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Mon 8th Feb 2021 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Holmes – crisis has provided an opportunity to expand Coco di Mama brand presence across the UK: Steve Holmes, chief executive of Azzurri Group, the TowerBrook Capital-backed business, has told Propel the crisis has given the business the opportunity to expand the presence of its Coco di Mama brand outside of London, and to build up brand awareness for possible future bricks and mortar openings. The company has currently rolled out Coco di Mama delivery kitchens into circa 40 of its Zizzi restaurants, debuting the brand regionally, including into the Midlands for the first time, and into cities like Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge and Reading. Holmes told Propel the company planned to have the delivery kitchens in more than 80 of its restaurants by the end of this month. Propel understands the business began trialling Coco di Mama delivery kitchens last week in some of its ASK Italian sites for the first time, including its site in Gloucester Arcade, South Kensington. Holmes said: “Last year, we started the process of consolidating our supply chain, which has given us the opportunity to push forward the development of the delivery kitchens idea. The Coco di Mama offer is complementary to the Zizzi one and generates incremental revenue for the business. It also allows us to build up the brand’s presence in new areas and gives us insight into potential performance of permanent sites in those locations going forward.” Before the pandemic, Azzurri had built up a 30-strong estate of sites under the Coco di Mama brand in central London. Holmes said: “At present, no one knows when and how that central London lunchtime market will come back, so pushing out into the regions provides some cover for that. At present it is going OK, with sales through the delivery kitchens encouraging.” Holmes said the business had also developed its own order and pay app during lockdown. He said: “We wanted a solution that best replicated the restaurant experience. You can pay at the end or at any point with our app whereas with a lot of apps, you pay as you order. We didn’t want that. We wanted our tech journey to represent our customer journey.”

Industry News:

Propel and Bums on Seats to host free webinar helping operators maximise sales opportunities in 2021: Propel and Bums on Seats, the strategic sales and business development experts, are to host a free 45-minute webinar around maximising sales opportunities in 2021 – helping operators recover from the economic effects of the pandemic and to regenerate for the future. Bums on Seats chief executive Amber Staynings and operations director Dee Sturgess will take participants through the crucial topics for this year. These include identifying opportunity from changing consumer behaviour, evolving trends and delivering an innovative guest experience. They will be discussing strategic planning for 2021, maintaining resilience and how new customer trends post-pandemic will create cross-market opportunities within the sector. There will also be a question and answer session, with participants able to submit questions in advance. To register, email and a link to view the webinar will be sent at noon on Tuesday, 23 March.
Bums on Seats is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Government source – alcohol ban for pubs not on the cards: Pubs will be allowed to serve alcohol when they reopen – senior government sources have claimed – with the 10pm curfew and “substantial meal” rule both set to be axed. The prime minister is due to unveil his long-awaited road map “to unlock” the country on 22 February. He is under pressure from Tory backbenchers to announce a major easing of curbs – while scientists are urging caution. Ministers are expected to adopt a “tentative” approach – with some sources claiming a “booze ban” on pubs between April and May was being considered to stop social distancing slipping. But a senior government source told the Daily Mail an alcohol ban in pubs was not on the cards. They said: “We are not going to open pubs that can’t sell booze. What would be the point of that?” Other measures being floated include axing the 10pm curfew for pubs – which has been given the go-ahead according to some reports, along with an end to the requirement for drinkers to order a “substantial meal” with alcohol. England could also emulate Scotland’s indoor alcohol ban – where pubs are able to serve booze but only in outdoor areas – that was in effect during its November lockdown, and allow unlicensed cafes to reopen while keeping pubs closed.

Former brewery owner urges others to quiz their MP on plans for pubs to reopen without alcohol: Former brewery owner and pub historian Peter Haydon is urging others with interests in the brewing and pub sectors to write to their MP regarding the government’s proposal of pubs reopening without selling alcohol. Haydon, who ran A Head In A Hat brewery and has penned books such as The English Pub: A History and London’s Best Pubs, questioned why people would not be allowed to drink alcohol during the day and said any potential issues would take place in the evening. He added that he did not expect a personal response but the issue may have a greater impact if more people write to their MP too. In his letter to MP Helen Hayes, he wrote: “I read with concern the news about the likely plans for reopening of pubs without alcohol in April. I understand the nature of Professor Chris Whitty’s concerns, however, I would be grateful if you could ask the government, if they are worried about the behaviour of people after, say, 9pm on a Friday or Saturday evening, why I should not be able to go into a pub on a Tuesday afternoon and enjoy a quiet pint and a newspaper? The issue is not alcohol in pubs per se, but the behaviour of certain people in certain pubs at certain times. In which case, the government should address that particular problem. Imposing a blanket ban on alcohol sales across all hours is unimaginative, unnecessary, excessive, draconian and economically damaging.” 

Company News:

Hop acquired through pre-pack administration for £80,000: London-based Vietnamese street food concept Hop was acquired by a new vehicle set up by founder Paul Hopper, via a pre-pack administration for a total consideration of £80,000, Propel has learned. Hopper told Propel last month: “Due to the ongoing impact of the covid-19 pandemic, we appointed advisers in late 2020 to explore all options for the brand. It became clear that, unlike many other great brands in our sector, a company voluntary arrangement was not an option due to the inflexible stance on rent concessions taken by several of Hop’s landlords. As a result, FRP Advisory led a robust and independent accelerated mergers and acquisitions process in December/January and several bids for the business and/or assets were received.” An administrator’s report showed 15 parties had an interest in the five-strong business, which led to three offers, including one from Hopper. The administrators concluded Hopper’s bid, through new vehicle Cau Lau Holdings, provided the greatest return to creditors due to it being the highest offer received and that it ensured all employees retained employment. The total consideration of £80,000 paid, included £79,000 for equipment and £750 for the brand, goodwill and any associated trademarks and intellectual property. The company operated sites in Broadgate, the Cheesegrater, Coleman Street, Cullum Street and London Wall, and it is thought Hopper is currently in negotiations with landlords with a view to entering into new agreements where commercially viable. 

Ramsay to open first regional Street Burger site, alongside cookery school: Gordon Ramsay is to launch the first regional site under his fledgling Street Burger concept, on the same site of his new cooking school in Woking, Surrey. The Gordon Ramsay Chef Academy will launch on the site of the Tante Marie Culinary Academy and will offer those looking to enter the hospitality industry a place to hone their skills and gain real work experience within Ramsay’s restaurant portfolio. The Street Burger site will open on the ground floor of the scheme. Ramsay said: “I am beyond excited to finally confirm The Gordon Ramsay Academy will be opening in Woking later this year. I know how important mentors are, how important it is as a professional chef to sharpen your skills. To be guided in your training and to gain valuable workplace experience in a professional kitchen environment. Through my network of restaurants and the incredible teams that work with me, I have the ability to offer hands-on, practical, career-changing opportunities that will, hopefully, inspire, motivate and develop a new generation of talented chefs for the future.” Ramsay opened his first Street Burger site at the start of December in the One New Change development in St Paul’s, City of London. The chef said he also planned to open sites under the new burger concept in Charing Cross Road and Kensington High Street. Ramsay currently has 35 restaurants around the world and plans to open a fourth site under his Street Pizza concept at the Battersea Power Station development where Mother Pizza previously traded.
Incipio to relaunch Kensington nightclub Bloom as all-day venue Percy’s: Incipio Group, operator of venues including The Prince and Lost in Brixton, is to transform Percy’s, its current nightclub in High Street Kensington, into a “stripped back, no-fluff day-to-night destination”, Propel has learned. The company acquired the former Mahiki site in 2019 and opened Bloom later that year in November before closing in March 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic. Chris Sumner previously of Giant Robot, La Bodega Negra and Soho House joins as general manager to oversee the reopening. Percy’s will open seven days a week from noon until late and will offer an all-day menu created by former Mac & Wild executive chef, Nick Wyborn and a drinks menu curated in partnership with Casamigos Tequila. The 350-capacity venue will host talks and masterclasses during the day while DJs and live music will provide entertainment into the night. Incipio’s chief executive Ed Devenport said: “The lockdowns of 2020 presented us with an opportunity to review, critique and improve our offering. We used the time where we were unable to trade to re-evaluate what we have done well and what we could improve upon – something that, in the fast-paced nature of our industry, we probably didn’t do enough of previously. Despite the incredibly challenging year for bars and nightclubs, I am very optimistic about the future of nightlife and the changes we have made at Percy’s will enable us to come out of this stronger with an offering that appeals to guests looking for a great night out.”

Caffe Concerto set to launch CVA: Caffe Concerto, the patisserie chain with 20 sites in London, is launching a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) in an effort to force landlords to accept about 20p in the pound of what they are owed. Stephano Borjak, director of the chain, told The Sunday Times, the business had been left with no option after landlords lodged court proceedings. Court documents reported by The Mail on Sunday last week showed Criterion Capital had filed a £1.5m county court claim to recover rent from better burger brand Five Guys and a £284,000 claim against Caffe Concerto. Borjak said Criterion’s behaviour amounted to “harassment” while the moratorium on evictions is in place, adding the operator had previously paid its rent in full and on time for 12 years.” The Sunday Times reported restaurateurs and retailers are speeding towards a cliff edge in the spring if landlords are once again allowed to evict tenants over unpaid rent. BrewDog wrote to landlords last month to beg for a rent holiday extension. The company, led by chief executive James Watt, is losing £2m a month in its hospitality business, although it is still selling beer through grocers. Watt told landlords it had been “decimated” by covid-19. He said: “The plight is so severe that it is threatening to sink the entire ship.” BrewDog has asked landlords to forgo rent until June in exchange for extending its leases for 12 months. “It’s a very fair proposal and leaves the majority of the financial pain and heartache with us while the pubs are closed,” said David McDowall, chief operating officer. 

Bone Daddies to replace Byron in Putney: Bone Daddies Group, which comprises the eponymous ramen restaurants, Shack-Fuyu and Flesh & Buns, is to open a site in Putney, Propel has learned. The London-based company is understood to have secured the former Byron site in Putney High Street, for what will be the seventh opening under its eponymous brand. It is thought it will open for a short timescale for deliveries locally. Earlier this year, the company opened its latest dark kitchen site in Chiswick. It marked the sixth dark kitchen opening for Bone Daddies. Rob Meadows at Davis Coffer Lyons acted on the Putney deal on behalf of the landlord, while Charlie Catterall at Etch acted for the tenant.

Firezza hits 20 sites with Streatham launch: Firezza, the London-based pizza delivery and takeaway business, has opened its 20th site, in Streatham. The company, which is owned by Darsana Patel-led Net Gold Star, has launched the outlet in Streatham High Road. Firezza specialises in rectangular stone-baked pizzas in a classic Neapolitan style. Each pizza is made to order before being topped with fresh ingredients and cooked in Firezza stone-baked ovens. The menu consists of more than 20 different topping combinations on a quarter or half-metre base. A selection of Italian beer and wine is also available alongside soft drinks and classic Italian desserts such as tiramisu and apple and frangipane pie. Firezza was founded by Edin Basic in 2001 before he sold the business to PizzaExpress in 2016 for circa £4.7m. It was then acquired by Net Gold Star in November 2017. 
BrewDog to open New Albany bar: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog is to add to its US bar estate by opening a site in New Albany. The company will take over the former New Albany Mill building at 97 E. Dublin-Granville Street. Spanning almost 8,700 square foot, the site was originally earmarked to be a combined Harvest Pizzeria and Three Tigers Brewing brewpub, but the covid-19 pandemic curbed that plan. Three Tigers has since decided to expand in downtown Granville. BrewDog said it is expected to open the site in spring or summer. The company said the outdoor space would include fire pits and outdoor games. Inside plans include interior fire pits, an interactive beer school and 24 taps featuring BrewDog beer and brews from around the world. BrewDog said it wanted to “plant a flag” on the north side of Columbus for customers who might feel they’re too far from the Canal Winchester headquarters or the bars in the Short North or Franklinton. It cited the fast-developing area, the supportive local community and an “iconic” space as part of the lure to the project, reports Columbus Business First. In addition to its three Central Ohio bars and hotel, it also has bars in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. The company is also set for openings in Cleveland and Las Vegas.

Better burger brand Fat Hippo opens seventh site, in Leeds: Better burger brand Fat Hippo has opened a site in Headingley, Leeds. The company, which was founded in 2010 by Michael Phillips, has opened the venue in the city’s Otley Road. Due to the lockdown restrictions, the site is currently offering click and collect along with delivery with Deliveroo. Phillips said: “After a successful stint in Trinity Kitchen and a staycation at Leeds Festival with our fleet, it was only a matter of time before the Hippo came to Headingley.” The company operates sites in Newcastle, Jesmond, Durham and Nottingham and two outlets in Sheffield.
Paragon Hospitality gets go-ahead to open steak restaurant in Brighton: Paragon Hospitality, owned by Adam Elliott and television chef Barry Vera, has been given the go-ahead to open a site in Brighton. The company is to open a steak restaurant in the former Cath Kidston shop in East Street, which will also operate as a cafe during the day. Brighton & Hove City Council has granted a licence for the premises but ordered soundproofing to be fitted, reports The Argus. Paragon Hospitality operates the Petrichor Restaurant at London’s Cavandish Hotel and the Hideout Bar and Grill in Manchester. 
Dayashankar Sharma to launch fine dining restaurant in West Dulwich this month: Dayashankar Sharma, who has worked at Michelin-starred Tamarind and Kensington venue Zaika, is to open a fine dining Indian restaurant in West Dulwich, south London, this month. Sharma will launch Heritage on Tuesday, 16 February in Rosendale Road – initially offering takeaway and delivery with a 2.5-mile radius. The at-home menu will offer a bijou choice of set dining sharing boxes. The Heritage Rajputana features signature dishes due to appear on the restaurant menu including Mysore Bonda and Kasmiri Lamb. The Heritage Grill menu will include Chicken Malai Tikka and Lucknowi Murgh Kebab while the Costal Sack will feature Masala Seabass and Prawn Curry. Each of the set menus also includes regional bread, rice, chutney and sides. There will also be a choice of kebabs, tikkas, biryanis and main courses to order.
Indian restaurant to style its takeaway service on business class aeroplane dining: Indian restaurant Varanasi has announced it will serve three-course meals – styled on business class aeroplane food – directly to customers’ cars. The Birmingham restaurant, which is set across three floors and can host 500 diners, will serve a starter, main course, rice, naan and dessert on trays. General manager Abdul Wahab told Birmingham Live: “We thought people were getting tired of just getting a boring old takeaway now, so we thought let’s think of something a little bit out of the box, within covid rules and regulations, to give customers a pleasant experience.” The food would be presented as it would be in the restaurant, except everything handed to customers is disposable to keep contact with staff limited. Varanasi, which has been closed since the start of November, will be running its “business class dining” service on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from this week.

Former Nobu chef submits plans for pub-restaurant in Derbyshire: Lisa Thorley, who worked as a chef at Nobu and Aubergine, is set to launch a pub-restaurant at a site that closed in March last year if plans are given the go-ahead. Thorley, who also ran Lisa Jean Brasserie at the Bennetts department store in Derby, has submitted proposals for the new venture that would create 35 jobs to Amber Valley Borough Council. The proposed site traded as community pub The Pattenmakers Arms in Duffield, and Thorley is aiming to restore the property and add an extension to the site, which was acquired in November 2020 by the Lidher family. Thorley trained as a chef at Buxton College and went on to work at restaurants such as Nobu and Aubergine before relocating back to Derbyshire. She ran the Lisa Jean Brasserie for more than three years until the department store’s closure in 2019. She told East Midlands Business Link: “Our aim is to create a sustainable long-term future for this popular business, retaining the original use in a way that is fit for the present day. This requires us to bring the dining and kitchen facilities up to date through the addition of a single-storey extension to the rear of the existing building.” 

Roosters Piri Piri lodges plans for Exeter site: Roosters Piri Piri has lodged plans for a site in Exeter, as it continues to expand its estate. The company has applied to the city council to open the venue in Sidwell Street in former pay-day loan store, The Money Shop, reports Exeter Live. Roosters Piri Piri, founded by Khalid Mirza in 2003, serves halal fried chicken and specialises in “healthy street food from around the world”. It currently has more than 40 outlets.
Chipotle tests ‘car-side’ pick-up in US: Chipotle is testing “car-side” pick-up in the US, at 29 restaurants in California. Customers place their order via the app and select “car-side pick-up”. They then drive to a participating Chipotle restaurant, park, open the app and click “I’m here” and provide the make, model and colour of their vehicle. A Chipotle employee will then bring the food to the vehicle. Chipotle chief technology officer Curt Garner said: “As our digital business evolves, we are continuing to explore ways to remove friction and increase access to our real food. Chipotle car-side unlocks a new, highly convenient pick-up experience for guests from our restaurants’ parking lots.” Chipotle has been consistently investing in digital convenience technology throughout the pandemic to respond to changing customer needs, including the rollout of Chipotlanes – the company’s first drive-thru, digital order pick-up lanes – Facebook Messenger and group ordering, and the opening of its first digital-only restaurant, in New York in November.
Smoked meat concept Lagom opens pizza restaurant in London Fields: Smoked meat concept Lagom, run by chef Elliot Cunningham, has opened a pizza restaurant in London Fields. Cunningham has launched Eld Pizza in Hackney Road in the premises that was once operated by Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen. Cunningham had been trialling the pizza concept in Clapton late last year. The menu includes the Ragout – fior de latte, tomato, basil, jalapeno and cheddar; and the Anchovy – Hispi cabbage, chilli and anchovy. The restaurant, which is currently offering takeaway only due to the lockdown restrictions, also serves a selection of smoked meat, including pork shoulder. Cunningham has been serving his smoked meat and other delicacies at Hackney Church Brewery.
Carlsberg reports full-year UK volume down by ‘high single digits’ following on-trade closures: Carlsberg has reported total volume fell by “high single digits” in the UK for the year ending 31 December 2020 due to the prolonged lockdown of the on-trade although it managed to growth off-trade volume. The company also said the integration of the joint venture with Marston’s was “progressing well”. Overall, net revenue fell 8.4% to DKK58,5bn (£6.9bn) – its lowest level since 2007 – as the company felt the impact of covid-19 lockdowns shutting pubs and bars around the world for long periods. The company’s on-trade sales plunged by more than 20% in the year. Carlsberg said it expected a “challenging start to 2021” and the business’ fortunes will be impacted by whether or not restrictions are eased by the summer. Chief executive Cees ‘t Hart said: “While the pandemic is not yet behind us and we don’t know how long it will remain a challenge in 2021, we believe Carlsberg will emerge even stronger from the crisis. During 2020, we adjusted our cost base to a new reality and implemented new ways of working. These changes have led to a more flexible company, making us optimistic about our ability to deliver on our long-term strategic priorities. The group’s financial situation remains strong. Despite covid-19, we improved our operating margin, delivered strong cash flow, increased dividend per share, carried out a sizeable share buyback programme and strengthened the business through acquisitions.”
Scottish luxury hotel receives £500,000 fine over fatal fire: A Scottish luxury hotel has been fined £500,000 over a fire that claimed the lives of two guests. Cameron House was ordered to pay the fine after admitting to breaches of fire safety rules. A hotel porter has also been given a community payback order to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work. Richard Dyson, 38, and his partner Simon Midgley, 32, died in the hotel blaze on the banks of Loch Lomond in December 2017. It started after night porter Christopher O'Malley, 35, placed a plastic bag of ash in a cupboard containing kindling and newspapers. O'Malley admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. Cameron House previously admitted to two charges of failing to take fire safety measures that were necessary to ensure the safety of staff and guests. 
Devon cider-maker Sandford Orchards invests £1.2m in bottling plant and rebrand: Devon cider-maker Sandford Orchards has invested £1.2m into building a new bottling plant and rebranding. The Crediton-based company has expanded its bottling and canning capabilities and is developing and implementing a new branding strategy. Barny Butterfield, chief cider-maker, said: “While other businesses have retrenched during the past 12 months, we have taken the opportunity to press forward with our expansion plans. At the end of 2019, we made the strategic decision to invest heavily in a full rebrand.” Butterfield added at the beginning of the first lockdown, Sandford’s usual canning business became too busy to provide the firm with the capacity it needed so the company invested in an in-house canning line that delivered 3,500 cans per hour and new bottling machinery tripled production to 6,000 bottles an hour. 
JDP Hotels acquires Bradford site: Family-run hotel group JDP Hotels has acquired the Best Western Bradford Guide Post Hotel for an undisclosed sum. The company has bought the property from Alexander Guthe in a deal brokered by agent Christie & Co. The hotel comprises 42 recently refurbished bedrooms and suites, a 20-cover bar, a fully licensed restaurant with space for 85 covers and two large conference and events suites. JDP Hotels plans to continue to run the hotel under the current umbrella of Best Western, with the existing management team remaining in place. JDP Hotels director Pratik Paw said: “Despite the difficult times, our group has confidence in the recovery of the hospitality sector in the medium term, particularly established hotels with a good reputation and a proven on-site management team, such as the Guide Post Hotel.” Other properties in the group’s portfolio include the Best Western Hotel St Pierre in Wakefield and The Beaufort Park Hotel and Conference Centre in Mold, north Wales. Guthe had owned and operated the hotel since 1998 and made the decision to sell to pursue other property ventures.
McDonald’s strikes partnership to introduce Top Trumps to Happy Meals: McDonald’s UK and Ireland has struck a partnership with games company Winning Moves for a Top Trumps campaign to bring the family card game to Happy Meal boxes. Top Trumps packs will now be gifted in Happy Meal boxes, each of which will be centred on the animal kingdom. There are ten animal-themed Top Trumps packs to collect. The campaign has also highlighted the latest sustainability efforts of McDonald’s, promoting the Top Trumps packs are “completely plastic free”. The campaign is being promoted across social media platforms such as Instagram, as well as the McDonald’s website.

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