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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 7th May 2019 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Gourmet Burger Kitchen sees full-year operating losses widen to £4.6m: Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) has seen its operating losses widen to £4.6m for the year ended 28 February 2019, leading to earnings at parent company Famous Brands falling by up to a third. Famous Brands, which bought Gourmet Burger Kitchen for R2.3bn (£120m) in 2016, has already written down the value of that business by more than R1bn. Famous Brands, which also owns Wimpy in the UK, said in a voluntary performance update and trading statement on Monday (6 May) its basic headline earnings per share in the year would fall between 16% and 33%. It said the group’s South African business would report operating profit before non-operational items that was “in line with the prior comparable period”. But it added operating losses before non-operational items at GBK would grow to £4.6m, compared with £3.7m the previous year. When including the GBK write-downs of R873.9m (£46m) announced in October, as well as one-off restructuring costs of R17.2m (£905,000) as a result of GBK’s company voluntary arrangement in December, and an impairment of R25.5m in an associate company in which Famous Brands has a minority stake, Famous Brands said it would report a basic loss for the year. Famous Brands has previously said GBK has been struggling because of lower consumer confidence amid Brexit talks, the rise of online food delivery and intense competition in the premium burger segment. However, Famous Brands reported in March that GBK had returned to growth, with like-for-like sales for the 16 weeks to 24 February up 4%. The GBK acquisition has weighed heavily on Famous Brands’ shares, which have roughly halved in value since October 2016. The company will announce its annual results on Wednesday, 29 May. 

Industry News:

Propel summer conference and party open for bookings, Matt Farrell to present, two free places for operators: The Propel Multi Club summer conference and party is open 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. Matt Farrell, founder of Graffiti Spirits Group and star of My Million Pound Menu, will talk about his bar and restaurant concepts including El Bandito, Slims Porkchop Express, 81 and Santa Chupitos in Liverpool and the opening of three-storey, 500-capacity Duke Street Food and Drink Market. Operators can claim up to two free places by emailing Anne Steele at Rooms (bed and breakfast) are also available at £125 plus VAT and can be booked by emailing Anne.
Other upcoming conferences: The Finance and Investment Conference is on Friday, 24 May. Click here for details. The Coffee Conference takes place on Tuesday, 11 June. Click here for details.
Michelin-starred restaurants team with Feast It for new catering service: Booking platform Feast It has partnered with some of London’s high-end and Michelin-starred restaurants to launch an events catering service. The service will open up access to more than 50 of the city’s restaurants and major brands for wedding and events catering including Nobu, Lima and Michelin-starred Pied à Terre. Founded in 2017 by former festival organiser Digby Vollrath and ex-Independent journalist Hugo Campbell, Feast It specialises in online booking of events catering services. Vollrath told BDaily: “Being specialists in events catering and the London food scene in particular, this launch signifies our growth and is a natural progression for us as a business.” David Moore, owner of Pied à Terre, added: “We’re excited to partner with Feast It and be positioned among some of London’s finest restaurants with this new offering. This is a unique concept and we can’t wait to bring our dishes out of the restaurant and on to the table at the city’s most exciting events.”

Google Maps now highlighting photos of restaurants' most popular dishes: Google Maps has introduced a new function that flags up the most popular dishes at listed restaurants with photos to match. A new tab has appeared on the menu page on a restaurant's Google Maps listing called “Popular Dishes”. It builds on the current function where diners are able to take photos of their food and upload them to a restaurant’s Google Map listing. The new feature appears to scan reviews of the restaurant to find commonly mentioned dish names, then adds photos included with those reviews to the “Popular Dishes” tab, reports Endgadget. It added the update to Google Maps has only been rolled out to some phones so far.
UK regional hotels see first revpar drop in seven years but market remains active for deals: UK regional hotel revpar dropped 2.8% in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the previous year – its first decline in seven years – but the overall market remained active with deals worth £2bn, according to a new report. The UK Hotel Market Tracker, produced by HVS London, AlixPartners and STR, showed this was in marked contrast to the fortunes of London’s hotels, which saw like-for-like revpar up 3.6% against the previous year while occupancy reached 77%, up 1.7%, and average room rates rose 1.9% to £134.05. Strong performance in the past two quarters lifted the past 12 months’ revpar 4.1%, despite a relatively subdued six months of trading. In the regions, hotel occupancy dropped 0.7% to 68% in the first quarter, with average room rate down 2.1% to £64.95 and revpar down 2.8% to £44.04, the first quarterly decline since 2012. “London’s performance in the early months of 2019 was helped by the Six Nations rugby tournament and Passenger Terminal Expo at ExCel,” said HVS chairman Russell Kett. “Conversely, outside London hotel performance was adversely affected by supply growth causing hotels to discount more aggressively in many locations. Ultimately this new supply should be absorbed but the effects of Brexit are also to blame.” The tracker predicted that with further cost increases expected for the remainder of 2019 and capex requirements continuing, regional hotels and investors will be keeping a close eye on cash flow through the remainder of the year. The first quarter of the year proved active for transactions, however, with £2bn-worth of hotels being involved in 91 transactions, compared with 85 the previous year. London’s strength continues to be recognised by developers, with the capital’s active pipeline for hotels rising during the quarter from 8% to 10% as a percentage of supply. Kett added: “London will always be a popular destination for business and leisure hotels but the ever-growing supply of rooms will mean revpar growth will become more limited as hotels vie to remain competitive and as the uncertainty over Brexit remains unresolved. There continues to be a significant amount of available capital in the hotel market, with multiple investors looking closely at opportunities but not wanting to overpay, meaning yields haven’t seen a discernible change this quarter.”
Job of the week: COREcruitment is seeking a general manager on behalf of an international brand for one of its high-volume restaurants. It is keen to speak to senior operators from a high-end background with experience in venues or properties taking more than £10m per annum. The salary is in the region of £80,000 to £120,000, plus bonuses and company benefits. For more information, click here or for a confidential chat email

Company News:

Chicago Rib Shack goes into administration for second time: Rib Shack Holdings, which runs the Chicago Rib Shack brand, has gone into administration for the second time in less than two years. The company, led by Roger Payne, has appointed Andrew Andronikou and Michael Kiely, of Quantuma, as joint administrators. As a result of the administration, Chicago Rib Shack has closed its restaurant in Wandsworth, based at the Southside Shopping Centre. This leaves the company with three sites in the capital – in Clapham, Croydon and Westfield Stratford – as well as one in Leeds. The administrators are in the process of marketing the leases of the remaining restaurants, which remain open. Kiely told Propel all offers for the leases, both as a group and on an individual basis, would be considered. He added Rib Shack Holdings made the decision to appoint administrators after falling into rent arrears with some of its landlords. Rib Shack Holdings first collapsed into administration in 2017. It was subsequently bought in a pre-pack deal by Payne, who paid a consideration of £210,500 plus 50% of the rent deposits for the company’s five premises. All 72 staff at the time transferred to the new owner. Payne runs Enhanced Hospitality and also owns South African and Cuban-inspired brands as well as private members’ clubs in the capital. He previously told The Sunday Times of his intention to make an administration filing for Rib Shack Holdings "so he could negotiate with landlords". Chicago Rib Shack was launched as a fast casual dining format in 2011.

Whitbread braces itself for fresh Elliott offensive: Whitbread is bracing itself for another offensive from activist investor Elliott Advisors, this time over its Premier Inn strategy. Elliott is becoming increasing frustrated at Whitbread’s strategy of owning Premier Inn hotels outright, claiming it is depressing the company’s share price and leaving it open to a cut-price hostile takeover. Elliott wants Whitbread to offload chunks of its £5.8bn property portfolio, reports The Sunday Telegraph. It comes as Whitbread is hit by falling demand for rooms at Premier Inn. Last year, Whitbread struck a £3.9bn deal with Coca-Cola to sell Costa Coffee after Elliott and fellow hedge fund Sachem Head called for the coffee chain to be spun off. While Whitbread still owns smaller brands such as Beefeater and Brewers Fayre, Whitbread has been accused of looking one-dimensional following the Costa sale. City sources said Elliott wants Whitbread to sell 10% to 15% of its hotel portfolio and “continue to be open-minded about the rest”. Elliott and a number of other investors also want Premier Inn to start operating hotels owned by other companies. Such a shift would be at odds to public statements made by Whitbread chief executive Alison Brittain. Last week at the company’s preliminary results, she reiterated Whitbread’s desire to own its own properties and operate a similar structure in Germany. Elliott is also understood to want Whitbread to bolster its board with directors that have hotel industry experience and it is thought the company is actively searching for board members with experience of operating hotels in continental Europe. 

Veeno 'still committed to franchising' despite four site closures: Rodrigue Trouillet, who acquired Italian wine cafe Veeno out of administration in March, has told Propel the company is still committed to its franchise model despite four of the sites closing in recent weeks. Veeno has shut its sites in Brighton, Cardiff, Croydon and Kidderminster in the past few weeks, leaving Reading as the company's only franchised outlet. The Kidderminster branch, which was the latest to close, only opened at the £3m Riverside development in the town in June last year. Trouillet stressed on all four occasions the decision was made by mutual agreement. He said: "We have agreed with some of our franchised branches to part ways. It’s a mutual decision between the franchisee and franchisor. Veeno Reading was a corporate store and has been recently become franchised and we plan to develop the franchised business by marketing in the coming months. We are having a lot of interest from potential franchisees, which we will be assessing with regards to recruitment, choice of location and financial model." Veeno has now rolled out hot food across the estate – and is turning attention to its drinks offer. As well as its franchised site in Reading, Veeno currently has ten company-owned outlets.

Patisserie Valerie creditors move closer to legal action: Patisserie Valerie creditors, including Luke Johnson, are set to pick a new administrator in the coming days who will explore if there is any possibility of legal action against auditor Grant Thornton. A creditor committee, which also includes HM Revenue & Customs and Maitland, the public relations consultancy, has been convened after proposals by incumbent administrator KPMG were rejected. It is set to meet this week and decide what happens next, reports the Sunday Telegraph. Patisserie Valerie collapsed earlier this year after being engulfed in an accounting scandal last October. The failure – a “direct result” of an alleged fraud – came after a £94m black hole opened up in its accounts. The business, which had a stock market valuation of almost £450m days before the alleged fraud was made public, was sold for £17.5m by KPMG. It was later revealed, however, KPMG was not able to pursue any legal claims against Grant Thornton, Patisserie Valerie’s long-term auditor. Having sold the business – the majority was offloaded to Irish private equity fund Causeway Capital Partners – KPMG will now take a back seat, leaving the three members of the committee to pick a new administrator.

Corbin & King lines up second Wolesley site, gets go-head for Soho seafood restaurant: London-based restaurant group Corbin & King is set to open a second Wolesley restaurant in the city. The company is planning to open the venue in a former House of Fraser store near London Bridge. The 98,000 square foot building in King William Street has been bought by US private equity firm Ares Management, which plans to convert the ground floor of the building to a restaurant, which will be the second London location of the Wolseley. The upper floors of the nine-storey building will be refurbished as offices, reports Biznow. Meanwhile, Corbin & King has also been granted permission for a proposed seafood restaurant in Soho. Westminster Council has given the go-ahead for the company’s plans at 1-8 Bateman’s Buildings, which will also incorporate 55 Greek Street. According to the planning documents, Corbin & King is proposing a 241-cover restaurant, with 44 additional covers on an outdoor terrace; a ground floor bar and dining room, and another, “more formal” dining room above, together with a private dining room. Last week, Corbin & King opened Soutine in St John’s Wood for its seventh venue in the capital.
Bristol-based Italian restaurant group Aqua shuts three sites: Bristol-based Italian restaurant group Aqua has shut three of its sites – in Milton Keynes, Lewes and Worthing. The closures leave the company with four sites in the south west – two in Bristol and one each in Bath and Portishead. All references to the three closed restaurants have been removed from the company’s website. Aqua was founded in 1998 by Richard Smithson with a goal to “deliver contemporary Anglo-Italian food to neighbourhoods and encourage diners to pop in at any time to experience tailored services and food", according to its website. Propel contacted Aqua in a bid to find out the reason for the closures but has yet to receive a response. The company has no relation to Hong Kong-based Aqua Restaurant Group, the David Yeo-founded international restaurant business that operates more than 20 restaurants in London, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Lane7 to open Liverpool site this month, six more lined up: Lane7, the bowling alley, ping pong and karaoke concept, will open a site in Liverpool this month with the company set to double its estate in the next two years. The company is opening its fifth venue, in Clayton Square. Covering two floors, the venue will combine bowling and an in-house bar with attractions such as shuffleboard, retro arcade games and Glow Pong. Operations director Rachel Lee told Insider Media: “We wanted to build a really exciting, unique space that respects the city and surrounding area. We fell in love with Liverpool from our first visit and feel our fiercely independent style will fit into the local area, making it the ideal choice for our next venture.” Since launching in Newcastle five years ago, the brand has opened sites in Aberdeen, Birmingham and Middlesbrough. It is set for further expansion with six locations earmarked as “coming soon” on its website – in Bristol, Durham, Dublin, Glasgow, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Deliveroo faces enforcement action over Editions sites: Deliveroo has been ordered to shut some of its Deliveroo Editions sites over allegations it is unlawfully cooking meals in the satellite units. The company has 100 remote kitchens in 16 locations across the country. These “hubs” are cheaper to operate and form a key part of the firm’s expansion plans. Deliveroo insisted the kitchen units do not require the same planning permission as takeaway restaurants. But it is facing planning inquiries at three sites — two in London and one in Brighton — after enforcement notices said they are operating unlawfully and must close. A public planning inquiry over its Swiss Cottage site, where there are nine kitchen units, is scheduled in July. Islington Council warned Deliveroo in February last year it was operating unlawfully at a site in Barnsbury, north London, and the case is going to appeal in October. Brighton & Hove City Council has taken enforcement action against a unit in Hove with a planning inquiry planned for November, but the unit is still operating. Deliveroo said no other councils had challenged the planning status of its sites, including locations in Leeds, Nottingham and Reading. A spokesman told The Sunday Times: “Deliveroo’s Editions are purpose-built, state-of-the-art kitchens that have increased customer choice, created hundreds of jobs and helped local restaurants to grow their businesses.”

Camerons Brewery exits Leicester site two months after converting to Sanctuary concept: Camerons Brewery has exited its site in Leicester just two months after converting the venue from its Head of Steam brand to its second Sanctuary bar. The company reopened the Market Street venue as Sanctuary at the start of March after admitting the Head of Steam, which launched in April 2018, “wasn't working” in the city. However, Camerons Brewery has closed the site, which is being taken over by Leicestershire company Texas Steakhouse, which was previously located in Foxton. David Scott, head of managed estate at Camerons Brewery, told Leicestershire Live: "We are really excited to be giving a local operator an opportunity in Leicester city centre. All employees will be retained, and will be working for the incoming company. Despite a fantastic reaction from the customers of Leicester to our Sanctuary offer, we have made the tough decision to close. While there are no definite plans to open a new site in Leicester, our time in the city has been a positive one, and we will be looking for opportunities to return to the city in the future." Texas Steakhouse will open at the site on Thursday, 16 May, offering a menu including steak, burgers, pork barbecue ribs and Texas fried chicken. The original steakhouse in Foxton was forced to close in 2017 after it was destroyed in a fire. It then opened briefly at The Black Horse pub in the village.

Zizzi hires nation’s first resident food ‘Instagrammer': Azzurri Group-owned Zizzi has hired the nation’s first resident “Instagrammer” to create its first online photography portfolio in a bid to help diners discover the real stories behind the restaurants. The new role will see James Thompson – better known to his 150,000 followers as Food Feels – pitch up in Zizzi restaurants across the country throughout May to tell the stories behind the Instagram filters of diners, food and staff. The stories will be told through an online photography portfolio on Zizzi’s website and Instagram and will document moments around the table as well as the “behind the scenes” tales of the dishes and the staff who serve it. The online gallery will form part of the company’s ‘Discover More Zizzi’ campaign and will feature images from Zizzi restaurants across the country with the photographs highlighting each restaurants’ unique local touches. The portfolio will also capture Zizzi’s new spring dishes including the spaghetti chorizo carbonara. Head of marketing Rachel Hendry told The Star: “We know our diners want to not only enjoy the food they’re eating but to also understand where that food has come from and the personalities behind the people who cook it, which is why we’re launching our first ‘Discover More Zizzi’ online gallery. We’re big fans of James’ food photography so are delighted to be working with him on this exciting project and can’t wait to see what he comes up with.” Thompson said: “There’s no better place to get to know a whole cross-section of society than a busy restaurant and it’s going to be so interesting travelling across the country to discover what people are really talking about round the dinner table in 2019.”

Zip World doubles pre-tax profit as it reports turnover boost, 2019 set to be ‘another record year’: Adventure tourism operator Zip World has reported pre-tax profit has more than doubled as it boosted revenue, while it expects 2019 to be “another record year”. Turnover rose 30% to £14,329,936 for the year ending 31 December 2018, compared with £10,999,883 the year before. Pre-tax profit was up to £3,171,658, compared with £1,547,043 the year before. Visitor numbers across its three sites in North Wales increased 22% to 398,138 from 327,134 the previous year and advance bookings for 2019 suggest that number will be higher again. The company invested £3.1m in 2018, with the most significant project being the expansion of Penrhyn Quarry, near Bethesda, from two to four lines and investment in the supporting infrastructure. It also transformed Plummet at the Fforest site in Snowdonia to Plummet 2, again doubling capacity. A statement from the directors accompanying the accounts filed at Companies House said: “2019 is set to be another record year for the group, with a full year of additional capacity at Zip World Velocity and capacity enhancements at Fforest on the Coaster, Plummet 2 and Skyride. Due to demand there are further capacity and pricing opportunities on our key products. This will be supplemented by a further focus on secondary spend for our customers before, during and after their visit.” The average number of people employed by the group increased to 283 from 243 the previous year. In March, Zip World appointed former Punch chief executive Giles Thorley as chairman. Earlier this year, the company sold a minority shareholding to private equity firm Lloyds Development Capital, which valued the business at £45m.

Stem + Glory getting ‘plenty’ of offers from landlords as consumer demand for plant-based concepts grows: Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Cambridge-based vegan restaurant Stem + Glory, has told Propel she is getting “plenty” of offers from landlords in response to consumers’ growing demand for plant-based food concepts. Palmer-Masterton revealed there had been interest in London, where the company opened at the start of the year, its home city of Cambridge and “elsewhere”. The announcement comes as Stem + Glory picked up the best vegan/vegetarian restaurant in London at the Design My Night awards only three months after launching in the capital. Palmer-Masterton previously raised more than £630,000 on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to open the restaurant, which is at the new Barts Square development in central London. Palmer-Masterton said: “We have only been open a few months and, although we’re delighted at the response we’ve been getting from our customers, we never imagined this would translate into such a prestigious award so quickly! It seems our innovative approach to low-carbon, gut-friendly, plant-based eating is hitting the right note and, as a result, we’re getting plenty of offers from landlords for sites.” Palmer-Masterton launched Stem + Glory in Cambridge in October 2016.

Rosa’s Thai opens second regional site, in Leeds: Rosa’s Thai Cafe, the TriSpan-backed group, has opened its second regional site, in Leeds. The company has opened the venue at the Trinity Centre in the former Cielo Blanco site on the complex’s roof terrace – its 17th site. The 140-cover Leeds restaurant includes seating for 60 customers inside and a further 80 on a terrace offering views of the city. The group made its regional debut earlier this year in Liverpool, at the Royal Albert Docks, and is believed to be in talks over a site in Manchester. The northern expansion of the brand has been driven by managing director Gavin Adair, who secured the Leeds site last year. He said: “Leeds is the next step in building out our cluster of sites in the north and it’s a city I know and love since starting my working career there some 25 years ago. The Trinity Centre has been on my radar for a long time and we’re excited to get the site open and push on with our measured growth.”

Greggs to cut jobs as it plans to convert Birmingham manufacturing base: Food to go retailer Greggs has lodged plans to convert a manufacturing base in Birmingham into a storage and distribution hub, leading to a loss of 89 jobs. The company has applied to the city council to change the use of its site at Mainstream Industrial Park in a move that would reduce the number of staff from 289 to 200. The number of dispatch docks would also be increased, from 12 to 17. It will receive a range of products from Greggs’ manufacturing facilities around the country, which will be temporarily stored and picked prior to dispatch to local shops, reports Insider Media. A planning statement accompanying the application said: “This is required to introduce manufacturing and distribution efficiencies and allow Greggs to expand the number of retail outlets around the country. This will ensure the ongoing success of Greggs is continued and represents its commitment to the long-term future of the business.”

Secret Samosa Club returns to east London for second pop-up as it continues hunt for permanent home: Canadian chef Rick Matharu and former management consultant Joti Sohi are returning to east London for a second pop-up for their Secret Samosa Club concept as they continue the hunt for a permanent home. Secret Samosa Club will take a three-month residency at the Tuk Tuk bar in Shoreditch from Friday (10 May) after a two-week slot at Great Guns Social in February. Matharu is heading back to London from his native Canada to showcase his “naanwiches” alongside his range of butter chicken, Punjabi cheeseburger and Dosa samosas – plus bangers and mash. The menu will have more of a “snack feel” to fit in with Tuk Tuk’s “vibe”. Joti, who is Canadian-born, met Matharu in 2005 who, since scooping Canadian television show Recipe To Riches’ $250,000 prize has been busy honing his craft and building a brand in Toronto as well as serving Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. Joti said: “We are looking for a permanent site for Secret Samosa Club. We know London loved our food last time we were here and it’s a dream of mine to have the keys to our own place. In the meantime, we’ll keep giving Londoners what they want – deep pastry pockets of joy, incredible naans and innovative flavours that make you feel good and keep you wanting more.”
Liverpool-based Italian take-out eyes new sites and potential franchise opportunities after securing additional funding: Liverpool-based Italian take-out Pasta Cosa is eyeing new sites and possible franchise opportunities after securing additional funding. Founders and sisters Kayleigh and Talia Baccino opened their debut site in March 2016 in Castle Street, specialising in freshly cooked pasta and salad. Now they are eager to further drive the business forward and look for their next opportunities for growth. They have secured £20,000 from finance hub MSIF to support their ambitions. The company now has greater buying power, has grown and safeguarded its employee headcount, and further established the business into a better position for additional funding, reports Insider Media. This will be used to expand to new sites and develop a potential franchise in the coming years.
Hush extends KityCow residency: Hush, led by Cabana co-founder Jamie Barber, has extended its residency of Indo-Nepalese concept KityCow at its Mayfair restaurant until the end of the month. Joe Allen and Aaron Thomas, the duo behind the KityCow, have been working under the mentorship of Barber since the beginning of January following their appearance on BBC show My Million Pound Menu on which Barber is a judge. Allen and Thomas have been using Hush’s first floor restaurant space since the start of February as a test kitchen to develop and taste new dishes for their British, Indian and Nepalese-inspired menu. New dishes developed include Ghokali lamb chops with coco bean "rajma" and grilled hispi cabbage korma with cashew nuts. There is also a selection of build your own’ Dhansak kebabs. The concept was previously known as XX/VI but was renamed KityCow in honour of the long-sleeved robes worn by sherpas.
True North Brew Co acquires Leeds Gin: Sheffield-based True North Brew Co has strengthened its foothold in the gin industry with the acquisition of Leeds Gin. True North Brew Co said the purchase would bring with it a reinvigoration of the Leeds Gin brand, with plans for new flavours, limited edition releases and a newly developed recipe. Leeds Gin, which was founded by Sara Birkinshaw, is made in Stourton and sold across the Yorkshire region in bars and restaurants. The small batch Yorkshire spirit is distilled with traditional botanicals such as juniper berries, coriander seeds, cassia bark, orange peel and Yorkshire foraged rhubarb. After the success of Sheffield Dry Gin, True North Brew Co plans to showcase a new look to the Leeds Gin brand and develop the recipe by "bringing its years of expertise crafting premium gin". True North Brew Co managing director Kane Yeardley told The Business Desk: “Since we got into the gin game, the two concepts we’ve always stuck by are quality and creativity. We want to develop exciting, new spirits that don’t compromise on flavour. When the opportunity came up to acquire Leeds Gin, it was a no-brainer for me. The brand has a really great following over in Leeds and I think there is so much opportunity to bring the expertise of our distillers to the brand and take it to the next level.”
JD Wetherspoon introduces new cask beer quality check: JD Wetherspoon has introduced a new minimum quality control standard for all of its cask beer across the UK. The company is using the Society of Independent Brewers' (SIBA) Food Safety and Quality Standard. Under the new rules, any brewery supplying real ale to Wetherspoon must have the quality standard in place, or an equivalent accreditation of equal weight. Wetherspoon chief executive John Hutson said: “The quality of the beer we serve in our pubs is of the utmost importance to us. Our pubs receive checks from Cask Marque to ensure this is the case and that will continue. The addition of SIBA’s quality control system further highlights our commitment to real ale served in our pubs.” SIBA chairman Ian Fozard added: “Our mission is to get great tasting, independent craft beer into the hands of beer drinkers, and the Food Safety & Quality Standard is an important part of achieving that. We’re delighted Wetherspoon has adopted it and look forward to other organisations across the UK coming on board.” Meanwhile, Wetherspoon has been given the go-ahead for plans to reopen The Grape & Grain in Crystal Palace, south London, which has been closed since 2017. The company has secured approval from Bromley Council to add a roof garden and plans to build two storeys on top of the pub and a three-storey extension to the Church Road side of the building.

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