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Tue 2nd Feb 2021 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Propel Multi Club Conference helping operators ‘thrive and survive’ opens for bookings, two free places for operators: The first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2021 will take place on Wednesday, 10 March, with the day-long event being held virtually, helping operators to “thrive and survive”. The event, which starts at 10am, is free for operators, who can claim two places by emailing Speakers will include Graeme Smith, managing director at AlixPartners, on the market landscape and investment/consolidation opportunities, who will be the winners and losers over the next 12 months and beyond, and which parts of the market will generate the most interest. Dan Warne, founder of Sessions Market, talks about opening a socially distanced food hall during the crisis, how the concept has adapted since launch, its relationship with local traders, its new concept incubator initiative and its expansion strategy. Yishay Malkov, chief executive of Various Eateries, talks about floating the company, raising money during a pandemic, launching a growth strategy during the crisis, and the size of the opportunity for its brands and for the sector. Alex Reilley, chairman of Loungers, talks about steering a listed company through the crisis, why it is well-positioned to accelerate its growth, the lessons learned over the past year, and reshaping the business for further growth. Salima Vellani, founder of host kitchen business KBox Global, talks about how she used her own experience developing her Absurd Bird brand to allow operators to make the most of their excess kitchen capacity to boost their turnover by tapping into local delivery demand. Philip Turner, founder and chief executive of Chestnut Group, speaks about building and operating a regional pub company during the crisis, making it future proof, the evolution of the pubs role in the community and where the business and the sector goes from here. Neat Burger co-founder and head of operations, Stasi Nychas, talks about the Lewis Hamilton-backed plant-based concept’s entry into the UK market, its growth plans, its delivery strategy and adapting during the pandemic. Sarah Willingham, chief executive of bar company Nightcap, talks about launching the newly listed company, the opportunity to acquire further businesses, the growth possibilities for London Cocktail Club, and the future of the UK’s bar sector. There will also be two panel sessions. Fledgling concepts will talk about evolving and growing in a covid-impacted world featuring Grace Regan, founder of SpiceBox; Carla Casadei, founder of Young Vegans; Oliver Hyde, founder of Flour Pot; Morten Jensen, founder of Light Bar & Market; and Marco Reick, director at Qoot. Meanwhile, leading sector players will look at what comes next for the industry featuring Simon Wilkinson, chief executive of Byron; Steve Holmes, chief executive of Azzurri Group; Zoe Bowley, managing director of PizzaExpress and Dermot King, chief executive of Oakman Inns. Propel manging director Paul Charity said: “As the sector looks to bounce back from the most difficult time in living memory, this is a not to be missed event to help operators not just survive – but thrive – in a post-covid world.” 

Industry News:

Andy Hornby to feature in latest Propel Premium ‘lessons of lockdown’ video: In a new series of Propel Premium “lessons of lockdown” videos, Ann Elliott, hospitality strategist, connector and adviser, talks to The Restaurant Group chief executive Andy Hornby about dealing with the frustration and impatience of wanting to get back to trading; the different challenges faced by each of the company’s four businesses, including Wagamama and Brunning & Price; being more director in terms of communication; the need to support every business across the sector – big and small; and the importance of securing the right, continued support from the chancellor. The video will be released at 4pm on Tuesday (2 February). Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. Subscribers also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has grown to 1,600 businesses. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email

All hospitality sites allowed to reopen as Isle of Man becomes first part of UK to end covid-19 restrictions: Hospitality sites across the Isle of Man were allowed to reopen just after midnight on Monday (1 February) as all covid-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted – the first part of the UK to do so. Social distancing and face mask rules have also been scrapped. The move came after the island in the Irish Sea recorded just 15 active cases as of Sunday (31 January) from a population of 85,000 residents. Isle of Man chief minister Howard Quayle announced a raft of changes to its “circuit breaker” restrictions on the island. All businesses, including pubs, restaurants and gyms, have been allowed to reopen. The Isle of Man is currently operating with border level four restrictions meaning residents and key workers are able to travel freely but borders are closed. There is a mandatory 21-day self-isolation period when returning to the island. It is claimed the Isle of Man was able to limit the spread of the virus after closing its borders during the first lockdown in March last year. Quayle said: “We do not believe there is currently any evidence of community transmission. We are, therefore, lifting all lockdown restrictions for businesses and individuals. Residents can go out, visit friends and loved ones, children can go back to their classrooms, and businesses can reopen their doors. Social distancing and face coverings will be a matter of personal choice.” The Isle of Man was the first place in the British Isles to remove social distancing restrictions on 15 June last year. With the exception of the border being closed to non-residents, the island had been free from restrictions since then, until a second circuit breaker lockdown was introduced on 7 January 2021.

London may have to expand night-time economy by extending opening hours of shops and museums to aid economic recovery: London may have to expand its night-time economy by extending opening hours of shops and museums once the pandemic passes, to aid the city’s economic recovery, according to new research. The findings published by London mayor Sadiq Khan showed tourism spending fell by £10.9bn in 2020 compared with the year before, with more than 26,000 jobs at risk in arts and culture alone and the night-time economy also facing huge challenges. Central London contributed £38.7bn to the Treasury before the pandemic struck, and any extended slowdown will be felt across the country, Khan said. He added the impact is likely to produce bigger challenges in London than those faced in other major cities including New York and Paris, due to fewer centrally-located residents and more reliance on visitors. Khan said: “When London thrives, the whole country thrives, so supporting our city’s businesses to survive the coming months will be absolutely vital. With the right support from the government, more businesses will survive and contribute to what this report shows could be a rapid recovery, once tourists and commuters return in numbers.” Khan commissioned the research to help City Hall and its partners understand the emerging trends that might affect London’s city centre economy. Many businesses and jobs in London’s sectors are at threat due to the growth in home-working, social distancing needs and a collapse in tourism. VisitBritain revealed overseas tourist spending in central London was £7.4bn lower in 2020 than the previous year, and domestic tourism down £3.5bn.

Open Arms report on loneliness demonstrates importance of pubs: Heineken-backed research has revealed 86% of people believe when a pub closes, the local community suffers – demonstrating the positive effect pubs have in tackling loneliness. The Open Arms report, which has been commissioned by The Campaign to End Loneliness in collaboration with Heineken and Loughborough University, is part of the Heineken’s annual Brewing Good Beer campaign. The report stated 76% of respondents working in pubs said their pub made a positive contribution to the local community and 64% felt their pub was one of the main places that people living in the area can socialise. Older pub-goers, in particular, said pubs are a place to make friends and stay socially active. James Crampton, corporate affairs director at Heineken UK, said: “We understand the need for restrictions but this report recognises the important role the great British pub plays in communities and we don’t want to forget that. Pubs are so much more than just a place to have a pint – they’re a place to be with each other.” 

Restaurants and bars reopen as Italy relaxes coronavirus curbs: Italy has relaxed coronavirus restrictions in most of its regions, allowing the daytime reopening of bars, restaurants and museums and greater freedom to travel. Sixteen regions are now under the lower-risk “yellow” category, while five – Sicily, Sardinia and Puglia in the south, Umbria in the centre and South Tyrol in the north – are still “orange”. In Rome, which is in the “yellow” region of Lazio, the Colosseum and other tourist landmarks such as the Pantheon and the Borghese Gallery reopened. The Vatican also eased coronavirus restrictions, allowing visitors back into the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel after being closed for 88 days – the longest closure since the Second World War. In “orange” areas, bars and restaurants are limited to takeaway or home delivery service, people cannot leave their towns of residence except for work or urgent needs, and museums remain shut. A nationwide curfew remains in place from 10pm to 5am, along with social distancing and mask-wearing in public. Health minister Roberto Speranza said returning to yellow zones “does not mean the danger is over”. He said: “We still need the utmost caution if we don't want to reverse the gains made in the past weeks.”

Essex restaurant popular with celebrities loses licence over lockdown parties: An Essex restaurant that is popular with TV celebrities has had its licence removed for repeatedly breaking covid-19 lockdown rules. Metropolitan Police called for Redbridge Council to remove the restaurant licence of Melin, in Chigwell, after “at least five rule-breaking events” took place at the venue. The licensing hearing was told the restaurant repeatedly held lockdown parties with a DJ and more than 100 people throughout 2020. As a result the restaurant owner Ali Melin has had his licence removed. It followed multiple warnings that were issued by both the police and Redbridge Council. Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal said: “This should send out a strong message to those who think they can flout licensing conditions and covid guidelines.” Meanwhile, a pub and a restaurant in Nottinghamshire have been shut down after ignoring lockdown laws by serving alcohol to customers inside. The owners of the Wheatsheaf Inn in Cropwell Bishop and Indian Nights in East Bridgford have also been given £1,000 fines, while three customers found drinking at the Wheatsheaf were each given £200 fines. Both businesses have now also received a prohibition notice from Rushcliffe Borough Council, ensuring they cannot allow individuals to enter the premises to consume food or drink.

New York City set to reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity on Valentine’s Day: New York City is planning to reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity starting on Valentine’s Day – if covid-19 positivity rates stay stable. Restaurants will have to follow the same rules as when indoor dining originally opened in New York City in September, including capacity restrictions, table distancing of six feet or more, mandatory temperature checks, contact tracing, no bar service, and filtration upgrades. “The restaurants want that period of time so they can notify workers, so they can get up to speed on dining, order supplies etc,” said New York governor Andrew Cuomo, adding the trajectory could change if positivity or hospitalisation rates suddenly surge. It comes on the heels of other cities loosening covid-19 restrictions, including Chicago, where indoor dining resumed at 25% on 23 January; Washington DC, where limited indoor dining resumed after a month-long hiatus; and Philadelphia, which reopened indoor dining at 25% capacity on 16 January.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a hospitality and retail focused property business based in Oxfordshire that is recruiting for a client accountant. The client accountant will provide accurate and timely management reporting to all external clients and investment partners. They will be responsible and accountable for all aspects of the client reporting and any associated accounting transactions. The client accountant needs to have strong managerial skills to manage a small team that will work with them to deliver outstanding management reporting. The ideal client accountant will have evidence of working towards CIMA/ACCA/ACA qualification as well as having strong commercial and analytical skills. Anyone interested can email with their CV.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Just Eat unveils €1bn convertible bond offer: Just Eat has launched a two-tranche convertible bonds offering, totalling €1bn. The company said it was offering two tranches of bonds, due August 2025 and February 2028. The notes will be issued at between 101.50% and 103.75% for the 2025 tranche and 100% of nominal value for the 2028 tranche and will be redeemed at 100% of nominal value. The 2025 bonds will not bear interest, while the 2028 bonds will be offered with a between 0.125% and 0.625% per annum interest rate. The company plans to use the funds for general corporate purposes and to increase its financial flexibility, allowing Just Eat “to act on strategic opportunities that may arise”. The business is expecting further order growth acceleration in the first 2021 financial quarter after three consecutive quarters of the same thanks to its growth strategy, investment in legacy Just Eat markets, and covid-19 tailwinds. The company said it is intending to continue heavy investment and prioritising market share over adjusted Ebitda. It stated: “The company believes that a stronger balance sheet provides additional financial flexibility to act on strategic opportunities that may arise.” Other uses of the proposed funds include payment of transactions costs for its Grubhub acquisition and potential funding requirements for its stake in iFood. Just Eat stated: “While the business remains committed to selling its stake in iFood and returning a portion of the proceeds to shareholders, this will happen only when it is able to realise a fair value for this highly attractive and fast-growing asset. The timing of a potential sale and monetisation remains uncertain.”

Heineken takes full control of Brixton Brewery: Global brewer Heineken has taken full control of Brixton Brewery – three years after taking a significant minority stake in the business. Brixton Brewery was founded in 2013 by Jez Galaun, Libby Galaun, Mike Ross and Xochitl Benjamin. The initial investment by Heineken at the end of 2017 allowed the brewery to remain in its eponymous home and increase its brewing capacity from 12,000 pints a week to 60,000 with the purchase of a new, 15,000 square foot brewery site. The founders will continue to lead the brewery’s day-to-day operations and strategic and creative direction. The founders said: “When we look back over the past seven years, we honestly can’t believe how far we’ve come – from homebrewing to launching a small brewery, to building a highly recognisable community-based brand, with a larger new brewery and taproom. It makes us want to dream even bigger for the next seven. To realise our original vision of helping people everywhere get a taste of Brixton, we’re announcing following a successful three years working with Heineken, we are expanding this partnership in a deal that will see Heineken fully acquire Brixton Brewery. This will mean a bright future for our community-based business. We look forward to this next chapter. Our beer will be increasingly available UK-wide, we will continue to strengthen our approach to community and sustainability and we will keep on investing in Brixton through our brewery, taproom and newly renovated experimental brewery. We are committed to creating and sustaining good jobs in Brixton, and hiring a diverse range of people who love beer and Brixton as much as we do.” North London brewer Beavertown sold a minority stake of its business to Heineken for £40m in 2018.

Loungers secures pair of former PizzaExpress sites: Cafe-bar operator Loungers has further strengthened its 2021 site pipeline after securing another two ex-PizzaExpress sites. The company has secured the former PizzaExpress sites in Church Street, Blackpool, and in Sandside, Scarborough, respectively. Loungers has already secured the ex-PizzaExpress sites in St Ives, Cornwall, and Devizes, Wiltshire, for openings later this year. The Lounge in Devizes will be called Condado Lounge, the one in St Ives will be called Tretho Lounge, and the site in Scarborough will reopen as Marisco Lounge. The company is also set to open a branch in the former Dorothy Perkins store in St Neots Market Square, Cambridgeshire, this summer, plus a site in Aberystwyth. In December, Nick Collins, chief executive of Loungers, told Propel the property market has never been better for opportunities to open higher revenue and Ebitda sites. He said the pipeline for 2021 looked “very strong” as the Lounge and Cosy Club operator looked toward growing its circa 170-strong portfolio to 300 sites. In its presentation document, the company said it had exchanged on 13 sites, 12 were at heads of term stage, 19 were in negotiation and 21 were under consideration. Loungers chairman Alex Reilley tweeted: “Rishi Sunak tell us what the plan is and we’ll start planning the recovery – we’ve got a cracking pipeline of more than 20 new sites lined up ready to develop including a quartet of seaside Lounges, in St Ives, Blackpool, Aberystwyth, and Scarborough.”

Gordon Ramsay confirms he is pushing ahead with plans for fourth Street Pizza, at Battersea Power Station: Gordon Ramsay has confirmed he is pushing ahead with plans to open his fourth Street Pizza, at Battersea Power Station in the spring. Ramsay is launching the venue in Arches Lane in the former Mother Pizza premises, next to Cinnamon Kitchen. Posting a picture on Instagram at the weekend of his son Oscar in a pushchair outside the site, Ramsay said: “@oscarjramsay is a little early for @gordonramsaystreetpizza #batterseapowerstation. Third and final lockdown can’t end quick enough.” The menu focuses on a bottomless pizza offer with a pizza and prosecco brunch at weekends. Ramsay, who currently has 35 restaurants around the world, is planning to open 50 more sites across the UK. Last month Propel revealed Alyson Park, former HR director at Caprice Holdings, has joined Gordon Ramsay Restaurants as its new chief operating officer.

Where The Pancakes Are secures ex-PizzaExpress site in Fitzrovia: Where The Pancakes Are, the buttermilk pancakes and cafe concept, is to open a second site this spring, in London’s Fitzrovia, Propel has learned. The concept, which was founded by Patricia Trijbits in 2015, is set to launch at the former PizzaExpress site in Charlotte Street. Trijbits told Propel the company was looking at further growth opportunities for the business across the capital over the next two years. The company had previously been in talks to open at 94 Great Portland Street but failed to secure the required licence on the site. The business opened its first site in autumn 2016, at Flat Iron Square in London Bridge. The concept previously operated a number of pop-ups and street food stalls across the capital. Rob Meadows, at Davis Coffer Lyons, acted on the Charlotte Street deal. 

Moto appoints new chairman: Moto, the UK’s biggest motorway service area operator, has appointed Chris Rowlands as its new chairman. Rowlands, who is already a non-executive director with Moto, is employed by Universities Superannuation Scheme, Moto’s majority shareholder, and succeeds Mike Tye, who will be stepping down from the board after completing his term of four years as chairman. Rowlands began his career at Barclays Bank, before joining Arthur Andersen as a corporate finance partner. He also spent almost 20 years with the 3i Group, where he was business leader for Asia and for Europe. Rowlands has also served as deputy chairman of the Principality Building Society. Moto chief executive Ken McMeikan said: “I would like to thank Mike on behalf of the board for his invaluable contribution throughout his four years tenure, particularly his fantastic support to re-position Moto to become an even more customer-centric business, the appointment of a new senior management team, as well as providing his wise counsel to successfully navigate the many challenges of covid-19. I look forward to continuing to work with Chris in his new role as chairman. He brings a huge breadth of knowledge and experience and will provide important continuity for Moto as we position ourselves for continued growth.” Rowlands said: “I am proud to have been asked to succeed Mike and look forward to continuing the work with the Moto team to accelerate the company’s growth through the delivery of our vision, which is to transform the UK’s rest stop experience.”

Ex-Just Eat CEO Buttress invests in Egypt’s fastest-growing food delivery business: David Buttress, the former chief executive of Just Eat, has invested in and joined the board of Elmenus, Egypt’s fastest-growing online food ordering company. Buttress, who left Just Eat in 2017, is currently a venture partner at global venture capital firm 83 North. Elmenus was founded in 2011 by its current chief executive Amir Allam and focuses on personalising food recommendations on its online food ordering platform. The company now counts more than 1.5 million monthly users and claims to have achieved 300% month-on-month growth. Allam said: “As we aim to become the go-to food app for all dining decisions, and a partner of choice to restaurants to help them solve their scaling challenges in the Middle East and north Africa region, I believe David’s insights and exceptional record will play a vital role in accelerating our growth and guiding Elmenus in acquiring a significant share of the market. We are very excited to be working with an industry veteran like David. His belief in our vision is a grand testament to us.” Buttress said: “While Elmenus witnessed three times growth in 2020 since delivery increased drastically in light of the covid-19 challenges and more restaurants outsourced their delivering operations, the company is expected to grow ten times in 2021 as it upscales its product and restaurant offerings. It is an exciting time in the company’s evolution.”
Whitbread to open four new Scottish hotels ahead of expected staycation boom: Whitbread is set to open four new Premier Inn hotels in Scotland ahead of an expected staycation boom. Together the hotels will add more than 550 bedrooms into Premier Inn’s growing network in Scotland and are expected to create about 150 jobs. A 249-bedroom hotel in Glasgow’s St Enoch Square will include the first Bar + Block steakhouse in Scotland and grow Premier Inn’s network of hotels in the centre of Scotland’s largest city to more than 1,200 rooms. The opening of a 136-bedroom property in Princes Street will take Premier Inn’s network in Edinburgh to more than 1,000 rooms. The most northerly Premier Inn will open in Thurso in May, located on the North Coast 500 tourist route in the Highlands. Completing the line-up is a new Premier Inn and Beefeater in Hamilton town centre. Alex Flach, development director at Premier Inn, said: “We expect this summer will be a busy year for staycations so it’s fantastic to have four Premier Inn hotels opening in such popular locations in Scotland – from prime city centre sites to adventure tourism hotspots. Despite the challenges posed by covid-19, we are committed to growing our network of Premier Inn hotels in Scotland and see strong long-term demand for our bedrooms in both urban and popular leisure locations. We’re actively on the lookout for new opportunities.” Outside the UK, Whitbread’s expansion plans are focused on Germany where it has an open and committed pipeline of 12,000 hotel rooms across 68 hotels in key towns and cities across the country.

Dale steps down from Stonegate, Vicary appointed to new role: Stonegate Group, the TDR Capital-backed company, has appointed Kate Vicary to the new role of director of communications and business planning. Vicary joined Stonegate as director of special projects last year from Heineken. She takes up her new role after Jon Dale decided to step down as director of communications at Stonegate. He previously spent more than three years heading up communications for Ei Group, which Stonegate completed the acquisition of early last year. Propel understands Dale is looking to pursue a new challenge in the sector. Tim Painter, HR director at Stonegate, told Propel: “We can confirm Jon Dale has left the company following our business realignment as we continue to integrate the Stonegate and Ei business functions. Kate Vicary, formerly director of special projects, is now appointed director of communications and business planning moving forward. We thank Jon for all his help and support throughout the integration period.”

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