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Thu 1st Apr 2021 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Byron set to open its first new site for five years: Better burger brand Byron is set to open its first new site for five years as part of its expansion plans, Propel has learned. It is understood the new site, which is believed to be located within the M25, is currently in the hands of lawyers but Byron hopes to open it by the end of May. The company has also lined up a series of reopenings and has added to its growing dark kitchens estate. The Simon Wilkinson-led business, which currently operates 18 restaurants, will reopen in Manchester on 12 April, it has also agreed a deal to reopen its site in London’s Covent Garden. The group is also understood to have three further former sites in central London under negotiation with landlords. The business opened its fifth dark kitchens site this week, at the Deliveroo Editions unit in Nottingham. Wilkinson told Propel: “Like everyone, lockdown three has been about minimising the losses and keeping all employees as engaged as possible during these unprecedented times. However, since we launched our bigger and better Aberdeen Angus burger in mid-February, we have had record sales six out of the past seven weeks, which has given the whole team a lift. By working together with landlords on mutually beneficial terms, we have also managed to line up a series of reopenings as well as a pipeline of dark kitchens and are excited about our first new site in a number of years – the location of which we will announce shortly. Our investors have been very supportive and we are looking at both organic and acquisition growth throughout the year.” Last year, Byron was sold via pre-pack administration to investment vehicle Calveton UK under newly formed company Famously Proper for £4m.

Industry News:

27 companies sign up to Propel Premium in 24 hours ahead of updated multi-site operator database being published, now available exclusively to subscribers: A total of 27 companies signed up to Propel Premium in the 24 hours ahead of the publication of the updated Propel multi-site operator database, which is now available exclusively to subscribers. The exhaustive database of businesses, which comprises 1,628 companies, is the most comprehensive multi-site operator information in the sector – and reflects the tumultuous changes of the past year with several hundred businesses disappearing and several hundred new ones. Robin Rowland, operating partner at investment firm TriSpan, said the database is “invaluable” for investors and operators to navigate the sector. Rowland, who is chairman of Rosa’s Thai and Thunderbird, added: “I see it as the sector’s go-to database, both as an investor and operator. Having a handle on the number of trading units and key leaders keeps you one step ahead spotting and tracking the ‘rising stars’.” A new multi-site database will be sent to Premium subscribers at the end of each month with a report on new companies and changes in the multi-site universe. It provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different, and what each business specialises in. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Being a Propel Premium subscriber not only entitles you to the most comprehensive database of businesses in the sector today; those signed up also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com to sign up.

JW Lees to launch ‘ultimate pub at home experience: North west brewer and pub retailer JW Lees is to launch a limited-edition “ultimate pub-at-home experience” for the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, complete with a fully trained team, virtual crowd noise and traditional pub smells. Retailing from £70 for a party of six, the experience, which is available to order before midday today (Thursday, 1 April) for delivery on Friday (2 April), includes two casks of JW Lees’ award-winning Boilerhouse craft beer, 12 burgers, 12 rolls, a sack of potatoes, a potato peeler, assorted packets of sauces, bags of salad to ignore and a team member from a JW Lees pub. The “experience” also comprises a CD with three hours of pre-recorded background noise, including too-loud snatches of sport, a heated argument every 30 minutes and several out-of-tune sing-a-long numbers. A converted smoke machine will also be included that has been remodelled to regularly pump out smells “from the kitchen, the bar, etc.”. The team member will be provided with full personal protective equipment to serve drinks, tell people where the toilets are and to put your mask on when going there and to take any abuse or ridiculous questions that invariably crop up as the day/evening progresses, while also making sure everyone gets home safe with a 10pm curfew enforced. For an extra £25, and for parties of only five people, the company is also offering to throw in a “local”, who will sit just away from your party and provide his or her wisdom on life, whether you ask for it or not. JW Lees has recruited some of the world’s cleverest people to ensure proper experts and the company said each “local” had been vetted to make sure they had enough extreme opinions on a wide-range of topics to make sure there was “never a dull moment”. Managing director William Lees-Jones told Propel: “We have been watching the growth of the ‘at-home experience’ market with some interest and with this being a four-day bank holiday as we move into April and the sector begins slowly to reopen, we decided it was time someone actually offered a real, traditional pub experience for people to enjoy in their houses and gardens. We think people would be foolish not to take up this offer.” Bookings can be made at youvebeenhad@jwlees.co.uk

More than 60% of Britons back vaccine passport requirement to get into pubs or restaurants: A survey by Ipsos MORI of more than 8,300 people aged over 16 in the UK found 62% believe vaccine passports should be required when going to pubs and restaurants. The poll also found 65% of people would be more likely to buy tickets for a “large public event” if they knew it has a passport policy. Almost eight in ten people (78%) polled supported people having to show proof of a coronavirus vaccine to travel abroad or visit people in care homes. While Britons recognise some of the ethical or legal issues surrounding vaccine passports, six in ten think the potential benefits to the economy outweigh any concerns (62%). Vaccine passports are seen as critical to getting businesses open (60%), and a good alternative to lockdowns (61%). Kelly Beaver, managing director of public affairs at Ipsos MORI said: “Our UK KnowledgePanel findings show the public are once again prepared to do what it takes to get out of this pandemic. While they recognise the issues around vaccine passports, particularly their potential to exacerbate existing inequalities, their potential importance to ending lockdown and reopening the economy has won the argument for the majority of the British public.” Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, told a webinar on Wednesday (31 March) hosted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI): “This is quite a challenging issue for a lot of people to wrestle with. If you are in a consumer environment, you have legal concerns regarding age, ethnicity, gender and I don’t think considering a valid test alongside a vaccine certificate is enough. From a consumer position, you will also have issues regarding front-line staff having to enforce the law about this.”

King – the industry needs stability to survive: Companies need certainty the collective effort put into defeating this virus will “bear fruit and we can return to normality permanently”, Dermot King, chief executive of Oakman Inns, has said. Writing in inews, King said: “As we enter the relaxation of our third set of lockdown rules, there was almost a giddy mood among the Oakman Group management as we actually began to discuss real business issues. How many bookings had we taken for the week commencing 12 April? (It was 6,500, amounting to more than 24,000 customers.) How many outdoor tables were in heated, covered areas? How many of our employees, who will have been furloughed for four months by the time we can do our job again and serve customers, will come back? (Nearly all, as it turns out). A sense of purpose is a fragile thing. By the time we can reopen fully, many in the hospitality sector will have been paid by the taxpayer not to work for eight months in all. There is a myth they were still being paid up to 80% of their earnings but in truth as a large proportion of employees earned more than the £26,000 limit, and furlough payments did not take into account tips, the reality was more like a 50% pay cut. Workers in the public sector did not take a 50% pay cut. But that isn’t the real cost. Losing your sense of purpose, feeling as if you make a difference, is a huge driver to the value you get out of work. We have made a huge effort to get our employees to go back to the ‘work gym’, and rebuild the muscle memory of working a busy kitchen and bar so that it flows and delivers in a way our customers expect. But, this is the third time we have done this retraining programme in the past 12 months and that is on top of having to deal with the various made-up rule changes when we were actually allowed to trade, which turned out not to be based on any evidence: the rule of six, substantial meal, 10pm curfew, and such like. The government is probably confident, this time, the unlocking will be irreversible, judging by its 1% pay proposal for NHS staff. But economies, industries, businesses and employees need certainty – certainty the collective effort put into defeating this virus will bear fruit and we can return to normality permanently – and not end up stranded on the riverside for a fourth time.”
 
Reopening date set for pubs and restaurants operating outdoor services in Wales: Pubs and restaurants operating outdoors are set to reopen in Wales on Monday, 26 April, as long as coronavirus rates remain low. First minister Mark Drakeford of the Welsh government will announce the latest moves to ease lockdown on Thursday (1 April). Ahead of his press conference, it was confirmed non-essential retail could reopen from 12 April. Meanwhile, close-contact services – such as beauty parlours – will be able to reopen on the same day. Outdoor attractions are also set to reopen on 26 April and ministers could also allow gyms and leisure centres to open for individual training “by early May”, alongside organised outdoor activity for up to 30 people. Drakeford will set out a “series of measures” to take Wales into alert level three by 17 May, “subject to public health conditions remaining favourable”.

Consumers more willing to accept additional booking terms: Consumers are more willing to accept additional booking terms – such as deposits, time limits and minimum spends – in comparison with pre-pandemic times, according to a survey by guest experience management company HGEM. Almost two thirds (63%) of consumers said they were happy to book with a deposit, in contrast to 30% in 2019. Almost half (47%) are willing to pay up to £5 per person for a deposit and 42% up to £10 per person. However, only 9% are willing to pay up to £15 per person. More than three quarters (77%) were willing to accept a time limit or a minimum spend on a booking, while that figure was only 62% over Christmas 2020. Breaking the data down by age, only half of Generation Z (18 to 25-year-olds) said they would agree to spend or time restrictions, whereas the rate peaked above the median at 82% with customers aged 36 to 55. These concessions, however, do not extend to service standards, because a third (32%) stated they would not be more forgiving over minor service blunders, such as a wrong order or delayed service.
 
UKHospitality demands government scraps the ‘unfair rates relief cap’ as inquiry is launched: UKHospitality has demanded the government scraps the “unfair business rates relief cap” in reaction to the Treasury Committee’s launch of its “Jobs, Growth and Productivity after Coronavirus” inquiry. The committee will examine how the government can “reduce and mitigate economic scarring and job losses after the pandemic, find out how much difference the government can make to economic growth and discover what has caused the UK’s productivity growth to be persistently weak”. It will also examine macroeconomic policy, looking at whether the Bank of England’s inflation target is fit for purpose, if the Monetary Policy Committee has effective tools to stimulate the economy when interest rates are low, and whether a return of inflation is a risk to the economic recovery. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Prior to covid, hospitality was the third largest employer in the country, providing jobs for 3.2 million people. The sector created £130bn in economic activity and generated £39bn of tax for the exchequer, funding vital services. It will, therefore, be key to economic recovery. Having been the sector hardest hit by the pandemic, suffering months of closure and acute trading restrictions, the future of thousands of pubs, restaurants, hotels and leisure facilities is in jeopardy. So, while the sector is keen to play its part in helping to power the UK’s economic revival and job creation efforts, businesses can only do so with the right trading conditions. Crucially, this includes scrapping the unfair business rates relief cap that will see almost 8,000 venues paying full rates in July, just weeks after reopening. A further 1,850 venues would face the same situation before the end of September. This will likely prompt businesses to look at closing unviable sites, cutting jobs or holding back investment, damaging any efforts to UK recovery.”

NTIA fears planning rules changes will see hospitality sites lost: The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) fears new measures to allow commercial premises to be converted into residential homes could mean hospitality sites will disappear when the rent moratorium comes to an end and landlords are able to evict tenants. The rule change to allow the conversion of commercial units into housing was announced by housing minister Robert Jenrick on Wednesday (31 March). According to Jenrick, the move that means full planning applications will not be required will “revitalise high streets and town centres”. NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said: “While the government’s narrative around planning reform suggests the positive impact on high streets and town centres, businesses that have been hardest hit during the pandemic fear the worst as rent debt mounts and commercial landlords consider action to take back property, following the end of the forfeiture moratorium at the end of June.”
 
Europe’s hotels see values fall by up to 15% but longer term outlook strong, says HVS: Sharp declines in revenue caused by the pandemic coupled with a more cautious approach to lending has prompted European hotel valuations to fall over the past 12 months, although not as steeply as some had initially anticipated. Findings by the annual European Hotel Valuation Index (HVI) compiled by global hotel consultancy HVS, showed in the year of the covid-19 outbreak, hotel values saw average declines of between 5% and 15% compared with the previous year. Last year followed a decade of hotel value rises across Europe, with 2019 posting an average 3% increase – with some properties in southern Europe experiencing 7% rises. However, widespread lockdowns in 2020, which resulted in the majority of Europe’s hotels closing for business, saw annual revpar fall by about 70% compared with 2019. Report co-author and HVS London associate Mattia Cavenati said: “The impact of the pandemic on cash flows and profits has been dramatic, although government support and payroll subsidies helped to soften the blow. All tiers of hotels have been affected but particularly the upscale and luxury properties because they tend to be more exposed to group and convention demand as well as international visitors.” Simon Hultén, report co-author and senior associate with HVS London, added: “While full recovery is expected in the sector, newly found operational efficiencies such as more agile workforces, greater use of technology and the repurposing of space will enhance operating leverage as demand and revenues recover. Values will be enhanced by yield-hungry funds lining up capital, which will create competition and help sustain selling prices.” 
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is on the lookout for an operations manager for a late-night, bar and restaurant hospitality group. The business has extensive growth plans and would like to support and grow its team with the help of a passionate industry leader. This is a national role with a head office in London, paying between £75,000 and £90,000. The ideal individual will have a good understanding of the sector and have ideal managed a group of at least ten venues. Anyone interested can email Stuart@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

Company News:

Arc Inspirations ‘extremely encouraged’ by very strong demand for forward bookings, two new sites in pipeline: Martin Wolstencroft, chief executive of Arc Inspirations, the Leeds-based operator of a number of fast-growing brands, has said the business is “extremely encouraged by the very strong demand we are seeing through forward bookings through the summer and towards Christmas”. Of the group’s 17 premium bars, 13 will reopen on Monday, 12 April, when outside trading recommences. The company said these venues were experiencing “very high demand, with many fully booked in that first week and with good bookings visibility for the first five weeks”. It said it was also “seeing very strong demand” from the 17 May, when indoor trading recommences, and all 17 of its venues reopen, and from the 21 June when all restrictions are due to fall away in England. It comes as the company reported a record year in the 12 months to 29 March 2020, with turnover up 11% to £30.1m. The company said it conservatively estimated the impact of the covid-19 crisis on this financial period was £1.5m, in lost sales. As a consequence, the group recorded adjusted Ebitda of £2.9m. This was lower than the £3.7m recorded in the prior year but it said, “pleasingly, there was significant growth in net profit of £900,000, underscoring the resilience of the business”. While further expansion was put on hold in 2020 as the company focused on navigating the crisis, it has secured two new sites in its property pipeline, which it hopes to develop and open in the next 12 months. Arc said its strategy of operating sites in “clusters”, with several venues located in close proximity to each other, each targeted at a different customer demographic, remained unchanged. Since the year end, the business has taken advantage of the ability to raise debt finance through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, securing total borrowings of £5m, via long-term bank partner Santander. Wolstencroft said: “The numbers captured in this financial period highlight the strength of our business as we went into the pandemic. Since the year end, we have come through a challenging time and now, thanks to the strength and resilience of the company and our people, we can look forward with confidence to building our business and to better times ahead.”

Hydes sees full-year turnover take £1m hit from first few weeks of covid-related closures: North west brewer and retailer Hydes has reported its full-year turnover was hit by £1m as a result of the first few weeks of closures of pubs during the first lockdown. The company also revealed it extended its facilities by £3m to £15m and secured a relaxation of its covenants until June 2021. As well as taking advantage of the furlough scheme, the company has also received a £380,000 grant from the government. Hydes provided the update as it reported turnover was down 6.3% to £29.4m for the year ending 29 March 2020, compared with £31.4m the year before. The company said this was primarily due to the impact of the enforced closure of pubs in March and a “disappointing” February, when trade across four weekends suffered due to major storms. The company said, at the end of January, it had been on target to show growth against the prior year with operating profit “comfortably ahead at that stage”. Profit before tax increased to £821,000 from £434,000 the year before. The company stated: “In addition to the lost revenue, we made an exceptional provision in relation to lost stock and irrecoverable debtors of £435,000.” Hydes operates circa 50 managed and tenanted pubs in the north west of England and north Wales.

Deliveroo shares close down 26% on first day of trading: Shares in Deliveroo closed down 26.3% on its first day of trading on the London Stock Exchange, as around £2bn was wiped off the value of the takeaway delivery firm. The company’s shares closed at 287.45p on the first day of conditional trading, down from their starting price of 390p. It took Deliveroo’s market capitalisation down from around £7.6bn to £5.6bn. At one point, the shares had plunged to 271p. Fabian de Smet, head of investment banking at Berenberg, called it a “sector problem”. He said: “Investors are turning away from the work-at-home play and putting their money into the economic recovery play. Deliveroo got caught in the middle of a huge rotation. It was the last IPO of the old covid world.” 

Vagabond to make regional debut with Birmingham opening: Imbiba-backed wine bar business Vagabond is to make its regional debut later this year, with an opening in Birmingham, Propel has learned. The eight-strong group, which was founded by Stephen Finch, has secured the former Chilango site in the city’s Colmore Row, for an opening in the second half of this year. Robata, the London-based Japanese restaurant concept, had previously been in talks to take the site. Earlier this year, Finch said the business was in talks with prospective partners regarding a launch in Germany with the hope that a first site could be open there before the end of this year. At the same time, the company still hopes to launch a site in Principal Place, Worship Street, Shoreditch, and a site on the South Bank this summer. Finch said the company was also in negotiations on a further two sites. In January, Propel revealed the company had appointed Matthew Fleming, formerly of Be At One and Stonegate Pub Company, as its new managing director.
 
Fridays launches virtual delivery brand Jailbreak Chicken: Fridays, the Robert Cook-led business, which used to operate under the TGI Fridays name, has launched its first virtual delivery brand, Jailbreak Chicken, Propel has learned. Available across 14 of the restaurant brand’s sites, through Deliveroo and Just Eat, the new chicken-focused delivery concept, comprises wings, strips, burgers and meal deals. The menu includes a “slammer buttermilk chicken burger” for £6, “Jailbreak Wings” for £4.50, and “sticky fingers teriyaki chicken” for £4.95. Last week, the company announced it would reopen 28 of its restaurants in England for outdoor dining from 12 April. The group said it would be running a reduced outdoor menu, specifically designed for alfresco dining. Along with its favourites such as ribs, burgers, chicken strips and sharing plates, it will also serve a range of ten cocktail options. Fridays runs 80 UK restaurants with 65 of those in England meaning 37 branches won’t be able to reopen until 17 May.
 
Tequila Mockingbird to open site in Shoreditch: South London-based bar operator Tequila Mockingbird is to open a site in Shoreditch, as it continues with its expansion plans across the capital, Propel has learned. The company, which was founded in 2015 by cousins Jon Bas and Jake Brennan, will open its seventh site later this summer after taking on the Bar Prague unit in Kingsland Road. In December, Propel revealed the company was to open in Wimbledon after securing the former Smash site in The Broadway. That site will reopen on 12 April, complete with a new roof terrace. Last autumn, the group added a fifth site to its estate after securing the former Graffiti Bar site in Earlsfield. Michael Penfold at AG&G acted on the Shoreditch and Wimbledon deals for Tequila Mockingbird while Nishan Bhaker of Dean Gambles & Co acted for the vendor on the Shoreditch deal. 
 
Creams closes in on 100 sites with High Wycombe launch: Dessert parlour operator Creams is to open a site in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, taking the brand to 96 sites. The company will open the outlet in High Street on Monday, 12 April. The 1,650 square foot cafe will offer 74 covers – 60 indoor and 14 outdoor – and will initially open for outdoor dining, takeaway and delivery. Franchisee Shakhil Kayani said: “Joining the Creams brand as a franchisee brings the opportunity to make a difference in High Wycombe by contributing to local employment and bringing people together for sweet treats.” The menu will feature Creams’ signature serves, including sundaes, waffles, cookie dough desserts and crepes. Creams’ new popcorn chicken waffle bites – a UK first – and doughnut range will also be available.
 
Corfield steps down as global operations director at Just Eat Takeaway.com: Graham Corfield has stepped down as global operations director at Just Eat Takeaway.com, Propel has learned. Corfield joined the business in 2011 as finance director before leading Just Eat UK as managing director between 2013 and 2019. Most recently, he was responsible for global operations as part of its executive team. A Just Eat Takeaway.com spokeswoman said: “Graham played an integral role in the huge growth of the business having seen it develop from an early stage challenger brand to a leading FTSE 100 business. With his experience in the sector, Graham also played an important role as part of the merger between Just Eat and Takeaway.com and, as such, he will be truly missed and we wish him well for the future.” Propel understands Corfield’s former position as executive member for sales and operations has not yet been filled. Meanwhile, as part of its commitment to reduce plastic pollution across the food delivery sector, Just Eat has expanded its trial of Notpla’s seaweed-coated takeaway box. Following a short trial with three London takeaways last year, Just Eat is now testing Notpla’s seaweed-coated box with 11 restaurant partners across the UK. The trial is expected to stop 30,000 plastic boxes from entering the waste stream. The three-week UK trial will assess the feasibility of rolling out the box more broadly to Just Eat Takeaway.com’s restaurant partners across its other markets.
 
Moody’s – scope for The Restaurant Group, and Wagamama in particular, to return quickly to pre-pandemic trading volumes: Ratings agency Moody’s has said it sees scope for The Restaurant Group (TRG), and its Wagamama brand in particular, to return quickly to pre-pandemic trading volumes. It said this would happen once limitations on social distancing are lifted in the months ahead, and factoring in strong pent-up demand as well as lower competition due to failures of other branded restaurant operators. The ratings agency said: “During a year severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Wagamama recorded industry-leading results in those periods when it was able to fully operate its estate. The company’s credit quality and liquidity benefited from access to government support including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, a business rate holiday, and reduced VAT rates, as well as Eat Out To Help Out last summer. Flexibility was also forthcoming from the company’s banks via an increase in its revolving credit facility and a covenant waiver. Wagamama reported a cash balance of £27m at the end of September 2020, only marginally lower than at its December 2019 year end, albeit helped by a modest increase in drawings under its revolving credit facility. Meanwhile, TRG had taken a number of actions to support the group’s overall credit quality. Its latest £175m equity raise follows a similar exercise last April, which garnered gross proceeds of £57m. Furthermore, TRG’s medium-term credit profile was also enhanced by decisive steps to restructure the portfolio of its leisure and concessions divisions last year. These actions resulted in early exits from a long tail of sites that had been expected to remain a drag on profitability. As a consequence, Wagamama’s UK sites now account for almost 40% of TRG’s portfolio, up from less than 23%, pre-pandemic. Wagamama has a track record of superior margins and stronger revenue and earnings growth than other parts of TRG. In light of this and the fact the refinancing will see all funded debt at the TRG level, Moody’s does not believe there is currently a material gap in credit quality between Wagamama and its parent.” The note came as Moody’s upgraded to B1 from B2 the rating of the £225m backed senior secured notes issued by the company’s subsidiary Wagamama Finance. It said the outlook of the entity had changed to stable from negative.
 
Simon Shaw to launch third restaurant concept with Middle Eastern-inspired venture this spring: Simon Shaw, chef-patron and creative director of El Gato Negro and Canto, has revealed plans for his third restaurant concept, Habas. Located at 43a Brown Street in Manchester, the modern Middle Eastern restaurant and bar will provide “premium drinks, dining and live music until late”. Opening this spring, the venture will occupy the lower ground floor of the grade-II listed building owned by Bruntwood. The restaurant will be led by Shaw and supported by senior sous chef, Craig Rutherford. It will focus on Shaw’s modern interpretation of Middle Eastern dishes, influenced by the region’s rich and varied cultures, with a greater emphasis on group dining alongside intimate dinners. The introduction of a live music programme follows the success of exclusive events hosted at Shaw’s wider restaurants – El Gato Negro in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, and Canto in Manchester. Shaw said: “I was probably into Middle Eastern food before Spanish, if I’m honest. It was in 1998 when I was living in London that I first became interested in it – going for a shawarma late at night was our thing. I knew then that I wanted to open a modern Middle Eastern restaurant. This isn’t a new thing. I’ve directed some of that influence into dishes at El Gato Negro as there’s so much overlap in styles and ingredients, but it’s really exciting to focus on this diverse region’s many cuisines with Habas. We’ve had time to really develop the concept and focus on what we want it to be.”
 
Koh Thai founder Andy Lennox launches pub venture: Koh Thai founder Andy Lennox, who is behind southern African-inspired restaurant Zim Braai, has launched a pub venture. Lennox has partnered with Nick Pestana, landlord of The Old Thatch in Wimborne, Dorset, ahead of its reopening on Monday, 12 April. Pestana has been the landlord of the pub since 2018, and he and Lennox have come together to transform it into a gastro-pub, kitchen and country store. It will offer freshly baked bread and cakes, local meat, eggs and dairy produce as well as household essentials. The Old Thatch food menu will be locally focused with British-inspired gastro cuisine. Lennox said: “When we moved into the area a few years ago, the pub became our local and I’ve watched with great interest as Nick transformed the pub with his excellent stewardship. Now with covid-19 receding, it’s time to take the pub to the next level.” Pestana added: “Our aim is to become the centre of the community for those living in and around Stapehill, Colehill, and Ferndown.”

Store Retail Group signs for site at new Manchester development: Independent food hall operator and food and drink retailer Store Retail Group has agreed a deal to open at the new Deansgate Square development in Manchester. The company is launching Deansgate Square General Store this summer, taking a 4,500 square foot space. It will combine “all the very best aspects” of the group’s other sites, in Ancoats, Stretford and Sale. Part corner shop, part community hub, Deansgate Square General Store will house a coffee shop and bar and have an ever-changing street food vendor on-site too, alongside offering household essentials. Store Retail Group managing director Mital Morar said: “Deansgate Square felt right for us straight away. The number of residents on-site makes sound commercial sense for us as well as the opportunity to work in a close-knit community, as we do at Ancoats. As a destination that will continue to evolve, we see Deansgate Square as a great, long-term investment.” Deansgate Square will comprise of 1,508 apartments across four towers, which is being developed by Renaker. 

Pizza Hut launches digital pick-up windows at 1,500 US restaurants: Pizza Hut has launched the Hut Lane – a dedicated digital pick-up window at more than 1,500 of its US restaurants, with more to follow. Customers place their order before selecting the “Hut Lane” option and then drive through a dedicated pick-up lane to grab their purchase. It adds to the other convenience and safety technology features Pizza Hut has added since the pandemic began, including kerbside pick-up, which was first introduced in April 2020. “We are giving our customers a variety of options to optimise their pizza-eating experience as we build on our business momentum,” Nicolas Burquier, chief customer and operations officer at Pizza Hut said. “Not only do we offer industry-leading, innovative menu items that are only available at Pizza Hut, but we also offer several digital-first pick-up options for our customers, and the Hut Lane is a great example of that.”
 
Loungers to be anchor tenant for £5.5m Colchester scheme: Cafe bar operator Loungers is set to be the anchor tenant at a £5.5m development in Colchester. The Nick Collins-led business will open the Romano Lounge at the development of the East of England Co-op’s Long Wyre Street development in the Essex city. The circa 170-strong company has exchanged contracts on the largest corner ground floor unit of the former department store. The £5.5m revamp of the old Co-op will see two retail and five restaurant units created as well as 24 apartments, made up of suites and one and two-bed flats. Hux Norman, property manager at Loungers, told the Colchester Gazette: “We are thrilled to have exchanged on the Long Wyre Street Development in Colchester. We have looked in Colchester for a number of years for a site, so we are excited to finally be able welcome the people of Colchester to Romano Lounge.”

Whitbread non-executive director to step down: Whitbread has announced non-executive director Susan Taylor Martin will step down after the board meeting on Thursday, 22 April, after completing nine years’ service. Chairman Adam Crozier said: “Susan has served on the board for nine years, during which Whitbread has developed into a focused hotel company. I would like to thank Susan for her contribution to Whitbread over this important period in the company’s development, and she leaves with our very best wishes.”

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