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Thu 16th Sep 2021 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Campbell – we will refurbish 300 PizzaExpress restaurants and add 50 new sites over the next three years: David Campbell, group chief executive of PizzaExpress, has said the 357-strong brand will refurbish 300 of its UK restaurants over the next three years and open 50 new sites, after the business was left “heavily under invested” by its previous owners. Speaking at Propel’s Multi-Club Conference last week, Campbell said after last year’s refinancing and restructure, which saw the group undergo a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) and new shareholders replace its previous backer, the China-based Hony Capital, the business was one of the few in the sector that was in a better financial position than a year previously and was excited by the opportunities for the brand. He said: “Under the previous ownership funds were used to build the estate in the Far East and then when the restaurants didn’t work in China, the money was shipped out there to support the losses. Therefore, the UK estate was heavily under invested. So, our first thing is to catch up in terms of reinvesting in the UK estate and doing refurbishments. We will do 300 refurbishments in the next three years – 100 a year. We also think there is an opportunity to open up another 50 PizzaExpress sites. That will be in places we lost sites due to the CVA, where we shouldn’t have, and can go back in. For example, Oxted, where we have gone back in and opened a new restaurant. Then there are new schemes, such as the McArthurGlen Outlet in Cannock. Our covenant is one of the top three in the UK for going into those schemes.” Campbell said the company had used the lockdowns to focus on parts of the business that were still able to trade – delivery and retail. He said: “Using the Formula One analogy, the off season was really important. The only businesses we could touch were delivery and retail, so we really narrowed in on these. The delivery business more than doubled in size from the beginning of January to the end of April, and constantly outperforms the delivery index. The retail business is also thriving. We are now a top 100 retail brand.” The company refinanced again in June, “at a far better rate”, and Campbell said: “We have really supportive shareholders, we have long-term lending in place and now we just need to keep moving the company forward. So, it is a fantastic brand with lots of opportunity.”
 

Industry News: 

Variety of multi-site coffee concepts set to join updated Premium Database of Multi-site Companies: A variety of multi-site coffee concepts are among the 59 new multi-site companies being added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-site Companies, which will be released on Friday, 1 October, at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, features Coffee Planet, the largest speciality coffee roaster in the Middle East, which recently opened its second site in Nottinghamshire. In Birmingham, The Coffee Bar is opening its second site six months after the first one. Also added this month is Berkshire-based Daisy Love, which is bringing additional features to its third coffee shop – such as a specialist gifts boutique. In addition, the database adds Bristol-based Chance & Counters, which is lining up its fourth site – each site offers a library of more than 500 board games. Premium subscribers will also receive a 9,000 word report on the new additions to the database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and 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. It features more than 2,000 companies. Alongside this, Premium subscribers will also receive the third edition of the New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Wednesday, 6 October, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. Premium 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 plus regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. 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 jo.charity@propelinfo.com to sign up.
 
Wagamama targeting smaller towns for UK expansion, delivery making up 25% of sales: Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group (TRG), has told Propel the business is now targeting smaller UK towns for Wagamama openings “that we just would not have considered before”. Speaking following the company’s interim results, Hornby said the pandemic has clearly changed consumer behaviour with people now visiting its sites earlier in the evening due to the working from home phenomenon and also using more delivery. He said delivery sales had “really taken off” for the group with them now making up 25% of total sales at Wagamama and 15% in its leisure business. TRG has said it plans to double the size of its pub estate, add new delivery kitchens and is aiming for another 40 to 60 Wagamama sites in the UK. In the US, Hornby said the company plans to target metropolitan areas “that are not in Los Angeles or New York” for Wagamama openings, with the first in Tampa in Florida at the end of this year or beginning of 2022. Hornby told Propel of its UK plans: “With the pubs business we are looking at similar locations because they are continuing to perform well. With Wagamama we are looking at smaller towns and these are places we would not have considered before. For example, we are opening in West Bridgford just outside Nottingham. We have a site in the city centre but demand in the area has persuaded us we need another one. Our sites in smaller towns such as Dorchester and Sevenoaks are among our best performers and we want to be in more places like that. We won’t be doing many in central London. Trade in the city centres is marginally better but it’s still way down on pre-pandemic levels. At airports, passenger numbers are still down 65% so those sites are still coming back. I’m confident once the traffic light system is lifted we will see the return of travellers. But I think people will continue to work from home at least two days a week and then because they are not getting back at 7pm in the evening, they are more inclined to go out. Therefore, we are seeing more people, particularly in our pubs, coming to us earlier in the evening – about 5pm to 6pm – and having a meal, and I think that is a trend that is here to stay. Delivery is also exciting for us. That’s another trend that has really developed during lockdown and it’s become more important to the business than I thought it would and we’re really seeing that with the performance of our virtual brands.” Hornby said while the business has the ability to make acquisitions, it will be focusing its efforts on organic growth. He added the most pleasing aspect of its results was TRG was outperforming the market across the business, which was something that was “not always the case in the past”. He added: “We recognises there are challenges ahead with the changes to VAT and such like, but we are in a very good place to meet them.”

Cafes and takeaways help independent sector return to growth in first half of 2021, but 2022 could bring struggles: Fast food outlets and cafes helped the independent sector return to growth in the first half of the year for the first time since 2017, the latest Local Data Company (LDC) figures reveal, but they could face difficulties when government support ends next year. The leisure sector saw significant year-on-year improvement as net loss of units decreased from minus 1,263 to just minus 200, according to the data. This signals the best performance since 2017, an improvement driven by cafe and fast food units alone as other leisure categories continued to decline. Indeed, takeaway food was the fastest growing category in the first half of 2021 thanks to consumer needs during lockdown, plus the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants. In March 2021, Just Eat reported a 600% increase in orders in the first two months of the year compared to 2020, while fast-growing brands included German Doner Kebab (ten openings) and Morley’s (nine openings). According to the LDC’s Looking Beyond Lockdown report, this shows that furlough, the moratorium on tenant evictions and business rates relief are all having the desired effect. But it also warned the market could see increased closures when government support ends next year. LDC commercial director Lucy Stainton said: “The independent sector has returned to growth for the first time since 2017 as the number of closures dropped and openings have steadily increased year on year, boosting the overall figures. We can attribute this improved performance to a few things; the success of government support schemes, which will remain in place until March 2022; the growing appetite for categories such as takeaway food and convenience stores, boosted by several lockdowns, and a consumer that is increasingly concerned with the provenance of products, sustainability and supporting local businesses.”
 
Hotel cancellations in the UK ‘far below level expected’: Fears the reopening of international travel would see a rise in cancellations for UK hotels have not come to pass. Instead, many hotels are seeing cancellations far below the industry standard, figures from booking platform Profitroom show. There were concerns guests abandoning “staycation” bookings would cause cancellation rates to rise as high as 50%, a figure that would put the hotel industry’s post-covid recovery process at serious risk if prolonged. However, Profitrooms’ data shows leisure hotels and resorts in their 3,500 worldwide database reported an average cancellation rate of just 12%, with some giving even lower figures. Samantha Williams, director of business development at Profitroom, said: “Having experienced a turbulent 18 months, it’s understandable hotels are concerned about the impact of wider events – with international travel and the so called ‘pingdemic’ taking effect and causing havoc among hotel bookings. Our latest data though suggests these fears aren’t being realised – something that’s a welcome relief for hoteliers who have been banking on a profitable and extended summer season to help them kick on.”
 
Industry leader pleas with government to help secure future of wine and spirit traders: Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) chief executive Mike Beale has called on Downing Street to introduce measures that would help guide his industry out of the dark days of 2021. Delivering his speech to the WSTA Industry Summit, Beale looked at the challenges the industry will face over the next ten years following the UK’s exit from the single market and the consequences of the covid outbreak. Although trade flows were not overly-affected in the early months of 2021, this all changed as the year progressed and teething issues with moving goods to and from the EU developed into more fundamental issues, Beale noted. The impact of shortages of hauliers, agricultural workers and those working in the recently reopened hospitality sector made matters worse, while covid restrictions forcing close contacts to isolate took even more employees out of the workplace. Beale said: “I very much hope the chief executive in 2031 will be able to look back and welcome the government taking action, albeit a little too late. Because some of the solutions are relatively easier – expand the shortage occupation list to include workers like lorry drivers and introduce a 12-month recovery visa for food and drink sector workers. Other solutions, particularly sorting out the Northern Ireland protocol, will take longer. The government’s decision to suspend the controls due to come into force on 1 October was welcome, but a long-term solution is needed, and that’s going to need both the UK and EU to negotiate. Other issues facing the sector, such as some of disruption to global shipping movements, are out of the government’s hands, which is why it is all the more important that it does all it can to help businesses and help the fragile economic recover.”
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is supporting a bar and venue business based in London as it looks to grow its team. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “This is a high-volume bar and venues concept that is growing fast. The brand is hoping to appoint an operations director to come on board to steer it through this period of expansion, while not taking their eye off the existing operations and team. This company is headed up by an established and successful operator whose track record speaks for itself. It needs an operations director who is from a high volume and good quality bar and venue-based environment in their most recent roles. Experience in bars is essential and new openings experience is an added bonus as well. The position is paying up to £80,000 plus benefits.” Anyone interested can email Stuart@corecruitment.com
 
Licensing update: Licensing solicitor John Gaunt & Partners has produced a useful monthly summary of licensing news, including this month’s information regarding prime minister Boris Johnson’s “Plan A and B”, which can be accessed here.
 

Company News: 

McGovern – Gail’s is at the early stages of becoming an iconic British brand: Henry McGovern, one of the new backers of Bread Holdings, the parent company of Gail’s Bakery, has told Propel the cafe and bakery chain is at the “early stages of becoming an iconic British brand”. On Tuesday (14 September), Bain Capital Credit working in partnership with Ebitda Investments, the food ecosystem fund backed by McGovern and Steven K. Winegar, bought a stake in Bread Holdings in a deal valuing the company at more than £200m. The deal backs the existing management team led by Tom Molnar and sees Luke Johnson retain a 15% stake in the 73-strong business and on the board. McGovern is the founder and former chief emotional officer of AmRest, the European restaurant company and operator of brands, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Starbucks, La Tagliatella, Blue Frog, Bacoa and Sushi Shop, with more than 2,100 restaurants across 26 countries. He becomes the company’s new chairman. He told Propel: “We had been looking at the brand for a while. It is a great business with a number of parts, which we believe all have opportunity to grow, whether that is its store estate, grocery or wholesale. There is tons of space for the business to go after in the UK, as at present it is still limited in terms of geography. For me it is at the early stages of becoming an iconic British brand, and we are looking forward to adding our expertise in helping it on the next stage of that journey, but making sure it stays special. Whether that is on the production side, back office or looking at further growth opportunities such as moving into the travel and leisure space.”
 
Busaba lines up opening in Oxford: Busaba, the Thai chain founded by Alan Yau, is to open a site in Oxford before the end of the year, Propel has learned. The Terry Harrison-led group, which will open a site in Cardiff next month, has agreed to take a 20-year lease on the former Pint Shop site in the city’s George Street. The Tnui Capital-backed Busaba expects to open the site in early December. Harrison told Propel: “We are excited to be taking our offer to those lovely Oxonians. Oxford is vibrant and welcoming and perfectly matches our brand ethos. I firmly believe we deserve each other.” Earlier this summer Propel revealed the group had agreed a lease to operate a site in Cardiff’s Brewery Quarter. It was the first agreement for a new site the business had entered into in more than six years. The restaurant, which will launch on Thursday, 21 October, will be Busaba’s debut venue in Wales. Busaba currently operates nine sites across London, but previously had sites in Liverpool, Manchester and St Albans. AG&G acted for Busaba and Savills represented the landlord on the Oxford deal.
 
Giggling Squid set to replace Slug & Lettuce in Winchester: Giggling Squid, the Thai restaurant brand backed by BGF, is set to open a new site in Winchester. The 40-strong company is to replace Stonegate Pub Company’s Slug & Lettuce in the city’s The Square. The pub closed for the final time earlier this week. Last month, Giggling Squid opened its first site in Nottinghamshire, in West Bridgford, in the former Gusto Italian premises in Bridgford Road. Earlier this summer, Propel revealed Giggling Squid would make its debut in the north west, with an opening in Manchester. The company will open at the former Carluccio’s site in the city’s Spinningfields area. It plans to open in Chelmsford, Hornchurch and Welwyn Garden City before the end of the year. Co-founder Andy Laurillard told Propel earlier this month that last year’s change to the use classes for property could lead to some traditional restaurant pitches being “left behind”. He said: “The ability to be able to get change of use for retail sites in higher footfall areas in some towns, means we could see traditional restaurant pitches being left behind. Footfall will move and these sites will become less profitable and less desirable.” Laurillard said Giggling Squid had looked at this when trying to secure a site in Winchester. He said: “Normally you would look at say Jewry Street in the city, but I think as retail sites come up in the high street, trade will move and Jewry Street will be left behind. I can see that being repeated in other similar locations.” 
 
New World Trading Company to double up in Cardiff: Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group The New World Trading Company (NWTC) is to open its second site in Cardiff. Propel has learned that NWTC, which already operates a site under its The Botanist brand in the Welsh capital’s Church Street, is to open a site under its the Club House concept in the city’s Mermaid Quay scheme. The Jesper Friis-led business opened its second The Club House site earlier this summer, in Plymouth. The business also operates a site under the concept in Liverpool. In July, Propel revealed NWTC had secured a site in Exeter for its The Botanist brand. It secured the former The Stable site in Queen Street Dining, which is part of the Guildhall Shopping Centre in the Devon city. The company plans to open in Exeter before the end of autumn. Once open, The Botanist Exeter will be the brand’s 23rd location. The company is also set to bring its The Botanist brand to Ipswich. The company has agreed a lease with Ipswich Borough Council for the vacant Old Post Office in Cornhill, subject to listed building consent being obtained. The venue is expected to open prior to Christmas. Earlier this year it opened a new concept – The Furnace – in Sheffield. 
 
Thai Leisure Group to open next generation Thaikhun site in Manchester: Thai Leisure Group, operator of Thaikhun and Chaophraya, is to open a next generation format for Thaikhun in Manchester later this month. The business, which underwent a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) last summer, will open Thaikhun Street in the Trafford Centre. The company, which already operates nine Thaikhun sites across the UK, said this would be the first of its kind to feature a buffet offering. The Thaikhun Street restaurant will open on Sunday, 26 September and the 144-cover restaurant will serve up “all the Thai classics in a buffet-style format, paired with carefully selected beer, wine and cocktails”. The restaurant will also have a fully equipped dessert station including chocolate fountain, ice cream machine, popcorn machine and slushie machine. Owner Kim Kaewkraikhot said: “At Thaikhun we do things differently and don’t conform to the norm when it comes to making incredible Thai food that appeals to everyone. At our first of its kind buffet restaurant, we will offer customers the freedom to make the experience their own by picking exactly what they want and in their own time. Our attitude is all geared towards creating a fun and inclusive environment for our customers to enjoy great food, and The Trafford Centre will be no different. We are looking forward to having a new customer base that will join our Thaikhun journey.”
 
Colette secures Battersea site: Restaurant and deli concept Colette has completed a deal to open its third London site, in Battersea, Propel has learned. The venue, which will launch in November, will be based at the site of a former Shooting Star charity shop in Northcote Road, near Wandsworth Common. The restaurant will house a large indoor and outdoor seating area and its kitchen, led by Chris Hill, will offer a seasonal menu, hand-selected fine wine and artisanal sweet treats. This follows the opening of Colette’s second venue, at the site of former Iris fashion store in Wimbledon High Street, in April. Colette was founded by Dimitri and Mira Plaquet in 2019 and opened its debut site in Fulham Road, Chelsea, in January last year. Propel understands the company is seeking further sites to expand its London portfolio, including in South Kensington, Victoria and Mayfair. Oliver Serrant, of Stance, acted for Colette and Matthew Whitworth, of Randalls Commercial, acted for the landlord on the Northcote Road deal. 
 
WatchHouse continues its expansion with eighth site opening: Edition Capital-backed coffee concept WatchHouse will open its eighth site, in London’s Bishopsgate, on Monday (20 September). It continues the commitment of the brand, launched in 2014 by Roland Horne, to bricks and mortar venues over the past two years. Inspired by the group’s very first cafe, WatchHouse Bermondsey Street, Bishopsgate, will be an updated take on its original grab-and-go offering – focusing on a high-volume and fast-paced specialty coffee service. The design of the site has been overseen by Deidra Hodgson, following her consultations on the redesign of WatchHouse Bermondsey and WatchHouse St Marys Axe – which in May became its most recent house to open. In July, WatchHouse appointed former Starbucks accounting chief Paula Sandeman as its new finance director, to lead the group through its planned portfolio expansion. Last autumn it opened its first site outside of London, in Bath’s Old Bond Street, but founder Horne has set his sights much further afield. He previously told Propel the group has ambitions to reach “triple figures” in the UK in terms of sites by “creating genuine, authentic local hubs”, and had a long-term ambition to launch in the US. 
 
Independent coffee and all-day brunch business launching third Suffolk site, plans two more openings: Suffolk-based Honey + Harvey has expanded its portfolio with a new site in Ipswich, opening later this year, to add to its two existing outlets in Woodbridge. Co-owner Joe Fellows, who operates a number of cafe and brunch venues in Suffolk and Hampshire, along with a coffee roastery and bakery, is also planning two other sites opening later this year, along with a new retail coffee brand. He told Propel: “This is our first venture outside our two existing spots in Woodbridge. The opening has been in the pipeline for some time, but inevitably delayed by covid. In the meantime, we have put together a talented team of local chefs, bakers and baristas ready to serve Honey + Harvey's signature menu of locally sourced produce, alongside specialty coffees. Honey + Harvey is excited to be part of the growing Ipswich scene, and this new 2,500 square metre site is in a high footfall area, close to Ipswich Town FC's stadium. It is currently the biggest site in this growing independent business’ portfolio, with more openings planned for the future.”
 
Inception Group announces October reopening for The London Gin Club: Inception Group, the London-based group which owns and operates concepts including Cahoots and Mr Fogg’s, will relaunch Soho institution The London Gin Club on Wednesday, 6 October. This follows the signing of a 20-year lease on the site, in Great Chapel Street, in August. Launched in 2012 by Julia Forte and Vicky Fisher, the venue was forced to close due to severe damage caused by Crossrail as it constructed its adjacent Tottenham Court Road Station in 2019. The reopened bar will boast more than 100 “of the world’s finest gins” as well as special gin-tasting experiences, with a rotating selection on offer for guests. Charlie Gilkes, who founded Inception with Duncan Stirling, said: “Julia and Vicky created something very special at The London Gin Club and were ahead of the times, focusing on gin, which has since grown enormously in popularity. It has always been a favourite venue of Duncan's and mine, and we are excited to be continuing their legacy.” Inception Group operates 11 venues across the capital, its latest addition before The London Gin Club being Mr Fogg’s Secret Garden, which launched in Mayfair in May as an outdoor dining space – accessed through a concealed entrance just a few metres from Mr Fogg’s in Bruton Lane. Also in its portfolio is Chelsea nightclub Maggies, which was given a facelift during its year-long forced closure due to covid restrictions.
 
Cru Holdings signs up to real living wage scheme: Cru Holdings has become the latest hospitality group to pledge to pay its staff a “real living wage”. The group, which operates six bars and restaurants across the Highlands, has promised to give all staff with a wage that covers the true cost of living, and exceeding the government’s national living wage. In doing so, it has followed in the footsteps of Scottish independent hotel group Manorview, which also joined the scheme this week. Cru Holdings director Scott Murray said: “The well-being of our staff has always been a top priority, but the last 18 months have really made us look at new ways that we can support our team through unprecedented times. Alongside an average 10% to 15% salary increase across the board, we have added enhanced benefits and guaranteed a maximum working week to ensure everyone has the chance for some much-needed downtime. We know not all businesses are as fortunate as we are in such a volatile time, but our success is thanks to the hard work of all our team – and we’re delighted to be sharing that success with them.” Cru Holdings employs more than 100 staff across its venues in Inverness and Nairn, and its premises include Prime, Bar One, Scotch & Rye, The Angels’ Share and The Keg. In 2019, the group sold the High Spirits in Falkirk, its only venue outside its native Inverness, to Knightsway Inns. Soon after, it bought Nairn bistro The Classroom from Willie and Fiona Lean, who had been running it since 2009 – the same year that Murray founded Cru Holdings.
 
Loyalty platform Embargo raises £830,000: Embargo, the loyalty platform and CRM system for hospitality businesses, has raised $1.1m (£830,000) in its latest funding round. The London-based start-up received cross-sector financial support, with individuals and companies from the hospitality, real estate and sport sectors investing. They include angel investor and founder of DesignMyNight, Nick Telson; founder of ASDA-backed Lean Kitchen Networks, Faraz Nagree; restaurateur Loui Blake; and the founders of HEX Digital. Over the past 12 months the number of coffee shops and restaurants using Embargo has increased by more than 300, reaching more than 800 locations on the platform. Founded in 2017 by Tsewang Wangkang and Frederick Szydlowski, Embargo offers a loyalty app to consumers where they can collect loyalty stamps in their favourite restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Embargo operates in the UK and Poland but also has presence in countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Portugal and Serbia. The business plans to scale up international operations over the coming months. Wangkang said: “The success of our latest funding round, teamed with the strength of cross-sector support we received, marks another exciting milestone for the business. Indeed, we now have the resources to confidently scale up operations, across the UK and beyond.”
 
Two former JD Wetherspoon pubs to go up for auction: Two former JD Wetherspoon pubs are set to go up for auction. The Rhinoceros pub in Rotherham and The Time Piece in Dewsbury are being auctioned as an investment opportunity by Pugh this month with both pubs given a £450,000 guide price. The Rhinoceros is let on a seven-year lease running until 2026, at a rent of £104,000 a year. The Rhinoceros is currently being extended into the neighbouring property at 33a Bridgegate, which is also included in the sale. The redevelopment is set to double the size of the pub to almost 10,000 square foot. The Time Piece is let on a seven-year lease running until 2027 to Pickles Pubs, at a rent of £104,000 a year. The 3,500 square foot pub was sold by Wetherspoon in February 2020 and has been fully refurbished during lockdown, with the addition of a two-bedroom manager’s flat on the building’s second floor. Bidding on both pubs opens on Tuesday (21 September) and closes the following day.
 
Vapiano to reopen Edinburgh site this month: Vapiano, which was acquired last year by the Mario C Bauer-led consortium Love & Food Restaurant Holdings, is to reopen its Edinburgh restaurant this month. The site just off St Andrew’s Square will welcome customers back on Monday, 27 September with an additional 35 jobs being created. The 8,770 square foot space has been refreshed during the lockdowns with a new ordering style introduced – customers scan a QR code to order their food and customise their dish. Click and collect, takeaway and delivery via Deliveroo will also be available. General manager Andrew Meldrum said: “It has obviously been a difficult 18 months but now we are delighted to be back with a new look and concept.” Vapiano also operates four sites in London, plus a restaurant in Manchester.
 
Crest Hotels adds to UK portfolio with purchase of Best-Western-branded property in Tiverton: Privately-owned hotel group Crest Hotels has expanded into Devon after buying the Tiverton Hotel from Rhys Roberts and Claire Heaven-Roberts. Crest already operate a number of hotels across the UK, including the Arnos Manor Hotel in Bristol, Feathers in Ludlow, the Holiday Inn Express Liverpool and Almondsbury Interchange Hotel. Its latest addition was sold on a freehold basis by Christie & Co off a guide price of just over £2.9m just two weeks after coming on to the market. Owners since 1997, Roberts and Heaven-Roberts decided to sell the 69-bedroom venue, which also boasts a bar, restaurant and seven function rooms, in order to retire from hotel ownership. Roberts said: “We are obviously delighted to achieve such a result so quickly, and we know with Crest Hotels, the business will continue to build on a strong legacy and go on to even greater success.”
 
Bao reopens Fitzrovia restaurant: London-based operator Bao, which was founded by Shing Tat Chung, Erchen Chang and Wai Ting Chung, has reopened its Fitzrovia restaurant. Bao closed the doors at its Fitzrovia site in March last year, along with its Soho and Borough Market venues, due to the onset of covid, only a week after announcing plans for a new restaurant in King’s Cross. Chang, the group’s creative director, said: “We’re looking forward to welcoming guests back to Bao Fitzrovia and introducing them to our new menu, where the focus is on deeper Taiwanese flavours. To help us celebrate, our friends from bars across London have created Bao-inspired cocktails using Taiwanese ingredients and flavours to toast the re-opening.” The guest cocktails – from Happiness Forgets, Satan’s Whiskers, Three Sheets and A Bar with Shapes for a Name – will appear on the drinks list for a limited time. In July, Bao launched its sixth site with a noodle shop in Shoreditch, following the delayed opening of its King’s Cross site, Café Bao, in December. Backed by JKS Restaurants, the group opened its first restaurant in April 2015 following a successful period trading at Netil Market in Hackney, while the Fitzrovia site followed a year later.
 
Tequila start-up secures £500,000 investment to develop and market brand, eyes late 2021 launch: Leeds-based drinks start-up Hacien has hit its £500,000 fundraising target to help launch its range of premium crafted tequilas later this year. The investment will be used to cover the day-to-day running of the business, develop the brand, marketing activity and product development and production. Among the investors are Doug Bouton, co-founder of Halo Top ice creams, whose experience includes introducing a lower calorie brand into the ice cream market. He said: “What Hacien aims to do with its range will change the way we think about and drink tequila. When launching Halo Top, we had an ambition to disrupt and improve a saturated market, and that drive is very similar to what Hacien want to do within the spirits sector. I’m excited to see the brand and its range of flavours launch later this year and be part of the business going from strength to strength.” Hacien founders Seb Francis and Jordan Myers saw their opportunity to revolutionise tequila after witnessing the boom in popularity of vodka and gin in recent years. They then honed their range through multiple trips to Mexico and visiting hundreds of distilleries. Francis said: “We’ve spent the last 18 months carefully crafting and developing Hacien so we can launch with a range of drinks that turn people’s perception of tequila on its head. Tequila is incredibly popular in the USA, where it is usually sipped or mixed into cocktails like gin. Now we’ve reached our funding target and have some great investors on board, we’re ready to gear up for the launch of our three products later this year.”
 
White Rabbits Projects’ new Scottish bar and restaurant project to open this month: Chris Miller’s White Rabbits Projects will open its latest venture, The Lawn at Marine North Berwick, on Thursday, 23 September. Headed up by MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist Chris Niven, the restaurant will launch alongside a new bar and afternoon tea lounge, the Bass Rock Bar, as part of the Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners-owned Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts collection. Both venues were developed and will be operated by White Rabbits Projects, whose hospitality portfolio includes Lina Stores, Kricket and Island Poké. Niven, who will oversee the menus for both the restaurant and bar, also recently made it to the finals of the National Chef of the Year competition. Previously executive chef at The Fairmont in St Andrews and The Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh, his first seasonal menu at The Lawn will include lobster fresh off the Seacliff fishing boat, vegetables from Phantassie Organic and meat from Castle Game. Among the treats on his afternoon tea menu will be Cranachan choux buns, while Belhaven smoked salmon with creme fraiche will be available on the Bass Rock Bar’s food menu. Niven said: “I have been championing Scottish produce for 20 years now, so getting to work with the fantastic local suppliers around East Lothian is a really exciting prospect. The menu is being created around the very best ingredients. Dishes will not be complicated; the flavours of the produce will really shine through.”

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