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Thu 30th Sep 2021 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Distefano – this is one of the most difficult times operationally the business has faced: Marcello Distefano, managing director of San Carlo Restaurant Group, the north west-based operator, has told Propel that operationally this is one of the most difficult times the company has faced, and the pressure being put on existing staff and securing new ones has forced the business to pull back on domestic expansion plans. The company was set to launch new concept – Italian brasserie Isola by San Carlo – at London’s St Christopher’s Place, last month, with a new opening under its Cicchetti brand in Knightsbridge set to open next January, but both launch dates have since slipped as the group struggles to hire staff. Distefano said the business had to pull out of taking a site in Edinburgh, so as not to put pressure on its existing workforce. He said: “Operationally this is one of the most difficult times I have known. We could be in for, as an industry, a bumper Christmas, but will we have the staff to take advantage of that? For mid-range to top-range restaurant operators, it is all about giving that standard of hospitality and that comes from your staff. I am hearing of five-star hotels that are closing floors because they don’t have the staff to service them. For us kitchen porters seem to be in particularly short supply. We turned down a site in Edinburgh because we didn’t want to put any more pressure on the teams we already have, let alone trying to find new members of staff. They are under enough pressure. Thankfully we are a family business and unlike some private equity-backed businesses can expand at our own base. At the same time, sales are good, certain areas of the City are not back yet, but elsewhere it is definitely more positive.” Distefano said the company, which is set to open a restaurant at Manchester airport’s new “super terminal” with The Restaurant Group, said that the company was continuing to seek opportunities to expand internationally, with two new franchise sites set to open in Saudi Arabia, two in Qatar, and one in Dubai. San Carlo Restaurant Group currently operates 22 restaurants in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds and Leicester along with Qatar, Riyadh, Bahrain and Bangkok. 
 

Industry News:

Barclays – hospitality and leisure set to pump £3.5bn more into nation’s GDP this year: A new report by Barclays Corporate Banking (BCB) claims hospitality and leisure is thriving once again and could contribute £3.5bn more to the nation’s GDP this year than in 2019. Data from its new Leisure Rediscovered report shows 94% of hospitality and leisure businesses are confident about their growth prospects for this year following a post-lockdown surge in trade. Based on projected sales figures for the period from April to December 2021, this equates to £3.5bn more in gross value added than in the equivalent period in 2019, said the report. It estimates that, if a preference for UK holidays continues at the same rate in 2022, it will add up to £9.2bn to the domestic tourism market. Other findings include increasing trends towards healthier food and beverage offerings and leisure facilities among consumers, as well as preferences for venues with strong safety and hygiene standards. In addition, many businesses are earning more through e-commerce than ever, the lure of localised hospitality remains strong and the pandemic-related delivery boom has not subsided. Mike Saul, head of hospitality and leisure at BCB, said: “Our findings show an industry brimming with confidence and buoyed by surging revenues. However, it is also an industry that is undergoing a substantial amount of change – from the customers it serves to the products it sells. We have uncovered strong evidence that, particularly for younger customers, operators will need to place increased focus on healthy, sustainable and safe product ranges and to maintain investment in data and technology. While the industry is navigating some short-term challenges around supply chains and labour shortages, operators that prioritise these areas will be an incredibly strong position for the long-term.”

Further food legislation could slow hospitality’s recovery, warns UKHospitality: UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has urged the government to delay any further red tape tying up hospitality businesses pouring all their efforts into the post-covid recovery. This week sees “Natasha’s Law”, which requires all food businesses to provide full ingredient labelling on food pre-packed for direct sale, come into force. The new legislation is designed to better protect those with allergies and give them greater confidence in the food they purchase. As UKHospitality highlighted its new guidance to members around Natasha’s Law, Nicholls also urged Downing Street to postpone the introduction of further legislation around calorie labelling to “give businesses time to get back on their feet”. She said: “We recognise transparency around allergens is a key issue and we continue to support the government’s agenda. However, this has been a significant undertaking for some businesses at a critical time during hospitality’s recovery. With new rules on calorie labelling due to come into force, there is a real risk that further legislation will put the brakes on our recovery. We therefore urge the government to consider delaying the implementation of upcoming calorie labelling legislation to give businesses time to get back on their feet and prepare for future food labelling changes in a reasonable timeframe.”
 
Sector labour shortages not helped by industry being ‘well behind the pace’ in tech investment: New research has found 63% of hospitality operators don’t believe their business has invested enough in digitalisation. The Digital Transformation of Hospitality Report 2021, a new study published by Vita Mojo in partnership with Hospitality Mavericks and KAM Media, is based on a survey of more than 4,000 hospitality sites. It urges businesses to act now and use digital transformation to support labour shortages and long-term growth. The findings showed 73% of operators think hospitality is behind other industries in digital transformation, and fewer than 10% believe their current tech systems are fully integrated. Moreover, only 20% think they are getting the most out of their customer data and have a set budget for digital transformation, although 91% plan on increasing their digital spend over the next three years. Katy Moses, founder and managing director of KAM Media, said: “With the endless restrictions placed on the industry during the pandemic, digitalisation in hospitality has been key to its survival. But our research suggests the pace at which the sector is equipping its workforce with new digital skills and investing in tech is way behind where it needs to be. Both operators and customers see hospitality as well behind other industries when it comes to the effective use of technology.” Michael Tingsager, founder of Hospitality Mavericks, added: “A lot of great talent is exiting our industry and we need to look at what we can do to keep them. Technology can be a key part of the solution, and the benefits can be far-reaching. Leaders can equip their teams with better tools to streamline their operations while allowing their staff to re-focus on what’s most important – service delivery.” Hugo Engel digital executive at natural fast food brand Leon, said: “Since January 2020 we have been working closely with Vita Mojo to iteratively develop our kiosk and mobile ordering solution – to create a more scalable restaurant model through increased average transaction value and labour efficiency, and to gather more and richer data on our guest's orders. This allows us to create a more personalised guest experience and continuously improve our offering through data-driven insights. All new Leon restaurants will open with digital ordering and we are currently halfway through rolling out kiosks to our existing estate.” Meanwhile, a separate report by workforce specialists Bizimply and Hospitality Mavericks has highlighted the need for operators to combine investment in technology with a new approach to people management if they are to recruit and retain the best employees and deliver the best customer experience. The From Agile to Fragile: How to Navigate the New Era of Hospitality report found 70% of respondents have rolled out new or updated digital tools, and 59% have implemented new people policies. However, almost three-quarters (72%) either have no formal people strategy, or one only partly developed. This is despite a majority of operators recognising that positive change would transform their business; 49% said they would like to implement more agile working methods and 41% want to give their front-line teams greater decision-making powers. Resistance to change was cited by 34% of respondents, while one-fifth (21%) said their front-line teams lacked the capability to implement change, and a similar number (23%) felt customer-facing staff didn’t understand the 12-month plan for the business. In response to the current staffing shortage, 21% of respondents are taking no additional steps to recruit new employees or retain existing team members. A third (32%) are increasing their training and development, 21% are increasing pay and 10% improving staff benefits. Meanwhile, 11% are looking to change working patterns, such as offering four-day weeks.
 
Brits less happy to order digitally in hospitality venues than last summer, claims study: British consumers are less satisfied with ordering digitally than during Eat Out To Help Out, with people seeking to reclaim the physical contact lost in the pandemic, according to a new survey. The finding is part of the Market Trends Report produced by botanical brewing brand Fentimans and research consultancy CGA, which looks at the major trends predicted for the sector in 2022. Andrew Jackson, marketing director at Fentimans, said: “While a minority of people remain anxious about visiting crowded places, even after easing restrictions, we have started to see a release of the huge pent-up demand for out-of-home experiences.” The report also found 31% of consumers would drink less or no alcohol once venues reopened and 35% are influenced by nutritional information on menus. A third of those surveyed said they would continue to visit local outlets more often post-covid, and one in five vowed to buy local drink brands once they return to venues.
 
Costa trials blockchain technology-powered reusable cup scheme: Costa Coffee, owned by Coca-Cola, has launched a trial of a new blockchain technology-powered reusable cup scheme. Called BURT – which stands for “Borrow, Use, Reuse, Take Back” – it builds on Costa Coffee’s work to improve the sustainability of its cups and packaging by utilising digital technology, seeking to shift consumer behaviour towards reuse. The trial has launched across 14 stores in Glasgow and will last for six months. Costa Coffee will be using the trial to gain feedback from customers and learn about uptake and behaviour towards reusable cups. It will then use its findings to optimise and develop a scheme that will roll out more widely across the UK in phases. To participate in the trial, customers must set up an account to join the BURT scheme by scanning a QR code displayed in one of the participating stores. By making a one-off £5 payment to join the scheme, customers can then scan the QR code on the base of a BURT cup, which links the cup to the customer’s account, via blockchain technology. They can then pay at the till as normal while a barista prepares their drink. Customers then return the cup to a participating Costa Coffee store, where it will be scanned back in by the team, delinked from their account, and hygienically machine-washed in store, ready for the next customer. Customers will be given a new BURT cup with each order. BURT cups also fit with Costa Express machines. The trial is being run in partnership with digital agency, Austella, on its blockchain-powered Valari platform. Neil Lake, managing director, Costa Coffee UK & Ireland, said: “Our customers believe passionately in being able to make choices that help them do their bit to protect the environment. Our priority at Costa Coffee is to provide convenient, effective solutions while continuing to serve great tasting, perfectly crafted coffee. We are excited to be the first national coffee company to be offering a solution like BURT, to further incentivise the uptake of reusable cups in our stores.”
 
BTC – takeaways snubbed by Hospitality Council appointments: The British Takeaway Campaign (BTC) has said it is “deeply disappointed to see the lack of diversity and representation for small businesses” among the new Hospitality Council members. The trade body argued the council membership is “overwhelmingly focused on big, corporate chains, with little regard for the huge variety of cuisines, ethnically diverse entrepreneurs and independent business owners who make up the sector beyond London”. The BTC wrote to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy twice to make the case for small businesses needing greater representation on the council, but ministers and officials failed to reply on both occasions. The BTC added the takeaway sector contributed £7.7bn in value to the UK economy during 2020. Small businesses form the backbone of the industry, with more than 70% of takeaways employing fewer than ten staff. BTC vice-chair Andrew Crook said: “This council is London-centric, big-business focused and seems to have been put together with very little consideration for the hundreds of thousands of hard-working, independent businesses that fought to survive the pandemic and served their communities throughout.” The council is co-chaired by small business minister Paul Scully and hospitality entrepreneur and Prezzo chairwoman Karen Jones, and held its first meeting on Wednesday (29 September). Bosses of Nando’s, brewer and retailer Greene King and Starbucks are among those also appointed to the council.
 
Alfresco dining to continue in more central London areas after consultation: Alfresco dining is to continue in more areas of London's Westminster following a month-long consultation. Westminster City Council said it would continue to allow hospitality businesses to set up alfresco dining areas on some streets within Pimlico, Belgravia and Mayfair following an “overwhelming positive” consultation with residents. More than 80% of residents and businesses in Pimlico backed the extension of temporary outdoor dining measures in Warwick Way, Denbigh Street and Churton Street. Meanwhile, more than 90% of respondents wanted the scheme to continue in Elizabeth Street and Eccleston Street in Belgravia and North Audley Street in Mayfair. The news follows a recent consultation on the Covent Garden and St John’s Wood schemes that saw more than 80% of respondents vote in favour of alfresco measures remaining. Earlier this month the council said the outdoor dining scheme in Henrietta Street, King Street, Maiden Lane and parts of Southampton Street that have proved crucial for hospitality businesses will remain. A scheme in St John’s Wood will also be extended. The future of Soho’s outdoor dining scene will be dependent on the outcome of a consultation with residents and local businesses. Matthew Green, Westminster City Council cabinet member for business, licensing and planning, said: “It's no exaggeration to say outdoor dining has saved many businesses from closure – creating more than 17,000 additional covers across Westminster. We've always said we'll only continue alfresco in areas of the city where there is resident support.”
 

Company News: 

Matt Grech-Smith – it’s ‘like Christmas’ at the moment, as Swingers reports sales boost: Matt Grech-Smith co-founder and chief executive of mini-golf competitive socialising concept Swingers, had compared the current climate to the Christmas rush, with sales up on 2019. Grech-Smith, who last month unveiled plans for a third US site – and fifth in total – was speaking on the Experiential Leisure in Casual Dining panel at Casual Dining 2021. “We’ve obviously had a bumpy year or two of open-close, open-close, and making sense of the restrictions, but in London we’re trading great guns,” he said. “We’ve slightly ramped up the days we’re open to six days a week, but even when we were at five, we were doing more revenue than we were in the same week in 2019. That was without corporate sales too, so it’s storming along – we’ve got this kind of Christmas-like energy.” With a debut US site in Washington DC to be followed by another in the same city and one in New York, Swingers is a growing presence stateside, but that has brought its own challenges, according to Grech-Smith. He said: “We’re open in DC now, had a really strong launch and hit the ground running – almost too hard as there was so much demand for tickets. What’s been interesting is a mask mandate was brought in there about six weeks after we opened, and I thought mistakenly people would just carry on the same as always but wear masks as they moved around the venue. What actually happened was we had a raft of corporate business fall away immediately. It was somewhat mitigated because individuals were still happy to go out, and confidence in corporate is now starting to come back, but it was the localised changes and mandates that had a big impact.” With two London sites too, the US openings will almost double the Swingers portfolio – and while Grech-Smith is not looking much beyond that for now, he is increasingly studying the role tech can play in the development of his business. He added. “We always created our golf by analogue and rooted it in that very traditional experience, but there’s lots of ways now to make a guests’ experience better, and the pandemic kind of hastened that along a bit. Suddenly people couldn’t get up and order, so we had to facilitate that through apps – so whether it’s that or through 3D photo podiums, it’s about the guests’ experience and making it flow better. I don’t think there’s anyone not embracing tech in some ways these days, but it’s about the sum of the parts and delivering a good product on a number of fronts. We’re always looking to evolve the business and looking at new sites, but we’ve always made an effort to not become a sports bar and get too boring with it. Before you know it the bar’s full of guys taking their swing a bit too seriously, so we want to walk that middle line and be accessible to everyone.”
 
EG Group builds Leon openings pipeline: Natural fast food brand Leon, which was acquired by forecourt and roadside operator EG Group earlier this year in a circa £100m deal, has lined up a further four new openings. The business, which next month will open a site in London’s Kings Road, is understood to have also lined up openings in Beaconsfield, Camden, Dartford and Milton Keynes Intu. It is understood proposals have also been put forward for a drive-thru site under the brand at the Holt Road services, near Wrexham. Last month, EG Group said Leon’s performance had been “pleasing” during its latest quarter and it plans to open in the region of ten locations by the end of 2021. Leon said the Kings Road restaurant would be the first of “many new openings”, including its recently announced debut drive-thru, in Gildersome, Leeds. EG Group was founded by the billionaire Issa brothers in 2001.
 
Westbourne Leisure reports full-year turnover down 35.7% as result of pandemic, sells three sites: West Midlands-based pub, restaurant and hotel operator Westbourne Leisure has reported turnover fell 35.7% to £13.1m for the year ending 30 September 2020, compared with £20.4m the year before. Pre-tax profit rose to £8.5m, compared with £3.2m the previous year, after the company sold three sites for a total of £6.8m. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “During the year, the company continued its successful expansion into the hotel sector and is looking to expand its presence in this market still further over the coming years. Following the impact of the covid-19 global pandemic within the UK, the directors believe the company is very well positioned to see through and overcome this situation with the full opening up of the leisure industry having occurred on 19 July 2021. The company will continue socially distanced operations in the short term and looks forward to fully reopening and operating restriction free in the foreseeable future.” An interim dividend of £13.42 per share was paid on 31 March 2020. The directors recommend no final dividend be paid. The business was established in the 1970s when Pat and Mary Owens bought their first pub.
Westbourne Leisure features in Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is updated monthly for Premium subscribers. Westbourne Leisure has turned over an average of £17.6m in the past five years. The Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, provides a five-year overview of turnover and profit, ranks the 410 companies according to turnover, pre-tax profit and profit conversion. It also provides details of directors’ earnings and highest paid directors. 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.
 
Din Thai Fung to open site in London Selfridges: Taiwanese dim sum brand Din Tai Fung is to open a new site in central London, in Selfridges, Propel understands. The brand, which operates more than 160 restaurants worldwide, is believed to be taking over the space previously occupied by The Selfridges Kitchen on the department store’s fourth floor. Din Tai Fung made its UK debut in Covent Garden at the end of 2018. The company agreed a rent of £1.2m a year for a 9,000 square foot, 250-cover, unit in Henrietta Street arranged over ground floor and basement. The company had previously lined up an opening at London’s Centre Point scheme.
 
Popeyes UK eyes Croydon opening: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, the US fried chicken quick-service restaurant brand, is eyeing an opening in Croydon, Propel understands. Popeyes, which Propel revealed last week will make its debut in the UK, at Westfield Stratford, is believed to be in talks to take a site opposite fellow US brand Wendy’s, in Croydon’s George Street. Wendy’s is currently fitting out its site in Croydon, for an opening before the end of this year. Popeyes, which is led in the UK by Tom Crowley, has secured the former KFC site in Westfield Stratford’s food court for an opening in November. Crowley said: “All our locations will be carefully chosen, in communities that echo the Louisianan spirit synonymous with Popeyes. We’re looking forward to unveiling our next sites in due course, and revealing more about our expansion into new locations in 2022 and beyond. The pandemic has accelerated changing consumer habits, and this has closely informed our UK real estate strategy. Experiential retail and customer convenience will be key to the recovery of bricks and mortar post-covid, which is why we’re making in-store experiences and drive-throughs a central part of our UK rollout.” The brand, which currently operates circa 3,400 restaurants over 25 countries, announced plans in April to enter the UK this year, with the goal of opening 350 new restaurants in Britain over the next ten years. 
 
Waterloo Tea opens fifth site as it strengthens Cardiff presence: Wales-based independent tea operator Waterloo Tea has opened its fourth Cardiff site – and fifth in total. The company has opened the outlet in Whitchurch Road. Waterloo Tea works directly with growers in India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Taiwan to source its tea and coffee, which is accompanied by a chef-led menu of fresh food prepared in-house. The opening coincides with the launch of a new autumn menu across all sites, with a range of dishes featuring tea as a key ingredient; from the beans on toast with a smoked tea infused tomato sauce, to the Welsh Rarebit with leeks, smoked cheese and Yunnan tea. Waterloo Tea founder Kasim Ali said: “Whitchurch Road does seem as if it’s on the cusp of being a high street that mirrors the needs of its local residents so we are thrilled to be joining the eclectic mix of independent businesses that have already made it such a great place to be.” Waterloo Tea not only supplies its own bricks and mortar venues across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, but also has a growing wholesale operation that extends through the UK and Europe.
 
Z Hotels considers £450m sale: Z Hotels, one of the largest hotel operators in central London, has instructed agents to sell the business for close to £450m. Sky News reported Z Hotels, which opened its newest site in The Strand earlier this month, has hired Knight Frank and Avison Young to run an auction of the decade-old group. The company operates 11 sites in the capital, including prime locations in Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Shoreditch, Soho and Victoria. It also trades from hotels in Bath, Glasgow and Liverpool. The timing of the sale means it will inevitably be seen as offering a glimpse into investors' attitudes toward the sector amid booming demand for staycations but continuing uncertainty about the recovery of the central London economy. The process is said to be opportunistic – rather than distressed – following a number of unsolicited approaches for the business. A spokeswoman for Z Hotels declined to comment.
 
Frankie & Benny’s to pay three students’ annual tuition fees and give them apprenticeship qualification: Frankie & Benny’s, The Restaurant Group (TRG)-owned brand, has launched a competition that will see it pay three students’ tuition fees for a year, as well as giving them a year’s free food and a TRG apprenticeship qualification. The winners will have their annual university fees – up to £9,250 – covered by the Italian-American restaurant, as well as getting free Frankie & Benny’s for 12 months. And once they have finished their degree, a guaranteed a job in the shape of a TRG scholarship awaits each winner. The competition is under way already and runs for four weeks, and to enter, students must post a picture of themselves enjoying a Frankie & Benny’s meal or takeaway on Instagram. Jon Knight, managing director of TRG’s leisure and concessions business, said: “After the past 18 months that we have all been through, we couldn’t think of anything more rewarding than supporting a handful of young budding students get the start in life they so deserve. It’s incredible to be in a position to be able to give a handful of students this huge opportunity.” Students can currently enjoy 20% off at all Frankie & Benny’s restaurants all year round.
 
Dalata planning 11 new hotels and looking to create almost 600 jobs: Irish hotel group Dalata, which has a growing UK presence, says it has 11 new projects in the pipeline as it looks to expand its estate of 45 hotels across Britain and Ireland. The company also hopes these new sites, along with expansion at its existing ones, will create an estimated 595 jobs. This comes at a time when Dalata is celebrating delivering 150,000 training courses to its employees over the last 18 months, despite the lockdowns. Dermot Crowley, Dalata chief executive officer designate, said: “Career progression and training is in our DNA at Dalata. We decided early in the pandemic that we needed to retain and protect our core teams, and those teams have been critical in the smooth reopening of our hotels to all guests over the last four months. It was fantastic to see the uptake in our academy development programme, online courses and remote training over the last 18 months, with many of our staff upskilling and continuing their learning with Dalata despite our hotels being closed. We are committed to taking care of all our people and providing exciting career opportunities as well. We have opportunities across a range of disciplines across our portfolio in Ireland and the UK.” The new positions come as the group reported a strong performance over the summer months and current encouraging occupancy levels. In July, Dalata said its Birmingham hotel, expected to open in 2024, had been scrapped due to developer issues, but all other projects remain on track.
 
Rick Stein Restaurants opens online fish shop: Rick Stein Restaurants has opened an online fish shop; making seasonal and sustainably caught fish and shellfish available across the UK. Customers can browse the virtual fish counter and produce is packed in icepacks, boxed and delivered chilled. Recipes and short “how-to” videos accompany all fish and shellfish ordered. Stein said: “I know that even the keenest cook can find the prospect of preparing and cooking fish at home a little daunting. We want to help allay these fears, with practical advice, step-by-step techniques and recipes to go alongside some of the finest, freshest fish available. Over the years I’ve worked and come to know many of the fishermen around the Cornish coast. I am proud to be able to support their trade in bringing it online for people up and down the country to enjoy.”

Deliveroo rebrands corporate arm, reports 165% GTV growth and launches new service: Deliveroo has rebranded its corporate arm Deliveroo for Work after hitting the 20,000-mark for clients globally. This comes as the newly named division of the food delivery service reported growth of 165% in gross transaction value in the second quarter of the year. In addition, Deliveroo for Work is launching a new service, Plus for Work, to enable companies to offer employees unlimited free delivery on personal Deliveroo orders. They can also use it to reward employees with perks such as e-gift cards and team lunches, both virtually and in person. Juan Diego Farah, global head of Deliveroo for Work, said: “We’re excited for the next phase of growth for Deliveroo for Work as we continue to fully cater for our clients’ food and beverage needs, be that bringing teams together over a meal, hosting catered events or offering employee perks. We see ourselves playing an important role in helping businesses bring their teams together as flexible working becomes all-the-more normal.” Founded in 2013 by William Shu and Greg Orlowski, Deliveroo operates in almost 800 towns and cities across 12 markets – Australia, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, UAE, Kuwait and the UK. In July, Deliveroo reported it was trading ahead of expectations as UK and Ireland orders increased 94% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2021.
 
Mojo to open sixth site, in Sheffield next month: Bar group Mojo will open its sixth site, in Sheffield next month. Located in the former National Union of Mineworkers building in Holly Street, the venue will launch on Friday, 15 October. Set over two floors, the 4,400 square foot premises will provide 350 covers with additional seating on the ground floor and first floor terrace. Mojo is hosting a “conscience bar” until midnight on the opening day. This is a “pay as you feel” bar, with all of the takings being donated to the Parents Association of Children with Tumours and Leukaemia. A live tracker will be displayed on screens throughout the night so guests can see the total amount raised. Last month Mojo reported like-for-like sales were up 70% on 2019 levels. The business launched in Leeds in 1996 and now also has bars in Harrogate, Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool.
 
Bob & Berts set to open site in Preston next month: Northern Ireland-based coffee company Bob & Berts will open its second English site next month, in Preston. The company, founded in Portstewart in 2013 by Colin McClean, is opening the outlet in a vacant unit in Fishergate. It will add to its debut site in England, which opened in nearby Lancaster in May while a site in Kendal is also in the pipeline. A Bob & Berts spokesman told Lancashire Live: “When we're location scouting we're looking for places that are going in the right direction. With Preston, we were really impressed – you could tell it has a bit of life about it and it has a really strong high street.” Bob & Berts, which is backed by BGF and employs more than 400 staff, also operates 14 sites in Northern Ireland and five in Scotland. The company is chaired by former Tragus Group chief financial officer Mohan Mansigani.
 
£60m inland surfing lagoon gets go-ahead: McKinney Group has received the green light for its multimillion-pound plans to bring the north west's first inland surfing lagoon to TraffordCity. The proposals involve the transformation of the former container-base site into a “world-class” surfing lagoon for Greater Manchester. This would be within a “well-designed and safe cove environment” that is accessible to people of all ages and abilities. The £60m scheme will be located on Peel L&P’s brownfield site off Barton Dock Road in Trafford Park. It will be the first inland surfing facility to open in the north west and is earmarked to be open by 2023. Alongside the surf lake will be space for a cafe/restaurant terrace, pop-up beach bars, surf shop, and changing facilities all within an interactive environment. This would include everything from pump track and fitness zone to a halfpipe/boarding area, and exercise, bouldering and balancing zones. 
 
Edinburgh pantry owners branch out with ‘Brooklyn-inspired’ sandwich shop: Chris and Charlotte Thompson, owners of The Pantry in Edinburgh’s North West Circus Place, have opened a second outlet in the Scottish capital. Their latest venture, the Earls Sandwich Co, offers sit-in space at its Raeburn Place site or sandwiches to take away. Sandwiches include the Corriewurst, a coronation chicken and currywurst hybrid; and the McLovin’ It, which features a black pudding sausage, fried egg, hash brown and jalapeño cheese topped with thousand island mayo. Customers can also buy craft beer among other drinks. Manager Kieran McGuckian said: “We set out to create a neighbourhood eatery that’s all about excellent food in a relaxed and welcoming environment. Earls is a place where our customers can listen to great music, enjoy delicious drinks and get stuck into a class sandwich with their pals.”
 
Hotel platform founded by Travelodge landlord in partnership with Accor acquires freeholds of two Ibis properties in South Wales: AGO Hotels, the hotel platform founded last year by Travelodge landlord Viv Watts in partnership with Accor, has expanded its portfolio with the acquisition of two Ibis hotels in South Wales. AGO has acquired the freehold interest in the 99-bedroom Ibis hotel in Swansea and a 104 bedroom Ibis budget hotel in Newport. Both hotels will continue to trade under their current brands following their acquisition, the value of which has not been disclosed. The latest additions will bring the number of hotels leased and operated by AGO to 12 in the UK, adding to those in Burton-upon-Trent, Bromley, Lancaster, Stansted, Portishead, Bromsgrove, Dundee, Peterhead and Glasgow. AGO said the expansion comes with a resurgence of the hotel sector, with the return of business travel and rising demand for UK staycations. AGO said it experienced a 29.5% increase in occupancy across its English and Scottish hotels in July and a further month-on-month rise of 17% in August. Watts said: “We are continuing to see widespread interest in AGO’s hybrid lease structure, which benefits landlords both in valuation and yield terms, and we are looking forward to growing into new communities and engaging new asset owners with our distinctive offer of downside protection and genuine profit participation, having paid rents in full throughout the lockdown.”
 
Independent coffee company opens first permanent premises: Wales-based mobile coffee and catering company Handlebar Barista has opened its debut permanent site, at Barry railway station, following a £3.5m revamp of the station’s buildings by Transport for Wales (TfW). Handlebar Barista has moved into one of the main buildings on platform one as part of TfW’s scheme to bring under-used or disused spaces at stations across Wales back into social and commercial use. Handlebar Barista has always been associated with railway stations, having started with a trike serving coffee outside Cardiff Central in 2015. It also previously transformed an old ticket booth at Taff’s Well station into a serving hatch and hope to reopen that this year too. Owner Chris Garrett said: “It’s taken a while because of the pandemic, but we’re pleased to finally be in. It’s our first permanent location, and it’s nice to have a place we can all our own and get creative with.” James Timber, social commercial development manager at TfW, added: “We’re delighted to have the Handlebar Barista team in Barry station serving the local community, and are really looking forward to seeing how it develops the space. This is part of our wider social and commercial development plan which will see buildings at stations across Wales transformed for the benefit of the local community.”

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