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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 5th Jun 2019 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Biff’s Kitchen secures six-figure investment: Biff’s Kitchen, the vegan fast food operator that specialises in jackfruit-based “junk” food and sauces, has secured an initial six-figure fund-raise to drive expansion. Having grown from its roots as a street food trader, the fund-raise is part of a significant push for the brand towards a product focus, a process that will also include a new supply chain and brand identity. The raise process was led by Andrew Allen, former creative lead and co-founder of Snaffling Pig, who has joined Biff Kitchen as commercial director and partner. Allen worked with YF Funding, a new joint financial advisory venture between grass-roots champion Young Foodies and advisory firm Spayne Lindsay & Co. The cash injection will see Biff’s Kitchen focus on its branded product offering while continuing to grow as “one of the UK’s leading vegan operators” under its Biff’s Jack Shack brand. Initially the product business will focus on foodservice, building on pilots with operators such as All Star Lanes. A retail range is also in development. Allen said: “Biff’s has always been an ambitious business. Even in its early days there was a desire and plan to reach a mass audience and show how tasty and enjoyable vegan food can be. Securing funding from some of the ‘smartest’ money we could find is another important step in that plan.” Justine Moldenhauer, of YF Funding, added: “With an experienced team, an on-trend product and a highly differentiated brand, Biff’s has the foundation for significant growth.” Biff Burrows and Christa Bloom founded Biff’s Kitchen in 2017 and the company has seen “strong” trading in its first 18 months. After runs with street food business Kerb and a ten-month pop up at Haunt in Stoke Newington, Biff’s Kitchen launched at Boxpark Shoreditch last October before opening a takeaway concession within Eat 17 Walthamstow in January and a dine-in and takeaway concession at Eat 17 Homerton last month.

Industry News:

Mark Stretton to feature in next video for Propel Premium subscribers: Fleet Street Communications managing director Mark Stretton will feature in the next 30-minute video for Propel Premium subscribers, which will be sent out on Friday (7 June). Stretton talks about creating a communications campaign that complements a sales or investment process, touching on the company’s recent work with Be At One. 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 annual premium subscription costs £345 plus VAT for operators and £445 plus VAT for suppliers – plus £50 each for additional team members. Email

UKHospitality backs skills focus in regeneration of seaside towns but disappointed VAT cut remains off table: UKHospitality has backed a government report to focus on skills in the regeneration of seaside towns but has expressed its disappointment a cut in VAT for tourism businesses remains off the table. The trade body also stressed the importance of the prompt delivery of a tourism sector deal following the government’s response to the Housing, Community and Local Government committee’s report on the future of seaside towns. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Improvements to the apprenticeship system to make it work for seasonal workers is critical for hospitality businesses and employees in coastal areas. Linking local need with the output of local education facilities will also support economic growth, providing a pipeline of talent and high-quality jobs. It is, however, disappointing government isn’t prepared to reconsider the benefits of a cut in VAT for tourism businesses, which would help create even greater employment. The focus on skills development ties in with the sector’s commitment to become an industry of choice for the workforce. The government can implement reforms to facilitate that and help us deliver great careers. We urge government to endorse the tourism sector deal to unleash the sector’s potential to improve lives in seaside towns across the country.”

BII reveals 2019 Licensee of the Year winner: David Hage and Mark Osborne, who run The Railway in the Nottinghamshire village of Lowdham, have won the 2019 British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) Licensee of the Year award. The accolade recognises the country’s top-performing licensee with a passion for the trade and is regarded as the industry’s most coveted award. Hage and Osborne fought their way through three rounds to win after displaying excellent knowledge and experience in three areas – business development, people and training, and financial awareness. They picked up the award at the BII summer event at the HAC in the City of London on Tuesday (4 June). BII chief executive Mike Clist said: “Congratulations to Mark and David and the whole team at The Railway. This is a tough competition to win but it was clear they had the dedication and passion deserving of a Licensee of the Year winner. I’d also like to congratulate our other finalists for getting this far.” Hage and Osborne’s prize included a year’s free pubs and clubs subscription to Sky Sports and £500 towards a party in their pub to celebrate with staff.

Seven UK venues make elite restaurant list: Seven UK venues have made the list of the world’s top 100 restaurants as voted for by readers of luxury lifestyle publication Elite Traveler. Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray was the highest-placed UK restaurant (11th), while Core by Clare Smyth was this year’s highest new entry, at 50th. The poll, now in its eighth year, is dominated by the US (26 restaurants) and France (18). New York (12) and Paris (ten) are the most prolific cities for the number of restaurants, while London (five) shares third place with San Francisco. The other London restaurants on the list are Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (24th), The Ledbury (33rd), Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (79th) and La Dame de Pic London (94th). Nottingham’s Sat Bains (92nd) was the other non-London UK restaurant.

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

Company News:

Bristol-based restaurant group Aqua entered administration after ‘struggling to meet £1.5m loan repayments to fund expansion’: Bristol-based Italian restaurant group Aqua went into administration after “struggling to meet its repayments on a £1.5m loan to funds its expansion into the south east”, a new report has revealed. The company, founded by Richard Smithson in 1998, borrowed the money from Barclays as it built on its first two sites in Bristol. A statement of proposal by administrators Simon Rowe and Rachel Hotham, of Milsted Langdon, showed Aqua used the funds to open restaurants in Bath, Portishead and Milton Keynes, followed by Worthing and Lewes. The report stated: “Unfortunately, performance at Milton Keynes declined and the sites at Lewes and Worthing never reached the levels of revenue forecast. Furthermore, growth into the south east came with additional overhead costs and stretched the management team. The board recognised while they were still making a profit at Ebitda level, it was insufficient to meet the demands of creditors and, in particular, meet repayments to the bank.” Aqua agreed with Barclays to restructure the debt, which “at its peak reached £1.5m”, and the company continued to trade. However, its position worsened and Barclays was unwilling to consider a further restructure so soon after the previous one. Aqua explored a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) with support from Barclays allowing the sale of the three south east sites. However, the values given for the trio of restaurants failed to make the CVA viable. Aqua explored selling additional sites to increase the value but it would have left the business too small to manage the remaining bank debt and therefore administrators were appointed in April. The sites in Milton Keynes, Lewes and Worthing were closed with the remainder sold in a pre-pack agreement to Smithson through a new company, Smithson & Sons, for a total consideration of £305,000. The report added: “The estimated value of the preferential creditors is £6,500 and the unsecured creditors is £1,060,635. The company granted a floating charge to Barclays on 20 May 2015. Accordingly, we are required to create a fund out of the company’s net floating charge property for unsecured creditors. Based on present information, we estimate the value of the company’s net floating charge property to be £45,103. Arising from this, the value of the unsecured creditors’ fund is estimated to be £12,021.” The company has no connection with 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.

O’Riordan becomes Caravan chairman: Jane O’Riordan, former group strategy director at Nando’s, has joined London-based restaurant, bar and coffee-roasting concept Caravan as chairman, Propel has learned. Earlier this year, O’Riordan became chairman of Caribbean restaurant chain Turtle Bay and also of Flight Club. O’Riordan has extensive knowledge of the leisure and hospitality space. She was managing director of Yellowwoods Associates (formerly Capricorn Associates) – a private equity and venture capital advisory firm involved in the strategic development of companies such as Nando’s and PizzaExpress. She was also director of strategy on the main board of Nando’s and is currently a member of the advisory board of Piper, the private equity company that backed Turtle Bay in 2013. O’Riordan also founded Antipodean-style cycling cafe and restaurant concept The Dynamo in Putney, south west London. Active Partners-backed Caravan operates five London sites – in King’s Cross, the City, Exmouth Market, Bankside and Fitzrovia. In February, co-founder Laura Harper-Hinton labelled trading at those sites as “fantastic”, with like-for-like sales up about 10%. Caravan founders Harper-Hinton, Miles Kirby and Chris Ammermann will launch a venture at The Pavilion in Chelsea this autumn featuring a new name, menu and design.

Provenance Inns returns to pre-tax profit as director waives £2.1m of loan interest: Provenance Inns has reported a return to pre-tax profit after director Chris Blundell decided to waive the interest previously charged on his loan and for the current financial year, amounting to £2.1m. Blundell said he would look at “potentially reintroducing such interest charges when the company was in a better financial position”. It comes as Provenance Inns reported turnover fell 6% to £4,217,216 for the year ending 26 August 2018, compared with £4,487,772 the previous year. As a result of interest of £2,136,607 from the director loan being waived, the company made a pre-tax profit of £2,025,425 compared with a loss of £560,995 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. At the end of the period, the company operated five country inns in North Yorkshire, two with rooms, while it also has an 11-bedroom lodge operated under a management contract. In his report accompanying the accounts, Blundell stated: “Sales reduced from the previous year by 6.0%. The markets in which the inns operate have seen more competition. Gross profit, however, grew 1.5% from 35.4% to 36.9%. This was brought about by improvement in food and liquor margins. The margin improvement arose from lower cost prices achieved through improved supplier price negotiation. In addition, there has been targeted focus to improve order efficiency. Operating profit rose from a loss of £5,028 in the previous year to a profit of £12,506 for the current year. This is as a result of improved management control in margin and overall costs including labour in the latter part of the year. Our aim is to grow the core revenue streams through consistently good food and service. In addition, we invest in the sites to add further capacity in terms of covers and bedrooms. In parallel, we are looking to expand through the acquisition of existing businesses or new-build when opportunities arise. Our property estate is entirely freehold asset backed.” Provenance Inns was founded in 2010 by former Morrisons director Blundell and Michael Ibbotson, who stepped down as managing director in 2017.

Turtle Bay further strengthens head office: Caribbean restaurant chain Turtle Bay, which was founded by Ajith Jayawickrema in 2011, has further strengthened its head office team, including the appointment of an interim finance director. The company, which currently has 43 sites in the UK and two in Germany, has appointed Graham Henderson, formerly of Bristol-based Harding Brothers Retail, to the position. At the same time Ben Hibbard, who was marketing manager at Boston Tea Party for the past six years, has joined Turtle Bay as senior marketing manager. Last week, Adam Gregory joined Turtle Bay as operations director after leaving Be At One earlier this year. 

D&D London to launch co-working initiative in five of its restaurants: Restaurant operator D&D London is to launch a co-working initiative in five of its venues this month. The Workroom is a partnership with entrepreneur Dominika Sadowska and will launch through an app on Monday, 10 June at five London restaurants – 100 Wardour St, Bluebird Chelsea and White City, Fiume and Radici. The app will allow users to book a table to serve as their “office for the day”, which will be available via an individual day pass or multiple bundle to be used when required. Each workspace will feature super-fast Wi-Fi, plug sockets and free tea, coffee and water. D&D London chief executive and chairman Des Gunewardena said: “There has been a big shift in the way Londoners operate. I’m hardly in our office myself and have noticed more people using our restaurant spaces to work in. While other operators are trying to combat that, we thought ‘why not embrace it’? Introducing The Workroom initially into five of our restaurants will hopefully make them busier during quieter times through the week and bring in a new audience, who may not have visited before.” Sadowska added: “We are pushing the boundaries and challenging the norms to serve this new crowd of modern professionals. The idea behind The Workroom is ‘redefining the workspace’ as well as redefining what ‘work’ is.” D&D London said it planned to roll out The Workroom concept to further venues across the capital. D&D London operates 41 restaurants and bars and one hotel, principally in London but with venues in Leeds, Manchester, Paris and New York. 

Chilango appoints Lister as marketing director: Mexican brand Chilango has appointed Kate Lister, formerly of Byron and Starbucks, as marketing director. Lister spent more than three-and-a-half years at Byron, latterly as the burger brand’s director of food and marketing. Before that she spent almost 12 years at Starbucks. In April, Chilango closed its Burrito Bond 2 offer having raised almost £3.8m. The brand, which was founded in 2007 by Eric Partaker and Dan Houghton, operates ten restaurants across London and one in Manchester. A 12th restaurant is due to open, in Birmingham this summer.

Home Counties-based operators take on third Star Pubs & Bars site and fourth in total, in Marlow: Carlos Maidana and Joy Roberts have opened their fourth site in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire – The Oarsman in Marlow – following a £550,000 joint refurbishment with Star Pubs & Bars. The pub is Maidana and Roberts’ third with Star Pubs & Bars, while they plan to create a partnership model to enable their management team to take on their own leased pubs. Formerly The Cross Keys, the pub had been closed for more than a year and the couple have taken it on a 15-year lease. The redesign has created a spacious bar with real fires and leather seating offering 16 draught beers, 30 gins and a large wine list. An extension has been converted into a kitchen and 38-cover dining area, which opens on to a garden with seating for 60. The menu focuses on healthy eating. Maidana said: “There are few independent traditional pubs remaining in Marlow’s centre. The Oarsman aims to fill that gap. We’ve set out to be equally distinctive with the food. With so many well-used gyms in the area and big rowing and cycling communities, we felt there was room for an offer that puts healthy food centre stage.” Star Pubs & Bars operations director Neil Convery added: “Carlos and Joy have done a phenomenal job of bringing their idea and vision to life.” Maidana and Roberts’ other venues with Star Pubs & Bars are the Grouse & Ale in High Wycombe and Blue’s Smokehouse in Bracknell, while they also operate the Yew Tree in Frieth.

Downing Crowd bond raises £1m to support west London gastro-pub refinancing and bedroom fit-out: Crowdfunding platform Downing Crowd has raised £1m through a bond offer to support Maida Vale Leisure’s fit-out of bedrooms at The Hero Of Maida and repay finance on the west London gastro-pub. The pub is managed by Harcourt Inns, which operates five other sites in central London. Maida Vale Leisure bought the pub for £5m in 2017 and it recently underwent a £1.5m refurbishment, including the creation of an events room and two private dining rooms. The pub has been trading since May last year. The bond raised £1,025,000 and the funds will be used to fit-out five hotel rooms on the top floor of the pub, which is due to be completed this summer, and repayment of existing finance. The bond offers investors a fixed return of 6.5% per annum for a term of up to 24 months with interest compounded and paid on redemption. The bond and interest are secured on a first charge basis against the bricks and mortar of the pub, with an estimated loan-to-value of 37%.

Former Champs operator looks to take micro sports bar concept outside Sheffield for fourth site: Former Champs operator Danny Grayson is looking to take his micro sports bar concept Sport Shack outside Sheffield as he hunts for a fourth site. Grayson and business partner James Dobson opened a debut venue in Ecclesall Road in September before adding outlets in Hillsborough and Woodseats. Now they are hunting for site number four with areas identified including Chesterfield, Doncaster, Maltby and Worksop. Grayson, who operated the Champs format with Punch, said: “Each bar will contain at least six Ultra 4K HD televisions and serve top-quality food and drink, including the more mainstream products that are seen less frequently in the micro bar scene. The latest sport from Sky & BT will be shown at all sites.”

Hartnett plans Café Murano in Bermondsey: Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett is looking to open a third site under her Café Murano brand, in Bermondsey, south east London, Propel has learned. Hartnett is understood to have applied to open at a site in Bermondsey Street formerly occupied by restaurant Zucca, which closed at the end of 2015. Hartnett opened the first Café Murano in November 2013 at a St James’s Street site formerly run by her mentor, Gordon Ramsay. A second Café Murano followed in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, serving “simple and seasonal” Italian food with a shop next to the restaurant selling pasta and sauce to take away. Zucca was run by former River Café chef Sam Harris. It opened in 2010 and served a “progressive interpretation” of traditional Italian food.

World’s most ‘ethical pub’ to open in Shoreditch: The Better World Group, founded by Randy Rampersad, is to open the “world’s most ethical pub”, in Shoreditch this month. The Green Vic will launch in Great Eastern Street as a three-month pop-up with a goal to gain investment to open a permanent site early next year. The bar will stock drinks that support more than 40 non-profit charities, with the menu listing key details of each organisation. On the food side, Rampersad is partnering with vegan and cruelty-free food truck The Green Grill. One-in-four staff at The Green Vic will be from a vulnerable or disadvantaged background and Rampersad has partnered with Unity Kitchen, a social enterprise that trains people with disabilities to get the skills and qualifications required to have a career in foodservice, and Change Please, a social enterprise that trains the homeless to become competition-level baristas. Rampersad said: “I want to create a business that makes the world a better place, where people can contribute to charity without changing their normal daily routine, which has the capability to expand across the UK and combines my passion for partying – a social enterprise pub is the natural fit.”

KFC secures Waterloo site as Black & Blue relocates: KFC has secured the site in Waterloo that was occupied by Black & Blue Restaurants, which is expanding into a larger space next door. The circa 2,000 square foot site in Mepham Street is opposite the train station and will offer grab-and-go and sit-down options for commuters from the main entrance and another serving hatch facing Tenison Way. Emma Wright, of CDG Leisure, who brokered the deal on behalf of Black & Blue Restaurants, said: “This is a great result for both brands and shows KFC is going from strength to strength. This is the perfect location for the company, offering fried chicken to thousands of people travelling to and from the station every day.” Last month, owner Yum! Brands reported KFC UK sales were up 19% for the first quarter ended 31 March 2019, compared with the previous year when a delivery saga resulted in 750 of its sites being closed because of a mass chicken shortage. The UK accounts for 6% of KFC’s system sales worldwide. Black & Blue Restaurants operates four London sites.

Tastecard to launch pop-up restaurant where customers are fed by hosts: Discount diners’ club Tastecard is to launch its first pop-up restaurant, in Marylebone, in which customers will be fed their food. The Hands Off! restaurant has been inspired by the Bangkok tradition in which it’s popular for guests to be treated with the upmost respect and, notably, served by the hosts. The pop-up will feature a set tasting menu by partner restaurant Feng Sushi, including Nippon “mock” duck, a Chinese pancake with cucumber, spring onion and caramelised tofu and hoisin sauce; salmon, tuna and Japanese omelette nigiri; and vegetarian rolls. For dessert, guests will be fed mochi, a Japanese rice cake in chocolate and strawberry cheesecake flavours. Tastecard founder Matt Turner said: “Tastecard is allowing customers to enjoy a unique dining experience.” The Hands Off! restaurant will run from Tuesday, 11 June until Friday, 14 June.

Drake & Morgan opens The Moniker in City of London: Drake & Morgan, the London-based bar and restaurant group backed by Bowmark Capital, has opened its latest site, The Moniker in Fenchurch Avenue. The City of London venue offers a botanical cocktail menu alongside wine, spirits, craft beer and cider. Open all day, Monday to Friday, The Moniker’s menu includes small plates, sharing boards, gourmet sandwiches and burgers, and seasonal salads. The venue will also host cocktail-making classes and features a terrace with television screens. The Moniker can be hired at weekends for 200-capacity standing events and 100-cover sit-down meals. The bar is divided into two spaces, while there is a 14-cover private dining room featuring orange leather chairs and a television. The Moniker also has a wedding licence. Drake & Morgan currently operates 24 sites.

Inflatable theme park operator Inflata World signs for London retail park: Inflatable theme park operator Inflata World has signed to open a site at Catford Island Retail Park in south east London. The company, which operates the “ultimate inflatable obstacle course for children and adults”, has agreed a new three-year lease for a 34,706 square foot unit. Catford Island Retail Park is in the town centre and also features a McDonald’s restaurant and Lidl supermarket. Johnny Rowland, out of town retail director at Savills, which brokered the deal, said: “Inflata World is an exciting new family friendly attraction in the leisure sector and we’re pleased to have secured a deal at Catford Island Retail Park.”

G1 Group to shut Edinburgh nightclub due to neighbouring building work: Scotland’s biggest managed operator G1 Group is to close its Espionage nightclub in Edinburgh because of health and safety concerns caused by neighbouring building works. The company will shut the Victoria Street premises, which spans five floors, on Saturday (8 June) following a farewell party. Head of marketing and communications Nicola Grant told Propel all fringe acts booked for Espionage would be housed at other G1 Group venues. The closure comes amid work on the Virgin hotel development. Grant said: “There are significant building works going on next door and operational considerations around things such as access and noise pollution.”   

Oxfordshire boutique hotel on market for £5.6m: A boutique hotel in the Oxfordshire village of Weston-on-the-Green has been put on the market for £5.6m. The 32-bedroom Manor Hotel is being marketed by agent Colliers International. Set in 12 acres of grounds, including the remains of a moat, the hotel features The Baron’s Hall restaurant, which has 46 covers but can provide for 70 in banquet form or 100 for drinks receptions. There is also Minstrels’ Gallery, Bertie’s Bar and other dining rooms. With origins dating to the Domesday Book, the original Weston Manor House can be traced to the 11th century. The original Weston Manor House was converted to a hotel in 1940. Peter Brunt, hotels director with Colliers International, said: “Our client bought the hotel in 2012 – the previous owners had owned it for 30 years and the hotel required upgrading. This was undertaken in 2014 with considerable expenditure since but our client has other business interests and has decided the time is right to move on.”

Searcys to launch brasserie and bakery at Shropshire stately home: Searcys is to launch a brasserie and bakery at Shropshire stately home Weston Park. The Granary Brasserie and Bakery at Weston Park will celebrate the best of British produce with an emphasis on English sparkling wine. The bakery will feature a seasonal menu including freshly baked bread, homemade sandwiches, cakes and pastries. All tea and coffee will be fair trade or direct impact sourced, with coffee beans coming from family-run farms in Peru and Columbia. The move follows Searcys’ appointment as official caterer at Weston Park, which will see the company create hampers and chef’s packages for the estate’s holiday cottages and develop food and drink menus for private and corporate events. Searcys managing director Matt Thomas said: “This is an incredible opportunity to partner with a landmark British location that shares our commitment to provenance and sustainability.” Searcys operates more than 30 venues across the UK.

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