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Tue 30th Apr 2019 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Oakman completes acquisition of seven freehold pubs operated for Downing: Oakman Inns and Restaurants has completed the acquisition of seven freehold pubs with combined Ebitda of £2.8m from funds managed by Downing. The transaction was completed in three tranches with the purchase of two companies Downoak (The Akeman in Tring, The Akeman Inn in Kingswood and The Crown & Thistle in Abingdon) and Hedderwick (Banyers House in Royston and The Cherry Tree in Olney) as well as The Globe in Warwick, which was previously held in a partnership. Following last year’s purchase of Ei Group’s share of Hunky Dory Pubs, Oakman Inns said the acquisition continued the key strategic initiative of uniting all its trading activities within the parent business. Chief executive and founder Peter Borg-Neal said: “Oakman Inns and Downing have worked together since Steven Kenee and myself shook hands on our first deal in 2014. At that point, Oakman had seven pubs and a great trading record with sales of more than £10m but faced huge issues with a dysfunctional banking relationship and a shortage of growth capital. Five years later, we have just opened our 23rd pub and achieved sales of £38m. Over those five years our relationship with Steven Kenee and Downing has been instrumental in our success. Our deal to buy seven of the freehold pubs we operated for Downing is a transformational one for Oakman. However, while it represents the high point of our relationship with Downing to date, it doesn’t mark the end of it. We still provide support to Apprise, a Downing-backed company, and Downing has provided loan capital for our recently acquired freehold in Buckingham. Furthermore, we are exploring fresh ideas to work profitably together in the future.” Kenee added: “Oakman has always demonstrated a principled approach to its business combined with award-winning staff development programmes, concern for the environment and a commitment for socially responsible work with the communities it serves. This admirable ethos, coupled with a focus on ensuring the highest-quality customer experience, has generated industry-leading sales and profitability growth as well as delivering great returns for our investors.” The deal marks the culmination of an excellent 12 months for Oakman Inns, with a series of successful openings and growth – total sales for the 52 weeks to 31 March 2019 were up 32.7% to £37.7m with like-for-likes up 6.4%. Since the year end, Oakman has reopened the refurbished and enlarged Beech House in Beaconsfield and opened The Polecat Inn in Prestwood, with both sites performing “substantially ahead of expectation”. The company has three sites awaiting development – in Wokingham, Farnham and Buckingham – and has agreed deals on a further two sites.

Industry News:

Propel summer conference and party open for bookings, Elton Mouna to present, two free places for operators: The Propel Multi Club summer conference and party has opened for bookings. It takes place on Thursday, 27 June at the Oxford Belfry, which is just off the M40. The conference will be followed by the summer party, with an evening barbecue, the Big Fat Quiz and the legendary sounds of DJ Big Lee. Elton Mouna, managing director of Remarkable Pubs, will talk about creating a positive culture, how ever-changing and never-changing are perfect bedfellows, and applying the “seven principles” of marketing to your business. Operators can claim up to two free places by emailing Jo Charity at jo.charity@propelinfo.com. Rooms (bed and breakfast) are also available at £125 plus VAT and can be booked by emailing Jo.

Finance and Investment Conference open for bookings: The Propel Finance and Investment Conference is open for bookings. The full-day event takes place on Friday, 24 May at One Moorgate Place, London EC2R 6EA. After-conference drinks offering further networking opportunities will be held at The Token House, Moorgate, in the downstairs Cellar Bar, sponsored by insurance broker and employee benefits company Finch. Speakers at the event will include Christie & Co director Ramzi Qattan; haysmacintyre partner Andrew Ball; Andrew Stones, of Imbiba and formerly managing director of Be At One; Mission Mars chief executive Roy Ellis; Sapient Corporate Finance partner Fraser Anderson; Oakman Inns and Restaurants chief executive Peter Borg-Neal; TriSpan European operating partner Robin Rowland; Draft House founder Charlie McVeigh; White Rabbit Fund founder Chris Miller and Bill’s Restaurants chairman David Campbell. A panel featuring JKS Restaurants co-founder Jyotin Sethi, Imbiba partner Darrel Connell, TriSpan advisory partner Brandon Stephens, Tamweel Capital partner Ali Aneizi and Numis Securities leisure analyst Tim Barrett will discuss the sector’s prospects, growth opportunities, and mergers and acquisitions trends. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium subscribers and £345 plus VAT for all others. To book, email anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Deliveroo to launch takeaway container cleaning and recycling service: Deliveroo has partnered with cleantech company Oxwash to launch a takeaway container cleaning service in Oxford and Cambridge. The trial, beginning in August, will allow Deliveroo customers to request their containers are picked up so participating restaurants in Oxford and Cambridge can wash and reuse them. If the trial is successful, the service will be rolled out to more cities in 2020. Deliveroo customers will be able to scan a QR code on their packaging to arrange their containers to be picked up or drop them at units in high-density residential areas. The trial follows Deliveroo’s opt-in button for plastic cutlery, which has seen a 90% drop in its use globally, and the launch of its own packaging store to give restaurants access to recyclable and biodegradable packaging. Deliveroo also said the community-focused clean-up initiatives it launched last summer had helped recycle more than five tonnes of rubbish found on beaches in Brighton, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Southend and Torquay. UK managing director Dan Warne said: “We are proud to extend our innovation to help reduce the usage of plastics and promote recycling to our customers.” This week Deliveroo appointed Susana Voces as global vice-president for restaurants as the company continues expansion. It is now in 14 markets and works with 80,000 restaurants worldwide. Voces will work in Deliveroo’s London headquarters to help restaurants create virtual brands and, through data insights, improve their service and understand where their competitors have an advantage.

UK food sector continues to grow more than overall economy: The UK food sector continues to grow more than the overall economy. The food sector increased 89% between 2000 and 2017, compared with the whole economy, which increased 86%. More than 28,000 food businesses opened in 2017 alone and the sector now contributes £110.5bn to the UK economy with £25bn turnover. The findings were revealed by Le Cordon Bleu London as it announced the launch of its annual Julia Child Scholarship. The prize is worth more than £40,000 and includes a place on Le Cordon Bleu’s patisserie diploma; a three-month diploma in culinary management; an internship at the Savoy Hotel; and 12 months’ luxury accommodation provided by Londonist. The winner will receive their prize from Mary Berry while, as part of this year’s scholarship, other former Le Cordon Bleu alumna, including Dhruv Mittal, will mentor the winner. Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts director Emil Minev said: “As an institute with a rich heritage spanning more than 120 years, Le Cordon Bleu has a long-standing reputation of training the finest chefs and most innovative food entrepreneurs in the world. This year’s scholarship will showcase this and offers a unique platform for those with exciting food business ideas.” Le Cordon Bleu operates 35 institutes worldwide, training more than 20,000 students each year. 

Secret plans prompt fears of alcohol tax rise: Secret plans are under way to see how much further the government can hike taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Experts have been allowed to examine details of household spending to see if people cut back on life’s little pleasures when prices get too high. The results will then be given to HMRC, leading to fears they will be used by chancellor Philip Hammond to increase duties. Documents seen by The Sun confirm management consultants Deloitte are using Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on living costs to “explore the scope to increase taxes on cigarettes and alcohol”. Beer duty and VAT make up about a third of the average £3.50 price of a pint but the tax burden could rise yet higher following the new probe to see how much shoppers are prepared to pay. The ONS ethics board has given approval for Deloitte to study “household consumption for alcohol and tobacco products each year from 2008 to 2016”, taken from the Living Costs and Food Survey. The researchers will take into account how spending varies by shoppers’ income, socioeconomic group, household size and region. They will then try to identify trends in consumption, which will be compared with trends in tax revenues raised. The ONS stated: “This evidence will be used to form conclusions about which ‘policy levers’ are available to the UK government. For example, whether increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco products would result in increased tax income and/or decreased public consumption.” HM Treasury said: “The Treasury did not commission this research. Our cuts and freezes to alcohol duty since 2013 mean a pint is 14p cheaper than it would otherwise have been.”

Personalised rooms to lead way for hotel sector as core product changes: Traditional room types will no longer be the core product offered by hotels within the next five years, according to a new report by trends platform Foresight Factory. Instead, attribute-based bookings will allow guests to choose the individual features of their hotel rooms, such as replacing a desk with a yoga mat, and book a room for the hours they require rather than overnight. The study, commissioned by Amadeus and IHG and covering more than 7,500 consumers worldwide, predicts this personalisation will open up new revenue streams for hotel owners with auditing and artificial intelligence underpinning the transition. The report found more than three-fifths (61%) of global travellers would prefer hotels to be priced in a way that allows them additional options but less than one-quarter (24%) have stayed in a room personalised to their needs. The report said the service model of the future would be delivered by a collaboration between humans and technology but it would be important hotels knew their guests well enough to judge the balance. The appetite for automation varies by region, with more than half (53%) of guests from Asia preferring to pay their bill via self-service compared with the Americas (40%) and Europe (26%). Two-thirds of guests (67%) prefer to talk to staff when seeking a recommendation or making a complaint, while more than three-quarters (76%) would value earphones that “automatically translate” a foreign language. The report said unlocking guest loyalty would come to rely less on price/points systems and more on developing relationships with guests. Technology would enable hospitality providers to generate a “loyal fan base and create emotional connections between guests and their brand” as long as hotels understood guests’ individual needs and motivations for their trip and offered tailored services, surprises and unique experiences. Almost three-quarters (73%) of consumers say the most important thing to them when travelling is having a unique experience, while almost three-fifths (59%) would like to plan more in advance of a holiday but find it difficult to obtain knowledge of the area they are visiting. Almost half (47%) would be likely to share their data for exclusive discounts, while less than one-third (30%) would do so for personalised trip advice.

Edinburgh Festival creates ‘bigger commercial opportunity than Christmas’ for F&B: Festival season in Edinburgh creates a bigger commercial opportunity than Christmas for the city’s food and beverage businesses in terms of consumer spend, according to new research. Analysis by location planning company CACI looked at how patterns of behaviour change during major tourism events such as the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe, which attracted 3.2 million people combined in 2018. Edinburgh’s catchment area triples during the festivals, with people travelling from across the UK. While spending by tourists and residents at Christmas is higher than during the festivals – £72 versus £112 and £83 versus £58 respectively – it is the ability of the festivals to attract such large volumes of tourists that creates the additional effect. Food and beverage spend increases significantly during the festivals driven by tourists, who spend an average of £14 compared with £11 by residents. Tourists are also more likely to consume food and drink, with a 36% conversion rate versus 27% for residents. CACI director Alex McCulloch said: “The significance of the findings goes beyond Edinburgh as they demonstrate the value for cities, and indeed the owners and managers of destinations in cities, of embracing culturally rich and diverse events.”

Company News:

Doughnut Time to hit dozen with latest London launches as it eyes further sites: Australian chain Doughnut Time has launched its latest London site, in Finsbury Avenue Square. The brand is catering to busy workers in the City from its food truck, Beverly. Doughnut Time will follow this by opening its 12th site in the capital, in Upper Street, Islington, on Saturday (4 May) as it looks to open more permanent sites as well as pop-ups. Owner Tom Anderson said: “Our London-wide roll-out continues at pace. We’re delighted to bring our food truck Beverly to City workers in Finsbury Avenue Square and can’t wait to bring all the hype and hysteria around Doughnut Time to the great people of Islington too. We now have a dozen stores and agreements in place to open many more in the coming months. We’re continually looking for additional permanent sites as well as pop-up locations across the capital.” Doughnut Time is known for its pop culture-inspired doughnuts such as the Bueno Mars and Snicki Minaj. Damian Griffith founded Doughnut Time in 2015. It operates 23 sites in Australia. The company also operates the world’s first doughnut academy above its flagship Soho store.

Paul looks at further opportunities for Express model as it prepares to open second site: French artisan bakery and patisserie Paul has said it is looking at further opportunities for its Express model as the company prepares to open a second site. The shop will open in Tottenham Court Road on Monday, 13 May and follows the launch of the format in St Pancras in May last year. Next to Warren Street tube station, the 58 square foot Express shop will focus on quick service by offering a shorter breakfast and lunch range with new, hot grab-and-go options such as porridge, savoury croissants, sausage rolls and soup. Paul UK operations director Gary Cowles said: “We are excited about the scalability of this concept and we’re looking at further opportunities to roll out this model.”

Greggs boss see remuneration fall to little more than £1.5m: Roger Whiteside, chief executive of bakery business Greggs, saw his total remuneration fall to little more than £1.5m in 2018, according to the company’s annual report. Whiteside received a total of £1,503,441 for the year ending 31 December 2018, compared with £1,625,493 the previous year. This consisted of £549,120 salary, £123,552 pension, £12,483 in taxable benefits, £406,349 annual incentives and £411,937 in long-term incentives. Whiteside received a bonus of 74% out of the maximum 125% of his salary. Under the company’s remuneration policy, Whiteside’s maximum bonus in 2019 will be £706,992, with total remuneration of £2,062,777. Meanwhile, finance director Richard Hutton saw his total remuneration fall to £722,441 in 2018, compared with £774,197 the year before. This consisted of £313,689 salary, £41,397 pension, £17,193 taxable benefits, £167,133 annual incentives and £183,029 in long-term incentives. Hutton received a bonus of 53.3% out of the maximum 90% of his salary. Hutton’s potential maximum bonus this year is £290,790, with total remuneration of £973,337. Whiteside and Hutton both received a salary increase of 3% on 1 January in line with the base increase of the company’s workforce generally.

Hickory’s Smokehouse to open in Poynton: American-style smokehouse and barbecue brand Hickory’s is to open a site in Poynton, Cheshire. The venue will launch on the site of former pub The Vernon Arms and will be the brand’s tenth venue, with other sites in Chester, West Kirby, Burton Green, Wall Heath, Rhos-on-Sea, Castle Bromwich, Southport, Worcester and Gresty Green. Once fully refurbished, the Poynton restaurant will feature an open kitchen, chef’s bar and dining areas for 150 guests. There will also be a children’s cinema room and dedicated bar. The outside area will also undergo a makeover to include a veranda and courtyard, while Hickory’s hopes to develop a community nature trail and dipping pond on land that hasn’t been open to the public before. Hickory’s Smokehouse owner Neil McDonnell said: “South Manchester has been on our wish list of locations for some time. Our sister sites across the north west have been embraced by their communities so coming to Poynton is exciting for us all.” McDonnell founded Hickory’s in Chester in 2010 following extensive research into the American barbecue and smokehouse sector.

Barrow-based operator goes into liquidation: Barrow-based Five (UK), which operated four venues across the Cumbrian town, has gone into liquidation. The company, which was founded in 2005, was behind Circus Circus, Bar Five/The Nines, The Knights, and The Derby. Its directors were Jeffrey Athersmith, Graham Edwards, Graham Rushton, Jon Wheeler and Anthony Hoggan. The company previously rented Circus Circus from landlord Furness Building Society, owned The Knights, and rented The Derby and Bar Five, which has been sold to Simon Crompton for £175,000. Five (UK) ran The Derby in Dalton Road until earlier this year and Land Registry documents show the pub is now leased by Gorette Wormall. A statement at the time of liquidation revealed the company had a £140,000 mortgage on The Knights in Dalkeith Street. It is currently on the market for £225,000. The company owes more than £50,000 in tax and VAT bills. Assets available to pay back creditors currently amount to £21,603, reports the North West Evening Mail.

The Dancing Moose acquires Bill’s site in Salisbury for fifth venue: Dorset-based bar and restaurant operator The Dancing Moose is to expand into neighbouring Wiltshire for its fifth site after acquiring the Bill’s venue in Salisbury. Bill’s has confirmed it will close its outlet in Blue Boar Row next month. A spokesman told Spire FM: “We can confirm the Salisbury restaurant will close on Saturday, 25 May and the site will be transferred to The Dancing Moose Pub Company at the end of May. As a group, we are continually reviewing our restaurant estate and, as part of our planned renovation works, we have made the decision to focus our efforts on our other restaurants.” The Dancing Moose describe itself on its website as “good food, good liquor, good people and good times”. It operates sites in Ashley Cross, Bournemouth, Penn Hill and Wimborne.

Bob & Berts to double Scottish footprint with three openings in 2019: Northern Ireland coffee company Bob & Berts, which is backed by the BGF, is to double its footprint in Scotland by the end of the year by opening three sites. The business will add outlets in Kirkcaldy, Ayr and Stirling to its venues in Falkirk, Dunfermline and Dumfries. Bob & Berts is on track to deliver turnover of £8m and is looking at other market towns for further openings. The company raised £2m of patient capital from BGF in August 2017 to fund its entry into Scotland and support growth in Northern Ireland, where it was founded in 2013. Bob & Berts founder Colin McClean told Insider: “We are pleased with the performance of our stores in Scotland, which has reinforced our belief there is demand for high-quality, independent food and coffee shops in traditional high-street settings. Our aim has always been to offer something different to the large coffee chains – in terms of branding, food selection and interior design. We look forward to taking this into Kirkcaldy, Ayr and Stirling in 2019.” BGF investor and Bob & Berts board member Gemma Hamilton said: “Bob & Berts has developed a strong identity and quality offering for its growing customer base, setting itself apart in a competitive market. The expansion of the business across Northern Ireland and Scotland is testament to the culture and philosophy that’s winning over high-street customers.” As previously reported, Bob & Berts aims to have 20 outlets across Scotland by 2022, employing about 400 people.

MOD Pizza launches rewards app: MOD Pizza, the Sir Charles Dunstone-backed concept, has launched a rewards app featuring a click-and-collect function. Customers receive a stamp for every pizza or salad purchased, with six stamps rewarded by a free side and the next six stacking up to earn a free pizza. Customers can also locate their nearest MOD restaurant and book a table, while users receive a free soft drink for every friend they refer to the app. Last month, MOD Pizza opened its tenth UK site, in Coventry, while it is understood the company has funding in place to open ten further sites this year. Founded in 2008 by husband and wife Scott and Ally Svenson in Seattle, there are now more than 300 MOD restaurants in the US and UK.

Kashmiri Aroma gets go-ahead for fifth site, in former Bradford pub: Yorkshire-based curry house brand Kashmiri Aroma has been given the go-ahead to open a fifth site in the county, in a former Bradford pub. The company has been granted permission by the city council to convert The Turf, which sits at the junction of Keighley Road and Emm Lane. Managing director Tariq Mahmood said refurbishment work would now take place with hopes the restaurant will open in June or July. He told the Telegraph & Argus: “We have been looking to open a restaurant in Bradford for a long time. We want to be part of the curry capital.” The Turf opened in 1894 and underwent a £150,000 refurbishment in 2012, when it was owned by Wear Inns. Kashmiri Aroma has restaurants in Ilkley, Halifax, Wakefield and Sheffield.

CH&Co secures new private equity backing: Independent caterer CH&Co has secured investment from a new private equity backer to help fund strategic mergers and acquisitions. Equistone Partners Europe has invested in CH&Co, which was originally backed by MML Capital Partners in 2015. CH&Co will continue to be led by chief executive Bill Toner and its management team, who together retain a material shareholding in the company. MML, which said it had achieved a three times return on its investment, backed Toner and his team to merge the businesses of HCM and CH&Co. The company went on to complete further mergers and acquisitions including Brookwood Partnership, Harbour & Jones and Concerto Group. Ed Baker, who will join the board on behalf of Equistone Partners Europe alongside Dominic Geer, told Insider Media CH&Co was “well positioned to continue its impressive expansion”. Toner added the Equistone investment would provide CH&Co with the “financial support to fund further strategic mergers and acquisitions of the type we have successfully used to date to grow the business and diversify our customer base”. Geer, Baker and Tristan Manuel led the investment on behalf of Equistone, which was advised on the transaction by Houlihan Lokey. Chris Robinson, of Canaccord Genuity, and Edward Stead, of Pinsent Mason, advised CH&Co’s shareholders.

Plant-based pizza concept to launch in Chelsea: A plant-based pizza concept is to launch in Chelsea, south west London. Humble Pizza founder Navid Mirtorabi has agreed a deal with Sloane Stanley for a site in King’s Road. The 1,200 square foot venue will have space for 21 covers with its design a contemporary take on the classic Italian cafe that became iconic in London’s West End in the 1950s and 1960s. The interior pairs pink Formica with cherry wood details, mosaic flooring and mid-century lighting and accessories. Mirtorabi said: “Humble Pizza presents a creative plant-based modern menu focused around pizza topped with fresh flavours. The King’s Road location plays to the brand’s strengths of being young and fashionable.” Sloane Stanley property director Hannah Grievson added: “Humble Pizza is a trend-led concept providing a new experience and another layer of diversity for King’s Road.” Savills and Miles Commercial represented Sloane Stanley. Humble Pizza represented itself.

No1 Lounges brings Clubrooms brand to London Luton: No1 Lounges, which operates pay-on-entry lounges at airports across the UK, is to open its 12th site and first at London Luton. The lounge will open in July under its Clubrooms brand next to the main departure area. No1 Lounges also operates at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Edinburgh airports. Its arrival at Luton comes at a time of rapid expansion for the company, which recently opened lounges in Sydney and Melbourne. The addition of Clubrooms is part of London Luton’s £160m transformation, which has focused on upgrading its terminal including an expanded retail and dining space featuring 48 new shops and restaurants. No1 Lounges founder and chief executive Phil Cameron said: “We are excited to launch at Luton airport and can think of no better way to introduce the No1 experience to its passengers than with our premium Clubrooms brand.” Jonathan Pollard, chief commercial officer at London Luton airport, added: “In addition to our Aspire executive lounge, Clubrooms will deliver a luxurious pre-flight experience.”

Come Dine With Me winner launches debut restaurant, in Shoreditch: Come Dine With Me winner Craig McAlpine has launched his debut restaurant, in Shoreditch, east London. McAlpine’s victory in the Channel 4 show’s first series in 2005 saw him change careers to become a private chef and launch his own catering business. Now he has opened Ember in Brick Lane offering small plates cooked over open embers following more recent posts as head chef at The Yacht London on Victoria embankment and consultant executive chef at Hotel Indigo in Leicester Square. The 36-cover restaurant’s menu is split into earth, land and sea sections, with dishes including ember-baked celeriac hummus with olive oil, hazelnuts and kale, and whisky-cured, hot-smoked salmon with celeriac and green apple remoulade. McAlpine celebrates his roots through a drinks list focusing on single malt whisky and South African wine. 

Signature Living buys out Liverpool hotel investors as it moves away from fractional sales model: Aparthotels developer and operator Signature Living has used capital to buy out overseas investors in its James Street hotel in Liverpool. Signature Living relied on the common fractional sales model to acquire the hotel in 2014, which saw it sell individual rooms to investors. Now, with the 63-bedroom hotel a commercial success, the company has activated a five-year buy-back option to secure sole control of the asset. A recent independent valuation estimated the property’s worth at more than £16m. Signature Living chairman Lawrence Kenwright told The Business Desk: “Our business growth and success in recent years has allowed us to repay and offer significant returns to investors. This is a landmark moment for Signature Living and we are now firmly focused on our national expansion with ongoing hotels in Belfast, Manchester, Preston, Cardiff and Bristol.” Signature Living is looking to use a similar strategy to buy out the remaining investors across its property portfolio, including Liverpool hotels Arthouse and the Shankly as well as Cardiff’s Coal Exchange.

Craft beer events company We Are Beer passes halfway mark in £300,000 crowdfunding campaign: Craft beer events company We Are Beer has passed the halfway mark in its £300,000 campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. The company is offering 11.32% equity in return for investment, which gives the company a pre-money valuation of £2.35m. So far, 161 investors have pledged £155,130 with 16 days remaining. We Are Beer operates craft beer festivals in London, Bristol and Edinburgh, with a fourth launching in Birmingham in July. The company aims to use funds to launch Bigfoot – a national festival where “music meets craft beer and world-class food”. Last year, We Are Beer’s events attracted more than 16,000 visitors, a 50% year-on-year growth since 2016, while the company saw turnover of £781,000 and Ebitda of £102,000 in 2018. The company said it had also seen 4.9 times growth in brand partnership revenue between 2016 and 2018. The pitch states: “We are looking to accelerate the growth of our audience and brand by launching Bigfoot – the first national camping festival to show equal love for live music, artisan beer and world-class food. We are raising £300,000 to get this festival off the ground, book the headline music acts and secure our location for 2020. Once in overfunding, we’ll be able to expand our growth plans for our current events as well as the new Beer Central festival in Birmingham, which will tap into the burgeoning Midlands beer scene.”

Former Tom Aikens chef launches bar restaurant in Victoria: Chris Zachwieja, who worked for Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens, has launched bar restaurant The Soak in Victoria. The venue has opened at the Grosvenor Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road focusing on fermentation, soaking, steeping and brining – for cocktails as well as food. Dishes include Sussex peas with Yorkshire sheep yogurt and grelot onion, and Scottish ox cheek bourguignon with mushroom, lovage oil and potato. The venue also hosts acoustic and DJ sets and has a licence until 2am. Zachwieja told Hot Dinners: “The menu is inspired by the trend for pickled and fermented foods and my love for these techniques and intense flavours.”

Welsh government invests £2m in Newport hotel and rooftop restaurant project: The Welsh government is to invest £2m in a four-star hotel project for Newport, which is due to open this summer. The package is a mix of grant and loan funding from Visit Wales and the Welsh government’s Targeted Regeneration Investment programme, which will provide £100m of capital support for regeneration projects across Wales in three years. Newport City Council has worked with Garrison Barclay, which has taken a long lease on the Chartist Tower. Work is under way to transform the building into a four-star Mercure-branded hotel with 154 bedrooms, gym, sauna, breakfast room and rooftop restaurant. The development will include retail, leisure and office space, with the rooftop restaurant on the 15th floor. Cllr Debbie Wilcox told Insider Media: “We have been working closely with Garrison Barclay to help this exciting project come to fruition.”

Freehold of Waterloo hotel hits market: The freehold of the Days Hotel London-Waterloo has been put up for sale. Christie & Co has been instructed to market the property in Zone 1 on behalf of LPA receiver Smith & Williamson. The hotel currently operates under a Days Hotel franchise agreement and comprises 162 en-suite bedrooms. Jeremy Jones, head of brokerage – hotels at Christie & Co, said: “The Days Hotel London-Waterloo represents a rare opportunity to acquire a substantial freehold hotel in the heart of London with significant repositioning and redevelopment potential. London’s global investor appeal remains as strong as ever in the hospitality space. The opportunity to acquire a freehold hotel with a variety of asset management opportunities will appeal to a range of buyers.”

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