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Wed 23rd Sep 2020 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Sector demands support package to prevent sector ‘devastation’: Sector trade bodies and operators have demanded government support and warned the industry will be decimated after the imposition of a curfew that will see all pubs, bars, restaurants and hospitality sites shut by 10pm from Thursday (24 September) – a move that Boris Johnson said could last six months. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “These restrictions are a further, potentially fatal, blow for many hospitality businesses. Consumer confidence is going to take another hit and we cannot hope to recover while confidence remains low. Most disheartening is the announcement the curfew is potentially in place for six months. Lots of businesses will not survive this and we are going to see more people lose their jobs unless we have the support to counterbalance these restrictions. The government must immediately announce an exhaustive package of financial support. Employment support must be extended. Unless the furlough scheme is extended for our sector, businesses are inevitably going to have to make staff redundant.” British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “A curfew is particularly heart-breaking for those pubs in areas where infection rates remain under control. There seems to be little available evidence that pubs, with their strict adherence to government guidelines, are unsafe, so we are unsure that this blanket measure will make a major difference. Removing a key trading hour on top of fragile consumer confidence and the reduced capacity pubs already face will put thousands more pubs and jobs at risk.” Night Time Industries Association chief executive Michael Kill added: “This is yet another devastating blow to the already beleaguered night-time economy. This curfew will lead to the demise of many of our most beloved cultural and entertainment venues.” Greene King chief executive Nick Mackenzie said: “These new restrictions are a significant setback. We made safety our priority when reopening and fewer than 1% of our 1,700 managed pubs have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace since reopening in July, which demonstrates pubs are not disproportionately spreading cases and our measures are working.” St Austell Brewery chief executive Kevin Georgel added: “Government data shows just 5% of infections out of the home are related to hospitality and curfews that have been put in place locally have not been proven to cut infection rates. Furthermore, a curfew increases the likelihood of pub goers socialising in non-regulated environments after 10pm.” David Abrahamovitch, founder of coffee brand Grind, said: “This unnecessary curfew that has no scientific basis and, without clear communication, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost, plunging the UK economy further into a recession. I could just about understand the lock-down the first time but, this time, six months of data on the virus is being ignored while the government lurches from one bad decision to the next.”

Industry News:  

Sponsored message – table service technology provides lifeline to sector: Further restrictions imposed on the hospitality sector means technology will play even more of a key role for operators. Pub company owner and tech champion Mike Fisher said: “The government guidelines are clear the entire hospitality sector will now be restricted by law to offer table service only and adhere to 10pm closing times. While it’s another blow for many, we now need to really pull together to maximise our revenue during these shorter hours. This can be done by ensuring you have a reliable order and pay app in situ. As the owner of a small pub group, having a trustworthy order and pay app that already complies with the required table service policy has future-proofed our business – it’s improved our efficiency and keeps us all safe so we can focus on keeping our customers happy. It is now more important than ever that apps, such as Zapaygo, work harder for the sector and our customers as a whole to keep us safe and viable during these uncertain times. Zapaygo can help to serve more people, take more orders and protect staff at the same time, and with its own integrated track and trace system in place and the agility to work with fluctuating opening hours, it’s the perfect solution.” To find out more click here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com 

Scottish operators ‘staring into abyss’ with national 10pm curfew: Scottish operators have warned they are “staring into an abyss” after a 10pm national curfew was imposed on pubs and restaurants. The new restrictions will take effect from Friday (25 September). Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) spokesman Stephen Montgomery said: “We are now staring into an abyss. A national curfew on Scotland’s bars, restaurants and late-night venues will have a critical impact on those crucial later trading hours. Many of us are already trading at a loss and some members estimate they will see their turnover plummet by more than 25% with the new measures. There is a real concern the hospitality industry is being singled out for restrictions with very little evidence to support a link to coronavirus transmission. Across the SHG alone, which employs 6,000 staff, we have seen only a handful of positive cases since July. With 90,000 Scottish jobs at risk, we are heading towards a cliff-edge and time is running out. We have been speaking with government and that will be ongoing but there is only a matter of months before the restrictions on our industry will have irreparable long-term damage on our sector. We are very keen to play our part but there has to be a balance. Without meaningful financial support from government, many businesses will not survive further than Christmas. With tighter restrictions, even more will be plunged into the red and the consequences will range from redundancies as a minimum, to the closure of individual premises right through to insolvency. Responsible operators that offer a controlled environment are a key part of the solution. These restrictions will only force bad behaviour underground, where track and trace is almost impossible.”
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is supporting a bar, venue and restaurant group as it looks to expand the offering and its brand. The business operates a group of bars/venues in central London and this general manager position will pay up to £40,000. Dedicated to quality and high levels of service, the portfolio includes speakeasy bars, restaurants and creative venues. The individual will ideally have a background in high-volume bars or venues with an emphasis on quality produce, great table service and creating a unique and fun atmosphere. The hiring business is after an established, proven general manager so they will need a minimum of two years’ experience as a restaurant manager or bar manager to be considered. Anyone interested can email their CV to Stuart@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member 
 

Company News:

Gusto secures approval for CVA: Italian casual dining group Gusto, which has been backed by Palatine Private Equity since 2014, has secured approval for its company voluntary agreement (CVA) proposal, which secures the future of the business and more than 600 jobs, Propel has learned. The 18-strong group’s CVA proposals were supported by the overwhelming majority of creditors as 98% voted in favour. As a consequence of the restructuring, the group’s restaurants in York, Lytham, Leamington Spa and Mere Green in the West Midlands, will close permanently with the loss of 105 jobs. Gusto said it has sought to mitigate the impact of the closures on its staff and has been able to redeploy 40 members of the team to alternate restaurants. A package of support for those impacted has also been provided. The Matt Snell-led business said that going forwards, it will be “well-funded and in a strong position to resume a growth strategy at a time that the board thinks is appropriate”. It said the CVA agreements it now has in place with its landlords gave it “confidence to weather any further covid-related challenges”. Snell, chief executive of Gusto, said: “The past six months have been the most challenging in the history of our business, and the wider sector. The passing of the CVA is an important milestone, securing the future of the Gusto business and protecting more than 600 jobs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our creditors and landlords for their support through this time and our investors for their vision in supporting our business plan going forward.” Propel revealed at the end of July the company was working with restructuring advisory firm RSM on its options.
 
Whitbread – 10pm curfew will not affect us badly but permanent VAT cut helpful: Whitbread chief executive Alison Brittain has stated the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants will not affect the business too badly. She said: “We don’t do a lot of trade after 10pm. Our experience is not terribly representative – we have a large amount of unproductive activity (after 10pm).” Brittain said of the up to 6,000 staff the company is consulting with on redundancy, 4,500 work for Premier Inn and 1,500 work within Whitbread restaurants. She also reported an occupancy rate of 51% in August compared with 80% for the same month the year before. Occupancy levels peaked at 58% in the last week of August with a wide range between being full in Newquay and very low levels of occupancy in metropolitan areas. She reported 20,000 staff members are still working on flexible furlough. Brittain also called for a permanent reduction in VAT rates and an additional year of business rates holidays. She suggested the sector was now looking at a period of trading expansion and contraction as the government periodically clamps down on the outbreak – until a vaccine arrives. She said: “The sector has been at the vanguard of everything negative. The help from the government has been exceptional but we are going to have a longer period of suppressed demand.” A note from financial analyst Morgan Stanley stated: “Forward visibility remains low and, although leisure demand over the summer was encouraging, the company expects demand to remain subdued in the short to medium term. It notes the latter half of the financial year (September to February) is more dependent on corporate demand. It also expects the UK government’s furlough scheme to come to an end in October. It is, therefore, taking action to right size its business, which could result in up to 6,000 redundancies – 18% of total posts. However, it expects a significant proportion of these to be achieved voluntarily and, if the furlough scheme is extended, it might be lower than this. The company guides to a £10m to £15m exceptional cost, much lower than what we model.” 
 
Hydes appoints new finance director: North west brewer and retailer Hydes has appointed Simon Mollitt as its finance director, Propel has learned. Mollitt had been interim finance director since June having replaced Adam Mayers following his promotion to managing director. Mollitt, who has made a significant contribution to the company’s reopening plans, joined Hydes in June 2013 as financial controller. He is looking to recruit a successor and hopes to make an appointment by mid-autumn. Mollitt said: “I am looking forward to the challenge of continuing to help guide Hydes through the current difficult times but then see the business not only come out the other side but be in a position to continue to grow and achieve.”
 
Gail’s Bakery to open at £30m redevelopment site in Guildford: Gail’s Bakery, which is backed by sector investor Luke Johnson, is opening a site at Tunsgate Quarter Guildford on Thursday, 29 October. The artisan bakery was founded in 2005 by Tom Molnar and Ran Avidan and opened its first site in Hampstead, north London. It now has circa 60 outlets. Molner said: “I am thrilled to be opening in Guildford. We have identified a strong foodie culture in the town and Tunsgate Quarter offers us the perfect spot to operate both as a bakery and a high visual lunch spot. We look forward to meeting our new neighbours and get baking.” Owned by Merseyside Pension Fund and asset managed by CBRE, Tunsgate Quarter opened in 2018. Tunsgate Quarter forms the heart of a £30.3m redevelopment of the Surrey town’s historic Tunsgate area, and borders the cobbled High Street and the 11th century castle.
 
Lina Stores appoints Canning as finance director: Delicatessen brand Lina Stores has appointed John Canning, formerly of JKS Restaurants, as its finance director. Canning joins the White Rabbit Fund-backed business after stepping down from JKS Restaurants earlier this year. He spent more than two years as finance director at the company behind brands, including Hoppers, Bao and Brigadiers. The Italian delicatessen first opened in Soho 75 years ago. The company opened a second site, in King’s Cross, last November. White Rabbit Fund-backed Lina Stores also opened a 51-cover restaurant in Greek Street, Soho, in 2018. 
 
JRC Global Buffet to launch express format on ex-Kababji site: JRC Global Buffet is set to launch a new express format in London’s Wimbledon. Propel understands that the nine-strong company has secured the former Kababji site at 80 The Broadway, Wimbledon, for the smaller format. Kababji, the Lebanese grill house concept that operates 26 restaurants across the Middle East, made its UK debut last year with a tweaked version of its format, in Wimbledon. The business invested more than £500,000 in the launch of the Wimbledon site. A rollout was expected to follow with a site in Birmingham’s Grand Central lined up. The Wimbledon site was placed on the market through Davis Coffer Lyons earlier this summer. JRC has been gradually reopening its estate over the past few weeks, with its restaurants in Ilford, Watford, Wembley and Wood Green open, and sites in Southampton, Cardiff Bay and Croydon – Purley Way, set to reopen by 5 October. DMR Property acted on behalf of JRC. 
 
Big Mamma confirms launch of Napoli Gang delivery-only pizza kitchens: Big Mamma Group, the operator behind the London-based restaurants Gloria and Circolo Popolare, has confirmed it is to open delivery-only pizza restaurant Napoli Gang on Wednesday (23 September). As revealed by Propel last month, the company is to roll out the new offer in the UK after a successful launch in France. “Crispy, fluffy pizzas loaded with high with super fresh Italian produce” will be available within two miles of its Shoreditch kitchen. A second site will open in Kentish Town on Tuesday, 29 September, with more in the pipeline. Pizzas include Truffle Squad: mozzarella fior di latte, fresh ricotta di bufala, black truffle cream, fresh seasonal truffle, button mushrooms sauteed with Sicilian thyme, fresh chives (£18); Hot Damn: mozzarella fior di latte, San Marzano tomato sauce with Calabria’s best spicy nduja and spianata sausage, tarragon-infused oil and candied red onions (£12); and Greta’s Pizza: yellow tomatoes, mozzarella fior di latte, confit peppers, aubergines, courgettes – all fresh from Italy, Ligurian taggiasche olives and home-made vegan pesto (£13). There are also starters, pasta, street food treats, antipasti, traditional desserts and gelato. Napoli Gang staff uniform T-shirts will also be available to buy with 100% of profits going to Street League, a UK-based charity that helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds overcome barriers to employment. The first Big Mamma site was East Mamma, which opened in April 2015, in Paris, France. There are now ten sites in France, one in Spain with the two Napoli Gang London outfits joining Gloria and Circolo Popolare.
 
The Alchemist launches ‘Culture Shock’ staff initiative: The Alchemist, the 19-stong Simon Potts-led bar and restaurant concept, has launched a week-long, staff initiative, in which it aims to reconnect with its teams and its values, through opening up conversations on important topics raised earlier this year such as the Black Lives Matter movement and climate change. Called “Culture Shock”, it will include meetings to drive change, new staff benefits, charitable activations and a focus on green initiatives. Hannah Plumb, talent and culture director at The Alchemist, said: “After a challenging but successful relaunch of the business in July and a very busy August, this week we launched ‘Culture Shock’ – a week of reconnecting with our teams and our values and opening up conversations on important topics raised earlier this year. We know what our main thing is but we don’t want to lose sight of our cultural compass – our local and global charity and community work is important to our teams and to our guests and, ultimately, what makes The Alchemist, The Alchemist – is our people.”
 
Primeur team opens north London bakery and restaurant for fifth site: Jeremie Cometto and David Gingell have launched a bakery and restaurant in north London for their fifth site. The duo have opened Big Jolene Bakery – known as Big Jo – in Hornsey Road. The space, which was a former refrigeration and air-conditioning shop, has been transformed into a bakery. Cometto and Gingell are behind London restaurants Primeur, Westerns Laundry and Jolene as well as Fitzroy in Cornwall. Big Jo has a bigger production bakery than Jolene, complete with indoor grain silos, flour mills, pizza, bread and pastry ovens. There is a shop and 60-cover restaurant serving baked goods and pizza. Cometto and Gingell opened Primeur in Stoke Newington, followed by Westerns Laundry in Lower Holloway. They launched Jolene in Newington Green in September 2018 before heading to Fowey to open Fitzroy last year.
 
Bisushima rooftop restaurant to open above Trafalgar Square: Japanese restaurant Bisushima is set to open in winter 2020 on the rooftop of the Page8 Hotel in St Martin’s Place and will offer diners views across Trafalgar Square. Bisushima will be a modern Japanese restaurant that will occupy the entire sixth floor of the hotel, reports Hot Dinners. It will have two giant roof terraces with views also over Covent Garden and a separate bar. Restaurateur Sergey Men is behind the project and also owns the World’s End Market on King’s Road. Page8 Hotel is labelled as “affordable luxury” and opened shortly before lock-down but reopened early in September.
 
AG Barr profit falls on demand changes: Funkin owner AG Barr has said significant changes in consumer purchasing and consumption patterns due to the covid-19 pandemic resulted in a 62% slump in first half profit. The company added revenue for the year ending January 2021 will be 12% to 15% below the prior-year level, with a modest reduction in operating profit margin due to adverse sales mix and operational de-leverage, mitigated by ongoing cost savings. AG Barr noted this annual forecast is based on the assumption the UK will not enter into a further significant period of lock-down. For the six months to 25 July, AG Barr recorded pre-tax profit of £5.1m, down 62% from £13.5m a year ago. Revenue fell 7.6% to £113.2m from £122.5m. The sharp drop in profit resulted from a £11.5m in exceptional charges that stemmed from covid-19. The exceptional charges relate to the company’s restructuring programme and a £10m impairment on the Strathmore bottled water brand, which has been significantly hurt by a slump in hospitality sector demand. AG Barr said, as part of the restructuring programme, it has decided to cease to produce and sell the franchise juice brand Snapple during the first half of financial 2022. Snapple accounted for less than 1% of revenue in financial 2020. Chief executive Roger White said: “We have continued to invest in our core brand equity for the long term, maintained our quality and service standards and remain a profitable and cash generative business in a robust drinks sector. We are confident our business will continue to prove its resilience for the balance of this year and beyond.” On dividend payments, AG Barr said it will keep its position under review. On the basis of current underlying assumptions related to the UK’s covid-19 recovery, dividends may resume in 2021.
 
Sabbir Karim reopens two Indian food restaurants, extends discount scheme: Chef-proprietor Sabbir Karim has reopened his Namaaste Kitchen and Salaam Namaste restaurants and is extending the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme through his own pocket. The initiative will run on Mondays to Thursdays for the rest of September. Namaaste Kitchen opened in Camden, north London, in 2010, while Salaam Namaste was introduced two years later in Fitzrovia, central London. 
 
Papa John’s opens site at West Sussex holiday park: Papa John’s has opened its newest store at the Bunn Leisure family resort in Selsey, West Sussex. The holiday park is owned by Cove Communities, which said it was looking to extend its food and beverage options. Neil Ainsworth, head of commercial at Cove Communities, said: “We were looking for a brand to add value and match the professionalism of what we offer but also a little of the fun factor too. Papa John’s was really receptive to help create the type of operation that would suit our park.” Justin Gilbert, director of business development, Papa John’s UK, added: “As well as our traditional franchised high street stores, we also work with organisations hungry to add a quality food brand to enhance their own offering and generate a further revenue stream at the same time.”
  
Millennium & Copthorne Hotels awarded £432,000 costs in employment tribunal against former employee: Millennium & Copthorne Hotels has been awarded £432,000 in costs by an employment tribunal for its costs following a claim brought by its former senior vice-president for procurement, which the tribunal held he pursued unreasonably. Lawyers Royds Withy King claimed it was one of the largest costs awards made in the UK by an employment tribunal. The award follows claims brought by Mr Chee Hwee Tan in 2017 for unfair dismissal, age discrimination, race discrimination, sex discrimination, victimisation, harassment, whistleblowing and unfair deduction from wages. In its decision, the employment tribunal found Tan to be “duplicitous”, acting in a way to “undermine the trust and confidence” between the two parties, with no evidence of discrimination or harassment. All claims failed and were dismissed. Millennium & Copthorne’s group senior vice-president and general counsel Jonathon Grech said: “Spurious claims, such as this, take up a huge amount of time to deal with, both for ourselves and the employment tribunal system. It is right that an appropriate message has been delivered by the tribunal regarding such disingenuous claims.” David Israel, a partner at Royds Withy King representing Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, said: “This was quite clearly a vexatious claim with no grounding in reality. Mr Tan was given plenty of opportunity to withdraw his claim yet chose to proceed and attempt to manipulate the system in the full knowledge that he would lose. This decision should serve as a warning to employees bringing unfounded and vexatious claims. We fully expect employers having to face an increase in the number of employment tribunal claims as the furlough scheme ends. For those that elect to bring claims without merit, this judgment will at least provide a ‘sense check’ before pursuing such claims.”
 
Coconut Chilli announces dark kitchen location: Indian street food concept Coconut Chilli has announced the location of its dark kitchen, which has been in operation since April. The Navina Bartlett-led business, launched its “delivery days” menu from the back of Bar Humbug in Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol. Bartlett said: “Operating from the back of Bar Humbug is ideal for us at the moment because there is so much uncertainty. We really like working alongside other established operators and we are able to safeguard hospitality jobs too.” Bar Humbug owner Pablo Chaundy added: “Working with Coconut Chilli will diversify our business model at a time where flexibility is key. We are also launching our daytime offer, which will bolster our resilience and we both call for Bristolians to support this long-standing independent venue.” Coconut Chilli serves south Indian-inspired dishes from Thursdays to Sundays on a delivery or collection basis.
 
Black and White Hospitality brings Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill brand to Salisbury: Black and White Hospitality, which owns the rights to restaurant brands belonging to Marco Pierre White, has opened a new restaurant in Salisbury, Wiltshire. The 50-cover Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill is located at The Stones Hotel. Replacing the hotel’s on-site restaurant, the move follows a deal between Black and White Hospitality and David Matton who took ownership of the hotel in May 2013. Nick Taplin, chairman and chief executive of Black and White Hospitality, said: “This is the second restaurant we’ve opened in as many months following the opening of our Swansea site and is fantastic news for Salisbury. The Steakhouse fits perfectly with the four-star environment of The Stones Hotel’s customer base.”

Shepherd Neame invests in new brewing technology: Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame has invested in new brewing technology. It has installed a new yeast propagation plant at its Faversham site, which will take a small quantity of yeast created in the brewery’s laboratory and then multiply it into a large volume for use in the brewing process. The system was imported from Germany. The project got under way in March, but was suspended due to the effects of the covid-19 pandemic and has only resumed in recent weeks. Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame said: “We felt it was important to invest in a world-class yeast propagation system, and ensure we can maintain the high quality of our beer in a more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way.” 
 
Kimberley Hernandez to lead opening of Silver Birch restaurant in Chiswick next month: The Silver Birch restaurant is to open in October with former Xu and Kym’s head chef Kimberley Hernandez at the helm. Founded by Tim Price – who trained at Leith’s – Silver Birch will feature a British menu at a venue in Chiswick High Road that used to be home to cafe Brew. Wall art features illustrations by Jessie Brown and there will be banquette seating. 
 
Craft brewer Drynks Unlimited receives £1m investment to scale up production of alcohol-free range: Craft brewer Drynks Unlimited has received a £1m investment to scale-up production of its alcohol-free range. Bill Roberts, the founder and chairman of Welsh gold business Clogau Gold, has invested the cash to help the Manchester business accelerate the growth of its Smashed range of 0% ABV beer and cider. He said he was attracted by the “massive potential” of the alcohol-free range and the “entreprenuerial spirit” of managing director Richard Clark. Drynks Unlimited had previously secured a £125,000 investment on Dragons’ Den, when Sara Davies agreed to take a 7.5% equity stake in the business. Clark, the former Halewood marketing director who founded Drynks Unlimited in 2017, told The Business Desk: “This £1m investment is absolutely key to help us move out of the start-up phase and into a key national and international alcohol-free brand and we’re very proud to have Bill Roberts on the team who brings with him a wealth of experience in scaling businesses.” The funding will pay for an upgrade of its cool vacuum distillation machine at Robinsons Brewery, which “gently dealcoholises” real craft beer and cider producing 0% ABV drinks.
 
Family behind Irish distillery take over village’s only pub after nine-month closure and £700,000 overhaul: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars site The Hightown Hotel has reopened, boasting a £700,000 revamp and creating 20 jobs. The pub, which is the only one in the village of Hightown in Merseyside, is under the stewardship of the McLoughlin family – mum and dad Claire and Patrick, plus son and daughter Thomas and Lauren. Star Pubs & Bars said the work has retained all the character of the 1800s pub and renovated original features such as wooden floors, sash windows and open fires while making the pub stylish and contemporary. It was due to reopen in March but coronavirus halted those plans. Patrick McLoughlin said: “We’re over the moon and excited to be finally opening. There’s been a massive amount of interest from residents. They’ve been desperate for the pub to reopen and to have somewhere to meet up again.” Star Pubs & Bars area manager Phil McWilliam added: “The Hightown Hotel is definitely worth the wait, it looks amazing and hopefully will bring some much-needed good cheer in these challenging times. It’s great news for Hightown but, with all that The Hightown Hotel now offers, it should attract people from across Merseyside, too.” The pub accommodates 150 inside even with covid-19 restrictions and a new alfresco area sees seating outside increase by a further 110 covers. There is a new food menu and drinks include a poitin from Patrick McLoughlin’s distillery in Ireland. Future plans include a first-floor function room with space for more than 100 guests and its own private terrace will be ready in the new year. A £1.2m poitin, whisky and gin distillery and en-suite boutique letting rooms are planned to open in 2021.
 
New dining and leisure hub opens in Elephant & Castle to house traders during shopping centre redevelopment: A new dining, leisure and retail hub is being temporarily set up in Elephant & Castle, south London, while the shopping centre is redeveloped. A total of 26 traders will be present in the 5,000 square foot Castle Square scheme from Saturday (26 September). Restaurants including Guyanese Kaieteur Kitchen, Original Caribbean Spice and family-run El Guambra will be among those using the temporary accommodation. Diana Barranco, community director for Elephant & Castle town centre, said: “Elephant & Castle, the hub of London’s Zone 1, has long been home to much-loved traders, who are greatly appreciated by Londoners and the local community. With the opening of Castle Square providing a new leisure and retail destination, we look forward to welcoming the community to enjoy the space.” 

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