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Wed 26th Aug 2020 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

TowerBrook paid £109.5m for Azzurri Group: Azzurri Group, the operator of ASK Italian, Zizzi and Coco Di Mama, was acquired out of administration by private equity firm TowerBrook Capital for £109.5m last month – less than half the £250m that Bridgepoint paid for the business in 2014. A statement of administrators’ report revealed seven “best and final” offers were received for Azzurri Group after KPMG marketed the business and its assets. The report showed prior to the covid-19 pandemic Azzurri Group had outperformed the market with strong like-for-like sales growth and an international expansion programme. Over the past three years, the group's revenue had grown from £263m (FY17) to £295m (FY19). Ebitda remained flat (rising from £38m to £39m over the period) due to a rise in central costs and development expenditure in another group entity, CTL, which operated the 30 Coco di Mama sites. However, as covid-19 began to impact the casual dining sector, Azzurri Group’s circa 300 UK sites were closed ahead of the restrictions announced by the government. While the group also suspended payments to creditors, it was clear the restrictions imposed on the sector as a result of the pandemic “have had a deep and far-reaching impact on the group” and resulted in significant cash flow pressures as rent and other liabilities continued to accrue, the report said. The business was put into hibernation and all costs possible were taken out while the group’s executive directors took voluntary pay cuts of 30%. The report showed management estimated a funding requirement of £60m to £90m would be required to reopen the estate, settle accrued liabilities and negotiate the exit from 78 of its sites that were loss-making and underperforming pre-covid. Given the additional funding requirement, Azzurri Group appointed KPMG in May to look at restructuring options, including a possible sale. The report revealed 168 trade/financial partners were approached but no solvent offers were received. Following further reviews of Azzurri Group’s financial position in mid-July, the directors took the decision to put the business into administration, which ended with TowerBrook's offer being accepted. TowerBrook has initially injected more than £70m into the business. The deal secured the future of circa 225 restaurants across the three brands, protecting 5,000 employees. However, the Pod business, which Azzurri Group acquired last year, will become a delivery-only brand. The report showed at the time of the administration Azzurri Group’s secured creditors were owed £187m and based on current estimates the lenders will not be repaid in full. Unsecured creditors are expected to receive a dividend, but the level has yet to be determined. However, due to the large quantum of liabilities and restricted sum available under the prescribed part, any dividend will be less than a penny in the pound.

Industry News:

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More than 64 million meals claimed through Eat Out To Help Out scheme: More than 64 million meals have now been claimed by diners since the government launched the Eat Out To Help Out discount scheme at the start of the month. The Treasury said this represents a continued “upward trend” in dining, after 10.5 million meals were claimed in the first week, before climbing to a total of 35 million for the first two weeks. A total of 87,000 claims have been made by restaurants and cafes signed up to the scheme, it said. Sector leaders have called on the Treasury to extend the scheme, which has now entered its fourth week. Meanwhile, an online petition to extend the scheme until 30 September has already gained more than 4,500 signatures. Eat Out To Help Out has provided diners with a state-funded 50% discount on food and soft drinks between Mondays and Wednesdays in August. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “The figures continue to show Brits are backing hospitality – with more than 64 million meals discounted so far, that’s equivalent to almost every person in the country dining out to protect jobs. This scheme has reminded us how much we love to dine out and, in doing so, how this is helping to protect the jobs of nearly two million people who work in hospitality. I am urging everyone, where they can, to continue to safely enjoy a meal while the scheme remains open.” Claims from the first two weeks of the scheme cost about £180m, according to HM Revenue & Customs. More than four in ten UK consumers have used or plan to use the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, according to data and analytics firm GlobalData. Operators with sites in neighbourhood locations and on high streets will see the biggest impact from the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, with 60.6% and 45.2% of users, respectively, planning to visit cafes or restaurants in these spots. The scheme is being driven by 25 to 34-year-olds, with more than half (50.9%) of this age group making use of it.”

Birmingham council receives power to shut hospitality sites that flout covid-19 safety rules: Birmingham City Council will be allowed to close bars and restaurants that fail to comply with covid-19 restrictions. Under the ruling, rubber-stamped by the government’s Gold Command – which is chaired by health secretary Matt Hancock – venues failing to comply with lock-down measures could be issued with a written warning followed by a closure order if guidance is still not followed. Despite cases of coronavirus falling in Birmingham, the area has been added to Public Health England’s watch-list. Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “While the recent figures show our rates are going down, we cannot be complacent. We must all continue to follow all the relevant safety guidance in order to protect our families, friends and work colleagues.” He added most people are following government advice but “for those that are not, we are now enacting powers to ensure that they do. These new powers will allow us to intervene when businesses are putting staff and customers at risk of infection”. The powers also include the ability to ban events such as weddings and funerals if there are concerns about the number of people who may attend while parks and other outdoor spaces could also be shut to maintain public safety.

Just Eat Takeaway.com sets out terms to shareholders of $7.3bn acquisition of Grubhub: Just Eat Takeaway.com has set out the terms to shareholders of its proposed $7.3bn acquisition of US rival Grubhub. Just Eat Takeaway.com agreed in June to acquire 100% of the shares of Grubhub in an all-stock transaction to create the world’s largest online food delivery company outside of China, measured by revenue. It has now published its circular of the transaction ahead of the deal being voted on by shareholders on Wednesday, 7 October. Subject to satisfaction of conditions, completion of the deal is anticipated to occur during the first half of 2021. At the time of the deal being announced, Just Eat Takeaway.com said: “The transaction represents Just Eat Takeaway.com’s entry into online food delivery in the United States and builds on the strategic rationale for its recent merger with Just Eat. A combined Just Eat Takeaway.com and Grubhub will become the world’s largest online food delivery company outside of China, with strong brands connecting restaurant partners with their customers in 25 countries. The combined group will be built around four of the world’s largest profit pools in online food delivery – the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, increasing the combined group’s ability to deploy capital and resources to strengthen its competitive positions in all its markets. The combined group has strong leadership positions in almost all countries in which it is present and will become a significant player in North America.”

Blackburn restaurants ordered to shut for breaching covid-19 rules allowed to reopen: Two Blackburn restaurants that were ordered to close for breaching covid-19 rules have been allowed to reopen. Waheed’s Buffet and Banqueting Hall was ordered to shut for up to a month after police broke up a wedding reception with more than 100 guests. However, a Blackburn with Darwen Council review has ruled the Randall Street venue was fit to operate again. Roberto’s Bar and Bistro in Richmond Terrace, which was ordered to close on the same day, will also be allowed to reopen. Council leader Mohammed Khan told the BBC the authority “would only ever enforce a closure order as a last resort” and both venues had “worked with us to ensure they have all the correct covid-19 procedures in place”. Measures to curb the spread of covid-19, which were imposed on the Blackburn with Darwen area on 14 July, were further tightened last week.

Mayfair landlord Grosvenor offers rent discount to Eat Out To Help Out tenants: The Grosvenor Estate will offer a rent reduction incentive to tenants that offer subsidised meals beyond the Treasury’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The landlord wants to help avoid a renewed footfall slump, reports Sky News. The Grosvenor Estate, owner of property in some of the capital’s most affluent areas, will announce on Wednesday (26 August) it is reducing rents for direct tenants that continue to offer diners half-price meals until the end of September. Sources claim Grosvenor had started approaching cafes, bars and restaurants in Mayfair and Belgravia this week to gauge opinion on the move. The potential cost of the subsidy to Grosvenor is likely to run to many thousands of pounds. It is believed sites such as Comptoir, Roka, The Thomas Cubitt pub and Peggy Porschen cafe have signed up for the initiative. To date, a small number of restaurant chains, including Brindisa and Gaucho, have said they would extend Eat Out To Help Out into September at their own expense, but no major landlords had done so until now. Grosvenor’s offer is significant because the capital’s economy has been substantially slower to recover from covid-19 than other parts of the UK. The likelihood of a fast return for London operators appear uncertain, with many large companies saying they will allow employees to work from home at least part of the time for months to come.

Operators within Birmingham business district to benefit from new outdoor dining space: Operators within the Colmore Business District in Birmingham are to benefit from a new outdoor dining space. The parklet is being installed by Colmore Business Improvement District (BID) ahead of this weekend to provide venues with more facilities to serve customers. The community space, which is located on Waterloo Street outside Purecraft Bar and Kitchen, is part of a larger scheme to support the district’s leisure and hospitality industry that has suffered during lock-down. The parklet has capacity for about 20 people within four defined areas – seating with a low table for coffee and drinks; an area for dining with a high table; standing room only; and an area that has been specifically designed to be accessible for wheelchair users. The site is being used as a test for the district’s parklet project. If successful, further parklets will be installed. Colmore BID chief executive Michele Wilby told The Business Desk: “We want these spaces to become a permanent feature within the city and have plans for many more.”

Company News:

JD Wetherspoon to retrain staff at Wrexham pub after being served with improvement notice: JD Wetherspoon has told Propel it is to retrain staff at a Wrexham pub after being served with an improvement notice by health officials over social distancing measures for employees. The notice comes after three confirmed cases of coronavirus were identified at The North & South Wales Bank pub. Public Health Wales has carried out an investigation and said that while it found measures to protect customers were in place, it was not satisfied the guidelines were followed in staff areas. As a result, an improvement notice has been served on the premises by Wrexham County Borough Council’s public protection department requiring all staff to be retrained in the company’s policy in this area, which Wetherspoon said would take place prior to any of the employees at the pub resuming their duties. Cllr Hugh Jones, lead member for communities, partnerships, public protection and community safety, said: “While social distancing measures were in place and generally maintained when staff were dealing with customers, our investigation has shown there was a lack of adherence to the guidelines in staff areas, in order to protect the public we serve this notice. Every establishment must follow the rules to help keep Wrexham safe”. In addition, Public Health Wales said it is reiterating its call for customers of the pub to be vigilant for symptoms of coronavirus. A Wetherspoon spokesman told Propel: “Wetherspoon has strict policies in place to ensure staff do not work in close proximity for anything other than very short periods of time, and, if such proximity cannot be avoided, the necessary mitigating measures, such as the use of personal protective equipment are implemented. It is disappointing procedures were not followed on this occasion and all employees will be retrained and reminded of their obligations in this area. Since reopening in Wales on 3 August, Wetherspoon has implemented a number of social distancing measures in all pubs – tables have been spaced out, floor screens have been installed between tables, as well as ‘till surround screens’ at the bar. Staff are conducting regular surface cleaning and, on average, ten hand sanitisers have been installed in each pub, with additional units back of house for staff.”

BrewDog reports improved trading in central London but ‘still a long way to go’: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has reported improved trading in central London, but said there was “still a long way to go”. The company said in the heart of the capital, sales were now at 52% of last year – up from 26% a fortnight ago. Elsewhere, in London, sales have hit 64% of 2019’s figure – an increase from the 47% earlier in the month. In England, outside of London, BrewDog is trading at 84% of last year’s level, up from 66% two weeks ago, and in Scotland – not including Aberdeen, which has been under local lock-down restrictions – the company is seeing revenue at 80% of 2019’s figure – up from 72% earlier in the month. Chief operating officer David McDowall said: “It’s still clear how far behind central London is tracking. A bit of progress over the past week or two – hopefully a trend.”

Byron to begin reopening its estate this week: Better burger brand Byron, which earlier this month was sold via pre-pack administration to investment vehicle Calveton UK under newly formed company Famously Proper, will begin reopening its 20-strong estate this week with two sites in London. The Simon Wilkinson-led business will reopen its sites in Waterloo and Old Brompton Road on Thursday (27 August). It is thought further sites will come back online over the next few weeks. Propel reported earlier this month the company will initially focus on reopening its circa 20-strong estate but will also examine consolidation possibilities, which could include long-time rival Gourmet Burger Kitchen. It’s thought to be currently in negotiations regarding a handful of sites, which would make up its final estate. At the same time, the new company is expected to ramp up its delivery strategy. Pre-covid, the company’s delivery segment was understood to be posting ahead of a 10% like-for-like revenue. As part of the ramp-up, the business is set to open its first dark kitchen sites in London this month with Foodstars and Karma Kitchen. It’s thought the company will initially look to open five dark kitchens and may also explore the further rollout of fledgling virtual brand Cheese Louise and smaller delivery/collection hub sites. Propel also understands the company intends to further streamline the brand’s menu and reinforce its core food proposition.

Ole & Steen appoints Nixon as interim managing director: Danish baker Ole & Steen has appointed Lee Nixon, formerly of Costa Coffee and Le Pain Quotidien, as its interim managing director, Propel has learned. Nixon, who previously led Costa’s UK drive-thru and London operation of over 350 sites and, more recently, the UK operation of Le Pain Quotidien, joins the 12-strong business following Simon Ward-Nicholson’s departure. Former SSP operations director Ward-Nicholson joined the business as managing director last summer. Ole & Steen, which made its UK debut in Haymarket in 2016, operates 11 sites in London plus a unit in Oxford. Its parent company operates more than 70 sites in Denmark. Jason Cotta, chief executive of Lagkagehuset/Ole & Steen, told Propel: “We are delighted Lee is joining us to lead the UK team. Lee brings with him a wealth of experience from his previous roles, which will be invaluable as we prepare for renewed growth in the UK market, following the coronavirus pandemic. Lee will help the UK team to continue the journey to reopen more of our stores and grow our estate in the UK in the coming months.” Nixon joins as the company prepares to reopen its seventh London site in Eccleston Place on Tuesday, 1 September.

Greene King offers further £6m of rent concessions for tied tenants: Brewer and retailer Greene King has announced an additional £6m of financial support for its tied tenants. Current concessions from Greene King are due to come to an end eight weeks after reopening but there will be a further 40% rent concession for all tied pubs for four more weeks, followed by a 30% reduction for the four weeks after that, meaning support will last until October. Wayne Shurvinton, managing director for the company’s Pub Partners division, said: “We have always said we will provide as much support for our tenants as possible and would make decisions in a fair and transparent way.” Support for tied tenants buying barrels of beer or cider from Greene King will also continue through to 2021, with tied tenants receiving a trade credit of £35 per barrel. This brings Greene King’s total financial support for its 975 tied tenants since lock-down to an estimated £21m, in addition to government support. Shurvinton added: “I’m delighted we now have about 95% of our pubs trading again currently trading well, thanks to making use of outside space and good weather. However, we recognise the next few months will be challenging as we head towards autumn and winter, and that more support is required, particularly once outside spaces become less usable then the number of customers will be significantly reduced to maintain social distancing.” The Suffolk-based brewer and retailer operates circa 2,000 pubs across the UK and its formats include Hungry Horse, Farmhouse Inns and Chef & Brewer.

Big Mamma confirmed for Covent Garden opening, eyes home delivery service: Capital & Counties (Capco) has confirmed that Big Mamma Group, the operator behind the London-based restaurants Gloria and Circolo Popolare, is to open a third site in the capital, in Covent Garden. Last October, the company submitted plans to Westminster City Council to merge the buildings of 29-30 Maiden Lane and 15 Henrietta Street in Covent Garden to create a ‘high-quality destination’ restaurant. In the planning application, the group said the merge of the buildings would create a 227-cover restaurant, split over two floors with an ancillary bar at ground and basement level. In the documents submitted to Westminster City Council, the group said the restaurant would continue its approach of offering a “vibrant modern take on a traditional Italian trattoria experience and will serve breakfast, a lunch menu of pizza and pasta, and a large choice of homemade dishes and sharing plates for dinner”. In announcing that Darjeeling Express would open on the former Carluccio’s site in Garrick Street, Capco said: “With an unparalleled offering of international cuisines, Darjeeling Express will join established Covent Garden eateries including Frenchie, SushiSamba, Din Tai Fung, The Oystermen, Balthazar, The Ivy Market Grill, Laduree and many others. Darjeeling Express will also soon be joined by the newest restaurant opening from the Big Mamma Group.” Big Mamma Group launched Gloria in Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, in February last year before opening Gloria in Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, five months later. It has also been linked with opening a food hall/market concept in Canary Wharf. The group also operates six trattorias in France as well as a large food market. At the same time, it is thought the group is looking to bring Napoli Gang, the home delivery concept it launched earlier this summer in France, to the UK. Napoli Gang has so far set up its kitchens in the north, centre and south of inner Paris.

Former Leeds Brewery owners grow north London pub estate: Sam Moss and Michael Brothwell, who founded Leeds Brewery in 2007, have added a second north London pub to their portfolio, Propel has learned. The duo, who sold their previous seven-strong pub estate to Camerons Brewery in 2016, have signed a new 25-year lease for The Albert in Primrose Hill in a deal brokered by Davis Coffer Lyons on behalf of landlord Mulberry One Capital. The deal includes the ground floor and basement of the property, which is on the corner of Princess Road and Kingstown Road, and beer garden. The new tenants have also been granted planning permission for a rear extension replacing the existing conservatory and are looking to complete renovation works to reopen the pub in the autumn. Connie Start, associate director, Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “The deal is welcome news to local residents and supporters of The Albert, who have long been campaigning for the pub to reopen after a long period of closure since 2014.” The acquisition adds to The Belrose Pub in Belsize Park, which Moss and Brothwell acquired in 2019 and reopened as The Haverstock Tavern. The sale of Moss and Brothwell’s previous pub estate to Camerons Brewery included seven sites, although they continue to work closely with the new owner on the operation of the business. 

SSP Group makes changes to remuneration framework following shareholder concerns: UK transport hub foodservice company SSP Group has said it has made numerous improvements to its executive remuneration framework following shareholder concerns. These changes include the introduction of the mandatory deferral of at least 33% of any bonus; increasing the minimum shareholding requirements to 250% of salary and 200% of salary for the chief executive officer and chief financial officer respectively; improved disclosure of our annual bonus targets; and the introduction of a post-employment shareholding requirement. The company’s remuneration committee said it recognised shareholders’ concerns over the legacy leaving arrangements for former chief executive Kate Swann, and the increased salary and performance share plan opportunity for chief financial officer Jonathan Davies, following the material increase to his remit and responsibilities in early 2019. The company said it would continue to engage with its shareholders over its approach to executive pay. SSP Group also reiterated it has been “significantly” impacted by covid-19 and ensured it has done all it could to preserve cash and protect profit, including significant salary reductions across all senior management, group executive and group board. Last month, the company announced it was to axe up to 5,000 jobs in the UK to reflect the current low level of passenger demand. 

Top Cuvée team to open bricks-and-mortar site for online bottle shop following lock-down success: Brodie Meah and Max Venning, who are behind north London wine bar and bistro Top Cuvée, are to launch a bricks-and-mortar site for the online bottle shop they have operated during lock-down. The venue will launch in mid-September just 100 yards from their restaurant in Blackstock Road, Highbury. The online shop began as a way to provide an income for the restaurant forced to close in March, stocking store cupboard essentials and natural wine made available initially for delivery across London by bicycle courier. Responding to the demand, Shop Cuvée went nationwide, delivering next day and alongside its monthly subscription programme. Now with Top Cuvée having reopened, to keep up with demand and make more room in the restaurant, the team is bringing Shop Cuvée to life nearby. Meah said: ‘‘If you told me in March not only would Top Cuvee come back better than ever, that we would have provided thousands of natural wines to London, launched a nationwide delivery service and open a permanent shop – I’d have thought you were having me on. As well as our locals, the shop will ensure we keep on reaching our customers around the rest of the UK – the support and demand has been just incredible.’’ Meanwhile, Top Cuvée is to extend its discount offer following the end of the government's Eat Out To Help Out scheme with 25% off food every Wednesday in September.

Smith & Wollensky to reopen London site on 1 September: American steak restaurant chain Smith & Wollensky is set to reopen its London site on Tuesday, 1 September. The site has been closed for five months. Enhanced sanitation and cleanliness measures will be put in place to help keep team members, guests and the surrounding community safe. During September, customers will be able to make a 20% saving on the à la carte menu (excluding USDA steaks). The company has nine venues worldwide with the London site located in the Adelphi Building off The Strand.

Norma extends discount offer with pasta special: London restaurant Norma is introducing a hand-made pasta dish on its specials board at £10 on the back of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The Stafford Collection, the luxury hospitality group that includes the Stafford London and Northcote, will serve the changing dish at its Sicilian-inspired restaurant on Charlotte Street from Monday to Thursday throughout September. Culinary director Ben Tish said: “It’s been brilliant to see Norma so busy at the start of the week so we wanted to introduce a new initiative to keep the momentum going throughout September and onwards. Our fresh pasta dishes are some of the most popular on the menu so it made sense to focus on that. Large pasta dishes are priced from £17 to £24 on the current à la carte menu so the changing pasta dish will be a decent saving for customers.” Meanwhile, Heliot Steak House, the premium restaurant within the Hippodrome Casino in London’s Leicester Square, will offer guests 50% off food and soft drinks – up to the value of £10 per person – between Sunday and Wednesday until the end of September.

Bespoke secures CBILS funding to save three hotels: Independent hotel group Bespoke Hotels has secured £725,000 from Barclays via the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to provide liquidity for a trio of north west-based hotels. Hotel Gotham and The Mill at Chester both recently reopened and The Chester Grosvenor, a five-star luxury hotel and spa, is set to reopen on Thursday (27 August). Bespoke chairman Haydn Fentum said: “The support from Barclays means these iconic north west hotels have been able to come through the challenge of lock-down while preserving local jobs and keeping the supply chain intact.” Director for Barclays Corporate Banking Keith Herod added: “When the pandemic forced Bespoke’s hotels to close, our understanding of the client meant we could act quickly and meet the new challenges they were up against.” Bespoke provides management services for more than 80 properties worldwide, including a deal made last week on acquiring 40 former Shearings Hotels, and manages £525 million of assets.

Theo Randall to reopen InterContinental Park Lane restaurant next month: Chef Theo Randall will reopen his restaurant at the InterContinental Park Lane hotel on Thursday, 3 September, for dinner only. Menus will showcase Randall’s favourite regions of Italy for two consecutive weeks – on Fridays and Saturdays – alongside a refined à la carte menu. The first region showcased will be Tuscany on 4 and 5 September and 11 and 12 September, featuring a menu inspired by Italian butcher Dario Cecchini. The Tuscan menu will feature mixed salami with chicken liver crostini and pickled vegetables; and wide ribbon pasta with fresh Porcini mushrooms, parsley and thyme. Other regional menus will include Lombardia, Campania and Sicily. Randall said: “This has been a time for reflection and reinvigoration. Not being able to physically visit my favourite areas of Italy has inspired me to retrace my steps through the wonderful dishes that I created from memories of each region. I can’t wait to share these stories with our guests when they return.” To ensure physical distancing throughout, the restaurant will have tables well-spaced apart, digital menu options, card payments and a one-way system in place. Booking times will be staggered and track-and-trace procedures will be implemented.

Roberts & Treguer supports furloughed team members at east London pub with gift card revenue: East London pub The Culpeper, which is operated by Roberts & Treguer, has supported its furloughed team members by using revenue produced by its online gift vouchers, introduced at the start of lock-down. Customers of the Spitalfields venue have been encouraged to buy gift cards, with all proceeds going into a new Employee Emergency Care Fund to help team members facing financial hardship. Using the free Toggle platform, the gift card and experience platform by CRM agency Airship, The Culpeper has sold £6,000 worth of gift cards. Initially, The Culpeper used the care fund to help a handful of team members who needed money to make rent or pay bills, before the government’s furlough scheme kicked in. After the pub reopened in July, the management analysed trading levels and realised about half the team members employed before lock-down would be needed back in the business from August onwards. They, therefore, decided to help those employees not returning to the pub by using the care fund to keep them on furlough for one more month. Culpeper operations director Sandy Jarvis said: “In August, The Culpeper had to contribute to the furlough scheme for the first time, which we wouldn't have been able to do without the money in the care fund. So it’s enabled us to keep about 50 of our team members on furlough for the month, giving them a bit more time to find new work and make plans and to give us an extra month to see demand grow and bring more people back.”
Airship is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Chester-based pizza concept heads to Liverpool site for second site: Chester-based pizza concept Dough Dough is to open its second site, in Liverpool. The company is opening the venue in Ranelagh Street at the end of September. Dough Dough offers freshly made pizza, created with its signature dough and cooked in wood-fired ovens. There will also be a selection of craft beer and cocktails available from the bar. The venue will include a games area on the second floor with arcade machines, along with a foosball table, reports The Guide Liverpool. Dough Dough’s existing site is in Northgate Street in Chester.

MasterChef: The Professionals finalist to open long-awaited West African venture in Fitzrovia in October: MasterChef: The Professionals finalist William Chilila and British Nigerian restaurateur Aji Akokomi will open their long-awaited west African fine dining restaurant in London in October. Akoko will launch in Berners Street in Fitzrovia on Thursday, 8 October, having originally been slated to open a year ago, reports the Evening Standard. Named for a Yoruba word meaning “time” or “the first", the restaurant is set to celebrate the diverse cuisines of the Saharan region, showcasing west African flavours through a combination of British and African produce. Along with being a finalist on the BBC show in 2018, Chilila spent almost a decade at London restaurant Orrery, as well as stints at Galvin at Windows and The Langham. Dishes will include smoked goat with jollof rice, pounded yam with native lobster agusi, and beef suya and quail yassa. The wine list has been curated by former Noma Mexico sommelier Honey Spencer and business partner Ania Smelskaya of zero-waste London restaurant Silo. The walls of the dining room are set to be covered in a terracotta clay to evoke the natural landscape of west African rural areas, and will be adorned with contemporary African art from artist Niyi Olagunju, as well as ceramics inspired by west African mid-century pottery masters Ladi Kwali and Nupe.

Broadwick Venues launches socially distanced dining and entertainment concept at former Manchester freight depot: Broadwick Venues – a subsidiary of festival specialist Broadwick Live – has launched its socially distanced dining and entertainment concept Platform 15, at Escape to Freight Island, which is part of the regeneration of Depot Mayfield in Manchester. The site is described as “an inspiring urban landscape where an outdoor food market, art space and terrace-style seating collide on one sprawling tract, a long-forgotten freight depot carved from the city’s industrial past”. Platform 15 – a socially distanced outdoor dining and entertainment space – registered 8,000 dinner reservations on the first day bookings opened and had 20,000 bookings by the time of its launch.

Notes launches coffee range at Selfridges: East London-based Notes Coffee Roasters has introduced its range at Selfridges. The coffee maker’s offerings are available at Selfridges food halls – as the department store’s own-brand – in London, Manchester and Birmingham, as well as online. The selection includes a total of three whole bean and ground coffee variants from Brazil, Colombia and Myanmar. Notes was founded in 2010 and has ten coffee shops and bars across the capital.

Countrywide takes over management of Shropshire hotel: The 50-bedroom Mercure Telford Madeley Court Hotel near central Telford has reopened under the new management of Countrywide Hotels. Countrywide Hotels, which operates circa 20 sites, has implemented coronavirus-safe conditions at the 16th century manor, reports the Shropshire Star. The hotel offers meeting and event suites with the largest one able to host banqueting for up to 130 people under social distancing rules.

Gousto takes on cold store facility in ten-year deal: Recipe box subscription service Gousto has pre-let a 196,000 square foot cold store facility on a ten-year term. Chillbox, in West Thurrock, Essex, is a temperature-controlled warehouse that has undergone a refurbishment and was let by CBRE Global Investors on behalf of CBRE UK Property PAIF. Gousto chief executive and founder Timo Boldt said: “Following strong trading from the start of the year, demand for our meals accelerated as a result of the lock-down and we continue to see record levels of sales, even with the progressive easing of lock-down restrictions. As a result, we’re looking to increase our capacity at least threefold by 2022 and this brilliant site will help us get there.” CBRE UK Property PAIF funding manager Hannah Marshall said: “Cold storage continues to show strong occupational demand and we ensured that our letting campaign primarily addressed this sector of the market. The investment into Chillbox has resulted in an excellent letting and provides our investors with secure income on this asset.”

Hollywood Bowl unveils £250,000 revamp at Carlisle site: Hollywood Bowl Group, the UK’s largest ten-pin bowling operator, has completed its £250,000 rebrand of the former AMF Bowling in Carlisle, Cumbria. The revamped 20-lane centre features plush furnishings, contemporary American decor, four exclusive VIP lanes and the American-style diner has also been renovated. In accordance with coronavirus-safe conditions, booking slots will be less frequent to control capacity, with only alternate lanes in use, and amusement machines – as well as bar and dining seating – will be spaced out. Chief executive Stephen Burns said: “We’re extremely excited to coincide its launch with the reopening of our UK bowling centres. We are committed to providing covid-secure, safe and great value entertainment for all.” 

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