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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 7th Jun 2019 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Liberation Group appoints new managing director as it secures further investment: Jonathan Lawson, who was appointed chief executive of Channel Islands and West Country-based brewer and retailer Liberation Group in November, has told Propel the company is focusing on building the profitability and strength of its existing business before seeking further acquisition opportunities. Lawson said: “We will look to further strengthen our teams, develop our brands and invest in our people. Acquisitions will come but only when we have made the most of the significant organic growth opportunity I believe the company is capable of producing. That’s where our immediate focus will be, getting the existing business into the best position it can be.” Lawson was talking to Propel after the company, which was acquired by Caledonia Investments in 2016, saw like-for-like sales growth of 7% across its managed pubs in the first quarter to 27 April. Lawson said: “Pleasingly, growth is coming through all categories – food, drink and accommodation – which gives us a solid base to build on.” On the back of that strong performance, Propel understands Caledonia has invested an additional £5m to support further capital investment into the existing estate, with four major developments planned already for this year and further pubs identified for next year. At the same time, Lawson has moved to strengthen his team to help the business develop and grow. Marc McGuigan will join the business in July from Greene King as managing director of Butcombe Brewing and Sales, while Andrew Cooney recently started as director of sales. Last month, Jody Bennett joined the business from Sainsbury’s as head of people. McGuigan joins the business after 12 years at Greene King, most recently as business unit director for its Local Managed Pubs division. He will report directly into Lawson. Cooney’s most recent roles include as director at business consultancy Trade Intelligence and head of customer development for SHS Drinks. He has also worked as commercial director at Marston’s and director of take home at Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries. Growth of the Butcombe Brewery and beer brand business is a key part of Liberation’s long-term strategy. With the support of Caledonia, the business has invested significantly in its infrastructure for brewing, bottling and kegging. Lawson said: “These appointments mark a new chapter in the development of Butcombe Brewery and I’m delighted to welcome Marc and Andrew to the business. They are two talented and experienced operators who will drive the success of the business and deliver on the board’s expectations.”

Industry News:

Mark Wingett to look at year so far and key themes that will shape next six months in latest Premium column: Propel insights editor Mark Wingett will take a look at the year so far and what key themes will shape the next six months in his latest opinion piece, which will be sent to Propel Premium subscribers on Friday (7 June) at 5pm. Subscribers will also receive a 30-minute video on Friday in which Fleet Street Communications managing director Mark 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, and regular video recordings of key speakers. 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

Full speaker schedule confirmed for Propel summer conference and party, two free places for operators: The full speaker schedule for the Propel Multi Club summer conference and party has been confirmed. The event takes place on Thursday, 27 June at the Oxford Belfry, which is just off the M40. The speaker line-up is The NPD Group insights director Dominic Allport; Antony Hunt, managing consultant in innovation at CACI; Ted Kennedy, owner of Pebble Hotels and veteran operator of pub assets; Three Joes co-founder Tim Hall; Las Iguanas chief executive Mos Shamel; Remarkable Pubs managing director Elton Mouna; Think Hospitality founder James Hacon; Mario C Bauer, AmRest brand ambassador, Curtice Brothers co-founder and WhiteSpace partner; The Glee Club founder Mark Tughan; Graffiti Spirits Group founder Matt Farrell and Crepeaffaire founder Daniel Spinath. 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. 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.

Women’s World Cup could ‘boost beer sales by three million pints’: The Fifa Women’s World Cup, which kicks off on Friday (7 June), could boost beer sales by three million pints, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has predicted. However, that total will only be hit if England reach the final and pubs decide to show the games. The BBPA is backing the Change The Channel campaign, which encourages UK venues to back women in sport and screen the World Cup, especially as all games will be broadcast free-to-air on the BBC. The timings of England’s group stage fixtures have been kind to pubs, with the big match versus Scotland at 5pm on Sunday (9 July) and games against Argentina and Japan kicking off at 8pm on weekdays. Three million extra pints sold would provide a £9m boost to the economy and a £1.4m windfall for the taxman, the BBPA said. Chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “By switching the station to the Women’s World Cup pubs will be doing their bit to promote women’s sport. With 8.7 million people in the UK keen to watch women’s sport, it will also be a great chance for pubs to get customers through the door.”

OAPA to launch Fill A Flask campaign: Industry-led charity Only A Pavement Away (OAPA) is launching its Fill A Flask campaign to keep the homeless hydrated in London. Following a fund-raising campaign the charity, which aims to help the homeless, former offenders and veterans find employment in the hospitality industry, will hand out more than 800 thermal flasks filled with water. Volunteers from the hospitality industry will help OAPA hand out the flasks in Charing Cross, Covent Garden, King’s Cross, Liverpool Street station, London Bridge, Tottenham Court Road and Victoria on Monday, 8 July. OAPA chief executive and founder Greg Mangham said: “I would also like to thank all the pubs, bars and restaurants that will allow us to fill the flasks before we distribute them. I’m looking forward to building on the success of this campaign in other cities across the country. However, to bring this to other places in the UK we need an additional £25,000.” Companies wishing to become involved or donate to the charity can click here to register. 

Businesses risk ‘alienating’ younger generations, hospitality leaders argue: Businesses that don’t place “culture, compassion and people” at the top of their agenda risk “alienating future talent”, according the findings at a hospitality leaders’ forum. Leaders also agreed stronger coaching-led approaches were required, as many younger generations feel unprepared for business and look to companies to develop their skills. Chris Sheppardson, chief executive of EP Business in Hospitality, which hosted the forum in London in partnership with online learning specialist Upskill People, said: “As businesses we must build a stronger connection with our people and change our approach to developing talent. Too many decisions on people are based on spreadsheets and figures. Talent looks to embrace culture, compassion for people and communities in work. People are still the greatest asset of a business and young people today expect companies to play a meaningful role in society as well as in business.”

Commercial Kitchen relocates to London for 2020: Commercial Kitchen is leaving its Birmingham base and relocating to London next year. The fifth equipment, services and design show will take place at Excel London on 3 and 4 June 2020. Event manager Katie Tyler, of organiser Diversified Communications UK, said: “The time is right for a change and the news has already generated a lot of interest and enthusiasm from our exhibitors, supporters and visitors. The tenancy enjoys similar dates and, when the Elizabeth line opens, Excel London will become accessible from Heathrow and central London in minutes.”

Job of the week: Black and White Hospitality, the master franchisor for Marco Pierre White restaurants, has a rare opening for a group finance director. Heading up finance for the whole group of Marco Pierre White restaurants as well as its growing hotel management business, this is a role for a bright, robust, switched-on finance director. Hospitality experience is essential, while the company offers a highly competitive salary and bonus structure. Send your CV to

Company News:

Collins watching Arcadia situation closely as Loungers continues to build pipeline: Nick Collins, chief executive of cafe bar brand Loungers, has told Propel he’s keeping a close eye on the situation at Arcadia as his company continues to build its pipeline. Speaking on the back of Loungers’ full-year trading update, Collins said the pipeline for 2020 was “looking good”, while he was eyeing opportunities on an almost daily basis for the Lounges and Cosy Club brands, which now total 148 sites. Arcadia, owned by Sir Philip Green, is looking to shut 48 stores across brands such as Topshop and Miss Selfridge under seven different company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) as it bids to avoid administration. A proposed vote on the CVAs has been adjourned for a week while discussions continue with a “few landlords” and Collins said he was watching developments “with interest”. He added: “We are where we would expect to be in terms of the pipeline. We’re watching the Arcadia process closely. Given we mostly convert A1 sites to A3, there are certainly properties that might provide more opportunity for us, as may other CVAs that arise. We’re going through those opportunities and we’re in a good position to take advantage should certain properties become available. We expect to continue opening at a rate of 25 sites a year and still see potential for 400 Lounges and 100 Cosy Clubs in the UK.” Collins said the company’s like-for-like growth, which was up 6.9% for the full year, continued to be driven by volume rather than price as its offer continued to resonate with customers. Collins also acknowledged the efforts of his management team and staff during the floatation process. He said: “I think one of the most pleasing things from a personal perspective is the initial public offering process can be distracting and we’ve managed to maintain our performance and momentum during that time, which is testament to our team. Now, it’s back to the day job.” 

Puttshack appoints chief executive as it gears up for US launch: Puttshack, the Social Entertainment Ventures-operated mini-golf concept, is gearing up for further expansion, including a US launch, by making a number of key appointments, Propel has learned. Puttshack, which was founded by Adam Breeden and Steve and Dave Jolliffe, has appointed former Topgolf International chief executive Joe Vrankin to head up expansion in the UK and US. The Jolliffes also founded Topgolf. Vrankin joins Puttshack from Chicago-based Wildcat Growth Partners and is joined by the company’s managing director David Diamond, who becomes Puttshack executive vice-president. Puttshack has also appointed another Topgolf International staffer, Bob Dodson, as US director of operations. Michael Burt, managing partner at Promethean Investments, has also joined Puttshack’s board. Social Entertainment Ventures launched the first Puttshack as part of Westfield London’s £600m expansion. Further sites are due to open at No1 Poultry in the City and Intu Lakeside shopping centre in Essex, with the intention to roll out more sites in the next five years. A site at Intu Watford has also been mooted.

Camm & Hooper reports full-year like-for-likes up 0.5% as turnover hits £10m: Imbiba-backed events and hospitality group Camm & Hooper has reported like-for-like sales were up 0.5% for the year ending 26 August 2018. The company, which operates five sites with a sixth under heads of terms, saw turnover increase 14% to £10.0m, compared with £8.8m the previous year. Site Ebitda was down slightly to £1.7m compared with £2m the year before, representing a 17% conversion on sales, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Camm & Hooper saw a pre-tax loss of £97,525, compared with a profit of £186,648 the previous year. As reported by Propel last month, Camm & Hooper is to launch South Place Society within fellow Imbiba-backed Wright & Bell’s The Kitty Hawk bar in the City of London. The Kitty Hawk’s lower floor will operate as South Place Society from early August owing to an “increased demand for events and experiences”. In their report accompanying the accounts, Camm & Hooper’s directors stated: “South Place Society provides an opportunity to grow our events offer in a less traditional environment, still in the heart of the City but without excessive entry costs. Our Grace Hall and Six Storeys sites added a healthy level of top-line growth, with total sales up from £8.79m to £10.02m. The objective of the business is to continue to improve financial performance at existing sites and find new sites for profitable development over the next couple of years.” Camm & Hooper founder Claire Lawson stepped down as managing director in October because of health reasons, with Debra Ward brought in to lead the company. Ward told Propel: "We have made some significant investments this year, which has led to the slightly lower Ebitda figure. We brought our food in-house with the appointment of Ronnie Murray, and subsequently invested in our kitchens and team. We have bolstered our executive team, positioning the company for growth and we have significantly invested in our sales engine, spearheaded by director of sales Darren Hart. We have also invested in our people by working with employee benefits platform Perkbox and Totem."

C&C Group boss sees remuneration jump following additional share award for ‘identifying and delivering’ Matthew Cark and Bibendum deal: Stephen Glancey, chief executive of C&C Group, the branded cider, beer, wine and soft drinks producer, saw his remuneration jump after receiving an additional share award for “identifying and delivering” the acquisitions of Matthew Clark and Bibendum. Glancey received total remuneration of €1,777,000 (£1,573,143) for the year ending 28 February 2019, compared with €994,000 the previous year, according to the company’s annual report. This consisted of €675,000 in salary and fees, €51,000 taxable benefits, €540,000 bonus, €342,000 in long-term incentive payments and €169,000 in pension-related benefits. Remuneration committee chairman Helen Pitcher said: “The opportunity for these acquisitions arose quickly and the chief executive negotiated and managed the transaction in very short order. Since acquisition, the chief executive has taken a leading role in stabilising the businesses, with Ebit improvement and new management teams in place. These businesses offer considerable potential to the group. By preference we would have made the grant to the chief executive at the same time as those made in May 2018. However, the transaction accelerated rapidly with the opportunity arising unexpectedly and the board therefore moving swiftly to deliver a successful conclusion. The committee had no time to reflect on what was the correct action to take to acknowledge the acquisition and create something that recognised the delivery of the transaction but, more importantly, was linked to future value. Over subsequent months, the committee reflected on the most appropriate way to reward and further incentivise the chief executive – hence the additional long-term incentive award equal to 100% of salary.” Joris Brams, who left his position as international division managing director in February, received a total of €1,393,000, which included a termination payment of €474,000. Group chief financial officer Jonathan Solesbury was paid a total of €1,082,000 in his first full year with the company. During the year, chief operating officer Andrea Pozzi, who was promoted to the role in June 2017, received a salary increase of 8.6% following his “excellent growth in the role and his contribution to business performance since his appointment”. The remaining executive directors have had their salaries frozen, while salaries for the general workforce rose 2%.

Gail’s continues to build pipeline with Wandsworth site: Gail’s Bakery, which is backed by sector investor Luke Johnson, has further grown its openings pipeline, including securing a site in Wandsworth. The company, which is led by Marta Pogroszewska and recently opened its 50th venue, has taken the former Meat Up site at 350 Old York Road, a leisure hub near Wandsworth Town train station. Meat Up has also closed its remaining site, in Fulham. Davis Coffer Lyons advised the assignor, The Future Is Ours, which owns Meat Up. Gail’s was advised by Forty Group. Jonathan Moradoff, director of agency and leasing at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “This is a fine example of a corporate operator in the sector still going strong in this climate. The premises have been assigned for the remainder of the 15-year lease, expiring 30 September 2028. A premium was paid for the lease and the rent is currently £54,000 per annum.” It is understood Gail’s has further sites lined up in Loughton and Cambridge.

Humble Grape secures Canary Wharf site for fifth London wine bar: Humble Grape, the wine bar and shop concept founded by James Dawson, has secured a site in Canary Wharf for its fifth London venue. The move follows Humble Grape raising more than £560,000 on crowdfunding platform Seedrs to accelerate expansion. The Canary Wharf wine bar will open in Mackenzie Walk in mid-July at a site formerly occupied by Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte. It will feature a terrace by the water’s edge and offer 30 wines by the glass and more than 400 by the bottle. The food menu will include dishes such as beef short rib nuggets with oyster mayonnaise, and roast cod with rainbow chard and fennel aioli, while the brunch menu will include crushed artichokes on toast. Open for breakfast from 7.30am until the evening, wine will also be available to take away while there will be two private rooms for hire. Dawson told Hot Dinners: “I fell in love with the site as it has access to water and a large outside space – the first for any Humble Grape venue. Most importantly, I don’t feel there is currently any brand in Canary Wharf focusing purely on wine, especially the high-quality boutique wine we offer.” Dawson founded Humble Grape in 2009, running pop-ups around London. In 2014, Humble Grape raised £535,000 to take the brand to the high street. It now operates sites in Battersea, Fleet Street, Islington and Liverpool Street. In 2017, the company raised almost £1.3m on Seedrs. Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte operates three other restaurants in London as well as sites in Paris, New York and Mexico City.

Hakkasan Group appoints Andrew Yeo as executive chef: UK-based restaurant and nightclub company Hakkasan Group has appointed Andrew Yeo as executive chef responsible for the company’s Hakkasan, Yauatcha and Ling Ling brands worldwide. Yeo has more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality sector and joins Hakkasan Group from The Miami Beach Edition, where he oversaw all on-site restaurants at the luxury hotel in Florida. He has also been executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton Company and helped to launch hotels in Shanghai, Montreal and Hong Kong. Yeo said: “I am incredibly excited to join Hakkasan Group, which has been recognised all over the world for its artful interpretations of Chinese cuisine. I look forward to working with the talented culinary creatives at the company to bring our global restaurants to even greater heights.” Last month, Hakkasan Group ended its partnership with MGM Resorts at six Las Vegas venues to focus on international growth. Chief financial officer Michael Ryan-Southern said: “Hakkasan Group’s continued focus is on strategic global expansion in key destinations around the world and we look forward to bringing new hospitality concepts to market.”

Tim Hortons passes 20-site milestone in UK: Canadian cafe and bake shop Tim Hortons has passed the 20-site market in the UK, two years after making its debut in Scotland. The company, which is operated under franchise in the UK, recently opened four sites – in Birmingham New Street, Belfast’s Connswater Retail Park, and in Linwood and Stenhousemuir, both in Scotland. The global chain made its UK debut in June 2017 at 184 Argyle Street in Glasgow city centre. In September 2016 the brand’s owner, Restaurant Brands International, announced it had signed a joint venture with an unnamed British investor to enter the UK as part of plans to take the Tim Hortons brand around the world. The investor turned out to be Surinder Kandola, one of the UK’s largest Domino’s Pizza franchisees, who backed the launch in the UK through his SK Group. Tim Hortons operates circa 4,500 restaurants in Canada, the US and the Middle East. It is led in the UK by former Costa international and brand development director Kevin Hydes.

Greene King joins Innovation Gateway to speed sustainability process: Brewer and retailer Greene King has become the first hospitality company to partner with Innovation Gateway – an alliance of companies that work together to find solutions to cut environmental impacts on energy, waste, water and wellbeing. Greene King already diverts 98.6% of its waste from landfill and has replaced plastic straws with compostable straws across its estate. By working closely with Innovation Gateway’s diverse sector partners, the pub group hopes to find new and sustainable solutions to accelerate its progress and improve the overall energy, waste and water efficiency in its properties. Gavin Worthington, senior purchasing manager at Greene King, said: “We look forward to working alongside like-minded partners to solve common challenges and find innovative solutions that help us further develop our sustainability commitments.” Innovation Gateway said its partners had identified savings of millions of pounds per year and substantial reductions in CO2 and water from initiatives sourced and piloted through the programme. Managing director Colin Turner said: “Greene King’s impressive track record and tremendous depth of experience will bring new perspectives to the partner group.”

Black Sheep Coffee adds to City presence: Black Sheep Coffee, the speciality coffee shop operator, is to further add to its presence in central London by opening another site in the City. The 25-strong group is understood to have lined up an opening in Cutler Street in Houndsditch. Earlier this year, the company revealed plans to double the size of its UK operation within 12 months while linking up with a franchise partner to launch into the Middle East. Expansion into the US is also on the cards, according to Marco Reick, who joined Black Sheep as HR director from natural fast food brand Leon late last year. “Black Sheep has a unique offer for the coffee market,” Reick told Propel. “Customers are becoming more accustomed to and educated about coffee. There is space for speciality shops of scale.”

Great Northern Inns eyes fourth site for Copper Cafe brand: Nottinghamshire-based Great Northern Inns has submitted plans to open a fourth site for its Copper Cafe brand, in Bingham. The company plans to transform a vacant office in Market Place and create 30 jobs. The firm has submitted plans to Rushcliffe Borough Council to change use of the listed building. Great Northern Inns marketing manager Alice Carr told Nottinghamshire Live: “Based on the location and offering of the Copper brand, we felt the natural progression was for a place like Bingham.” Great Northern Inns operates Copper Cafes in West Bridgford, Mapperley and Nottingham city centre. It also operates seven other bars in and around Nottingham and is set to launch The Refinery in West Bridgford soon.

Cambridgeshire-based operators take on Star Pubs & Bars venue for second site: Cambridgeshire-based operators Heidi Semple and Darren Wells have added a second site to their portfolio after taking on a venue with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars. Semple and Wells, who own The Square pub in Market Deeping and its restaurant upstairs, Circles Wine Bar & Kitchen, are now running The Pack Horse in the village of Northborough. The 16th century pub has reopened offering home-cooked food alongside real ale, wine and gin. Wells told the Peterborough Telegraph: “We are looking to take the experience at The Pack Horse to even greater heights and deliver excellent customer service and delicious traditional food.” Paul Linton, Star Pubs & Bars operations director, added: “Heidi and Darren are excellent licensees who put a real emphasis on quality and customer service. The Pack Horse should thrive with them at the helm.”

Welsh resort operator Bluestone reports turnover and Ebitda boost in year of ‘steady progress’: Welsh resort operator Bluestone has reported increased turnover, Ebitda and visitor numbers in a year of “steady progress”. The company, which plans to further develop the Pembrokeshire resort as it looks to become “Britain’s favourite short-break destination” said its outlook for 2019 was “positive”. Bluestone Resorts Wales saw turnover increase 4% to £24,970,000 for the year ending 4 January 2019, compared with £24,211,000 the previous year. Ebitda was up to £5,258,000 from £4,821,000 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Bluestone Resorts Wales also increased visitor numbers by 1%, while the site’s occupancy rate remained at 96%. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “The group continues to make steady progress in improving its operational and financial performance despite uncertain economic conditions. The directors are satisfied with the progress made during 2018 and the outlook for 2019 is also positive. The growth in sales in 2018 was achieved through organic growth and an increase in lodge rate. The focus is still on developing the resort and maintaining momentum to become Britain’s favourite short-break destination.”

Oxford-based operators open second pub and music venue: Johnnie Fisher and Cassie Jane, who re-established The Half Moon in St Clement’s Street, Oxford, as a vibrant pub for live music, have taken on the nearby Port Mahon as a second site in the city. The couple plan to restore the pub as a popular gig space for local bands. Fisher told the Oxford Mail: “The Oxford music scene has suffered some hard losses over the past few years and yet here in St Clement’s we have an absolute gem of a venue that was going to waste. With our incredible team, I am so excited to open its doors again and give it back to local artists to showcase just how much musical talent Oxford has to offer.”

Merlin Entertainments continues roll out of themed hotels to meet ‘experience-driven holiday’ demand: Merlin Entertainments has opened its third themed hotel at Gardaland Resort in Italy as part of its strategy to meet increasing demand for shorter, more experience-driven holidays. The company said expanding the accommodation offering extended the time visitors spent at an attraction, improved guest satisfaction and increased pre-booking sales. The Gardaland Magic Hotel comprises 128 rooms themed as the Enchanted Forest, Magic Ice Castle or Great Wizard, each offering a double bed and two single beds to cater for families. It is Merlin’s 20th hotel and brings the number of rooms in its portfolio to 4,500. Merlin Entertainments managing director, resort theme parks Ian Crabbe said: “On the strength of results achieved by the resort last year, we expect the introduction of Gardaland Magic Hotel to extend the appeal of Italy’s largest theme park resort.” Merlin Entertainments operates more than 130 attractions, 20 hotels and six holiday villages in 25 countries. Last month the company announced it would open its first Madame Tussauds franchise, in Prague, as part of a move to open up new territories for the brand.

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