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Mon 28th Oct 2019 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Watch House Coffee secures investment for growth: London-based speciality coffee concept Watch House Coffee is set for further expansion in the capital after securing £2.1m of new investment, Propel has learned. The initial investment was anchored by Edition Capital, which also backs Incipio Group and urban axe-throwing operator Whistle Punks, among others. Roland Horne founded Watch House in a 19th century former watch house in Bermondsey Street in 2014. The venue has gone on to become a three-time Time Out Love London award-winner. The group has subsequently added sites in Tower Bridge, Fetter Lane and Spitalfields. Propel understands the new funding will be used to acquire venues across London, with five additional sites due to open in 2020. Horne said: “Each one of our sites is designed to highlight the specific history of our locality. Modern coffee is about the whole customer experience, not just the coffee bean or latte art. This holistic approach stands us apart in the sector. Completion of the series A investment round allows us to reach further afield and much faster, which is really exciting for the team and customers alike.” Edition Capital also backs Social Pantry, Morty & Bob’s and Crystal Maze Live.

Industry News:

Additional speakers join People and Training Conference line-up: Additional speakers have joined the line-up for next month's People and Training Conference. The event, organised by the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) in association with Propel, will take place on Tuesday, 26 November at Bafta Piccadilly and is open for bookings. Added to the speaker list is CPL Online chief commercial officer Jamie Campbell, who will explores how learning and development that delivers growth, opportunities and resilience is vital to inspire performance of your most valuable and ever evolving asset – your people. Meanwhile, Jill Whittaker, managing director at HIT Training, will be joined by Graham Briggs, head of apprenticeships and employability programmes at Greene King, and James Nye, managing director at Anglian Country Inns, to review the evolution of the apprenticeship levy over the past two years. Other speakers include Yapster co-founder Rob Liddiard; Katy Moses, managing director of KAM Media; Charlotte Kemp, head of people and culture at Mission Mars; Royal Marine Major Scotty Mills; Jo Fleet, managing director of Flat Iron; Kevin Charity, founder and chief executive of Coaching Inn Group; Conor Shaw, chief executive of Bizimply; and David Smith, former HR director for Asda. Meanwhile, Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Marston’s, talks to Propel insights editor Mark Wingett about the company’s approach to recruitment and retention. There will also be an HR directors’ panel, where Krishnan Doyle, founder of COREcruitment, will talk to Janene Pretorius, people director at The Ivy Collection; Claire Clark, HR director at Casual Dining Group; Tim Painter, HR director at Stonegate Pub Company; Dawn Browne, people and talent director at Fuller’s; and Cheryl Horn, talent director at OYO; about the challenges of recruitment and retention in the sector. Tickets are £65 plus VAT for operators who are BII members and BIIAB members and £200 plus VAT for operators who are non-BII members. Supplier tickets are £95 plus VAT for BII members and BIIAB members and £245 plus VAT for all other organisations. To book, email
Goodbody – McDonald’s success in delivery highlights aggregators are encroaching on space: Goodbody leisure analysts Paul Ruddy and Rachel Fox have argued McDonald’s success in delivery in the UK has highlighted how aggregators are encroaching on the space and incumbents such as Domino’s Pizza. They stated: “McDonald’s has noted growth at its UK arm had been driven by a surge in popularity of delivery following its partnership with UberEats. Delivery is available at 950 of its UK sites and accounted for more than 10% of its overall business. It also has seen 3.6 million app downloads since its launch last year. Following Domino’s disposal of its international business, it is under pressure to drive more growth in the UK. As the franchisee dispute continues, store roll-out has slowed considerably and order count has been soft as franchisees are driving pricing increases to offset ongoing cost inflation. McDonald’s success in delivery in the UK highlights how aggregators are encroaching on incumbents such as Domino’s. This only increases pressure on the board to resolve the stand-off with franchisees in our view.” Meanwhile, Fox and Ruddy said the news US activist Browning West had built a 5.33% stake in Domino’s was likely to be a “positive” for the business given it came following the announcement the group was exiting its international markets, which have been increasingly loss-making. They added: “At this point there isn’t one clear focal point for Browning West. However, a number of well-documented issues are having an impact on the share price that are likely to get attention, including pending management changes, mounting franchisee issues and the timing of the international disposal.”

JD Wetherspoon may have breached law over 1.9 million Brexit beer mats: JD Wetherspoon has been accused of breaching the Companies Act after failing to seek shareholder approval for spending on almost two million pro-leave beer mats before the 2016 EU referendum. The company spent £94,856 during the referendum campaign, comprising £18,000 on 1.5 million “Brexit beer mats”, £8,400 on a further 200,000 mats, and £68,186 on another 200,000 mats, 5,000 posters and 500,000 booklets, Electoral Commission records show. Legal experts said shareholder approval was necessary because the spending constituted political expenditure under the 2006 legislation, reports The Guardian. Wetherspoon’s chairman and founder Tim Martin is one of the business world’s most vocal Brexit supporters. The Companies Act 2006 says political expenditure includes activities “capable of being reasonably regarded as intended to influence voters in relation to any national or regional referendum”. The legislation says political spending must be approved in advance by shareholders, but Wetherspoon did not pass such a resolution before the referendum. Companies are also meant to declare annual political spending above £2,000 in their annual report, which Wetherspoon did not do. Martin said his understanding was the act did not require Wetherspoon’s spending to be approved in a shareholder resolution. “The Electoral Commission does require the expenditure to be reported and we complied with this requirement,” he said. But Bobby Reddy, a former City law firm partner who lectures on corporate law at the University of Cambridge, said such materials would be covered by the definition of political expenditure. “Material that specifically says that individuals should vote leave would seem to come clearly under the heading of activities intended to influence voters in relation to a national referendum,” Reddy said. “It would therefore come under the heading of political expenditure under the Companies Act.” In response to the article, Martin told Propel: “The Guardian supports the EU with religious zeal and is desperate to find fault with Brexit supporters. Dragging up relatively small amounts of expenditure, declared to the Electoral Commission more than three years ago, while ignoring the huge amount spent by big business in supporting Remain is pathetic.”
Sector continues to increase investment in technology amid Brexit uncertainty: Sector businesses are continuing to increase investment in technology in the face of ongoing Brexit uncertainty. A number of large companies across the late-night, contract catering, competitive socialising, casual dining, and grab-and-go sectors have partnered with guest feedback service Feed It Back to enhance their guest experience and drive loyalty. They include Deltic Group, Sodexo, Ten Entertainment Group and Boston Tea Party, among others. Meanwhile, existing customer Loungers has rolled out Feed It Back’s services across its Cosy Club brand following strong results across its Lounges business, while Boparan has done the same at Giraffe and Ed’s Easy Diner following success with Slim Chickens. Feed It Back chief executive Carlo Platia said: “What exactly Brexit means for hospitality businesses is at this moment unclear. What is clear, however, is businesses are recognising the need to invest in technology to garner loyal customers and stay ahead of continually evolving customer demands. There is a wealth of insight and data about businesses that already exists out there in the technological ether, we simply help them capture and make sense of it, so they can make smart decisions.”

Screach launches UK’s first Netflix-style live sports-streaming service for pubs: The UK’s first Netflix-style live sports-streaming service for pubs has been launched. UK-based technology company Screach has partnered with broadcaster Premier Sports, which owns the rights to more than 1,500 live sports events including Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A football matches, to deliver pubs an estimated 150 live matches that don’t clash with Premier League fixtures. The Premier Sports channels also show live Scottish cup football, America’s MLS soccer league and all 152 matches a season in the Guinness PRO14 rugby tournament. Screach’s service has a 90-day minimum period. Chief executive Robert Rawlinson said: “We are delighted to work with Premier Sports to launch the first enterprise-grade streaming service to UK pubs. This is a fresh approach in the way pubs harness the power of live sport. We’re in advanced discussions with other contents rights-holders and should announce more partnerships soon.”  
Extended licensing hours will allow pubs to ‘play their part’ in VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations: UKHospitality and the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) have backed a proposed extension to licensing hours to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Home secretary Priti Patel has announced proposals that would allow pubs, clubs and bars that are licensed to trade until 11pm to open until 1am on Friday, 8 May and Saturday, 9 May 2020. The extension of opening hours will be subject to a consultation with authorities. The government has already decided to move the early May bank holiday next year from Monday, 4 May to Friday, 8 May to mark the anniversary with a public holiday. The BBPA has also worked with the organisers of VE Day 75 to create a toolkit for licensees, advising them on how they can get their pub involved in the celebrations. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “This will be a moment of national significance and extending licensing hours will allow pubs to play their part.” David Wilson, BBPA director of public affairs, added: “In 1945, VE Day would have been celebrated in pubs up and down the country. VE Day 75 will be a wonderful opportunity for the nation to commemorate and celebrate the occasion in the great British pub.”
UK regional hotels see tough trading continue as London properties flourish: UK regional hotels saw trading again prove tough in the third quarter while London properties continued to flourish, according to new research. The UK Hotel Market Tracker, produced by HVS London, AlixPartners and STR, revealed London properties saw rate-driven revpar growth of 5.1% during the period, to £145.97 year-on-year. However, hotels in the regions saw a decline of 1.3% to £63.42, the third consecutive quarter of decline. In London, performance was largely boosted by strong room rates, up 5.3% year-on-year to an average of £165.69 despite a slight fall in occupancy of 0.3% to 88.1%. Performance in the capital was boosted by the devaluation of sterling, which reached a low in August, making London cheaper for incoming tourists to visit. Events including Wimbledon fortnight helped boost visitation. Conversely, hotels in the provinces saw average room rates fall almost 1% in the quarter, while occupancy fell 0.3% to 82.3%. It was a similar result for hotel transaction levels, with London’s asset sales activity boosted by 31% to £1.4bn, driven largely by a boost in portfolio sales. Transaction levels in the regions were down 37% to £2.1bn. HVS chairman Russell Kett said: “It has been a tough quarter for UK hotels with intense pressure on margins from increasing costs, staffing issues and wavering consumer confidence. London remains a popular destination for tourists and has become a marginally cheaper destination due to the fall in the value of sterling. When the market weakens hotels outside the capital will always find it tougher and operators will need to keep a firm hand on costs and margins. The continuing saga over Brexit fuels uncertainty in the UK hotel transaction market, which is unlikely to see a material change until there is greater clarity. Yields remain largely unchanged for the same reasons.”
Last chance to enter inaugural Pub20 awards: This week is the last chance to enter the inaugural awards being staged by Pub20, the only dedicated trade show for the UK pub industry. The awards will recognise the best publican and pub chef of the year, with entries closing at 5pm on Friday (1 November). Shortlisted publicans and pub chefs will be contacted in the first week of January with the winners announced on Tuesday, 4 February 2020 at the end of the first day of Pub20, which takes place at Olympia London. Pub20 commercial manager Alex Booth said: “The accolades not only shine a light on the champions of the trade but give winners the chance to raise their public profile. We’re excited to host the awards for the first time and delighted to have the opportunity to draw attention to the amazing people in our vibrant sector.” For more information, click here.

Company News:

200 Degrees reports coffee shop like-for-likes up 11% in ’stellar’ full-year: Nottingham-based coffee roaster and retailer 200 Degrees has reported like-for-like sales at its coffee shops increased 11% for the year ending 31 March 2019. Shop Ebitda was up 174% to £1.1m, compared with £400,000 the previous year. The company said it had experienced a “stellar” financial year, with significant growth across all divisions. At the forefront of the company’s success is its growth in shops, with the company set to launch its 11th site – and first out-of-town – at the East Midlands Designer Outlet, at Junction 28 of the M1, on Thursday, 14 November. In terms of future openings, 200 Degrees said the pipeline of locations was “very strong” with a number of opportunities being reviewed and assessed to ensure the company will continue with its plans to open four to five shops per year. Its business coffee solutions arm has seen sales increase 16% from £4.0m to £4.7m for the year ending 31 March 2019 with sales in the current year forecast to be circa £6m. Average employee numbers increased to 106 from 92 in the previous year, with forecasted growth in FY20 to more than 150 staff. The company has continued to invest in its central support services as well as a new £200,000 roaster machine at its Nottingham roastery to meet ever-growing demand for its coffee. The business continues to focus on growing its range of income streams with strategies to expand its subscriptions arm, business coffee solutions and further utilise meeting rooms above shops that house barista schools. As part of the barista schools, 200 Degrees is looking to deliver corporate team building and barista events and hopes to offer barista training across the country with a mobile barista school offering. Co-founder Rob Darby said: “Our positive results have been achieved by focusing on customer experience through our shop fit outs, the quality and variety of our food, freshly roasted great coffee and our fantastic highly-trained staff and baristas, who ensure our customers are not left wanting. This, alongside the very satisfying growth of our business coffee solutions arm leaves the company in a very positive position to continue our journey and achieve our future objectives and goals.”

Ceviche founder hopeful of securing business’ future after appointing administrators: Martin Morales, founder of Peruvian-inspired restaurant business Ceviche, has told Propel he is hopeful of securing the business’ future after filing a notice of intention to appoint administrators. Entrepreneur and restaurateur Morales, who used to work alongside Steve Jobs at Apple, is working with advisory firm RSM, which is set to conduct an accelerated sale of the business. The move, which was first reported by The Sunday Times, comes after an “incredibly tough" past 18 moths for the business. Morales opened his first restaurant in Soho in 2012 and it now operates six sites. Morales told Propel: “After a very successful few years since launch in 2012, the past 18 months have been incredibly tough for us as a result of the very challenging economic and political uncertainty. As such, to enable us to continue working with the wonderful family of team members we have brought together, the suppliers and partners we have nurtured and the beautiful restaurants we have, we have appointed RSM to advise us to protect the position of creditors and to conduct an accelerated sale. There has been substantial interest in our company and so I really hope we can find a way to move forward with our preferred new partner. Those who wish to sing always find a song. And our business is full of great performances, harmonies and melodies that people love and cherish.”
Chick-fil-A opens Scottish Highlands restaurant: Chick-fil-A, the largest chicken and third-largest US fast food restaurant chain, has opened a second UK site, in the Scottish Highlands. Last week it was announced Chick-fil-A would cease trading at its debut UK restaurant, in Reading, amid a row over donations to anti-LGBT groups. The branch at The Oracle shopping centre, which opened earlier this month, will not have its lease extended beyond the “six-month pilot period”. However, Chick-fil-A also opened a site at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort around the same time as its launch in Reading. A Macdonald Hotel spokesman told the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald: “Chick-fil-A has already proved very popular with our guests and we are happy to be able to provide this quality food expense as an option.” A Chick-fil-A spokesman said: “Chick-fil-A is always evaluating potential new locations in the hope of serving customers great food and award-winning service. The Macdonald Aviemore Resort gives us an opportunity to learn and gain a stronger understanding of local consumer tastes and preferences as part of our ongoing exploration.” Chick-fil-A has about 2,400 outlets across North America. It also closes its sites on Sundays, because of the chain’s founder Truett Cathy’s Christian faith. Cathy founded the business in 1946 and the company reported $10.46bn in sales last year.

The Times – Just Eat loses appetite for deal: Just Eat, the market place for takeaway food delivery, has accepted its multibillion-pound merger with is dead in its present form, putting pressure on the Dutch suitor to sweeten the terms of its proposal. Just Eat is at the centre of a bidding war after investment firm Prosus NV tabled a 710p-a-share cash offer worth £4.9bn. The Just Eat board, backed by three of its biggest shareholders, rejected the bid, saying its merger with “provides Just Eat shareholders with greater value creation”. However, Just Eat and its City advisers believe the deal it agreed with in July is no longer viable after the sharp fall in the value of the Dutch group’s shares, reports The Times. The all-paper offer, under which Just Eat shareholders would receive 0.09744 new shares for each Just Eat share they own, was worth 731p a share at the time it was struck, but fell to 594p last week. Shares of rose by 90 cents, or 1.2%, to €74.90 in Amsterdam on Friday (25 October), valuing Just Eat at 630p a share, or £4.3bn, under the merger terms. However, shares of Just Eat closed at 757p – higher than the two offers. Prosus NV and representatives will start to visit Just Eat shareholders this week to outline the merits of their respective proposals – and potentially what they would need to do to raise the stakes. In the case of Prosus, analysts suggested it would have to up the cash price to between 800p and 850p. However, Prosus boss Bob van Dijk said the company had put forward a “full and fair price”. He added: “There is a lot of competition in this space and to defend Just Eat’s positions, more investment will be required than currently planned. This is something we are able to do, and plan to do.” is under pressure to increase the percentage of the enlarged company that would be owned by Just Eat’s shareholders. Under the present proposal, they would receive 52.15%, but analysts believe it should be 56%.

Incipio Group appoints Brand as finance director: Incipio Group, which received £5m from entertainment and leisure investor Edition Capital earlier this year to open six venues in 18 months, has appointed Tom Brand, formerly of Jascots Wine Merchants and Amnesty International, as its new finance director. Brand spent more than a year and a half at Jascots as its head of finance. Previous to that, he spent more than three years at Amnesty, including a stint as its head of management accounts and procurement. Incipio will launch its latest site in Kensington next month. The company will open Bloom in Kensington High Street on Friday, 8 November, having acquired the site that was previously occupied by Mahiki. Bloom will have room for 350 people and feature two bars, a restaurant and a “secret dance floor”. Incipio’s estate consists of Lost in Brixton, Pergola On The Roof in White City, Pergola Olympia, Pergola Paddington, The Prince in West Brompton Crossing, Feast in Hammersmith and W12 Studios in White City. In the next 18 months the group will launch sites in Putney, Wimbledon and Birmingham, the latter being its first outside London. The company recently launched Wildcard Kitchen – its first in-house restaurant at The Prince.

McDonald’s workers in London to strike as part of international day of action for fast food workers’ rights: McDonald’s workers are set to go on strike next month as part of an international day of action for fast food workers’ rights. The Bakers Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) is notifying six London McDonald’s sites – Downham, Balham, Catford, Crayford, Deptford and Wandsworth Town – that its members will go on strike on Tuesday, 12 November. The McDonald’s workers are calling for a “new deal” for staff, including £15 an hour pay, an end to lower youth pay rates, the choice of guaranteed hours of up to 40 hours a week, notice of shifts four weeks in advance, and trade union recognition. The strike will take place on a global day of action for fast food workers called by the International Union of Food (IUF) workers, which will see fast food workers take to the streets around the world. McDonald’s workers in the BFAWU have previously gone on strike three times, starting in September 2017 with two stores, and with two subsequent strikes last year. A McDonald’s spokesman told Left Foot Forward: “The BFAWU is calling for 40 hour guaranteed contracts, which is something we already offer – but has been chosen by very few of our people. With all given the choice, around 90% of our employees have chosen to remain on flexible contracts, valuing the ability to work their shifts around their lives. We remain committed to our people and value the contribution they make to our organisation, and would like to reassure them, and our customers, that the six restaurants will remain open if industrial action takes place.”

Mark Hix ‘in talks to close West End restaurant’: Restaurateur Mark Hix is in talks to close his Soho restaurant as he reduces his company’s presence in London. The restaurant and bar in Brewer Street represents his final presence in the West End after Hix Mayfair closed two years ago. Another branch in the City shut its doors last year. The Soho premises could become the first UK branch of Tortilla Republic – a “modern Mexican” casual dining venture with restaurants in Hollywood and Hawaii – according to reports. The company’s website said a London branch is coming soon. Hix is believed to be turning his attention to Dorset, where he grew up, reports The Sunday Telegraph. His Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis is understood to be doing well, and he has considered launching a venture in Weymouth, where he supports training courses for young chefs. Hix currently has three other restaurants in London – in Farringdon, Shoreditch and Southwark. The Farringdon branch, Hix Oyster & Chop House, was his first solo restaurant, opening in 2008. Since joining forces with hospitality outfit WSH in 2016, Hix’s company’s post-tax losses have climbed from £1m to £5.3m last year. Turnover fell from £11.7m in 2017 to £10.6m in 2018. Hix declined to comment but said he would be happy to discuss it “when the time is right”.

Neil Rankin to launch plant-based concept this week: Chef Neil Rankin will launch plant-based restaurant Simplicity Burger in east London this week. Rankin will open the venue in Brick Lane, Shoreditch, on Friday (1 November). Rankin, who is behind ventures such as Smokehouse, Temper and Pitt Cue in which meat played a pivotal role, has spent more than eight months developing his take on the plant-based burger. The resulting recipe – while something of a secret – uses techniques such as dehydration and fermentation to create its patties. The 45-cover venue won’t feature single-use plastic and use compostable plates while Rankin will re-use the venue’s previous decor as part of the drive for sustainability and minimum waste. Simplicity Burger will also feature a bar serving cocktails and snacks.
Lina Stores to open King's Cross site next month: Soho delicatessen Lina Stores, which launched its debut restaurant last year, will open its latest site, in King’s Cross next month. The White Rabbit Fund-backed concept will launch the 100-cover site in Stable Street in one of the area’s few remaining heritage buildings. The opening on Friday, 15 November will mark 75 years since the Italian delicatessen first opened in Soho. Housed within a Victorian transit shed behind Granary Square, the venue will build on the Soho site and feature a deli and restaurant under one roof for the first time. The deli at Lina Stores King’s Cross will feature the brand’s green-and-white stripes and stock Italian “pantry essentials”. Diners and shoppers will be able to watch pasta made by hand while enjoying an espresso, made-to-order sandwich or after-work aperitivo. “Lina Stores has always welcomed Italians seeking a taste of home, people travelling to visit from across the UK and Londoners who return again and again to stock up on quality Italian ingredients,” said Marina Dentamaro, who has managed the deli at 18 Brewer Street for a decade. “We can’t wait to have a restaurant and deli all under one roof in King’s Cross.” Last year the company opened a 51-cover restaurant in Greek Street.

M&B hits 50-site mark for O’Neills: Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has hit the 50-site mark for its Irish pub brand O'Neills. The company has converted its Hy Brasil site, which had a focus on live music, in Bristol city centre to the brand. M&B retail business manager Callum Mclean told Bristol Live: “Hy Brasil got a little stale. It was very good a few years ago but then trade started to drop off, especially in the weekdays. As a result we took the decision to close it and rebrand as an O'Neills. Over the past few years O'Neills has really come on as a brand across the UK and it's a far cry from the O'Neills of old. While O'Neills has historically been seen as a bit of an old man's drinking pub, it's much different now. We've brightened it up and made it more family friendly.” Alongside its focus on craft beer, the pub also offers three cocktails on tap and a selection of spirits. The food menu consists of pizza, burgers alongside other pub classics. There are also eight televisions showing sport and the pub still offers live music.
Gainford Group adds Newcastle venue to portfolio: North east-based operator Gainford Group has added another Newcastle venue to its portfolio. The company has acquired the grade I-listed Moot Hall, which was formerly Newcastle’s crown court and has Ancient Monument status. The building is still used as a courtroom and hosts weddings, conferences and seminars, which will continue under the new ownership. Gainford Group director Imran Khaliq said: “This acquisition marks yet another significant investment for us in the north east and adds another highly sought property to our portfolio. We continue to grow strongly across all aspects of the group and this is the latest exciting development.” Gainford Group owns and operates six hotels in the UK, six restaurants and bars, 14 care homes and a number of children’s day nurseries. Alok Loomba, of law firm Sintons, supported Gainford Group on the Moot Hall deal.

Inglenook Inns & Taverns takes on Dewsbury pub: Pub operator Inglenook Inns & Taverns has taken over the running of a site in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. The company has acquired the lease of The Black Bull in Market Place. It comes after Mood Developments, which specialises in the refurbishment of heritage pubs, bought the listed building in 2017 and has now finished giving it a new lease of life. James Waddington, managing director of Inglenook Inns & Taverns, told the Bradford Telegraph & Argus: “We are proud and excited to be associated with the Black Bull in Dewsbury – our aim is to ‘put the hub back into the pub’ – and make it accessible to all. We try to ensure our pubs are a pivotal part of the community and the Black Bull will most definitely be back in its rightful place as a vibrant and central part of Dewsbury.” Mood Developments said: “We are lucky to have had the opportunity to redevelop this beautiful old site set in the context of the Market Place at the centre of this historic town. Mood believes pubs are a crucial part of any community and we have striven to make a modular space that we hope the residents of Dewsbury will enjoy.”

Urban Pubs and Bars to relaunch Ember Yard next month: Urban Pubs and Bars, led by Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap, will relaunch Ember Yard in Soho next month. Urban Pubs and Bars acquired the Italian-Spanish restaurant in Berwick Street last year as part of its deal for Salt Yard Group. Now the venue is “going through an exciting transformation” and will offer a revamped menu, reports Hardens. Ember Yard opened in 2013 and has long been a hotspot for tapas and food cooked over fire. Urban Pubs and Bars said it wanted to go “back to basics” with the new look and feel of the restaurant, “stripping it back to reignite the lively, relaxed atmosphere and top-quality Spanish and Italian-inspired dishes it became known for.” Italian head chef Christian Parisi will lead the new menu. Dishes from the Josper grill will include glazed pork ribs with spring onion, hazelnuts and smoked chilli jam; and grass-fed rib-eye with chicken jus. Other dishes will include marinated chicken thigh with celeriac, truffle and date mascarpone; smoked confit sea trout with mussel sauce; and spiced roasted cauliflower with pistachio puree and onion jam.
JD Wetherspoon joins not every disability is visible campaign following student complaint: JD Wetherspoon is taking a major step forward in the drive for inclusivity by installing “Not Every Disability is Visible” signs in all its pub toilets. The company has announced it will also train staff to help them better understand invisible conditions. It has signed up to Crohn’s and Colitis UK’s “Not Every Disability is Visible” campaign, which aims to stop the stigma and discrimination towards people with hidden health conditions. The move comes after a student shared her experience of being asked by a bouncer if she had been dealing drugs after constantly coming out of a disabled toilet. Amber Davies, 21, uses an ostomy bag because she was diagnosed with bowel condition ulcerative colitis aged 13. Following the incident, Davies shared an open letter to the pub chain on Instagram, which quickly went viral. Crohn’s & Colitis UK originally launched their campaign in April, sending more than 48,000 emails to the 15 largest pub and restaurant chains across the country. A Wetherspoon spokesman told The Metro: “We want to make sure all of our customers feel comfortable when visiting any of our pubs. We’re delighted to install these signs that help to both increase awareness that not all disabilities are visible, and to ensure that anyone who needs to, can feel confident using our accessible toilets.”

Merlin reveals significance of Halloween for business: Merlin Entertainments has revealed the significance of Halloween for the business. Spending by visitors at specially themed events at Merlin’s Alton Towers and Thorpe Park resorts reached 17% of annual revenue for the attractions last year. Visitor numbers at Alton Towers have grown from 12% of the annual total in 2015 to 16% in 2018, and revenue at Thorpe Park has risen from 14% to 20% of the yearly total. While summer has traditionally been the peak period of activity for theme parks, Halloween weekend at Alton Towers now marks the busiest weekend of the entire year at the attraction. Ian Crabbe, managing director, Resort Theme Parks said: “The development of our Halloween-themed offering at our UK resort theme parks reflects Merlin’s strategic priorities, allowing guests to focus on immersive experiences, building on our strong IP partnerships and delivering on our strategy of positioning our theme parks as multi-day family destinations, based on our world-class themed accommodation.”
Former Le Gavroche chef opens St John’s Wood restaurant for debut solo venture: Former Le Gavroche chef Elliot Moss has opened his first restaurant, in St John’s Wood, north west London. Moss has been away from the UK dining scene for about ten years but has returned to launch fine-dining restaurant Plu. Plu, which means to “have pleased” or “enjoyed”, serves a tasting menu of modern international dishes with a French accent, inspired by Moss’ classic French training. The menu at the venue in Blenheim Terrace changes regularly to make the most of seasonal British produce and is paired with wine from across the world.
Meliá to open Mediterranean and British fusion restaurant at South Kensington hotel: Spanish group Meliá Hotels is to open a restaurant with a fusion of Mediterranean and British cuisine at its Hotel London Kensington site in South Kensington. SW7 will launch at the end of next month, replacing The Jam Cupboard restaurant, reports Hot Dinners. It will feature the work of head chef Javier Rodrigo Alviz, who started his career in Madrid before moving to London in 2014. With experience at the Waldorf Hilton, Claridge’s and Adam Handling’s The Frog in Covent Garden, Alviz most recently headed up Melia’s White House restaurant in Regent’s Park. Hotel London Kensington is also part of the Melia-owned group. The menu at SW7 will include an Italian blues burger with gorgonzola and figs. The decor in the 74-cover dining space will be heavily inspired by the nearby V&A museum’s designer, William Morris. The bar will serve cocktails inspired by Morris’ designs and love of nature, including the Kensington Gardens (Hendrick’s gin, elderflower liqueur and apple juice). 

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