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Wed 24th Feb 2021 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Sector blasts Scottish government over ‘lack of clarity’ on reopening: Sector bosses have blasted the Scottish government for a “lack of clarity” over its reopening plans for hospitality. Pubs and restaurants are set to reopen in Scotland from the end of April alongside non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers under the lockdown exit roadmap outlined by first minister Nicola Sturgeon. She said a phased return for these sectors would start in the last week of April but did not provide more detail, saying it would be confirmed in mid-March. But Kenny Blair, managing director of Scottish bar and restaurant operator Buzzworks Holdings, tweeted: “Very disappointing announcement for the majority in Scottish hospitality. No clarity given, especially to those who cannot viably operate in level zero, never mind level three. Looks like we are being thrown a crumb in the week before the Scottish election.” UKHospitality Scotland executive director Willie Macleod said: “We need much more detail to really get to grips with the challenge of reopening. We will need details of the type of restrictions businesses will be under and the timeframe for easing them. It appears hospitality will be shunted back into unrealistic level three restrictions, which will be immensely damaging for the sector. It is crucial businesses remain supported in the run-up to reopening and beyond. The Scottish government has already extended the business rates holiday, and this is welcome; but we need much more than this and the grants available under the Temporary Closure and Business Restrictions schemes are, quite simply, inadequate for the job. The UK government must use next month’s Budget to extend the VAT cut, extend furlough and deliver a sector-specific package of support with consequential funding to the Scottish government to ensure businesses survive the coming months.” Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, added: “The announcement raises more questions than it answers. Pub businesses across Scotland now have a lengthy and uncertain wait until mid-March when details of the tier system will be announced. We hope in reviewing the tier system the first minister and her government will learn the lessons of last year and remove the arbitrary, and frankly, bizarre restrictions previously imposed such as curfew, no music and banning of the sale of alcohol. This is continued closure for pubs in all but name.” Scottish Hospitality Group spokesman Stephen Montgomery said: “While the measures may seem like a small step in the right direction we’re concerned our industry has been offered the promise of better days to come without the detail or confidence to plan for them. It’s extremely frustrating for operators in Scotland to be looking at their counterparts in England who are finally able to start preparing for a return to normality with greater certainty. Given all that we, our staff and suppliers have been through, the government aid must continue into next year and cannot be pulled from our sector if we are to survive.” Mike Grieve, chair of the Night Time Industries Association in Scotland, added: “It’s clear the Scottish government has adopted a more cautious approach than Westminster throughout the pandemic, but we hoped our own roadmap in Scotland would align more closely with the rest of the UK to allow businesses to begin trading again and young people in particular to resume social activity in well controlled and highly regulated environments such as clubs and music venues. Meanwhile, it is absolutely vital significant financial support continues until all trading restrictions are removed.”

Industry News:

Grind operations director Kyle Boyce to feature in ‘A Focus on Operations’ video: In a new series of Propel lockdown videos in conjunction with guest experience management experts Yumpingo, we focus on the role of operations directors. We speak to operations directors from leading sector businesses about how their priorities have changed during the crisis, how they have adapted, the biggest challenges they have faced, how their relationships with their teams have changed, and how they see the consumer experience evolving. In the final video of the series, Mark Wingett talks to Kyle Boyce, operations director at Grind. The video will be released at 9am on Wednesday (24 February).

Chesser – it is going to take a long time before businesses can ‘really get upright again’: Punch chief executive Clive Chesser has said it is going to take a long time before businesses can “really get upright again” and the company will “fight really hard” to avoid more closures. Talking to LBC Radio, Chesser said the prime minister’s roadmap had brought “mixed emotions”. He said: “We have been asking for clarity for the past few months and we’ve got a bit of clarity now and are able to plan for that, but it’s been undermined by some frustration we are not allowed to open in line with non-essential retail, which is something we have been calling for and we think the evidence from last summer would have justified that. Hopefully the government will keep an open mind now, keep monitoring the data and if there is a chance to bring the roadmap forward, of course we would welcome it. The other thing I would urge the government to remember is still a long road for us, even from here. For pubs getting their gardens open for 12 April, that is still 49 days away. We mustn’t mistake opening gardens for opening properly even for those pubs who have outside areas, because it will still be hard for them to trade profitably. So, we are looking forward to 17 May, and that is still 84 days away when we are able to open indoors but with some restrictions, to the blessed day of 21 June when we will be able to open properly. But that is four months from now. It is a really long road ahead still and we now have a week until the Budget, and we need to reinforce the message that support is still critical – both in the short term, in terms of getting us through to the 21 June, and also in the longer term, and into the next year, at least, this sector will need really substantial support. We will fight really hard to avoid more closures, we do everything we can to prevent it. It is going to take a long time before these businesses can really get upright again. There is still debt to be paid down and there is investment to be put into these businesses to get them up and running again.”

Amber Taverns chairman – MPs forget the ‘considerable work’ that’s been invested in making pubs covid-safe: MPs have forgotten the “considerable work” that’s been invested in making pubs covid-safe, Michael George, chairman of community pub operator Amber Taverns, has said. Speaking to BBC’s Newsnight programme about the health of the pub sector, George said: “On the macro level, ten years ago there was 60,000 pubs, now we are below 40,000 and heading toward 30,000 very quickly, partly as a result of the pandemic. That is the macro picture and that of course affects many communities, who have lost hospitality units, which is a serious thing culturally and in social terms for those communities. On the micro level, one of the frustrations is when MPs think about pubs, they forget the considerable work done last year. If you go to a pub it has invested heavily in personal protective equipment, in screens, in ventilation, in table service. What you are seeing is socially distanced venues and disciplined operators, which in my view are covid-safe. That needs to be remembered because that is the reality that we are trying to get back into operation as quickly as possible.”

Fleurets – operators reluctant to sell sites as prices higher than ‘the wider economic indicators suggest’: Leisure property specialist Fleurets has said operators are reluctant to sell sites because prices for hospitality and leisure sites are higher than “the wider economic indicators suggest” and demand is expected to only strengthen. Simon Hall, director and head of agency at Fleurets, said: “There have been a notable number of high street restaurant units returning to landlords as part of company voluntary arrangements and administrations. These have by and large been snapped up by operators eager to expand and take advantage of landlords being happy to agree more flexible terms to minimise void periods. However, the majority of operators are reluctant to sell at what is perceived to be, perhaps incorrectly given the strength of demand, the bottom of the market. This demand/supply imbalance is driving competitive situations. We have had several contract races and many best and final bid situations. Sales prices are often at, or in excess of, this time last year. Vendors may consider market conditions and pricing to be more favourable than the wider economic indicators suggest. We anticipate demand to continue to strengthen as operators allow two to three months to purchase and refit a new acquisition, ready for opening in May. The increased ‘certainty’ provided by the roadmap will fuel this activity.” 

Government to conduct review into whether ‘vaccine passports’ should be needed for the pub: The government will conduct a review of the “deep and complex” issues around whether Britons should be asked to show a “vaccine passport” before entering venues such as a pub or theatre. As outlined in its four-stage roadmap out of lockdown, the government plans to assess whether “covid-status certifications”, otherwise known as a “vaccine passport”, could play a role in reopening venues and restarting major events. According to prime minister Boris Johnson, the review – led by cabinet office minister Michael Gove – will both look at whether the government could introduce such certification or, conversely, ban businesses from requiring people to prove their vaccination or covid-testing status. Speaking to Sky News, Johnson said: “This is an area where we’re looking at a novelty for our country. We’ve never thought of having anything like this before, that you have to show when you go to a pub or a theatre. There are deep and complex issues that we need to explore, ethical issues about what the role is for the government in mandating people to have such things or indeed banning from people doing such a thing. We can’t be discriminatory against people who, for whatever reason, can’t have the vaccine – there might be medical reasons why people can’t have the vaccine, or some people may genuinely refuse to have one. Now I think that’s a mistake, I think everybody should have a vaccine, but we need to thrash all this out.” Johnson added one area where “vaccine passports” may have a more likely use is for international travel, on the premise that there was “no question” other countries would be looking to do something similar.

Fine dining at-home experience ‘here to stay’ with a third of Brits continuing to place orders after lockdown: The fine dining at-home hospitality experience is “here to stay” with one-third of the UK population set to continue placing orders after lockdown, according to research by on-demand ordering platform Slerp. The company has seen 600% growth in the past six months with sales during Valentine’s weekend increasing 390%, and a record £1,600 in a single spend. “The move to online for brands has effectively ‘democratised’ top foodie experiences at the kitchen table,” said Slerp founder JP Then. “Consumers are truly embracing the dine at home proposition. With a clear path to how we can socialise over the next few months, we’re now seeing Mother’s Day orders and brands gearing up for outdoor eating ideas.” Slerp offers a “viable” direct-to-consumer solution for on-demand pick-up and delivery. The technology integrates with a retailer’s website, enabling the business to retain complete control of its brand, customer experience and customer data. Then, who co-founded Crosstown, the artisan doughnut and speciality coffee concept, launched Slerp to market in 2019 after years of testing.

Brits flock to book foreign holidays as roadmap offers potential travel date: Brits have flocked to book holidays after the government’s roadmap out of lockdown gave the potential date to allow foreign travel as 17 May. Health secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News there would be a review published on 12 April into international travel before holidays could resume. EasyJet said flight bookings jumped by more than 300% and holiday bookings surged by more than 600% week-on-week after the roadmap was announced by prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday (22 February). Beach destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma in Spain, the Algarve in Portugal, and Crete in Greece, were the most popular. Most bookings were made for August, but July and September were also popular. EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the government’s exit plans had "provided a much-needed boost in confidence for so many of our customers in the UK”. Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland, said it had seen a 500% jump in bookings overnight, with particular demand for Greece, Spain and Turkey from July onward. A spokesman for Thomas Cook said it had seen similar numbers, adding it was “easily our best day of sales for a long time and triple Sunday’s”. The popular destinations for its customers were Turkey, Cyprus and Greece but people were also booking well into 2022. For those not ready to travel internationally, Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications at VisitBritain, said staycations could be a perfect alternative. She said “coast and countryside” are expected to be popular but city centres might be less so this year, with many people still cautious about public transport and attractions indoors. 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking for a head of operations for a small group of “social” bars in London. They will assist with building the brand, portfolio and the growth of the business. It is looking for an engaging head of operations, who likes building new concepts, enjoys working with multiple stakeholders and is passionate about training and motivating an up-and-coming team. Multi-site management experience is essential for this role as well as great relationship skills and a willingness to work hands-on during shifts. Experience of working with a small, growing business would be ideal. The position is based in London or the south east and will pay up to £95,000 plus bonus. Anyone interested can email Stuart@corecruitment.com 
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Fireaway set for further rapid expansion by doubling estate in 2021, heading international: Fast pizza brand Fireaway is set for further rapid expansion, and is also heading abroad. The company, launched in London in 2016, now has 55 outlets across the UK and that number will double by the end of 2021. A total of 25 new branches are opening in the next 27 weeks while a further 20 franchise agreements have been signed and locations for them are being sought. In addition, master franchisees have come on board in Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Founder and chief executive Mario Aleppo said eventually he would like to see several Fireaways in every city in the UK. He also believed global growth for the concept was “unlimited”. Aleppo opened the first branch in Mitcham, and the company’s initial expansion was largely coincidental. He said: “Our pizzas went down very well with our customers right from the start. Within a few weeks one of my regulars asked if he could become a franchisee and within six months he’d opened a branch in Streatham. It started with a new franchise opening every six months. A year later it was every three months, then one a month and now it’s roughly one a week. During the second half of last year, despite all the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we opened 20 new branches in 20 weeks.” Aleppo said he originally thought of opening a Subway franchise but “changed my mind and decided to do my own thing”. He added: “However, I was impressed by Subway’s methods and incorporated some of them into Fireaway.” The brand offers four different bases, four types of cheese and four types of meat as well as 20 toppings for diners to customise their pizza with the price remaining the same regardless of the combination. The pizzas are cooked in 180 seconds.

Center Parcs set to reopen villages in April and operate restaurant delivery service: Center Parcs, which offers 4,300 units of accommodation across five sites in the UK, is set to reopen its holiday villages on 12 April – subject to the government moving to the next stage of its roadmap. The sites will operate a restaurant delivery service while the majority of outdoor activities will be available. A spokesman said: “In line with the guidance issued, guests will be able to visit with their own household in our fully self-contained lodges, but will not be able to book accommodation in either our hotel or apartments. We are currently reviewing the guidance to understand exactly what restrictions will be in the place and will provide an update on this as soon as possible. Guests with existing bookings who no longer wish to visit will be given the option to move their dates with no amendment fee or cancel their break and receive a full refund, in line with our ‘Book With Confidence’ guarantee. Any guests with breaks booked up to 11 April will be offered the same options.”

Yori to open in Ealing for fifth site: Korean barbecue brand Yori is to open its fifth site, in Ealing, west London. The company is opening the outlet in The Green next week in the premises previously occupied by Turkish restaurant Mythos. Due to the current coronavirus restrictions, the restaurant will only offer delivery and takeaway. Yori, which means “cooked food” in Korean, was founded in 2016 by Jong Soon Kim, who is also behind Japanese restaurant Nori and Korean dessert cafe Cake & Bingsoo, both in New Malden, Surrey; and Japanese dessert parlour Café Mori in Wimbledon. Yori opened its latest site last month in Lavender Hill, Battersea, joining its other sites in Covent Garden, Piccadilly and Wimbledon. 

Gordon Ramsay reveals he’s lost £55m during covid crisis: Chef Gordon Ramsay has revealed he lost £55m during the coronavirus pandemic as his 35 restaurants nationwide leaked cash. Talking to The Sun, Ramsay said: “In December we had £10m worth of reservations wiped out overnight. As of 19 March to 3 February this year we've suffered £57.5m worth of turnover down. I'm in it.” Ramsay currently has 18 restaurants across London, with five more due to open once normality returns, as well as a further 17 worldwide. He said: “Lockdowns have caused utter devastation. When covid first hit, we all thought it would be over and done within a couple of weeks. But it's been long-haul.” Ramsay said he was forced to take up the government's furlough scheme in a bid to save hundreds of jobs nationwide. He said: "It's been so hard to keep youngsters motivated, and I do feel under pressure to give my younger members of staff, especially, some hope, and the sense that we can get out of this. There have been so many tears, people at their wits’ end.” Despite using the furlough scheme, Ramsay said he had still taken a hit on his own bank balance after opening three new restaurants last year. He said: “Since 1998, when I started, I have always put my money back into the business. I've never been greedy, I've always been very, very generous. I get criticised for being wealthy, but the responsibility on my shoulders – the livelihoods at stake – is huge. I feel that pressure enormously, and the impact of all this has been devastating and incredibly costly.”

Glasgow-based seafood restaurant looks to double up: Glasgow-based seafood restaurant Crabshaak is looking to double up in the city. Owner John Macleod has lodged plans with the city council for a site in Vinicombe Street, in the former Botanics Garage premises. The proposals also include an outdoor seating area and an adjoining florists, reports Glasgow Live. A statement accompanying the application stated: “The proposed florist shop retail concession is seen as complementary to the prime restaurant use. It will add to visual interest and activity within the street during the daytime.” Crabshaak’s existing site is in Argyle Street.
 
Maguires Country Parks acquires eighth site, in North Yorkshire: North east-based holiday park operator Maguires Country Parks has acquired a site in North Yorkshire for its eighth venue. The company has bought a country park in the Vale of York previously known as Swaleside Holiday Park. It is located on the banks of the River Swale near the village of Topcliffe. Business owner Billy Maguire said: “The park has been carefully and beautifully developed over the years by a family who, like us, are committed to providing the highest possible standards for customers. The location is stunning, and a perfect retreat for those seeking tranquil surroundings for breaks and longer stays throughout the four seasons.” The Maguire family started out in business 40 years ago.

Dandi team secures £5.6m loan from OakNorth to convert former pub and hotel into apartments and cafe: The team behind property developer Dandi has secured a £5.6m loan from OakNorth Bank to convert a former pub and hotel into a mixed-use scheme with 60 Studip apartments and a ground-floor cafe. The Antigallican Hotel in Charlton, south London, closed in 2018 and has been vacant since December of that year. The two-storey site’s apartments will be managed by Home Studios 4U. The loan has been received by Gallican Investments, which is led by the management team of Dandi. Dandi chairman and founder Ali Reza Ravanshad said: “This project will bring dozens of new homes to an up-and-coming part of London, by breathing new life into a building that has been vacant for two years.” OakNorth Bank associate director of debt finance Max Saidman added: “Charlton is going through a huge regeneration phase and is becoming an attractive location for young professionals and families.”

Former JD Wetherspoon pub in Oldham earmarked for new restaurant with glass-covered rooftop terrace: A former JD Wetherspoon pub in Oldham could be transformed into a new restaurant with a glass-covered rooftop terrace. The application to convert the ex-Squire Knott premises in Yorkshire Street has been submitted to Oldham Council by Ibrahim Rasul, on behalf of Istanbull Restaurant. The proposal would see a covered rooftop restaurant built on the first floor, changes to the inside of the site, and a revamp of the front of the building that has been vacant for the past year, reports The Business Desk. A design and access statement said the covered rooftop terrace would complement the ground floor restaurant, which would create a “vibrant environment for people to enjoy”. Access to the restaurant would be via a York Street door on the ground floor leading to a stair leading on to the first floor. The restaurant would open between 11am to 11pm, Monday to Saturday, and 11am to 9pm on Sundays and bank holidays. JD Wetherspoon sold the site for £435,000 in November 2017.

Domino’s appoints former William Grant & Sons chief executive Stella David to board: Domino’s Pizza UK has appointed Stella David as a non-executive director. David will be a member of the board’s remuneration and nomination committees. She is a non-executive director of home repairs business Homeserve and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. David was previously chief executive of William Grant & Sons and global chief marketing officer of Bacardi. She served for seven years as a non-executive director at Nationwide Building Society and, until recently, was chair of footwear manufacturer and retailer C&J Clark. Domino’s chairman Matt Shattock said: “Stella brings huge experience of value creation with high-profile consumer branded companies, coupled with a depth of experience from serving on the boards of other listed companies. Her appointment marks another step in our process of refreshing the board and increasing board diversity.”
 
Burleighs Gin secures £250,000 investment to launch two variants and expand global sales: Burleighs Gin will launch two products and expand its global sales after securing a £250,000 investment. The Leicestershire distillery has won the finance from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), which will help it take on five full-time sales and operations jobs. The financing will allow Burleighs to build export sales in Europe, the far east and the US. Burleighs Gin commercial director Sam Watson said: “We are aiming to expand the brand overseas and continue to grow in the UK. We are due to launch two new marketing campaigns to support the forthcoming product launches.” The MEIF package was provided by The FSE Group and backed by the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Last year, a crowdfunding campaign brought in £130,000 from 260 investors, who gained a total 5.25% stake in Burleighs. The campaign valued the business at £2.3m. The MEIF project is supported by the European Union.
  
Lincolnshire Wolds holiday park Caistor Lakes sold for £1.9m: Lincolnshire Wolds holiday park Caistor Lakes has been bought by Sheffield-based investment company Evogo Group for £1.9m. The park, which has a £1m turnover, covers a seven-acre area on the outskirts of Grimsby and includes five holiday lodges, pitches for 28 caravans, a 110-cover restaurant and three fishing lakes, plus planning consent for the development of a further ten lodges. It is currently undergoing a third phase of development that will see six of the new luxury lakeside lodges completed by April. Led by Jeremy Levine and Lee Streets, Evogo Group is a £68m business that specialises in car hire and sales. Caistor Lakes holiday park was founded by owner Drew Thompson in 2013 and the site has been sold by commercial property estate agent Ernest Wilson. 
  
Joël Robuchon International to launch online shop for Le Deli Robuchon this week: Joël Robuchon International is to launch an online shop for its Le Deli Robuchon restaurant on Friday (26 February). La Selection Robuchon will feature a handpicked collection of food and drink from across France, England, Spain and Italy, many of which Joël Robuchon chose and championed himself. The range, which will be available for nationwide delivery, will include fine wine, premium tea, freshly baked bread and pastries, artisan jam, pickle, olive oil, cheese and charcuterie. 

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