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Thu 21st Jul 2022 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Poke House appoints advisors to assess investment options: Poke House, Europe’s largest poké restaurant chain, has appointed advisors to assess its investment options as it looks to further accelerate its growth. The brand, which has more than 100 restaurant sites across the globe, made its UK debut in September 2021 and currently operates four sites in London. Matteo Pichi, co-founder of Poke House, told Propel: “We are exploring different options, including a new important investment round, around €100m (£85.3m), to further accelerate the growth of Poke House, both organically and through acquisitions, and for this we have given an exploration mandate to Goldman Sachs.” Founded in 2018 by Pichi and Vittoria Zanetti, Poke House expanded into Austria in April by becoming the majority shareholder of Honu Tiki Bowls – Austria’s leading poké brand – having made similar moves in the UK (acquiring Ahi Poké), the Netherlands (Poké Perfect), Portugal (the eponymous Poke House) and the US (investing in Sweetfin). Earlier this year it said it planned to open 65 new sites in the UK over the next 24 months. It is planning to grow to 170 new sites across the US and Europe by 2023, and said previously it was looking to move forward with initial public offerings (IPOs) in both New York and London. On its IPO plans, Pichi told Propel: “We're considering an IPO in the mid-term as soon as the scale of Poke House is relevant for the markets.” In June, the business opened its latest site in London, in Covent Garden’s New Row. It is set to be followed by sites in Battersea Power Station, Borough Market, St Paul’s, St John’s Wood and Mayfair in the coming months. Pichi said: “We opened in London in September last year and it’s very quickly becoming one of our key cities across the globe.” Poke House’s ever-evolving all-day dining menu includes chicken, salmon, spicy tuna and vegan bowls, with dressings created in-house, while each location takes inspiration from the area’s community and heritage.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Arc Inspirations supports Hospitality Rising: Award-winning bar operator Arc Inspirations is backing recruitment and careers campaign Hospitality Rising. The business, which recently attracted investment from BGF ahead of an ambitious growth programme, is throwing its weight behind the cause – the brainchild of industry marketer Mark McCulloch. Hospitality Rising aims to drive positive perceptions about working in the industry and reach a wider audience. Arc co-founder and chief executive, Martin Wolstencroft, said: “As hospitality leaders we need to come together to attract more people to join our fantastic sector. I’ve been in hospitality all my life and am very passionate about it. It’s given me huge opportunities, to meet extraordinary people, build a fulfilling career, and have enormous fun and great times along the way. I’ve also been able to start a hospitality business from scratch, which now turns over £40m and has given thousands the opportunity to learn, grow, develop and flourish. There are very few industries that give people such massive opportunities to grow but we need to share this story more urgently because we are all facing a massive squeeze on talent. This is not just a UK problem, it’s a worldwide problem. As leaders we can think bigger and for Arc, given the company we want to be, we’re totally behind Hospitality Rising and I urge all our industry colleagues to do the same.” Invest in Hospitality Rising now from just £10 per employee here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email

Third UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database to feature almost 60,000 words of content, released on Friday: The third UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (22 July), at midday, will feature 140 companies and almost 60,000 words of content, providing insight on the offer, locations, cost and other key details. Several hot and cold drink concepts are among the 20 new franchisors expanding in the UK and abroad featured in the third edition. Among them is milkshake bar chain Shakeaway, founded in Bournemouth in 1999 and now with more than 50 stores in the UK and abroad. Also featured is Puccino’s Coffee, which has grown to circa 33 locations at stations across London and the south east since being launched in 1995. Mooboo, which has grown to be one of the UK’s largest bubble tea operators since launching in Camden in 2012, with around 70 locations, is also featured. So too is fellow bubble tea operator Bubbleology, founded in London in 2011 and now with circa 20 UK sites. Premium subscribers also receive access to The New Openings Database, the Propel Multi-Site Database and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book. 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 single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email to upgrade your subscription. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett.

Pizza Hut UK and Ireland boss – current economic climate is making day-to-day business ‘very difficult’: Neil Manhas, managing director and chief financial officer at Pizza Hut UK and Ireland, has said the current economic climate is making day-to-day business “very difficult”. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released on Wednesday (20 July) showed inflation had hit a 40-year high – increasing by 9.4% in the 12 months to June 2022, up from 9.1% in May. It said on a monthly basis, inflation increased by 0.8% in June 2022, compared with a rise of 0.5% in June 2021. The ONS added food and non-alcoholic drink prices have risen by 9.8% in the year to June 2022, up from 8.7% in May, and the highest rate since March 2009. Manhas said: “As inflation figures continue to rise in an uncertain political landscape, pressure on the hospitality sector mounts. Our industry is navigating continued labour shortages, skyrocketing food, fuel and utility prices and supply chain disruption. This coupled with softening consumer confidence is a heady cocktail – and is making the day to day for businesses such as ours very difficult. Growth is a key driver of economic recovery – and we want to continue playing a role. At Pizza Hut, we want to realise our development plans to both create and protect jobs and support our communities and consumers. To do this, we need the new government to prioritise protections for businesses that provide opportunity, including by lowering VAT back to 12.5%.”

Christou – it could take years for sites in London’s financial districts to return to previous performance levels: Pret A Manger chief executive Pano Christou has said it could take years for sites in London’s financial districts to return to previous performance levels due to permanently changed office habits and a fresh waves of covid infections. It comes as the Bloomberg Index summarised its key findings since its launch in spring 2021. In March 2021, transactions in London’s City and Canary Wharf financial districts were less than a third of what they were before the pandemic with many headlines stating the traditional office model was “dead”. By February 2022, transactions were back in growth as the wave of infections subsided and sales ultimately peaked in May at 89% of normal levels – a milestone that hasn’t been matched since. London’s West End was ahead in its recovery compared with the capital’s financial districts in March 2021. By last week, performance had recovered to just a fraction below normal levels. Christou has said the strength of Pret’s sales in airports is one of the reopening trends that has surprised him the most. The most recent data show sales are 40% above what they were before the pandemic. Pret’s sales in London’s suburban areas have been among the most resilient. In March 2021, when Pret’s transactions were less than a third of normal levels in the capital’s banking hubs, they were already at 80% of a full recovery in London’s suburbs. Sales peaked at a third higher than pre-pandemic levels in March of this year. They are currently about a quarter higher than before the crisis – a level they’ve stayed at for several weeks. The index said transactions in London train stations have gradually recovered. Pret’s sales at stations surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time this April and are still higher than they were before covid.

Speakers announced for Plan B ‘accelerating change’ conference: Plan B, the mentoring platform designed to accelerate women’s representation on boards, has announced the speaker line-up for its first conference. The conference, which is supported by Propel, will take place on Wednesday, 5 October at 30 Euston Square, London. The half day, interactive conference will focus on how organisations can create the inclusive cultures where diverse talent will thrive. It is designed for C-level business leaders, founders and HR professionals seeking to learn how to make positive change. Speakers from within hospitality will share lived experiences, proven interventions and “work in progress” strategies and will include Kate Nicholls, Emma Woods, Rob Pitcher, Laura Harper-Hinton, Jane O’Riordan, Robert Cook, Suzie Welch, Ronnie Murray and Loraine Copes. Plan B was founded five years ago “out of frustration” by industry professionals – Ann Elliott, Holly Addison and Emma Causer – with a mission to accelerate the promotion of women leaders to the board. For more information about the conference, click here.

Cox – we’ve been approached by smaller businesses looking to sell up: Gavin Cox, the chief executive of Famously Proper, the Calveton-backed parent company of the Byron and Mother Clucker brands, has said he has been approached by smaller businesses looking to sell up as they were finding things “really, really challenging”. Talking to The Guardian about the cost pressures the hospitality sector is under, Cox said: “There is cost inflation across the board. Cooking oil prices have doubled year on year, electricity has doubled and the price of proteins is up 40%. The underlying inflation rate of 10% really doesn’t show how much businesses are trying to absorb.” He said the group had been forced to carefully tweak its menus and where it was sourcing ingredients to reduce the need to pass on price rises to customers. Des Gunewardena, chief executive of D&D London, said the closure of its Aster restaurant in Victoria after five years of trading was “a sign of the tough times we are in”. He said: “In the past we would have taken a longer-term view. But given the current acute challenges of inflation and, more importantly, staffing, we felt we could not justify keeping Aster when other more successful restaurants in the group were crying out for good people.”

UKHospitality calls for reductions under reformed business rates to be reflected in bills ‘as quickly as possible’: UKHospitality has called for reductions under reformed business rates to be reflected in bills “as quickly as possible”. Responding to the government’s consultation on transition for the next business rates revaluation, the trade body said new rateable values, due to come in next April, are coming at a time of “unprecedented circumstances” for the industry, something which should be reflected in the 2023 revaluation. It highlighted the profound impact of the pandemic on hospitality property values and the financial fragility of hospitality businesses. Most are carrying heavy debt and facing soaring costs and there is therefore a need to ensure any reduction in business rates is reflected in the bills as rapidly as possible, UKHospitality said. It has called for assurance the scheme will allow for all businesses to reach their true reduced value from April 2023, a cap on how much bills can rise, no retail price index increase in the total sum of business rates and the continuation of business rate reliefs for businesses hit hardest by the pandemic. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The priority must be enabling reductions in bills to be felt immediately and the government needs to ensure the cost is reduced for those sectors hit hardest by the pandemic and in most need of support. We strongly believe government needs to reflect the unprecedented impact of the pandemic, compounded by the impact of an economic downturn and high levels of inflation, in the new rates scheme. If this is taken into account, the hospitality sector can play its full part in the wider UK economic recovery, creating jobs and delivering skills and boosting our high streets and communities.”

Loan scheme for small businesses to be extended by two years: The Recovery Loan Scheme, which offers government-backed loans to small businesses, will be extended by a further two years, the government has announced. It said the scheme, which was launched in April 2021 during the covid-19 pandemic, has helped more than 16,000 businesses in England, 1,000 in Scotland, 600 in Wales and 300 in Northern Ireland, with an average of £202,000 each. The maximum loan size remains £2m. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the British economy, which is why we are determined to support our traders and entrepreneurs in dealing with worldwide inflationary pressures. The extension of the Recovery Loan Scheme will help ensure we continue to provide much-needed finance to thousands of small businesses across the country, while stimulating local communities, creating jobs and driving economic growth in the UK.” Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi said the principle of the scheme would not change – the government would underwrite 70% of lender liabilities at the individual borrower level in return for a lender fee. Lenders must ensure the benefits of the government guarantee are passed on to businesses. Zahawi said as many businesses are now in a better position than when the scheme started, lenders could require a personal guarantee from the borrower.

Trade bodies react with fury to alcohol duty review delay: Sector trade bodies have reacted with fury to the delay into the outcome of the alcohol duty review. The government, which announced a review of alcohol duty in March 2020, launched a consultation in last year’s budget aimed at simplifying the “complex, burdensome and inconsistent” tax system. The new system was designed to reduce the number of main duty rates from 15 to six under the principle of “the stronger the drink, the higher the rate”. The government has now revealed the outcome of the consultation has been delayed until the autumn. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “With the sector and its customers facing soaring costs, we needed to see positive action on lower duty rates for draught beer and cider. The new government must make this legislation, which is already agreed policy, a priority in early September so we can deliver benefits to pubs, the wider hospitality sector and, crucially, consumers. The economic advantages are clear for the Treasury, so it is time to act.” British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin added: “We would urge any new government to keep these reforms on track to guarantee a reduced rate of draught beer duty that helps Britain’s brewers and pubs and supports lower-strength products as soon as possible.”

Sector supports new vodka brand aiming to raise £1m in support of Ukraine: A new vodka brand in support of Ukrainian child refugees has launched, aiming to raise £1m for War Child. Solovey has launched with a group of founding hospitality operators who have been supportive of its aims, including Soho House, Hawksmoor, Incipio Group, Flight Club, Swingers, Grind, Loungers, Puttshack, Inception Group, Revolution, New World Trading Company, Arc Inspirations, Hickory’s Smokehouse, MJMK Group, Market Halls, Turtle Bay, Brewhouse & Kitchen, Hubbox, Little Door Group, Indapubs and Wolfpack. On-trade partners are creating a special cocktail on their menus using the vodka and using the Solovey “mark” in their communications to show their support for Ukrainian refugees. Solovey is the brainchild of Yasha Estraikh, associate partner at sector investment firm Piper, whose heritage is Ukrainian and came to the UK when he was a seven-year-old. All profits are being donated to War Child’s Ukraine Emergency Fund, with the business having hired its first Ukrainian refugee. Solovey means Nightingale in Ukrainian and is the Ukrainian national animal and steeped in Ukrainian folklore. Solovey has partnered with branding agency Ragged Edge and the project is being supported by East London Liquor Co, which is distilling and bottling the vodka, and Matthew Clark and Venus, which are distributing the brand. Estraikh said: “When the war broke out, as someone who is of Ukrainian heritage and still has family in eastern Ukraine, I asked myself what I could do with my contacts and experience in building brands that would have a disproportionate impact in helping people in Ukraine. I wanted to create a purpose-led brand that would stand on its own two feet and would help child refugees in perpetuity well after the media headlines have disappeared by creating a brand loved by consumers and bartenders alike. The goodwill that this project has generated has been unbelievable and allowed the brand to launch in just two months.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a growing restaurant brand that is looking for an operations manager. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “The business is looking to speak to energetic, dynamic candidates who have tonnes of passion for the industry and can think outside the box. As operations manager you will be tasked with developing a brand that leaves a lasting impression with its consumers. You will be on top of all market trends and get involved in the marketing of the business as well as the operations of the current sites. With two more planned sites in the coming year, it is looking for a high potential candidate who has some confident operations management experience but can take that next step into strategy and brand awareness. They are looking for a self-starter, someone who can give and take direction. This is about understanding what great food looks and tastes like.” The salary is up to £85,000. For more information, email

Company News:

Australian hospitality firm ST Group plans to launch fried chicken and hot pot brands into UK: ST Group, the Australian hospitality company that brought the Gong Cha bubble tea concept to the UK, is planning to launch the Nene Chicken and Dragon Hot Pot brands here as well, Propel has learned. Quick service restaurant brand Nene Chicken was founded in South Korea in 1999, and now has more than 1,000 outlets in the country. It recently opened its 35th restaurant in Australia. ST Group is working with AS Retail to find suitable sites in central and Greater London. Sites are also being sought in central and Greater London for quick service restaurant concept Dragon Hot Pot, which currently operates circa 25 sites across Australia and Indonesia. Gong Cha is the most recognised bubble tea brand globally, with 1,500 outlets in 20 territories including Taiwan, Korea, New Zealand and the US. Gong Cha, which translates as “tribute tea for the emperor”, now has ten sites in the UK, which offer a range of bubble tea that can be enjoyed with or without milk. The brand, which opened its debut UK site in Manchester, in summer 2019, has further openings planned in Oxford and Leeds for this year.

Fitch revises outlook on PizzaExpress to negative, reflecting view of slower-than-expected post-pandemic recovery: Fitch Ratings has revised its outlook on PizzaExpress to negative from stable, saying the change reflects its view of slower-than-expected post-pandemic recovery. In a ratings note, Fitch stated: “We expect a temporary increase of leverage over 2022-2023, reaching 7.0 times in 2023, which is not commensurate with the current rating. This is somewhat mitigated by our view of sufficient financial flexibility to weather the slower recovery and rising cost inflation until trading normalises, well before debt maturities in 2026. Fitch expects a recovery in restaurant cover numbers for the company's around 350 mature UK and Ireland restaurants to 2019 levels by 2023, a year later than under our previous forecasts. Our rating case prudently assumes dine-in covers to remain subdued, around 15% like-for-like below pre-pandemic levels in 2023, amid higher cost of living, rising interest rates, lower consumer confidence and due to the discretionary nature of eating out. This should however be compensated by a higher proportion of dine-out covers. PizzaExpress underperformed the UK and Ireland market on like-for-like sales until April 2022 amid weaker performance in its central London and City, Ireland and Scotland locations. Its first quarter of 2022 dine-in covers at around 25% below pre-pandemic levels is two percentage points weaker than in the second half of 2021; while like-for-like UK and Ireland dine-in and-out sales are at pre-pandemic levels, helped by higher average spend per head and stronger delivery sales. We expect some recovery in dine-in covers until the end of summer before consumers feel the pinch of higher living costs and start cutting down on eating out. However, the company's debt restructuring in 2020 and profit recovery should result in lower leverage by 2024 that compares favourably with that of some Fitch-rated peers. PizzaExpress has sufficient liquidity to weather expected slower recovery and inflationary pressures. Our forecast does not envisage drawings under its £30m revolving credit facility. The company's strategy includes a programme of refurbishments. While this capex, which we forecast at nearly £60m before end-2023 followed by around £40m per year to 2025 can be partly reduced by delaying new restaurant openings and refurbishments of existing restaurants, we view the refurbishments programme, delayed by previous owners, as core to enabling PizzaExpress to sustainably maintain its competitiveness against peers. We expect overall revenue to grow by around £100m year-on-year in 2022, and for dine-out to remain at around 18% of UK and Ireland restaurant revenue.” 

Parsons Bakery sees sales rise by 31.9% and Ebitda grow by almost £800,000, driven by new delivery offer: Parsons Bakery, which operates 48 stores across the south west and Wales, saw its sales rise by 31.9% in 2021, driven by a new delivery offer. Sales grew from £10,725,938 in 2020 to £14,139,212 for the year ending 31 December 2021, while Ebitda rose from £1,437,465 to £2,212,373, which the company said reflected “growth in the business and also financial support received in the form of government grants”. It received £24,078 in government support, compared with £874,353 in 2020. Turnover was up to £14,139,212 from £10,725,938 in 2020, while pre-tax profit rose from £1,109,742 to £1,700,944. In a report accompanying its results, the company said: “In what was a challenging year due to the covid pandemic, our people rose to the challenge of supplying fresh handmade bakery products every day to our 48 neighbourhood bakery shops. We invested in store refurbishments to enhance customers’ shopping experience and continued improving our instore till and IT system. The company also opened additional new sales channels by using third-party delivery partners such as Deliveroo and UberEats, which proved to be a great success.”

Itsu continues expansion with new Bristol restaurant, rolling out new digital technology: Itsu, the healthy Asian food chain, is continuing its expansion with an opening at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol next Friday (29 July) – its seventh launch of 2022. The 2,610 square-foot property is located on the upper level, near the food court, comprising of a mezzanine and ground-floor level space offering 72 covers. Itsu operates 71 restaurants UK-wide. Recent openings include Chelmsford, Aberdeen and Woking. The company opened its first restaurant in Bristol in 2016. Itsu’s estate is also undergoing a dramatic digital transformation – new kiosks will see customers served quicker than ever before. Furthermore, the new technology allows customers to browse the menu, check nutritional information and personalise hot dishes with free-range eggs, chargrilled chicken, plant-based meatballs and more. Another addition is the Itsu “senseis”, who will be on hand to greet customers and answer any questions. One of the first sites to benefit from the new technology is in Richmond, south west London, which will reopen on Friday (22 July) following a ten-month closure after a fire. 

Doughnotts opens fifth site, another in pipeline: East Midlands doughnut concept Doughnotts has opened its fifth site – with another in the pipeline. The latest store is at the McArthurGlen East Midlands Designer Outlet in Alfreton and is the company’s first kiosk site. It is located on the main mall outside the food court. The site joins stores in Nottingham, Lincoln, Leicester and Beeston. Wade Smith, Doughnotts co-founder and director, said: “We considered this location a few years ago but we weren’t a seven-day business then, so it’s amazing to see all this come together now. We are excited for this new chapter, the kiosk looks amazing and we are hoping it opens the doors for more kiosk opportunities across the Midlands.” FHP acts for Doughnotts and the companies said they are working on another new site with more details to be announced soon. 

Flight Club to open Cardiff site in October, biggest venue to date: Flight Club, the darts concept owned by Red Engine, will open its new site in Cardiff on Friday, 7 October. The venue in St Mary Street will be the tenth UK site and first in Wales. The venue will have capacity for 550 guests and feature 15 social darts playing areas, four bars along with a roof terrace. Chief executive Steve Moore, who co-founded Flight Club alongside Paul Barham, said: “It is set to be our biggest venue yet. Cardiff has already got an incredible hospitality scene that we’re thrilled to be joining, bringing something new to the neighbourhood and contributing to a thriving nightlife scene.” Earlier this week, Propel revealed Flight Club is beginning its roll out in Australia, with two new openings before the end of the year. Red Engine and franchise partner Capitol Corp opened the first Flight Club in Australia at the end of last year, in Perth. Capitol, which is led by David Heaton, will soon open a second Flight Club on the former The Newport Hotel site in Freemantle. It then plans to open a site in the Alexandra Building on the corner of Russell and Little Lonsdale streets, in Melbourne.

Bone Daddies confirms plans to open in Waterloo: Bone Daddies Group, which comprises the eponymous ramen restaurants, Shack-Fuyu and Flesh & Buns, has confirmed it plans to open a site in London’s Waterloo. As revealed by Propel earlier this month, the business has lined up an opening under its eponymous brand within The Sidings scheme within the old Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station. The company is also relaunching its Flesh & Buns site in High Street Kensington under its eponymous brand, next month. Both sites will comprise circa 120 covers each, and will add to the current seven-strong Bone Daddies Group, which has ramen bars in Soho, Bermondsey, Victoria, Bond Street, Old Street, Richmond and Putney, as well as its delivery arm operated via Deliveroo. The group also houses Flesh & Buns and Shackfuyu under the Bone Daddies Group umbrella. Bone Daddies' founder Demetri Tomazos said: “2022 is a big year for us, as we celebrate ten years since we launched the first Bone Daddies ramen bar in Peter Street in Soho and the return of our original head chef Tom Moxon who re-joined us from sabbatical as executive chef for ramen at the start of the year. We have been busy behind the scenes and are excited to launch a further two sites for the Bone Daddies family. We originally launched the High Street Kensington site as Flesh & Buns earlier this year, but it became clear to us early on our west London customers missed Bone Daddies after we left the site in Whole Foods during the pandemic, so we've taken the decision to flip the site over to Bone Daddies. The second is within the new Waterloo station development, due to launch in October This takes our Bone Daddies ramen bars up to nine. Perhaps we will look to open number ten to round off our ten-year anniversary... watch this space!"

D&D London launches permanent space for events arm: Restaurant operator D&D London has launched a permanent space for its events arm, Alexander & Björck. Blueprint Café was originally launched as a restaurant in the Design Museum, near Tower Bridge, when the museum opened in 1989. Now, the space has relaunched as Blueprint Event Space, a permanent venue for D&D’s outside event’s arm, Alexander & Björck, which the group co-founded with Lena Björck, in 2015. Under Björck’s leadership, Alexander & Björck has expanded significantly and now caters high-profile events both in the UK and overseas. Blueprint is able to cater for events ranging from 30 guests to larger parties for 150 guests or more. Björck said: “It’s a massive milestone for Alexander & Björck to operate our very own venue, particularly in such an iconic space with its history of creativity and design – a perfect site for showcasing Alexander & Björck’s gastronomic flair.” Des Gunewardena, chairman and chief executive of D&D London, added: “We have operated Guastavino’s, a very successful catered events venue in New York for many years and of course a number of our restaurants operate events spaces. But Blueprint will be our first dedicated events location in the UK.” 

Sustainability-focused restaurant group closes crowdfunding campaign after raising £290,000: Canteen Collective, a four-strong restaurant group heavily focused on sustainability, has closed its campaign on crowdfunding platform after raising £290,000. Canteen Collective, founded in 2019 by former British Army operational commander Tom Grant, was aiming to raise £250,000 to fund the opening of a fifth site and explore sustainable event catering. It was offering 7.81% equity, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £2.95m. A total of 136 people invested in the round. The company, which operates three London sites – in Ealing, Putney and Notting Hill – and one in Sevenoaks, Kent – reported £1.5m in revenue for the year ending March 2022 (Ebitda minus £199,000). This represents 60% compound annual growth rate since 2020, despite the effects of lockdowns.

Chipotle closes store where workers filed to form company’s first union: US brand Chipotle has permanently closed a store where workers voted to form the company’s first union last month. The company said it closed the store in Augusta, Maine, because of low staffing. It sent a letter to employees earlier this week confirming the permanent closure of the location while offering severance pay and assistance in finding another job. Chipotle United, the independent union formed to represent the store’s employees, called the move to shut the location down “playing dirty” and said it planned to protest outside the site. Laurie Schalow, the chief corporate affairs officer at Chipotle, said the Augusta location has been closed to the public since 17 June. She said the chain hired two recruitment experts to try to fill vacancies but were unable to resolve the staffing issue. She said: “We have been unable to adequately staff this remote restaurant with crew and continue to be plagued with excessive callouts and lack of availability from existing staff. We have had an even more difficult time finding managers to lead the restaurant.” The Augusta store unionised on 23 June, the first successful effort in the company, which has been accused of stamping out prior unionisation efforts.

Trio of bartenders to open cocktail bar in Birmingham: A trio of bartenders have joined forces to open a new cocktail bar in Birmingham’s Custard Factory. Tommy Matthews, former bar manager of Couch, has teamed up with Matt Arnold and Eve Green, of The Edgbaston and Grain & Glass respectively. Passing Fancies will take up residence in the Custard Factory from September with a venue large enough for 54 covers. With a layout akin to “the kitchen at a house party”, the bar will be the centrepiece of the venue. The bar’s name nods to the trio’s vow to move with the times, regularly changing their menu and straying away from a set theme. The former home of Sir Alfred Bird’s namesake company, the Custard Factory is now a creative and cultural hub in the heart of Birmingham. Matthews said, “At our core is our passion for what we do, the stories we share and the people we share them with. Passing Fancies is an extension of us, a place where everyone can gather to experience the comforting excellence of high-end beverages and build fond memories. Think of it not as a bar but a vehicle for community, nestled within the creative heart of Birmingham with a menu as varied and fluid as the lives we lead. We want to ensure our staff feel as valued as our customers. It’s important to us to give back to the industry that has given so much to us.”
Scotland’s first artificial surf park receives £26m investment as work on development begins: Work on Scotland’s first artificial surf park has begun following a £26m cash investment. Wavegarden Scotland will transform the disused Craigpark Quarry at Ratho, near Edinburgh, into a 23-hectare facility boasting a restaurant and retail outlet alongside state-of-the-art surf technology. The project, developed by Tartan Leisure, hopes to create around 100 jobs and attract 180,000 visitors a year. Major construction has begun after the Scottish National Investment Bank committed an eight-figure sum to the development. It is hoped the surf park can be finished by 2024 – five years after planning permission was granted. The site will have underwater technology that can create 1,000 waves per hour, from slow-moving white water for beginners through to powerful barrels up to two metres high for experts. The development, which was initially earmarked to open in spring last year, is also expected to have a cafe, observation deck and wellness spa alongside accommodation provision.

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