score rose to 4.3, up from 4.2 in February. Google continued to be consumers’ preferred channel in March, accounting for 61% of all reviews – a 1% increase from February. During the same time period, Facebook’s market share of reviews fell to 9% – down from 11% in February – while TripAdvisor’s grew to 30% – up from 29% in February. Analysing the key drivers of positive reviews across Facebook, the data showed special occasions, atmosphere and staff attitude were pertinent, with words such as “friendly”, “birthday” and “atmosphere” featuring prominently. Positive reviews across TripAdvisor were more focused on the specifics of the offer, with “price”, “meal” and “drink” key words. Google reviews, however, had an even blend of emotional and transactional drivers behind its positive reviews, with “atmosphere” and “friendly” also featuring prominently. Looking at the trends behind negative reviews, waiting time for food continues to be the prominent driver. Feed It Back chief executive Carlo Platia said: “A recent global report from pricing specialists Simon-Kucher found almost three-fifths (58%) of UK consumers look at ratings before deciding where to eat, drink or travel. Once again, this highlights the importance of tracking reviews across all social platforms and identifying ways in which you can tweak your offer to proactively influence how attractive your business is online. Using social review data to build a better understanding of your customer, as well as proactively capturing and engaging with reviewers across the major platforms, is a crucial tool for operators to drive loyalty, enhance their offer and make themselves more attractive online for prospective customers.” This data is part of a regular report Feed It Back runs across social reviews. To sign up for a monthly copy of this report, email
Demand for premium wine rises 9% as diners seek more memorable out-of-home experiences: The demand for premium wine is increasing as consumers seek more memorable out-of-home dining experiences, according to Majestic Commercial. Despite the current headwinds buffeting the on-trade, Majestic Commercial said it had seen premium wine sales increase 9% year-on-year. Malbec has proved the most popular red wine for the big occasions, contributing almost two-fifths (39%) of all premium red sales, while classic French white wines such as Chablis and Sancerre are becoming increasingly popular, the company said. Majestic Commercial said given the consumer shift in behaviour towards occasion-led dining, hospitality businesses could find themselves leaving money on the table if their wine lists failed to keep up with demand. It said businesses could unlock extra profit simply by offering a few premium wine options by the glass and providing staff with the confidence to upsell. Majestic Commercial offers a wine list profit calculator. For more details, click here.

BBPA warns publicans ahead of rates revaluation letter: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) is alerting publicans to act quickly in response to a looming letter from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) about their rateable valuation, if they want to avoid fines and unnecessary "red tape". The warning comes because the VOA is once again commencing the data collection process ahead of the next revaluation period, which starts in April 2021. As is practice, the VOA is now writing to licensees requesting trading data that will feed into the revaluation process. This information will be used to calculate the rateable value of every pub in England and Wales, which forms the basis on which every pub’s business rates bill is calculated. From receiving the forms, publicans have an initial 28 days to respond, followed by a second reminder two weeks later, which provides a further two weeks to reply. If the form isn’t returned within the 56-day time limit, publicans could be liable for a penalty, as well as a longer form to fill out for the VOA. BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “To avoid more hassle and unnecessary paperwork, all licensees should look out for this short form from today and return it as soon as possible. While we continue to lead the call for a fairer rating system for pubs and a total review of business rates, further burdens and inconvenience can be avoided by looking out for this short form from the VOA and acting quickly to fill it in as soon as it arrives.”
Job of the week: COREcruitment is seeking an operations director on behalf of a boutique London restaurant group. Ideally, the individual will have strong knowledge of premium or fine dining environments have some knowledge of acquisitions, openings and brand growth; and been involved in startups or growth plans as well as directorship level operations of a restaurant business in London. The position offers a salary between £80,000 and £110,000. For more details, click here. For a confidential chat, email

Company News:

True financial position of Patisserie Valerie prior to administration still not determined: The true financial position of Patisserie Valerie prior to its collapse into administration has still to be determined, according to a new document. A progress report by its administrators, KPMG, said analysis by a team of forensic accountants had concluded the accounts had been overstated by about £94m – more than twice the previous estimate of £40m. But the true financial position is still not fully known, according to a notice of the statement of affairs, which has just been filed at Companies House. In his statement of concurrence, former chairman Luke Johnson said: “Serious accounting irregularities were discovered in the company’s and group’s accounts in October/November 2018. These resulted in the corruption of the group’s accounting record and possible significant accounting misstatements in its past audited financial statements, including thousands of historic erroneous bookkeeping entries. According to the forensic accountants investigating the matter, the misstatement of the company’s accounts was extensive, involving significant manipulation of the balance sheet and profit and loss accounts. As a result it is my understanding it hasn’t been possible to complete the statement of affairs for the company to the normal required level of disclosure and integrity, despite the best efforts of the accountants to try to recreate the company’s records. It is also my understanding there has been no verification process undertaken and the current finance team is in no way claiming the statement of affairs truly represents accurate books of account for the entities involved.” Patisserie Holdings collapsed into administration in January after failing to agree fresh funding with its banks – three months after the discovery of the financial irregularities. KPMG immediately shut 70 unprofitable stores at the cost of more than 900 jobs. The business and remaining 96 sites were subsequently acquired by Irish private equity firm Causeway Capital Partners.

Corbin & King continues to see growth: London restaurant operator Corbin & King has said it has seen growth continue in the current financial year and expects further increases as it prepares to open its latest venue, Soutine, in St John’s Wood, north west London, the next month. It comes as the company reported Ebitda of £1.2m despite an operating loss of £0.7m for the year ending 31 March 2018. The operating loss was largely due to £1.0m of depreciation of intangible assets. The accounts reflect the first three months of its partnership with Minor International, which bought Graphite Capital’s stake in December 2017. Corbin & King co-founder Jeremy King told Propel: “Our actual ‘like for like’ sales grew 3.2% year on year, bucking the trend in the local market that saw decline of up to 3%. Our core group has maintained growth despite the difficult market conditions for 2017 continuing into 2018 and we expect to see this growth continue into the future, particularly with the upcoming opening of Soutine.” In his report accompanying the accounts, King added: “Challenges to the group this period include an increase in wage costs and a significant increase in business rates and rents. The directors remain confident an increase in Ebitda can be achieved due to the opening of new restaurants and operational efficiencies achieved across the group. The result for the period in these accounts are indicative of the trading for the first three months since the date of Corbin & King’s partnership with Minor International.”
Soho Coffee Co brings in food expert from Starbucks, ramps up European expansion: Artisan food-led coffee company Soho Coffee Co has brought in a food expert from Starbucks and is ramping up its expansion in Europe. Soho Coffee Co has appointed Martin Willsher as head of innovation. He joins from Starbucks where he was responsible for innovation within its central Europe division. Before Starbucks, Willsher worked for 2 Sisters Food Group as divisional development chef. Willsher has worked with product development manager Amanda Lowe on the company’s new spring menu, which has launched and includes an expanded range of plant-based dishes. New additions include vegan onion bhaji, carrot and aromatic spiced chutney khobez; and roasted red pepper houmous tabbouleh. There is also a new range of milk-based smoothies alongside its staple coffee offer. Soho Coffee Co is also ramping up its expansion in Europe and has appointed Mark Kassapian as director of franchising and specialist markets. The company will open airside at Las Palmas airport in Gran Canaria this summer to complement the landside unit that launched in September last year. Meanwhile, an outlet will open airside at Malaga airport this month. Propel understands the company is also in talks over further European locations.
Magic Rock Brewing acquired by Lion: Huddersfield-based Magic Rock Brewing Company has been bought by Australian-headquartered food and beverage company Lion for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition fuels a “shared promise to keep making great beer, on a bigger scale”, according to Magic Rock co-founder and managing director Richard Burhouse, who will remain in the business. Founded by Burhouse and head brewer Stuart Ross in 2011, Magic Rock employs 45 people with plans to build the team further in line with expansion. Its focus is to continue to meet rising demand in the domestic market, building growth in pubs and retailers. Magic Rock is already exporting beer to more than 25 countries and sees opportunities to further grow this footprint with Lion’s support. Lion has a growing portfolio in the UK, acting as the custodian for London craft brewer Fourpure Brewing Co since July 2018, while it produces Castlemaine’s signature beer, XXXX . Burhouse said: “With the support of our community in eight years Magic Rock has become one of the UK’s leading craft brewers, distributing across the UK as well as internationally. The best way for us to build on this legacy over the long term is to introduce Magic Rock beers to a much wider audience. We’re excited to be joining one of the world’s best brewing experts under the shared promise to keep making great beer, on a bigger scale, through their knowledge, expertise and investment.” Lion global markets managing director Matt Tapper added: “Magic Rock has been one of the pioneers in the UK craft beer scene and has built a loyal following due to its relentless pursuit of authenticity and quality. We’re excited to have the opportunity to help Richard and the team build on their success.”
SIBA chief executive to depart: Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) chief executive Mike Benner is to leave at the end of June following five years in the post. Benner has accepted a new role as chief executive of the Association Of Personal Injury Lawyers, representing and campaigning for the rights of injured people. Benner said: “I am sad to be leaving a great organisation and an industry I have worked in for many years but equally I am excited about the opportunity to step into a new role in a different sector to make a difference to the lives of injured people. SIBA continues to be an essential voice for independent craft brewers facing regulatory and market access challenges and I’m sure it will continue to go from strength to strength. We have a highly committed and capable team of people and it has been a real pleasure to work with them.” SIBA chairman Ian Fozard added: “Mike has led SIBA through unprecedented challenges during the past few years and I thank him for his vision, leadership and determination. I wish him all the best in his future role.” Benner takes up his new post on Monday, 1 July while SIBA has started the process of seeking a new chief executive.
Bournemouth-based seafood restaurant lodges plans for second site: Bournemouth-based seafood restaurant Westbeach has lodged plans for a second site. The company is looking to add to its site in Pier Approach after submitting plans to Bournemouth Council to convert a former Lloyds Pharmacy unit in Southbourne Grove. The venue, which would be called Westbeach Local, would feature an open plan kitchen, bar and outdoor seating. A “significant” investment would be made to open the restaurant, reports the Bournemouth Echo. The existing Westbeach restaurant has been open for 18 years but the planning application submitted by operations and commercial director Matthew Piovan states: “We are looking for satellite properties in affluent suburbs that will welcome our local, fresh, sophisticated seafood offer. Westbeach Local will feature seafood counters and a quality wine-led bar offer. The menu will include small plates, sharers and high-level gastro-fish dishes with shellfish on display and an oyster/seafood bar.” Chefs would prepare food using wood-fired ovens, charcoal-based grills and, potentially, tandoori ovens to “enhance the theatre of the offer”.
Chetiyawardana unveils Dandelyan replacement: Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, has unveiled his new concept, Lyaness, which has taken the place of Dandelyan, the “world’s best bar”. Dandelyan, which took the number one slot in the World’s Best Bars list in October, closed in early March having opened in 2014 in the Mondrian Hotel, which is now known as Sea Containers. Its new iteration, Lyaness, has a different approach to the menu, with a focus on seven core ingredients. Chetiyawardana told Hot Dinners: “Lyaness acts as an evolution of this legacy and has been borne out of a desire to promote change as a positive thing and start afresh with a dynamic new approach. We’ve chosen to move away from the traditional cocktail menu and focus instead on seven common ingredients that have an element of familiarity to most people. This will allow guests to engage in their drinking choices and inject a whole new level of participation and fun into the experience of choosing and drinking cocktails.” Chetiyawardana will open his debut international site – Super Lyan cocktail bar – at the Kimpton De Witt hotel in Amsterdam on Thursday, 18 April. This will be followed by Silver Lyan, which will launch in Washington DC towards the end of the year.
Somerset-based restaurant company to start expansion of Sicilian cafe concept: The company behind Somerset-based restaurant Tamburino is to start expansion of its Sicilian cafe concept Pizza Pasta Mondo. The venue will open in a former Oxfam shop in Sherborne, Dorset, adding to a debut outlet in Yeovil, Somerset, reports Somerset Live. Pizza Pasta Mondo is described as “slightly less formal” than Tamburino, which has restaurants in Sherborne, Yeovil and Street. The Pizza Pasta Mondo website states: “We set ourselves apart from offering not just the traditional Italian staples you expect but a whole host of other delicious treats.”

Remarkable Pubs to launch app that delivers laughs: Remarkable Pubs, the privately owned east London-focused pub company, is launching Appiness on Monday (1 April) – a customer-focused app that enables customers to order spoken word humour delivered directly to their table by a trained front-of-house team member. A Remarkable Pubs spokesman told Propel: “We were inspired to create Appiness after the launch of Wetherspoon’s food and drink app and seeing the phenomenal success of Uber, the taxi-hailing app. We combined the principles and technology of both to create Appiness. The only difference is instead of food, drinks or a taxi we deliver humour directly to our customers. At £1 per humorous retort, we are confident this will introduce a significant new, and as yet untapped, revenue stream.” Remarkable Pubs worked with digital development agency Dunyer to create the technology. April Fuller, of Dunyer, said: “It has been a pleasure working with the team at Remarkable Pubs to develop this innovative, potentially lucrative application that will put a smile on the faces of Remarkable Pubs’ customers.”
Health and fitness delivery brand Gym Food fails in £350,000 crowdfunding bid: Health and fitness delivery brand Gym Food has failed in its bid to raise £350,000 on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube as it looks to open three dark kitchens in the capital. The company, founded by managing director George L Streatfield, was offering 16.67% equity in return for the investment. However, it failed to secure the funds it was looking for by the closing date. The company operates a dark kitchen in Bethnal Green that is averaging sales of £23,000 a week. The company said it saw 278% organic growth from November 2017 to November 2018. The pitch stated: “Now exceeding £90,000 a month in sales, Gym Food is looking to execute a low capital expenditure expansion model. We have no storefronts, shop fits or premiums – we trade purely via delivery. With this investment we plan to open three additional sites – Battersea, Vauxhall and King’s Cross – high volume food delivery locations that will also grow our corporate audience.”
McCain reports turnover and profit boost: Food producer McCain has reported turnover rose 9.7% to £511,574,000 for the year ending 30 June 2018, comparted with £466,162,000 the year before. Pre-tax profit climbed to £56,792,000, compared with £47,017,000 the year before. Its operating profit margin rose to 11.3% from 10.3% the year before. Employee retention year-on-year was 99.8%, compared with 99% the year before. 
Black Storm Brewery opens Newcastle micro-pub for second site: Whitley Bay-based craft ale brewer and retailer Black Storm Brewery has opened a micro-pub in Newcastle for its second site. The company has launched Drop Everything And Drink (DEAD) at a site in High Bridge formerly occupied by Baby Royalty clothes shop. That acronym sums up the pub’s ethos of taking time out to enjoy life. As well as craft beer from its own and other breweries, there is a selection of small-batch craft spirits and cocktails. Bar snacks such as charcuterie boards are also on offer, Chronicle Live reports. The opening of DEAD follows the company’s launch of Storm Cellar bottle shop and tasting room in Whitley Bay last year. Black Storm Brewery is run by Paul Hughes and James Davie-Baguley, who came up with the company name after watching a storm roll in at Whitley Bay.
Extra MSA outlines plans for £50m service station in Warrington: Extra MSA Group has outlined plans for a £50m motorway service area in Warrington. The proposed site would comprise a range of food and drink, retail and leisure brands. The development has been earmarked for Junction 11 of the M62. Extra MSA Group chief executive Andrew Long told Insider Media: “In addition to significantly improving road safety on the motorway network this £50m-plus, inward capital investment will also deliver new employment opportunities and a range of other important economic benefits.”
Cornwall-based pub operator open Bodmin restaurant for second site: Ray and Elena Veerman, who own the Racehorse Inn in the village of North Hill, near Launceston, have opened a restaurant in Bodmin for their second site in Cornwall. The Veermans have acquired town centre restaurant Bosvena and relaunched it as Florys. The venue occupies a Georgian town house overlooking the town square. The site features four dining rooms and two kitchens set across three floors, with a courtyard providing additional seating. Bosvena closed in 2016. The Veermans said: “It is a wonderful opportunity to provide a quality eatery and restaurant for Bodmin and the surrounding area. We will utilise excellent Cornish produce and provide a crowd-pleasing but innovative menu at reasonable prices.” Lloyd Colin, business agent at Christie & Co, who handled the sale, added: “Bodmin is becoming an increasingly desirable area for prospective business owners due to the recent town centre improvements and talks of the cinema opening.”
Absolute Taste to take over Newmarket restaurant: Events and catering company Absolute Taste, which is owned by Ron Dennis, former principal of the McLaren Formula One team, is to take over running a restaurant in Newmarket, Suffolk. The company has agreed a deal with the National Heritage Centre For Horseracing And Sporting Art to reopen the Tack Room restaurant at Palace House. It is taking over from Vince and Anne-Marie Woolley, who shut the venue in February and called in liquidators because of a “number of external factors outside their control”. They had run the venue since it launched in 2016. Absolute Taste operates three cafes and 13 restaurants across the country and has an annual turnover of more than £20m.

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