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Wed 2nd Oct 2019 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Revolution Bars Group moves from ten to five-year investment cycle as it steps up refurbishment programme: Revolution Bars Group chief executive Rob Pitcher has told Propel the company has moved from a ten-year to a five-year investment cycle as it steps up its programme of refurbishments. The company is currently focusing on its core estate rather than openings with a view to returning to the expansion trail in the 2021 financial year. Speaking following the company’s full-year results, Pitcher said having carried out eight refurbishments in that period at an investment of £1.4m it plans 15 in this financial year across the Revolution and Revolución de Cuba brands. Six sites have been refurbished so far with a total of £1.1m invested. He said: “The past year has been about stabilising the company and this year is about consolidation as we focus on the core estate and our people. We’ve seen a 45% return on investment in the eight refurbishments we did last year, which is really promising, and we’re upping the rate we do this year. We have also now moved from a ten-year to a five-year investment cycle.” The company has been focusing its efforts on its Revolution brand, which Pitcher previously admitted had been uninvested in for some time. As part of that move the company has 30 to 35 workstreams up and running following a major customer research project. Highlighting what he believes have been some of the key successes, Pitcher said: “We have invested heavily in our Saturday night entertainment programme, which is now running across 24 sites and producing good results. We’ve also had our events space programme and in six months we’ve hosted 300 events ranging from art classes to masterclasses with some of our suppliers at 28 sites, attracting 12,500 people.” Meanwhile, 65,000 people have downloaded the company’s new app while its two latest Revolution openings – in Durham and Glasgow – have generated a 37% return on investment. Pitcher said this demonstrated the changes it was making were resonating with customers. He added Revolution was focusing on its vodka brand heritage and vodka ‘n’ tonic was now outselling gin ‘n’ tonic. The company has now extended delivery in partnership with Deliveroo to 74 of its 77-strong estate. The three sites that don’t offer the service are in areas Deliveroo doesn’t cover. While delivery isn’t a core revenue stream for the company, it is forecast to generate sales of about £500,000 in the new financial year. Pitcher said: “It’s about putting food in the hands of people who haven’t been to Revolution and hopefully getting them to visit as a result.” Reflecting on the full year and the start of the new one, which has seen like-for-like sales up 0.7% in the first quarter, Pitcher said: “The team has done a tremendous job in steadying the ship and turning the company around and it has been an encouraging start to the new financial year. However, we’re under no illusions we still have a lot of work to do.”

Industry News:

Two weeks to go until Bar and Nightclub Conference and Dusk ’til Dawn awards, open for bookings: There are just two weeks to go until this year’s Bar and Nightclub Conference and Dusk ’til Dawn awards. Both events, organised by UKHospitality and Propel, take place on Wednesday, 16 October at The Troxy in Commercial Road, London, and are open for bookings. Speakers at the conference will include Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, chairman of the Mayor’s Night-time Commission and a panel member of the government’s cultural cities inquiry; Karl Chessell, business unit director at CGA; Paul Hayes, sales director at Design My Night; James Scott, director of insights at Bibendum; London Cocktail Club founder JJ Goodman; Peter Marks, chief executive of bar and nightclub company Deltic; Mitchells & Butlers divisional director Susan Chappell, who oversees All Bar One; and leading licensing barrister Philip Kolvin QC. Meanwhile, Propel managing director Paul Charity will interview Aaron Mellor, founder of Tokyo Industries, while Kate Nicholls will interview Sacha Lord, owner of the Warehouse project, about his career in the sector and his work as Manchester night-time tsar. She will also host a panel featuring Institute of Licensing chairman Lord Smith, Rockpoint Leisure founder Dan Davies, East Coast Concepts managing director Simon Kaye and Chase Consultancy principal Paul Chase about the trading, economic and regulatory issues the sector faces. The conference will be followed by the Dusk ’til Dawn awards, which recognise the best UK bar and nightclub operators. Tickets for the conference are £139 plus VAT for operators who are UKHospitality members and £195 plus VAT for non-members. Supplier tickets are £185 plus VAT for UKHospitality members and £285 plus VAT for non-members. Meanwhile, tickets for the Dusk ’til Dawn Awards are £150 per head. Tables of ten are available or individual places. Bookings for both events can be made by emailing Anne Steele at anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Average hourly wages in sector to hit £10.60 in next five years and continue outstripping NLW: Average hourly wages in the hospitality industry are on track to hit £10.60 in the next five years, which would put pay in the sector above the National Living Wage (NLW) following the government’s proposed rise. According to data from hospitality software provider Fourth, hourly wages for workers in the hospitality industry have consistently outstripped the annual NLW legislative increases since its introduction in April 2016, with hourly wages growing about 4% a year. This week chancellor Sajid Javid announced the proposed lowering of the age threshold for the £10.50 band from over-25s to over-21s. The statistics revealed this would have little impact on the hospitality industry, which has experienced a steady erosion of the wage gap between those two age cohorts, which has remained about 2% for the past six months. The data also revealed all age cohorts are currently earning higher than their respective bracket and the gap between the hourly wage of age brackets has shrunk further. The average pay of those aged 18 to 20 is £7.88 – £1.73 higher than the current threshold of £6.15. However, the statistics revealed potential for further wage pressures on the horizon, with a reduction in the number of EU workers in the industry, which currently make up 46% of the sector’s workforce. Since the start of 2019, almost half (49%) of workers leaving the UK’s industry are from the EU, while the proportion of EU workers starting work in the UK has fallen from 46% to 43%. Analysing average wages by sector, the results show workers in quick service restaurants continue to command the highest hourly wage, an average £9.85, while the average wage of £8.75 in pubs is ahead of that paid to restaurant workers (£8.52). Fourth analytics and insight solutions director Mike Shipley said: “If we continue at our current rate of inflation we are on track to meet the target figure of £10.50 for over-21s within five years. That said, we live in unpredictable political times and more aggressive wage inflation policy from another party would require a significant uplift in current wage levels.”

Sector like-for-likes down 3% in September: Sector like-for-like sales were down 3% year-on-year in September, according to S4labour, the online labour-scheduling management system from Catton Hospitality. According to analysis of more than 1,500 restaurants, pubs, bars, hotels and cafes that use S4labour software, drinks-focused venues saw a 4.8% fall in like-for-like sales, while food-focused sites saw a more modest 1.1% decline. Regarding wet-led pubs, a 5.1% decline in drinks sales was the stand-out figure. An S4labour spokesman said the Rugby World Cup would have helped draw drinkers into those sites but earlier kick-off times may have muted the bounce in sales a major sporting event can bring. A fall of 3.7% in like-for-like food sales further compounded results for drinks-focused businesses. Food-focused pubs also saw a modest decline in like-for-like sales, with food slipping 1.7% and drink 0.2%. The inclement weather compared with the same period last year is likely to have been a significant factor in the figures.

Free Costa coffee attracts big queues: The offer of free Costa coffee from Costa Express machines attracted large queues across the UK on Tuesday (1 October). The promotion, which marked International Coffee Day, led to long queues forming at shops, garages and other outlets. One shop supervisor told Propel: “At times we’ve had 30 or 40 people waiting in line for a free coffee and it has been hard to keep up with demand. We had to assign a member of staff to oversee the machine the entire day, topping up milk, cups and coffee beans.” One area manager added: “I have had a series of calls from across the estate telling me how popular the offer has been and how much it has increased footfall. It has definitely caught the imagination of customers, although we’ve had the odd piece of ‘overenthusiasm’ – one customer tried to take away 12 cups of coffee.”

Hotels and restaurants biggest negative contributor to second-quarter economic growth: Consumer spending in hotels and restaurants fell 0.07% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2019 –and was once again the biggest negative contributor to economic growth in the UK. It means consumer spending on hotels and restaurants has gone down 0.29% in the first and second quarter combined, according to the latest consumer trends report from the Office of National Statistics. The latest drop comes against household spending growing 1.1% in the second quarter year-on-year and by 0.4%, when adjusted for inflation, against the first quarter of 2019. Housing was the biggest contributor to economic growth in the latest quarter, at 0.25%. As well as hotels and restaurants, the categories of education, communication, transport, health and miscellaneous also saw negative growth. Growth in both the food and non-alcoholic drinks as well as the alcoholic, tobacco and narcotics categories remained flat. 

Company News:

Pizza Hut Delivery UK launches express model and starts roll-out of new fast-casual look: Pizza Hut Delivery UK has launched an express model and started rolling out a delivery concept under its new fast-casual look. The moves signal the start of a new era for Pizza Hut Delivery, with more than £1m of further investment planned in the coming months as the company aims to convert the entire delivery estate to fast casual. The new store design draws on the business’ American roots and features an open kitchen, while customers can expect their order in five minutes. The business will test two versions of the “fast casual” concept – Fast Casual Express, which will launch at Intu Watford, and a second site for its Fast Casual Delivery Hut, in Islington. At the former, customers can choose their food as carry-out or express service eat-in, while at the latter they have the choice of delivery, carry-out or eat-in within new dining areas. The new Fast Casual Delivery Hut will be located in Pizza Hut’s first UK restaurant, which opened in 1973. Pizza Hut aims to replicate the success of the brand’s pilot site, which opened in Luton last year and served a 33% higher volume of pizza than a traditional delivery store. Pizza Hut Delivery UK general manager Neil Manhas said: “I am delighted to expand our ‘fast casual’ concept in the UK with two different executions of the model in our Islington and Watford stores. Our Delivery and Express business has bold plans to enhance customer experience by making it easier and faster to enjoy a better pizza. These new store designs will play an important role in enabling us to deliver this ambition. Pizza Hut has ambitions to refurbish the entire delivery estate under this new design concept as part of our mission to become the fastest-growing pizza company in Europe.” In the UK, Pizza Hut Delivery combines 400 company-run Delivery and Express stores and a franchise network of more than 60 franchise partners. Pizza Hut Restaurants is fully franchised.

BrewDog to launch its first fully vegan bar with Biff’s Jack Shack partnership, applies for new Manchester site: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog is to turn its Dalston site into the group’s first fully vegan bar following a partnership with Biff’s Jack Shack. The vegan line-up will launch on Monday, 14 October with the food menu featuring Biff’s signature crispy fried jackfruit and plant-based burgers and wings, alongside several new items. BrewDog will also change its drinks menu at Dalston to exclusively serve vegan-friendly beer. Last month Biff’s Kitchen, the vegan fast food operator that operates the Biff’s Jack Shack brand, signed a nationwide partnership with Punch. The move will see Biff’s crispy jackfruit burger and jackfruit wingz on menus at Punch’s Champs, Our Local and Our Local Plus pubs. Meanwhile, BrewDog has targeted a new site in Manchester. Last month retail director James Brown told Propel BrewDog would continue trading at its Peter Street bar in Manchester until early 2020 despite receiving an eviction notice. BrewDog has been in Peter Street since 2012 but has to move to make way for a new hotel. However, Propel understands the company has submitted a licensing application to Manchester City Council for 18-20 Fountain Street, a three-storey building that forms an endpiece to Lowry House in Marble Street.

TRG completes £27m sale and leaseback deal for HQ: The Restaurant Group (TRG), the operator of Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s, has completed the sale and leaseback of its head office in Southwark to a Japanese buyer for circa £27m. The move comes after CBRE was appointed in June to look for offers in excess of £25.7m for 5-7 Marshalsea Road. The offer figure reflected a net initial yield of 4.45% and capital rate of circa £1,100 per square foot. The building, which will undergo a refurbishment by TRG to create more than 23,000 square feet of creative space throughout, underwent a competitive bidding process with strong interest from buyers at home and abroad. TRG has signed a ten-year lease on the building with annual fixed rental uplifts built into the lease, guaranteeing rental performance. David Fraser, CBRE senior director, central London investment, said: “Southwark is one of central London’s best-performing sub-markets, with strong occupier fundamentals that attract a diverse tenant base. The appeal of the location coupled with the strength of the income profile at 5-7 Marshalsea Road has supported robust appetite from a range of buyers, despite investment volumes being down on the previous year.” Knight Frank advised the purchaser.

Little Farm to open two central London sites: London-based healthy food shop and restaurant Little Farm is to open two sites in central London, Propel has learned. The Bojidar Savkov-led business is to open sites at 66 London Wall and within Kensington Arcade in Kensington High Street. The two venues, which are due to open before the end of the year, will join the company’s debut site within Amazon’s new headquarters in Worship Street. Osman Semerci, founder of private equity firm EMEA Capital, made a “significant” investment in Little Farm earlier this year. The investment marked Sermeci’s first foray into the foodservice industry during his more than two decades of experience in international investments. Founded by Savkov, Little Farm offers breakfast and lunch made with ingredients directly sourced from local farms. It’s thought the Kensington Arcade site will be the business’ first to open at weekends.

Midlands-based Bolton Inns takes on third Star Pubs & Bars site as it targets five further openings: West Midlands-based multi-site operator Bolton Inns has taken on its third site with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars, with plans to open five more pubs in the next two to three years. The Railway in Lye, near Stourbridge, will undergo a joint £465,000 refurbishment to reopen next month with food and barista-style coffee introduced for the first time. The beer garden will feature a new children’s play area and a sports space with pool tables, darts and big screens. The patio will be extended to create seating for 90 diners, while bar and dining areas inside will be enlarged. The move follows refurbishment of the Hare & Hounds in Halesowen, which Bolton Inns undertook with Star Pubs & Bars in 2018, with music venue The Hop Pole in Bromsgrove following shortly after. In total, Bolton Inns’ estate totals ten community pubs. Managing director Edward Bolton said: “Expansion is at the forefront of what we’re doing. We plan to open five more community pubs in the West Midlands in the next two to three years.” Star Pubs & Bars regional operations director Caren Geering added: “Lye is a great suburb with lots of places to eat and drink in. What it doesn’t have is a family friendly local that serves great food and has a large garden. The Railway will fill that gap.”

Thwaites appoints Nixon as marketing director: North west brewer and retailer Daniel Thwaites has appointed Nikki Dixon as marketing director, Propel has learned. Dixon joins after almost 15 years at supermarket chain Asda in a number of roles. Thwaites has been recruiting for a marketing director to build on the relaunch of its hotels and inns business under The House Of Daniel Thwaites brand, which stands at 21 sites. Chief executive Rick Bailey said: “Our hotels and inns are in tremendous shape. We are looking for someone with great energy, creativity and commerciality to help them become even more successful.” In June, the company reported like-for-like sales increased 4% for the year ending 31 March 2019. Turnover rose 5.0% to £96.9m, compared with £92.2m the previous year. Ebitda increased 1.5% to £20.5m, compared with £20.2m the year before.

Flat Iron’s new City site to expand into large-format wine offering: Flat Iron, the “single steak” dining concept backed by private equity firm Piper, is to expand into a large-format wine offering at its City of London site when it opens next week. As reported by Propel last month, the Jo Fleet-led group secured the former Barullo site at Bevis Marks for what will be its eighth restaurant. The new offering follows Flat Iron’s partnership with Holborn wine cellar Winemakers Club. The venue will feature long feasting tables and focus on bavette steak paired with a huge range of wine, including magnums, when it opens on Tuesday, 8 October. Flat Iron X The Winemakers Club will offer a set menu of bavette steak with dripping chips and jugs of béarnaise. On top of the main wine list, there will be daily specials of three reds available by the glass, carafe and a selection of more than 50 magnums, which will also be available to take away. Flat Iron founder Charlie Carroll said: “This will be a fun opportunity for us to do something different as we uncork some magnums, grill one of our favourite cuts and get into the true spirit of simple hospitality.” John Baum, of Winemakers Club, added: “It is a great opportunity for people to share large-format wine over dinner at such affordability. It’s what many of us in the industry dream of.” Flat Iron, in which Tom Byng is a non-executive director, secured £5m of funding from UK-based SME lender ThinCats in January to fund expansion plans.

Pret rolls out coffee cup recycling scheme to more than 350 stores: Pret A Manger has rolled out its coffee cup recycling scheme to more than 350 of its UK stores following pilots in London, Leeds and Glasgow. The move means almost 90% of Pret’s estate now features a recycling point, with customers able to leave any brand’s paper coffee cup to be recycled into stationery and packaging products. Director of strategy and sustainability Laura Gutowski said: “We are committed to improving recycling rates of our coffee cups and want it to be as easy as possible for customers – and those passing our shops – to get involved. That’s why we have put our recycling points on the shop floor rather than hidden away behind the counter and why we’ll accept any high-street coffee cups, not just those from Pret.” The company said it was currently serving more than 150,000 drinks a week in reusable cups, a 20-fold rise that had saved more than six million paper cups since the company doubled its discount for reusable cups to 50p in January 2018. Pret is also part of nationwide cup recycling scheme Valpak. Contributors pay a supplement for every tonne of cups collected, making it more financially attractive for waste collectors.

Judy Joo confirms Korean concept: Chef Judy Joo has confirmed she will launch Korean concept Seoul Bird at Westfield London. As revealed by Propel last week, Joo will open the concept in the food hall at the Shepherd's Bush shopping complex at the end of November. The concept will specialise in crispy, double fried, Korean-style chicken inspired by Joo’s Korean-American heritage. Chickens are brined for 24 hours before being double fried and served with an Asian slaw. Seoul Bird will also offer bibimbap bowls (steamed rice with vegetables, pickled daikon, edamame beans, onions and poached egg). The drinks menu will include three Korean iced teas alongside bottles of Jinro Chamisul Fresh Soju and beer. Joo said: “Seoul Bird is my interpretation of true Korean comfort food, from crunchy fried chicken to spicy gochujang sauces.” Joo left the business she founded, Jinjuu, earlier this summer after launching the Korean street food concept in Kingly Street, Soho, five years ago. Jinjuu grew to three sites, including one in Mayfair, but only the original in Soho remains.

Madrid restaurant Amazonico to open in Mayfair next month: Dogus International Group is to bring renowned Madrid restaurant Amazonico to London’s Mayfair next month. Amazonico provides customers with a dining experience inspired by tropical, Asian, Mediterranean and Brazilian cuisine. The restaurant, which is due to open in mid-November, will operate across 9,000 square feet in the former Allied Irish Bank in Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square. Propel understands a new lease has been signed with a rent of £1m per annum and no premium. Dogus International Group is currently responsible for or active in seven other London restaurants – Zuma and Roka in Knightsbridge and Fitzrovia, Inko Nito in Soho, Oblix at The Shard, Coya and Ruya in Mayfair, and Tom’s Kitchen. Hanover Green Retail acted on behalf of the landlord, Astrea, on the deal while Restaurant Property is understood to have acted for Amazonico.

Michelin-starred chef Steve Drake sells Surrey pub to focus on Sorrel: Michelin-starred chef patron Steve Drake has sold his award-winning Surrey pub The Anchor in Ripley to focus on developing his Sorrel restaurant in Dorking. Drake has handed over ownership of The Anchor to head chef Mike Wall-Palmer and Dave Adams, who both worked for Drake at his Drake’s restaurant, also in Ripley. Drake bought The Anchor in 2013 and it is the only pub in Surrey to feature consecutively in the Good Food Guide. He said: “Mike has been my head chef at The Anchor for ten years and I’m thrilled to see him transition to chef patron in the village he loves and calls home. It’s great to see Dave return to Ripley too. I’m looking forward to seeing how they evolve The Anchor in their own way and for the exciting times that lie ahead as we continue to develop our creativity at Sorrel.” Drake opened Sorrel in 2017. It was awarded a Michelin star less than a year later and was named the AA’s Restaurant of the Year. 

Ossett Brewing Co appoints MD to spearhead next stage of growth: Ossett Brewing Co, the beer and brewing division of Yorkshire-based Ossett Brewery, has appointed Alex Minett as managing director to spearhead the division’s next stage of growth. Minett joins from Red Bull, where he was on-trade sales director and part of its UK leadership team. At Ossett he will be tasked with accelerating growth of the division following the company’s £1.7m investment in brewing capacity, warehouse facilities and equipment, building works and packaging resources. Minett said: “Ossett has a reputation for amazing people and producing excellent beer and I look forward to harnessing both to deliver a successful future for the brewery and brands.” Ossett, founded in 1998, also operates 27 pubs, has group turnover of £17m and a workforce of more than 400 staff. The company, which will launch a rebrand next month, has invested more than £3m in the past two years in Ossett Brewery and new micro-brewery Salt Beer Factory in Saltaire. Ossett Brewery owner Jamie Lawson said: “As we complete our substantial investment in the brewery we are delighted to welcome Alex to the team. We are set to build on our roots as a high-quality cask ale brewer and further grow business for our brands across cask, keg and packaged categories. Alex brings his wealth of experience at Red Bull to play a lead role in that growth.”

Alex Polizzi acquires East Sussex hotel: Alex Polizzi, star of television series The Hotel Inspector, is set to buy a hotel herself, in East Sussex. The star of the Channel Five show and her family are acquiring The Star Inn in Alfriston, near Eastbourne. The 37-bedroom hotel has been on the market for £2.6m and, according to agent Fleurets, is now “sold subject to contract”. Polizzi revealed on the Jeremy Vine programme the hotel would close at the end of October for renovation work. She said: “The Star is a heritage hotel. I’m so excited and looking forward to getting my teeth into it.” The 13th century building was once owned by Alex Polizzi’s grandfather, Charles Forte, who went on to create the Trust House Forte group and was knighted in 1982. Polizzi also manages Hotel Endsleigh in Milton Abbot, Devon, which is owned by her mother.

Salad bar concept Olive + Squash doubles up: Olive + Squash, the fledgling salad bar concept, has opened its second site in central London, in Holborn. The concept, which is the brainchild of Olivia Stolt-Nielsen Holten and Sofia Bombieri, has taken on the former Poncho 8 site in Great New Street. The move follows the company’s debut site in Fish Street Hill, near Monument, which opened two years ago. The sale of the Great New Street site leaves Poncho 8 with two remaining sites – in Sheldon Square, Paddington, and Queens Head Passage, near St Paul’s.

28-50 Marylebone owners to open second site, in Covent Garden: The owners of the remaining 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen site in Marylebone are to open a second site, in Covent Garden, Propel has learned. Richard Mitchell and Emilliano Isufi, who are believed to have taken on the 28-50 site in Marylebone Lane last November, are understood to have secured the Cantina Laredo site in Upper Martin’s Street for their second 28-50 restaurant. Mexican restaurant Cantina Laredo was owned and operated by the Ginsberg family, led by former Domino’s Pizza and Patisserie Valerie director Lee Ginsberg. The Texture Restaurant Group placed its three 28-50 sites on the market last year, including the Marylebone Lane site. There is no further involvement from chef owner Aggi Sverrisson, who founded the group with sommelier Xavier Rousset in 2010. Rousset left the business in 2015. Sverrisson sold the first 28-50 restaurant in Fetter Lane and put the other two sites, including Maddox Street, on the market last year. The Icelandic chef also runs Texture restaurant in Marylebone, which has held a Michelin star since 2010.

Tim Hortons launches UK delivery with Just Eat deal: Canadian cafe and bake shop Tim Hortons has launched delivery in the UK following an exclusive deal with Just Eat that will run until Monday, 14 October. Delivery will offer customers hot and cold speciality drinks, freshly baked goods, and sandwiches and wraps, with no minimum spend. In July, Propel revealed SK Group, which is leading the UK roll-out of the brand, is to open its largest UK site so far, in Leicester. The 6,500 square foot site will launch later this year spread over three floors and offering more than 150 covers. SK Group opened the debut UK Tim Hortons in Argyle Street, Glasgow, in June 2017 and the brand now has 21 sites in the region. Professional ice hockey player Tim Horton founded the brand in 1964 to create a space where “everyone feels at home”. The brand currently has more than 4,700 restaurants globally.

Beanberry Coffee to double up with Holborn site: Coffee roaster and retailer Beanberry Coffee is to open a second site. Having launched its debut site in Kingston-upon-Thames, Beanberry Coffee will open the venue in Holborn, central London, next month. It will feature a coffee lounge at the front, a central coffee bar and a communal table in the rear. Beanberry Coffee’s organic range comprises three seasonal blends alongside a selection of single-origin coffees from around the world. There are also four organic espressos and an extensive filter coffee menu that features up to six seasonal single-origin coffees. Beanberry’s own organic cold brew coffee is also served over ice or as nitro, while it offers organic leaf tea and organic cold press juice alongside freshly baked cakes and pastries and savoury items for breakfast and lunch.

Former Dirty Blonde site to become high-end Japanese restaurant: A site in East Street, Brighton, that formerly housed Dirty Blonde is to become a high-end Japanese restaurant. The new owners of the site will collaborate with lifestyle brands and interior and furniture designers to create an “experiential dining location with cuisine focused on high-quality Japanese fayre”. The site comprises 5,693 square feet arranged over three floors with substantial frontage on to East Street and an outside area above. A new 15-year lease was granted by the landlord and the premises also has a late licence. Louie Gazdar, of Davis Coffer Lyons, acted on the deal on behalf of the landlord. Named after a cocktail popular in New York’s meat-packing district, Dirty Blonde was opened by Eclectic Bars in March 2014 before closing two years later.

Cooking Collective expands Lupins site: Catering company The Cooking Collective, led by chefs Natasha Cooke and Lucy Pedder, has extended its debut restaurant Lupins. The London Bridge venue now includes a bar that offers breakfast and cocktails, while seating capacity has expanded from 28 to 44 diners. Opening hours have also been extended to reflect a broader menu. Lupins launched in Union Street in April 2017 and is the first London restaurant to be entirely nut-free after Cooke and Pedder worked with their friend Ben Lovett, of folk band Mumford & Sons, who has a life-threatening nut allergy. Pedder said: “We have exciting plans for the future. We would like to open a deli in the bar area and possibly another restaurant.”

Penderyn reveals site for £5m distillery as it secures Welsh government funding: The Welsh Whisky Company, which is behind the Penderyn brand, has revealed the proposed location for its new £5m base in North Wales after it secured Welsh government funding. The company opened a distillery in Brecon in 2004 and has lined up Lloyd Street in Llandudno for its new facility. The proposed development would be the Welsh Whisky Company’s first expansion from its site in Penderyn, Aberdare, and is expected to open by 2021 subject to planning permission. The development has been offered £1.4m from the Welsh government’s Tourism Investment Support Scheme and Food Business Investment Scheme. Penderyn Distillery chief executive Stephen Davies said: “With our funding package in place, we will develop our proposals further over the coming months and engage with stakeholders and the community as we prepare our planning application.” Deputy minister for culture, sport and tourism Lord Elis-Thomas added: “The new visitors’ centre and distillery will shine a light on Wales’ fantastic produce.”

CH&Co merges with Company of Cooks: Independent caterers CH&Co and Company of Cooks have merged. Company of Cooks has a turnover of £30m and employs 600 staff at visitor attractions and cultural sectors in London and the south east, including RHS Garden Wisley, the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery. Company of Cooks said the move would see it gain the “extra support a larger organisation such as CH&CO supplies” in particular back office functions and learning and development opportunities for staff. CH&Co chief executive Bill Toner said: “This merger gives us a broader foothold in the exciting destinations sector and we can grow further on the back of it. As always, the merger also means more opportunities for our teams and partners.” Company of Cooks founder Mike Lucy, who will continue to manage the business and brand, said: “We look forward to many more years developing relationships with our partners as well as adding a few more but, for tomorrow, it will be business as usual.” Lucy founded Company of Cooks in 1996 to run catering at Kenwood House on behalf of English Heritage. CH&Co employs more than 10,000 people at almost 1,100 locations in the UK and Ireland.

Venners adds allergen audit: Stocktaking and audit expert Venners has added an allergen procedure audit to its services. The company said there were significant weaknesses in standards and processes, with average audit scores falling below 75%. The service centres around third-party audits of a business’ allergen systems, training standards and procedures and detects sites that are failing to follow proper allergen management guidelines. Venners director of consultancy Malcolm Muir said: “With the failure of basic processes recently highlighted by tragic fatalities, hospitality operators can’t be complacent. An independent audit gives a realistic assessment of where their business is and where changes have to be made. Where allergens are concerned, 100% is the only acceptable audit score but, worryingly, we haven’t been able to award this to any site we’ve audited. In fact, the average score is 73.6%, which shows how much work the industry still has to do.”

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