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Tue 9th Feb 2021 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Exclusive – Imbiba invests in retro-arcade bar concept, BrewDog’s McDowall to chair: Hospitality investor Imbiba has invested £1.4m in NQ64, the immersive retro-arcade bar concept, to aid its further growth plans, Propel has learned. As part of the investment in the current three-strong NQ64, David McDowall, chief operating officer at BrewDog, has become its new chairman, with Andrew Stones, ex-managing director of Be At One, representing Imbiba on the company’s board. NQ64 was founded by Matt Robson and Andy Haygarth, with the concept described as an “underground drinking den filled with retro arcade games and classic consoles”. It currently operates sites in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Imbiba said the new investment will fund the development of a strong property pipeline of sites in Newcastle, Leeds and Edinburgh. Haygarth, who with Robson acquired the Black Dog Ballroom business in 2018, said: “We are really pleased to be working with Imbiba – its industry knowledge and expertise makes it the perfect partner for us. The investment will allow us to take advantage of exciting opportunities to grow throughout the UK. The additions of David and Andrew to the board, with their vast experience of successfully growing wet-led businesses, is already proving invaluable.” McDowall added: “Andy and the team have built a really interesting and unique concept, and we are seeing plenty of great opportunities to expand its footprint throughout the UK. It’s great to be supporting such an awesome young business on this journey.” Stones, partner at Imbiba, said: “Andy and his team have developed a fantastic business, so our investment will help to fuel the growth of this exciting and innovative bar group. The combination of great drinks, atmosphere and retro games makes for a fantastic experience that will work in most major cities.” NQ64 launched its first site in Manchester’s Northern Quarter at the start of 2019, before rolling out to Liverpool and then Birmingham. 

Industry News: 

Sponsored message – Startle to host Rock and Roll Bingo quiz edition for Pride: In collaboration with Pride in London, leading music and technology provider Startle will be hosting a Pride edition of its much-loved Rock and Roll Bingo quiz. The game will be held on Friday (12 February) at 6pm. A Startle spokesman said: “We’ll be featuring all the Pride classics you know and love. Push your furniture to the sides of the room, roll up the rug, zoom your mates and bingo/dance the night away. All proceeds will be donated to Pride in London.” If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email
Startle is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Takeaway orders reach record high in January, pubs and bars suffer 93.7% sales decline: Spending at pubs and bars fell by 93.7% and by 84.2% at restaurants in January compared with the previous year while takeaway orders reached a record high, up 32.6%, according to research from Barclaycard. Overall consumer spending fell 16.3% as lockdown measures took effect, yet online growth surged for many categories. Spending on essential items grew 3.9% year-on-year, with high demand for home deliveries driving a surge of 126.8% in online supermarket spend. While shops were closed, spending on non-essentials dropped 24.2%. However, online retail remained strong with a 73.2% rise. In an ongoing trend, ordering takeaways and fast food proved highly popular, with the category seeing its largest ever growth of 32.6%. Spending at physical food and drink specialist stores – which includes butchers, bakeries and greengrocers – grew by 40.5%, as Brits continued to support nearby independent businesses. This comes as 45% said they plan to continue shopping more locally, even after lockdown ends. Despite a slight improvement in travel spending in December, tighter restrictions and news of tougher border controls saw a drop in holiday bookings and overseas trips in January, with travel agents (down 87.2%) and airlines (down 81.6%) hit hardest. Head of consumer products Raheel Ahmed said: “As the impact of the latest lockdown start to takes its toll, we’ve seen particular sectors struggle, as physical premises across the UK were forced to close. On a more positive note, we have seen a surge in many online categories as the demand for home deliveries continues to rise. From meal kits and subscription services, to online grocery shopping, Brits have continued habits they formed in the first lockdown, with a record high seen in spending on takeaways and fast food.”

UK loses more than £19bn in international tourism spend as a result of pandemic: The UK has lost an estimated $26.7bn (£19.4bn) in international tourism spend as a result of covid-19, according to new research. The findings by Hoo, the hotel room offer platform, showed the UK made $52.7bn (£38.4bn) from international tourism in 2019, but that figure fell to $26bn (£18.9bn) in 2020. Overall, the top 50 global tourism destinations have endured an estimated loss of $753.6bn (£548.7bn) as a result of covid. The amount lost by the UK was the eighth highest, with the US losing the most. The figures showed in 2019, international tourism receipts totalled $1,302.5bn (£948.3bn), with the US accounting for the highest tourism spend at $214.1bn (£155.9bn). However, based on the estimated impact of the pandemic, the figure fell to $548.9bn (£399.7bn) in 2020; a decline of 57.9% and a loss of $753.6bn (£548.9bn) in tourism revenue. The Far East has endured the largest losses from a lack of international tourism, with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao and Malaysia seeing international tourism receipts freefall by between 80% to 90%. Spain and Greece were among the worst hit of Europe’s major holiday destinations with 75% and 78% losses respectively, although almost all European nations have lost half their revenue. Japan has also suffered one of the largest declines at 75%. India has fared best in terms of overall market size. While the country has seen international tourism receipts decline by $2.7bn (£1.97bn) in 2020, this equates to just an 8.8% drop, which is the smallest of all nations. Belgium has seen the smallest impact with a decline of $1.7bn (£1.24bn). However, this still represents a 19.6% fall year on year.

Professor of epidemiology – reinstate rule of six, pub gardens safer than private homes: Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London, has said he believes reinstating the rule of six allowing people to meet outdoors should be “definitely encouraged”, around the same time as primary schools begin to return. Speaking to Times Radio, Spector, who is a professor of genetic epidemiology, also suggested pub gardens could be safer than those in private homes. He said: “My personal view, and I'm not speaking for anyone here, is actually sometimes a beer garden is more controlled than people's homes and gardens. Generally, most establishments are well behaved and I think they clean the tables and people keep their distance, and I see no reason why we couldn't move towards that in places that are well set up for it.” The epidemiologist, who provides the most up-to-date rolling study on infection levels, said social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing should continue into the future. He also predicted large sporting events and big weddings with international guests will remain on hold long after the second wave recedes. He said: “I can't see us suddenly having another Cheltenham Festival with no regulations again, I can't see us having massive weddings with people coming from all over the world, I think for the next few years those days are gone. I think we should still continue to do the easy things, keeping our distance from each other in public, masks, handwashing etc. These things don't cost really anything to do. I think we need to get used to that, and that will allow us to do the things we really want to do more easily and more readily.”

Growing ‘hospitality at home’ trend set to stay: The growing “hospitality at home” trend is set to stay, even when venues reopen, according to a new poll from KAM Media. The findings showed 63% of UK adults have now heard of a “cook at home” meal kit and 24% said they’d be open to buying a “meal kit” in the future. More than half (54%) were aware of finish at home options from hospitality operators. Meanwhile, 50% said they were aware of “mix at home” cocktail kits and 45% knew about mini keg home deliveries. A total of 38% said they have bought or would consider buying a cocktails at home kit while 35% said the same when it comes to mini kegs from a pub. KAM Media managing director Katy Moses said: “Food delivery has certainly changed forever and is fast entering a new phase, moving from purely functional ‘feed me now’ to experiential. We know customers are desperate to be back in our physical outlets, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still want a piece of our wonderful hospitality industry in their homes there’s room for both offerings to co-exist.”
KAM Media is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Lord – empty retail premises need to be repurposed to prevent further closures: Sacha Lord, Manchester's night-time economy adviser, has called for empty retail premises to be repurposed for leisure or hospitality use to prevent further closures. Lord made the statement following the news Boohoo plans to close 214 Arcadia stores and suggested funding should be made available to reuse vacant shops as leisure or hospitality venues in order to boost high streets after the pandemic. He said: “Our high streets are changing beyond all recognition and this brings severe and stark challenges. The move to online is inevitable. However, as these stores close, we need to look ahead at what will replace them. The groundwork needs to start now to repurpose empty retail stores or risk the end of the high street as we know it. Letting high streets become saturated with boarded up premises will spark a domino effect of closures for sectors who rely on the passing trade, creating long-term socio and economic hardship for local areas. We need our urban areas to continue as places which people want to travel into, and hospitality could prove the saviour of this. We need planners and local authorities to recognise the importance of the hospitality and nightlife sector on the regeneration of our town and city centres post-covid. We can either sit back and reminisce about our once bustling high streets, or we can work together to repurpose them as destination points for our towns and cities.”

Greater flexibility in repayment of Bounce Back Loans will give sector businesses ‘valuable breathing space’, says UKHospitality: Greater flexibility in the repayment of government-backed Bounce Back Loans will give sector businesses “valuable breathing space”, UKHospitality has said. The government has said businesses will be able to pay back the loans over ten years instead of six, make interest-only payments for six months or pause repayments for up to six months. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The greater flexibility offered in repayment options will give valuable breathing space for many hospitality businesses. The overwhelming majority are under huge pressure after months of little or no income, with cash fast running out and an ever-increasing debt pile as a result of prolonged periods of closure. While this does provide relative respite for some, it’s important banks are as flexible as possible in allowing hospitality businesses to access better terms and follow through with this announcement. Government has a role to play if this is not seen to be taking place. The survival of thousands of businesses and the ability of the hospitality sector to play a full part in the nation’s economic recovery hangs in the balance. What’s urgently required is a clear roadmap to reopening, a solution to the ongoing rent debt issue that continues to cast a huge shadow over the sector, along with an extension of the business rates holiday and VAT cut. These measures will help give hospitality a fighting chance to get through this crisis, to grow and create jobs once again.”

Hotel markets show occupancy boost around major events in UK: Hotel booking occupancy rates have spiked at locations that are holding major events this year, according to hospitality data research company STR. Bookings are pushing 90% in Glasgow at the time of the UN Climate Change Conference, set to take place in November, while spikes have been detected in London for the England versus Scotland UEFA Euro football group stage match in the middle of June and for the London Marathon in early October. Steven Cote, STR product manager for Forward Star, the tool used for collecting hotel occupancy data, said: “These numbers indicate the optimism for vaccine distribution, better control of the pandemic, and improved conditions for travel and events. Guest booking windows have shortened significantly during the pandemic, so there is plenty of potential for these levels to grow even higher as we get closer to the event dates. At the same time, unfortunately, more cancellations are also possible if the situation is not improved enough for these events to happen as planned.” Glasgow’s occupancy on the books sits between 84% and 89% for the event period in early November. London levels are sitting mostly below 10% for 2021. However, the highest level for occupancy on the books (21%) is currently showing on 18 June, the day of the England versus Scotland football match. Meanwhile, on 2 October, the day before the London Marathon, occupancy on the books sits at 15%.

Bill to provide $120bn fund for US restaurants reintroduced to Congress: A bill to provide a $120bn fund for US restaurants has been reintroduced to Congress, “providing light at the end of a long dark tunnel”, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA). The funds would be available to businesses with fewer than 20 sites – and franchise owners would also now be eligible. Under the Restaurants Act 2021, which has been updated since legislation was first passed in October, business operators would be able to apply for grants up to $10m to cover expenses incurred during the pandemic. NRA executive vice-president of public affairs Sean Kennedy said: “The unified Restaurants Act of 2021 is a light at the end of a long, dark winter for independent, chain, and franchise restaurants that have been most impacted by the pandemic. While many other industries have started to recover, the restaurant industry finished last year in a double-dip recession, and with 2.5 million fewer jobs. These grants will put even the hardest-hit restaurants on the path to economic survival.”
Luckin Coffee files for bankruptcy less than a year after admitting a quarter of its business was faked: Chinese coffee company Luckin Coffee has filed for bankruptcy in New York within a year of its admission that more than a quarter’s worth of its business may have been faked. The Chapter 15 bankruptcy move is designed to protect the company from lawsuits by US creditors, including bondholders owed $460m and shareholders. Luckin’s coffee shops in China will remain open and operations won’t be affected, according to a statement issued by the coffee business. It stated: “The company continues to meet its trade obligations in the ordinary course of business, including paying suppliers, vendors and employees.” In US court documents, Luckin asked a federal judge in Manhattan to allow it to restructure its finances through a court case filed in the Cayman Islands, where the company is incorporated. That proceeding is already under way and is focused on negotiating a settlement with shareholders and bondholders, according to court documents. The bankruptcy filing caps a saga in which the coffee chain, once thought of as a challenger to Starbucks’ dominance in China, fired its chairman and chief executive officer, paid hundreds of millions out in fines to Chinese and US regulators, and saw its stock plunge 90% before being delisted by Nasdaq. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fined the company $180m in December 2020 after finding it intentionally fabricated more than $300m in sales from April 2019 through January 2020. The company has never officially admitted or denied the SEC’s allegations.

Company News:

McDonald’s to begin reopening UK and Ireland restaurants for walk-in takeaway with new safety measures: McDonald’s is set to reopen the majority of its UK and Ireland restaurants for walk-in takeaway from Monday, 22 February. The company said it would follow a trial this week at a “small number” of sites with the introduction of new safety measures. McDonald’s UK and Ireland chief executive Paul Pomroy said: “A month ago we made the voluntary decision to temporarily close walk-in takeaway while we reviewed our safety measures to ensure they reflect the evolving nature of the covid-19 pandemic. We identified a small number of changes to further enhance our procedures, and we are currently in the process of rolling these out to restaurants. New safety measures being introduced include visors as well as face coverings for customer facing employees, revised guidance and processes for our couriers to support their safe working and enhanced processes for managing customer and courier flow in restaurants. The well-being of our people, as well as our suppliers, couriers and our customers remains our top priority, and we are confident the new processes in place will further enhance our already robust safety measures.” Due to government restrictions, the company is unable to reopen its Scottish restaurants for takeaway.

Newmark family eyes former Dinerama site: The owner of Beach Blanket Babylon, the bar and restaurant concept, is believed to be looking to take on the former Dinerama site in London’s Shoreditch, Propel has learned. Robert Newmark, who owns Beach Blanket Babylon, which still has a site in Notting Hill, is planning to take over the site for a so far unnamed project. It is thought Newark’s son Brett has applied for a licence for the site. In October, Jonathan Downey instructed restructuring advisors to liquidate the company that operated his four street food businesses. Trading as Street Feast, the food markets came under parent company London Union, and included Dinerama, Hawker House, Giant Robot and Model Market. A pioneer of the street food market and bar model in the capital, Dinerama in Shoreditch had been described by Downey as “the best business I’ve ever been involved with”. Like many across the industry, Downey had been unable to reach an agreement for reduced rent with the landlord of the site. 

Honest Burgers to open in St Albans: Active Partners-backed Honest Burgers will further add to its growing regional presence with an opening in St Albans, Hertfordshire. The company is to take on the former Carluccio’s site in the city’s Christopher Place shopping centre. Propel understands Honest Burgers will operate the site initially as a pop-up after taking a short-term lease on the unit. Last month, the circa 40-strong brand opened a new site in London, at St Katharine Docks, which at present is operating for delivery only.

Boxpark promotes McLaughlin to COO: Boxpark, the Roger Wade-led business, has promoted Ben McLaughlin to chief operating officer, after the recent departure of David Gough, Propel has learned. Previously at Stonegate Pub Company, McLaughlin joined Boxpark as operations manager in January 2018. Boxpark said over the course of three years, McLaughlin has “demonstrated his ability to lead the company’s strategy and oversee all commercial and operational aspects of the business”. The company said his promotion comes as it concentrates on its growth and the development of new sibling concept Boxhall. Gough, the former operations director at Fuller’s brand The Stable, joined Boxpark last summer to oversee all commercial aspects of the business, enhance the customer experience, and focus on training and employee development. On the promotion of McLaughlin, Wade said: “As covid-19 continues to impact the hospitality industry, we can only hope to remain positive and use this time to focus on our future plans. I am delighted to confirm Ben McLaughlin’s new position as chief operating officer – he is an extremely valued member of the team and has brought fantastic insights into the business since joining three years ago. I have no doubt he will continue to deliver great results at Boxpark as we evolve.”

Tap & Tandoor founders launch Japanese fried chicken concept: The husband-and-wife team behind Indian craft beer pub concept Tap & Tandoor has launched Karaage, a new Japanese fried chicken venture, Propel has learned. Launched in Woodbridge Road, Moseley, the new concept from Ajay and Shivani Kenth is currently available for delivery and takeaway, and offers takoyaki, samurai wings, steamed rice and Japanese fried chicken. The company plans to open a second site under the new concept, and is believed to be in advanced negotiations to take the former Valerie Café site in Resorts World, Birmingham, with the unit being on the market through Colliers International. The Kenths operate two sites under their Tap & Tandoor concept, which offers craft beer and Indian food, in Solihull and Peterborough. They also operate the street food and cocktail bar Zindiya in Moseley. 

Fusion fast-food business Wrapchic secures Canterbury site: Fusion fast-food chain Wrapchic is to open a new site in Canterbury, complete with new branding. The company will open in The Parade in the cathedral city, its ninth site in the UK. The business, which also operates two sites in Dubai, said the site will feature new branding as part of the “ongoing evolution of the company’s brand”. It said: “The previously black and white branding has been injected with a pop of colours that is visible on the brand’s digital presence and with the launch of the new store can be seen in its physical assets as well. A newly introduced and refreshed menu is indicative of the dynamic future ahead for Wrapchic.” The company was launched in Birmingham by Mahesh Raikar in 2012. He said: “Our concept is unique in the quick serve food sector and brings something new and fresh to the consumer. Our existing outlets are doing extremely well in terms of footfall and profitability. The public have really taken to the concept of healthy, fresh, tasty, Indian food served in a burrito.”

28°-50° secures former Byron in Chelsea for third site: 28°-50° Wine Bar & Kitchen, the Richard Green and Emilliano Isufi-led concept, will open its third site in London later this spring, after securing a site in Chelsea. The business, which already owns sites in Marylebone and Covent Garden, has secured the former Byron site in the King's Road, as part of plans for further expansion in the capital later in the year. The new 80-cover wine bar and kitchen is spread over ground and lower ground floors, complete with vaults on the lower ground floor, which 28°-50° hopes to convert to private dining rooms. There will be a countertop bar seating up to 12 guests, plus a small private terrace opening on to a courtyard on the ground floor. Green, founder and owner of parent company Rivera Restaurants & Luxury, said: “We’re delighted to be coming to Chelsea and can’t wait to open the moment we can do so safely. Many of our guests in Marylebone and Covent Garden live in Chelsea so we’re delighted to bring the 28º-50º experience a little closer to home for some of them. We’re currently putting the team together and are very excited to welcome many new faces to our 28-50 family.” Savills and Miles Commercial represented landlord Sloane Stanley. Restaurant Property represented 28º-50º Wine Bar & Kitchen.

Tomahawk Steakhouse launches two virtual delivery brands in London: Tomahawk Steakhouse, the company led by north east-based multi-site operator Howard Eggleston, has launched two virtual delivery brands through its site in London’s Hoxton. Operating out of Jamie Oliver’s former Fifteen restaurant site, the group now offers the delivery brands ParmoHub and Sunday Lunch Club. ParmoHub is dedicated to the Teesside classic parmo – flattened breadcrumbed chicken breast topped with béchamel and mature cheddar, served with wagyu beef dripping chips, house salad and garlic mayo. Sunday Lunch Club includes dishes such as roasted chicken and rolled breast of lamb, plus a selection of desserts. Both brands are available through Deliveroo. Last week, the company acquired an 11th site for its Tomahawk Steakhouse brand – and first in the north west. It 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.

Jolene Bakeries to open in Islington and Shoreditch: Jeremie Cometto and David Gingell are set to open two new sites this year for their Jolene Bakery concept. The first will be in the next few weeks, in Islington's Colebrooke Row. The next will be in the summer, in Shoreditch in Redchurch Street. Both are “bakery satellites” to their Big Jo bakery in the capital – with the intention of providing more space to sell baked goods made from the raw materials supplied by farms that subscribe to “a sustainable and soil positive regenerative system”. Cometto and Gingell are also launching an all-electric Jolene mobile truck that will deliver freshly baked goods on a daily basis, reports Hot Dinners. The duo are also behind London restaurants Primeur, Westerns Laundry and Jolene as well as Fitzroy in Cornwall. 

City Pantry appoints new managing director: City Pantry, the business-to-business catering market place owned by Just Eat, has appointed Matt Ephgrave as its new managing director. Ephgrave was previously the chief operating officer of Festicket, the world's largest festival travel platform. In the new role, Ephgrave will be focusing on “providing businesses with a forward thinking approach for their employees’ food and well-being”. He will also focus on driving commercial growth, working closely with City Pantry’s commercial team to ensure it “continues to be the leader within the corporate catering market”. Since the beginning of lockdown, City Pantry has focused on its “Pantry Packages”, an at-home service that enables companies to deliver food and gifts directly to their employees across the UK. Ephgrave said “The past 12 months has drastically altered our view of office culture and it has been a real challenge to maintain this while we work at home. I’m really excited to be joining a team that has done so much to help companies maintain this during this difficult time – nothing brings people together more than food! The future of the office is still uncertain, but I’m looking forward to working with our clients to support them as they transition back, whether that's through a hybrid office or a fully remote set up.” 

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