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Fri 8th Nov 2019 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Punch sets out ambitious investment and acquisition strategy: Punch, which operates 1,250 tenanted, leased and management partnership pubs, has set out its ambitious investment and acquisition strategy. The Clive Chesser-led company, which is owned by Patron Capital and May Capital, has identified three distinct routes through which it can grow its estate alongside a major investment programme for its existing portfolio. The Burton-based company is looking at single-site acquisitions and has already completed eight in 2019 – the first two sites having been acquired from Stonegate Pub Company. Punch is also looking to acquire smaller pub groups that would act as strategic bolt-ons. These companies could trade in a particular style such as premium food-focused, sports bar specialists or craft beer businesses and sit alongside Punch as sister companies in the style of Laine Pub Company, which is also owned by Patron and May. The last avenue of growth for Punch is buying a larger group of tenanted pubs and the company recently examined Stars Pubs & Bars and Marston’s packages that came on the market. Punch hasn’t set a particular target for acquisitions but Chesser said: “We have gone into growth mode and have the financial firepower to make acquisitions.” Meanwhile, Punch has reported good progress in investing in its estate. It spent £34m in 2018 on circa 25% of its estate and is investing another £34m in the current year. “We are very pleased with the returns,” Chesser said. “We are building our pipeline of investments for next year too and we expect a similar ballpark investment level – investment is driven by where the opportunities are.” The company has grown its number of hybrid management partnership pubs by 75 sites to 176 in the past year. Punch has also reported applications to run its pubs are up 300% on previous years. An investment in bar and kitchen training facilities at its Burton headquarters, meanwhile, has seen 550 upskilling sessions for its chefs and publicans in the past year and more than 8,000 online training modules. Average tenure for Punch tenants and leaseholders is now six-and-a-half years. The cross-fertilisation between Punch and Laine already sees Punch stocking Laine beer and the relationship will develop further in early 2020 when two London sites transfer to the Laine estate. “The Punch estate is full of potential – even the tail is in much better shape than I anticipated when I joined 18 months ago,” said Chesser. 

Industry News:

Simon French to look at lessons sector can learn from gambling industry in latest Premium Opinion: Leading consultant Simon French, of Bixteth Partners, will look at the lessons the sector can learn from the gambling industry as part of the latest opinion piece, which will be sent to Propel Premium subscribers on Friday (8 November) at 5pm. There will also be the latest sector whispers in Premium Diary. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, regular video recordings of key speakers and regular columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. They also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has now grown to 1,500 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

One-fifth of UK diners happy to eat vegan dishes out of home but find lack of choice frustrating: One-fifth (20%) of diners would choose a vegan dish when eating out of home but are frustrated by a lack of dishes, according to a new study. CGA’s Food Insights report revealed only 4% of consumers follow a strict vegan diet but almost 20% are vegetarian or partially meat-free. More than two-fifths (43%) of vegans cited lack of choice as their biggest frustration when eating out, followed by lack of understanding (38%). Almost two-thirds (64%) of the more than 2,000 respondents said ethical issues were the main reason they became vegan, followed by health (48%), environmental issues (43%) and taste (22%). More than four-fifths (86%) of vegan consumers believe it’s important there is a specially created vegan dish on the menu rather than an adaptation of a non-vegan dish. Meanwhile, almost one-quarter (23%) of consumers follow a specific diet that restricts certain food groups including 18% with an allergy to at least one food type. CGA client director, food and retail Fiona Speakman said: “Consumer consciousness is increasing from an ethical and health perspective and it’s important pub and restaurant operators cater effectively for this growing demand. Offering innovative dishes that cater for vegan diets will broaden the appeal of a menu and give vegan, and would-be vegan, consumers additional choice and increased engagement.”

Just Eat partners with Hellmann’s as it expands seaweed-based sauce sachet trial: Online food ordering firm Just Eat has expanded its trial of seaweed-based sachets by partnering with Hellmann’s. The sachets are 100% biodegradable and the result of a four-way project between Just Eat, Hellmann’s, Innovate UK and Notpla. The trial involves 65 Just Eat restaurant partners in London offering Hellmann’s ketchup, barbecue, tartar and garlic sauces with plans to expand the pilot to more cities. Just Eat first teamed up with sustainable packaging startup Notpla a year ago to test the sachets with ten restaurant partners. The move prevented more than 46,000 plastic ketchup sachets from entering landfill. Customer feedback found 92% of respondents would like to see more takeaway sauces supplied in seaweed-based sachets, while 91% found the sachets as easy or easier to use than normal ones. Just Eat UK managing director Andrew Kenny said: “Our first two trials with Notpla received excellent feedback and it’s great to see more takeaways get on board to help us in our fight against plastic waste.” 

More than one-fifth of cask ale ‘served at wrong temperature’: More than one-fifth (22%) of cask ale was served at the “wrong temperature” last year, according to new research by beer quality and insights expert Vianet. However the company’s 2019/20 insight report, which uses data from 250,000 Vianet devices from more than 11,000 pubs, bars and restaurants in the UK, revealed significant improvements in draught beer quality during the year. The report found two-thirds of pints were served at the right standard, while almost three-quarters (73%) of beer was served through clean lines, an improvement of 2% on last year and 7% on 2017. Target pouring yield, where an outlet maximises its draught product profit, also improved, with almost two-fifths (39%) achieving their target compared with less than one-third (29%) in 2018. Vianet commercial operations director Craig Brocklehurst said: “Evidence shows many outlets have access to a bigger opportunity if they improve quality, training and consumer experience in their businesses by focusing on their draught throughput data.”

Deadline extended to enter inaugural Pub20 awards: The deadline has been extended 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 now closing on Friday, 15 November. Shortlisted publicans and pub chefs will be contacted in the first week of January with the winners announced on Tuesday, 4 February at the end of the first day of Pub20, which takes place at Olympia London. For more information, click here

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

Company News:

Crosstown Doughnuts appoints advisers as it eyes investment options: Crosstown, the artisan doughnut and speciality coffee concept, has appointed advisers as it looks at investment options following multiple approaches, Propel has learned. The concept, which was founded by JP Then and Gourmet Burger Kitchen co-founder Adam Wills, is understood to have appointed advisory firm BDO to aide it in securing new growth funding. Crosstown operates 11 stores across London plus nine market stalls and kiosks. It has been one of the fastest-growing concepts in London since its inception in May 2014. The group’s products are also stocked in Harrods, Planet Organic and Whole Foods. It is thought any new investment would be used to further expand the brand’s physical store estate and aide its multi-channel approach with a focus on digital sales, which account for 20% of Crosstown’s business. The company has also developed its own delivery e-commerce solution, Slerp. Crosstown piloted Slerp in its own stores before launching it to market as a separate entity and it is now available to other operators. Last year the company launched its first vegan-only outlet, in Picton Place, Marylebone, while this year it launched a smaller kiosk at Hammersmith Broadway station with hopes it could lead to further travel hub openings.

Alchemist reports site Ebitda up 1% in first half as it gears up for trio of openings: The Alchemist managing director Simon Potts has told Propel site Ebitda is up 1% in its core estate for the first six months of the company’s current financial year. Revenue remained flat in the core estate during the period, at £15m, but the 17-strong company is preparing for a busy festive season with pre-booked sales up 8% on last year. Meanwhile staff turnover rate has fallen to 52% with Potts targeting 50% by the end of the financial year, in March. Potts said: “It has been a good first six months, particularly against the well documented wider trading backdrop. We’re really starting to see the ‘drinks as an experience’ strategy we put in place two years ago come to the fore and, while some of our competitors are building their sales around happy hours and two-for-ones, we’ve maintained our numbers and remain committed to not go down the discounting route. We’re confident in our offer and ultimately want to protect our margin. Consumers are still spending money but being much more savvy in the way they do so. However, value for money isn’t just a pure price challenge.” Potts said the company, which is backed by private equity firm Palatine, has been busy strengthening its operations and “feathering the nest” for a trio of sites it’s about to open. This includes adding to its London portfolio with a venue in Canary Wharf at the end of the month. Potts said: “Being in the heart of Canary Wharf is going to be an amazing opportunity for us. It’s a huge site and we’ve geared the space to maximise its potential, with three bars, a restaurant and two terraces to operate from. We’re also opening at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth next week and Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms, London, in the new year so it’s a busy time. We’re also adding to the 2020 pipeline with our first Scottish site, in Edinburgh, as well as a venue in Cheltenham and we’re in final legals on a third location.” He added: “We are also continuing to push our environmental values and have introduced a sustainability champion in every site. These are hourly-paid team members mostly aged between 18 and 21 who are ‘green-keeping’ venues – targeting energy use, recycling and local supply chain. They are motivated by an opportunity to positively and measurably have an impact on the world around them and we’re seeing the effect on our bottom line.”

Advisory group tells JD Wetherspoon shareholders to vote against annual report: An influential shareholder advisory group has said JD Wetherspoon investors should vote against the company’s annual report at its shareholder meeting because of the pub chain’s spending on pro-Brexit materials. The Guardian reported Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (Pirc) had advised shareholders to oppose Wetherspoon’s annual report after the newspaper raised questions about the company’s spending of almost £95,000 during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. Legal experts said the pub chain “appeared to have broken company law” by buying and distributing 1.9 million beermats featuring a pro-Brexit message. Pirc advised shareholders to vote in favour of Wetherspoon’s annual report in 2018 but has changed its recommendation this year because of the Brexit referendum spending and what it said were “weak policies on sustainability”. In a note to investor clients, Pirc stated: “Due to these sustainability concerns and as a precautionary measure against potential political expenditure concerns, an oppose vote is recommended.” In response, Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin texted the Guardian: “Pirc rhymes with berk.” He said he wouldn’t comment further on the matter until after the AGM on Thursday, 21 November.

Bob & Berts reports sales up 80% as it gears for next stage of growth: Northern Ireland coffee company Bob & Berts has reported sales up 80% to £8.3m for the year ending 30 June 2019 as the brand gears up for its next stage of growth. The company said the revenue rise was driven by continued like-for-like growth and site openings. Four sites were opened in the year, three in Scotland as the company crossed the Irish Sea for the first time. The brand plans to open another six stores in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the next year. Bob & Berts was founded by Colin McClean in Portstewart in 2013, with his brother-in-law David Ferguson joining the business in 2015. Backed by the BGF since 2017, the business now has 20 stores and more than 400 staff. The company’s wider growth strategy is to operate more than 30 stores throughout the UK by the end of 2020. McClean said: “We continue to look for opportunities to grow the business. We first opened in Scotland 12 months ago and the stores have traded extremely well. A vegan and vegetarian menu has been developed and trialled at four sites, with positive feedback. We plan to roll this out in the coming months with an updated menu that further develops our key breakfast and lunch menus.” Ferguson added: “Over the next six months we’re going to open more stores in Northern Ireland, including Ballymena and Newry. We recently opened our fourth site in Scotland, in Kirkcaldy, and plan to open a further three Scottish stores – in Stirling, Ayr and Largs – early next year. Other target towns include Perth, Dundee and the greater Glasgow area. Our goal is to open our first store in England in the next 12 to 18 months, with the north west and north east key target markets.”

Scotland-based operator grows to a dozen with fourth Star Pubs & Bars site: Scotland-based hospitality operator Billy McAneney has reopened the Blackfriars in Inverness following a £1.36m investment for his fourth site with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars and 12th in total. The investment, enabled by a £422,606 grant from the Inverness Townscape Heritage Project, is Star Pubs & Bars’ biggest refurbishment in Scotland to date. The Academy Street pub has seen nine letting rooms added to its two upper storeys, while rendering has been removed to reveal the 18th century pub’s original stonework. Traditional sash and case windows have been added, while the building’s roof and chimneys have been replaced. Blackfriars showcases produce from the Highlands and McAneney plans to install beehives and a greenhouse on a flat roof to provide honey, herbs and edible flowers for its food and drink menus. He said: “Inverness continues to go from strength to strength as a city and holiday destination. It’s exciting to be part of its renaissance.” Star Pubs & Bars operations director for Scotland Brian Davidson added: “Blackfriars is a historic building and needed a vast amount of work, which the grant made economically viable. Billy is highly experienced in all areas of the hospitality sector. It has been fantastic to work with him on this project and bring Blackfriars back to life.”

Nottingham-based pub group receives six-figure funding boost for expansion: Nottingham-based Big Dogs Pub Group, which operates three micro-pubs in the city under the Dog House brand, is set to expand after receiving a six-figure funding boost. The company has received funding from market place lender Assetz Capital, which will replenish the directors’ own cash investment and boost plans to roll out the brand across the region. The pub company is now seeking locations in and around Nottingham. Big Dogs Pub Group director David Fewster told The Business Desk: “We have seen real success with our current sites and with this loan and support we have an opportunity to expand our locations across the region.” Assetz Capital senior relationship manager Luke Carter added: “It is great to see Big Dog Pubs tapping into the craft beer trend, which has become a thriving market place in recent years and offers huge opportunity for growth. With SMEs often referred to as the backbone of the economy, it’s important for lenders like ourselves to offer our support to ensure the UK remains a prosperous place to do business.”

Healthy bowls concept Beiriso increases equity offer in £300,000 crowdfunding campaign: Healthy bowls concept Beiriso has increased the equity offer in its £300,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to expand to “prime London locations”, Propel has learned. The company, founded by restaurant designer Roya Andrews, was offering 10.71% equity in return for the investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £2.5m. It has now increased the equity to 15%, resulting in the valuation falling to £1.7m, having “listened to a number of potential investors and advisers”. So far, 58 investors have pledged £169,160 with 17 days of the campaign remaining. Beiriso offers click-and-collect and delivery services from its kitchen in Holborn, north London. The pitch states: “After opening our London kitchen four years ago we are seeking funding to expand our community by adding retail outlets in other prime locations. We focus on fresh healthy food made fast and know presentation is paramount. We have managed to fine-tune serving made-to-order breakfast and lunch to two to three minutes. We propose to increase opening times to seven days and extend operating hours to include evening meals. We plan to add a subscription-based model for extra convenience to customers who don’t wish to cook. We plan to expand on our success by using our Holborn site as the central hub and finishing orders in open-view kitchens. Investment in Beiriso will provide startup costs for a new unit and cover rent and staffing for the first year while we grow our business.”

Kaspa’s to open restaurant at former Giraffe site in Chelmsford: Dessert parlour brand Kaspa’s is opening a site in Chelmsford. The company will launch the restaurant in Springfield Road in the former Giraffe premises that closed in May this year as part of a company voluntary arrangement by owner Boparan Restaurant Group. The Kaspa’s site is expected to open this month, reports Essex Live. Kaspa’s serves a range of traditional and unusual ice cream flavours alongside hot and cold desserts. The company has almost 70 sites across the UK, including Braintree and Colchester in Essex, with more “coming soon” according to its website. 

Rock Up signs for Intu Lakeside: Indoor climbing operator Rock Up has signed to open at Intu Lakeside’s new 175,000 square foot leisure development. The attraction will cover 9,500 square feet and feature 27 climbing walls to an 8-metre height, a vertical drop slide, traverse challenge, rotating climbing wall and soft play centre. It will be Rock Up’s second Intu site following a launch in Watford last year and its eighth venue in total. Rock Up executive chairman Heidi Duckworth said: “Being in a leisure-focused destination with high footfall is key for us.” Intu regional managing director Colin Flinn added: “We are excited to welcome Rock Up to Intu Lakeside, offering another new experience for our visitors and further strengthening our leisure and retail mix.” Other experiential brands housed in the new leisure extension include mini-golf concept Puttshack, Hollywood Bowl, and trampoline park brand Flipout. Nickelodeon’s first UK family entertainment centre is set to launch before Christmas.

Glasgow-based Paesano Pizza to launch pasta concept next month for third city site: Glasgow-based pizzeria brand Paesano Pizza will launch a pasta concept next month inside an iconic city centre building. Sugo will open on Monday, 2 December in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Herald Building featuring an open-plan design similar to Paesano’s pizzerias in Miller Street and Great Western Road. A Paesano spokesman told Glasgow Live: “Our pasta dishes will be served as they are traditionally throughout the varying regions of Italy. The emphasis will be on authenticity of the dishes served and provenance and quality of produce. Each pasta style will be paired with a sauce or ingredients traditionally served in each region. The restaurant will be a large, bustling open space with diners able to watch our chefs produce fresh pasta as they dine.” The listed building in Mitchell Street opened as a newspaper office in 1895.

Gloucester Brewery brings in new investors as it prepares for expansion: Gloucester Brewery has brought three new investors on board as it plans to double brewing capacity and move into spirits production. Martin St Quinton, owner and chairman of Gloucester Rugby, Simon Thomas, founder and former owner of Thomas Legal Group, and Dave Lewins, who is now the brewery’s sales and marketing director, have taken a combined stake of 35% of the business, which is owned by Jared Brown. Following the additional investment Gloucester Brewery has ordered new fermentation tanks to double its brewing capacity to about 800,000 pints a year by the end of 2020. Negotiations are under way to open another bar while plans are in place to install a distillery at the brewery in the new year to produce vodka and gin. Brown said: “This first phase of investment has put us in a fantastic position where we have a healthy cash flow to fund our plans for growth. We’re delighted to work with our three new investors to shape a really exciting future.” Brown founded the brewery in 2011.

British patisserie concept Epic Pies opens debut bricks and mortar site: London-based British patisserie concept Epic Pies has opened its debut bricks and mortar site. The venue has launched in Carter Lane, near St Paul’s Cathedral, offering a “spin on British pies, tarts and pastries”. Epic Pies was founded in 2015 by mother and son Daniel and Roshnara Jobsz, who started making pies and pastries to sell at markets and festivals in the capital. The 55-cover shop offers a rotating selection of five pies, all handmade and served with mash, steamed greens, and gravy or parsley liquor. Signature pies include the Ham-Hockey Puck (ham hock and leeks in a cider and mustard sauce) and the EastEnder (braised peppered steak). Savoury tarts are also a speciality such as the New Yorker (salt beef and Swiss cheese on rye pastry). Epic Pies also offers cronuts, croffles and desserts, alongside craft ale, wine, spirits and hot drinks. The venue includes original Victorian features, while a glass pastry studio allows customers to see pastries being prepared.

Bradford-based coffee shop to open second site: Bradford-based coffee shop Java Joe is to open a second site in the city. The family-run business launched three years ago in Wakefield Road and will now add a second outlet, at the Bradford Interchange transport hub. The unit is currently empty but is being transformed ahead of the opening next month. Director Ryan Gallagher told the Telegraph & Argus: “We have done really well at Wakefield Road and the Bradford Interchange spot is ideal for us due to its footfall.” As well as coffee, the new Java Joe will serve sandwiches, cakes and doughnuts.

Great Scotland Yard Hotel to launch in London next month with Robin Gill overseeing F&B offer: Hotel, restaurant, tea room, bar, drinking club and events space Great Scotland Yard will launch in London next month with chef entrepreneur Robin Gill overseeing the food and beverage offer. The hotel is set to open on the site of the former Metropolitan Police headquarters in Westminster on Tuesday, 3 December and will be Gill’s first foray into the hotel industry. He will oversee The Yard, a modern British restaurant showcasing the best of the UK countryside, cocktail bar The Forty Elephants, tea room The Parlour, and drinking den Sibín. Gill said: “This isn’t just a food and beverage concept in a standard hotel. Great Scotland Yard is a historical institution so we had to be bold, bringing a new chapter and attitude not only to the building but also to Westminster. We will bake from scratch, butchery and ageing will be done on-site and we will only work with the most passionate growers in the country. Our aim is to let the ingredients and experience do the talking.” Great Scotland Yard Hotel, the first UK hotel to join The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, will feature 152 bedrooms. 

North east-based Indian restaurant and prosecco lounge doubles up: North east-based Namaste Indian Restaurant & Kings Prosecco Lounge has opened its second site. The concept launched in King George Road in South Shields. Now it has doubled up with an opening in Gateshead at The Marquis of Granby pub, which closed earlier this year. The Sunniside property has been transformed and, like its South Shields sister site, features a prosecco lounge and beer garden as well as a restaurant, reports Chronicle Live.

OYO takes on lodge hotel for Bath debut: OYO, the fast-growing hotel brand, has taken on the lease of Bailbrook Lodge hotel for the company’s first site in Bath. OYO has taken a new ten-year lease on the 15-bedroom, 18th century dower house hotel. Jeremy Sanders, head of OYO UK, said: “We are delighted to launch OYO Hotels in Bath. We hope this is just the start as we seek to develop new partnerships and grow business for other independent hotel owners in the region.” Richard Thomas, of Christie & Co, who brokered the deal, added: “Bailbrook Lodge is a fantastic business in a great setting. OYO plans to invest significantly in the business to take it to the next level.” In August, OYO took on its largest UK property so far – in Sheffield. The company leased Sheffield Metropolitan Hotel from London Town Group. OYO operates more than 8,500 hotels in 230 cities.

Bespoke to open Brooklyn-inspired hotel in Manchester: Bespoke Hotels will open a site in Manchester in February. The company will launch the 189-bedroom Hotel Brooklyn in Portland Street, which will pay homage to the New York borough from the early 20th century to the present day. The bar and restaurant will be called Runyon’s after Damon Runyon, an American writer renowned for his depictions of Brooklyn characters. Runyon’s will offer a diverse menu showcasing European and American influences such as Crab Flake A La Newberg and Billy’s Bacon Fried Rice. Salvation, the hotel’s dedicated events bar, will be located on the top floor of the hotel. Bespoke Hotels chairman Robin Sheppard said: “We are thrilled to have secured this fantastic site in Manchester’s historic Portland Street. We believe Hotel Brooklyn is a perfect fit for Manchester, not only in terms of the architectural grandeur and convenience of its location but also the abundant character and feistiness of the city.”

Everyman makes Manchester debut with city centre launch: Everyman has opened its first venue in Manchester, at The ABC Buildings in the city centre. The cinema, Everyman’s 30th in total, has launched within 10,500 square feet of Allied London’s Enterprise City cluster at St John’s in Quay Street. The venue offers three screening rooms with waiter service that allows food and drink to be delivered directly to seats. The cinema also houses a bar and restaurant. Everyman chief executive Crispin Lilly told The Business Desk: “With our neighbouring suburban venue in Altrincham being received so well since opening last year, we’re delighted to announce our opening in the heart of the city of Manchester. It’s such an iconic city in terms of music, film and all kinds of creative culture.” The Enterprise City development has been created for media, tech and creative industries and includes a redevelopment of the former Granada TV studios.

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