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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Thu 12th Dec 2019 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Rum Kitchen eyes further growth after securing former Byron site in Shoreditch: Rum Kitchen, the Caribbean-inspired restaurant and bar concept, is returning to the expansion trail after securing a site in Shoreditch, east London, Propel has learned. The company, which is backed by Naga Partners, the investment vehicle of Fabrizio Zappaterra, chairman of fashion business Temperley London, has secured the former Byron site in Bethnal Green Road for an opening in March. The business, which includes Escape Hunt chief executive and former Pret head of strategy Richard Harpham and ex-Gourmet Burger Kitchen chief operating officer Keith Bird as non-executive directors, hopes to add another London site to its estate by the end of 2020 before looking for opportunities outside the capital. The company recently promoted Mike Parnham to managing director from operations director to oversee the brand’s growth. Parnham, formerly of Las Iguanas and Muriel’s Kitchen, has been consolidating the business and getting it ready for growth with people director Sacha Harvey for the past two years. Moves include disposing of its Notting Hill site earlier this year to the operators of Fulham-based The Little Yellow Door. Parnham told Propel: “We are so excited about opening our third site, in Shoreditch, building on the success of our restaurants in Soho and Brixton. We’ve spent two years building a great culture and developing teams committed to our mission to bring our unique guest experience to east London and create more fans who love our rare rum, jerk barbecue and carnival soundtrack.” AG&G is understood to have acted on the Shoreditch deal.

Industry News:

Propel Premium subscribers to receive Ed Devenport video for latest in exclusive series from Multi Club Conference: Propel Premium subscribers will receive their latest video on Thursday (12 December) featuring speakers at the final Multi Club Conference of 2019. The videos feature a spectrum of company leaders sharing insights into their strategies and plans, while industry experts look at some of the key trends shaping the sector. The latest video features Ed Devenport, co-owner of Incipio Group, who talks to Propel insights editor Mark Wingett about how the business, which secured £5m earlier this year to open six sites, creates bespoke venues with unique and unforgettable atmospheres. He also reveals the company’s growth plans and how it selects its food partners. Videos will be sent out each day at 5pm, and 3pm on Fridays. Meanwhile, Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and receive regular columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. In this week’s Premium Opinion, which will be sent to subscribers on Friday (13 December) at 5pm, he will look at the changing fortunes of The Breakfast Club and Chilango, while Premium Diary will delve into the latest industry rumours. Premium subscribers also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has 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

More than half of UK diners want personalised menus: More than half (53%) of restaurant diners in the UK would like a fully personalised menu tailored to their specific needs, likes and dietary requirements, according to a study from reservation, seating and guest management platform SevenRooms. The survey of more than 2,000 adults found almost half (48%) are willing to hand over their data in return for a tailored menu, a figure rising to 55% for those aged 35 to 44 and 63% for Generation Z. Regarding technology in the dining experience, one-quarter (25%) would like an option to pay their bill via a mobile app, one-fifth (20%) would like cardless payment options and 14% want to provide feedback via a tablet at the table. Only 10% of respondents wanted a menu featuring holograms or the ability to sync a restaurant menu with a health app. However, technology is failing to halt traditional restaurant booking methods with more than half (56%) calling the restaurant directly, followed by walk-ins (48%), booking directly on a restaurant website (40%), and third-party websites (15%). Joel Montaniel, chief executive and co-founder of SevenRooms, said: “Consumers are eager for dining experiences tailored to their preferences, which highlights the importance for restaurants to ensure they engage with their customers and capture data across the guest journey.”

UK hotel sector nears ‘perfect storm’: A “perfect storm” is forming in the UK hotel sector during an uncertain time for the market, according to a new report. The study’s author, AlixPartners, said the market was reaching a “cyclical valuation high”, while there was an “increasing amount of restructuring on the horizon”. The report stated: “It is an uncertain time for the UK hotel market. After seven years of solid performance, revpar growth is slowing and costs are mounting. Delivering profit growth, on which many previous investment and lending decisions have been based, appears increasingly challenging. We believe the signs point to the UK hotel market reaching a cyclical valuation high and an increasing amount of restructuring is on the horizon. In 2012, the hotel sector began a period of exceptional year-on-year revpar growth. This peaked in 2015 when London and the regions reported 10% and 17% increases respectively. While growth has yet to hit those heady heights it has continued, with a further bump in 2017, as a weakened pound has bolstered domestic and overseas visits to UK hotels, especially in London. In a sector that historically tracks GDP growth, seven years of virtually uninterrupted top-line growth is exceptional. Since the credit crisis in 2009 and 2010, the market has passed through several identifiable investment phases, which together may point to an approaching valuation peak. While London continues to flourish, revenue growth in the regions has stalled. Revpar in the regions declined for the first time since 2012 in the 12 months to the first half of 2019. With macro-economic uncertainty intensifying, even London faces a more sluggish growth outlook. Hotels remain an attractive asset class and attract investment from many different groups but transaction volumes in the UK have fallen from recent highs. If underlying profitability remains under pressure, it may become increasingly difficult to bridge the gap between market value and sellers’ valuation expectations. If these conditions continue, restructuring looks inevitable.”

Screach sports-streaming service sees surge in pub chain customers: A number of pub chains have signed up for the Screach live sports-streaming service, the UK-based technology company has said. All Our Bars, pan-European hostel and bar company Beds and Bars, bar and restaurant company ETM Group, McManus Pub Company and sports bar operator Rileys have all signed for the “Netflix-style” service, representing a 12% rise in Screach’s customer base since launching at the end of October. The pub chains join existing customers including Marston’s in using the service. Screach offers pubs a “plug and play” live streaming solution that works through broadband and offers Premier Sports channels that screen 1,500 live events a season. Screach also offers marketing so pubs can add on-screen food and drink adverts, while the platform connects with a venue’s social media. Screach chief executive Robert Rawlinson said: “We are delighted to welcome so many respected pub groups to the streaming revolution.”

Company News:

Rola Wala founder acquires brand out of administration: Indian street food concept Rola Wala has been acquired out of administration by one of its founders after it made losses of £530,000 in its most recent financial year. Mark Wright, who launched the business with West Cornwall Pasty Company co-founder Mark Christophers, has acquired the brand and its remaining site in Trinity Kitchen Leeds through new vehicle Epic Restaurant Group. Wright has also set up Epic Franchising, with the company still operating a mobile site in Dubai. The company, which secured investment from Camden Town Brewery and Barworks founders Marc Francis­Baum, Andreas Akerlund and Patric Franzen two years ago, began trading at London street food markets before opening a permanent site in Trinity Kitchen. In 2017, the company expanded to sites at Westgate in Oxford and Spitalfields, London. The Oxford site suffered poor footfall and continued to generate substantial losses, putting pressure on the company’s cash flow. In the same year, the directors entered into negotiations for a concessions site in Selfridges, Birmingham, which opened in February 2018. The move put further financial burden on short-term cash flow and the company’s inability to fund an exit from the Oxford site led the directors to instruct Leonard Curtis to prepare a company voluntary arrangement (CVA). Shortly after the CVA the company ceased trading from Selfridges in Birmingham. At the same time the company had been in talks with potential partners in the Middle East to open concessions in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Two separate agreements were entered into and resulted in two concessions being opened, a sit-down restaurant in Saudi Arabia and a mobile store in Dubai. The company’s trading activities post-CVA were initially successful but forecast sales failed to come in under budget. The company maintained its commitments to the CVA and had paid all voluntary contributions on time until recent months. In July this year, the company’s voluntary contributions increased from £2,000 a month to £3,500 in accordance with terms of the CVA based on forecast turnover growth at the time the CVA was prepared. Trading results for the first year of the CVA show a reduction in turnover and, consequently, the increased level of contributions began to put “significant financial strain” on the business. In August this year, the company was contacted by the landlord of its Spitalfields site, who queried the lease terms and sought additional rent. The directors contested the move but were unable to reach an agreement. The additional rent could not be met and the company ceased to trade from the site.

Market Taverns acquires Westminster pub for seventh London site: Market Taverns Pub Co, which operates managed sites across London, has acquired its seventh venue, Propel has learned. The Loose Box in Horseferry Road, Westminster, was previously operated by Moonshine Bars. It is understood a premium was paid for the site, which has a rent per annum of £160,000. The company recently acquired its sixth London site, The Cleveland Arms in Chilworth Street, Paddington. Paul Tallentyre, of DCL, acted on the Horseferry Road deal.

We Are Bar Group acquires former Balls Brothers site: London-based We Are Bar Group has acquired the former Balls Brothers site at 6 Adams Court in the City of London. The unit previously traded as Rocket and is close to Bank underground station. We Are Bar Group owns and operates nine other bars and restaurants in the City of London under the brands Jamies wine bars (Suffolk Lane, Tudor Street, Ludgate Hill, London Wall, St Mary at Hill), We Are Bar (Bishopsgate), Number 25 (Birchin Lane), Willy’s Wine Bar (Fenchurch Street) and The Crosswall (Minories). We Are Bar Group chairman Simon Vardigans said he was delighted to add another high-quality site to the group’s stable of bars. All staff have transferred as part of the deal. Andy Frisby, of Fleurets, brokered the leasehold transaction on behalf of Balls Brothers. He said: “We are delighted this transaction completed in time for the busy Christmas period. The City of London is a vibrant area with a very strong midweek trade, therefore sites in the City are in high and constant demand.”

Cooplands sees turnover pass £50m: South Yorkshire-based bakery and cafe chain Cooplands has reported revenue increased 5.7% to £50.2m for the year ending 30 March 2019, compared with £47.5m the previous year. The company, which is backed by the BGF, saw operating profit fall to £906,000 from £1.2m the year before, while pre-tax profit was down to £917,000 compared with £1.6m the previous year. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “We continue to maintain a good pipeline of outlets and plan to expand our retail shop, cafe and mobile business further while maintaining and improving the range and quality of products for which we’ve become known.” Cooplands, founded in 1885, operates about 150 shops and cafes across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the north east, as well as bakeries in Scarborough, Durham and Hull. In December 2017, the company secured an £8.5m investment from the BGF to accelerate the roll-out of its shops across the north of England.

Dundee-based McDonald’s franchisee adds fourth restaurant to portfolio: Dundee-based McDonald’s franchisee Elm Restaurants has added a fourth site to its portfolio. The company, owned by Nick McPartland, has purchased the outlet in Forfar from McDonald’s using a loan from HSBC. The move follows a strong performance at the site and an increase in staff from 96 to 135 in the past six months. Elm Restaurants has also used the seven-figure funding to add a double drive-thru lane and 75 indoor and outdoor seats to the location, reports The Scotsman. Elm Restaurants also owns and operates McDonald’s restaurants in Arbroath, Dundee and Monifieth, and employs more than 500 staff.

Taco Bell develops first meat substitute, set to arrive on UK menus next year: Mexican restaurant brand Taco Bell has developed its first meat substitute, which is set to arrive on UK menus next year. The company has unveiled the Oatrageous Taco, which is filled with “meat” made of pulled oats and beans. The plant-based ingredient, which the company said looks and tastes like ground beef, is seasoned with Taco Bell spices. The taco is topped with lettuce, cheese and chipotle sauce. It has become a permanent item in Spain after being tested in Finland and will land on European menus in the summer, reports Nation’s Restaurant News.

Ghetto Golf eyes Leeds: Liverpool-based cocktails and mini-golf concept Ghetto Golf is eyeing a site in Leeds. The company has applied to the city council to convert a former industrial warehouse in the Burley area. The plans for Falcon House in Weaver Street include associated food and drink uses and a first-floor terrace. The site would incorporate the company’s Birdies beach bar concept, reports West Leeds Dispatch. A planning statement accompanying the application reads: “The building has been selected for its large open floor space and height, which allows for an additional mezzanine within the golf course area.” Kip Piper and Danny Bolger launched Ghetto Golf in 2016. It operates sites in Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Korean barbecue brand Yori opens third London site: Korean barbecue brand Yori has opened a third London site, in Covent Garden. The 50-cover restaurant has launched in Catherine Street to join sister sites in Piccadilly and Wimbledon. Yori, which means “cooked food” in Korean, was founded in 2016 by Jong Soon Kim, who is also behind Japanese dessert parlour Café Mori in Wimbledon, and Japanese restaurant Nori and Korean dessert cafe Cake & Bingsoo, both in New Malden, Surrey. He said: “Customers queuing at our Piccadilly branch have often requested another restaurant. Covent Garden is in the heart of London and a location that can target different customers.”

Lane7 to enter family bowling market with North Shields opening: Lane7, the bowling alley, ping pong and karaoke concept, will enter the family bowling market when it launches its latest site – Gutterball Alley. The venue will open on Friday (13 December) replacing Star Bowl in North Shields and creating 25 jobs. Following a two-month refurbishment, the site will feature 16 bowling lanes, ping-pong tables, almost 60 arcade games, a nine-hole mini-golf course, batting cages, food and a bar. Lane7 owner Tim Wilks told Insider Media: “We wanted to bring the soul and flavour of Lane7 paired with a family friendly offer. Gutterball Alley is for the parents who dread a trip to lifeless entertainment venues that cater for kids only. We’ve learned so much in the past five years from operating in the bowling and entertainment market. We want to use that knowledge and replicate it in the family market, with the hopes of another success we can build on.” Lane7 launched its first site in Newcastle in late 2013 and has gone on to open venues in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Liverpool and Middlesbrough. It is also opening a site in Sheffield this month while it will launch a “super-site” in Leicester early next year that will feature a container-style food and drinks village. Sites have also been secured in Bristol and Cardiff and are scheduled to open before the end of 2020.

Tony Macaroni opens at former Frankie & Benny’s site in Irvine: Scottish restaurant company Tony Macaroni has opened a site in Irvine. The company has launched the venue at the Riverway Retail Park in premises formerly occupied by The Restaurant Group brand Frankie & Benny’s. The Tony Macaroni restaurant has created 25 jobs while a delivery service is also on offer, reports the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald. Tony Macaroni opened its first venue in 2007 and operates 17 venues across Scotland.

Studio 338 promoter reopens Sugar Hut: London club promoter Dan Perrin, who runs Studio 338 in Greenwich, south east London, has reopened renowned Essex nightclub Sugar Hut. The near 3,000-capacity Studio 338 is known for its “Ibiza-style vibes” and Perrin plans to bring a similar style to Sugar Hut having acquired the site in October. The Brentwood club has retained its “glam” status while bringing the “best of Ibiza to Essex”. The club has undergone a “serious facelift” including a new sound system, lighting and downstairs bar. Perrin said: “We see the new Sugar Hut as the place where Essex meets Ibiza.”

RBH makes mental health support pledge: Hotel management company RBH has signed a pledge with Time To Change, the social movement that supports people to open up about mental health problems. RBH will aim to uphold four core values at the 45 hotels it manages – acting with integrity, delivering operational excellence, having ambition to continuously improve, and showing care to all staff. RBH group culture and reward manager Hannah Elliott said: “By implementing and committing to a mental health at work plan, we know it will enhance our strong commitment to support our colleagues on all mental health issues.” More than 450 companies have signed the Time To Change pledge. Interim director Jo Loughran said: “Many leading employers have found making a strategic commitment to the mental well-being of their workforce not only benefits staff but also their bottom line, improving productivity and staff retention. With one in six British workers experiencing mental illness, it’s time for businesses to start creating more mentally healthy workplaces.”

American barbecue concept opens debut bricks and mortar site, in White City: American barbecue concept Prairie Fire has opened its debut bricks and mortar site, in London’s White City. Launched in 2013 by Kansas City native Michael Gratz, Prairie Fire has been popping up across the capital offering barbecue-style smoked meat, burgers and sandwiches. Prairie Fire is the first restaurant to open in Transport For London’s Wood Lane railway arches development, which has been transformed into a mix of commercial, leisure and retail space. Prairie Fire has taken over two archways, one housing a 75-cover restaurant and the other a taproom featuring a rotating selection of London craft beer and monthly tap takeovers. A curated cocktail and wine list is also available alongside cider. The overall 1,700 square foot venue combines American diner culture with the heritage of London’s railway stations. The taproom offers 16 beer taps and a 30-cover terrace.

Shepherd Neame reopens Banstead pub following £1.3m revamp: Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame has reopened The Woolpack in Banstead, Surrey, following a £1.3m revamp. The High Street pub was shut for three months to double the size of its kitchen and restaurant. The pub can now accommodate 125 covers in the snug, bar and restaurant. The garden has also been remodelled and has capacity for 250 people and features a bar. A new menu has been introduced featuring traditional pub classics, sharing platters and light bites. The drinks offer has also been refreshed, with a full hot drinks menu available alongside cakes. Nigel Bunting, director of retail and tenanted operations at Shepherd Neame, said: “The Woolpack is one of our most popular pubs so this investment was aimed at providing much-needed additional space and improved facilities.”

Cineworld opens at £142m Warrington scheme: Cineworld has opened a site at the £142m Time Square development in Warrington, Cheshire. The cinema offers 13 screens and incorporates a Starbucks and dedicated Baskin Robbins ice cream counter. Cineworld UK property director Kevin Frost said: “We look forward to seeing Cineworld shape the new face of leisure in Warrington.” Cineworld neighbours include The New World Trading Company’s The Botanist, which opened in late November. The wider development will also include a continental European-style market hall with about 60 kiosks and 300 covers, including food and beverage operators. Time Square is being delivered by Warrington & Co on behalf of Warrington Borough Council, with Muse Developments appointed development manager. Leon Guyett, development director at Muse Developments, said: “The opening of Cineworld provides a significant anchor for Time Square and is a great complement to The Botanist, which will soon be joined by other leading food and beverage brands.” Metis Real Estate Advisors acted on behalf of Warrington & Co and Muse Developments. Wareing & Partners represented Cineworld.

CPL Online launches LGBTQ awareness course: CPL Online, the specialist provider of e-learning, business solutions and interactive services, has launched an LGBTQ awareness course. Developed in conjunction with the LGBTQ community, the course covers cultural competence and potential workplace challenges as well LGBTQ terminology and definitions. CPL Online said the course would strengthen relationships in the workplace and improve staff retention, morale and productivity. CPL Online pointed to research showing more than one-third (35%) of LGBTQ staff fear discrimination, while almost one-fifth (18%) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the past year. Meanwhile, 12% of trans people said they had been physically attacked by customers or colleagues. Martin Hilton, director of learning and education at CPL Online, said: “Ensuring employees feel comfortable and safe when coming to work should be essential. By having an understanding and knowledge of LGBTQ awareness, learners will understand the positive impacts an inclusive workplace can have on a business and be able to implement practical steps to increase inclusivity.”

Townhouse-style hotel opens in King’s Cross: A townhouse-style hotel has opened in King’s Cross, London. St Pancras Hotels Group has launched The Gyle across three 19th century townhouses in Argyle Square. The 33-bedroom hotel features The Toast lounge, which features a bakery pantry and self-service fridge containing juice, house-made charcuterie, salads, beer, gin and whisky.

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