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Fri 12th Feb 2021 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Living Ventures co-founder launches alliance to bring insurance companies to task: Jeremy Roberts, co-founder and chairman of Living Ventures, has launched a new alliance as he looks to bring selected insurance companies to task over refusing to accept the recent ruling over business interruption. Roberts has formed the Business Interruption Trading Alliance (BITA) for those companies in the sector insured by Allianz and Zurich. Writing in this week’s Propel Friday Opinion, Roberts said: “Last month’s Supreme Court ruling on thousands of hospitality businesses’ claims for business interruption due to covid-19 closures seemed to herald a much-needed lifeline to bars and restaurants that had to close their doors in March last year. But two insurance companies – Allianz and Zurich – possibly accounting for 60% of the hospitality market, are still refusing to accept the ruling. Companies are left having to consider individual or class legal actions to specifically challenge Allianz and Zurich. These giants of the industry are simply hoping that a large section of the hospitality industry will either not get their act together or that so many of them will go bust the problem just dies with them, allowing them to walk away and, no doubt, brazenly try to win business in the future having betrayed the whole industry. Either way, it is morally heinous and I would contend, potentially, an act of criminal intent to avoid paying out on these policy extensions. If these companies cannot be shamed into doing the right thing, and so far they are demonstrating shame is not an emotion they feel, then the industry must take them to task in the courts. Yes it will cost some money, yes it will take even more time, and yes it will be too late for many. But there is little to lose and lots to gain in having our voice heard. The more of us that step up now, the more chance there will be a settlement out of court that will not be cost-prohibitive.” Roberts will share more of his thoughts in this week’s Friday Opinion, which will be published on Friday (12 February) at 11am

Industry News:

Mark Wingett looks at the elephant in the room, rent, and some possible solutions and outcomes in latest Premium Opinion column: Propel insights editor Mark Wingett explores the impasse over the sector’s rent issue, with views from operators, landlords and property advisers in this week’s Premium Opinion column, which will be sent to subscribers on Friday (12 February) at 5pm. There will also be the latest whispers via Premium Diary. 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 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

Holiday park operators demand government allows reopening by Easter or face thousands of job losses: Holiday park operator Parkdean Resorts is demanding the government allows caravan parks and lodge operators to open by Easter or face thousands of job losses. The Newcastle-based operator has been joined by other operators, which include Haven, Verdant Leisure, Away Resorts, Bridge Leisure Parks, Haulfryn and Hoburne Holiday Parks, in saying their sites are more covid-secure than many other locations. Campaigners claimed if their sites are not operational by Easter, it would cost thousands of jobs in coastal and rural communities. The companies said the fact caravans are at least five metres apart by law and families are able to keep apart from other groups means there is little covid transmission risk. They also stated there were only 16 positive cases of the disease notified by the NHS’ Track and Trace system out of 4.1 million visits to parks in 2020. The holiday firms told Chronicle Live: “Holiday parks should be differentiated from the wider hospitality sector – our parks are safe spaces for people to social distance and have robust hygiene measures in place. Given our reduced risk profile, we want to be disaggregated from the wider sector and treated separately, in accordance with our safety record.” A spokesman for Parkdean Resorts said: “If holiday parks are not operational this Easter, many businesses will fail and the economic and social impact will be directly felt in the coastal and rural communities they support. It is vital the government gives us a clear roadmap for reopening, maintains VAT at 5%, and continues the business rates holiday to protect our cash reserves.”
Sheffield City Council urges further government support to save pubs, bars and clubs: Sheffield City Council has urged the government to offer more support to help the city’s pubs, bars and clubs recover from the pandemic. Sheffield has more than 1,000 businesses contributing to the night-time economy, which support 12,000 jobs directly and more through supply chains and the gig economy. Its proposals to the parliamentary inquiry into the night-time economy include a continuation of the furlough scheme, business rates relief and 5% VAT relief for the rest of 2021; funds to be allocated to encourage the creation of new businesses and to enable training for new staff entering the sector; a national campaign aimed at restoring consumer confidence and encouraging people to continue to spend local when restrictions are lifted; and ensuring a level playing field between pubs, restaurants, takeaways and shops so pubs have a lifeline during the current lockdown. Councillor Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for business and investment at Sheffield City Council, told The Business Desk: “We have iconic venues and events in Sheffield that are known worldwide and are an integral part of our appeal as a visitor destination. We simply cannot afford to lose these much-loved and valuable assets and their vital contribution to the local economy. The council is calling on the government to support these businesses so when the time is right, they can come back fighting and provide the vibrant nightlife we are all so looking forward to experiencing again.”
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a luxury hospitality and property business that is keen to appoint a digital marketing director. Based in London and paying up to £100,000, this position would suit a senior marketing leader with extensive experience in an online or digital environment. The marketing director will be communicating between venue, office, sponsors/partners and the external marketing suppliers; marketing agency (media buying, campaign strategy, SEM, partnerships, etc.); PR agency (press communications, public relations, editorials, crisis communications) and the travel trade/tourism marketing agency – ensuring all channels are communicating a consistent message. Anyone interested can email with their CV.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Wendy’s lines up Oxford site; begins franchisee search: Wendy’s, the third-largest quick service restaurant chain in the US, is lining up a site in Oxford as part of its plans to re-enter the UK market. The company has applied to the city council to open a site in the city’s Magdalen Street, in the premises that formerly housed shoe shop Schuh. Wendy’s has already secured a site in Reading as it makes a new attempt to break into the British fast-food market. Meanwhile, Propel understands Wendy’s has begun the search for suitable UK-based franchisees. The company plans to enter the UK with company-owned and operated restaurants in the first half of 2021 and, in its second phase, it will launch in priority areas with multi-unit franchisee operators. The business is believed to be working with franchise consultancy Platinum Wave on its franchisee search, while it has retained Savills UK to aid its site selection. In July last year, Wendy’s announced it would return to Britain, 20 years after it closed its UK outlets to focus on its North America base. The company opened restaurants in the UK in 1992 but pulled out seven years later due to high real estate and operating costs. In November last year, Todd Penegor, chief executive of Wendy’s, said the company had a strong pipeline of locations in place in the UK, including some drive-thrus. In an update to investors, Penegor said the company was also engaging with potential franchise candidates to “build out the market with us”. Wendy’s has more than 6,700 outlets in 30 countries around the world.
Dirty Bones to replace Wright Brothers in Soho: US comfort food and cocktails brand Dirty Bones is to move its site in London’s Soho, Propel understands. The company will move its site from the top floor in the Kingly Court scheme down to the ground floor, where it will replace Wright Brothers, the oyster specialist and seafood wholesaler, which has handed back the lease on the site. Josh Leon at Colliers International acted on the Kingly Court deal. Dirty Bones operates four other sites – three in London and one in Oxford.
Various Eateries appoints Raj Manek as new property director: Various Eateries, the recently AIM-listed Andy Bassadone-chaired business, has appointed Raj Manek, formerly of Loungers, as its new property director, Propel understands. Manek joins the Coppa Club and Tavolino operator, after more than seven and a half years with Loungers, where he started as property manager before stepping up to acquisitions director in March 2017. Last September, Various Eateries raised £25m through an IPO and said it believed there was potential to open up to 100 sites under its fledgling Tavolino brand, and capacity for more than 50 Coppa Clubs across the UK. It launched its latest Coppa Club – the seventh under the brand, in Cobham, at the start of last December.
Harts Group eyes new opening in London’s Soho: Harts Group, which owns Quo Vadis, El Pastor, Casa Pastor and Barrafina in London, is set to add to its portfolio in the capital, with a further opening in Soho, Propel understands. The group is understood to have lined up the former Hix site in Brewer Street for what is thought could be a further opening under its El Pastor concept. In December 2019, Mark Hix closed his flagship restaurant Hix Soho after a decade in business blaming increasing rent costs. Sam and James Hart and Crispin Somerville launched the original El Pastor in Stoney Street, just off Borough Market, in December 2016. Taqueria and production site Tortilleria El Pastor opened in Bermondsey in April 2018 followed by Casa Pastor and Plaza Pastor in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, in October the same year.

Douglas Jack – new normal could favour other pub companies rather than JD Wetherspoon: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has argued the post-pandemic new normal may not be as favourable to JD Wetherspoon as it could be for other pub companies. On the reopening of pubs, Jack said: “Other operators will benefit from less competition but Wetherspoon has been out on its own for pricing. Wetherspoon is one of the least likely to be acquired or to make acquisitions. It may pick up some property in London as that market has weakened but that may remain weakened for some time.” He cited a lack of foreign visitors who spend most of their money in London. Jack also said when the national living wage goes up, labour costs go up but that means more people will have more money to spend. However, many of those benefiting from such a wage rise work in retail and hospitality, and these sectors have been affected by covid-19. Although savings grew for 31% of population in 2020, they diminished for 29% and low-ticket establishments are more likely to be affected if there were to be a recession. As a result, Jack issued a “Reduce” note on Wetherspoon shares from its previous advice of “Hold”, with a target price of 1,150p because “this was the price the chairman sold £50m of shares two weeks ago”. He added 1,150p equates to 11.3 times EV/Ebitda and estimated a 3% price increase across the board would have “no detrimental impact on volumes”. Jack said: “You could argue we are being very generous with this assumption.” 
Cocotte secures fifth London site, in South Kensington: Healthy rotisserie chicken concept Cocotte is set to open its fifth restaurant in London after signing a new lease at 11 Harrington Road in South Kensington. The brand will take 1,765 square foot of space at the site that was formerly occupied by Squirrel. The Harrington Road premises will join Cocotte’s line-up of restaurants in Notting Hill, Shoreditch, Parson’s Green and Queen’s Park. Colliers represented the landlord, APML Estate, in the deal, while Marc Rogers of MKR Property, acted for Cocotte. George Collison in the London Restaurant team at Colliers, said: “Despite the current challenging conditions, we were delighted to have a number of occupiers interested in this property. The deal demonstrates there is still plenty of demand out there for the right space. Cocotte is a best-in-class restaurant and its ambition to expand during lockdown demonstrates its resilience that will, no doubt, pay off once the vaccine has been rolled out and we can slowly return to normality.”
Crosstown launches ‘dark retail’ site, second to open in March: Crosstown, the artisan doughnut and speciality coffee concept, has launched the first of two “dark retail” sites after its online ordering revenue grew 600% year-on-year in 2020. The first site opened in the Crate building on St James Street in Walthamstow, east London, on Thursday (11 February) with the second planned to open in Cambridge next month, which will be a four-week residency at All Saints Passage with the hope of continuing if it proves successful. Crosstown is also seeking offers of accommodation from businesses in targeted areas with spare space. Crosstown, which has 23 London sites, has seen direct-to-consumer online ordering revenues increase by 600% in 2020 compared with 2019. This has been supported by the introduction of nationwide delivery in August 2020, an expanded gifting offer and a delivery hub pilot in Battersea. Crosstown co-founder JP Then said: “Assuming the new locations go as anticipated, we hope to continue to reach our customers in this new manner.” Crosstown co-founder Adam Wills added: “The current climate has pushed us to think outside the box. There has never been a more important time for independent operators to band together, all three of these new delivery hubs are utilising unused space from friendly operators who are looking to put a basement, a mezzanine or a spare first floor area to work.” Future locations being considered include Oxford, Brighton, Richmond, Croydon, Chalk Farm and Chiswick.
Mellors Group buys Skegness Pier for £3m: Mellors Group, which operates theme parks, attractions and entertainment businesses, has bought Skegness Pier for more than £3m. The pier was brought to market in the middle of September 2020 with a guide price of £3m. Property agent Christie & Co director of leisure and development Jon Patrick, who oversaw the sales process, said: “In more than 35 years of selling leisure businesses, few have come close to the intensity of interest generated by this instruction, which led to a competitive bidding process, multiple cash offers being received, and a sale being agreed in excess of the guide price within four weeks of launch. This would be an incredible achievement at the best of times, but set against the current backdrop is quite remarkable and is an indicator of the underlying strength of the UK leisure market for top-class assets as well perhaps an understandable strengthening of staycation interest in coast and country locations.” Mellors Group operates eight brands, including the nearby Fantasy Island at Ingoldmells, which it acquired in 2016.
M&B to permanently close Didsbury pub: Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has said it will not reopen The Stokers Arms in Didsbury once coronavirus restrictions are lifted on pubs and restaurants. Management at the pub in Wilmslow Road posted on social media to say the venue would be “closing for good”. The pub, which opened in 2014, was known for its interior brickwork and for serving gourmet food alongside a selection of international and craft beer. Throughout the pandemic, the pub had been operating as a food delivery service via M&B’s virtual brands – Ruby Jean's Burgers, Chicken Society and Veg Heads. An M&B spokesman told the Manchester Evening News: “We constantly review our estate and look for new opportunities for our locations. The Stokers Arms will not reopen after the end of the current lockdown and the site will be leased to a new operator. The team was consulted and we hope to redeploy as many employees as possible at other businesses we operate nearby.”
Greene King reveals new names for pubs as part of anti-racism stance: Brewer and retailer Greene King has revealed the new names of four pubs, where the existing names have racist connotations. Last month, the company announced it would be renaming three pubs called the Black Boy – in Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury and Shinfield – as well as the Blacks Head in Wirksworth. Community groups were consulted to help get a shortlist of options that were then put to public vote. The Black Boy in Bury St Edmunds will become The West Gate. The pub is built close to where the Suffolk town’s old West Gate once stood and, towards the rear of the pub, are remnants of the old town wall that used to join up to the West Gate. The Black Boy in Shinfield will change to The Shinfield Arms in recognition of the pub’s location at the heart of the historic Berkshire village. The Black Boy in Sudbury will now be known as The Lady Elizabeth. It is named after Lady Elizabeth de Burgh who, in the 14th century, invested in creating the Market Hill in the Suffolk town, where the pub and hotel sits today. The Blacks Head in Wirksworth will become The Quarryman to mark the key role limestone quarrying and lead mining played in the history and development of the Derbyshire town. Greene King Pub Partners managing director Wayne Shurvinton said: “Despite the obscure origins of the pubs’ previous names, from the research we carried out, it was clear there was a perception today the old names were linked with racism, which is why we knew we had to take this step if we wanted to continue on our journey to become a truly anti-racist organisation.”

Dublin-based online ordering platform Flipdish secures €40m of new funding: Flipdish, the Dublin-based online ordering and loyalty platform for takeaways and restaurants, has raised €40m (£35.1m) in new funding from investment firm Tiger Global Management. The company intends to use the funds to grow its international presence, continue to build a product for its restaurant partners and attract new customers from independents to large food chains. Founded by brothers Conor and James McCarthy in 2015, Flipdish said it puts restaurants, cafes and takeaways of all sizes “in control of their business growth with a digital ordering and marketing system to build brands, grow profits and turn customers into regulars”. Operating in 15 countries including Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, UK and US, the company provides its technology to thousands of independent restaurants as well as major brands like Wowburger, Dunnes Stores and Eddie Rockets. In December, Flipdish announced the creation of 300 jobs during the next 12 months as part of its rapid expansion. The majority are technology roles such as software architects, data scientists, mobile engineers and product designers. Others include customer success, customer support, marketing and sales. Conor McCarthy said: “Flipdish’s mission is to protect and power a diverse, independent food sector, and every cent of this investment will go towards realising that goal.”
CMA clears Diageo deal for Chase Distillery: Diageo has had its deal to buy Chase Distillery approved by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The regulator said last month it was inviting comments from interested parties on Diageo’s proposed acquisition ahead of a formal investigation into the deal – but said it now won’t be referred for further review. The CMA said at the time it was considering whether the deal would lead to a reduction of competition within the UK. Diageo, the world’s largest liquor maker – which owns Johnnie Walker whisky and Tanqueray gin – said in October it was buying Chase Distillery, the owner of Chase GB Gin and the Chase Original Potato Vodka, for an undisclosed sum. Diageo Great Britain managing director Dayalan Nayager said at the time: “We are thrilled to be bringing such a quintessentially British portfolio of high-quality, crafted brands into our family.”

Chopstix launches offers to help celebrate Valentine’s and the start of zodiac calendar: Chopstix, the UK’s fastest-growing, pan-Asian quick service restaurant concept, is launching two special offers, to help consumers celebrate Valentine’s Day and to mark a new year of the zodiac calendar. To mark this year’s Valentine’s Day celebration, the company has launched a limited-edition Love Box meal, available nationwide from 12 to 14 February. The box, available for delivery or collection, is packed with the flavour expert’s best-selling dishes to help lovers settle in for a romantic night for two. The bright red Love Box includes a caramel chicken box, a sweet and sour chicken box, a veg spring roll bucket, five duck spring rolls and a side of prawn crackers for £21.95. At the same time, and to mark a new year of the zodiac calendar – the year of the ox – Chopstix has invented “the world’s first ever Wok Pan Pizza”. The company said: “Crafted from pizza dough gently heated in a wok, before adding tomato sauce, teriyaki beef and grated mozzarella, the Chopstix Wok Pan Pizza will be sure to bring good luck to the year ahead.” 
Scottish-based Nepalese restaurant operator set to open second site: Scottish-based Nepalese restaurant operator Navin Kandel is set to open a second site. Kandel, who owns Gurkha Bar & Restaurant in Musselburgh, has been given the go-ahead to launch a restaurant in Penicuik. Midlothian Council has granted permission for a former snooker hall in Imrie Place to be converted. The two-storey building, which has lain empty for about seven years, was described as semi-derelict in the application to change its use to a restaurant, reports the Midlothian View. Gurkha Bar & Restaurant opened in Musselburgh in 2014 and was named best specialist restaurant in Scotland at the Scottish Business Awards in 2016, as well as picking up several Good Food awards.
London-based Hungarian restaurant concept Turul Project to go from pop-up to permanent: London-based Hungarian restaurant concept Turul Project is going from pop-up to permanent. Turul Project will open the site in Turnpike Parade in Duckett’s Green, north London. The venue will incorporate a deli as well as a restaurant and wine bar. The deli is set to open in March with the restaurant and wine bar to follow later, reports Hot Dinners. Turul Project said the aim was to “make high-end Hungarian gastronomy accessible” to London diners. Balazs Berta, previously of the Goring Dining Room as well as Restaurant Story and Aquavit, is leading the kitchen. The menu will include Guineafowl consommé and pickled onion; and Mangalica (Hungarian pig), spinach, roasted garlic and velo (bone marrow). The wine list is also fully Hungarian. Also planned is a palinka menu – a Hungarian spirit with similarities to Italian grappa.
Shipping container site with two bars and food sales proposed in Newcastle: Plans for a shipping container development that would house bars and sell food have been put forward to Newcastle City Council. The scheme would feature five shipping containers, a chilled cellar unit, toilet facilities and a steel staircase while the external space would comprise two bars, with the yard covered by an open timber pagoda. The city centre site, which covers almost 4,500 square foot, is currently occupied by a two-storey dwelling, which has been approved for demolition. The application to the council read: “The aim is to provide a high-quality food and drink offer in a relaxed outdoor environment.” It added designs for the development have been “influenced by European inner-city courtyards, alfresco dining and drinking establishments often surrounded by beautiful listed buildings”. 

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