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Wed 3rd Feb 2021 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Operators urged to come together to share policy information in business interruption insurance fight: Calum Brazier, finance director at Imbiba-backed Albion and East, is urging operators to come together and share information over their policy wording in a bid to push insurance companies to payout over business interruption insurance claims. Last month the Supreme Court “substantially allowed” an appeal brought by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in a landmark legal battle over businesses ability to claim on insurance for losses incurred due to covid-related disruption. But only a small handful of businesses have been helped by the ruling and Brazier is now urging the industry to work together to hopefully secure payouts for operators. He suggested by having someone manage this information centrally – something he would be prepared to do – it would allow potentially crucial details to be shared – and quickly. He told Propel: “We are pushing our broker and insurers but my thinking is if operators volunteer information in relation to who their insurers are and what policy wording they have, we can then link together operators with the same policy. They can then work together to build their claims or cases or share how they are getting on with their claim. My view is 99% of operators are currently being told they aren’t covered and are faced with potentially huge legal fees of up to £100,000 to fight it in the courts. If operators can find a handful of others with the same policy, they can speak to each other about how they are getting on and bounce ideas off each other on how to pursue a claim. They may also be able to share costs of initial legal advice.” Anyone interested in getting involved can email with their insurer name and policy wording reference number ideally by Friday, 12 February. Any information shared will be kept in confidence and contact details will only be shared with operators with the same underwriter and wording. 

Industry News:

Big Mamma Group – operator of Europe’s largest restaurant – joins Propel Multi Club line-up, two free places for operators: Victor Lugger, co-founder of the Big Mamma Group, which operates Europe's largest restaurant and the critically acclaimed restaurants Gloria and Circolo Popolare in London, has been added to the list of speakers for the first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2021. Lugger joins the event, which will take place on Wednesday, 10 March, to talk about the importance of delivering experiences, the launch of the group’s delivery model – Napoli Gang, its plans for further growth in the UK, and how Brexit will impact its European hospitality model. The day-long event, which is being held virtually, will look to help operators to “thrive and survive”. The event, which starts at 10am, is free for operators, who can claim two places by emailing Speakers also include Yishay Malkov, chief executive of Various Eateries; Alex Reilley, chairman of Loungers; Salima Vellani, founder of host kitchen business KBox Global; Philip Turner, founder and chief executive of Chestnut Group; Neat Burger co-founder and head of operations, Stasi Nychas; and Sarah Willingham, chief executive of bar company Nightcap. 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 managing 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.”

Hornby – we want to be in a position to reopen profitably: Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group, the Wagamama and Brunning & Price owner, has said the support provided by the chancellor in the Budget needs to make sure the sector can be in a position to reopen profitably. Talking on Propel’s Lessons & Learning for Lockdown Three video, Hornby said: “The most important thing when the chancellor does the Budget on 3 March is we get the right continued support for the sector. The best way of doing it would be to continue the business rates relief and VAT at 5% through for a minimum of the rest of this year. Our sector does not want to be ‘please sir can I have some more?’, we want to be in a position to open profitably, get people off furlough and the government gets a return for its huge investment. Unless that type of support is extended it will be very difficult for many of us to reopen to the scale we should and therefore pay back the taxpayer and the government for what they have already done in the past 12 months.” In terms of an opening date for the sector, Hornby said he would rather wait a little bit longer than have the same stop-start situation as at the end of last year. He added: “It’s not a viable way of running businesses long term. It would be fantastic if when we get to reopen, we believe we have got an actual runway and people can plan, and can come to an agreement with landlords on rent arrears, can bring colleagues back from furlough on scale. I think the government would like to do that, but I am just nervous, like all of us are, that in the scale of various sectors we might be quite a long way at the back of the queue in terms of timing.” Hornby also said he didn’t subscribe to the thinking some businesses should go and it was “natural Darwinism”. He said: “We have got to support everyone because there are loads of incredibly well-run, small businesses that through no fault of their own have been shut down and are in cash flow positions that are not sustainable. They deserve the chance to reopen.”

Independent Business Network unveils £35bn strategy to save hospitality sector and safeguard 500,000 jobs: The Independent Business Network (IBN), which champions the needs of family-run and family-owned businesses across the UK, has urged the government to implement a radical £35bn set of measures to safeguard 500,000 jobs and save Britain’s pubs, restaurants and local high streets from financial “oblivion”. The IBN has called for a swathe of measures to support the hospitality sector rebuild as well as level the playing field between high-street retail and online. The relief package consists of providing hospitality businesses with a covid-investment rebate for safety equipment purchased (£690m); extending hospitality’s reduced VAT rates for the remainder of 2021 (£6.3bn); including alcohol in hospitality’s reduced VAT rates (£750m); cutting in half Britain’s alcohol taxes (£1.8bn); making hospitality investments 100% First Year Allowance (£1.15bn); continuing the suspension of business rates for 12 months (£15bn); cutting the VAT rate payable by physical retailers to 14% (£7.6bn); freezing town centre parking fees (£872m); and reintroducing Eat Out To Help Out and complementing it with a “pro-hospitality” advertising push (£1.08bn). The IBN said in many cases the fate of the hospitality sector is intimately linked to the future of Britain’s high streets. A strong retail presence in Britain’s high streets increases footfall for the hospitality businesses, while the availability of pubs and restaurants encourages customers to participate in retail shopping. Chairman John Longworth said: “The comprehensive £35bn package of measures we have set out are vital to saving our pubs, restaurants and high streets from financial ruin. We urge the government to adopt them and save up to 500,000 jobs and countless family-run businesses from destitution. After all, the parlous state our hospitality industry is facing is a symptom of the government’s own actions.”

Further sector support needed in Scotland after lockdown restrictions extended, UKHospitality warns: Further support will be needed for the sector in Scotland after lockdown restrictions were extended until at least the end of February, UKHospitality has warned. The trade body also said there must be a clear plan for recovery as first minister Nicola Sturgeon made it clear any easing of restrictions would not be accompanied by relaxation in social distancing, face coverings and other mitigations; and there would also be a clear discouragement of foreign holidays. She also announced a “managed quarantine” system will be introduced for all arrivals into the country. A phased return of pupils to classrooms in Scotland could begin from Monday, 22 February. UKHospitality Scotland executive director Willie Macleod said: “The statement was not surprising, but it was still disappointing for a sector in turmoil. Despite mounting evidence hospitality businesses are not a major source of infection, the pathway for reopening the sector is no clearer. We appreciate it is not possible for the Scottish government to give a definitive date upon that businesses may be able to reopen, but we do need to have some understanding of the circumstances that might permit it. Businesses need to plan for their recovery. With no easing of restrictions likely to happen soon, support for businesses must be sustained. Many businesses will not be able to survive much longer without substantial financial support. Each business that fails means more jobs lost in Scotland and the task of recovery made all the more difficult.” The planned “managed quarantine” system goes further than England's system, which sees mandatory quarantine for arrivals from more than 30 “red list countries”. “The firm view of the Scottish government is that in order to minimise the risk of new strains coming into the country, managed quarantine must be much more comprehensive,” Sturgeon said.

Uber agrees to buy alcohol delivery service Drizly for $1.1bn: Uber has announced plans to acquire US-based alcohol delivery service Drizly in a $1.1bn (£810m) deal. Following the completion of the transaction, which is expected to close within the first half of this year, Drizly’s marketplace will be integrated with the UberEats app. Uber said it would keep the standalone Drizly app as well. Founded in 2012, Drizly has become the leading on-demand alcohol delivery service in the US and is available in 1,400 cities. Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said: “Chief executive Cory Rellas and his amazing team have built Drizly into an incredible success story, profitably growing gross bookings more than 300% year-on-year. By bringing Drizly into the Uber family, we can accelerate that trajectory by exposing Drizly to the Uber audience and expanding its geographic presence into our global footprint in the years ahead.”

Five Guys ranked UK’s favourite takeaway by online review platform: Five Guys is the UK’s favourite takeaway after scoring an average of 4.35 out of five, according to online review platform Psydro. The research, which analysed internal and external customer reviews for the “best reviewed” top ten takeaway UK brands, found Wagamama was second with a score of 4.32 and Nando’s third on 4.29. The rest of the top ten comprised Greggs, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Papa John’s and Domino’s respectively. Psydro founder Tony Ward said: “Last year was the year of takeaways as millions of us turned to the joy of convenient food delivered to our doorstep in order to get through lockdown. To help Brits across the country make the best decision when it comes to their food order this lockdown, we wanted to reveal the most trusted and loved chains, based on other people’s first-hand experiences.” 

Company News:

Former EAT chief executive Andrew Walker joins Farmer J board: Andrew Walker, the former chief executive of EAT, has joined the board of all-day market concept Farmer J, as a non-executive director, Propel has learned. Walker stepped down from EAT in 2019, after the circa 90-strong business was acquired by rival Pret A Manger in a deal valued in excess of £60m. Walker, who was previously UK managing director of Pret, spent three years leading EAT, turning the business around in that time, including overseeing more than 12 months of consecutive like-for-like growth before its sale. Farmer J, which is backed by Imbiba, currently has four sites in London, and has been linked to a further opening at London Bridge station.

Soho House submits application for second Manchester opening: Soho House Group has submitted a licensing application to open another concept in Manchester, as part of Allied London’s £1.2bn regeneration of the Old Granada Studios property in the city. The Nick Jones-led business had previously submitted plans to open a 210-bed hotel and restaurant under its Mollies Motel & Diner concept at the scheme. It has now submitted a separate application for floors seven to nine of the scheme. It states “there will be no change to the way in which these floors are intended to trade, they are permitted under the existing licence to trade as a bar/restaurant”. This application’s purpose is to split the licence so that there is a “separate licence in place for this operation and the motel/diner operation on the lower floors”. It has increased speculation the company will open one of its eponymous member’s clubs in the city. Soho House currently operates a Mollie’s Motel & Diner just off the A420 outside Oxford. The company is currently building another Mollie's site along the A4018 at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol. It will sit next to a Miller & Carter, where the former Cribbs Lodge Hotel once stood, before it was demolished.

Whitbread reveals Paddington development that brings three brands together for first time: Whitbread is set to open a new 366-bedroom hotel and restaurant next to Paddington Station in west London. The hotel at 40 Eastbourne Terrace will comprise a 275-bedroom Premier Inn, a 91-bedroom hub by Premier Inn and Whitbread’s Bar + Block Steakhouse restaurant – the first time all three brands will occupy the same building. Construction is due to commence in the second quarter of 2021 and the hotel is anticipated to open in late 2023. The move continues Whitbread’s investment in Paddington, which includes a 373-bedroom Premier Inn hotel under construction in Paddington Basin and a 294-bedroom hub by Premier Inn hotel coming to Marylebone Road. Jonathan Langdon, acquisitions manager for central London at Whitbread, said: “Our business strategy is to invest in locations where we expect to see strong, long-term demand for our Premier Inn and hub by Premier Inn bedrooms. Paddington is one such market where we see this opportunity for strategic growth. The 40 Eastbourne Terrace development brings our three leading brands together in one building and grows our presence in the Paddington catchment to more than 1,000 bedrooms.” Global real estate investment manager Invesco Real Estate and YardNine, the property development and asset management company, signed an agreement lease with Whitbread for the 40 Eastbourne Terrace project.

Tomahawk Steakhouse to make north west debut after securing former Bistrot Pierre site in Stockton Heath: North east-based multi-site operator Howard Eggleston has acquired an 11th site for his Tomahawk Steakhouse brand – and first in the north west. Eggleston has secured the former Bistrot Pierre unit in Stockton Heath, Cheshire. The property in London Road is undergoing refurbishment ahead of a proposed opening in May. The 85-cover restaurant will create about 25 jobs. Eggleston told the Warrington Guardian: “Tomahawk is a company that pushes boundaries and we’re overjoyed to be bringing the brand to Stockton Heath. All our Tomahawk venues have something special about them and we are looking forward to opening our first in the north west. Warrington has a good feel to it and we instinctively knew the site would be fantastic for a Tomahawk venue as soon as we arrived. The lockdown is a tricky situation to navigate in any industry, but if the people of Stockton Heath are as frustrated as we are, I’m sure they will welcome a new kid on the block.” In December, Tomahawk Steakhouse made its London debut with an opening in the premises previously occupied by Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in Hoxton. Eggleston’s company also operates Brazilian concept Rio in Jesmond, as well as two takeaway stores, in Jesmond and Yarm. 

US group Landry’s to go public in $6.6bn deal: Tilman Fertitta, the US billionaire, is to take his Landry’s restaurant business and Golden Nugget casino operations public by merging them with Fast Acquisition (FAST), a special purpose acquisition company, in a deal that will value the company at $6.6bn (£4.83bn) including debt. Institutional investors had already agreed to invest $1.2bn in the company at the closing of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday (1 February). Landry’s operates 500 sites across the US, including the Morton’s and Del Frisco’s steak chains and the Chart House and McCormick and Schmick’s seafood eateries, plus five Golden Nugget casinos. Once the deal is complete, Fertitta will be the controlling shareholder of the company and will own 60% interest in a publicly-traded Landry’s/Golden Nugget entity. He will also be the company’s chairman, president and chief executive. Fetitta said: “I look forward to returning my company to the public marketplace. After taking the company private in 2010, we accomplished a lot. However, in today’s opportunistic world, I’m determined in order to maximise the opportunities in the gaming, entertainment and hospitality sectors, it was preferable to take my company public. After I compared the opportunities provided by a transaction with FAST, versus the traditional initial public offering route, it became abundantly clear we could access the capital markets with more certainty and speed if we did a deal with FAST.” Luke Johnson, serial investor in the UK restaurant market, said the deal was a “big vote of confidence in casual dining by Wall Street”.

McDonald’s and Darden Restaurants to offer staff paid time off to get covid-19 vaccinations: McDonald’s and Darden Restaurants are to offer staff paid time off to get covid-19 vaccinations when they become available. McDonald’s will give workers at its company-owned restaurants and its US corporate employees four hours of paid time off. Meanwhile, Darden Restaurant, parent to Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other casual-dining brands, said it would compensate hourly workers two hours of pay for each dose of the vaccine they receive. Tiffanie Boyd, chief people officer for McDonald’s USA, said: “Vaccination is essential in the fight against the pandemic, and we are actively encouraging McDonald’s employees to take this important step.” The company emphasised it would not be requiring employees to be vaccinated. Since the pandemic was declared almost a year ago, McDonald’s USA said it has updated almost 50 processes to keep restaurant employees and customers safe and has issued a 59-page guide outlining national standards for restaurants.

Capco sees value of estate drop 13%, collects 42% of December rents: Covent Garden landlord Capital & Counties (Capco) saw the value of its estate fall by about £275m in the second half of last year, due to the disruption caused by covid-19. Capco, which manages more than one million square feet of space in the West End, said an independent property valuation for its Covent Garden estate came to £1.8bn, down 13% from the end of June. The majority of the valuation movement relates to the retail, leisure and food and beverage portfolio, which represents 75% of total property value. Capco also said it had received 42% of December rent payments as of 28 January, broadly in line with those collected at the same time in the prior quarter, but added it was also still waiting for rent payments from earlier in 2020. During the pandemic, Capco has worked with some tenants on rent terms to help them through the crisis, including deferrals and rent-free periods. Capco chief executive Ian Hawksworth said: “While there are significant near-term challenges to trading and an uncertain economic outlook due to the impact of the pandemic, we are encouraged by the enduring appeal of Covent Garden for customers as evidenced by recovery in footfall and trade following easing measures in the second half of 2020. Capco is in a strong financial position and we remain confident in the long-term prospects for Covent Garden and the West End.”

Change Please to open debut site outside London: London-based ethical coffee business Change Please is set to open its debut site outside the capital, at Landmark, the office development in Manchester’s St Peter’s Square. Barings Real Estate, in partnership with Flexible workspace group Hana, have signed Change Please to operate the coffee and pastry bar at the Manchester site. Change Please supports people out of homelessness by providing training and employment as baristas along with support with housing, finances and therapy – and pays staff the national living wage. The coffee shop is scheduled to open in mid-2021. Change Please chief executive Cemal Ezel said: “Opening our first location outside of London is an opportunity that fills us with huge excitement. We have been targeting Manchester for a number of years, and partnering with Barings and Hana to launch our first regional training hub will position Change Please in the city, and allows us to focus on ensuring individuals have a pathway to exit homelessness, and re-enter society – all through serving a very good cup of coffee.”

BrewDog launches initiative to plant one million trees through ‘headline’ multipack beer purchases: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has announced it will plant one tree for every multipack purchase of its “headline” beers throughout 2021. The “buy one get one tree” initiative aims to plant more than one million trees and is eligible for multipack beers purchased from its online shops and in stores, starting from £5. The scheme is part of a wider sustainability strategy following the announcement BrewDog was the first carbon negative international beer brand in the world late last year. BrewDog co-founder James Watt said: “Buy one get one tree will see us plant more than one million trees in the coming months, with the support of the biggest supermarkets across the UK. This ground-breaking project is just the beginning and BrewDog will continue to be the catalyst for change, putting the planet first and leading the way for businesses to make a positive impact on our planet.” 
Wonderland Restaurants launches immersive at-home dining experience with Warner Bros partnership: Immersive restaurant company Wonderland Restaurants has partnered with Warner Bros Consumer Products to launch the Wonderland At Home boxed dining experience. Launching simultaneously in the UK and US, Wonderland At Home experiences offer exclusive digital content with “original, imaginative, restaurant quality food and drink”. Consumers will also have the option of adding extra items such as alcohol or branded merchandise. The first box is now on sale to celebrate the global film release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on Thursday, 18 March. Consumers will be able to create a reinvention of Big Belly Burger, one of the fast-food brands from the DC universe, drink Koul Brau beer and Jitters Coffee as well as make a Smallville-inspired dessert. In addition, each box will contain surprise augmented reality sensorial “extras”. James Bulmer, chief creative officer of Wonderland Restaurants, said: “Wonderland At Home is here to disrupt the at-home dining experience and bring adventure to the table. Using Warner Bros biggest and most emotive intellectual properties, we’re delivering fun and whimsical storytelling direct to people’s homes and on to their plates.” Further events planned in 2021 include boxes inspired by more Warner Bros franchises.
Birds Bakery to double up in West Bridgford, reaches 62 sites: East Midlands-based bakery business Birds is set to open a second site in West Bridgford, Nottingham. The family-run Birds bakery will open in spring in Melton Road and would be the company’s 62nd branch and will create 14 jobs. Birds will move into a former ground-floor launderette, which will be turned into a cafe with seating for 24 people. Planning permission to change the use to mixed use, shop and cafe was granted in December by Rushcliffe Borough Council. Birds Bakery sales and marketing director Mike Holling said: “This will be our second store in the area, with our first store in Central Avenue being incredibly popular since opening in 1984. Melton Road is the perfect location for us, surrounded by local shops. It will attract local residents passing by, as well as those travelling to the surrounding areas with car parking on-site.” Birds Bakery closed two stores in Derby and one in Nottingham city centre in August last year.

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