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Mon 21st Dec 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Giggling Squid trading ahead of budget, lines up four new openings: Giggling Squid, the Thai restaurant brand founded by Andy and Pranee Laurillard, is trading ahead of budget for the year to date, as the 36-strong business has benefited during the pandemic from having a “delivery friendly cuisine and predominantly regional locations”. Throughout the two government lockdowns and tiering system, the company said it had adapted and pivoted successfully between normal trading – with social distancing restrictions – to an “off-site” trading model of takeaway/delivery. It said its latest, and largest, site opening in Wheeler Street, Cambridge, which opened in September, has traded above expectations. More recently the company used the second government lockdown as an opportune time to invest in the refurbishment and expansion of its Clifton and Guildford branches. Giggling Squid, which continues to be supported by Barclays Bank and BGF, said it remained well financed with “a commanding liquidity position” and is looking to acquire a number of “top-quality restaurant and retail units nationwide”, in order to build a strong pipeline for FY21. This pipeline will include the former Zizzi site in Harborne the company secured last year, plus the lease of an ex-ASK Italian site in Maidstone, which has returned to the business. Propel understands the company has also secured the former Gusto sites in Mere Green and West Bridgford. Propel also understands Giggling Squid’s medium-term target is to build a presence in the north west and north east, as it is planning to initially open six sites in each. Andy Laurillard, co-founder and chief executive, said: “Our business has proven highly resilient over the past year. Our provincial estate benefited from work from home patterns and our fantastic teams have done a terrific job pivoting to and from a break-even delivery/takeaway model, a true test of their morale. We are expecting further months of disrupted trading but see little risk to the business from these and we expect to recommence acquisitions after Christmas. There is no doubt for the few businesses whose model has allowed them to weather the past nine months there are some very good opportunities in the market. However, we are also somewhat cautious about what sort of economy we will emerge into when, as we hope, normality returns next summer. Our expansion will be measured, and we will be evaluating new sites against stricter performance metrics than we have previously applied.” The plans for 2021 come as the group reported turnover for the year ending 29 March 2020 was up by 16.3% to £38.4m and Ebitda before exceptional costs was £4.4m. It said although Ebitda decreased 10.5% on the prior year, this was due “wholly to the pandemic, which impacted the final three weeks of the financial year”. The company had positive like-for-like sales and absolute company Ebitda growth for the first 11 months of the year, on the back of five new openings – in Oxford, Chislehurst, Leamington Spa, Weybridge and Leicester. Post year end, the company secured as-yet unutilised funds from the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and used the various other state support measures where available. 

Industry News:

Tim Martin – ‘unless the hearts and minds of customers are won over, this heartless government’s propaganda machine will put us all out of business’: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has told Propel unless the hearts and minds of customers are won over, this “heartless government’s propaganda machine will put us all out of business”. Martin said Alex Reilley, chairman of cafe-bar operator Loungers, had “hit the nail on the head” when he said the industry needs to “win the hearts and minds of the good people of the UK”. Martin said: “Wetherspoon is trying to achieve this by a magazine (available on Wetherspoon’s website) on every table in every pub, with comments from doctors and scientists, which criticise government policies – and make the case for hospitality. If every hospitality company put just three articles we’ve used in the magazine on their tables, Alex’s objective would likely be achieved. The first is an open letter to the prime minister by Dr Rosamond Jones and several hundred medics and scientists, which opposes lockdowns and makes the case for a more proportionate approach. The second is an article by freelance journalist Ross Clark in the Daily Mail, which brilliantly undermines dodgy government propaganda. The third is an article by economics editor Larry Elliott in the Guardian, which also criticises lockdowns and highlights the relative success of the Swedish approach. No one from government has been able to lay a finger on these critics. The government has, instead, relied on ‘Project Fear’ to keep public opinion onside. Too many people in the industry, with honourable exceptions, are hiding behind UKHospitality and haven’t had the courage to make the arguments for an alternative approach directly to their customers. But, unless the hearts and minds of customers are won over, this heartless government’s propaganda machine will put us all out of business. As Bob Dylan warned years ago: ‘You’d better start swimming, or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changing’.”
 
Sector has ‘lost all confidence in the government strategy against covid’, says NTIA: The night-time economy and hospitality sector “has lost all confidence in the government strategy against covid,” the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has said. Speaking after prime minister Boris Johnson brought in new tier four restrictions in London and parts of south east and eastern England, NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said there was “disbelief and anger” among the sector the government kept other industries open “during such a delicate period within the crisis”. He said: “The unrelenting closing and reopening of businesses is costing owners hundreds of thousands of pounds, and coupled with the erratic decision-making around restrictions, is rapidly destroying the ability of the sector to bounce back. Thousands of businesses and employees have supported the government's public health campaign against covid, creating safe, regulated environments for people to socialise. This financial burden and commitment has been recognised only in lip-service, with insubstantial support measures to repay confidence in the sector. There is disbelief and anger among the sector the government did not foresee the impact of transmissions by keeping retail, education and other sectors open during such a delicate period within the crisis. If the prime minister wants the hardest-hit sectors to continue to support the government in its public health strategy against covid, then he must compensate the businesses fully for their losses, and deliver a robust exit strategy to regain industry confidence.”

Impact of lockdown ‘felt long after venues reopen’: The impact of lockdown is felt long after venues are allowed to reopen, according to research by hospitality software start-up Stampede. Its report, which analysed UK hospitality interactions in 2020, claimed it takes time for people to come back to pubs, bars and restaurants once lockdowns have been lifted and the hospitality sector cannot be “turned on and off like a tap”. The report said: “If people get used to the idea of staying in, or believe it is their duty to do so, changing the law to allow hospitality venues to reopen will not prompt people to do so overnight.” Graphic evidence showed a steady return of custom after reopening in early July that peaked at the end of August. Additionally, December showed a similar slow rise as people returned to hospitality before further tier restrictions were implemented. Stampede chief executive and founder Patrick Clover added: “The government may have chopped and changed its stance on hospitality restrictions, but human behaviour takes far longer to adjust, and the impact of lockdown is felt long after venues reopen. This is far from being a doom and gloom report, however. It explains how the UK’s wonderful hospitality venues reacted to lockdown and how real customers behaved in such strange times. It’s our view they have acted far more responsibly than they have been given credit for.” The report also discovered the government-enforced 10pm curfew had little effect on hospitality sites because customers had already abandoned late-night drinking and the success of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme was at the expense of more traditional weekend trade. The report’s key findings included 48.1% of UK restaurant visits during the Eat Out To Help Out initiative took place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with Wednesday becoming the most popular trading day of the week. Even though it did cannibalise weekend trade to some extent, the scheme brought in more business than restaurants lost on traditional weekend trade. It also discovered customers moved away from late-night drinking and dining long before the curfew was introduced at the end of September as pubs, bars and restaurants all experienced earlier spikes in traffic in July and August versus 2019. Interactions showed venues were far more dependent on regular or returning customers post-lockdown rather than bringing in new customers. And customers did not go overboard when pubs reopened on 4 July – dubbed “Independence Day”. Pubs had a similar number of customers during that weekend compared with most in July, and only a fraction of the numbers recorded in August, September and October.

Sector to shut in mainland Scotland for at least a fortnight from Boxing Day, Welsh hospitality closes as lockdown measures brought forward: Pubs and restaurants will have to close in the majority of Scotland for at least a fortnight from Boxing Day as the country goes into a full lockdown. First minister Nicola Sturgeon said mainland Scotland will be moved into level four amid fears a new variant strain is accelerating the spread of coronavirus. Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles will be moved from level one into level three. Restaurants and pubs as well as non-essential shops will have to close while the restrictions are in place, although takeaway food and alcohol will be permitted. Schools will also remain closed for most pupils until 18 January, with a week of home learning from 11 January. A strict travel ban has also been put in place over the festive holidays, with cross-border travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK not permitted. Sturgeon said: “We simply cannot risk more of this new strain entering the country if we can possibly avoid it.” Meanwhile, Wales brought forward its planned lockdown with hospitality venues forced to shut at end of trading on Saturday (19 December). Pubs and restaurants were originally due to close at 6pm on Christmas Day but first minister Mark Drakeford has changed the plans given the new variant of the virus. Takeaways are still permitted. “While we all want to avoid further disruption to businesses and plans for Christmas, our overriding duty is to protect lives here in Wales,” he said. 

Reilley – shut businesses become conduits for distributing government funds to people who would otherwise be losing their jobs: Alex Reilley, chairman of cafe-bar operator Loungers, has said state support, including the furlough scheme and business rates relief, did not help if businesses were shut. Talking to The Sunday Times, Reilley said: “They basically become a conduit for distributing government funds to people who would otherwise be losing their jobs.” After discovering on Thursday (17 December) nine of its 173 sites could reopen but 15 would close, Loungers set about emptying kitchens of fresh produce to avoid a repeat of the first lockdown, when it had to write off stock worth £900,000. “Given the short notice, we will have a lot of stock that is perishable,” Reilley said. “We’ll try to move it to another site, or it’ll go to food banks.” In the same article, Yummy Pubs co-founder Anthony Pender said the sector “can’t keep up this open-close pattern”. Pender said: “A lot of people [in the industry] are just saying it’s the last time, we’re done.” Yummy Pubs has borrowed £350,000 from its bank to stay afloat, which Pender said will take ten years to pay back. He has also received £5,000 of a promised £38,500 government grant. He said: “The directors have been taking 10% of our normal pay. It’s financially crippled us personally as well.” At the start of 2020 Pender and his partners had six pubs. Now they have four. By spring, they will be lucky to have any, Pender reckoned. His London pubs closed at the start of last week. He hoped the Surrey one would keep the business ticking over, but that too is now shut. Food worth £8,000 ordered for The Wiremill, near Lingfield, will probably go to waste.

Leicestershire village pubs to receive one-off 1,000 payment from county council, BBPA urges other local authorities to follow suit: A one-off payment of £1,000 to support small village pubs in Leicestershire that are unable to open over the festive period is being offered by the county council – and the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has urged other local authorities to follow suit. The initiative – thought to be the only one of its kind in the country – is designed to keep people in jobs, maintain the role of the pub as a community hub and help them to diversify by providing extra services for residents. Deputy council leader Cllr Blake Pain said: “We’ve ploughed almost £3m into supporting community groups and small businesses – and want to go further. That’s why we’re doubling the money provided by the government and offering £1,000 to help struggling rural pubs. We recognise their plight – and want to do all we can to support them through these tough times.” BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin added: “We welcome Leicestershire County Council`s innovative approach to providing additional financial support for the county's small rural wet-led pubs that will be unable to open over the festive period. Hats off to it for responding in our pubs’ hour of need. I would encourage other county councils to follow suit and government to take note.” Pubs need to be in a Leicestershire village and able to show how they provide a vital community role.

Liverpool alfresco dining initiative generates £9m of extra revenue: A scheme to promote the hospitality industry in Liverpool during the first lockdown has generated £8.9m in revenues and protected hundreds of jobs in the city’s restaurant and bar sector. The Liverpool Without Walls scheme was the first of its kind in the country and was launched in June when the city council announced a £450,000 fund to help local small to medium-sized businesses redesign outdoor spaces and turn them into high-quality, covered seating areas. It was aimed at making up for the internal space they lost as a result of social distancing restrictions. Support was given to 88 businesses and new figures show from 20 July to 25 September, the scheme generated additional sales of £8.9m that would not have otherwise been delivered, and for every £1 invested, it brought £20 back into the local economy. Restaurants, cafes and bars were able to cater for a further 2,723 covers and the majority of venues were able to bring staff back off furlough. On average, covers increased by 42% and for some smaller venues the outside area actually increased the capacity they had prior to the social distancing requirements. In total, 1,617 additional seats were created. The scheme focused on three main hospitality areas – Bold Street, Castle Street and Lark Lane – and was led by the city council in partnership with Liverpool Business Improvement District and the city chamber of commerce. When giving feedback to the scheme, 95% were satisfied, 82% of venues believed it had increased sales, and 64% felt it made it viable for them to reopen. Since the research was carried out, a further 23 businesses have received grant funding, taking the total number of businesses that have been supported by Liverpool Without Walls to 111. The money for the scheme came from existing budgets, by re-purposing capital spending to give businesses practical support for the covid-19 emergency and alleviate the impact on the local economy.

Deliveroo matches customer tips for tier three and four restaurants in run-up to Christmas: Deliveroo has pledged to match customers’ in-app tips to local restaurants hit by the hardest covid-19 restrictions. In recognition of thousands of businesses that have been forced to close their doors to dine-in customers in tier three and four, Deliveroo is urging customers to give a little extra and will match customers’ tips up until Christmas Day. The pledge applies to eligible local restaurants that have been required to close completely to dine-in customers. To find eligible restaurants, all customers have to do is search “tip match” in the app to bring up a list. Just before a customer confirms their order at “checkout”, they are able to opt in to add a restaurant tip. The chosen amount is added to the total cost of a customer’s order and 100% of the tip amount is passed on to the restaurant. Deliveroo has enabled customers to tip restaurants in the app since July, and since customers have given a total of more than £1.1m in tips to restaurants across the UK. Deliveroo chief executive and founder Will Shu said: “Christmas is typically an incredibly busy time for restaurants as they traditionally welcome families and parties through their doors. This year, with more restrictions, restaurants need our support. We want to work with our customers to help ease the pressure on restaurants and show how much they mean to us, especially at this time of year.” Deliveroo will match tips paid to eligible restaurants up to a total value of £60,000 until midnight on Christmas Eve up to the value of £20 per tip.
  
PCA produces new insurance factsheet: The pubs code adjudicator (PCA) has produced a new insurance factsheet for tied pub tenants so they are aware of their rights under the pubs code. The factsheet tells tied pub tenants what a pub company must do each time it buys or renews premises insurance that it plans to recharge for, as well as what information and policy details tenants should receive from the pub company. If a tenant finds a cheaper comparable quote then the pub company must either buy the alternative policy; or buy its own policy but agree in writing the tenant will not have to pay the difference in cost. What is a suitable comparable alternative quote for premises insurance will depend on the circumstances. The PCA said tenants are “strongly encouraged” to seek independent advice from a regulated professional. If the tenant does not think their pub company has complied with the code, they should raise this with their code compliance officer in the first instance, the PCA said.
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a Neapolitan pizza concept that is looking for an assistant general manager to join the family. The business is looking for an experienced manager who would enjoy working in a fun and high-energy pizza restaurant in south east London. Some knowledge of Neapolitan pizza and Italian food would be desirable but, most importantly, a general passion for quality food and great service is needed. The restaurant has also expanded a very successful delivery business this year. Anyone interested can email David@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

Company News:

PizzaExpress to restructure management team, CFO Pellington to stand down: PizzaExpress, the David Campbell-led business, is to restructure its management team, which will include the creation of two new roles, a chief customer officer and a chief business officer, Propel has learned. As part of the restructure, current UK managing director Zoe Bowley will see her remit expanded to also oversee the group’s international restaurant division. Andy Pellington will step down as chief financial officer, a role he has held for seven years, next March, after overseeing the recapitalisation of the business earlier this autumn. The finance role will come under the new chief business officer’s remit, as well as overseeing the group’s supply chain and procurement functions. The group’s new chief customer officer will also oversee the brand’s marketing function, as part of their remit, with the business currently without a marketing director. Both roles are currently being advertised for, with appointments expected early next year. The group’s management team is completed by Kate Daines, who joined from Costa in 2018 to become PizzaExpress director of people for UK and Ireland, was appointed people director for the region and promoted to the UK leadership team last year. Campbell, the former chief executive of Wagamama, was appointed group chief executive of PizzaExpress at the start of November, as the chain announced the completion of its recapitalisation. Campbell, who led the turnaround at Wagamama, and most recently Bill’s, where he was executive chairman, was joined on the new PizzaExpress board by former Asda chief executive and ex-Wagamama chairman Allan Leighton. PizzaExpress also announced the completion of its recapitalisation, which the company said would give it “a strong balance sheet and significant funds to invest in growth in the years ahead”. The company’s new capital structure saw its total debt reduced from £735m to £319m, and included the immediate injection of £40m of new capital. In addition, the business was provided with a further £90m of funds available from the new owners. The recapitalisation saw the Beijing-based Hony Capital, which acquired PizzaExpress for circa £900m in July 2014, depart the business, but keep its China-based operation. 

Café de Paris-owner Maxwell’s Restaurants goes into liquidation: London restaurant and bar operator Maxwell’s Restaurants, which owns Café de Paris and Tropicana Beach Club in the West End, has gone into liquidation, leading to the loss of 400 jobs. The Sunday Times reported Live Recoveries, which has been appointed liquidator, said restrictions on trading meant the company had no choice but to close. “Despite hope December would generate a much-needed upturn in trading income, it was apparent low customer numbers, uncertainty surrounding trading, and mounting creditors and rent arrears left the company with no alternative,” Live said. Maxwell’s is controlled by Guards Polo Club chairman Brian Stein, who bought Café de Paris in 2002. Howard Raymond, the son of “King of Soho” Paul Raymond, who owns the freehold, said he received a letter on Friday (18 December) announcing the liquidation.
 
McDonald’s to stop serving non-sustainable hard plastic in toys with Happy Meals from New Year’s Day: McDonald’s will stop serving toys made from non-sustainable hard plastics with its Happy Meals from 1 January. The initiative will remove more than 3,000 tonnes of plastic from circulation. In the new year, the Happy Meal will only include soft toys, sustainable paper-based gifts or books as McDonald’s looks to viable alternatives to hard plastic. Beth Hart, vice-president of supply chain and brand trust at McDonald’s UK, said: “Removing hard plastic toys from our Happy Meal next year will see more than 3,000 tonnes of plastic removed from our supply chain and is a big step in our ongoing sustainability journey.” More than one million Happy Meal toys have already been recycled and used to create the first of 15 playgrounds, which opened close to Oxford Children’s Hospital and is available for the use of families staying at the 62-bedroom Ronald McDonald House Oxford. The house provides a home away from home for the families at the hospital and the playground will provide respite for children being treated at the hospital and their siblings. 

Asda owners offering to fund landlords legal challenge against Caffe Nero rent plans: The billionaire owners of Asda are offering to fund a legal challenge for landlords against Caffe Nero. According to The Sunday Times, the EG Group, led by Mohsin and Zuber Issa, has hired law firm CMS and property agents Christie & Co and CWM to rally property owners in the hope of launching a challenge to Caffe Nero’s plan to slash rents as part of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA). Borrowing a tactic used by the retail tycoon Mike Ashley, who funded an effort to overturn Debenhams’ CVA last year, the brothers hope to derail the insolvency – and ultimately take control of Caffe Nero. However, a source close to the process accused EG Group of “dirty tricks” after it made an offer to buy Caffe Nero just hours before landlords voted on the CVA at the start of this month. EG declined to comment. It has previously said it believes its offer would have delivered a “stronger outcome” for employees and landlords, and Caffe Nero would “thrive” under its ownership. As part of the CVA, which is being run by KPMG, landlords face losing most of their outstanding rent. EG is promising to pay them in full. Under insolvency law, creditors can challenge the result of a restructuring plan within 28 days. Caffe Nero said: “We fully believe the decisions we have taken are in the best interests of our creditors and other key stakeholders.”

Camino founders secure business out of administration for circa £2m: Spanish tapas restaurant and bar group Camino was acquired out of administration by its founders for a total consideration of circa £2m, Propel understands. Last month, Camino Trading – a newly incorporated company run by co-founders Nigel Foster and Richard Bigg – agreed to acquire the business and assets from RSM, the administrators of Camino Leisure Holdings and Camino Restaurants (the group’s operating entity), following an accelerated sales process. BGF invested £3m in the business in 2012. Propel understands turnover for the business was approximately £9m per annum from FY16 to FY19. However the impact of covid-19 saw sales fall by circa 40% from £7.4m in FY19 to September, to £4.3m in the same period this year. Losses over the period also headed above £1m. In October, the founders acquired the BGF debt/security position. Despite RSM speaking to 15 parties around further details of the business as part of an accelerated sales process, no parties proceeded to signing non-disclosure agreements. The one offer that was received, from the founders, was for the sum of £2.1m, by way of a £2.07m debt roll and £30,000 on a cash deferred basis. The offer was accepted, with an initial consideration of circa £1.83m, including a £1.8m debt roll at completion. The deal means the group will be able to continue operating its four restaurants and two bars while saving 77 jobs. Managing director Bigg said last month: “Despite covid-19, our amazing team has made an outstanding effort to continue bringing our vibrant Spanish flavours to the UK. I’m hugely grateful for the team’s commitment and resilience and with the future support of our key stakeholders including our valued suppliers and landlords, we look forward to successfully continuing the Camino story.” 

Douglas Jack – TRG’s positive long-term outlook remains: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said The Restaurant Group’s (TRG) positive long-term outlook remains but it is cutting its 2020E profit before tax forecast by £31m. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 100p, Jack said: “The cut in forecast is to reflect [a number of points]. Cash burn during the November lockdown was £5.5m. It was £2m per month higher than during the first national lockdown due to rents payable under the terms of the company voluntary arrangement and employer contributions towards furlough payments. The new tier system has become increasingly disruptive – on 14 October the company had 37 closed sites; on 2 December it had 64 closed sites; and under the latest tier structure, it has 103 closed sites, 142 sites offering delivery and takeaway services only, and 145 sites (37%) that are able to allow dine-in. We believe monthly losses/cash burn (with rent being paid) are similar under the current trading scenario to what they were during the November lockdown. We now forecast the current level of disruption and losses continuing throughout the first quarter of 2021. This accounts for about 60% of our 2021E forecast change; the balance is a more gradual recovery from the second quarter. After also factoring in an extra £15m of working capital outflow (which is unlikely to reverse in December) and increased cash exceptional costs due to the November lockdown, we now forecast £340m of net debt at year end. In 2021E, net debt should be supported by lower capex (circa £30m) and almost £10m of working capital inflow. We forecast £352m of net debt in 2021E. With £480m of debt facilities, TRG has plenty of liquidity in our view. We are holding our forecasts for 2022E. In this year, net debt should fall despite capex and expansion starting to increase. We are retaining our 100p target price. This equates to eight times EV/Ebitda, which we do not view as onerous for a company in which the dominant share of profits are generated by Wagamama and a very high-quality pub estate. On 6.7 times EV/Ebitda, the shares offer attractive long-term value in our view.”
 
Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito to save more surplus food by extending food waste app partnership across all UK sites: Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito, owned by The Restaurant Group (TRG), have extended their partnership with food waste app Too Good To Go across all their UK sites to stop more food being wasted, after a successful trial. The app allows users to buy surplus food from restaurants, retailers and producers rather than letting it go to waste. More than 1,100 meals have been saved from going to waste. Customers must download the app then purchase a “Magic Bag”, collect it at an allotted time and take it away to enjoy. Prices start at £3.60 and all revenue created for TRG through this initiative is donated to charity. Mark Chambers, chief executive leisure and concessions at TRG, said: “We are thrilled to partner with Too Good To Go across all our sites to reduce our waste and ramp up the number of meals that are being saved from going to waste. We want to ensure any surplus food from our restaurants is being managed and the people who need it have access to it, so we are very excited to see this relationship developing and growing.” Too Good To Go UK country manager Paschalis Loucaides added: “The fact we have saved so many meals from going to waste shows just how big an impact we can have together in the fight against food waste. The national rollout will see even more meals saved.”
 
Le Bab to open third site in February: Modern kebab concept Le Bab, founded by Stephen Tozer, Manu Canales and Ed Brunet, will launch a third site in February. The restaurant will be located in Old Street, Shoreditch, and will replace Turkish Delight kebab shop. Kebabs will be cooked on a wood and charcoal-filled robata and served with flatbreads made on-site. According to Harden’s, the menu will offer pork shawarma, which comes with pickled cucumber, chermoula mayo and herbs; lamb Madras, which comes with Bombay mix, red onion, lime, mint and coriander; and the paneer kebab, with coconut puree, crispy onion and curry mayonnaise. The site will have 40 covers and a takeaway option. Nick Garston, of the Found Agency, acted on behalf of Le Bab.
 
Hot Stone to open second Japanese restaurant in January: Japanese dining concept Hot Stone will open a second restaurant, in Fitzrovia’s Windmill Street in January. Following the success of the group’s first site in Islington’s Chapel Market, Hot Stone Fitzrovia will have a 50-cover restaurant and seven seat open sushi bar in the 1,300 square foot space. The menu will feature Ishiyaki food – inspired by the historic Japanese art of cooking on searing hot stones – alongside freshly prepared sushi, sashimi and seasonally changing hot dishes, such as 48-hour marinated black cod, Hamachi cheeks and fresh, home-made tofu will be introduced. Drinks include a curated list of sake by the glass, bottle and tasting flight, alongside old world wine, Japanese spirits and Sapporo and Kirin beer. Hot Stone co-founder and director Shrabaneswor Rai said: “We are delighted to be expanding the Hot Stone brand and to have found a new home in the heart of Fitzrovia. After an unprecedentedly challenging year for our sector, it’s fantastic to be growing, evolving and taking the Hot Stone concept to new audiences in central London.”

Thomasina Miers collaborates with Detox Kitchen on ready meal range: Thomasina Miers, co-founder of Mexican restaurant brand Wahaca, has collaborated with all-natural deli and meal delivery service Detox Kitchen to develop a meal range. The six meals, which include baked chicken and rigatoni and veggie enchilada lasagne – will be available on the Detox Kitchen website from January. Detox Kitchen founder Lily Simpson told Propel: “We’re both deeply passionate about making food that is as nourishing as it is tasty. In a world where fast, processed food is becoming the norm we’re determined to prove to our customers you can have fast, delicious food that is good for you, sustainable, seasonal and locally sourced.” Miers said: “Life now seems to be one of extremes, but my take on food and sustainability is resolutely moderate and open to new learning, governed by the fundamental belief that eating better has the power to make the world a better place. I am thrilled to be creating this range with Lily and her team at Detox Kitchen, enabling us to get really delicious food to lots of people throughout the UK.”

Erpingham House to host London pop-up: Erpingham House, the UK’s largest plant-based restaurant, is to host a pop-up in London and use it as a springboard to try new dishes. The three-week residency will be held at The James Street Collective – a multifaceted venue comprising a co-working space, cafe, and restaurant – in Covent Garden. The menu will focus on the versatility of vegetables and be available from Wednesday through to Sunday – until 31 January. Erpingham House executive chef Megan Greenacre will be at the helm, with the specially created menu available evenings only. Erpingham House was founded in 2018 by entrepreneur Loui Blake, with vegan football-playing partners Declan Rudd and Russell Martin, who saw a lack of plant-based options in Norwich. They have since opened a second outpost, in Brighton. The restaurants are entirely free from single-use plastic and the London pop-up will also follow suit. 

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