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Thu 11th Jun 2020 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

Shaftesbury CEO – the traditional lease model is falling apart: Brian Bickell, chief executive of Shaftesbury, one of London’s biggest West End landlords, has said the traditional leasing model was “falling apart” as it prepared for a sharp fall in rent payments over the next few months. Bickell told the FT: “We’re likely to be supporting tenants, not just through lock-down but through recovery as well. Tenants may be needing support well into next year. The traditional lease model is falling apart.” The company, which owns a 15.2-acre portfolio in London’s West End, said it was in discussions with 800 commercial tenants, including many restaurants, to agree tailored solutions on rents and service charges. The landlord, which expects to collect just 50% of the total rent due between April and September, is moving its 800 commercial tenants from quarterly to monthly payment periods from October as a result of coronavirus. The company said it was expecting a “continuing evolution in structure of leases”. In its half year update, the company said it was positioning its portfolio “to benefit from the return of confidence and activity in local, national and global economies”. Bickell said: “The economies of London and the West End have a long history of structural resilience, having weathered many episodes of near-term challenges and uncertainties.” For the six months to 31 March, Shaftesbury saw underlying net property income increase 2.1% to £49.6m but it announced a reduction in its property valuation of 7.9% to £3.5bn. The company has also stated it is to undertake marketing and PR activity, in collaboration with other central London landowners, as it seeks to encourage the return of domestic and international footfall. The West End normally attracts more than 200 million visits annually and has a working population of 700,000.

Industry News:

Propel lease restructuring webinar: As part of the Propel Insights Series, a lease restructuring webinar is being held in conjunction with lease advisory firm Cedar Dean Group. Propel insights editor Mark Wingett talks to Menashe Sadik, co-founder of Chopstix, the UK’s leading Asian quick service restaurant brand; Vernon Dennis, partner at law firm Howard Kennedy; and David Abramson, chief executive of the Cedar Dean Group, about the changing relationship between landlords and tenants. The expert panel discusses, among other key topics, government intervention; the impact of new insolvency laws; how operators are handling strategic restructuring talks; and how operators are now approaching landlord conversations. The webinar will be sent out as a standalone email on Thursday (11 June) at 3pm.

Martin Wolstencroft to feature in latest ‘navigating the coronavirus’ video: In the latest in Propel's video interviews with leading operators, Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott talks to Martin Wolstencroft, co-founder and chief executive of Arc Inspirations, about the company missing its strongest trading pattern; the problem of opening on 4 July; modelling staying open against cash burn if staying closed; and the challenge of changing to ordering at the bar. The video will be released on Thursday (11 June). Meanwhile, readers can support independent sector journalism and get their news 12 hours early (at 7pm each night) with a Propel Premium subscription. It costs £395 plus VAT per annum for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com to sign up.

Pubs and bars ‘can capitalise on off-premise opportunity post-lock-down’: Pubs and bars can capitalise on the opportunity off-premise sales will bring post-lock-down, according to insights firm The NPD Group. In the year to March 2020, 9.9% of all British pub visits were off-premise – up from 7.6% five years earlier, with this growth driven by delivery services and takeaway coffee. The NPD Group said once the British foodservice industry’s lock-down ends, there was scope to expand the range of delivery and takeaway offerings significantly to include alcoholic and other non-alcoholic beverages along with takeaway hot and cold food. Over the past decade, digital ordering in the eating-out market has increased 700%, rising from 95 million visits per year in March 2010 to 731 million as of March 2020. But within the pub and bar sector, growth has been slower. A high-street quick service restaurant can expect delivery to account for up to 10% of visits but delivery orders currently account for less than 2% of pub visits, although this is now growing quickly. Inside a pub or bar, ordering via mobile apps account for just 1.4% of all visits, although this too is increasing rapidly, driven by order at table apps. Visits through digital ordering are increasing across the wider foodservice industry – and not just among younger consumers. In the two years to March 2020, they were up 42% for 16 to 34-year-olds, 32% for those aged 35 to 49, 22% for the over 50s and 18% for families. Peter Linden, insights manger foodservice, The NPD Group, said: “When trading fully resumes, pub and bar operators will want to do everything they can to reinvigorate their offering while ensuring sales operations are as safe and socially distanced as possible. Doubling or tripling off-premise visits – from the current 10% to 20% or even 30% –is a viable ambition for some operators, and there’s also ample scope to grow on-premise orders via mobile apps.”
The NPD Group is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

BBPA again urges government to reduce two metre rule or risk ‘devastating’ pub closures: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has again urged the government to review the two metre guideline for social distancing ahead of the publication of sector guidance. The current position will mean only a third (12,500) of England’s pubs will be able to reopen, according to research by the BBPA. This could leave up to 25,000 pubs closed with major concerns over when, if ever, they will be able to reopen. Under one metre social distancing guidelines, 75% (28,000) of England’s pubs would be able to reopen and the BBPA pointed out countries including France, Denmark, Hong Kong and Singapore have safely reopened their hospitality sectors under that guidance given by the World Health Organisation. Not only would the reduction from two metres to one metre enable more pubs to get back on their feet, it would enable those pubs to reopen at a more viable level, giving them more space to operate in and enabling more pub staff to return to work, said the BBPA. The BBPA said it wasn’t too late for the government to review and revise its guidance – citing Friday (12 June) was the required date to give pubs sufficient notice to restock and reopen from 4 July as indicated in the government’s roadmap for economic recovery. This would still provide pubs with the minimum three weeks’ notice asked for by the BBPA. The BBPA has also urged Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to adopt the one metre guidelines to ensure consistency and ease of implementation across all pubs in the UK. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “Sadly, if no reduction is made before 4 July this could result in devastating pub closures and job losses in communities across England that can been avoided.”

Gloucestershire publican campaigns for government to allow covid-19 compliant pubs to reopen: Gloucestershire publican Rob Collins is campaigning for the government to allow pubs that have put in covid-19 compliant systems to open now. Rob Collins, of The Farmers Arms, a rural pub near Tewkesbury, has invested in occupancy control, a menu and drinks ordering system and a garden kitchen with an Italian pizza oven to help his business recover. He has also installed an occupancy control system that monitors numbers in and out and sets an occupancy threshold displayed at the entrance. He has also installed another system to ensure a one in/out occupancy for the toilets. Every table has been given a QR code so customers can scan the code with their own phone to order and pay for drinks and food. This flashes up orders in the kitchen and bar – and eliminates the need for customers touching any kind of menu. Collins said: “I now have all the systems in place to fully operate within the social distancing guidelines so why on earth can I not open?. Every day I am losing more and more money, I want to open. The fact people can now sit in socially distant groups in parks, why can’t they at least sit in my beer garden and order drinks and food from their phones?”

Backpackers still keen to come to UK post-lock-down as hostels outline proposed safety measures: Backpackers are still keen to come to the UK post-lock-down, according to new research. The findings, from a collective of 11 hostel brands worldwide, showed Britain was only behind Holland in the list of most popular destinations. A total of 61% said they’d be willing to visit countries that have been particularly affected by the pandemic and 64% have already started planning their next trip. Almost a quarter (24%) said they would feel comfortable travelling this summer and 62% by the end of this year. Price, location and cleanliness are the most important factors to respondents when booking accommodation after lock-down with 81% saying it was important social distancing measures were put in place in hostels. They particularly wanted to see limits on the number of people in a room with 44% wanting their own space. A total of 86% said it was important hand sanitiser was available and hostel staff wear masks. Their main concerns about travelling again included travel restrictions (26%), being subject to quarantine when they get back (23%), health risks (20%) and their safety (15%). With new changes being implemented, respondents said they want to be notified by new health and safety procedures at accommodation venues. Their most favoured ways of finding out include receiving an email before their arrival (40%), on the accommodation website (39%) and through social media (19%), as well as at check-in. The hostels involved in the survey, which includes St Christopher’s Inns, which is owned by pan-European hostel and bar company Beds and Bars, said they were putting in place measures to keep guests safe. These include reducing occupancy in dormitory rooms and shared bathrooms, working on having online check-in, and frequent cleaning. Many are also reviewing their cancellation policy. 

Bulgaria cuts VAT on restaurant food: Bulgaria’s parliament has approved government plans to cut VAT on food provided by restaurants and catering services from 20% to 9% from July. The cut would run through 2021 as a temporary measure to help the sector recover. It would not affect alcoholic drinks bought in restaurants and provided by caterers, which will still attract a 20% VAT rate. The plan was floated by prime minister Boyko Borissov last month despite opposition from his finance minister, reports Reuters. It was also criticised by economists who said it would open the door for many more industries to seek tax cuts.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking for a head of digital marketing for a luxury retail and hospitality business. As the business expands its luxury lifestyle brand, it is looking to widen both its food and beverage offer as well as its retail products. The business is keen to appoint a head of digital marketing who has a strong knowledge of high-end brands across food and beverage and retail as well as strong skills in CMS systems, online marketing tools, CRM systems and ERP systems. This role would suite an creative individual with passion for new digital technologies and e-commerce functionality. Based in London, the salary is circa £70,000. Anyone interested can email their CV to Gemma@corecruiment.com 
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Licensing update: Licensing solicitor John Gaunt & Partners has produced a useful monthly summary of licensing news relating to the covid-19 situation, which can be accessed here.
John Gaunt & Partners is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Chiktopia goes into liquidation: Better chicken concept Chiktopia, which opened its debut site at Intu Lakeside, Essex, last year, has gone into liquidation, Propel has learned. The brand had backing from Abokado chief executive Mark Lilley and Mystery founder Dan Einzig. The debut 120-cover restaurant offered the brand’s fried and grilled chicken burgers and tenders, skinny fries, salads, wraps, vegan and vegetarian options, thick dairy shakes and Louisiana biscuits. Chiktopia, which was led by former Ole & Steen operations director Alastair Gordon until he stepped down in January, used technology to offer a counter-less restaurant with 100% kiosk and app ordering. A spokesman told Propel: “Chiktopia was a fledging business with a promising future, but that had very little time to establish itself. Despite management's efforts to protect employees and the business, the financial strain of a prolonged shutdown simply became too great. The directors, on advice from the company's professional advisors, therefore took the difficult decision to put the business into liquidation.” Steven Ross and Matthew Higgins, of RSM, have been appointed as liquidators.

Bistrot Pierre appoints advisors to help it navigate lock-down and beyond: Bistrot Pierre, the Livingbridge-backed group, has appointed advisors to help it navigate the lock-down period and put it in a good position for when the sector reopens fully, Propel has learned. The 25-strong, Nick White-led group is understood to be working with KPMG as it looks to unlock government support schemes and understand new legislation. It is also helping the company in its discussions with various stakeholders, including its bank and Livingbridge, to find the best solution to secure the funds its needs to reopen and get through the next few months. KPMG has been working with the company for the past eight weeks, and the business is believed to be keen to see its appointment as not a “kneejerk reaction”. Propel understands none of the group’s sites, which are spread across England and Wales, are loss making, have no onerous leases or are tied to corporate landlords. One source close to the business said: “Government help is available, getting it is complex. To that end it is working with KPMG to frame its thinking on what the best approach is to unlocking that help and securing new funds.” It comes as the company recently reopened its site in The Mumbles, Swansea, for takeaway, with the business understood to be encouraged by the level of trade achieved. Last November the company, which posted turnover of circa £35m in the year to June 2019, opened its latest at Eastbourne’s Wish Tower. It also has plans to open a beachside restaurant and bar on Worthing promenade, in West Sussex.

Starbucks speeds up transformation plans at it forecasts third-quarter operating income to plunge $2.2bn: Starbucks is to speed up plans to upgrade US stores as it forecast its third-quarter operating income will plunge by about $2.2bn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The company said it expected US like-for-like sales to drop by up to 45%, which has pushed executives to move up the timeline. Starbucks said it would add on-the-go options such as drive-thru access, kerb-side pick-up and walk-up windows at hundreds of company-owned store locations. The new service options will be integrated with the Starbucks app and implemented at stores over the next 18 months, well ahead of Starbucks’ original timetable of three to five years. In addition, a number of Starbucks Pick-up stores will open in densely populated cities such as New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco after a successful pilot programme in Manhattan’s Penn Plaza. The new streamlined store format allows customers to avoid long lines by ordering and paying ahead on the Starbucks app. Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said: “As we navigate through the covid-19 crisis, we are accelerating our store transformation plans to address the realities of the current situation, while still providing a safe, familiar and convenient experience for our customers.” Starbucks’ investment in a digitally enhanced customer experience was a key element of the company’s long-term strategy even before the coronavirus pandemic. About 80% of all Starbucks orders were placed to-go before the crisis began, according to the company. Starbucks operates about 8,800 company-owned US stores. Under the current upgrade plan, 68% of those will have a combination of convenience-driven service options. Aside from adding kerb-side pickup as an option at some locations, Starbucks plans to run a pilot programme testing a store format that would exclusively offer the service. While a majority of Starbucks stores already offer some form of drive-thru service, the company will add new functions at some locations, such as double-lane access or drive-thru plus kerb-side pick-up. 

Douglas Jack – leisure division CVA will allow TRG to complete five-year plan in five months: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said The Restaurant Group’s (TRG) company voluntary arrangement (CVA) plan for its leisure division will allow it to complete a five-year plan in five months. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 100p, Jack said: “Previously, the plan was to close/exit 165 leisure sites and 35 concessions. We still expect the circa 35 concession leases to break within six months. In leisure, the plan is now to use a CVA to exit 125 sites at minimal cost, exit 25 closed sites and negotiate turnover-based rents on 85 of the remaining 160 leisure sites. The reduction in the size of the leisure estate from 350 to 160 sites comprises 125 sites via CVA; 50 Chiquito sites that have already been put into administration; and circa 15 sites have either triggered break clauses or been sold as freehold sites. The net result is the descaling of the leisure estate should be quicker and cheaper than expected. We believe the 125 CVA sites had a similar profile to the leisure estate, which had an average of 4.5 years left on their leases. The cost of exiting these and the circa 25 closed sites should now be the cost of completing the CVA, which should be primarily professional fees, at under £10m. Previously we said when calculating the equity free cash flow yield, we do not deduct the onerous rent on the sites to be closed from the free cash flow, but the associated interest cost from paying to exit the sites. With the CVA, that associated interest cost is likely to have become negligible. The net result is an equity free cash flow yield (2021E) of 15% (and in excess of 10% at our 100p target price) for an estate of circa 425 sites that generated circa £0.4m average Ebitda per site and an average Ebitda margin in excess of 20% in 2019. We expect this estate to consist of 147 Wagamamas, 36 concessions (heavily weighted to the London airports), 80 pubs and 160 leisure sites, with the latter benefiting from lower rents and an average of just 4.5 years left on their leases. We believe TRG has the liquidity to survive covid-19 and emerge much stronger, whereas the list of private restaurant chains in severe difficulty grows every week. Government support must now shift towards bringing the lock-down to an end under guidelines that are commercial. Any news in this area could provide a further positive catalyst for the shares.”

Chilango opens first delivery kitchen, trials takeaway at two sites: Mexican restaurant brand Chilango has opened its first delivery kitchen and is trialling takeaway at two of its sites, Propel has learned. Having seen strong performance from its four open restaurants on delivery, Chilango have opened at the Deliveroo Editions kitchen in Battersea. Chilango went exclusive with Deliveroo at the end of 2019, and said the partnership had been “one of the key areas for growth prior to lock-down and post lock-down even more so”. Chilango reopened its Islington, Soho, London Bridge and Manchester restaurants at the end of April for delivery only. The sites now offer a click-and-collect service in partnership with Vita Mojo, which is “seeing week on week growth”, and takeaway is being trialled in two restaurants from this week – London Bridge and Manchester. Managing director Richard Franks said: “We are excited about opening our first Editions location in Battersea and look forward to seeing how it can perform and what opportunities that opens up for the future. We are fortunate to have a great partnership with Deliveroo and delivery has been a lifeline for us during this time.”

Wagamama launches first menu designed to be eaten at home: Wagamama, The Restaurant Group-owned brand, has launched its first menu designed to be eaten from home. Following the success of its weekly “wok from home” cookery lessons in the first few months of lock-down, with the series obtaining more than three million views, Wagamama has decided customers shouldn’t miss out. The second season of the free cookery show, fronted by Wagamama’s executive chef Steve Mangleshot, will unveil the new dishes. Each week Mangleshot will show how each one is prepared, cooked and presented and will be featured across all of Wagamama’s social channels. Each episode will launch Wednesdays at 6pm across Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. It will showcase four dishes they would have been enjoying in restaurants across the country this summer. The hero of the summer 2020 menu is hiyashi – a cold ramen-style dish typically eaten in Japan during the hotter months. The “wok from home” summer edition will include lighter Wagamama classics and collaborations from their noodle lab test kitchen, including Shu’s Shiok Chicken. Mangleshot said: “Although our restaurants aren’t currently open for dine in, we still wanted our customers to be able to enjoy our new bowls. So we thought, why not launch our summer menu virtually?” By the end of this month Wagamama will have 100 restaurants and kitchens open for delivery and click-and-collect and is working on a range of safety measures as it looks at when and how to reopen for dine-in once government restrictions lift.

Whitbread raises £922m from share placing: Whitbread has received a 91.4% take-up in its share placing announced at the end of May, raising £922m. Shares were priced at 1,500p in the placing. Joint bookrunners JP Morgan Cazenove and Morgan Stanley will “use reasonable endeavours” to sell the remaining 5.8 million shares, and will acquire any shares not sold by market close on Thursday (11 June). On 21 May, Whitbread announced it was aiming to raise £1bn in the rights issue, with the purpose of taking advantage of long-term structural growth opportunities in the UK and Germany, as well as giving the firm increased headroom to deal with the pandemic fallout. Morgan Stanley leisure analyst Jamie Rollo has said Whitbread was well positioned to make its mark post-lock-down but the shares are already fairly priced. Reiterating its ‘Equal-weight’ rating on the shares with a target price of 2,800p, Rollo said: “The shares are a good play on domestic travel, weak independents, and the German roll-out, but the shares now trade at 11 times calendar 2022 Ebitda and net asset value is less supportive, hence fairly priced. The company has competitive advantage in three areas – the midscale/economy segment should outperform, Premier Inn should take share and there is a strong roll-out opportunity in Germany and the UK. The balance sheet leverage now looks very conservative. The company laid out a clear rationale for its £1bn rights issue, helping it alleviate any liquidity and covenant concerns while also enabling it to fund its expansion plans. The key risk is the shape and pace of the post-lock-down recovery, which is highly uncertain. Separately, political uncertainty remains elevated, with little progress having been made regarding Brexit negotiations. This could weigh on corporate confidence and negatively impact business investment (highly correlated with UK hotel demand). The shares’ 25% rally since the rights issue (adjusted for going ex-rights) leaves us feeling the company is fairly valued, and we resume at Equal-weight.”

McDonald’s reopens more than 570 restaurants for delivery: McDonald’s reopened more than 570 of its restaurants for delivery on Wednesday (10 June). Delivery is available via Just Eat and UberEats, with restaurants in Coventry, Dundee, Norwich and Weston-Super-Mare among those now offering the service. McDonald's is to begin offering in-store takeaway and click-and-collect from next week, beginning with a pilot scheme at service stations. From Wednesday, 17 June, the company will test the scheme at 11 of the 29 restaurants it has at Roadchef sites before rolling it out gradually to high streets across the UK and Ireland. The company has yet to name the restaurants that will reopen for takeaway, saying it would confirm details “nearer the time”. McDonald's social distancing measures for sites offering takeaway will include the use of a one-way system, a limit on the number of customers allowed in store at one time and the closure of all dining spaces and toilets. McDonald’s has also announced the return of breakfast. A small group of yet to be confirmed restaurants will offer a breakfast service from 24 June, with a plan to roll out the menu for delivery, drive-thru and takeaway in July.

Stem + Glory to embark on fund-raise to support expansion after securing £200,000 Future Fund government support: Cambridge-based vegan restaurant Stem + Glory is to embark on a fund-raise after securing £200,000 of Future Fund government support, and a Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority Covid-19 grant. The money will support Stem + Glory’s expansion, and be used to develop an app and online platform. Founder Louise Palmer-Masterton is launching the fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Seedrs on Monday (15 June) to match the secured funding. The company, which has sites in Cambridge and London, is opening new restaurants in both cities next year, with other across the UK to follow. Palmer-Masterton launched Stem + Glory in Cambridge in October 2016 following a crowdfunding campaign and a second round led to her opening a flagship site in London in January last year. Palmer-Masterton said “Covid-19 has had a huge impact on society and business, but I’ve been determined Stem + Glory would emerge stronger and greater on the other side. Our new and exciting projects will enable even more people across a wider community to live healthier and more conscious lives, in what we believe will be a more harmonious and plant-based post-covid world.”

Wendy’s reports beef supplies back to ‘near-normal’ levels, sees like-for-likes turn positive in last week of May: Wendy’s, the third-largest quick service restaurant chain in the US, has reported beef supplies have returned to “near-normal levels” after the brand experienced disruptions in early May because of the coronavirus pandemic. In a business update, the company also said like-for-like- sales shifted to positive in the last week of May as the company continued to assess the impact of the pandemic and ensuing restaurant restrictions. Wendy’s said the beef-supply disruptions did affect digital sales for the May period, which were about 4.5% of systemwide domestic sales. Beef suppliers, impacted by coronavirus outbreaks and closures in early May, faced production challenges, Wendy’s said. The company also shifted its marketing efforts in the short term to focus on chicken products in an effort to alleviate pressure on beef demand, it said. Despite the beef-supply challenges, Wendy’s said its global like-for-like-store sales improved each successive week in May and turned positive “in the low single-digit range” in the last week of the month. For US restaurants, like-for-like sales for the month were down 1.9%, compared with minus 14% in April, and for international restaurants like-for-like sales for May were down 17.7%, compared with minus 28.3% in April. For the quarter to date, like-for-like sales were down 9.9% globally. The majority of Wendy’s sites continue to operate drive-thru and delivery, and dining rooms were beginning to reopen as state and local restrictions eased. About 99% of Wendy’s 5,861 US restaurants and about 81% of its 945 international outlets are operating.

Donald Trump’s Scottish golf courses set for tax rebate of almost £1m: Donald Trump’s Scottish golf courses are expected to get a tax rebate of almost £1m as part of a government bailout for tourism businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis. The Trump Organisation’s golf resorts in Aberdeenshire and Turnberry will benefit from emergency funding from the Scottish government worth £2.3bn, which includes waiving the property taxes paid by hospitality, leisure and retail businesses this year, reports The Guardian. Before the coronavirus crisis, Trump Turnberry had been due to pay £850,766 in property tax this year and Trump Aberdeenshire £121,170. This week South Ayrshire – where Turnberry is based – and Aberdeenshire councils are expected to tell both businesses they no longer have to pay that tax, known as business rates, because they qualify for 100% relief. Both resorts have been able to avoid paying corporation tax, the main business tax in the UK, because they consistently report heavy losses due to their debts to Trump himself, cumulatively put at £155m in 2018. The revelation comes as some Democrats in the US Congress raised questions about whether it is lawful for Trump’s companies to accept any benefits from a foreign country, including bailout funds from the UK and Scottish governments.

Nando’s teams up with Mindful Chef to launch limited-edition recipe box: Nando’s has teamed up with Mindful Chef to launch a limited-edition recipe box to allow consumers to recreates “their favourite peri peri meals at home”. Available from Sunday 914 June) to 27 June, from £6 per person, the menu will feature two of Nando’s most popular dishes, including the brand’s peri-peri butterfly chicken, chips and fino slaw; and quarter chicken legs, macho peas and sweet mash. Each box contains pre-portioned ingredients, step-by-step recipes and a bottle of Nando’s medium peri-peri sauce. Mindful Chef offers one-person, two-person and family boxes. Nando’s partnership with Mindful Chef comes following increased demand for the brand’s recipes, after its Bring the Heat Home series – in which a number of famous people cooked some of their Nando’s favourites for an Instagram Live cook-along. 

Gravity secures site at Warrington development: Indoor trampoline park operator Gravity has secured a site at the £142m Time Square development in Warrington. The company has signed for a 31,000 square foot unit at the development, which is being delivered by Warrington & Co on behalf of Warrington Borough Council, with Muse Developments appointed as development manager. Gravity will begin fit-out in July with the site – its 13th in total – due to open in the fourth quarter of 2020. Along with wall to wall trampolines, the venue will also feature clip n climb, a ninja course with drop slides, soft play, social darts, a next generation sports simulator, as well as a cafe and bar. Leon Guyett, development director at Muse Developments, said: “The signing of Gravity highlights there is growing confidence in the market for high-quality and innovative schemes.” Alongside the cinema, bars and restaurants, Time Square is home to Warrington Borough Council’s new 103,000 square foot office and a 1,160-space car park. Metis Real Estate Advisors acted on behalf of Warrington & Co and Muse Developments. Savills acted for Gravity. 

Apex Hotels announces plans to cut jobs: Edinburgh-based Apex Hotels is to cut jobs in light of the “severe impact” on trade caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The family-owned company has entered a consultation period with staff in a move that will involve employees at its ten hotels around the UK, as well as its head office in the Scottish capital. The company, which employs about 1,100 people across its hotel and head office, said it was too early to say how many redundancies it will ultimately have to make. It expressed the hope through consultation it would safeguard the future of the business and protect more jobs in the long term. Chief executive Angela Vickers told Herald Scotland: “Throughout this period we have made use of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme with the aim of protecting jobs for as long as possible, but the impact coronavirus has had on our industry has been devastating. About 40% of our travellers come from overseas so international quarantine measures combined with strict two-metre social distancing rules will all be a reality and severely impact our business. Without additional hospitality sector support, it is simply not feasible for us to open our doors and resume trading anywhere close to pre-covid-19 levels.” The Apex portfolio includes hotels in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee, as well as London and Bath.
 
Pizza Pilgrims to launch order and pay: Pizza Pilgrims, founded by brothers Thom and James Elliot, is launching order and pay as it prepares to reopen restaurants. The company has partnered with mobile order and pay company Wi5, which will allow customers to use the service for eat in and takeaway. Wi5 will roll-out across all13 sites in London and Oxford from July, and follows Pizza Pilgrims’ recent national launch of its innovative Frying Pan Pizza Kit offer. Pizza Pilgrims said it plans to open more eateries across London and beyond as well as further developing the Frying Pan Pizza Kit offer. 

Joël Robuchon International to launch delivery service for Le Deli Robuchon: Joël Robuchon International is to launch a delivery service for its Le Deli Robuchon from Thursday (11 June). The team has designed a menu that includes a variety of breakfast, lunch, supper and snack options and a selection of freshly baked patisserie. A range of wine and champagne is also available. This summer will see the launch of Le Deli’s online shop, offering products such as wine, tea, cheese, store cupboard goods and sweet treats. Delivery is available roughly within a 2.5-mile radius of the Piccadilly restaurant daily between 8am and 9pm from UberEats, City Pantry, Ritual and Seven Rooms, and between 11am and 9pm from Supper London. 

Punjab restaurant with menu designed by MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist opens in east London: A restaurant offering dishes from the Punjab region of northern India has opened in Dalston Junction, east London. The menu at Attawa has been designed by Arbinder Duggal, who grew up in Punjab and was a semi-finalist on Masterchef: The Professionals 2019. Ravinder and Amar Madhray are the husband and wife team behind Attawa, which is the name of the founders’ family village in Punjab, where they lived until relocating to London in the 1970s. With the help of Duggal, they had a menu completed and were ready to open in March, just before lock-down threw their plans aside. But they have now opened the Kingsland High Street site for takeaway and collection. It is available from Wednesday to Sunday between 5pm and 10pm. The menu includes Amritsa Khatta Ladoo – fried lentil dumplings, served with relish and carrots, topped with pani – and Punjabi Chicken Kari – a traditional home cooked chicken curry. Sides feature chutneys – made to the family’s original recipe – and dhal makani alongside freshly made bread such as the chilli naan and tandoor roti. 

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