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Tue 11th Feb 2020 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Yau links up with Obica to launch sando bar concept in South Kensington: Wagamama founder Alan Yau has opened Italian-influenced katsu sando bar Mozzasando in South Kensington, west London. As revealed by Propel in November, Yau has worked with international mozzarella bar chain Obica on the concept, which has launched at Obica’s former site at 96 Draycott Avenue. The Mozzasando menu fuses popular Asian snack katsu sando, which is usually filled with a deep-fried meat cutlet, with milanese, a parallel Italian recipe for breaded veal or chicken. The sandwiches are served with french fries topped with beef ragu or nduja sauce and are available to take away or eat in at the 32-cover site. Yau said the concept had been inspired by Frank Salvoni’s now closed Britalian sandwich bar in Soho. Yau said: “Frank always joked that what Pret took in the form of the prawn mayo was only half of our unpolished diamond. What they missed is the milanese in a baguette, focaccia or ciabatta. I always wondered in those soul-searching moments for that golden goose whether Frank’s milanese could become the new champion for an Italian fast food concept. Imagine if this could merge with the Japanese aesthetics of the katsu sando?” Yau, who also founded Busaba Eathai and is behind fine dining concepts such as Hakkasan and Yauatcha, is opening a further three sites in London this year. He will open seafood restaurant Chyna and Japanese-inspired counter restaurant Yau Grill at Wardian London, a 766-apartment high-rise development in Canary Wharf. He will also open a permanent site for Turkish pizza pop-up Yamabahçe in Westfield London.

Industry News:

Pub20 reports record attendance: Pub20, the only dedicated trade show for the UK pub industry, has reported a record-breaking number of visitors. The event, held last week at London Olympia, hosted more than 4,800 visitors, up from 4,500 the previous year, and more than 200 exhibitors. The inaugural Pub Awards saw Glen Duckett, of the Eagle & Child in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, crowned best publican and Shaun Edmondson, of The Brown Horse Inn in Winster Valley, Cumbria, named pub chef of the year. Pub20 community manager Keterina Albanese said: “We really worked hard to reflect the issues and challenges the industry faces in the new decade while adding new dimensions to the show such as the awards to ensure we celebrate the industry too. It’s great to watch the pub sector go from strength to strength and we can’t wait to see what Pub21 brings!” Pub21 will return to London Olympia on 20 to 21 April 2021.

Company News:

Blind Tiger Inns eyes further expansion as it adds three pubs to take portfolio to 18, all sites showing year-on-year growth: Blind Tiger Inns, the north west-based, wet-led operator led by Chris Tulloch, is eyeing further expansion having acquired leases on three sites with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars. Blind Tiger Inns is taking on The Station at Preston, The Victoria at Aigburth and the Park View at Burnley. The move takes Blind Tiger Inns’ estate to 18 leased sites – 17 of them with Star Pubs & Bars. Tulloch also revealed all its sites have shown year-on-year growth. A total of £350,000 is being invested by the two companies in the three sites, with the pubs renovated to create alfresco areas along with defined lounge and bar areas. Sky and BT sport will be added. At the same time, Blind Tiger Inns is embarking on a £100,000 joint investment with Star Pubs & Bars at two of its other sites – The Queens Arms in Aintree and The Halfway House in Runcorn. Tulloch said: “It is a buoyant market if you provide a great environment and experience. People tend to think of wet-led pubs as male-dominated but we’re seeing a big increase in the percentage of female customers.” David Pritchard, Star Pubs & Bars operations director for the north west, added: “Blind Tiger Inns knows its market inside out and exactly what its customers want. We’re pleased to provide the investment backing as well as the product range and insight it needs to create more successful sites.”

The Country Pub Group set for further growth after strong festive trading: Somerset-based The Country Pub Group is set for further growth in 2020 after it reported strong trading for the eight weeks to 31 December 2019. The company, owned by Matthew Lowe, said it had an excellent festive period, particularly regarding food and accommodation, with the latter up 10% year-on-year on a like-for-like basis. The Country Pub Group saw rapid expansion in 2019, acquiring three sites to bring its portfolio to four. The Castle Inn in Bradford-upon-Avon was among those acquisitions and it saw like-for-like sales up 6% during the festive period driven by food sales and accommodation revenue. The company said its strong growth around accommodation supported its decision to refurbish the bedrooms at The Mendip Inn in Oakhill, near Shepton Mallet, in 2019. Lowe said: “I am delighted with the positive growth seen in our venues over the festive period, providing the drive we need to head into the new year. The group has ambitious expansion plans and this boost so early on provides the momentum needed to take us forward. It has been an extremely exciting time for The Country Pub Group. We have enjoyed transforming the venues and will continue work on this during 2020. Who knows what other interesting opportunities will arise this year?” The Country Pub Group also operates The Temple Inn in Temple Cloud and The Battleaxes in Wraxall.

Urban Leisure Group acquires former Pizza East and Chicken Shop site in Kentish Town for tenth venue: Urban Leisure Group is set to launch its latest concept, in Kentish Town, north London, for its tenth venue. The 6,500 square foot space in Highgate Road was formerly occupied by Pizza East, Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop – all operated by Quentin Restaurants, the Soho House Group joint venture. Urban Leisure Group has secured a new lease with landlord London Buildings in a deal brokered by agent Shelley Sandzer. Urban Leisure Group will launch Never For Ever next month. The restaurant bar concept will be split across the basement and ground floor to create a “community-focused space” featuring a common room and live music alongside home-brewed beer, wine and cocktails on tap. The venue will have two wood-fired ovens and a menu including homemade pizza, large plates, bar snacks and charcuterie. Urban Leisure Group founder and director Hezi Yechiel said: “When the site for Never For Ever came up we knew it was the perfect opportunity to bring a fun and fresh new local to the Kentish Town area. The space, bringing together three former venues, provides the ideal arena to encapsulate our community-led concept.” Ted Schama, managing partner at Shelley Sandzer, added: “Urban Leisure Group has numerous successful venues in north London including Alice House in Queens Park and The Elgin in Maida Vale. The former Pizza East seemed like a perfect fit, in tune with their target audience.” On Monday (10 February), Propel reported Quentin Restaurants was in advanced talks with landlords to exit, sub-let or convert a number of sites as it consolidates the portfolio to concentrate on its more profitable outlets.

Gousto appoints TRG’s Hillier as chief people officer: Food recipe box company Gousto has appointed Lisa Hillier, chief people officer at The Restaurant Group (TRG), to drive recruitment and business growth. Hillier will join Gousto in mid-March as chief people officer and take the lead as Gousto aims to hire 700 people in technology, data science and operations by the end of 2022. She will report to chief executive Timo Boldt and will be the seventh addition to the Gousto leadership team alongside Jim Buckle, former chief operating officer at Feelunique, who joined the company as chief financial officer earlier this year. Before joining TRG, Hillier held the same position at Just Eat following several head of HR roles at companies including Betfair, Aviva and Ofcom. Boldt said: “Nurturing and motivating our employees has always been at the heart of Gousto so we’re delighted to welcome Lisa to lead our people strategy. Lisa’s experience and passion for scaling high-growth technology and food businesses is a perfect match.” Hillier added: “I am excited to work for such a fast-growing technology business with a brilliant group of people behind it. I have a huge drive to create value through the people agenda for Gousto.”

Asian street food concept Chi to double up with two openings: Asian street food concept Chi is to take its estate to four sites during the next couple of months with openings in Basingstoke and Norwich. The concept, which is the brainchild of Aidan Tjinakiet and Lamen Reddy, launched at The Grafton shopping centre in Cambridge in March last year, with a second site opening at Intu Watford in December. The company will open its third site later this month in Basingstoke before following that with a launch at Intu Chapelfield in Norwich. The concept offers “Asian street food with a modern twist served on a base of bao, banh mi, noodles or rice with a wide range of snacks and sides”.

Matt Healy takes former Filmore & Union site in York as he expands Scandi-inspired cafe concept: Chef Matt Healy has opened a second site for his Scandi-inspired cafe concept Grön, in York. Healy has taken over the former Filmore & Union site in Low Petergate. The cafe spans two floors and accommodates 35 diners in total. The menu features vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes alongside smoothies, fresh juice, coffee and natural wine. The new venture follows in the footsteps of the debut Grön, which launched in the Leeds suburb of Oakwood in 2018. Healy also opened gastro-pub The Beehive in the village of Thorner last year and runs The Foundry in Leeds city centre. He said: “Grön has been a big hit and the vegan and vegetarian scene is going from strength to strength with more people than ever making changes to their food choices. We’re excited to expand further afield and build on the success we’ve already seen in Oakwood.” Healy was runner-up in the 2016 series of MasterChef: The Professionals.

BrewDog appoints Karen Bates as people director: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has appointed Karen Bates as people director, Propel has learned. Bates was previously people director of global functions at Costa and before that HR director at retailer the Drax Group. She has also had stints at Holland & Barrett, Gala Coral Group and Next. Last week BrewDog unveiled sustainability initiatives and hinted at a new brand identity. The company outlined six environmentally focused pledges including a process to repurpose “imperfect” beer to create vodka and a drive to promote upcycling by accepting used beer cans from any brand. It is also inviting customers to trade in 50 empty beer cans to become an Equity Punk. The company’s Tomorrow Fund has pledged to invest an additional £1m a year to support research to help the brewing industry have a “positive impact on the world” and support charitable causes.

Giggling Squid opens in Leicester for 35th site, in negotiations on four more: Giggling Squid, the Thai restaurant brand founded by Andy and Pranee Laurillard, has opened its 35th site, in Leicester. The company has launched the 100-cover venue in St Martin’s Square at the former Grillstock site. Propel understands Giggling Squid is in negotiations on an additional site, adding to the three it is already in talks over as it continues to strengthen its pipeline. In December, Andy Laurillard told Propel that Giggling Squid was continuing to see growth in its current financial year “across the board”. Sites in Cambridge and Harborne are also set to open this year.

Taco Bell eyes Maidstone for second site in Kent: Mexican restaurant brand Taco Bell has submitted plans to open its second site in Kent, in Maidstone. The company has submitted a change of use application to the borough council to move into the vacant Finch House Cafe and Bakery in Week Street, close to rivals McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King. The building in the pedestrianised street has been empty since October 2018, Kent Online reports. In its proposal, Taco Bell stated the restaurant would cater for about 40 people, employ 35 staff and open from 11am to midnight daily. The other Taco Bell restaurant in Kent is at Chatham Dockside. Last month Taco Bell launched a “craving value” menu across its UK estate with items starting from as little as £1. The permanent menu offers eight items including a cheesy roll-up, fries or nachos with a nacho cheese dip for £1. The £2 options include a crispy chicken taco, while customers can opt for a £5 Chalupa Box, which includes a chalupa supreme, a taco, fries, cinnamon twists and a soft drink. Taco Bell recently made its West Country debut with an opening in Plymouth, its 43rd restaurant in the UK. There are more than 425 Taco Bell sites across 27 markets outside the US, with the goal to expand the brand’s international presence to 9,000 restaurants by 2022.

Passyunk Avenue partners with Major League Baseball to launch activity-led pop-up: Passyunk Avenue, the two-strong Philadelphia-style bar and restaurant concept, has teamed up with Major League Baseball (MLB) to launch a themed pop-up at Westfield Stratford City shopping centre in east London. Home Run House is described as an “activity-led retail experience” and will operate for 12 months offering a space to watch, play and experience baseball. The space has been curated by the Passyunk Avenue team to deliver an “immersive environment that enables customers to experience how baseball has become an integral part of American culture”. The bar and entertainment area has been designed in conjunction with Budweiser and will feature “activity hubs” where fans can cheer on friends in the batting cages or enjoy a cold beer and hotdog while watching a live MLB game on five jumbo screens. Home Run House is in the Events Atrium on Level One at Westfield Stratford City next to the World Food Court. Passyunk Avenue founder JP Teti said: “We are excited to collaborate with MLB and Budweiser to make this concept a reality because our brand is about telling authentic stories that provide a glimpse into unique aspects of American culture. We believe there’s a great American story to tell here.” Passyunk currently operates two locations, a flagship site in Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, and a quick-serve version of the concept in Westfield Stratford City. It plans to open two more sites this year.

McDonald’s UK appoints Karl Boyce as head of digital: McDonald’s UK has appointed Karl Boyce, formerly of Domino’s and Marston’s, as head of digital. Boyce spent more than two years as head of digital at Domino’s Pizza UK & Ireland and before that held the same role at Marston’s for more than three years. Last month McDonald’s UK announced it would invest £1bn in its UK and Ireland business during the next three years. The company also plans to open 60 restaurants in Britain this year, following 40 openings in 2019. Speaking on the back of the company’s full-year results, UK and Ireland chief executive Paul Pomroy said: “We remain committed to continuing investment in the areas driving our growth – our supply chain, people and restaurant experience – so over the next three years £1bn will be invested to ensure we can continue to focus on what matters most – customers, food, value, service and convenience. Investment will be in the customer experience as, together with our franchisees, we embark on a new cycle of updating the look and feel of our restaurants as well as the digital experience.”

Real Eating Company secures another former EAT site for Canterbury launch: The Real Eating Company is to open its sixth site in the south east after securing a former EAT site in Canterbury, Kent. The Helena Hudson-led business has secured the unit in Whitefriars Street for an opening later this month. It is the second former EAT site the group has taken on in the past year following its takeover of the venue in Chichester’s North Street in the summer. The Real Eating Company also operates a second site in Chichester plus units in Horsham, Bournemouth and Portsmouth. Last week Propel revealed Pret A Manger aims to complete the conversion of former EAT sites to its fledgling Veggie Pret concept in the next few months. The JAB Holding-owned chain’s portfolio will feature 14 Veggie Pret sites halfway through this year, including eight EAT conversions. The company, which completed the acquisition of the 84-strong EAT brand last summer in a deal valued at almost £60m, has so far converted three ex-EAT sites to Veggie Pret – in Broadway, Canary Wharf and Fenchurch Street. It has also lined up conversions in St Mary Axe, Cardinal Place and King William Street. Before acquiring EAT, Pret had opened Veggie Pret sites in London’s Broadwick Street, Exmouth Market, Great Eastern Street and in Deansgate, Manchester. Now the company has fully evaluated the EAT estate, it won’t convert as many sites to Veggie Pret as initially expected. Pret is also converting a number of EAT sites to its core brand.

Laboratorio Pizza to take over Picture’s Fitzrovia site: Laboratorio Pizza, the Ivan Simeoli-led concept, will open its second site in London after securing the former Picture restaurant in Fitzrovia. The company, which operates a site in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, will open at 110 Great Portland Street. Simeoli began his career at Michelin-starred Club Gascon and was previously executive chef at Osteria 60 at the Baglioni Hotel in London. He was also head chef at The Wallace Collection in London and Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. He founded Laboratorio Pizza as a tribute to his native city of Naples. Neighbourhood restaurant Picture closed both its London sites in October following “difficulties keeping the business viable”. The owners – former Arbutus head chef Alan Christie, ex-Wild Honey head chef Colin Kelly and former Arbutus manager Tom Slegg – opened the Fitzrovia venue in 2013 and a sister site in Marylebone in 2016. CDG Leisure acted on the Great Portland Street deal.

Papa John’s franchisees take north west portfolio to 12 with two new sites: Papa John’s franchisees Sukhbir Gill and Lakhwinder Singh have taken their portfolio in the north west to 12 sites. The duo have opened a store in Runcorn, Cheshire, and taken over a further outlet in the region. Singh said: “Managing stores near each other means we can capitalise on our local marketing strength plus recruitment and staff training is easier too. Our people have more opportunity for promotion within our outlets and we know happy staff make great pizza – and that means very happy customers!” Papa John's has more than 400 sites in the UK.

Black Rooster set for trio of openings: Scottish peri-peri restaurant chain Black Rooster is set for a trio of openings in 2020. The company will add to its six-strong portfolio with an opening in Greenock next month when it converts a former Burger King restaurant in West Blackhall Street. The venue will be one of three restaurants opening as part of the company’s expansion plans, reports the Greenock Telegraph. Black Rooster has three restaurants in Glasgow and one each in Coatbridge, Govan and Paisley.

Hotbox team converts Chuck Burgers in Hatch End into taqueria concept: The team behind American barbecue restaurant Hotbox in Spitalfields, London, has converted its Chuck Burgers site in Hatch End into a new Mexican taqueria concept, Chingon. The venue in Uxbridge Road offers tacos, tostadas and quesadillas with dishes on the menu including roast bone marrow with onion and coriander, tuna tartar tostadas, and grilled picanha steak with white onion and salsa rojo. Main dishes include chargrilled steak, enchiladas verdes and lamb barbecoa, Hot Dinners reports. Alongside cocktails, Chingon also features a tequila bar and mezcalaria. Hotbox launched as a street food venture before opening its permanent restaurant in Commercial Road, Spitalfields. The team then opened a permanent site for Chuck Burgers in Spitalfields in 2016 after selling signature burgers and wings from a converted Chevy Step Van at Street Feast’s Hawker House. The Chuck Burgers site in Spitalfields remains closed and it’s thought it could be converted to Chingon as at Hatch End. Chuck Burgers lives on with residencies at Big Chill Bar sites in Brick Lane and King’s Cross and is set to operate at Tequila Mockingbird’s cocktail bar in Brixton, according to the Chuck Burgers website.

CookDaily comes back to Shoreditch: Chef King Senathit has brought CookDaily back to Boxpark Shoreditch, where he launched the vegan bowls concept in 2015. The move follows the closure of CookDaily sites in London Fields and Boxpark Croydon, Hot Dinners reports. The Shoreditch site will open this week, offering five vegan bowls to take away including a limited-edition weekly special. Bowls at the London Fields site included Le Garden (sautéed vegetables with minced garlic, herbs, vegan butter and white truffle oil served with brown rice), and a noodle bowl featuring vegan udon noodle stir-fry with mixed vegetables and roasted chilli oil. Senathit previously said: “It is vegan food you can’t get anywhere else. CookDaily has been kicking down the doors. Now it’s the rebirth of veganism and I’m flying the flag for it.”

Team behind Edinburgh pub to turn former public toilet into upmarket fish bar: The team behind Edinburgh pub The Boathouse is set to transform a former public toilet into an upmarket fish bar. Plans have been submitted to convert a building in Portobello Promenade that has been vacant since 2016 and was put up for rent by the city council in May last year. The fish bar is expected to open in the summer, reports Edinburgh Live. In a Facebook post, The Boathouse said: “I guess it’s no secret we were successful bidders for the lease on the former public toilet. We have exciting plans to transform the building into an upmarket seafood bar. Alongside traditional fish and chips we will offer a selection of fresh fish and seafood, cooked to order.” The team launched The Boathouse at the other end of the promenade last year.

Feed It Back partners with Yapster: Guest feedback service Feed It Back and mobile messaging app Yapster have partnered to make it easier for hospitality staff to receive and engage with guest feedback. Yapster will place positive guest feedback into group chats, which will trigger a push notification to participants. This can be used to celebrate good service and reward staff performance. The feedback can also be sent to a company newsfeed to showcase it to the wider business and motivate teams. Feed It Back chief executive Carlo Platia said: “This integration will enable businesses to acknowledge – in real time – the team members who go above and beyond the call of service.” Yapster co-founder and chief executive Rob Liddiard added: “By combining a simple way for guests to leave feedback and an effective solution to celebrate valued team members, driving up standards and employee motivation has never been easier. We hope our partnership with Feed It Back not only has a positive impact on guests but also on employee satisfaction.”

Dominique Ansel opens Covent Garden bistro for second London site: Renowned pastry chef Dominique Ansel, who operates sites in New York and Japan, has opened a second London site, in Covent Garden. Ansel, who opened his debut site in the capital in Belgravia in 2016, has launched Dominique Ansel Treehouse in Floral Street. The two-storey venue features a bistro upstairs and a takeaway bakery below. The interiors resemble a tree house, with a “trunk” that rises through the building. The menu features small and large plates with a focus on advanced pastry techniques. Ansel is also known as the man who invented the “cronut” – a cross between a croissant and a doughnut.

Whitbread corporate finance director to join Workspace: David Benson, corporate finance director at Whitbread, has been appointed chief financial officer of Workspace Group. Benson will join Workspace on 1 April. He previously held senior finance roles at Kier Group and Keller Group. Graham Clemett, chief executive of Workspace, said: “David combines a strong commercial focus with broad finance skills and a wealth of experience that will help support our ambitions as we continue to build on our leading market position.” Benson added: “I am pleased to join Workspace at this exciting time. Workspace is one of the leading providers of flexible space in London with a distinctive customer-focused offering. I look forward to being part of the next stage of the company’s growth and success.”

Zia Lucia opens fourth London pizzeria for City debut: Zia Lucia has opened a site in the City of London for its fourth pizzeria in the capital. Founders Claudio Vescovo and Gianluca D’Angelo have launched the venue at Piazza Walk in Aldgate. The site seats about 60 diners, including an outdoors area, and features a rustic wooden pizza bar and an open kitchen centring on a hand-made pizza oven. Zia Lucia offers four types of slow-fermented dough – vegetable charcoal, wholemeal, gluten-free and traditional – alongside starters and desserts. The brand operates restaurants in Islington, Hammersmith and Boxpark Wembley as well as pasta concept Berto, also in Islington.

Dorset-based operators acquire second pub: Dorset-based operators Lee and Jo Worsley have acquired their second pub. The Worsleys are relaunching The Coach & Horses in the village of Winterbourne Abbas as The Coach House Inn. The pub, which has been shut for three and a half years, has undergone a £250,000 refurbishment ahead of its reopening next month. It will feature an extended dining area as well as five letting bedrooms. Lee Worsley told the Bridport & Lyme Regis News: “When a pub has been closed for three and a half years and you put £250,000 into it, there’s always a bit of risk attached but we have done our research and it’s clear there’s enough interest and local appetite to support it. We have a good history of turning businesses that are on their knees into something the community and larger area would want.” The Worsleys also own The Kings Arms pub and Duck’s Farm Shop in the village of Portesham.

RA Venues secures Royal Armouries Museum contract: Hospitality company RA Venues has secured a four-year contract to provide hospitality and catering services at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds Dock. The deal will see RA Venues provide full catering services at the Leeds venue’s 12 spaces, including the 4,000-capacity New Dock Hall and recently launched cafe The Master’s. RA Venues managing director Steve Chandler said: “The venue boasts unrivalled large-scale facilities with independent access from the museum. New refurbishments in retail and catering outlets are presented in a complementary theme together with a fresh open aspect alongside Leeds Dock that leads to extended dwell times from museum visitors and encourages repeat visits.” Rod Taylor, chief operating officer of the Royal Armouries Museum, added: “We are thrilled to partner with RA Venues and look forward to exploring new and exciting opportunities and directions with the group alongside continuing to evolve the quality of service and experience we offer to our visitors and clients alike.”

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