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Mon 20th Jul 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Number of parties express interest in Rileys after it appoints administrators: A number of parties have expressed an interest in buying sports bar operator Rileys out of administration, Propel has learned. Rileys, which has appointed Philip Watkins and Geoff Rowley, partners at FRP, as joint administrators, is thought to have been performing well prior to the coronavirus pandemic, experiencing eight months of like-for-like growth up to the end of February. However, it is believed the company was exploring options to exit a number of underperforming sites and the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated that process. Four sites have closed as a result of the administration – in Grays, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and Worcester in addition to its head office in Milton Keynes – leading to 44 job losses. Propel understands there could be further closures from the remaining 17 venues depending on discussions with landlords. Rileys employs more than 200 staff and offers pool, snooker, darts and table tennis as well as streaming live sport and serving food and drink. Chief executive Craig Mayes said: “Like the rest of the industry, we’ve had a tough time as a result of being forced to close our sites. Rileys is a wet-led business not benefiting from a reduction in VAT and with no certainty on whether the government will intervene on landlord/tenant relationships we were left with no option but to enter administration. Many hospitality businesses have, will, or are restructuring their businesses to prepare for the post coronavirus world and this process will allow us to find new investment to restart our successful refurbishment programme and put some solid foundations on which we will be able to grow the business into the future. The competitive socialising market place has been experiencing some rapid growth so we were not surprised by the early expressions of interest.” Watkins said: “Rileys is a well-known brand with a popular proposition that has become well established in towns and cities across the country. As we market the business for sale, we expect there to be interest from prospective buyers who will take the sites forward and welcome back customers as the UK leisure market opens back up.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – payment platform Yoello’s FCA accreditation could save the hospitality industry up to £8bn per year: Yoello – the mobile ordering and payment platform – will be a “silver bullet” for pubs and restaurants looking to reopen safely, according to Scott Waddington, former chief executive of Welsh brewer and retailer SA Brain. Thanks to its unique Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)-regulated status, Yoello can cut out expensive middlemen to give operators a cheaper, instant and secure way to manage payments. David Hopton, former managing director of Santander and ex-director of the Bank of England, who now sits on the Yoello board, said: “Every year the UK hospitality sector hands more than £8bn to payment providers such as Mastercard and Visa. As the only mobile ordering solution that is FCA regulated, Yoello is the only company able to offer the cheaper bank-to-bank payments – potentially saving individual operators between £5,000 and £10,000 per year!” The cashless, cardless method only requires use of a QR code rather than an app download. It can also help increase spend per head by 10% to 30%, cut speed of serve by two-thirds and win back customers with rich data. Discover how Yoello can help take your business profitably into the new normal by downloading the new white paper here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email
Pre-bookings in pubs and restaurants soar but so do no-shows: Consumers are putting much more planning into their eating and drinking out since lockdown eased, CGA’s new Consumer Pulse survey showed – but the fresh emphasis on reservations is hitting the sector with a wave of no-shows. The survey showed more than one-quarter (28%) of consumers visited venues with no reservations in the ten days after hospitality reopened on 4 July. People also appear to be keeping visits short, with the average dwell time in venues little more than an hour (67 minutes). However, the research also revealed 5% of all adults in England have made a table reservation but didn’t turn up without informing the venue. Another 5% made a table reservation only to cancel – so among those who have gone out about one in six has failed to fulfil a reservation. Those who haven’t turned up for a booking cited embarrassment about cancelling and concerns about safety as reasons for failing to do so. However, the survey revealed an acceptance among consumers for mandatory deposits on pre-booking. Almost three-fifths (58%) of English adults would be happy to pay a £5 per head deposit when making reservations, a figure that jumps to more than three-quarters (78%) for those consumers who had admitted to cancelling or not showing up for a reserved booking. Almost one-fifth (19%) said such a scheme would be off-putting. The survey also had optimistic signs for hospitality’s recovery, with more than one-third (34%) of consumers returning to the on-trade in the first ten days and an increasing inclination to visit more than a single venue in a trip. Rachel Weller, CGA head of consumer research and marketing, said: “The pandemic has triggered a seismic shift in consumer behaviour from spontaneity to planning. It is clear operators are going to need to adjust quickly to this new era and mandatory deposits may just be the solution.”
Osmond plans stock market comeback with $400m float: Hugh Osmond, the serial sector investor who helped build PizzaExpress into one of Britain's biggest restaurant chains, is plotting a stock market comeback by listing a cash shell to target a UK company whose balance sheet has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. Sky News reported Osmond and his colleagues at the private equity firm Sun Capital Partners are drawing up plans to list a so-called “blank cheque” company in New York in the coming weeks. The listing of Broadstone Acquisition Corp will aim to raise between $300m and $400m, with a takeover likely to be valued somewhere in the region of double that, according to people briefed on the plan. Osmond has been holding talks with institutional investors about the potential listing in recent weeks, with one prospective shareholder suggesting on Friday (17 July) the feedback had been “overwhelmingly positive”. A filing with American securities regulators could be made as soon as next month, one said. Sources said the entrepreneur was expected to target a deal in one of the industries in which he has invested successfully in the past, such as hospitality, leisure and insurance. It would mark a return to public markets for Osmond, who took PizzaExpress public in 1993 and then expanded it from 12 outlets to 250. He shifted into pubs and, with three deals worth £3bn in total, he became one of Britain’s biggest pub landlords. The move has prompted speculation Osmond could use the new vehicle to make a play for PizzaExpress, which is set to go through its own debt restructure imminently. Propel understands the plans for Broadstone Acquisition Corp is entirely separate from Osmond’s ambitions for his current restaurant group – Various Eateries, which oversees the Coppa Club and Strada brands.
Occupancy levels continue to grow as UK hotel market shows ‘first green shoots of recovery’: Occupancy levels have continued to grow as the UK hotel market “shows its first green shoots of recovery” with the sector continuing to reopen, according to the latest data from STR. For the week ending 12 July, occupancy increased to 30%, compared with about 20% the previous week as the leisure market began to return. On Saturday, 11 July, occupancy was up to 34% – its highest level since lock-down. Luxury hotels had seen occupancy previously at about 5% but during the period the metric was closer to 20%. Plymouth saw the highest occupancy level for the week (51%), while Edinburgh saw the lowest (17%). Despite the improvement in occupancy, average daily rate has remained relatively static and is down 44% compared with the previous year. Revpar showed a slight improvement, where it was down between 78% and 82% over the seven-day period. STR director Thomas Emanuel said if any numbers showcased how far the industry still has to recover “these were surely it”, but added: “We are starting to see the first green shoots of recovery.”
Jamie's Italian staff win tribunal case: Sacked staff who used to work at Jamie's Italian have won their tribunal case against their former employer. The tribunal upheld claims the firm owned by Oliver had failed to adequately consult workers before they were made redundant. But Unite instigated action to reclaim two months’ pay it believed its members were owed in unpaid wages including outstanding holidays, notice and redundancy pay. At the time, Unite said: “Our message to Jamie’s Italian and administrators KPMG is simple – pay our members what they are due or we won’t hesitate to take you to court.” About 1,000 jobs were lost across the UK when 22 restaurants of Oliver’s restaurant shut. A Unite spokesman said: “The judge agreed the company failed to adequately consult workers before they were made redundant and awarded eight weeks wages to every one of the claimants. Let this be a lesson to those companies making mass redundancies right now without following proper process.”
Crown Estate provides relief for West End restaurants: The Crown Estate, whose income supports the royal family, has offered to share the pain of plunging footfall with its tenants, The Sunday Times has reported. It stated: “As retailers and restaurateurs struggle, the Crown Estate, which owns swathes of London’s West End, has written to some tenants offering to link rents to turnover — meaning it will accept lower payments while they trade below usual levels. In one letter the group asked for 9% of turnover, or a percentage of what it would normally receive in quarterly rents, on a scale starting at 0% for the current period and rising to 75% by next March. Among those to benefit is Corbin & King, whose Soho restaurant Brasserie Zédel is a Crown estate tenant.” Corbin & King co-founder Jeremy King added: “The Crown has taken the lead in showing landlords how they should behave.”
Moto Hospitality boss calls for 15% in VAT on fuel: Moto Hospitality chief executive Ken McMeikan has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak putting forward the case for a 15% cut in VAT on fuel to help motorists as they set off for “staycations” or return to offices. He told the Mail on Sunday: “As people are travelling more and getting out to see family and friends after months of being locked away, it would be helpful if for a period of time there was relief from the government on fuel.” McMeikan called Sunak's move earlier this month to cut VAT on food and non-alcoholic drinks by 15% until January “the right thing to do” to support consumers. From Wednesday (15 July), the company passed on the full saving to customers by cutting prices across all the brands Moto operates through franchises, including Greggs, M&S Food, Burger King and Costa Coffee. Moto has not yet accessed its emergency credit facility, even though sales are still down 40% year-on-year and the company is this month making 50 redundancies. Last week, 1,600 of its 5,200 staff were still on furlough. McMeikan hopes to keep the majority in work once the job retention scheme ends in October, providing sales continue to pick up. Last week, motorway traffic was still down 25% compared with normal levels, with fewer people travelling in each car. McMeikan said: “We are encouraged by the traffic – that's a significant improvement from where we were – vehicle use was down to as little as 20% at the peak of the crisis. But we've only just started to see some bus and coach companies operating again.”
New York clamps down on alcohol sales: New York governor Andrew Cuomo has announced all venues can only sell alcohol to people who are also ordering food. “We’re getting thousands of complaints, pictures, and videos,” Cuomo said on a press call. “This is a question of public health and New Yorkers paid a dear price for covid-19 and they are equally upset with these violations.” Cuomo said the new restrictions come after numerous reports of bars and restaurants failing to comply with social distancing protocols. People will also only be served if they are seated at a table. This was an already existing guidance, but many areas were allowing people to order drinks at the bar and enjoy them standing outside. “We did not approve outdoor bars, where you set up tables for people to place drinks and then you have a hundred people mingling outside in a block party format,” Cuomo said. 
Councils seek external smoking ban: Councils are calling for smoking to be banned outside pubs, cafes and bars to make them more family friendly and help high streets recover from lock-down. The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, is urging peers to support an amendment to the business and planning bill that would make all pavement licences issued by councils subject to the condition they are smoke-free. It said on Saturday (18 July) while people who wished to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke could normally stay inside, the coronavirus outbreak meant indoor space was more restricted. Local authorities need the powers to reflect this and give customers and families the certainty if they go for a drink or a meal they will not be exposed to other people’s cigarette smoke, the LGA said. It would also prevent neighbouring shops, particularly in cramped inner-city areas, from being exposed to second-hand smoke, it said. Paulette Hamilton, the vice-chair of the LGA’s community well-being board, urged peers to give councils the powers to extend smoke-free areas to include pavements so “this al fresco summer can be enjoyed by everyone”. The business and planning bill is due to have its third reading in the House of Lords on Monday (20 July). One of the provisions is to fast-track the process by which cafes, pubs and restaurants in England can apply for temporary permission to put chairs and tables outside to allow premises to serve as many people as possible while respecting social distancing guidance. A number of peers want the granting of pavement licences to be subject to the condition smoking is prohibited. The proposal is opposed by the government, which has argued the emergency legislation should not be used as “a backdoor route” to try to ban smoking outdoors.
Patisserie Valerie auditors face legal action: The Sunday Times has reported liquidators to Patisserie Valerie are preparing to take legal action against Grant Thornton, which audited the company for 12 years until it collapsed because of suspected fraud. The article stated: “FRP Advisory recently commissioned a report from the accountancy firm Smith & Williamson into Grant Thornton’s work. The report is understood to suggest there were significant failings in its auditing of Patisserie Valerie, which went into administration last year after the discovery of a £40m hole in its accounts. It was later reported cheques worth millions of pounds had been used to artificially inflate cash reserves and secret overdrafts of almost £10m had been run up with the help of forged company minutes.”
Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking for a passionate head of marketing for an international quick service food brand that is due to launch in the UK. This business has more than 200 stores across Asia, with a reputation for quality, creative food. This private equity-backed business has ambitious plans to expand across Europe during the next five years. To support the UK launch, the executive team is seeking an ambitious, creative and self-driven head of marketing who can spearhead a European marketing strategy. General and digital marketing as well as management skills are desirable as is quick service food retail experience. The position is based in London, with a salary of up to £90,000 plus 25% bonus. Anyone interested can email with their CV or profile.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Wagamama closes two London sites, Noodle Lab to relocate: Wagamama, owned by The Restaurant Group, has closed two of its London sites including its Noodle Lab as part of a portfolio review, Propel has learned. The company, which has been open across the country for delivery and collection for the past two months, said it had been experiencing “marked shifts” in consumer demand. Wagamama said it was therefore reviewing its portfolio and decided its site in Mansion House and Noodle Lab in Dean Street would be uneconomical to trade. The food development and testing innovation programme at Noodle Lab, which the company said had been central to its success, will transfer to the group’s Old Street site. Wagamama said it hoped staff affected by the closures would be redeployed at other sites. Wagamama chief executive Emma Woods said: “We are committed to preserving our restaurant estate and protecting jobs and are having constructive discussions with all our landlords to ensure the rental structure over the next 18 months reflects the unique situation we’re all in as we begin reopening and rebuilding the business.” As part of its gradual reopening plans, Wagamama has opened four restaurants for dine-in using sliding screens to keep diners safe. If the initial test and learn sites prove successful, Wagamama plans to have 18 restaurants open by the end of July. 

Creams to launch smaller, grab-and-go format: Dessert parlour operator Creams is to launch a grab-and-go format site in central London next month, Propel has learned. The 88-strong company will launch the new smaller format at a site in Old Street. It will be aimed at grab-and-go and delivery trade, and will therefore feature a limited menu. The company is also set to open two further sites under its core format, in Doncaster and Morden next month. Speaking as part of Propel’s “navigating the coronavirus” series, Lauren Haslewood, marketing director at Creams, said: “We have always been a high-growth company, opening up on average about 15 stores per annum for the past couple of years, so we didn’t really want that momentum to die. We have three stores opening up next month – Old Street, Doncaster and Morden. We haven’t taken our foot off the gas, we are still looking to move forward with the plans we had in place before the crisis.” In June, Creams said it had achieved a 67% increase in year-on-year delivery sales since the beginning of April, supported by increased geo-targeted digital marketing. Haslewood will share more of her thoughts in the video, which will be released on Monday (20 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 to sign up.

Pret to launch vegan bakery counter: Pret A Manger, the JAB Holdings-owned group, is to overhaul its bakery range and launch Veggie Pret’s Vegan Bakery in all its Veggie Pret shops from Tuesday (21 July). The company said the move would see it “veganising” its entire bakery counter, meaning only vegan bakery products will be sold. The move adds eight new items to the menu – three vegan croissants, two vegan brownies and three vegan muffins. It is also removing all non-vegan bakery products from sale. Clare Clough, UK managing director of Pret, said: “We’re really proud to be the first high street food-to-go retailer to launch a concept like this. Expanding Veggie Pret’s offering for our vegan customers has been a huge focus of our food development over the past year and moving to an entire vegan bakery is very much the result of that. Our previous vegan bakery products, such as the dark chocolate and almond butter cookie; and the very berry croissant have always been big hits with customers – vegan and non-vegan alike. In the first few weeks of the very berry croissant being on sale, it sold more than double the amount per day of the non-vegan jam croissant it replaced.” Veggie Pret’s Vegan Bakery’ is available in shops and for delivery, via Pret Delivers, Deliveroo and its new third-party delivery partners Just Eat and UberEats. Earlier this month Pret said it would undergo a restructure that will see 30 of its UK sites close permanently. The move comes after the company experienced a 74% drop in sales year-on-year due to the “significant impact of covid-19 on operating costs and cash flow”. The company, which has so far reopened 339 of its 410 UK sites, said it would start a consultation to reduce headcount across remaining UK shops to reflect lower footfall, rental costs and new safety measures.

Princi London placed into administration: The UK-based company that operates the Princi concept in London has been placed into administration, Propel understands. KPMG has been appointed administrators for Princi London, which operates the Princi sites in Wardour Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. Four years ago Starbucks became the global licensee and investor in the boutique bakery and cafe concept founded by Rocco Princi in 1986. Known for its artisan bread created from traditional family recipes, Princi at that point had five locations in Milan and London, and Starbucks said at the time the number of standalone Princi locations worldwide would be expanded. The concept had been brought to London by Alan Yau, opening its first site in Wardour Street, before more recently adding a second site in the capital, on Yau’s former Babaji site in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Costa launches new concept site with grab and go hatch: Costa Coffee, which is owned by Coca-Cola, has launched a new concept store in London, complete with a grab-and-go hatch. The company has refitted its site in Argyll Street, near Oxford Circus, with the new hatch design at the front of the store, taking up half of the unit’s frontage. The new hatch, which will limit contact, has been designed for takeaway or click and collect orders via the company’s Costa Coffee app. Last week the company said it would pass on the government’s full 15% VAT cut to customers for all food and drink at its owned stores. The move covers 1,500 Costa Coffee stores and more than 9,000 Costa Express machines. Regarding reopening its estate, Costa Coffee tweeted: “We are reopening another 195 stores – taking us up to 2,000-plus. We’re also accepting cash and coffee club cards. We now have 966 stores open for eat-in, with all safety measures in place.”
Frankie & Benny’s aiming to have 35 sites open by end of July: Frankie & Benny’s, The Restaurant Group (TRG)-owned brand, is aiming to have 35 of its sites reopened for dine in by the end of this month. The company had already reopened its sites in Chesterfield, Doncaster, Dudley, Lincoln, Merryhill and Peterborough for delivery, but these have now added a dine-in option. A second tranche of 12 sites will open for click and collect and delivery from Monday (20 July), with dine-in from Thursday (23 July). A further tranche of sites will then open for click and collect and delivery from Monday, 27 July, with dine-in following three days later. Further tranches of sites will reopen for dine in on 13 and 20 August. Mark Chambers, chief executive of TRG’s leisure division, said: "We are delighted to be reopening Frankie & Benny’s and very much look forward to welcoming back our guests. We are starting with a handful of restaurants and are aiming to have 35 open by the end of the month. Our priority will be to ensure the health and safety of our teams and guests while providing a first-class experience.” Safety measures put in place include clear social distancing guidelines and signage, enhanced cleaning practices, mandatory health screening for team members and increased hand washing. Menus are single use and contactless order and payment will be encouraged as well. Guests will also be asked to book in advance and will be encouraged to pay at the table. During the first days and weeks of reopening, the brand will also be asking guests for feedback through surveys, so it can be “constantly improving the experience”. 
Casual Dining Group reopens Center Parcs restaurants: Casual Dining Group (CDG), the operator of Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge, has reopened a number of its concession sites situated at Center Parcs villages across the country. In total, six sites have reopened as Center Parcs welcomed back guests following a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. For a limited time from the relaunch, the six restaurants will offer a specially curated menu for delivery and collection only. In total, CDG operates 12 restaurants, which are primarily split across its Café Rouge, Bella Italia and Las Iguanas brands, within Center Parcs locations at Whinfell Forest; Sherwood Forest; Woburn Forest Breaks; Elveden Forest; and Longleat Forest. CDG’s other six restaurants located within Center Parcs properties will reopen on Monday, 27 July, whereupon all sites will resume full restaurant service. In addition, five Café Rouge sites will also offer a full-time delivery and collection service. Damaien Houghton, Center Parcs’ group food and beverage operations manager said: “The Casual Dining Group brands across our estate are incredibly popular with customers and form a vital cog in the overall experience that we pride ourselves on delivering.” A CDG spokesman added: “We’re excited to be reopening to the public and alongside our Center Parcs colleagues have implemented rigorous standards and procedures to ensure everyone has a great time, safely.”
Downey to shut Milk & Honey permanently in September after rent impasse: Soho bar Milk & Honey, which is owned by London Union founder Jonathan Downey, is to permanently close in September after an impasse over rent. The venue in Poland Street reopened on Friday (17 July) for what will be its final ten-week stint. In a letter to members, Downey said despite paying almost £4m in rent since first signing the lease 18 years ago, the landlords were “refusing to allow any rent-free or other reduced deal for the period the site has been forced to shut by the government”. Downey said: “At the end of September – when the current lease forfeiture moratorium expires – nine months of rent etc will be due and we cannot pay this. As a result, our landlord will change the locks and repossess the premises. They have already issued court proceedings. For the past few months I have been campaigning and lobbying government to provide a national rent deal for hospitality tenants but so far we’ve seen nothing. This may change – and if it does we will let you know – but, for now, we have to accept and expect the worst.” The bar will open Thursday to Saturday between 6pm and 1am. Last week Downey revealed Dinerama, the Shoreditch venue that is part of his Street Feast business, will permanently close due to a similar rent impasse. Dinerama will trade on Fridays and Saturdays until 26 September.
Birley offers club members £500 each: London club operator Robin Birley is spending millions of his own money to lure members back to his Mayfair venues. He is giving every member of 5 Hertford Street and Oswald’s a free meal up to the value of £500. “Robin thinks the members have been so wonderfully loyal to the club over the past few months that he wants to show just how much he values their support,” a source told The Daily Mail. There are understood to be at least 3,000 members of the two clubs so it could set Birley back more than £1.5m. Members can bring as many guests as they like and, while Sunak’s offer is only for August, Birley’s lasts until Christmas. 
Rarebreed Dining eyes two more sites in next year, Hallows says customers have ‘new-found respect’ for restaurants: Restaurant company Rarebreed Dining is aiming to add two further sites to its four-strong estate in the next year as it continues its growth plans. The company has reopened three of its outlets to date – The Plough Inn in Cobham, The Waverley Inn in Weybridge and The Shurlock Inn near Binfield – and has enjoyed a “promising start” to life after lock-down. Rarebreed saw like-for-like sales up 61% across the first four days of reopening compared with last year and all three sites were fully booked at the weekend. Managing director Jordan Hallows told Propel the fact the sites were in affluent neighbourhoods in Berkshire and Surrey, where people were “keen to get back out again”, was probably helping to provide a boost. But he also believed customers had “a new-found respect” for restaurants given so many had supported their communities during the pandemic. Hallows said: “It feels like customers are co-operating more with restaurants – because of the reduced capacity we are in a sense dictating when people are able to come. But I do think people are keen to support those businesses that have done their bit during lock-down to help communities. We stayed open for takeaway and delivered vegetable boxes to the vulnerable and elderly and have kept those services running. It’s clear from the comments we’ve had there’s a new-found respect from customers for what we do.” Hallows said as a thank you the company would pass on the VAT cut through menu prices while signing up to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme during August. Meanwhile, Hallows expects the remaining site – The Corn Stores in Reading – to reopen in early September when schools are due to return in full and “more office workers should start to come back”. He added: “We are in a positive place at the moment and looking to grow. We’d like to add two sites in the next six to 12 months – one in Berkshire and one in Surrey. We’ve got our eye on a couple of possibilities, but we won’t pay over the odds.”

Andina in Shoreditch to not reopen: Andina in Shoreditch, which was part of the three-strong business acquired out of administration by Rosa’s Thai Cafe founders Alex and Saiphin Moore last year, will not reopen, after the owners were unable to come to an agreement with the site’s landlord. The Moores, which sold a majority stake in Rosa’s to private equity firm TriSpan last summer, acquired the original Ceviche site in Frith Street in Soho, Andina in Shoreditch and Casita Andina in Great Windmill Street, also in Soho, last November. The company is seeking a new location for Andina, with the now closed site in Redchurch Street currently being marketed by Davis Coffer Lyons. In a statement on the closure, Andina’s parent company Mesa Latina said: “We came at the end of our lease in May and the landlords decided to kick us out of our home of more than six years. We have never missed a rent payment, and we were exemplary tenants, but the attraction of some big shot money was stronger and more important than saving our restaurant and our jobs. We would like to thank all of you for your incredible support over the years. But this is not a goodbye, we are working hard to find a new site and bring all of us together again. The spirit of Andina is not in a building, it is inside us, engraved on our souls. See you all soon. Mucho amor, Andina team.”

River Cottage Kitchen in Winchester to remain closed: Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is closing his River Cottage Kitchen restaurant in Winchester due to “unprecedented challenges from covid-19”. The restaurant in Abbey Mill Gardens shut in March following the government lock-down and now it has been revealed it will not reopen. It is believed the restaurant had been struggling before the health crisis. A notice on the eatery’s website said: “We all face unprecedented challenges from covid-19 and with a heavy heart, we have made the very difficult and sad decision River Cottage Kitchen in Winchester will be closing permanently.”
Mission Mars to permanently close Deaf Institute and Gorilla: Two of Manchester’s best-known music venues have closed for good. The Deaf Institute in Grosvenor Street and Gorilla in Whitworth Street are both shutting in the wake of the pandemic. Mission Mars, the north west-based operator of fast-growing concepts such as Albert’s Schloss and Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, operates both sites. It confirmed the news, describing it as a “difficult decision” announced with “great sadness”. The Deaf Institute has been part of Manchester’s music scene for more than a decade, while Gorilla opened in 2012. Roy Ellis, chief executive and founder of Mission Mars, said: “The Deaf Institute and Gorilla have been at the forefront of the music scene in Manchester for many years and it is with great sadness we announce we won’t be reopening. This difficult decision has been made against the backdrop of covid-19 and the enforced closure of all our sites and with continued restrictions on opening live music venues. We appreciate these music destinations are well loved and have provided an early stage for many acts in the north west and are therefore well known in the world of music.”
Edinburgh-based @Pizza plans UK’s first pizza drive-thru as it hits expansion trail: Edinburgh-based pizza concept @Pizza is planning to launch the UK’s first drive-thru pizza concept as it hits the expansion trail. @Pizza has instructed Colliers International to identify seven shipping container sites for the concept, which it plans to roll out in retail parks, initially in Birmingham and Edinburgh or Glasgow. @Pizza currently trades from sites in Charlotte Lane in Edinburgh and the Grand Central shopping centre in Birmingham. The new concept would enable @Pizza to open sites for its eat-in, takeaway, home delivery and now drive-thru offering while providing a safe environment for customers and employees during the pandemic. The shipping containers will occupy spaces of between 22 and 30 square metres. The drive-thrus would be able to make up to ten pizzas a minute, with customers offered unlimited options to customise. They would be able to order via an app with the option of collection or delivery to their vehicle. Bhasker Dhir, chief operating officer and co-founder of @Pizza, said: “These drive-thrus will bring quality and speed together as one, offering everything anyone could want from somewhere serving pizza, 24 hours a day, whatever the occasion. Last year, customers waited an average of 255 seconds in a drive-thru lane (Forbes). With a 90-second cook time and an ability to cook ten pizzas per minute, @Pizza can perform well within those averages. Even before the covid-19 pandemic hit, between 60% and 70% of certain quick serve restaurant sales came from drive-thru lanes.” Tom Beaumont, associate director, licensed and leisure, at Colliers International, added: “The cost of opening is circa £120,000 per site compared with £650,000-plus for a restaurant so this is a particularly attractive option for restaurant brands as a way to attract new customers during the pandemic.”
Fat Hippo to open sixth site as it heads to East Midlands: Gourmet burger brand Fat Hippo is to open its sixth site – and first in East Midlands. The company is heading to Nottingham after securing the former Hockley Rebel unit in Broad Street. The deal was brokered by Frankie Labbate, of Box Property, on behalf of the landlord and Ian Angus, of @retail, for Fat Hippo. Labbate told The Business Desk: “Fat Hippo is a cool operator that’s taking an amazing building that fits the brand perfectly.” Fat Hippo describes itself as doing “the good kind of gluttony” and was set up in Jesmond in 2010. It also operates sites in Durham, Newcastle and two in Sheffield
Swingers to reopen sites in September: Crazy golf and food and beverage concept Swingers is to reopen its two London sites in September. The venues in the West End and the City will have a raft of measures in place to ensure they meet covid-19 safety guidelines. These will include a new app that combines food and drink ordering capability with an online scorecard and a track and trace form. Each of the courses is being revamped ahead of the reopening on Tuesday, 22 September. The line-up of street food traders will also return, including Mexican brand Breddos Tacos, the joint venture between Nud Dudhia and Chris Whitney and Gleneagles owner Ennismore; Patty & Bun, the better burger concept led by Joe Grossman; Pizza Pilgrims, the London-based sourdough pizzeria concept founded by brothers Thom and James Elliot; and London-based pizza company Made of Dough. Swingers started as a pop-up in Shoreditch and opened its first permanent venue beneath the Gherkin in the City in 2017 before transforming the former BHS store in Oxford Street for its second.
KFC brings back plant-based chicken for third US test run: KFC is bringing back its Beyond Meat plant-based chicken for a third test run in the US. The plant-based chicken nuggets, which were reformulated after the product debuted last year, will be available from Monday (20 July) at select KFC restaurants in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego while supplies last. Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer of KFC US, said: “I have said it before – despite many imitations the flavour of KFC is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken. We know the East Coast loved it so we thought we’d give those on the West Coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.” When KFC debuted Beyond Fried Chicken last summer in Atlanta the product sold out within five hours. During the second trial, held in early 2020, KFC and Beyond Meat tweaked the recipe so it pulled apart like a chicken breast. The product was sold at more than 60 stores in Charlotte in North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee.
Tennent's commits to sustainability at Wellpark brewery: Tennent’s, the C&C Group lager brand, is moving forward with its commitment to sustainability with the installation of a new carbon capture facility at its Wellpark brewery in Glasgow. It will see the brewery capture and store more than 4,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – the equivalent of 27,000 flights to London from Glasgow annually. The new facility will be the biggest of its kind in Scotland and will enable Tennent’s to capture and store the carbon dioxide generated as a byproduct from the brewing fermentation process. This carbon dioxide will then be used to carbonate Tennent’s. By no longer having to source carbon dioxide from the north of England, Tennent’s will also eliminate the emissions from 100,000kms of journeys each year. It is anticipated the new facility will enable Tennent’s to become as close to self-sufficient as currently possible with more than 95% of the captured carbon dioxide being reused, supporting the brewery’s commitment to be net carbon zero by 2025. Tennent’s has invested £2.6m in the new carbon capture plant that will be fully operational by September following completion of installation works that also includes the modification of 24 existing fermentation vessels. Significant ground work was also undertaken to support the tanks, which will each weigh 130 tonnes when full.
Crosstown Doughnuts arrives at London Bridge City: Crosstown, the artisan doughnut and speciality coffee concept, has joined the line-up at riverside destination London Bridge City. The company is operating a takeaway food truck called Daisy at More London Riverside on a daily basis, serving its sourdough doughnuts alongside ice cream, which it recently added to its offer. Earlier this month better burger brand Five Guys launched its first new site since the lock-down at the complex, while other businesses including Pret A Manger and Costa Coffee, which is owned by Coca-Cola, have reopened. All stores have measures in place to adhere to government guidelines. Crosstown operates 11 stores in London plus nine market stalls and kiosks.
Rick Stein Group turns cookery school in Padstow into pop-up seafood restaurant: The Rick Stein Group has launched a pop-up seafood restaurant in Stein’s On The Quay in Padstow in the space that hosted Rick Stein’s Cookery School. The school is unable to reopen until the autumn because of social distancing regulations. The space has been transformed into a casual dining spot, which opens from Wednesday to Sunday between 5pm and 9pm. Using the live cooking station at the rear of the restaurant, head chef Nick Evans is finishing and plating dishes in the dining room. The concise menu, created by chef director Jack Stein, is described as a “love letter to the famed fish and seafood of Cornwall”. Main dishes include a south Indian cod curry, and moules frites and goujons of lemon sole with tartar sauce. There is a list of summer wine to accompany the food. Wine and beverage director Charlie Stein said: “When we heard restaurants were able to reopen but the cookery school would have to remain shut for the time being, it seemed like the most logical solution to utilise the space we have here.”
Scotland’s ‘largest’ restaurant and bar ‘fully booked’ for opening month: Events and hospitality brand Platform has said its new casual restaurant and street food kitchen in Glasgow is fully booked for advance reservations for its opening month. The 350-capacity venue in the Argyle Street Arches opened on Friday (17 July) after Platform pivoted its indoor food market to create what it claims is Scotland’s largest restaurant and bar. Glasgow street food traders such as Gallus Pasta, Tiny Dancers and Ginger & Chilli are collaborating to serve “flavours from across the world” in conjunction with Platform owner Scott McCormick. Safety measures include thermal scanners, ordering apps and increased ventilation within the arches. The menu is dedicated to street food from Asia, Italy and the US with dishes such as sticky Korean fried chicken bites, homemade pizza and hand-cut pasta. Platform said limited walk-in tables will be available each day, while demand has been such it has now opened its diary for bookings to September. McCormick told Herald Scotland: “We’ve been overwhelmed with the support from Glasgow. A lot of love has gone into this menu development and we’re confident in our new offering.”
Harrods launches standalone bar in partnership with French crystal brand: Harrods has opened a bar in partnership with French crystal brand Baccarat that will open until midnight. A separate entrance to the ground-floor venue in the Knightsbridge department store allows it to open outside store hours. The bar has capacity for 23 people under social distancing guidelines, with the decor inspired by colours refracted through crystal. Colour-themed drinks have been created by award-winning bar manager Cameron Attfield. Options on the yellow menu include the Tryptophan Fix (Monkey 47 gin, soy cashew distillate, banana water, spinach cordial and soda water), while the green menu includes the Balancing Act (Hennessey VS Cognac, roasted butternut squash, green caffeine-infused artichoke distillate and truffle caramel). The food menu features high-end bar snacks such as beef cheek beignet, Baccarat beef and foie gras sliders, and Oscietra caviar with blinis and sour cream, Hot Dinners reports. Before lock-down, Harrods replaced its shoe department with 125-cover Harrods Brasserie offering breakfast, flat iron steak, Sunday roast, and a children’s menu. In October, the brand opened its first standalone cafe outside London – H Cafe in Henley, Oxfordshire.
Britain’s Best Home Cook winner launches crowdfunding campaign to open cookery school and events space: Pippa Middlehurst, winner of BBC show Britain’s Best Home Cook in 2018, is launching a crowdfunding campaign to open her first permanent cookery school and events space – Noodlehaus. Middlehurst hosts supper clubs in her home city of Manchester and teaches cookery workshops with a focus on noodles, dumplings and broths, with particular attention to molecular biology. Now she is looking to raise £30,000 on Kickstarter to help get Noodlehaus off the ground. The money will go towards equipment for the cookery school as well as free workshop spaces for local schoolchildren. Middlehurst said: “The building is in an old mill and has the most incredible natural light, which will be amazing for the photography workshops I will be hosting. The space will be open to all and I look forward to working with the community to provide a space people can learn about cooking as well as share my love of cooking.”
Selfridges launches street market: Selfridges department store has launched a street market after taking over the mews behind its Oxford Street store in London. Market On The Mews will operate from 9am to 4pm every Saturday and Sunday until 30 August. The market will be a “rotating edit of food, drink, magazines, plants, flowers, bikes and furniture.” The move will see Selfridges take over Edwards Mews with a range of yellow stalls. Traders will include Assembly Coffee, Hackney Gelato and Two Tribes brewery. Selfridges will sell its own bakery treats along with items “handy for taking on picnics”, while new pop-ups will appear regularly, Hot Dinners reports. Because of social distancing, initially only 16 customers will be allowed in the market at a time, with a one-way system in place alongside other safety measures.

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