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Mon 13th Jul 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Prezzo seeking £15m of investment to restart business and accelerate growth: Prezzo, the Karen Jones-led chain that earlier this month became the latest sector operator to push the start button on a sale process, is seeking to secure £15m of funding to restart the business and accelerate sales growth, Propel has learned. Pre-covid the business is thought to have been posting like-for-like sales growth of 3%, and with its 180-strong estate weighted towards the south east and smaller towns and cities, the company believes it is well-positioned to benefit from the growing trend of working from home as the sector reopens. Propel understands about 80% of its estate is generating positive branch Ebitda, and out of the circa 35 sites underperforming, management believes only about 15 are structurally challenged and is seeking to exit these leases. Negotiations are understood to be underway with landlords to agree “rent forgiveness” and reduced rents during 2020-21, with any payments to be spread over several years or the length of the respective leases. Going forward the business expects the majority of sales growth will be driven by site refurbishments, home delivery expansion and menu/price initiatives. Prezzo has historically not had a big home delivery and click and collect business, but it is thought plans to address this pre-covid-19 have been accelerated and trialled at test sites through closure, including starting to work with Just Eat, alongside Deliveroo, on reopening. Revenue for the year to the end of 2019 stood at £132.8m, with Ebitda of £2.6m. The company, which has been working with FRP Advisory since April to consider its post-coronavirus funding options, began a sales process after receiving a number of expressions of interest from unnamed parties. The move comes less than two years after the group underwent a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) that saw one-third of its circa 300 sites close and a subsequent debt-for-equity swap. It is understood the group’s backers plan to sell the company as a going concern and there would be nothing to gain from the business undergoing another restructure. One source told Propel the company believed the CVA in 2018 had been “comprehensive enough”. Prezzo, which employs about 3,000 staff, is part-owned by US private equity group TPG Capital along with a number of other funds. It is thought Prezzo believes it would benefit from a simplification of its ownership structure. The company, which started a phased reopening of its estate on 4 July, plans to have 35 sites reopen in the coming weeks with the remaining 145 relaunching during the summer. 

Industry News:

Chris Hill to feature in latest ‘navigating the coronavirus’ video: In the latest in Propel's video interviews with leading operators about “navigating the coronavirus” pandemic, Yumpingo founder and chief executive Gary Goodman talks to Chris Hill, former chief executive of The New World Trading Company and board trustee at The Tim Bacon Foundation, about the importance of the recently launched We Hear You initiative – and the importance of using data to understand real-time changes in consumer behaviour; being a leader through times of crisis; and preparing for a world when consumer confidence has returned. The video will be released on Monday (13 July). 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.

Industry bosses warn there will no mass reopening of sector in Scotland on Wednesday: A lack of visitor numbers and concerns over continued physical distancing means there will not be a mass reopening across the sector in Scotland on Wednesday (15 July), industry bosses have warned. They have issued an appeal for people to get behind pubs, restaurants and cafes as they seek to bounce back. Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licenced Trade Association, told Scotland on Sunday: “This mass opening, it’s simply not going to happen because of the problems we’ve encountered within the trade while we’ve been closed. We’re hearing more and more, for a couple of reasons, people just aren’t going to open on Wednesday. For some pubs it is because they don’t believe they are ‘viable’ even at the reduced one metre social distancing guideline. Some, especially in tourist areas, have decided there’s not enough customers for them to open right away.” The Scottish Beer & Pub Association fears hundreds of pubs across the country have failed to weather the impact of lock-down and are unlikely to reopen. Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “The pandemic was obviously catastrophic for the hospitality industry with an estimated £670m lost in revenue for Scotland’s pubs and bars since March. Support from both Scottish and UK governments have been instrumental in keeping businesses afloat until now, but we estimate up to 460 pubs could have been lost during this time and will not be reopening.” But she added: “Running a pub or bar is a people business, and I think that social interaction is what has been missed most since March. So, customers can expect a warm, but physically distanced, welcome when they return to their favourite pub or bar.” Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said being able to take bookings again and get cash coming in has been a “much needed” boost for businesses. But these are currently sitting at about 30% to 40% for many hotels, when they could expect to be about 80% to 90% at this time of year. He added: “It’s not that big, mad rush into hotel accommodation – there’s a long way to go.” 

Fewer Brits now plan to cut back restaurant and takeaway spend: Fewer Brits now plan to cut back their spending at foodservice outlets, according to the latest Deloitte State Of The Consumer tracker. The findings showed more than one-tenth (11%) of consumers now plan to cut back their spend in restaurants and takeaway during the next month, down from one-quarter (25%) on the previous survey two weeks ago. Almost one-third (29%) said they felt safe going to eat at a restaurant, an increase of 10% from the previous survey. Meanwhile, almost one-third (32%) are confident about staying at a hotel, a rise of 4%. Almost one-third (29%) plan to stay in a hotel for leisure purposes in the next three months, a 7% increase from a fortnight ago. Meanwhile, almost three-fifths (57%) of people said they plan to limit their use of public transport over the next three months, just up on the 56% a fortnight ago. Consumers intending to delay major purchases fell from 40% to 36%. Currently, 50% agree they would feel safe shopping in a store right now. This figure has slowly risen wave-on-wave but consumers remain cautious on returning to pre-pandemic shopping habits. A total of 45% of consumers said they would buy locally even if they cost a bit a more, while 43% of Brits plan to reward businesses that have done the “right thing” during the pandemic by prioritising their custom with those companies.
 
Jamie Rollo – tax breaks for restaurants are helpful but concern is what happen when VAT goes back up: Morgan Stanley leisure analyst Jamie Rollo has argued while the tax breaks for restaurants are helpful the concern is what happens when VAT goes back up, or even above 20%. Rollo said: “Early indications are like-for-like sales for the UK pub and restaurant sector were down about 50% year-on-year last weekend, with not all outlets opening. While the tax breaks are helpful, they are temporary. Under our coverage the companies most affected by these government actions are hotel and restaurant operator Whitbread and pub companies Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) and JD Wetherspoon. M&B shares have dropped by 28% since issuing its encouraging mid-June update confirming it had secured covenant waivers and additional liquidity, despite the government subsequently announcing pubs could reopen in early July. While we think its revenue recovery targets are ambitious, and are concerned about the unsecured debts, we see an attractive risk-reward at this level, with the shares trading on five times recovery FY19 price-to-earnings ratio, a 50% discount to net asset value, and with 218%/85%/minus 17% to our bear/target price/bull cases.” Rollo also said the reopening picture of Michelin-starred restaurants globally provided a useful readacross for the broader hospitality sector. He added: “As of 5 July, 75% of the 3,172 Michelin starred restaurants worldwide had reopened inside and/or their terraces. In Europe, the opening rate is highest in France, Germany, Greece and Italy (80% to 100%), but only 1% in the UK. We expect the number of open restaurants to increase sharply in the UK over the next few weeks given the hospitality sector only reopened on 4 July. In the Americas, 11% of US Michelin starred restaurants are back open, but none in Brazil. This is a surprisingly low proportion open in the US, given about 90% of hotels are currently open. In Asia, nearly all restaurants have reopened.”
 
Family brewers invest more than £20m to support pubs: The Independent Family Brewers of Britain (IFBB), an association of 29 of the oldest family businesses in the country, has provided in excess of £20m in financial support for its pub tenants since lock-down began in March. The support includes cancelling rent payments, and suspending service charge and loan repayments. As pubs begin reopening, IFBB members are now working with pub landlords to put all the necessary measures in place to protect staff and reassure customers it is safe to return. Rick Bailey, IFBB chairman and chief executive of Thwaites, said: “Collectively, IFBB companies have provided more than £20m of support for their pub tenants during this crisis, even while sustaining losses elsewhere, and it is likely that we will yet have to do more to help. But we will be there on the other side – supporting landlords to come through this extremely challenging period, protect jobs and of course be successful and prosperous again. There can be no doubt, however, the assistance given by the chancellor and the government has been crucial. Furlough and pub grants gave our sector crucial oxygen at a time in March when we were suffocating. Now we have August’s innovative Eat Out to Help Out scheme and the government’s incentives to continue to sustain and create employment through to the other side of furlough as we recover. Pubs have taken huge steps to protect their customers and help them to socialise again.”

Gordon Ramsay calls on Londoners to return to restaurants: Gordon Ramsay has called on Londoners to return to restaurants and support an industry “brought to its knees”. In a video, he said: “Lock-down has proved how much joy the restaurant experience brings us. In a time when we’re all kept apart, we really miss coming together and breaking bread with friends, family and colleagues. Not only are restaurants a place to eat an exquisite meal with the most amazing service, they represent so much more with people coming together, sitting together and making those amazing memories. Now the last few months have brought the industry to its knees. There are thousands of highly skilled people who all rely on the existence of these restaurants, pubs and bars for their livelihoods. So please follow the guidelines, maintain a safe distance where possible and always wash your hands regularly. But honestly, we are so excited to welcome you back and celebrate that London is open for restaurants.” 

Liverpool extends al fresco dining initiative: Liverpool is to extend its al fresco dining initiative aimed at helping the hospitality sector bounce back after lock-down. The Liverpool Without Walls project, which is reimagining the city under social distancing measures and is designed to provide support to help cafes and restaurants trade outside, saw Bold Street and Castle Street closed to traffic for the summer and continental-style al fresco areas introduced to entice more customers. Now Lark Lane, in Aigburth, which sits at the corner of Sefton Park in south Liverpool, will become a one-way road from Monday, 20 July to enable restaurants on the street to use areas outside their businesses to increase the number of people they can serve under social distancing guidelines. It is estimated these street dining schemes, which will be reviewed in consultation with business and residents, will add up to 1,000 hospitality covers a day across the city. New government legislation on outdoor dining is expected to come into force on that date, and the city council has established an online form for businesses to apply for a pavement licence to take advantage, the fee for which will be waived. The Liverpool Without Walls initiative was established by the city council and chamber of commerce along with Liverpool BID.
 
PCA publishes new factsheet about trigger events: The Pubs Code adjudicator (PCA) has published a new factsheet about trigger events. Trigger events are events that will have a significant impact on the expected trade of a tied pub and also meet certain conditions set out in the Pubs Code. Showing there has been a trigger event entitles the tied tenant to a Rent Assessment Proposal by which their tied rent is reviewed. It also entitles the tied tenant to ask for a Market Rent Only option to go free-of-tie. The PCA has already confirmed coronavirus could not in itself be a trigger event because it, and the government’s closure order, applied to all pubs in England and Wales and therefore failed one of the trigger event conditions. However, impacts related to coronavirus on the trade of pubs after reopening may vary. The significant business impact of any event connected to the trading of an individual pub after it reopens may be a trigger event only if it satisfies all of the conditions in the code, which are set out in the new factsheet. To show a trigger event has taken place, the tenant must serve on their pub-owing business a relevant analysis demonstrating this decrease in expected trade.

New dining experience supporting restaurants to open at MediaCityUK: A new dining experience is set to launch at MediaCityUK in Salford. Opening at the end of July, Box on the Docks will comprise circa 30 units – taking the form of deluxe sheds and greenhouses – being placed outside restaurants and cafes across the development. Participating venues include bar and restaurant group The Alchemist, The Dockyard, Vertigo and Grindsmith, with a second phase of participants to be announced later. With support from the Salford Culture and Place Partnership, Box on the Docks has also sent out 15 artists commissions to decorate the units. Stephen Wild, managing director at MediaCityUK, which has worked with HemingwayDesign on the project, said: “We pride ourselves on the quality of our public spaces at MediaCityUK, providing a safe and welcoming environment for all. We know the hospitality and creative industries have been among the hardest hit by the impact of coronavirus, and Box on the Docks is our way of helping them back on their feet.”

UK hotels begin to see recovery in occupancy levels, particularly at weekends: Occupancy levels have begun to recover, including an uptick at the weekend, as hotels began to reopen, according to the latest data from STR. For the week ending 5 July, the weekend occupancy level increased to 28%, compared with 17% the two previous weekends when hotels were still closed to the public. Southampton experienced the highest occupancy level (45%), while Belfast saw the lowest (12%). Average daily rate was down 46% compared with the previous year, while revpar during the period was down between 79% and 88% over the seven-day period. In June, the highest occupancy level was in Aberdeen (54%) where the number of long-stay guests was strong, predominately because of demand from the oil industry. The lowest level was in Edinburgh (16%). STR director Thomas Emanuel said last year food and beverage accounted for 26% of revenue in UK hotels and was hopeful some operators would benefit from the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August. 
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking for a passionate, creative and strategic head of operations to join an international brand soon launching in the UK. With more than 200 restaurants internationally, the brand is bringing its food to Europe. The ideal candidate will have both startup as well as large-scale quick service food retail experience. They will report directly to the chief executive and will work collaboratively to plan and execute the UK launch, which will start with five restaurants in the next eight months. The overall goal is to expand to 100 stores in five years. A salary between £70,000 and £90,000 will be considered, plus bonus. Anyone with the relevant experience interested in finding out more can email Hollie@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

Company News:

Byron set to shed circa 20 sites under possible pre-pack administration: Better burger brand Byron could shed circa 20 sites from its 51-strong estate, if as predicted it undergoes a pre-pack administration. At the end of last month, Byron filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators and it reportedly held talks with three potential buyers. Sources said Byron's board remained confident of sealing a deal in the coming weeks, with the likeliest outcome a pre-pack administration. Propel understands that process could see between 20 and 25 sites dropped, with the majority based inside the capital. It is thought some of these sites are already being marketed. The group currently operates 32 sites inside London and 19 outside. For the 12 months to the end of 2019, the group’s revenue is thought to have stood at circa £65m, with restaurant Ebitda at £3.5m. Central costs for the year were thought to be north of £6m, although it is thought cost cutting here has already been implemented, including a new payroll system. In terms of who is bidding to take on the business, speculation suggests current backer Three Hills Capital is one of the bidders, while a management buyout led by current chief executive Simon Wilkinson is thought to be another.

BrewDog and Biff’s partner to launch delivery-only vegan brand: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has launched a delivery-only vegan brand in partnership with plant-based brand Biff’s. Having launched their first all-vegan bar together in London last year, the two companies have come together to form Biff’s Delivery. Utilising BrewDog and Draft House sites to create delivery hubs, Biff’s branded burgers, wings and fries are now available in London’s Shoreditch, Brixton, Paddington, Camden, and Shepherd’s Bush, alongside Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, this number is set to double in the coming weeks, with more kitchens launched in major cities across England, Scotland and Wales. The delivery project marks the latest venture for Biff’s, which begun in 2017 as a street food stall, Biff’s Jack Shack, and has now grown into both physical sites in London and a national wholesale foodservice business. BrewDog retail director James Brown said: “The partnership started almost a year ago when we opened our first vegan BrewDog bar in Dalston, and customer feedback has been overwhelming. The next logical step was to help bring Biff’s to a wider audience using our BrewDog network of bars and kitchens. Delivery is a huge part of our retail strategy for the next few years and the Biff’s partnership adds another income stream and opportunity to deliver great craft beer to people’s homes alongside some killer vegan food.” Biff’s co-founder Biff Bloom-Burrows added: “Our mission at Biff’s is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to eat exceptional vegan food. Working with BrewDog is a very exciting opportunity to make this happen at scale – we share its innovative punk spirit, so combining its strength in physical sites with our passion for creating high-quality, plant-based food makes for a powerful proposition to really own more of the UK delivery space.” On top of the new Biff’s-branded delivery project, a Biff’s burger has been added to BrewDog’s main bar menus nationwide, with the new double-pattied “Lightning Jack” being a part of BrewDog’s commitment to offering a 50% vegetarian and vegan food menu.

Tim Martin sells £5m of JD Wetherspoon shares: JD Wetherspoon chairman and founder Tim Martin has sold £5m of shares in the company. Martin sold 510,725 shares at a price of £9.84 per share, according to a statement released on Friday evening (10 July). The sale reduces his stake in the company he founded in 1979 to 27.4%. Wetherspoon shares were trading at more than £16 before the pandemic but plunged to a low of £5.59 on 19 March, the day before prime minister Boris Johnson ordered all pubs, bars and restaurants to shut. To help with the prolonged closure of its 875 pubs across the UK and Ireland, Wetherspoon has raised about £140m through a share placing and has taken out a £48.3m loan through the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Last week Martin, who has been a vocal campaigner for tax equality between pubs and supermarkets, said he hoped the temporary VAT cut on food in pubs and restaurants to 5% would become a long-term change. 

Rosa’s Thai to begin reopening its estate for dine in: TriSpan-backed Rosa’s Thai Café will begin reopening its 19-strong estate for dine-in on Monday (13 July). The Gavin Adair-led business will reopen 11 of its sites this week, after keeping several reopen in the capital for delivery and collection throughout lock-down, with demand over this period understood to have been “extraordinary”. The sites that will reopen for dine in this week are based in Spitalfields, Soho, Chelsea, Angel, Victoria, Brixton, West Hampstead, Tooting, Tower Bridge, Clapham Junction, and Manchester. Safety measures the company has put in place include running a slightly reduced menu in order to ensure its kitchen team can work in a safe environment with the least amount of crossover to other sections; not taking cash payments; team members will be wearing face masks while working; and tracking sickness levels and absences (of any kind) across the company on a daily basis.

Incipio Group appoints operations director: Incipio Group, which is backed by Edition Capital, has appointed Paul Loebenberg to the newly created role of operations director. Loebenberg joins Incipio Group with more than 20 years’ experience having previously been head of operations at Ping Pong Dim Sum and held operations director roles at game expert Mac & Wild and Benugo. He has also held a number of management roles including general and openings manager of Drake & Morgan’s The Folly before being promoted to group operations manager of the London-based bar and restaurant group. Loebenberg will be responsible for day-to-day operations, enhancing service standards and delivering growth for Incipio Group, which operates six sites across London. Chief executive Ed Devenport said: “With Paul’s breadth of experience and his excellent ability to motivate and lead teams, we are delighted to welcome him to the Incipio family.” Loebenberg added: “I am thrilled to take the next step in my career with Incipio Group and looking forward to joining the business at this exciting phase in its history.” 

St Austell opens long-awaited debut Dorset site: Cornwall-based St Austell Brewery has opened its long-awaited first site in Dorset. The company has launched the Rock Point Inn in Lyme Regis. Originally built in the 18th century, the grade II-listed pub was bought by St Austell in 2018 and has since undergone sensitive restoration work. Alongside a pub and outside decking area, the Rock Point also has nine new guest bedrooms – including dog-friendly, sea view and twin rooms. Steve Worrall, managing director of St Austell Brewery’s pubs, inns and hotels, said: “It’s been a tough few months, so the long-awaited opening of our first pub in Dorset feels like a very special moment. As we have in all our managed pubs, we have introduced extra measures to the Rock Point to keep our guests and pub teams safe – from our new Easy Order app and hand sanitising stations, to one-way systems.” St Austell owns more than 180 pubs across the West Country.
 
German Doner Kebab reports 60% jump in like-for-likes following at-home box launch: German Doner Kebab (GDK), the flagship brand of Hero Brands, has reported its at-home “Boss Box” has led to a 60% jump in like-for-like sales. The “Boss Box” was launched during lock-down as an exclusive product for delivery and click and collect, “bringing an immersive brand experience into the homes of consumers across the UK”. The box costs £12.99 and includes a choice of GDK’s original kebab, KCal kebab, durum or lahmacun wrap, served with doner spring rolls or chilli cheese bites, a side of fries, three signature sauces and a drink. GDK has also tapped into the global “unboxing” craze for the launch, working with blogger Sherlina Nyame who was first to “unbox” the “Boss Box” to her own 1.5 million followers. GDK global chief executive Imran Sayeed said: “We have always been primarily positioned as a dine-in consumer proposition. However during lock-down we quickly remodelled our offering to expand our click and collect and delivery offering The Boss Box experience reflects our innovation and ingenuity during this period and we will continue to explore new ideas that excite and capture the imagination of our growing customer base across the country.” GDK has opened 35 restaurants in the UK during the past four years and has a development pipeline of 350 franchise units over the next seven years. It also operates franchised stores in Sweden, Dubai, Abu-Dhabi, Oman and Bahrain. As well as the UK, the brand has announced growth in Saudi Arabia where the Ajlan Bin Ajlan Group has been signed-up as the master franchisee, with a development agreement of 100 stores over the next ten years. Further growth has also been announced in North America, as franchises have been signed in Canada’s Ontario and British Columbia provinces, while negotiations are underway to open outlets in New York’s Manhattan and New Jersey.
 
Seven Bro7hers Brewery closes crowdfunding campaign after raising more than £435,000 towards six new beer houses: Manchester-based Seven Bro7hers Brewery has closed its fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube after raising more than £435,000. The company, founded by brothers Keith, Kit, Guy, Luke, Daniel, Nathan and Greg McAvoy in 2014, is raising funds as it looks to open six beer houses in the next two years and expand production. It was looking to initially raise £50,000, offering 1.24% equity in return for the investment, giving a pre-money valuation of £8m. The fund-raise has now closed with 980 investors pledging £436,646. The funds will be used to add to its two existing beer houses in Manchester as well as expand production capability at its brewery to two million litres per annum. The company said one beer house site had been secured in Liverpool, which is set to open in the final quarter of this year, with another in Leeds under negotiation and is looking to add another four to the portfolio. In 2019 the company reported revenue of £2m with a loss before tax of £200,000. Last year Seven Bro7hers Brewery raised more than £665,000 on Crowdcube to aid its expansion plans.

Sankey’s – goodwill generated by work supporting the community has helped lead to ‘insane’ first week after lock-down: Sankey’s founder Matthew Sankey has told Propel he believes the goodwill generated by its work supporting the community during the coronavirus crisis has helped the Tunbridge Wells-based company have an “insane” start to life-after-lock-down. Sankey said in the first week of reopening, like-for-likes at Sankey’s Seafood Kitchen & Bar in Mount Ephraim were up circa 134% compared with last year and 113% at The Old FIshmarket in The Pantiles. Sankey added he has even recruited five more members of staff to cope with demand. He said: “I’m putting it down to a mixture of huge goodwill generated by our fishmongers home delivery service; the nature of our sites that allowed us to work social distancing quite simply; and managing customer arrival to fill the old ‘graveyard’ shifts. I’ve been blown away by the support we’ve had.”
 
Piano Works prepares to reopen in September: Dining, drinking and live music concept The Piano Works is preparing to open its two sites in September, using an exclusive combination of advanced safety technologies. The process begins with guests entering the venues in Farringdon and the West End having their temperatures checked by a thermal imaging camera that is accurate to within 0.2 of a degree. Afterwards, guests will enter the venue through a tunnel that sprays antiviral dry mist from head to toe in seconds. ID’s will then be scanned that capture personal details of each and every guest and will be asked to leave contact details through a track and trace app. Once inside the venue, guests will notice vinyl disc stickers lining the floor to help customers keep one metre apart. Guests will be able to order and pay at their tables and sanitiser stations will be placed throughout the venue. Musicians will be shielded by a Perspex screen. At closing time, the venue will be cleaned and disinfected using a sanitising system. Tristan Moffat, operations director for The Piano Works, said: “We need to reassure our guests we are doing all that we can to keep them safe. We dress our security as gamekeepers for the same reason. We’re hopeful by taking each and every precaution we can, that we will instil trust in our customers and vice versa. These safety measures have not been seen combined in the UK before and we believe using the best technology available will help our guests enjoy our great musicians perform once again.”

Lennox opens second Zim Braai site: Zim Braai, the southern African-inspired restaurant venture from Koh Thai founder Andy Lennox, has opened its second site. Having launched in Ashley Cross, Dorset, in December 2018, Lennox has doubled up with an outlet in Bournemouth. The premises in Poole Hill, which were due to open in March, has been completed “despite the extremely difficult circumstances and restrictions”. The group’s second and larger city centre location features a terrace and will house more than 120 covers post-covid restrictions. Lennox said: “Despite what has been the most difficult time in modern history in our industry we believe our brand can flourish in the post-covid world and are so happy that despite literally everything going wrong we have managed to pull together and deliver a beautiful restaurant. Our eyes are set firmly on safeguarding the team and returning to profitability in the coming months while we also actively look to expand the group further.” Zim Braai offers dishes from South Africa, and also the Seychelles, Malawi, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Cape Town. Lennox has adapted the recipes, flair and cooking style of the world’s second largest and second most-populous continent to suit the UK. The Ashley Cross site has reopened in line with government guidelines.

Travelodge sites under threat from rival operator: The landlords of as many as 40 Travelodge hotels are planning to replace them with a serviced apartment operator following a bitter row with the hotel company over rent cuts. Various unnamed landlords are in discussions with Room2, which wants to launch a low-cost version of its “hometel” concept, which combines serviced apartments with some extra add-ons normally found in hotels, reports The Telegraph. Room2 is part of the family-owned property company Lamington Group. Travelodge was among the first companies to withhold rent as coronavirus struck Europe, riling landlords. In June, it agreed a company voluntary arrangement with its creditors, securing a 38% rent cut through to December 2021, but allowing landlords to break leases within six months and to seek new operators if they wished. Travelodge said in a statement at the time the deal would allow it to “navigate the short-term challenges facing the business as a result of the covid-19 pandemic”. Room2 founder Robert Godwin said his “hometel” model had held up well during the crisis. He added: “We now see a real opportunity to replicate this success in the budget hotel market.”

Crockers to double up with Henley opening next month: British seasonal food brand Crockers is to start expansion next month by opening a second site, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. The venue will launch on Saturday, 1 August at the former Loch Fyne restaurant in Market Place, which closed in May 2018 after almost two decades in the town. Crockers Henley was supposed to open in early April but has been operating a casual takeaway service as an introduction to the community during lock-down. The venue will feature two 16-seat chef’s tables – The Thames Table and The Gardiner Table – a bar and grill, and seven rooms in The Quarters. Each chef’s table will have its own head chef, with guests able to watch them create dishes. The Thames Table will serve a seasonal British tasting menu, while The Gardener Table will offer a pan-Asian tasting experience. Both will offer a seven-course lunch and 12-course dinner. The Grill will offer a “more relaxed approach to drinking and dining”. The concept is the brainchild of chef and chief executive Luke Garnsworthy, who opened the debut Crockers restaurant in Tring in spring 2018. He said: “I am incredibly excited to open Crockers Henley after what has felt like the longest period of uncertainty in our industry. The team is exceptional and has shown remarkable resilience and determination over the past few months. Henley is in for a treat when we open our doors and I can't wait to see the response.”
 
Tomos Parry launches Brat residency outdoors at Climpson’s Arch: Michelin-starred chef Tomos Parry has launched a residency of his Brat concept in the outdoor space at events hub Climpson’s Arch in Hackney, east London. The residency offers dishes inspired by the open-fired grilling techniques the Basque country. Parry posted on Instagram: “We’re happy to announce this summer Brat will take residency outdoors at Climpson’s Arch, Hackney. We’ll light the wood ovens in which we’ll roast turbot, spider crab, aged whole ducks and grilled bread in the courtyard. Due to the circumstances we all find ourselves in, we weren’t sure when our restaurant would reopen or in what capacity. Rather than reduce the size of the team our solution was to open another restaurant as best to support the farm-to-restaurant system and cook the produce we love with our fantastic team while providing a safe and comfortable space for guests. We’ll work closely with our suppliers to create a daily blackboard menu. Vegetables picked in the morning and cooked over fire in the evening, a dish of wood-fired rice with rabbit, salad of slow-roasted pollock with tomatoes, and grilled petit snap greens with roasted ricotta will feature. We’ll observe government covid guidelines and do everything to ensure the safety and comfort of our guest and staff.” In March, Parry opened a farm grill and wine shop at Brat in Shoreditch to support staff and suppliers during lock-down. 
 
Surrey-based Indian fine dining restaurant Saffron Summer to start expansion with second site, in Reigate: Surrey-based Indian fine dining restaurant Saffron Summer is to start expansion by opening a second site in the county, in Reigate. The venue was due to launch at a site in Church Street, formerly occupied by The Clove restaurant, in March. However, after being scuppered by lock-down, the venue will now open on Tuesday (14 July). Showcasing Indian haute cuisine, the kitchen will be led by executive head chef Awanish Roy, who has worked in London’s Cinnamon Club, Roti Chai and Chai Ki restaurants. His menu will feature signature dishes such as Goan wild boar vindaloo and Keralan seafood moily. The restaurant will initially operate at 50% capacity to maintain social distancing, while staff will wear masks and gloves. Customers will be offered hand sanitiser on arrival. Owner Ralph Sousa said: “I researched the area, loved the vibe and am convinced locals will appreciate our modern take on classic regional dishes. Although we’ve had a long delay, as a country we can’t all stay in lock-down forever. We need to kick-start the economy and support our suppliers.” The debut Saffron Summer opened in Chessington in 2018. 
 
Fledgling pub company Small Hands opens second Liverpool site: Liverpool-based pub company Small Hands, run by husband and wife Dominic and Fiona Hornsby, and Ian Forster, has opened on its second pub in the city. The Denbigh Castle in Hackins Hey, off Dale Street, was a city centre landmark for more than a century before closing in the late 1970s. The building has housed a number of concepts since then. Small Hands has now reopened the two-storey pub, having originally planned to do so in March, but refurbishment work was halted once the lock-down was imposed. Fiona Hornsby told The Business Desk: “We have recreated a traditional pub by enhancing the features in the building where we could, and have added some reclaimed artefacts to add more character.” The trio’s first pub is The Bridewell, which opened in Campbell Square last year. Both sites have a focus on German lager, cask and craft beer, and a vegan wine list.
 
Plans submitted to transform Oldham town hall into food market: Oldham Council has submitted plans to transform a historic space in its town hall into a food market for independent brands. Situated in the Egyptian Rooms, the casual dining market would deliver a new style of offer to Oldham town centre. Featuring six food and drink concessions, it would cater for about 200 people with inside and outside seating including a large alfresco dining area in Parliament Square. Sean Fielding, council leader and cabinet member for economy and skills, said: “This would be an exciting new food and drink experience for Oldham and a great addition to the Old Town Hall and the fantastic businesses already based there and across the town centre. We’re committed to ensuring Oldham has a vibrant leisure and night-time economy and are confident a market like this would be welcomed by residents and visitors.” If approved work would begin on the Egyptian Rooms this year, with a planned opening in summer 2021.

Lina Stores to launch piazza-style terrace at King’s Cross site: Delicatessen brand Lina Stores is to launch a piazza-style terrace in front of its King’s Cross site. The 75-seater space will launch on Wednesday, 15 July in Lewis Cubbit Square offering a seasonal menu with new dishes including maltagliati verdi with spring mushroom ragù, and crab linguine with lemon, chilli and garlic. From August, the partially covered space will also feature Lina Stores’ vintage Italian gelato cart. Drinks will be served from a Piaggio Ape van converted into an outdoor bar, focusing on summer aperitivi and Italian organic and biodynamic wine. Guests will be asked to follow a one-way entry and exit path and place orders by scanning a QR code on their table. Lina Stores head chef Masha Rener said: “The last couple of months have been challenging to say the least and, while we turned a crisis into an opportunity by launching a nationwide delivery platform to keep providing our Italian products to customers, we’re so excited to finally welcome our guests back for a sit-down Lina Stores experience in an alfresco setting reminiscent of an Italian piazza!” Lina Stores’ other site, in Greek Street, Soho, will reopen on Tuesday, 21 July
 
Bacardi to reopen British distillery experiences on 20 July: Spirits company Bacardi has announced its British distillery experiences will reopen to the public on Monday, 20 July with new health and safety measures in place. The distilleries at Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire and in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, will once again offer whisky tastings and gin cocktail masterclasses as well as guided tours – but at a reduced capacity. Facilities such as the museum, bar and gift shop have been adapted with the addition of Perspex screens at till points, reduced door touchpoints and hand-sanitisation stations throughout. Temperature checks will be conducted on arrival and face masks will be provided to be worn at all times. All visitors must book in advance.

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