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Thu 16th Apr 2020 - Exclusive: Bids in for Carluccio's sites
Bids in for Carluccio’s sites: A number of parties have an expressed an interest in acquiring parts of Carluccio’s out of administration, Propel has learned. Bids were due in yesterday evening for the business, which was placed into administration two weeks ago, with FRP Advisory appointed as administrators. It is thought that bids for the entire 71-strong business have not been forthcoming, but there has been interest in acquiring a number of sites and the brand. Propel understands that Three Hills Capital, the backer of Byron, is amongst the bidders for a select number of sites and the brand, after it held talks over a merger with Carluccio’s were aborted before it was placed into administration. It is also thought that Boparan Restaurant Group, the operator of Giraffe, Ed’s Easy Diner and Slim Chickens, has expressed an interest in some of Carluccio’s sites, with plans to convert them to the US chicken brand, of which it is the UK master franchisee. At the same time, Propel understands that Tesco has bid to take on a handful of Carluccio’s sites for conversion to its Express format. Geoff Rowley and Phil Reynolds, partners at FRP Advisory, have were appointed joint administrators of Carluccio’s on 30 March. Carluccio’s directors decided to place the company into administration after a sustained period of challenging trading conditions, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic and “broader issues currently facing the UK’s retail and hospitality sector”. Last week, FRP secured what it described as “a landmark court ruling” when it secured legal backing to for staff to receive part of their salaries through the government’s coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. In 2018, Carluccio’s undertook a company voluntary arrangement, which resulted in the closure of about 35 restaurants. The company was founded in 1999 by the late chef Antonio Carluccio.

Coffee shops and restaurants ‘could be first to re-open’ to rescue economy: Conservative peer Lord Gadhia and GlaxoSmithKline chairman Sir Jonathan Symonds have advised government ministers to consider re-opening sectors with ‘greatest multiplier effects’ such as restaurants and estate agents. The new thinking is laid out in a report – seen by The Sun – authored by Lord Gadhia and Symonds, which calls for a limited reopening of high streets. The pair state that Britain must “learn to live with covid” as it can’t be fully defeated until a vaccine is mass produced in 12 to 18-months time. According to The Sun, the report says that the re-opening of coffee shops, estate agents and restaurants is deemed to offer the greatest boost to the crippled economy, but the smallest risk of transmitting the disease. In the report, which is understood to be being circulated across Whitehall, the pair argue that: “The initial focus for reopening the economy should be on sectors that have the greatest multiplier effects with minimum risks – such as coffee shops and restaurants which support agriculture. The property market is another that has wide multiplier effects. We need to avoid a stop-start economy which would sap public morale and damage business confidence yet further.” The report goes on to says that to ensure they are safe, all premises will first have to undergo revamps to ensure social distancing, by installing screens or big distances between tables.

Gousto closes £33m funding round: Food recipe box company Gousto has secured £33 million in new funding, which it says it will invest in new technology and in building more capacity to meet rising demand and expanding next-day delivery in the near future. The company said that it’s currently delivering circa four million meals to 380,000 UK households each month and is on course to cross 400 million meals delivered by 2025. It offers currently a choice of more than 50 recipes each week and gives people the option to tailor what they get, with the whole system running in an automated packing process, working out to average price per meal per person to £2.98 at its cheapest. The funding – which was being raised before the novel coronavirus hit – is being led by Perwyn, with participation also from BGF Ventures, MMC Ventures and Joe Wicks – the hugely popular YouTube fitness coach who has built a lifestyle brand around healthy eating. It brings the total raised by Gousto to around £130 million.

Burger King to re-open four sites: Burger King UK is to re-open four sites for delivery only from today (16 April), with more set to come back online over the coming weeks. The company is re-opening two sites in Bristol, one in Coventry, and one in Swindon, with a pared-down menu. Staff will wear masks and gloves and will be trained in running delivery-only kitchens hygienically. It said that staff would also get social distancing training. The brand will also donate 1,000 meals per week to staff working at NHS hospitals in the vicinity of the reopened sites. Katie Evans, marketing director at Burger King UK, said: “We hope that re-opening these restaurants for delivery services goes some way to lifting our customers’ spirits in these difficult times. We are committed to providing 1,000 meals a week to NHS staff based in the vicinity of these restaurants as we want to demonstrate how appreciative everyone at Burger King UK is of their efforts in these unprecedented times.”

Escape Hunt updates on coronavirus mitigation actions: Escape room operator Escape Hunt has provided a further update on mitigating actions taken in response to the covid-19 pandemic. It stated: “As the board had anticipated in its announcement of 19 March 2020, the UK government announced measures which required Escape Hunt to close all its UK operated sites with effect from midnight on 20 March 2020. Similar measures are also in place in other countries which affect the vast majority of the company’s international franchise network. The UK government also announced a number of support measures. The board had already commenced measures to dramatically reduce costs and the company expects to receive UK government support through several of the schemes announced, namely: Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – to date, 124 staff have been placed on furlough leave receiving 80% of their salary which is expected to be reimbursed through the scheme; Business rates relief – the UK government’s decision to offer a rates holiday is welcomed and will make a material difference to our property costs over the next twelve months; Grants – we also expect to benefit from the £25,000 grant being made available for commercial properties with rateable values of less than £51,000. We anticipate around half of our sites will benefit from this; VAT and other tax deferrals – the group will take-up the option to defer VAT and other taxes for a period of time which will help cashflow. In addition to the measures above, the group has taken a number of further actions: Property costs – many of our landlords have been incredibly supportive giving consent to defer rent payments and, in some cases, service charge payments; Pay reductions – all staff who have not been furloughed have accepted temporary pay reductions, with senior management accepting a 25% pay reduction and the non-executive directors waiving all fees whilst the lock-down conditions persist; The majority of our third party expenditure, including marketing spend has ceased; Capital expenditure has been put on hold. In aggregate, the initiatives taken have reduced the group’s monthly cash costs by approximately 70%. Approximately 15% of this is deferred expenditure and will need to be caught up in future. Whilst the core business is in hibernation, activity has continued in areas where we can continue to make progress. On 6 April 2020, the company launched its first downloadable, ‘play at home’ escape game, ‘Stolen’. Initial feedback has been positive and the game has shown some encouraging metrics since its launch. ‘Stolen’ is now also being made available to our franchise network and our creative team is working on other initiatives which are capable of generating revenue in the current environment.”

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