Story of the Day:
Helena Hudson – covid provides the opportunity for small foodservice brands to help lead high street recovery, landlords now more appreciative of independent operators: Helena Hudson, founder of independent cafe and coffee concept Real Eating Company, has argued the covid crisis has provided the opportunity for small foodservice brands to help lead the high street’s recovery. Writing in this week’s Propel Friday Opinion, Hudson said landlords were now more appreciative of independent operators having been left “high and dry” by bigger companies that have closed sites during the pandemic. Hudson said: “If conversations with landlords over the past 12 months are any indication, we are at a unique moment in time where small brands are able to ‘level up’ and move into prime locations. For my brand, the Real Eating Company, which typically operated in and around the south east, we’ve been able to sign deals to move into three central London sites – locations that were previously completely out of reach. And this isn’t just small brands taking risks, but landlords too. For years, institutional landlords have sided with corporates over smaller businesses. But, in the past 18 months, the bigger brands are the ones that have often resorted to site closures, company voluntary arrangements or administration, leaving landlords high and dry. Big companies serve their shareholders not their landlord. Smaller businesses are naturally more committed tenants because evaluating risk is taken so much more seriously – so much more is on the line for them. So, they are much more likely to take a symbiotic approach to their dealings with landlords. It is a joint endeavour. This is now being reciprocated in discussions for new sites. Small brands are now being treated on a par with – or often preferred to – larger brands because landlords have faith they are more likely to stick around and work together. The past 18 months has brought a great deal of pressure and stress for businesses of all sizes. But not all of the changes have been bad and a number of factors have come together to accelerate a behavioural shift that would otherwise have taken decades to happen. The most important thing we can do as small business owners is to grasp the opportunities that have presented themselves. It’s a big leap forward but will help high streets and shopping centres up and down the country to come back fighting.”
Hudson will share more of her thoughts in this week’s Friday Opinion, which will be published on Friday (27 August) at 11am.
Next edition of The Propel Multi-Site Database will be sent to Premium subscribers today:
The next edition of The Propel Multi-Site Database
, which is produced in association with Virgate, is to be published at midday today (Friday, 27 August). The database contains 64 new companies, bringing the total number of businesses listed up to 2,016. The 417 sites run by those 64 new additions means the entire database of sites has reached 60,133 sites. Premium subscribers will also receive a 12,000-word report on the new businesses added. The go-to database, which is updated monthly, 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. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Premium subscribers will also receive the second edition of The New Openings Database
, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Tuesday, 31 August, at midday. There are 258 new openings listed in the latest database. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and will be updated every month. Meanwhile, subscribers also have access to another database called Turnover & Profits Blue Book
, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated every month, with the latest version having just been sent out, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers 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. In today’s (Friday, 27 August) Premium Opinion column, Wingett looks back at the week just gone, including the change at the top of McDonald’s UK. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.
Paul Chase – people who believe their rights and freedoms curtailed by covid need to put things into perspective given events in Afghanistan: Leading sector commentator Paul Chase has argued people who believe their rights and freedoms have been curtailed by covid need to put things into perspective given events in Afghanistan. Writing in this week’s Friday Opinion, Chase said: “I do believe the government genuinely wants to get the balance right between our rights and freedoms, and protecting the public from covid. This is not a fashionable view, I know. But there is an element of ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ about the criticisms that are levelled at government over its handling of the pandemic. But before screaming ‘fascist’ at anyone who suggests some restrictions may need to remain to control a virus that is still killing 800 people a week, spare a thought for the people of Afghanistan. Over the past week, we have seen the retreat of the west, and of western liberal values, in the face of the Taliban’s ominous advance. We see the most powerful nation on earth struggling to keep one airport open. And the entire Afghan nation fall into the grip of a clerical Gestapo, with all the odious apparatus of medieval fundamentalism and barbaric punishments. If you think that a so-called vaccine passport is a fascist curtailment of your freedom, think of those who will now be living under a regime that bans music and cuts off the fingers of women who varnish their nails. And for those gender ideologues who feel unsafe if someone mis-pronouns them, think of the girls and women of Afghanistan – an oppressed sex class – who may be beaten or killed if they don’t cover their faces. I am optimistic we will get our freedoms back, and I’m confident in the robustness of our civic institutions. Spare a thought for those who haven’t got any.”
Job of the day: COREcruitment is on the hunt for a culinary director for a luxury events brand. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “The business has high spend per head, cooking food up to multi-Michelin level with high client expectations. The culinary director will design bespoke menus, lead all aspects of kitchen management, ensure exceptional quality and manage and mentor a passionate brigade. The role will also have face-to-face client management responsibilities so the role would suit an individual who has excellent communication skills and can work collaboratively. The business would ideally like to meet ambitious senior culinary directors who have a highly creative premium dining background as well as volume banqueting or events experience. The role is based in London with some oversees travel. The salary package includes a base of between £100,000 and £120,000 per annum, plus performance-related bonus, family healthcare and other benefits.” Anyone interested can email Clive@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
EG Group ‘pleased’ with Leon performance and planning ten openings before end of year as it reports revenue up 60% in latest quarter: The acquisition of natural fast food brand Leon and a continued resurgence from the covid-19 pandemic has helped forecourt and roadside operator EG Group’s revenue rocket by almost 60% during its latest financial period. EG Group said Leon’s performance had been “pleasing” during its latest quarter and that it plans to open in the region of ten locations by the end of 2021. EG Group, which was founded by the billionaire Issa brothers in 2001, has reported total revenue of $6.5bn for the three months to 30 June 2021, up 57.7% from $4.1bn. The second quarter figures also reveal the group’s Ebitda increased by 23.7% from $307m to $380m over the same period. For the first half of its financial year, the group reported total revenue of $11.8bn, a rise of 20.2% from $9.9bn. Its group Ebitda over the same period increased by 15.7% from $557m to $645m. Its foodservice gross profits jumped from $46m to $153m in the second quarter and from $91m to $263m in the first half. In a statement, the TDR-backed company said the rise in Ebitda during the second quarter was because of a strong performance against the prior year, which was significantly impacted by covid-19 lockdown restrictions and temporary foodservice closures in the UK. In a joint statement, Zuber and Mohsin Issa, co-founders and co-chief executives said: “We continued to make good progress in the second quarter, with a particularly strong performance from our foodservice business, driven by growth in customer demand for takeaway and delivery services and the easing of covid restrictions across many of our countries. We are also pleased to have completed the acquisition of Leon and look forward to expanding its offering with circa ten new restaurant openings planned this year, including the brand’s first drive-thru.” The group’s net debt increased from $8.9bn in March 2021 to $9.1bn by the end of June.
Provincial Hotels and Inns fell into administration owing almost £2m: Provincial Hotels and Inns, owned by hospitality management company Onecall, went into administration owing almost £2m, a new document has revealed. Patrick Lannagan and Julien Irving, of Mazars, were appointed as joint administrators to Lancashire-based Provincial Hotels and Inns in June. At the time, the company owned four pubs and a hotel – The County Lodge & Brasserie, Carnforth; The Blue Anchor, Bolton-le-Sands; The Windmill Tavern, Preston; The Manor Inn, Lancaster; and the Yorkshire House Hotel, Lancaster. In June 2016, the company acquired a portfolio of nine pubs and two hotels from Mitchells of Lancaster, funded by a first ranking secured loan from HSBC and a second from a private investor. A statement of administrators’ proposals said: “The directors advise the acquired estate was making a small profit but the property portfolio needed significant investment to improve business performance. The directors agreed a business plan to turn the business around, which involved the immediate disposal of two of the property assets in order to release funding to enhance the rest of the estate, to repay some of the secured borrowing and to free up some additional working capital for the business. The initial sales were not concluded as soon as anticipated because it was discovered the fabric of the property portfolio was in a poorer condition than the pre-acquisition property surveys had suggested, requiring additional capital expenditure on improvements and the sale of further properties to fund the capital expenditure.” The company then disposed of non-profitable properties from its portfolio, raising funds of more than £1m in 2018 and almost £500,000 in 2019. The net proceeds of the sales were used for capital improvements, working capital and a reduction of the company’s senior secured debt owed to HSBC. The covid outbreak resulted in the company closing all of its remaining venues and 28 staff being placed on furlough. The Blue Anchor and The County Lodge & Brasserie were reopened in April 2021, with the tenant at The Manor Inn also taking over a tenancy at The Windmill Tavern. The Yorkshire House Hotel remained closed. The document stated: “It was apparent from the financial review conducted by Mazars there was no reasonable prospect of rescuing the company as a going concern in view of the level of secured debt and the impediments to restructuring this debt and rationalising the property portfolio.” The document showed HSBC is owed almost £1.6m while HM Revenue & Customs is owed £144,312. There is also estimated to be 48 trade and expense creditors with unsecured claims in the region of £126,148.
Tipjar sees fundraise pass £1m, Honest Burgers co-founders among backers: Tipjar, the peer-to-peer tipping and tip-sharing concept, has raised in excess of £1m from more than 800 investors on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. Tipjar, which was founded by James Brown, of Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog, is backed by Alex Moore of Rosa’s Thai Cafe, Gary Dolman of Monzo and Simon Bocca, formerly of Fourth. Tipjar smashed its original funding target of £400,000 within hours of the campaign launching where it was offering 3.89% equity, giving a company pre-money valuation of £11m. Backers include Honest Burger co-founders Phil Eeles and Tom Barton, plus a host of other industry experts. Tipjar chief executive Ben Thomas said: “These funds will really give us more growth capital and enable us to invest more into our US team as well as turbocharge our trajectory for expansion across the globe.” Tipjar has now launched in more than 1,650 venues across four countries, and plans to use the funds raised to further expand into the US market where it has recently partnered with Visa to help workers who are earning less as cash payments decline. The crowdfunding campaign is due to end next Saturday (4 September).
Merlin Entertainments begins work on world’s largest Legoland resort, in China: Merlin Entertainments has begun work on the world’s largest Legoland resort, in Shenzhen, China. Located on the Dapeng Peninsula, the resort will cover about 580,000 square metres and will be operated by Merlin Entertainments, with Hazens Holdings as its local partner. The total investment is expected to be more than $1.08bn and the park is due to open in 2024. Merlin currently operates 13 Midway attractions in China – three Legoland Discovery centres, five Madame Tussauds, two Sealife centres, The Dungeons, Peppa Pig World of Play and Little Big City in Beijing. Merlin Entertainments chief executive Nick Varney said: “Construction of the world’s largest Legoland resort in Shenzhen marks a significant milestone for Merlin in China, reflecting the scale of opportunity in the country and our commitment to developing our business in China. This forms part of Merlin’s broader strategy, alongside developing exciting attractions in partnership with some of the world’s most popular brands.” The resort will offer nine themed areas, a combination of indoor and outdoor play areas, as well as more than 100 interactive rides, shows and attractions. The resort will also include the largest Legoland water park and three Legoland themed hotels, with more than 1,000 Lego-themed rooms.
Merlin Entertainments is a new entrant in Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which has recently been updated for Premium subscribers. Merlin Entertainments turned over £629m in its most recent financial year, making it the seventh highest of the 351 companies featured. The Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, provides a five-year overview of turnover and profit, and ranks the companies according to turnover, pre-tax profit and profit conversion. It also provides details of directors’ earnings and highest paid directors and now includes Propel insight editor Mark Wingett’s “Propel Pick” – his pick of the companies well placed to grow in the post-pandemic era. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. Email email@example.com to sign up.
Bird & Blend Tea Co to open two new sites including debut in Scotland: Brighton-based tea business Bird & Blend Tea Co, which is raising funds to add further shops to its portfolio, is to open two new sites, Propel has learned. Bird & Blend Tea Co, which was founded in 2012 by Kristina Smith and Mike Turner and operates 13 stores, is launching in Exeter and opening its debut Scottish site, in Glasgow. Bird & Blend Tea Co stated: “In Exeter, we’re expecting the legals to complete and fit-out works to commence any day now. We’ll be opening at the end of September. We’ve just instructed solicitors on a store in Glasgow. We’re expecting to start the fit-out at the start of October and open towards the end. Full locations of Exeter and Glasgow will be announced just before launch. These are on top of our new store in Norwich, which opened last week in Back of the Inns, and may have had the best first week of any of our stores.” Bird & Blend Tea Co is raising funds on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to support its expansion. Bird & Blend Tea Co was aiming to raise £300,000 and was offering 2.97% equity, giving a pre-money valuation of £18m. But it raised more than double its target within two days of the campaign’s public launch. So far, the campaign has raised almost £670,000 from in excess of 1,200 investors and continues to overfund with 21 days remaining.
Vegan pasta concept Pastan to open debut permanent restaurant: Vegan pasta concept Pastan, which launched last year as a delivery-only venture, is to open a permanent restaurant, in London’s Notting Hill, Propel has learned. The business, which is the brainchild of Jerome Ibanez-Fawcett, formerly head of operations at Friska, will launch the venue in Westbourne Park Road in the former La Maria restaurant premises on Wednesday, 8 September. Ibanez-Fawcett told Propel the restaurant would allow the business to expand its menu, with the venue opening for lunch as well as dinner. Pastan launched through a dark kitchen in east London last year and opened in a further dark kitchen with Karma Kitchen out of Wood Green earlier this year. Pastan previously ran a pop-up supper club in Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden while it currently operates a pop-up in Gloucester Road in Bristol. Ibanez-Fawcett said Pastan is also looking to open a permanent restaurant in Bristol due to the success of the pop-up.
East London Pub Co secures Hampstead site: East London Pub Co has secured a site in Hampstead. The company has acquired the lease of the former Cork & Bottle in South End Green. The Cork & Bottle, on the corner of Fleet Road and Elm Terrace, has been closed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The building has been boarded up and subject to graffiti. Negotiations over the pub’s future, involving property agent Davis Coffer Lyons, have taken place since the lease was put up for sale last year. The site was run as the White Horse pub until 2017. East London Pub Co, which was founded in 2014, operates six sites having launched The Saxon in Clapham High Street in June. East London Pub Co owner Patrick Frawley is also behind Coqbull, the Irish chicken and burger concept, which operates five sites in Ireland and London.
Boxpark launches hospitality traineeship for young people: Boxpark has launched a hospitality traineeship for young people. The company joined forces with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and hospitality training provider Barfection to host a “Traineeship and Kickstart” recruitment fair last week at its Wembley site. The event saw more than 250 people being offered jobs on the day, and many more signing up for traineeship schemes and courses with more than 75 employers attended the jobs fair. At the event, Boxpark announced it would be joining a new bespoke traineeship programme in partnership with Barfection, which will involve a combination of training and employment for those who want to work in the hospitality sector. Following the event’s success, there are already plans in place to host another recruitment fair with the DWP at Boxpark’s Croydon site, to assist many more young people into employment, and provide a stepping stone to those without any experience or qualifications. Boxpark chief operating officer Ben McLaughlin said: “Through the traineeship, there are fantastic career opportunities in the hospitality sector with no barriers to entry or prior experience required, which can lead to viable, long-term careers in management and other roles. We are passionate about promoting hospitality employment and playing our part to support under-25s who have been hit the hardest by unemployment as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.”
Supper club Supa Ya Ramen to open debut permanent restaurant next week: Supper club Supa Ya Ramen will open its debut permanent restaurant, in Hackney, east London, next week. The first lockdown delayed plans by Luke Findlay to put down roots for good, but he will now open the ramen bar in Kingsland Road on Friday, 3 September. Following years of weekly ramen supper clubs, pop-ups at Mortimer House and Snackbar, a residency on Hackney Road and DIY kits over lockdown, Supa Ya Ramen will launch the 20-seat ramen bar with an open kitchen and counter seating. The short menu will feature a set line-up of bowls, alongside a rotating special, a new selection of small plates and side dishes, and a pudding. Findlay developed Supa Ya Ramen following spells as development chef at Patty & Bun and head chef of Berber & Q in Spitalfields. He has also worked at Nopi and Tom Kerridge’s Michelin-starred gastropub The Hand & Flowers. He launched the Supa Ya Ramen supper club at his Hackney home followed by a number of pop-ups, collaborations and takeovers.
Former executive chef at Soho House to open debut London site this autumn: Esra Muslu, the former executive chef at Soho House Istanbul, will open the debut site for her restaurant concept, Zahter, in October. As previously revealed by Propel, Muslu, who was also previously head chef at Ottolenghi Spitalfields, will open the venue in the former Choccywoccydoodah site in Soho’s Foubert’s Place. Zahter will be spread across four floors. It will feature an open kitchen, counter dining and substantial alfresco seating on the ground floor, a dining room on the first floor, and a private events space and cookery studio on the third floor. The restaurant will spotlight the Istanbul culinary scene, the food cooked in people’s homes and recipes handed down by Muslu’s mother. Zahter previously appeared as a pop-up at Carousel in Marylebone.
LabTech launches Hawley Wharf in Camden featuring host of F&B and leisure operators: Property investment company LabTech, has launched its Hawley Wharf mixed-use development in Camden, featuring a host of food and beverage operators. The 580,000 square foot canal-side development features a series of Asian dining spots, including Thai and Malaysian concept Ekachai, which operates four restaurants and a delivery kitchen in the capital; and a second site for Cantonese concept Bun House. The Mediterranean offering includes a debut site for Greek dessert concept Stilvi and Italian grab and go concept A’do’re Fritto. Hawley Wharf Camden has also seen the signing of The Spread, the London-based market operator, which will lie at the heart of the scheme covering up to 4,000 square foot of the destination, providing an outdoor market for 40 independent traders. Meanwhile, the leisure offer will feature boutique cinema chain Curzon, which is opening a 6,000 square foot site spanning eight of Camden’s 30 historic railway arches. Encompassing five separate cinema theatres, each with 30 seats, it will form a landmark cinema for the brand, which will be its 15th in the UK and ninth in London. LabTech commercial director Maggie Milosavljevic said: “We are excited to be launching Hawley Wharf, and to be supporting an array of independent and international brands. There is even more to come, highlighting the strength of the independent eco-system we are creating, to reflect the heritage and complement the atmosphere of Camden in a genuine and distinctive way.” Colliers and CBRE represent Hawley Wharf Camden.
Galvin Restaurants launches young adults employment initiative: Galvin Restaurants, led by Michelin-starred chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin, has launched its young adults employment initiative. In partnership with Tameside College, the 12-week programme has seen five hospitality and catering students hosted at the London Hilton in Park Lane, receiving full-time payment alongside accommodation and meals while working at Galvin at Windows, located at the top of the building. The students are working in a variety of roles – serving guests, managing sections, table-side carving and other key restaurant functions. Furthermore, on successful completion of the programme, they will be offered full-time positions either at Galvin at Windows or one of the Galvin sister restaurants. The project has been developed by Galvin at Windows general manager Peter Avis. He said: “The collaboration of industry and education is crucial to help plug the skills gap and attract more young people into hospitality. We’re delighted to be supporting young people’s first steps into the sector through this scheme, and I am personally looking forward to seeing our programme grow to give opportunities to many more young people.”
Freehold investment of Muswell Hill property let to M&B sells for £4.375m: The freehold investment of a property in Muswell Hill, north London, let to Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has sold for £4.375m. Coffer Corporate Leisure, jointly with Bidwells, has advised a private client on the sale of 87 Muswell Hill Broadway. The building comprises a converted 19th century church, currently arranged as a high-end restaurant, totalling circa 8,000 square foot. The property is let in its entirety to M&B, trading under its Miller & Carter steakhouse concept. Jack Silvani, director at Coffer Corporate Leisure, who acted on behalf of the vendor, said: “Confidence in the leisure sector is growing steadily and directly translating to a surge of activity on the investment side. The main restrictor of transaction volumes is now supply, not demand. Many pubs, bars, restaurants and health clubs are trading buoyantly since the final easing of restrictions and it is clear that, long term, the sector will grow from strength to strength.”
Yorkshire-based Layton Hill Hotels acquires second site: Yorkshire-based Layton Hill Hotels has acquired its second site. The company, owned by Rebecca Hill and Chris Layton, has bought The Old Deanery Hotel in Ripon, adding to the Galtres Lodge Hotel in York. Formerly operating as a hotel and wedding venue, The Old Deanery closed earlier this year after months of lockdown. Hill and Layton hope to reinvigorate the hotel before reopening, primarily, as a wedding and events venue later in the year. Lending their expertise to the redevelopment of The Old Deanery Hotel will be general manager David Macdonald and consultant chef Stephanie Moon, both of whom were highly influential with the development of Galtres Lodge. The Old Deanery Hotel features 11 bedrooms, gardens and several public areas, which are due to be restored back to a country house that will be available for weddings and exclusive-use events. Hill said: “It is such a beautiful property in the heart of a beautiful city and we cannot wait to become a key part of the community. As we are still in the wake of the pandemic, we plan on taking a cautious approach and start by opening, primarily, as a wedding and events venue. We also hope to organise smaller public events, such as open days and afternoon tea parties, to keep The Old Deanery as open to the public as possible. Overall, we want The Old Deanery to be a jewel in Ripon’s crown.”
White Rabbit to launch three dining concepts at new-look St Andrews hotel next month: Three dining concepts are to be launched next month by White Rabbit Projects, whose hospitality portfolio includes Lina Stores, Kricket and Island Poké, at Rusacks St Andrews – the new luxury hotel as part of Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts. The concepts – 18, The Bridge and One Under Bar – will be led by Derek Johnstone, who was the inaugural BBC MasterChef: The Professionals winner, in 2008. The 120-bedroom hotel, which overlooks the 18th green at the Old Course, has undergone a major renovation, including the transformation of its food and beverage offer. Destination rooftop and Scottish restaurant, 18, will specialise “in the very best seasonal local produce”. Using the restaurant’s robata grill, Johnstone’s menu will focus on open flame-cooked dishes as well as game and seafood. 18 will sit on the fourth floor of the new extension to the previous footprint. The ground floor will house The Bridge, a more casual all-day dining option that continues the theme of championing Scottish produce. Completing the new offering is One Under Bar, an underground bar serving pub favourites, beer, whisky and cocktails. Johnstone joins Rusacks St Andrews from Borthwick Castle, where he was twice runner-up in National Chef of the Year and was shortlisted for Scottish Chef of the Year at the 2021 CIS Excellence Awards. Part of the Marine & Lawn collection, which is owned by Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, Rusacks St Andrews is joined by two additional Scottish golf properties – Marine North Berwick and also Marine Troon, the latter of which will join the collection in the spring when it relaunches.
Berkshire-based coffee shop concept Daisy Love opens in Henley for third site: Berkshire-based coffee shop concept Daisy Love has opened its third site, in Henley. Owner Ranj Nagi has opened the outlet in the former Sparkes jewellery premises on the corner of Station Road and Reading Road. The Henley business sells hot and cold drinks, pastries and sandwiches and has a specialist gifts boutique in the adjoining premises, which used to be occupied by Henley Barbers. Nagi told the Henley Standard: “We are much more than just a coffee shop. We are a one-stop shop with a bit of everything in one place. With the products that we stock, we are trying to support small independent businesses.” Nagi worked in financial services for 18 years before deciding to open her first coffee shop, in Maidenhead, called Saints, in early 2018. She launched Daisy Love in Wargrave in September last year and has since added a second site, in Cookham.
Vaulkhard Group opens Cuban-inspired bar and restaurant in Newcastle after ‘pingdemic’ delay: Newcastle-based leisure firm Vaulkhard Group has opened a Cuban-inspired bar and restaurant in the city centre. Castro’s, which offers Latin-inspired food, drink, and cocktails, had been due to open in mid-July but had to be delayed as a result of the “pingdemic”. Castro’s has launched in Hood Street, formerly the Beeronomy site, which the group purchased from Newcastle Building Society. Castro’s offers both vertical drinking and table service for its customers and also has outdoor space. The venue has the “north east’s largest rum selection”, while the food menu follows a Cuban theme, mixing traditional chicken, fish and rice dishes with twists from its neighbouring Caribbean islands and South America. The venue, which has created 30 jobs, features a hidden secret bar that hosts salsa dance classes, rum sessions, cocktail masterclasses and a private booking area. Vaulkhard Group, which also owns other city centre venues, including Blakes, Bealim House and Mushroom, recently announced a string of acquisitions, taking on ownership of drinking venues such as Bridge Tavern and Town Wall, and dispensing of late-night venues Perdu and MSA.
Experienced hotelier and restaurant operator opens Italian restaurant in former PizzaExpress site in Ramsgate: Experienced hotelier and restaurateur James Thomas has opened a new site at the former PizzaExpress in Ramsgate, Kent. Thomas, who owns the Royal Harbour Hotel, which houses the Empire Room restaurant, and seafront diner Little Ships, has reopened the Harbour Street venue as Travellers in Italy. The restaurant offers a wide range of traditional Italian dishes, including pizza, pasta and antipasti. Travellers in Italy, which has capacity for about 70 diners, is named after a picture Thomas bought many years ago by late Ramsgate artist Michael Blaker. Thomas bought a former bed and breakfast site, which is now the Royal Harbour Hotel in 1999. He expanded into adjoining properties on Nelson Terrace and, in 2014, the Empire Room restaurant also opened in the property. Meanwhile, Little Ships opened in 2018.
Five Guys to open new Hemel Hempstead site on Monday: Five Guys, the fast-growing burger concept backed by Sir Charles Dunstone, is to site in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, on Monday (30 August). The company is launching the outlet at the Jarman Leisure Park. It is the third site in Hertfordshire for the brand, joining its restaurants in Stevenage and Watford. Five Guys recently opened its first UK drive-thru, at the former Chiquito restaurant at Teesside Park in Stockton-on-Tees. In May, Five Guys UK chief executive John Eckbert said the brand was going to open up to 50 new sites in Europe this year, including up to 25 in Britain.
Teesside restaurant to double up: Teesside restaurant The George Pub & Grill is expanding with a sequel in Redcar. Craig Harker, owner of the original restaurant in Stockton-on-Tees, which is known for its huge portions and food challenges, said he wanted to open a site in the coastal town of Redcar previously failed to do so. He told The Northern Echo: “One year ago, I started looking for a site in Redcar. I had a Facebook page, and it went viral with a lot of followers in 24 hours. There seemed to be a need for a George-style restaurant in the town. The first place I applied for fell through but, because of the buzz, I persisted. When this place came available, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, it was the perfect place.” The town centre restaurant will seat 30 and Harker expects it to be fully booked in the first couple of weeks of operation. It will open for takeaways only on Sunday, 5 September, while it is decorated and will open fully in the middle of the month. It is also offering a free meal to anyone who dines at the restaurant who is over 25 stone. Harker added: “Redcar is about to see a lot more whales. We don’t judge people by their size, we welcome big eaters and big people. We will be running big eater competitions. None of the meals we make or any of the food in the restaurant goes to waste, we hate waste. We donate anything we have left at the end of the day, either to single parents who want a free meal or someone’s nanna who lives on her own.”