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Wed 24th Mar 2021 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Social Entertainment Ventures rebrands, appoints Strahan Wilson as new CFO: Social Entertainment Ventures (SEV), the US and UK experiential leisure operator, has rebranded under the new name State of Play Hospitality, and appointed Strahan Wilson, formerly of Cote Restaurants, as its new chief financial officer, Propel has learned. The Toby Harris-led group, which owns and operates Bounce in the UK and its sister brand AceBounce in the US, as well as operating Flight Club under licence from Red Engine in the US, said the break from trading had given its senior team the opportunity to “define the core purpose for the business” and the new name captures the “essence of both its concepts and culture”. The company said: “It became clear during the renaming project that the connective tissue across the business was the desire to bring people together in a ‘state of play’. The rebranding, which includes a new name and website,, is an important step in cementing the company’s vision and identity.” Wilson will join the company on 12 April after more than four and a half years with Cote Restaurants. The business said Wilson would work with chief executive Harris to develop the company’s growth strategy across both UK and US operating territories. Wilson has held a number of high-profile board level roles within the sector including a six-year stint at Yum! Brands and more than two and a half years as chief financial officer at EAT. At the same time, company founder Adam Breeden is moving into a non-executive advisory role and will continue to support the business on creative projects and concept development. Harris, chief executive of State of Play Hospitality, said: “This past year has been very challenging for the entire industry but we’re fortunate to have been able to make real progress on a number of fronts. The renaming exercise has been fascinating and I’m really pleased we’ve landed on a name that everyone in the business can connect with. I’m also delighted that Strahan is joining the team and his experience will be invaluable as we grow the business internationally. We are coming out of lockdown with positive momentum and a strong pipeline of new sites.” Wilson said: “I’m really looking forward to joining Toby and the team. State of Play has pioneered the experiential hospitality market for many years and their concepts are world class. It’s a tremendous platform for growth and I look forward to playing my part in scaling the business both within the UK and US.” State of Play is set to launch Hijingo, its high-tech social bingo concept, in London this summer. The company also remains a co-founding partner and shareholder in Puttshack.

Industry News: 

Sponsored message – gain a 360° view of your customers’ experience with The Hub: Guest experience management expert HGEM has just released a new version of its award-winning platform – The Hub. The company said the platform can now provide hospitality operators and marketers even greater visibility across various customer touchpoints, helping to improve operations, enhance the customer experience, and ultimately to grow revenue. Steven Pike, HGEM managing director, said: “With high-quality data, intuitive dashboards and extensive reporting capabilities, The Hub simplifies the process of drawing actionable guest insights and streamlines decision making. The Hub is the only guest experience management platform to combine guest feedback, mystery guest audits, delivery insights, review streams, product ratings and an inbox/action centre.” With a state-of-the art new platform and a client list that includes Pret A Manger, Wagamama, Leon, Loungers, BrewDog, Burger King, Star Pubs & Bars and many other well-loved brands across the hospitality sector, HGEM continues to pioneer developments in guest experience management – a term that was actually coined by the company in 2016. To learn more about its platform – The Hub – click here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email
South suffers most as hundreds fall off multi-site operators’ database, available on 31 March: Of the 205 companies that are no longer trading since the Propel multi-site operators’ database was last updated, most of them were located in the south of England. Despite the loss of companies across the UK, many that have been removed from the most comprehensive list of businesses in the sector, have stretched from the south west across to London. The database, which includes the listing of 278 new businesses, will be available to Premium subscribers on Wednesday, 31 March – it features 1,631 companies in total. The list will then be updated on a monthly basis, complete with a report detailing new companies and changes in the list. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what each business does and significant news associated with it. Being a Propel Premium subscriber also means you will receive your morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out. There’s also regular video content and exclusive columns from Mark Wingett. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email to sign up.
Jill Scatchard, HR director at Oakman Inns, to feature in “A Focus on HR” video: In a new series of Propel lockdown videos in conjunction with, Harri, the all-in-one workforce management platform built by hospitality, for hospitality, we focus on the role of HR and people directors. We speak to HR and people directors from leading sector businesses about the biggest challenges they faced during the crisis, how each lockdown has impacted their role, keeping teams engaged and thoughts on how recruitment will evolve. In the latest video of the series, Mark Wingett talks to Jill Scatchard, HR director at Oakman Inns. The video will be released at 9am on Wednesday 24 March.
Opening of takeaways, bars and restaurants help independent market remain resilient despite pandemic: The opening of independent takeaways, bars and restaurants helped the independent retail and leisure market remain resilient in 2020 despite the covid-19 pandemic causing mass closures across the landscape. There were still 31,405 openings of independent units in 2020 according to a new report by retail data consultancy Local Data Company (LDC). These included 232 takeaways, 93 bars, 91 pizza takeaways and 87 restaurants. The total openings were just outweighed by 32,847 closures and resulted in the independent market shrinking by 0.4% (1,442 units). However, this loss was minimal compared with the chain market, which declined by 4.5%, equating to a loss of 9,877 units. The loss in independent units in 2020 was slightly lower than the previous year, with a net change of minus 1,521 units (0.5%) in 2019. Both independent openings and closures decreased by 11% in 2020, as extended periods of lockdown suppressed market activity. LDC said the decrease in closures indicates government support schemes designed to stem the flow of retail and leisure closures during the pandemic were more effective for the independent sector than chains. It added localisation has been a key trend throughout the pandemic because consumers have been confined to their local area and, therefore, chosen to support independent businesses due to an increased sense of community. However, analysis on how many independent stores that opened in 2018 were still operational on 1 March 2021 demonstrates how fragile this market can be, with just 64% of those businesses still open. Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at LDC, said: “While the latest statistics do show that structural decline across the retail and leisure market picked up pace in 2020, it is clear we are not yet seeing the full impact of the pandemic. The volume of activity we are seeing across the independent sector could be cause for some optimism however, as an increase in available retail units and more localised shopping habits create opportunities for those looking to open a business.”

Eckbert – rents are the one aspect of this challenge government hasn’t provided clear guidance on: John Eckbert, chief executive of Five Guys UK, has said that rents are the “one aspect of this challenge” the government hasn’t provided clear guidance “as to how we should behave and how landlord should behave”. Speaking to Sky News, Eckbert said: “Obviously when we are closed, we aren’t able to open up our dining rooms, we aren’t able to serve customers in many situations the way that we would like to, so we have all suffered. We have all taken the sacrifices of operating in a pandemic and I don’t think the landlord should be entirely immune from that. I think the spirit that we’ve all taken is that we are going to get through this together and we need, as an industry and as landlords as an industry, to figure out how we can share the pain from the past year until we can be fully back open and trading. We all took a very hard hit from this pandemic and the landlords should be part of that solution. If we don’t find a solution together, it will be much more challenging than it would be otherwise.” Eckbert said that this time a year ago, the circa 100-strong business was “shutting down all across Europe”. He said: “We got down to only keeping ten stores open and trading but it was so important that we did keep those ten stores open because it kept our supply chain open and it kept our vendors engaged and all of our stores and our crew ready to get back to work. We started opening up ten stores a week in early April. Obviously, our dining rooms have been closed for the vast majority of that time-frame but keeping our crews engaged and working, and stores trading even if we didn’t have open dining rooms, has been such an advantage for us. It has been such a story of change and adaptation. When each new regulation came out we had to figure out how we adapt the Five Guys model to respond.”

UKHospitality urges businesses to register for workplace covid testing: UKHospitality has issued a reminder to businesses interested in offering workplace covid testing they must register before the deadline next Wednesday (31 March). Businesses can order free rapid lateral flow kits to test employees twice a week in the workplace but interested businesses will need to register before the deadline or face missing out or having to pay for tests themselves. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Rapid testing of staff in venues could be one of the keys to maintaining high levels of safety across the sector and could help us recover more quickly. It also shows a willingness on the part of hospitality businesses to aid the government’s efforts to get the economy open again.”
Council backs proposals to reinvigorate Staffordshire’s visitor economy: Proposals that aim to reinvigorate Staffordshire’s visitor economy, including additional investment, have been backed by the county council. Staffordshire County Council is a member of Staffordshire’s Destination Management Partnership (DMP), along with district and borough councils, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and local businesses. The county council’s cabinet has now backed the proposals to strengthen the DMP and help Staffordshire’s visitor economy to get back on its feet. This includes an additional county council investment of up to £200,000 and enhanced support and closer working between district, borough and the county councils. There will also be stronger promotion of Staffordshire as a visitor destination, a focus on research and intelligence, lobbying work with the government and other key organisations and continued business support. Cllr Philip White, deputy leader and cabinet member for economy and skills, said: “Our tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors contribute £1.87bn to the Staffordshire economy every year. The pandemic has hit those sectors directly with a significant knock-on effect to people and businesses across the county. We want to build on the extensive programme of support we’ve already delivered to Staffordshire businesses in the past year.”
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a drinks and venue-led business as it looks to bring on board a dedicated area manager. The position would suit an individual from a similar background who has led at least ten venues in a hands-on and supportive way. This is a creative business that encourages innovation and individuality with a commitment to great service. Venues range from gastro-pubs to hotel bars and offer premium and seasonal food, cocktails and craft beer. The business is in a strong position to reopen its venues and has plans for future growth. The ideal candidate will need to have area or operations experience as well as a great understanding of the drinks or venues sector. The role is based in London with regional travel. The salary is circa £60,000. Anyone interested can email with their CV.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Brexit causing most turbulence for Big Mamma Group’s plans: Victor Lugger, co-founder of Big Mamma Group, has said it is Brexit and not the ramifications of covid-19 that represents his company’s biggest concern because it is impacting recruitment and has prompted a slow down in its expansion plans. Talking at the Propel Multi Club conference, Lugger said the company, which operates 20 Italian restaurants across major European cities including London, prefers to employ non-British citizens because they have made a big effort to leave their homelands and they fit in well with the demands of the role. His concern is the recruitment of non-British citizens for jobs people in the UK do not want to do. He said: “My worry is Brexit. It was supposed to make the UK more competitive but all I see is it being less competitive. Recruiting will be hard. I see the French go back home and the Germans back home but I don’t see the new guys coming in.” Brexit has also brought in a more cautious approach to the company’s expansion. He said: “Real estate is cheaper and I hope we make it through Brexit, but we’ll be going 30% less fast. We would have opened two more units over the past four or five months if it had not been for Brexit. It will take six to 18 months to settle and until we have control over the P&L then we’ll not open more. We are looking but it will be slower.” Less of a worry for Lugger is trading in central London. He said: “If you have great food, it’s cheap and it’s served with a smile then you can be packed, regardless of trends. The guys at Pret are going to be more affected by the [population] trends like working from home.” Propel Premium subscribers can now receive access to the video of the Propel Multi Club conference featuring Lugger and other industry leaders. They should email to receive an access code to view the conference. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. To sign up, email
Former Flat Iron and Wahaca MD Jo Fleet joins Hawksmoor: Jo Fleet, former managing director of Flat Iron and Wahaca, has joined Hawksmoor to oversee the development of its Hawksmoor at Home offer. Fleet, who stepped down from Flat Iron at the turn of the year, will oversee the nationwide meal kit distribution as well as restaurant delivery in London and the new retail range launched in February on Ocado. Fleet joined the then five-strong Flat Iron in 2017, from Wahaca, where she had been managing director since 2010. Previous to that, she spent more than ten years at ASK Italian and Zizzi, part of the then Gondola Group, as chief executive. Since Hawksmoor began its ‘At Home’ offer in July last year, the company said the escalation in volume has been “remarkable”, with the business currently sending out thousands of boxes per week. A new e-commerce platform has also been built to showcase the rapidly expanding range of meal kits, cocktails and gifting options. Will Beckett, co-founder and chief executive of Hawksmoor, said: “Hawksmoor at Home has been the silver lining of this pandemic – a chance for us to do what we love and bring a bit of Hawksmoor cheer into people’s lives – and we want to give it every chance of succeeding once restaurant restrictions are lifted so people who cannot come to Hawksmoor, for whatever reason, can still enjoy an amazing steak night in. We’re thrilled that Jo has joined to take on the project – we’ve known her for many years and always admired her work rate, intelligence and dedication to people and product.” 

Rick Stein Group to open debut speciality coffee shop in Padstow: The Rick Stein Group has announced it will open its first speciality coffee shop in Padstow on 7 April for takeaway and with all-day indoor dining from 17 May. The Rick Stein Coffee Shop is being opened in partnership with Cornish roaster Origin Coffee and spearheaded by Charlie Stein, director of drinks across the group. It will be housed in the former Rick Stein Patisserie on Lanadwell Street near to the harbour. Three single-roast coffees will be used for each of the core milk-based, black and filter coffees with the house filter coffee changing regularly. The food menu will feature all-day favourites such as cinnamon buns from Truro’s Da Bara Bakery, Reuben bagels and sandwiches filled with local crab, Cornish gouda, pork and warm apple chutney and clam chowder and crusty rolls. Origin Coffee founder Tom Sobey said: “I’ve worked with Steins for many years and this new collaboration with Charlie has been incredibly exciting to work on. It brings together the very best in speciality coffee – an exceptional coffee menu, world-class machinery, talented baristas and delicious food, all within a stunning coffee shop interior. It’s testament to Stein’s progressive vision.” Charlie Stein added: “I’m extremely proud to be opening our first speciality coffee shop in Padstow and to be working with such excellent Cornish businesses.”

200 Degrees to open Manchester site in May for 12th outlet as part of plans to return to rapid growth: Nottingham-based coffee roaster 200 Degrees will open its 12th site, in Manchester, towards the end of May. The 80-seat shop will be on the ground floor of The Hybrid Building in Mosley Street, part of a new office development just off St Peter’s Square. 200 Degrees co-founder Tom Vincent said the opening was part of the company’s plan for a rapid return to growth post-covid. He said: “It may seem a bit strange to open a coffee shop in a city full of great coffee shops at a time like this but we hope our independent feel and relaxed, comfortable style will add something memorable to the city. We’ve wanted to bring 200 Degrees to Manchester for many years and have finally found the perfect location.” 200 Degrees was set up by Vincent and business partner Rob Darby in 2012 and, as well as its coffee shops, also operates a roast house near Trent Bridge in Nottingham. The company is due to announce further plans for growth including more coffee shops to open later this year.
Simone Remoli to launch new grab-and-go concept at St Pancras International: Simone Remoli, the chef-founder behind the Pasta Remoli restaurant business, is to launch a new grab-and-go concept in London’s St Pancras International, Propel has learned. Launching on 26 April and named simply “Remoli”, the 239 square foot site at Unit 47b in the station will, according to the company, retain the “core ethos of fresh, handmade pasta made daily and prepared to order once a customer has chosen their sauce and cheese topping but with more convenience for the grab-and-go market”. Pasta will be available in two sizes: regular, starting at £5.80 and large from £6.80. Simone Remoli said: “We are right next to the Eurostar so we will be catering for those passengers who want something a bit more special than just a sandwich on their journey, but our ambition is also to be the go-to place for anyone travelling through the station whether they’re going on a break or simply going to work. We want to build a community with our local customers as well as those working within the station, the hotels around here and, of course, the offices. We are focusing on developing Remoli as an accessible grab-and-go concept in busy vibrant locations. I am delighted to see pasta becoming such a core part of the London diet, and I believe my personal recipe, drawn from years of experience, dedication and family memories cooking at home with Mama, can play a major role in this city’s love of authentic Italian food. We are so excited to develop and to reach more people with great pasta through Remoli.” The company said the launch of the new concept follows a strong year for the fresh pasta concept, Pasta Remoli, which pivoted to delivery and meal kits during the pandemic via its outlets in Westfield Stratford, Ealing Broadway, Wembley Park and Finsbury Park.

Milestone Group to operate new Sheffield food destination: Sheffield-based The Milestone Group is to operate a new food destination in the city. It will run Cambridge Street Collective, which forms part of the Heart of the City development programme. The Milestone Group plans to create a food hall on the ground floor of Cambridge Street Collective, featuring a host of independent food and drink companies. Cambridge Street Collective, which sits behind Henry’s Corner and Bethel Sunday School in Cambridge Street, will feature a cookery school and fine-dining experience alongside the food hall. On the second-floor mezzanine, a cookery school with a seating area for live demonstrations and masterclasses will be created. A broadcast studio to support a YouTube channel will also be included, with plans to showcase the best local pop-up chefs and vendors. Occupying the venue’s top floor will be a new venue from chef Luke French and wife and business partner, Stacey Sherwood-French, who are behind Krynkl restaurant, Joro, as well as a growing portfolio of dining ventures in Sheffield and beyond. The new restaurant will feature a rooftop dining terrace and pre-dining rooftop bar. Milestone Group founder Matt Bigland said: “We believe a community is brought together via food and socialising. The food must be authentic, cooked with passion and celebrated by families around a communal table. Cambridge Street Collective is a clear reflection of this.” The Milestone Group operates four sites in Sheffield including craft beer and pizza restaurant Craft & Dough and The Milestone gastro-pub, and is opening a food hall in Liverpool.
Thunderbird Fried Chicken to open Earl’s Court site next month: Thunderbird Fried Chicken, the wings and fried chicken concept backed by TriSpan, will open its latest site, in Earl’s Court next month. As previously revealed by Propel, Thunderbird Fried Chicken will launch in the former Byron premises in Earls Court Road. It will initially offer takeaway and delivery from Wednesday, 7 April, later followed with dine-in observing the government’s guidelines. The Earl’s Court site will have 47 covers inside and 16 outside and will feature high tables, booth seating, and a condiment station, along with digital menu boards. The new opening will see a mini rebrand, opting for a softer colour palette and a new visual identity to accompany some new menu additions. The Earl’s Court launch will be followed by its reopening at Incipio Group’s Pergola Paddington venue on Monday, 12 April. All other branches – bar The O2 – are open now.

Rosa’s Thai Cafe to open Greenwich site next Monday: TriSpan-backed Rosa’s Thai Cafe will open its new site in Greenwich, south east London, next Monday (29 March). The company is launching the outlet in Nelson Road in the former Saigon restaurant. Due to the current restrictions, the site will offer click and collect as well as delivery within the Greenwich, Deptford and Blackheath areas. The opening will be the 23rd Rosa’s Thai Cafe, which was founded by Alex and Saiphin Moore in 2008.
The Apartment Group launches recruitment drive to fill 400 roles: North east-based leisure operator The Apartment Group has launched a recruitment drive to fill about 400 roles as it prepares to reopen its venues. The company made 400 redundancies last year due to the pandemic and is now looking to rebuild its workforce. The reopening and hiring plan comes after the publication of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. Debrah Dhugga, chief operations officer at The Apartment Group, said: “At the start of the pandemic, there was no furlough and no government support so we had to make about 400 redundancies and lost a lot of great talent. But now we are reopening everywhere so are in a big recruitment drive and need 400 people, if not more. And within the business, we are trying to bring back workers who have not got a job – we want to bring back our own Apartment Group family if we can. We opened Beach Box when we came out of the first lockdown after converting the car park by As You Like It in Jesmomd, a brand developed because of the pandemic. We are also going to open a second one at The Palm in Sunderland, so that has been a positive story. The bookings are just crazy.”
Away Resorts acquires St Ives holiday park for eighth site: UK holiday park operator Away Resorts has acquired St Ives Bay Holiday Park in Cornwall. The 120-acre site, which has been in family ownership since 1962, becomes Away Resorts’ eighth holiday park. It has 800 chalets, static caravans and camping pitches. There are also two bar and leisure complexes and a surf school on-site. The acquisition includes the transition of the team members, who will continue their employment and join the Away Resorts workforce. Plans for the park are being developed by Away Resorts. Chief executive Carl Castledine said: “Staycations are going to be just as vital this year and beyond as they have been in 2020 and we can’t wait to welcome customers, new and existing, to this amazing new park.” Freshstream and LDC provided follow-on funding for the acquisition while Savills worked on the sale.
Mission Mars to reopen Zumhof Biergarten in Birmingham with new street food offering: Mission Mars, the north west bar and restaurant operator led by Roy Ellis, will reopen its Zumhof Biergarten on Monday, 12 April, complete with a new second-floor street food offering. The second floor at the Digbeth venue will house the Zumhof Junkyard bar and Zumhof Food Märkt, with three independent and local kitchens operating in the former Air Nightclub. There will be a second site for city centre-based fried chicken concept Bonehead, Japanese street food concept Zuki and Meat Meets Bun – a new burger shop from Birmingham food blogger, The Fat Foodie. Joining fellow Mission Mars brand Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza and Schwënker, Zumhof Biergarten will reopen with its outside biergarten, fire-pit heated tipi, and outdoor stage set in 4,000 square foot of space of the Custard Factory car park. Meanwhile, barbecue street food concept Smokestak will reopen the terrace of its restaurant in London’s Shoreditch on 12 April. Diners will be seated under a bespoke new canopy and can expect a barbecue-led menu of favourites and new spring dishes from founder David Carter.
Billionaire Life to open second Crazy Pizza branch in London in May: Billionaire Life, which is owned by Italian businessman and former Formula One boss Flavio Briatore, will open its second Crazy Pizza in London in May. The company will launch the outlet in Hans Crescent near to Harrods, in line with the reopening of indoor hospitality on Monday, 17 May. The Knightsbridge iteration will have 90 covers inside and a year-round heated terrace with 24 seats. There will also be a central DJ booth. Pizzas will be thin crust using yeast-free dough and include the Pata Negra, Focaccia and Tartufo with black and white truffle shavings. Its sister site Crazy Pizza Marylebone opened in 2019, and it also has a restaurant in Monte Carlo, France.

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