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Fri 1st Oct 2021 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Trade bodies call for permanent lower VAT rate of 12.5% to avoid derailing sector’s recovery: Sector trade bodies have joined forces to call on chancellor Rishi Sunak to introduce a permanent lower rate of VAT for the hospitality and tourism industries, helping to safeguard their future, protect jobs and to accelerate the UK’s economic recovery. Under Treasury plans, hospitality and tourism VAT rises to 12.5% from today (Friday, 1 October) and will return to its pre-pandemic level of 20% come April 2022, just as next year’s peak season begins for much of the sector. Now the trade bodies – UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association, the British Institute of Innkeeping, Tourism Alliance and the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions – are warning that unless VAT remains permanently low at 12.5%, the government risks derailing the recovery at a time when businesses are still in survival mode. If VAT on tourism and hospitality were to remain at 12.5%, analysis suggests it would increase business turnover by an average of 8.8% and boost business investment by an average of 12%. A survey of the trade associations’ members covering 815 businesses operating tens of thousands of venues found the reduced rate of VAT has been vital to businesses, with more than three-quarters (77%) stating it is important or crucial to viability. Businesses will use the current reduced VAT rate for an array of productive purposes, including six in ten who will invest in their businesses; keeping prices more affordable for customers; along with paying suppliers and creditors Similarly, if the reduced rate were to continue to apply beyond April 2022, 70% would use the saved costs to maintain business investment. Returning VAT back to 20% in April 2022 would have serious consequences; six in ten businesses said it would likely lead to cutbacks and job losses; with one in ten saying it could cause their business to close. The rise would also risk triggering price increases for consumers In a joint statement, the trade bodies said: “Businesses are at a perilous stage of their recovery after what’s been a devastating 18 months. Costs are increasing and there are numerous operational challenges for them to deal with, specifically around labour and product supply. A reduction in VAT has helped many of our businesses survive to this point and was most welcome. However, the return of VAT to its pre-pandemic level next year would curtail investment, restrict growth, set back our tourism recovery and risk yet more painful job losses. We’re now calling on the chancellor to commit to introducing a permanent 12.5% rate of VAT in his upcoming Budget, later this month. This will help protect jobs and continue the support for our hospitality and tourism businesses which contribute hugely to the nation’s economic and social well-being.”
 

Industry News:

Updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies released today at midday, 71 companies being added: A total of 71 new multi-site companies, operating 412 sites, have been added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-site Companies, which will be released today (Friday, 1 October), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, includes international growth concepts making their UK debut, expanding vegan brands, regional coffee operators and a number of brands growing through franchise. Premium subscribers will also receive a 6,100-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. 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. In this week’s Premium Opinion column, which will be sent to subscribers on Friday (1 October) at 5pm, Phil Eeles, co-founder of Honest Burgers talks about “shaking the tree” of the whole business in an attempt to not become a chain, while Mark Wingett looks back at the key issues of the week. 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. To subscribe, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com
 
Propel Friday Wrap video series continues with Clive Watson and Toby Smith: Propel continues its new Friday Wrap video series on Friday (1 October) at 3pm. The series, which is sponsored by innovative staffing solution provider Stint, sees Mark Stretton, former sector journalist and now head of sector PR firm Fleet Street Communications, and Propel’s insights editor Mark Wingett discussing this week’s key issues facing the UK’s hospitality sector, with a leading sector operator or expert. This week they are joined by Clive Watson and Toby Smith, chairman and chief operating officer, respectively, of City Pub Group, to discuss the inflationary pressures impacting the sector, its growth strategy, the benefit of being a plc and how Christmas is shaping up. 

King – government’s inability to introduce framework for private debt disputes to blame for frayed sector relationships: Relationships between suppliers and customers as well as landlords and tenants have been left frayed thanks to the government’s “bumbling along approach to strategy”, according to Dermot King, chief executive of Oakman Inns. King urged the government to use a framework similar to the furlough scheme – where employees were paid 80% of their pay up to certain limits – to help settle private debt disputes caused by lockdown and get the economy back to work. Writing in inews, King said: “Whereas a framework has been created for certain debts, such as those owing to HM Revenue & Customs, private debt has been left to parties to sort out themselves. The only government support has been in the form of a rent moratorium, so that landlords can’t lock tenants out. This has been extended further to next March but only serves to protect the weakest businesses because the moratorium only deals with when the rent liability can be enforced rather than the amount. In the absence of a framework, we get the worst examples of irresponsible capitalism. On one hand large tenant businesses deliberately use the courts to pressurise landlords into taking huge discounts on rents due to them through company voluntary arrangements, while on the other landlords insist in the letter of the agreement despite their tenant being unable to operate through no fault of their own. Of course, many landlords, lenders, and suppliers have shared the cost of lockdown with affected businesses, but the courts will be required to sort the mess left behind by those who have not. A framework similar to the furlough scheme, where employees were paid 80% of their pay up to certain limits, would help settle disputes caused by lockdown and get the economy back to work. Without guidance, we will see a huge backlog of cases building up in the court system as there are not enough judges. Of course, Boris’s solution will be to pay them more.”

Hospitality operators alerted to possible lamb shortages and urged to use alternatives: Butchers Birtwistles has warned of anticipated lamb shortages in the new year and advised alternatives should be used where possible. The caution was sounded in the company’s Market Report for October, under the heading of products under pressure or soon to be not available. It said lamb rumps, cannons, racks and shoulders are all in short supply, with no new arrivals expected before January 2022. “Please be mindful when planning autumn/winter menus and look at alternatives where possible,” the report stated. It went on to confirm concerns over turkey shortages this Christmas, saying operators should, to guarantee availability, look at securing a frozen option. The report stated: “Any UK turkey shortages hopefully can be filled by products imported from Europe, but with uncertainty around pricing still unclear as EU producers want to see how this plays out in the next six weeks.” The lack of turkeys on the market is also expected to put upward pressure on beef ribs and fillets, while the average steer price is now trending 11% higher compared with this time last year. In terms of cattle prices, the GB all prime average increased 0.5p, to 410.1p per kilogramme, in the week ending 18 September, and compared with year earlier levels, currently stands 42p higher. Global cattle prices have continued to rise over the last few weeks too. A backlog in pigs on farms due to labour and carbon dioxide shortages is affecting pork production, and although poultry availability from the EU has improved, shortages on all lines in the UK are expected to continue. “Please be prepared and continue to be flexible where possible as substitutions/shortages will inevitably arise,” the report concluded.
 
Pitcher – an 8% to 10% price increase is very likely across the hospitality industry: Revolution Bars Group chief executive Rob Pitcher has said an 8% to 10% price increase is very likely across the hospitality industry as it looks to absorb rising input costs. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Pitcher also said the timing of the increase in the rate of VAT was “unhelpful” as “we are still very much an industry in the recovery phase”. Pitcher said: “I think we need all the support we can get from the government and not that we want to be badgering it but the lower rate of VAT was very helpful in getting some of these businesses back on their feet and trading. We are not through the worst of it yet as far as the debt mountain is concerned. Ultimately this (the lower rate of VAT) was put in as part of the package to support the industry and normally a lot of that would’ve been passed on to the consumer but it was used to help us to get through and the industry get through. So, the reality is, this is going to push up pricing. Personally, we are going to have to wait a few weeks because input costs across various product inputs, including labour shortages etc, are driving up. So, we are going to access that over the next four to six weeks, but we will then be moving prices. If the VAT rate moves in March as planned back to 20% then that will have to happen again, so the consumer is going to end up paying twice. An 8% to 10% price increase is very likely across the hospitality industry. Probably 99% of these businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises and they still potentially have rent debts to pay etc. They are not going to be able to afford to suddenly take this extra cost on, so it is going to have to be passed on to the consumer.” 
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking for an area manager to join an established burger brand. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “This is about getting in with your teams to drive performance, mentor and help to build an amazing customer experience. You will take full financial accountability for your area and will be expected to maximise sales performance of your sites. The hiring company is looking for a passionate individual who is already at area or operations management level in branded restaurants and has a good understanding of P&L management. The position is coving an area between Basingstoke and Brighton and is paying between £45,000 and £55,000 depending on experience.” Anyone interested can send their CV to kate@corecruitment.com
 

Company News: 

Benugo back to profitability after ‘strong’ summer, sees full-year turnover drop more than 70%: Benugo, the operator of deli cafes and catering in high-profile venues such as the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, is now back to profitability after “strong” summer sales. It comes after the business saw turnover drop more than 70% in 2020 as its operations were severely curtailed by the pandemic. The company reported revenue of £33.7m for the year ending 30 December 2020, compared with £121.1m the previous year. Benugo saw a pre-tax loss of £10.6m, which included exceptional items of £2.4m, including redundancy costs of £1.8m, compared with a profit of £4.5m the year before. Benugo managing director Matthew Thompson told Propel: “In a post-lockdown market, we are back to experiencing very high demand. As a result of an incredibly busy summer with strong sales, August saw our business bounce back to more than 50% of 2019 levels, all despite the lack of overseas visitors, which many of our venues depend upon. Benugo is now back to positive profitability and during the past year has won many new and exciting contracts.” In the accounts, the company stated: “As a direct consequence of the covid-19 global pandemic and government response measures, the majority of our locations were either unable to trade for large parts of the 2020 trading year or saw trade materially impacted by public health restrictions. Wherever possible the business utilised the various UK job support schemes, thereby preserving as many jobs as possible. Claims of £16m were passed on to our employees and £1.7m of external advisory fees paid across the [parent company] WSH Group to ensure full compliance with scheme rules. Nevertheless, and disappointingly there was still a need to rapidly right size the business as a direct consequence of the pandemic's impact on revenue, resulting in the departure of many colleagues.” At the end of the period, net assets stood at £26.5m compared with £35.4m the year before. Cash and cash equivalent was down to £1.5m from £6.7m the previous year. The company reported a total of £8.8m in tax borne or collected by Benugo, compared with £24.3m the previous year.
 
Wasabi increases pay across its stores, appoints new people director: Wasabi, the sushi and bento chain led by Henry Birts and backed by Capdesia, is to increase its team member pay by 5% to £9.35 per hour from October, Propel has learned. Meanwhile, the 43-strong business is also increasing its team leader pay by 12%. The pay increases come as the group appointed Becky Baker as its new people director, a role which she will take up in the new year. Baker moves from Travelodge where she is currently director of talent and people proposition. Birts said: “I'm delighted Becky will be joining our team to lead the people agenda. She has an excellent track record and depth of experience having held key transformational HR roles across the hospitality, retail and telecoms sectors. Our people agenda is at the heart of our ongoing success and we constantly strive to make Wasabi a great place for our teams to grow, develop and build fulfilling careers. This is the final appointment within the new Wasabi leadership team, giving us a strong platform to grow the business and continue to invest in our people. We know the last 18 months have been extremely challenging but it's been humbling to see how the Wasabi family have supported each other as well as supporting our communities and the NHS. Our branches are now all open so it's time to show some appreciation to our hard-working teams by increasing their pay across the board.” In May, Propel revealed Wasabi had appointed Tom Sugarman, formerly of Pret A Manger, as its new operations director, and Sam Bourke, formerly of ETM Group and The Restaurant Group, as its new marketing director.
Wasabi features in Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is updated monthly for Premium subscribers. Wasabi has turned over an average of £89.8m 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.
 
RedCat acquires pair of Essex-based pubs from BII Licensee of the Year winner: RedCat Pub Company, the new investment vehicle from ex-Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand, has continued to add to its growing portfolio, with the acquisition of a pair of Essex-based pubs, Propel has learned. The company has acquired the Five Bells in Colne Engaine and The Lion in Earl’s Colne from Caroline and Darran Lingley, who was the British Institute of Innkeeping’s Licensee of the Year winner in 2011. The Five Bells is a pub and restaurant that overlooks the Colne Valley on the Essex and Suffolk border. Earlier this week, Propel revealed RedCat had acquired seven sites from Dominion Hospitality, which owns and operates hotels and pubs in the south of England under its Relax and Historic Innz brands, for an undisclosed sum. RedCat was founded earlier this year by Anand to invest in the UK pub sector and is backed by US investment firm Oaktree Capital. Oaktree is thought to have injected £200m into RedCat, which is led by Chris Hill, the former chief executive of New World Trading Company. RedCat has built up an estate of circa 75 sites since its inception, including the 42-strong package of pubs that were originally placed on the market to address competition concerns surrounding Stonegate Pub Company’s £3bn acquisition of Ei Group; the 18-strong Coaching Inn Group; four pubs from the award-winning Knead Group; the five-strong, Leicestershire-based Little Britain Pub Company; and a number of single-site transactions, including the recent acquisition of the New Dungeon Ghyll pub hotel in the Lake District.
 
JW Lees profitable again and set to open new pub in the spring: Manchester-based brewer and retailer JW Lees has said it is profitable once more after making a loss of £4.8m for the year to 31 March 2021. Publishing its latest accounts, the company reported its turnover was down 78% to just £21.3m, which followed a profit of £1m in 2020 and £6.8m in 2019. However, the company became profitable again in June and will even open its first new-build pub for some time, The Aviator in Woodford Garden Village, south Manchester, in the spring. Managing director William Lees-Jones said: “It has been the most challenging year in our 193-year history, but JW Lees has survived and is now profitable again. Trading has been most encouraging since reopening in April 2021, with the company trading profitably again from June 2021. However, we remain vigilant about the oncoming challenges that the sector is facing this winter. We hope we will be able to start to grow our company again in the spring of 2022, but we will continue to remain cautious owing to concerns regarding covid-19, Brexit, inflation and the shortages of skilled labour and raw materials.” The company also says it benefited from £20m worth of government support during the pandemic, but in turn charged no rent to its pub partners while they were forced to close. 
 
Cricket-based concept Sixes eyes Birmingham site: Sixes, the cricket-based competitive socialising concept from the founders of Mac & Wild, is planning to open a site in Birmingham. Propel understands Sixes, which opened its third site last month, in Manchester, is looking to take on the former Café Rouge in the city’s Mailbox scheme. At the end of last month, founders Calum Mackinnon and Andy Waugh opened the concept’s first site outside London at Manchester’s the Corn Exchange. As previously revealed by Propel, Sixes is backed by a number of former professional cricket players, including ex-England captain Sir Andrew Strauss. It runs two sites in London already – in Fulham and Fitzrovia. Sixes is also in talks on a site in Oxford, believed to be at the Westgate scheme. Will Biggart, of Torridon, acts for Sixes.
 
Lucky Onion founders join Cubitt House board: Sam and Georgie Pearman, founders of The Lucky Onion Group, have joined the board of London gastropub operator Cubitt House, Propel has learned. It is understood the Pearmans, who ran Lucky Onion for ten years, are set to advise on the next stage of the six-strong Cubitt House’s development. As Propel revealed earlier this year, this will include the opening of its seventh site in the capital, on the former Pomona’s bar and restaurant site in Hereford Road in Notting Hill. It is thought the company, which is backed by a consortium of private investors led by Manjit Dale, founding partner of TDR Capital, is planning more new openings next year. It is also set to carry out a refurbishment programme on its existing estate, which includes The Alfred Tennyson and Thomas Cubitt. It is understood the Pearmans involvement in Cubitt House is separate from their Country Creatures venture, which specialises in “creating restaurants, inns and hotels that focus on great British hospitality”. The venture launched its biggest opening so far – The Double Red Duke in the Oxfordshire village of Clandon, earlier this year. It joined Country Creatures’ two other sites – The Chequers in Churchill, and The Swan, in Ascott-under-Wychwood. Propel revealed at the start of September that Vanessa Hall, the former Vapiano, YO! and Mitchells & Butlers executive, had stepped down as chair of Cubitt House, after four and a half years in the role.
 
Simmons Bars takes on former Silk & Grain site in Cornhill as expansion continues: Simmons Bars, the London-based, Lonsdale Capital Partners-backed cocktail bar operator, has taken on the lease of former award-winning steak and cocktail restaurant Silk & Grain in Cornhill. Established in 2013 in Kings Cross, Simmons currently has a portfolio of 15 locations and is also looking to open sites in Bank, Brick Lane, Putney, Tottenham Court Road and Old Street in the coming months. Earlier this summer, the group expressed its ambitions to expand to 30 sites over the next two years. Nick Campbell, Simmons’ founder and chief executive, said: “We are delighted to take on a new site in such prime location and in time for what we hope is a vibrant and busy Christmas period.” AG&G acted for the tenant, while Fleurets’ divisional director Andy Frisby acted on behalf of landlord Habro.
 
West Midlands-based operator Tiere Group eyes ten-strong estate after taking on second pub: West Midlands-based operator Tiere Group is looking to build a ten-strong estate after taking on a pub in Shirley. The company has acquired the lease of The Red Lion, its second pub with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars. The pub closes from Monday (4 October) for a joint £350,000 revamp, which will complete in early December, creating 30 jobs. The pub will be renamed The Lion to signal its new direction with a little-used concrete courtyard behind the property becoming a 32-seater alfresco space. A new kitchen will enable Tiere Group to extend the food offer. All meals will be made from scratch using ingredients sourced from nearby farms and suppliers. Dishes will focus on street food such as burgers, ribs and wings. The Lion’s games room will be overhauled, and will provide space for functions as well. It will have its own bar and will be kitted out with pool, darts and screens. Tiere Group also lease The Bulls Head in Barston, a village pub with boutique rooms. Co-founder Nick Johnson said: “We’re keen to develop the partnership with Star and build up a group of ten leased pubs with it in the area south of Birmingham. The Bulls Head and The Lion are very different pubs but will have a similar feel and share the same ethos, systems and focus on quality.” Star Pubs & Bars area manager Jacqueline Frow added: “Tiere Group has done a brilliant job of turning round The Bulls Head and has increased sales fivefold despite the pandemic. We’re delighted to be backing it with its exciting plans for The Lion.” The refurbishment of The Lion is part of Star Pubs & Bars’ 2021 £38m investment programme, which includes 80 major pub makeovers.
 
Pizza Pilgrims to partner with Selfridges to open new site focused on sustainability: Pizza Pilgrims, the London-based sourdough pizzeria brand founded by brothers James and Thom Elliott, is to open a site focused on sustainability in partnership with Selfridges London. The new site will open on the department store’s fourth floor and is expected to welcome customers before Christmas. It is expected the site will be Pizza Pilgrims’ only one to focus on using UK produce, including wheat grown on the roof of the Oxford Street-based store. It will also feature tapped beer from the south London-based Gipsy Hill Brewery. Last year, the Imbiba-backed pizza brand announced a new partnership with hydroponic farming company Harvest London, which sees the restaurant business source ingredients with a new, sustainably focused approach. Pizza Pilgrims now sources all of its basil exclusively from Harvest London, which has created a bespoke unit dedicated to growing the herb in its eco-friendly, vertical farm in Leyton. Pizza Pilgrims recently opened its first permanent site for its New York City-influenced concept Slice by Pizza Pilgrims, in Finsbury Park. It followed a successful pop-up on London’s Southbank. Pizza Pilgrims currently operates 13 sites under its core brand, with a further opening lined up in London’s Queensway. Propel revealed this week that Taiwanese dim sum brand Din Tai Fung was also set to open on the fourth floor of Selfridges.
 
Go Ape reports ‘very strong’ trading since reopening, repays £2m CBILS: The UK arm of high-ropes adventure course operator Go Ape has said it has traded “very strongly” this year since reopening, which has allowed it to repay £2m secured through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme last year. This year the company has opened a new site at Dalkeith Country Park, Edinburgh, and continued to invest in its existing locations, including adding a new dual Zip Experience activity at Aberfoyle in Scotland and the construction of new activity, Speed Climbing, at its site in Alexandra Palace. In July, the company, which refinanced its banking facilities last year to provide it with additional cash while its sites were shut, also paid early termination costs of £700,000 to surrender the lease of the former Air Space premises in Well Lane, Wolverhampton. The details were revealed within Adventure Forest’s results for the year to 31 December 2020, in which turnover fell 6% to £19.8m, compared with £21.1m the year before. The company reported a pre-tax profit of £4.3m, compared with a loss of £1.4m the year before. The 2020 figures included £2.3m of government grants. Visitor numbers fell 18% against those in 2019, to 823,000, as a result of the various national lockdowns. Average spend per customer rose to £24.09 from £21.07 the year before due to the temporary reduced VAT rate to 5%, which came into effect in July 2020. Go Ape said its strategy continued to be on investing in existing sites, identifying new locations where it had no presence and introducing more adventure activities. The company operates 83 sites across the UK.
 
London Cocktail Club to give out 1,000 free martinis on National Vodka Day: London Cocktail Club, which is owned by Nightcap, has partnered with Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social to offer 1,000 guests free martinis on Monday (4 October) – to celebrate National Vodka Day. The 1,000th guest will win free cocktails across nine of the operators’ sites in London and Bristol, and every guest after that will get their cocktail half price for the rest of the day. The giveaway will be powered by Hedgehog, Wireless Social’s voucher generation tool, and follows the company’s footfall data suggesting early-week trade needs a boost. Dawn Donohoe, London Cocktail Club’s managing director, said: “Hedgehog is the perfect tool to help us attract guests through our doors on what is typically considered a quieter part of the week. The tool has enabled us to switch up how we market and deliver one of our biggest selling cocktails, opening our business up to new customers at a time when differentiation is key.”
 
Dayashankar Sharma launches new Indian delivery and takeaway brand, eyes two more London sites: Dayashankar Sharma, the brainchild behind fine-dining Indian restaurant Heritage Dulwich, will next month launch a new premium Indian delivery and takeaway brand – and plans two more London sites in the next year. Based in south east London, the takeaway/delivery venture will be called Jhakaas, meaning “epic” or “superb” in Hindi. Sharma’s dishes will focus on four key cities – Delhi, Bombay, Kolkata and Chennai – and reflect his 30 years working in acclaimed restaurants like Zaika and the Michelin-starred Tamarind. Sharma said: “Jhakaas brings something fresh to the Indian takeaway market and is a concept suited to those suburbs just outside central London often lacking in a high-quality Indian food. The aim is to grow the brand and open at least two more sites in London neighbourhoods in the next 12 months.” Jhakaas’ delivery radius will span 3.5 miles from its location in Brockley Rise, and up to five miles for pre-orders booked at least 24 hours in advance. Sharma opened Heritage Dulwich, based in Rosendale Road, in February, although the restaurant had to originally operate as a takeaway and delivery service due to lockdown restrictions.
 
Reel sees cinema attendances continuing to climb since reopening but numbers below 2019 levels: Independent cinema operator Reel has said attendances have continued to climb since reopening but numbers are below 2019 levels. The company said visitor numbers in August saw a significant increase on July and with the forthcoming film releases over the next few months the business remained hopeful numbers will continue to rise. Reel has also opened a new site in Blackburn, taking the estate to 16 sites. The company provided the update as it reported turnover for the year ending 31 December 2020 fell to £3.1m, compared with £11.6m the year before. The business made a pre-tax loss of £2.3m, compared with a profit of £189,000 the year before. As previously reported, the company secured £3.5m through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support the business while its cinemas were shut while about 200 staff were placed on furlough. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “While the environment we currently find ourselves remains difficult as a result of dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, we believe the business will be in a strong position in the future to be able to continue its roll out strategy.”
 
Black Sheep Brewery reports pre-tax profit of £1.01m and 600% year-on-year growth in online sales: Black Sheep Brewery has reported a pre-tax profit of £1.01m for the financial year ending 31 March 2021. The Yorkshire-based business also saw its online sales rise to £741,951 from £108,150 the previous year, supported by strong growth in its off-trade, where turnover grew from £6.86m to £9.54m. Helping this growth was the introduction of beer delivery and collection services, a food delivery service and the creation of nine new beers. The off-trade and e-commerce growth compensated for the fall in on-trade sales, which fell from £9.83m to £2.24m due to the forced closure of pubs and restaurants, while retail turnover reduced from £2.72m to £1.5m. Although this all added up to an adjusted operating loss of £1.05m, once exceptional items like redundancies, insurance proceeds and income from a settled legal dispute came through, this turned into a £1.01m profit. Black Sheep chief executive Charlene Lyons said: “While the pandemic defined our last trading year, it created many opportunities for Black Sheep. Faced with the scenario that all pubs, which are our dominant customer base, were forced to close, we had to act swiftly. Utilising all government schemes and grants, our focus was on diversification and the obvious pivot towards e-commerce, and we transformed a small part of our business into a thriving service. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved in a year like no other, when the business’ very existence was threatened by the pandemic, but characterised by the will, determination, dedication and commitment of everyone at Black Sheep. It has given us the platform for the next stage of hard work as we aim to strengthen our position in our key markets.”
  
Iconic Liverpool city centre hotel goes up for sale for at least £12.5m: Liverpool’s historic 30 James Street Hotel, formerly known as Albion House, is being sold by Savills at offers in excess of £12.5m. Dating to 1896, the building is also known as the “home of the Titanic” having once been the headquarters of the White Star Shipping Line. The grade-II listed venue boasts 63 bedrooms along with the Carpathia champagne bar and restaurant, a grand hall, spa, swimming pool and views across the River Mersey. The sale of the hotel follows the appointment of Savills as fixed charge receivers in April 2020, since when the property has undergone an extensive refurbishment to allow the business to recover strongly upon reopening. Tom Cunningham, hotels director at Savills Manchester, said: “This sale offers a rare chance to acquire a prime city centre hotel and historic landmark, in one of the UK’s most popular destinations. The history of the building, the quality of its provisions and the standout location have together created a fantastic opportunity for potential investors, and we expect to see good levels of interest.” In June 2020, Legacy was appointed by the receivers to take over the running of the hotel from Signature Living, which had taken over the property in 2014. Legacy reopened the hotel a month later with a theme based around its nautical past. Signature Living’s network of bar, hotel and development businesses were reported to have owed £113m to creditors when it collapsed into administration in April 2020.

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