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Wed 19th Aug 2020 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Trade bodies warn sector over having robust test and trace data collection or risk seeing guidelines ‘significantly strengthened’: Industry trade bodies have written an open letter to the sector to stress the importance of having accurate and robust test and trace data collection – or risk the guidelines being “significantly strengthened”. UKHospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) and the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) said such collection is a key part of covid-secure measures and helping restore consumer confidence. Part of the letter stated: “A robust procedure not only enables the NHS to identify and quickly limit the spread of any covid-19 outbreaks, but is also essential in underpinning continued consumer confidence in hospitality as a sector. It is vital we play our part in keeping our customers safe with a specific emphasis on not only collecting customer details, but also ensuring we only take bookings for a maximum of two households when seated indoors. While venues cannot categorically know this to be true, the responsibility remains with us as businesses to ask those questions, limit table sizes and understand the consequences for those not adhering to the guidance. As always, the majority are playing their part, but with recent reports of hospitality venues not asking for these basic details on arrival, the reality for our industry is these guidelines will be significantly strengthened and may soon become mandatory in England, as with Wales and Scotland. Not explicitly delivering these requirements, will increasingly lead to a real risk of significant business disruption.” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “There are many methods that can be used to collate the simple data required for test and trace, and we have seen widespread support from consumers when it comes to providing those details. We must come together as a sector to show how committed we are to ensuring the continued safety of our customers and teams.” BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin added: “The government has provided our sector with valuable financial support. It is our responsibility to prove we can be relied upon to keep our customers safe with the measures we have put in place. Ensuring details are collected across the board will be key to keeping our venues open and trading once we head into autumn.” BII chief executive Steven Alton said: “Pubs are so much more than just places to eat and drink, and to lose the confidence of people to return to a space where they can come together and connect with each other could cause long-term damage to the social fabric of our society.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Camden Town Brewery to grow national awareness of Hells Lager through ‘drinkable' TV advert: Camden Town Brewery has announced its latest investment to grow national awareness of Hells Lager with the launch of the world’s first TV advert you can drink (kind of). It turns out one in three Brits sorely missed sharing a beer with friends over anything else during lock-down, so in an effort to lift the spirits of the nation, Camden is giving away 45,000 free beers, which viewers can redeem, immediately, through their TVs. The advert debuted on Tuesday night (18 August) during the football on BT Sport and is back again on Wednesday night (19 August), giving lager lovers the chance to win a six, 12 or 24-pack of Camden Hells, delivered to their door. Viewers just need to scan the QR code on the advert with their phone camera. Despite the closure of the on-trade, Camden managed to continue to grow its brand equity metrics of awareness, consideration, and trial. With pubs reopening, the brewery wanted to invest behind the brand to increase awareness that will result in a positive impact for the on-trade. After Wednesday, the television advert will next air during the football final on Sunday (23 August) and on Channel 4 during the weekends of 21–23 August and 28–30 August. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com

Blackburn restaurants become first to be ordered to shut under new local authority powers: Two restaurants in Blackburn have become the first to be shut under new health protection laws granted to local authorities. On Sunday evening (16 August), Lancashire Police dispersed more than 100 wedding guests from Waheed's Buffet and Banqueting Hall in Randal Street, for breaching local lock-down restrictions put in place in the town. Now Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has used the new powers to order its closure along with Roberto’s Bar and Bistro in Richmond Terrace, which was also found to have breached local lock-down laws. The closures are in place for one month but will be reviewed every seven days. If the premises can show they are covid-safe and can follow the guidelines fully they can be reopened. The venues can appeal to the magistrates’ court. Deputy council leader Cllr Phil Riley said: “These closures are very much a last resort and were carried out to protect the public. We want all our businesses to do as well as possible and we are giving them our full support, but the health and safety of people in the borough is the most important thing. There are businesses that have had to remain closed until our numbers come down and restrictions are lifted so is absolutely vital everybody does the right thing.” Lancashire Police superintendent Andrea Barrow added: “We understand times are currently difficult for businesses across the borough and we know the majority are complying with the coronavirus guidelines. We will continue to engage with people and explain the rules but we do want to be really clear we will enforce them where we need to, especially around repeat offenders, significant gatherings and people who deliberately flout the regulations and put others at risk.”

More than 35 millions meals sold through Eat Out To Help Out: More than 35 million means have been bought by people using the government’s Eat Out To Help Out discount scheme, new figures from the Treasury have revealed. The initiative is aimed at encouraging people to eat out and boost customer numbers for Britain’s restaurants that were hurt by the covid-19 lock-down. Eat Out To Help Out offers people a discount of up to 50% on Mondays to Wednesdays when eating or drinking soft drinks in a participating restaurant, pub or cafe. A maximum of £10 discount per diner is available. Operators deduct the money off the bill and claim it back from the government. Some companies are also subsidising the discount themselves by removing the £10 limit or extending the scheme into September. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “To build back better we must protect as many jobs as possible. That is why I am urging all registered businesses to make the most of this by claiming back today – it’s free, simple and pays out within five working days.” More than 85,000 restaurants have now registered for the scheme. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls tweeted: “We know half of those consumers who have benefited are first-time returners, so this is building confidence and boosting disposable income. Successful – extend?”

William Reed Business Media reports covid-19 set to reduce Ebitda to less than £1m this year as sales drop 30%: William Reed Business Media, publisher of MCA and The Morning Advertiser, has reported a 30% drop in expected bookings in its current financial year starting in April. The company stated in a Companies House filing: “We have mitigated this impact by postponing, restructuring or cancelling all events, by accelerating the transition from magazine to digital revenues and by reducing the cost base. The impact is also mitigated by the group's strong cash reserves and its diversification across revenue types, market sectors, customers and international markets.” William Reed said the impact of the crisis is still uncertain “but we are currently forecasting a 30% drop in revenue and a fall in Ebitda to less than £1m”. The company reported the covid-19 pandemic had also resulted in a “significant impact” for the year ending 31 March 2020 “due to a clear slowdown in the fourth quarter as business confidence worsened and the cancellation of two events in March”. For the full year, underlying turnover dropped 3% to £51m, with strong growth in digital revenues offset by modest declines elsewhere. The underlying Ebitda of £7.2m decreased by 15% and underlying Ebitda margin declined by two percentage points to 14% due to fixed costs and an increased investment in new initiatives. Net cash grew strongly by £5m to £17.7m. Profit for the year was £3.0m, compared with £6.2m the year before. The company's turnover derived from the following areas – digital: £15.1m (2019: £14.0m); face-to-face events: £19.5m (2019: £25.6m); insight: £3.9m (2019: £4.3m); licensing: £203,000 (2019: £237,000); magazines: £9.7m (2019; £10.1m). Turnover by geography was UK: £29.7m (2019: £36.0m); Europe: £8.3m (2019: £8.3m); and rest of the world: £10.3m (2019: £10.2m). 

We Hear You initiative to stage free webinar on catching the new wave of consumers: The We Hear You initiative, launched last month by restaurant intelligence platform Yumpingo and CGA and backed by UKHospitality, is to stage a free online webinar on Thursday (20 August) that will focus on the behaviour and needs of post-lock-down diners and drinkers – especially those who are venturing out for the first time. The webinar, which will take place at 2pm, will share up-to-the-minute data on consumer behaviour and market trends, including the latest findings from the industry-wide We Hear You survey. Top operators; Yumpingo chief executive and founder Gary Goodman; and CGA vice-president, industry expert and webinar chair Peter Martin will also share their views. The webinar will look at how to reassure and encourage the new wave of safety-conscious consumers; the crucial differences in the behaviour of home-working and out-of-work consumers; the impact of the Eat Out To Help Out campaign on footfall and sales; and how to strike the right balance of safety and excitement for guests. Pre-registration is required, which can be done here. Four weeks in, the We Hear You initiative now covers almost 400 venues and circa 20,000 respondents. 
Yumpingo and UKHospitality are Propel BeatTheVirus campaign members

Goodbody – limited expectations for recovery in international travel given growing number of coronavirus cases in Europe: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has argued the growing number of coronavirus cases in Europe means there is limited expectations for recovery in international travel during the autumn, putting more pressure on sector companies such as UK transport hub foodservice company SSP Group and Whitbread. Ruddy said: “SSP is the most directly exposed in our coverage and the share price has retreated by circa 8% in recent sessions (although still up month to date). Our analytics team noted almost 80% of countries in Europe are now experiencing an upward trend in the number of new cases of covid-19, and the average rate of daily growth is 2.5% and about 25,000 new cases are detected daily continent wise. At the height of the first wave (April) there were about 37,000 cases in Europe daily. This has led to increased travel restrictions, noteworthy are key holiday routes such as the UK imposing quarantine on those returning from France and Germany highlighting Spain as a high-risk area. We would have limited expectations for any major recovery in international travel in the autumn, but these restrictions disrupt any recovery momentum. For Whitbread it is now prudent to assume limited benefit from overseas travel through this calendar year.” 

Escape rooms in Scotland told they can reopen following confusion: Escape rooms in Scotland have been told they can reopen – a day after one of the country’s biggest operators closed over fears it was breaking coronavirus lock-down rules. Escape, which has a 200-room global operation headquartered in Scotland, was advised it may be classed in the same group as theatres and concert venues. It closed its six Scottish venues and cancelled bookings amid confusion over the sector’s official status, which businesses warned could jeopardise the future of the £4.5m industry. However, the Scottish government has confirmed the sector can reopen, after “detailed analysis”. A spokesman told The Scotsman: “We were made aware recently of the need to provide clarity regarding the categorisation of escape rooms, which did not fall clearly under the remit of any of our sector guidance. Following detailed analysis, we’re happy to confirm escape rooms can open in line with other indoor attractions as long as they adhere strictly to all existing precautions and guidance, including hygiene control and household limitations – and we will be communicating this to the sector.” Escape founder Daniel Hill said: “Escape rooms clearly should not be classified the same as theatres or concert venues – we’re visitor attractions where participants do not mix with other customers. The rooms are private spaces. There are no actors, and there is only minimal and brief socially distanced contact with one employee.”

Shropshire pubs set for increased monitoring following reports of ‘non-compliant gatherings’: Pubs is Shropshire will be getting extra visits from health officials over the coming weeks to make sure they are complying with covid guidelines. Shropshire Council said the move was being taken as a result of reports about “non-compliant gatherings in pubs”, and added it reflected national concerns over the lack of social distancing. Frances Darling, Shropshire Council’s trading standards and licensing operations manager, said: “We are here to support our pubs and bars during these challenging times. We also appreciate most pubs are committed to compliance and only want the best for their customers. Council officers have adopted a proportionate and pragmatic approach to coronavirus-related enforcement, and this will continue. However, licensees do need to be aware a failure to ensure a covid-19-secure environment, or allowing customer behaviour to undermine public health measures, may lead to formal enforcement action. New regulatory powers granted to councils means we can take action against licensed premises to bring about improvements if public safety is not being protected, which includes closing pubs that are non-compliant. Officers will be undertaking additional monitoring in conjunction with our partners over the coming weeks. I want to thank all pubs for their efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and ask they continue to take their responsibilities seriously.” Rachel Robinson, Shropshire Council’s director of public health added: “While current data indicates the prevalence and transmission rate of coronavirus in Shropshire are low, it is clear from other parts of the country this could very rapidly change. It is vital businesses and the public continue to take individual responsibility and follow public health guidance to keep everyone in Shropshire safe.”

Bars and restaurants in Oldham under threat of closure with town on verge of lock-down: Bars and restaurants in Oldham, Greater Manchester, are on the verge of being ordered to close as part of a “catastrophic” and “premature” local lock-down, its council leader has warned. Ministers are expected to decide on Thursday (20 August) whether to introduce the first local lock-down in England since hospitality businesses reopened last month. The town has the highest coronavirus infection rate in England despite restrictions on social visits imposed three weeks ago. However, figures due to be released on Wednesday (19 August) show the number of new cases is declining. Council leader Sean Fielding told The Guardian being “pushed” into a full Leicester-style lock-down would be disastrous for Oldham’s already struggling economy and would not be “based on evidence”. Leicester became the first UK city to be placed in local lock-down on 29 June when its infection rate was 135 cases per 100,000 people. The latest validated figure for Oldham is 83.1 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 15 August, down from 107.5 a week earlier. In an attempt to stave off a full lock-down, Oldham officials have written to central government offering to tighten local restrictions – including banning households from meeting inside or outside – and stepping up enforcement action by police and environmental health officers. The closure of bars, restaurants and shops would make no “measurable difference” to the transmission of the virus in Oldham, Fielding said, because the vast majority of new cases were spreading between households. Meanwhile, Birmingham’s director of public health said the city could be placed on the “watch list” for areas most at risk of intervention within days as covid-19 cases continue to rise. Dr Justin Varney said cases in Birmingham stood at about 28 per 100,000 people, up from 15 cases per 100,000 on 25 July, with a significant rise reported last week.

McDonald's drive-thru plan rejected because of proximity to school: McDonald's plans to open a drive-thru restaurant in Musselburgh have been thrown out by East Lothian Council, after claims it would be just a 180-second stroll from the town’s secondary school. The company applied for planning permission to build the restaurant, which would open 24 hours a day, next to the town’s Tesco store as it looked to draw customers from the supermarket. However, claims by McDonald’s representative Paula Reed-Smith the number of visits to the restaurant from Musselburgh Grammar School, on the other side of the supermarket, would be “limited” were disputed by councillors. East Lothian Council’s planning committee met virtually to discuss the plans for land to the east of Inveravon Terrace, off Olivebank Road, and questions were asked about why McDonald’s was looking to place a drive-thru in a town centre and near a secondary school. Reed-Smith told the committee: “We anticipate pedestrian visits from the school will be limited. We did not choose the location because of Musselburgh Grammar School, we chose it because of the location of Tesco.” However, ward councillor Andy Forrest told the committee it would be a short walk to the restaurant for youngsters. He said: “From the back door of the school to the front door of the new McDonald’s takes a 180-second stroll.”

Hospitality businesses see trading increase up to 50% in temporary pedestrianised zone in Birmingham: The temporary pedestrianisation of Hurst Street in Birmingham to allow for outside eating and drinking has been hailed a success after its first weekend of operation saw an estimated increase in trading of up to 50% for participating venues. The road closure enabled the Southside StrEATery to operate from midday to 11pm each day, and will return for the next five consecutive weekends until Sunday, 20 September. Five venues were able to use the outdoor area to extend their capacities in a safe and socially distanced way – Pepper Chef, Topokki, The Dragon Inn, Missing and The Loft Lounge. Following the success they will be joined this weekend by Eden Bar, Miss Vietnam, Chili Kitchen and Malaysian Delight. The proposal was successful after Southside Business Improvement District (BID) and Colmore BID’s plans to create a temporary alfresco dining and drinking area were approved by the city council. Southside BID manager Julia Robinson told The Business Desk: “The response to the temporary pedestrianisation of Hurst Street from businesses, visitors and residents in the area has been fantastic. It has really demonstrated how we can support our iconic hospitality venues that have faced serious challenges over the past few months, while keeping our district vibrant and enjoyable for visitors in a safe and socially distanced way.”

TripAdvisor launches free contactless menu tool: TripAdvisor has launched a free contactless menu tool for pubs and restaurants. Operators will need to add a link to their online menu in the TripAdvisor Management Centre, which they can access for free, and then the contactless menu feature will generate a downloadable QR code that can be easily printed and presented to customers. The customer then scans the QR code using their phone, and it directs them straight to the menu on the restaurant’s own website. 

Carling launches campaign to support the local pub: Molson Coors brand Carling is launching the next phase of its Made Local campaign with “Support Your Local” – a multi-channel campaign to encourage people across the country to back their local pub. The campaign will champion the central role that local pubs play in British culture and society – and the importance of supporting them through these challenging times. Carling will showcase how the local pub is where old stories are remembered and new ones are made; the best place for a nice cold pint; but much more than that – a place that is at the heart of communities. Phil Whitehead, managing director, Western Europe, Molson Coors, said: “Pubs and bars across the country have been working tirelessly to make sure they’re providing a safe and welcoming environment for regulars and new customers, and we have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to use our voice to showcase the incredible role they play.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is supporting an investment-led restaurant group as it looks to appoint a group operations director. The position, paying up to £120,000, is flexible on location but requires two days a week in London as well as national and European travel. The group operations director will take sole responsibility for the food and beverage strategy, development and operational processes for the portfolio. This role is to scale a food and beverage operation within a premium progressive environment while dealing with the partnership presented by working with hoteliers. The ideal person will be working within multifaceted, premium operations and be able to demonstrate clear career progression as well as excellent brand growth experience, financial responsibility and high-volume leadership skills. Anyone interested can email their CV or profile to Kate@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Lasan Group to expand to Leicester with Fiesta Del Asado off-shoot: Birmingham-based restaurant group Lasan is to expand to Leicester. The company has taken the lease of 4 St Martin’s – a grade II-listed former bank that stands on the corner of Grey Friars, next to the Richard III visitor centre. The group runs its eponymous restaurant in Birmingham as well as Indian street food cafe Raja Monkey and two Argentinian steak restaurants under the Fiesta Del Asado brand, in Edgbaston and Solihull. The Leicester restaurant, which is due to open later this year creating 40 jobs, will be an off-shoot of Fiesta Del Asado and called Sonrisa, which group founder Jabbar Khan believes will be more suited to the location. He told The Business Desk: “We love the cool and quirky feel of St Martins and its wide range of independents, which is a perfect fit for the Sonrisa concept – a Latin cocktail bar and restaurant with bustling atmosphere and full-flavoured food. It’s Argentinean-style eating with rustic small plates of meat, seafood and vegetables served throughout the day.” Joe Reilly, associate director at Innes England, who arranged the deal, said: “To get one of Birmingham’s best-known culinary teams signed up as tenants proves the faith in the market here. The Lasan Group is an established bar and restaurant operator with a track record of success over almost two decades and we look forward to welcoming it to Leicester.”

Lewis Hamilton-backed Neat Burger opens second site, in Camden Market: Neat Burger, the Lewis Hamilton-backed, plant-based concept, has opened its second site, in Camden Market. The company, which launched its debut site in Mayfair last year, has opened the new 500 square foot restaurant in Lock Place, having previously agreed a deal with landlord LabTech. Neat Burger co-founder Jordan Rocca said: “Camden Market is the ideal location from which to expand the brand. As the world’s first plant-based sustainable burger chain, we are committed to championing environmental sustainability and playing our part in positively impacting the environment.” Maggie Milosavljevic, LabTech food and beverage commercial director, added: “Neat Burger is a brilliant addition to our food offering at Camden Market. This is a distinct business and now more than ever, consumers care about where their food is sourced from and its impact on the environment. Our choice of operators has to evolve and adapt to consumer trends and working with Neat Burger is evidence that Camden is changing. We have seen a growing level of footfall and brands such as Neat Burger create additional reasons for consumers to continue to enjoy our thriving north London market.” The opening of Neat Burger follows the launch of The Indian Alley, a new Indian street food concept from the team behind Michelin-starred restaurant Benares, which has taken a 2,250 square foot site.

Bean secures site at Manchester office campus for 17th outlet: North west-based independent coffee company Bean has secured its 17th site. The company has agreed terms to open a new outlet at Exchange Quay, one of Manchester’s largest office campuses. Bean has signed a five-year contract to operate its new outlet within the ICE building. Fit-out work is under way, with the site set to open next month, reports The Business Desk. The ICE building incorporates about 26,000 square foot of contemporary Grade A office accommodation, together with the cafe bar being operated by Bean, along with a business lounge and communal meeting space. The complex features seven buildings provide 435,000 square foot of Grade A office accommodation alongside a mix of retail and leisure.

Coconut Tree to extend discount scheme through to end of October: Sri Lankan bar and restaurant group The Coconut Tree has announced it will offer 50% off all food and non-alcoholic drinks from Monday to Wednesday throughout September. The company said it had been inspired by the success it has seen with the UK government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The Coconut Tree has “topped up” the government’s offer to apply an overall 50% discount to all food, removing the £10 limit. Brand director Anna Garrod said: “Sri Lankan comedian Romesh Ranganathan recently described Sri Lankan food as being hotter, drier, with a different array of flavours that haven’t been taken to the heart of British culture in the same way Indian food has. We really want to change that. By topping up the government’s Eat Out to Help Out offer, we saw a surge in bookings throughout August, and we want to keep that momentum going as we move into autumn.” The Coconut Tree will then scale its offer back in October, so the 50% discount on food and soft drinks will apply at lunchtimes only.

Wing Shack reopens all sites for dine-in and takeaway: Wings concept Wing Shack has reopened all its sites for dine-in and takeaway. The company, founded by Joshua Jarvis, operates four outlets – in Clerkenwell, Loughton, a residency within the Sebright Arms pub in Hackney; and it recently joined the line-up at Selfridges Market. Safety measures introduced include the removal of seating where appropriate to ensure one-metre distancing; regular and rigorous cleaning before, during and after service; daily temperature checks on all staff; and providing hand sanitiser for customers and team members. Wing Shack’s menu includes its signature Jarvis tangy Buffalo wings and boneless chicken fillets covered in southern rub as well as vegetarian options such as the Edgy Veggie burger with charred halloumi.

Michael Caines appoints group executive chef: Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines has appointed Liam Finnegan as group executive chef. It comes following Caines’ recent acquisition of the former Rick Stein restaurant in Porthleven, Cornwall. Finnegan, who takes up his new role on Tuesday, 8 September, has been head chef at The Castle Hotel Taunton for the past eight years and prior to that was under Caines’ tutelage at Gidleigh Park. Finnegan said: “Coming back to work for Michael and with the team is very exciting. I have great memories from my formative years at Gidleigh Park – 14 years ago! It’s a testament to the company to see so many familiar faces still working for Michael. I have been watching the brand grow from afar with admiration.” Caines added: “Liam joins us at an exciting time with the impending opening of Porthleven and in advance of the Exmouth project due to open early 2021, bringing the total collection to four sites. I’m excited to be working closely with Liam across the multiple properties and further developing the Michael Caines dining concept.” The Michael Caines Collection currently comprises of luxury country house hotel and restaurant Lympstone Manor, The Cove at Maenporth, and the new projects in Porthleven and Exmouth.

Lima Group to reopen Covent Garden restaurant, launching delivery-only concept: Lima Group will reopen its Floral by Lima restaurant in London’s Covent Garden on Wednesday (19 August) as well as launch a delivery-only concept next month. Peruvian restaurant Floral by Lima, which has a newly extended outdoor seating area, will be open Monday to Saturday from 5pm to 9.30pm, It will serve a new menu featuring its traditional ceviches and tiraditos such as sea bream ceviche with ginger tiger’s milk, cassava, avocado and sweet potato purée. There will also be a selection of vegetarian dishes and hot plates, including Chinese cauliflower with Andean green dressing and ginger chimichurri. Floral by Lima will also be participating in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The group’s Lima at Home delivery service is still available via Slerp. The group will also be launching a nikkei concept called Kei from Thursday, 3 September. It will “blend the finest Japanese flavours with some of the best Peruvian ingredients”, and be available for delivery only via the Lima website and Deliveroo. The group also operates its eponymous restaurant in Fitzrovia and a site in Dubai.

St John Bakery among traders lined up for new sustainable street food market in Islington: St John Bakery is among the traders lined up for a new sustainable street food market launching in Islington, north London, next month. Boulevard Market will open in Islington Square off Upper Street on 4 September, running for its initial stint on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until 18 October. The market is being run in collaboration with Real Food Markets, which specialise in promoting ethical and sustainable producers, reports the Evening Standard. Alongside St John Bakery – the dough-focused offshoot from the famed Michelin-starred restaurant – traders will include a duo of Borough Market stalwarts – fruit and vegetable trader Turnips and fromage concept The Borough Cheese Co. Pantry fillers and deli foods will come from fresh pasta producer La Tua Pasta; fermented food company Kim n’ Chi; Italian olive oil firm Woop and Korean deli Bombom, while street food concept The Beefsteaks will be serving steak frites to take away. The largely outdoor space will take over the former site of the ex-Royal Mail north London sorting and delivery centre, and will be accessed through a grade II-listed entrance in Upper Street. It is also expecting to introduce a summer terrace.

Plant-based London restaurant The Brook launches £350,000 fund-raise to expand ‘build a box’ subscription service: Plant-based, London restaurant The Brook has launched a £350,000 fund-raise as it looks to expand its “build a box” subscription service. The company, founded and led by Thea Brook, is running the convertible share equity campaign on crowdfunding platform Seedrs, where it is offering a 25% discount on the equity valuation. The Brook operates a restaurant in Mare Street, Hackney, and also offers a meal delivery service. The company is raising the funds to invest in its e-commerce operation. The pitch states: “Our e-commerce platform enables customers to build their own box of eight plant-based dishes and have it delivered regularly, straight to their doorstep. This is a recurring subscription that customers can cancel at any time, with free UK delivery, which costs £45. That is equivalent to £5.63 per meal. The Brook’s meals are also available to purchase from a number of retail outlets – both independent and major. We soon expect to boost our retail offering with our cold-pressed juice and lentil-based cooking sauces. And on the foodservice front, we are still in discussions with a well-known UK pub chain, with more than 900 locations, about adding our plant-based meals to its menu, designed to cater to the demand it’s seen from diners across the country.”

Belfast-based restaurateur secures CBILS funding to reopen sites: Belfast-based restaurateur Eamon McCusker has secured funding from the Business Interruption Loan Scheme to reopen his two sites in the city. McCusker has received £150,000 and £190,000 for Chubby Cherub and AMPM respectively through Santander UK. The funding for Chubby Cherub and AMPM will be used to help manage ongoing cash flow issues, which were compounded due to lost revenues during covid-19-induced closures. AMPM is a restaurant, cabaret club and roof garden bar that has traded from Belfast city centre for the past 18 years, while Chubby Cherub, which has operated for the past decade, moved into new premises last year and underwent a massive expansion and refurbishment, supported by Santander. Both premises, which collectively employ 100 people, were forced to close from 20 March to 3 July as a result of lock-down restrictions. McCusker told the Irish News: “During the past 18 years we learned to expect the unexpected and to plan and adapt. We would consider ourselves pretty resilient, but covid-19 has tested that resilience to its core.”

Former Gusto marketing director launches virtual agency: James Newman, former marketing director at Italian casual dining group Gusto, has set up a new marketing agency specialising in food and drink for the north – and his former employer is its first client. Called Brain Fuud, the agency provides a virtual marketing director service, offering partners “a flexible subscription model” to senior level strategy, action and advice, in addition to integrated marketing services. Newman said: “This has been nine months in the planning, and Matt (Snell), Gusto’s managing director, has been incredibly supportive and forward-thinking. I saw a gap in the market for a northern-based, hybrid agency/consultancy specialising in food and beverage, to support and drive growth for all the fantastic businesses up here.” The new agency has also been appointed by Vaporetto, a mobile wood fired pizza business, to develop its brand, and deliver digital marketing services. Snell said: “I’m delighted we can retain our working relationship, and James can continue his fantastic work here at Gusto, while supporting his new venture.” Prior to joining Gusto in 2018, Newman was marketing director at Red's True Barbecue where he helped to create the brand’s communications strategy, and grow the business from two to eight sites.

Northern Ireland-based aparthotel developer and operator pulls plans for £23m Belfast site over water issues: Northern Ireland-based aparthotel developer and operator Kilmona Group has pulled plans for a £23m site in south Belfast over water issues. The company, headed by Belfast businessman Paddy Kearney, had sought planning permission from the city council for an 87-bedroom property in Apollo Road, close to Windsor Park. But planning officials have concluded the area lacks the necessary waste water infrastructure to allow the development to proceed. NI Water warned in January almost half of the north’s larger treatment plants will reach full capacity by 2027. Kilmona responded to concerns from NI Water and planning officials by suggesting it could develop its own waste water treatment plant as a proposed solution for the aparthotel project. But officials said there was insufficient information to demonstrate the proposed treatment plant represents either a suitable or feasible solution. They also said it would require significant alterations to the proposed design and layout of the scheme. Kilmona has secured planning permission for a smaller 25-bed aparthotel project at Musgrave Industrial Estate, next to the M1 motorway. That £18m development, given the green light in June, will be primarily made up of 88 apartments. The group already owns a number of hotels around Northern Ireland as part of its Loughview Leisure subsidiary. The portfolio includes the Ten Square hotel in Belfast city centre. The group had planned to expand the Ten Square brand for the new aparthotels, reports the Irish News.

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