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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 5th Mar 2024 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Exclusive – Vagabond placed on market: Vagabond, the Imbiba-backed wine bar business, has been placed on the market. Propel understands that Quantuma is advising the 12-strong business, with offers due by Thursday, 14 March. Offers are sought for the business and assets as a whole or for individual parts. It is thought that any deal for the whole company may include a restructure or administration process, with the performance of the business understood to have come under increasing pressure over the past 12 months. The company currently operates nine sites in London and one in Birmingham, plus outlets at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Opened in May 2022, the Heathrow site was described by the business as a “game changer” but is temporarily closed due to reconfiguring of the security zone, while the site at Gatwick, which opened last year, is believed to have failed to meet expectations. Turnover for the year ended 31 March 2023 stood at circa £16m with consolidated Ebitda of circa £722,000. In January, Propel revealed that Stephen Finch, founder of Vagabond, had left the business, but it is thought that he may return to the sector with a new venture. Finch founded Vagabond in 2009, building it into, at one time, a 13-strong, award-winning “DIY” wine bar business. He secured £3.5m of growth capital investment from Imbiba in 2018. Vagabond is currently led by managing director Matthew Fleming and chaired by Rupert Clevely, founder of Geronimo Inns and Hippo Inns. A Vagabond spokesperson told Propel: “As everyone is aware, there have been acutely adverse headwinds in the sector for quite some time. The company’s exposure to the highs and lows of operating in an airport environment, particularly the loss of our highly successful Heathrow venue to allow for the reconfiguration of Heathrow airport security, has placed additional challenges on the business.” An Imbiba spokesperson said: “Imbiba remains fully committed to Vagabond and to working closely with the management and board over the months and years to come.”  

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Greene King and Belhaven breweries celebrate first anniversary of Value For Venues: Greene King and Belhaven breweries are celebrating a year since the launch of Value For Venues, a unique package that includes a catalogue of products, logistic support, business management and financial support services for independent venues. A spokesperson said: “As the industry continues to change and adapt to ever-changing costs and consumer habits, it can make running an independent venue extremely tough and isolating. Value For Venues is there to give operators that helping hand and to add value to their business through drinks range freedom, quality customer service and access to financial support and business advice. With 300-years’ worth of expertise of running 3,000-plus pubs and supplying thousands of free trade venues, Value for Venues knows the on-trade inside out and can support business and help them thrive in the current climate. The experienced free trade team is available nationwide for face-to-face meetings, over the phone or online, and is always ready to bring a wealth of passion and support to all types venues. There are hundreds of years of on-trade experience in our salesforce, and all that experience is available through your local Greene King and Belhaven representative, over the phone or on our online portal.” For more information, click here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email
Mowgli founder Nisha Katona to speak at first Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2024, open for bookings: Nisha Katona, founder of Indian street food concept Mowgli, will be among the speakers at the first Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2024. More than 350 places have been booked for the conference, which takes place on Thursday, 21 March, at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s Kensington, and is open for bookings. Katona talks to Propel group editor Mark Wingett about growing into a national brand, the challenge of keeping close to the brand’s growing consumer base, and what comes next for the business both in the UK and internationally. Operators can book up to three free places per company while Premium subscribers who are operators can book up to four free places. To book, email
Premium subscribers to receive two updated databases this week: Premium subscribers will receive the next edition of the UK Food & Beverage Franchisee Database tomorrow (Wednesday, 6 March), at midday, featuring ten new entries and updates to existing entries. The database is updated every two months, and the latest version features 130 businesses and more than 55,000 words of content. Among the new entries are Freshly Baked, which has grown US pretzel brand Auntie Anne’s to more than 30 stores and recently became the first UK franchisee for Dutch smash burger brand Fat Phill’s. Also included is Domino’s franchisee Full House Restaurants, which operates 46 stores, and Wimpy franchisee GK Burger, which operates three restaurants in Essex and Kent. Following this, the next Turnover & Profits Blue Book will be sent out on Friday (8 March), at midday. A further 18 companies have been added, while 37 have been updated. The database now features 889 companies, with 583 in profit and 306 in loss. Premium Club members also receive access to four other databases: the Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; and the Who’s Who of UK Hospitality. All Premium Clubs members will be offered a 20% discount on tickets to five Propel paid-for events – The Excellence in Pub Retailing Conference (14 May), Social Media for Profit (18 July), the Talent and Training Conference (1 October) and Restaurant Marketer and Innovator (two days in January 2025). Operators that are Premium Club members will also be able to send up to four members of staff to each of our four Multi-Club Conferences for free. Premium Club members receive their daily Propel Info newsletter 11 hours earlier than standard subscribers, at 7pm the evening before. They also receive videos of presentations at eight Propel conference events two weeks after they are held. This represents around 100 videos of industry insight over the course of the year. Premium Club members will be sent a dedicated monthly newsletter that will highlight key updates in the sector and direct subscribers to all the vital content their membership offers. Premium Club members also receive exclusive opinion columns every Friday at 5pm, which include the thoughts of Propel group editor Mark Wingett and a host of industry leaders from across the sector. A Premium Club subscription costs an annual sum of £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Premium Club for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or supplier. Email today to sign up.
Lamb prices reach record highs for January and February: Lamb prices reached record highs for the first two months of the year, according to analysis by catering butcher Birtwistles. It said Great British deadweight prices have seen “significant jumps” of up to 28p in recent weeks, with the current price, for the week ending 24 February, seeing the standard quality quotation at more than £7/kg, up 37% on the same week last year. “Prices have never seen such an elevated period during January and February,” Birtwistles said in its latest report. “Tight supplies of lamb have left processors looking for stock. Strong retail demand, increased export trade and firm buyer interest in the build-up to Ramadan is a contributing factor.” Great British deadweight prices for both cow and prime cattle increased week on week in January, with overall higher prices than December. The all-prime average price for January (490.6p/kg) matched figures seen in spring 2023. Prices began the month at 487.2p/kg, climbing slightly for the first three weeks before ending the month at 491.4p. The overall average cow price for January was 335.2p/kg, at its highest since July 2023. Weekly prices increased by 25p/kg from the beginning of the month due to consumer demand for cheaper primary cuts such as mince. Birtwistles also forecast that pig meat production will continue to be in tight supply for the first half of the year but will grow marginally in 2024 by 0.6% year on year, to around 933,000 tonnes. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the National Farmers Union found that 15% of poultry farmers were either unlikely or unsure if they would still produce poultry beyond November 2025.
Nutritics to host free webinar to help businesses reduce emissions, lower costs and offer more nutritious food options to customers: Foodservice technology provider Nutritics is to host a free webinar to help businesses reduce emissions, lower costs and offer more nutritious food options to customers. Nutritics was selected by the organisers of the global sustainability congress, COP28, to help reduce the environmental impact of food served, and present to global leaders across the conference, “setting a vision for carbon reduction in the future”. The webinar – Bite Sized Solutions – Insights and Actions from COP28 – will share how Nutritics played a fundamental role in helping to create climate-friendly, nutritionally balanced menus at COP28, incorporating practical options and insights. The webinar will be sent out at 9am today (Tuesday, 5 March).
More than 5,000 representations made to MPs urging VAT reduction in spring Budget on back of NTIA campaign: More than 5,000 representations have been made to MPs urging them to push for a reduction in VAT to 12.5% across hospitality in tomorrow’s (Wednesday, 6 March) spring Budget on the back of the Night Time Industries Association’s #LeaveNoOneBehind campaign. The NTIA said the covid pandemic, coupled with stringent restrictions and economic uncertainties, has pushed the hospitality and night-time economy sectors to the brink. Chief executive Michael Kill said: “We cannot afford to leave any businesses behind in this Budget. Failure to extend additional relief in the form of VAT over the coming 12 months could be catastrophic for many, as they grapple with unprecedented financial pressures. The overwhelming support garnered by the #LeaveNoOneBehind campaign underscores the depth of concern and determination within the industry. As the Budget approaches, voices from across the nation unite in a resounding call for measures that will provide essential lifelines to struggling businesses and ensure their continued survival. In the face of adversity, solidarity prevails. Together, we urge policymakers to heed the impassioned pleas of businesses and supporters nationwide and take decisive action to support the backbone of our economy.”
PwC – more than 70% of operators plan to pass on rising energy costs: More than seven in ten (72%) hospitality operators plan to pass on increased energy costs to consumers and suppliers, according to PwC’s new Energy Survey. Meanwhile, 36% of businesses claim that high energy costs will significantly squeeze margins and reduce their UK competitiveness over the next two years. The research also found more than 60% are worried about the reliability of their supply while seven out of ten have an energy cost target as part of their strategic approach. Most businesses report a lack of visibility in their energy usage (68%) and energy spend (62%) as barriers to mitigating these costs. Rick Jones, UK hospitality, sports and leisure leader at PwC UK, said: “Reducing costs by changing the shape of demand and using more renewable sources and smart technologies could make all the difference if energy prices spike again. The survey shows that hospitality and leisure businesses are less likely than other UK sectors to have signed a power purchase agreement with an off-site renewable generator (38% versus 54%). This is one of many steps businesses could take to not only create cost predictability but also accelerate sustainability goals. Only 28% currently get some or all their electricity from renewable sources, but more positively, 60% have adopted, or have plans to adopt, onsite generation such as solar. Although the high cost of solutions is seen as a barrier to progress for 72% of businesses, investing in technologies that can cut energy consumption and emissions can be hugely beneficial in not only helping businesses meet their net zero ambitions but cut energy costs. They may even attract very welcome tax and capital allowances. In an industry where profitability is thinning and energy costs are high, a combination of greater government and regulatory support and seizing greater control of the cost-carbon dynamic, could make the difference between sinking and survival in the long term.”
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a professional services firm that is looking for a group financial accountant. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “Your role will involve supporting a broad range of financial reporting, accounting, budgeting, tax, analysis and treasury tasks. These duties are vital to ensuring that the finance function of this business can supply accurate and timely financial data that senior management requires. Working with the group finance manager, you will help them deliver group-wide projects, including process improvement and implementing new systems and processes. You will be part of a team that facilitates planning, implementation, training and support of new systems and projects. You may be helping to produce documentation, data flows, reports and integrated workflows underpinned by your commercial financial skills and experience.” The salary is up to £65,000 and the position is based in Milton Keynes. For more information, email 

Company News:

Itsu – we see ourselves as a much broader play, evening sales showing more strength than lunch: Neil Miller, chief customer officer at Itsu, has told Propel the business and its customers see the brand as a much “broader play”, with the latter “buying into us at different times of the day”, evidenced by the sales profile. “They’re buying into us on a cold and hot menu now,” he said. “They’re buying into us at different times of the day, whether that’s with breakfast in the travel hubs, or the heartland of lunch, or increasingly in the evening, which is showing more strength at the moment. The hot food menu is really building that. The grocery side of the business is also important because they are also eating us at home. A big focus has been around doubling down on our health credentials and our health message, and they are brilliantly expressed through the hot food menu. That’s allowed us to really drive the right behaviours.” The link-up with the group’s grocery arm, which plays a key role in introducing the brand to new consumers both in the UK and internationally, is also becoming stronger, Miller said. He added: “The campaign that grocery ran in January, which we were part of, is something I think in the past, in the old Itsu, that was separate. We’ve become much closer, and I see that as just a no-brainer, because it’s one customer, particularly when you get into the regions, where potentially penetration on grocery is faster.” In terms of sales growth, chief financial officer Greg Thorp said outside of travel hubs, the company has seen its strongest growth in the City of London. He said: “It was a three-day business last year. Mondays have recovered, it’s closer to the Monday it was pre-covid. Friday is still quieter and the quietest day of the trading week, but it’s immeasurably stronger than it was 12 to 18 months ago. Our new site in Bishopsgate, which is going extremely well, is probably a site we wouldn’t have taken a year before. But it means we can now look at places like Fenchurch Street or around Monument. The footfall is quite different, and the spending is quite different. People come in a little bit less, but when they do come in they are in treat mode, and typically, it is a bigger basket than it used to be. We are getting sales numbers at the Bishopsgate site that we wouldn’t have got 18 months ago.” Itsu features in the Premium Club Turnover & Profits Blue Book, the next edition of which will be released next Friday (8 March) and will feature 889 companies. Its turnover of £137,786,000 for the year to 29 December 2022 is the 76th highest in the database. The Blue Book ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Premium Club for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Email to upgrade your subscription.
Sandwich Sandwich plans London launch, former Comptoir Group CEO takes chair role: Bristol operator Sandwich Sandwich, which last October won the £100,000 top prize in the Uber Eats restaurant of the year awards, is planning to launch in London before looking at expanding across the UK. Sandwich Sandwich, which was founded in 2012 by Nick Kleiner, currently operates three sites across Bristol. It is understood that the business plans to open two new shops in London, one near Liverpool Street and another near London Bridge, along with dark kitchens in conjunction with Uber Eats. Sandwich Sandwich said it is “currently exploring active opportunities around new locations and operational investment raises, which will see us expanding in 2024 and beyond”. It said: “Our aspiration is to grow Sandwich Sandwich organically, starting in London then big cities across the UK and also internationally, with strategic franchise partners that possess the same passion, ethos and vision as us. The company is already actively looking for suitable sites across London but probably will look to start in the City and shopping centres, where there is such a concentration of office workers, shoppers and other potential customers. This will provide not only undoubted footfall, but huge opportunities for the catering side of the business, not forgetting the delivery that is organised through Uber Eats. To accommodate the anticipated demand, the company will be looking for sites that are at least 2,000 square feet for takeaway and 800 square feet for kiosk operations.” It comes as Propel understands that Chaker Hanna, formerly chief executive of Comptoir Group, the Comptoir Libanais and Shawa brand operator, has joined Sandwich Sandwich as its non-executive chairman, while ex-Comptoir Group chairman Richard Kleiner is an advisor to the company. Both stepped down from Comptoir Group in the summer of 2022.
Young’s completes City Pub Group acquisition: Young’s has completed its acquisition of the City Pub Group. The deal, which values City Pub Group, the owner and operator of 51 pubs across southern England and Wales, at around £162m, was agreed in November and approved by its shareholders in January. “Young’s is pleased to announce that its acquisition of City Pub Group has completed, with the scheme of arrangement becoming effective, bringing together two complementary, culturally and strategically aligned businesses,” a statement from Young’s said. “The acquisition will significantly strengthen the presence of Young’s in London, as well as opening up new geographic areas such as Cambridge and Norwich, adding a premium, predominantly freehold estate of 51 well-invested, wet-led pubs to the group. The combination of the two businesses provides a platform from which the Young’s group can continue to accelerate its growth strategy.” Young’s chief executive Simon Dodd added: “City Pub Group is a business we have admired for some time, and we are delighted to welcome our new team to the Young’s group. City Pub Group brings a portfolio of predominantly freehold pubs that are closely aligned with our estate and has a strategy of operating premium, individual and differentiated pubs and bedrooms. Sharing a similar culture, its team delivers a quality offering and the highest standard of customer service to its communities. We look forward to working together and continuing to invest in the group’s enlarged estate to create value for all our loyal customers and wider stakeholders.” In January, City Pub Group reported a record Christmas, with half its estate achieving highest ever festive weekly sales. At the same time, Young’s reported a strong third quarter boosted by the festive period, with some of the highest daily sales in the company’s history.
Japes secures first franchisee: Deep dish pizza concept Japes has secured its first franchisee. The business, founded by Aleksandar and Jovana Aleksic, opened its debut site, in London’s Soho, in 2018, followed by a second site, in Greenwich, in 2023. Last summer, having partnered with Seeds Consulting, it secured its first franchise site, and it now has its first partner on board. London-based entrepreneur Ajmeet Singh will open Japes’ third site this spring at 24 Parkway in Camden Town, in a unit formerly occupied by Masala Zone. “Having been a regular pizza enthusiast, I decided to venture into the pizzeria business because I find it incredibly innovative with immense potential,” Singh said. “This journey excites me, and I firmly believe that together, we will create a landmark in the world of delicious pizza. I’m eager to share this culinary adventure with Japes.” Matteo Frigeri, managing director of Seeds Consulting, added: “Japes’ Chicago and London-style deep-dish pizzas have generated a tremendous following, and the franchise is proving equally popular. This is not a surprise: not only does Japes do pizza in its own unique way, but it is also very scalable. It has said ‘arrivederci’ to pizzaiolos and sites do not require any serious extraction. We are confident Ajmeet will do well, he is targeting multiple locations.” Aleksandar Alexic said: “We look forward to working with both Ajmal and Seeds Consulting to ensure the success of our Camden location and lay a solid groundwork for further growth. Japes had thousands of happy guests, and our team worked very hard to make our offering simpler to operate while making it more attractive to our guests. This was a tough challenge, as in most cases, these two goals would take company and operations in different direction. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all members of our team on achieving both goals and helping us to start franchising.”
SSP makes New Zealand debut as it secures Christchurch airport contract: SSP Group, the UK operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide, has secured an eight-year deal to run five outlets at Christchurch International airport. This will mark SSP’s first foray into the New Zealand market, expanding the company’s footprint in the Asia Pacific region. While the brand line-up is yet to be announced, SSP said it will bring a “fresh approach” to food and beverage at the airport and will feature concepts that have been developed in close partnership with the Christchurch team “to showcase strong local brands and demonstrate a sense of place”. It will include a bespoke cafe, an “iconic” bar and casual dining offer, two tailor-made concepts that will “celebrate the essence of the Christchurch culinary scene”, and a quick service restaurant. Jonathan Robinson, chief executive of SSP Asia Pacific, said: “The Asia Pacific region offers a significant opportunity to build returns and drive growth, and this deal is a fantastic foundation for our operations in an exciting territory. We will be working in close collaboration with the airport to create sustainable offers that excite and delight our customers.” Chief executive of Christchurch airport, Justin Watson, added: “This is an important part of our wider refresh of our food and beverage offering, to give us a suite of offerings to meet all our customer needs. It is important to have a range of great modern food and beverage options to reflect not only the broad international spectrum of our customers, but also their tastes and preferences.”
Starbucks appoints Darren King as UK store development director: Starbucks has appointed Darren King, formerly of Stonegate Group and Greene King, as its new UK store development director, Propel has learned. King has recently been working as an advisor to Cerberus Capital Management, the former backer of Admiral Taverns. He stepped down from Stonegate Group last autumn after three and a half years with the TDR Capital-backed company. For the final 15 months at Stonegate, he had been a business unit director, after previously being the company’s commercial property and revenue director. He spent nearly seven years at Greene King, including a stint as its strategy and commercial director. Last November, Starbucks opened its biggest UK store in recent years, in Edinburgh. The company said the 8,000 square-foot site at 118 Princes Street represented an enhancement of the former Starbucks outlet at 120 Princes Street, which closed in anticipation of the relocation. Last September, the business said it was making “good progress” in its expansion plans to open 100 new sites in the UK over the current year. The chain said it has also “maintained strong, double-digit growth” in the UK in recent months.
JD Wetherspoon to make holiday park debut this week: JD Wetherspoon will open its first pub at a holiday park on Friday (8 March). In January, Wetherspoon announced an exclusive partnership with holiday park operator Haven. Now, The Five Stones is opening at Haven’s Primrose Valley holiday park in Filey, North Yorkshire. The pub will be managed by Andy Milner. Wetherspoon commercial director, Michael Barron, said: “We are delighted to be opening at Primrose Valley holiday park. We are confident that owners and holidaymakers will welcome the pub and that it will be a great addition for the park.” Following the announcement in January, Haven managing director Simon Palethorpe told Propel it was “just the beginning” of a partnership between the two businesses.
Former Hero Brands and Hell Yeah Hospitality Group operations chief to head up franchising at Scottish hot chicken concept: Former Hero Brands, German Doner Kebab and Hell Yeah Hospitality Group operations chief David Moffat has become head of franchising at Lucky B’s, a hot chicken concept based in Glasgow. Moffat, who was previously with Stonegate Group, Gondola Leisure and Crolla’s Gelateria, spent three years as senior operations manager at German Doner Kebab and almost two years as group operations manager at its parent company, Hero Brands. He has spent the past year with Hell Yeah Hospitality Group, which is behind concepts including Pizza Punks and Mamasan, first as head of operations and then as group commercial director. He has now been appointed director of franchise operations at Lucky B’s, where he will be responsible for the “development of a new franchise concept within the UK market”. “As I transition from my current role to the new position of director of franchise operations with Lucky B’s Hot Chicken, I want to express my great appreciation for the opportunities and experience that my time with Hell Yeah Hospitality Group gave me, two amazing unique brands that I am of proud to have worked with,” Moffat said. “I am excited about the prospect of launching Lucky B’s into the market this year, a venture that promises growth, innovation and development. Here’s to embarking on this new chapter of significantly impacting franchising and brand development of a new quick service restaurant franchise to the market.” Lucky B’s was created by friends Giancarlo Celino and Toni Dobrenko, opening its first site in Fenwick Road, in the Giffnock area of Glasgow, in September 2022. They previously separately operated Catch Fish and Chips and Toni’s Pizzeria in the city. In January, Lucky B’s was granted permission to open a second site, in a former betting shop in Hillington Road South, in the Cardonald area of Glasgow.
New Forest Hotels refinances and raises new funds, brings in new management partner following strategic review: New Forest Hotels has refinanced, raised new funds and brought in a new management partner following a strategic review. The company, based in Lyndhurst, operates five hotels, a country pub and shepherds’ hut accommodation in the New Forest National Park. In its accounts for the year to 31 December 2022, it said post year end, it had “successfully refinanced its bank debt with an existing and a new funder” and that “further funding has been raised from these funders”. It also appointed Rockingham Partners to manage the group following a strategic review. “The hospitality sector is facing considerable headwinds from the high levels of inflation and interest rates,” said director Nizam Shammas. “The directors are confident that under new management, the group will navigate the turbulent economic conditions.” It comes after the business saw a £1,264,116 pre-tax profit in 2021 turn into a loss of £609,384 during the period. Its turnover was up from £6,663,141 to £7,842,313. The company received £24,000 in government grants compared with £777,102 in 2021 and an insurance payout of £11,644 (2021: nil). No dividend was paid (2021: nil). Shammas said the recovery of the business remains impacted by factors including “restrictions to international tourists and a staffing crisis” on top of “a global financial effect including inflation, customer demand, and utility prices”. He said the directors are seeking to improve staff retention rates through training, motivation and team building, and seeking ways to encourage customers to make bookings direct “in an attempt to reduce the spend on commissions”.
Cafe shop concept Guilt Trip opens fourth site: Guilt Trip, the cafe shop concept from professional rugby player Nick Schonert, has opened its fourth site, in Gloucester. The company has acquired the Tank bar site in Llanthony Road at Gloucester Docks, which was previously operated by Gloucester Brewery. Guilt Trip, which was established in 2020, also operates sites in Worcester, Broadway and Cheltenham. Gloucester Brewery said it will now focus on its nearby Warehouse 4 at Fox’s Kiln, in Gloucester’s Commercial Road. Gloucester Brewery said: “Gloucester Brewery is thrilled to announce a significant development in partnership with Guilt Trip, as the iconic Tank venue undergoes a vibrant rebranding to become Guilt Trip Gloucester. This dynamic collaboration will see a strategic segmentation of offerings to cater to diverse demographics. Guilt Trip will be the go-to spot for daytime indulgences, featuring its signature blend of coffee, doughnuts (including five vegan options), brownies, sausage rolls, and toasties. As the sun sets, Tank transforms into a lively evening venue (Thursday to Sunday) with a focus on local craft beer, cocktails, and a delectable food menu.”
Omniplex expands UK portfolio after acquiring former Empire Cinema site in Wigan: Omniplex Cinema Group, Ireland’s largest cinema company, is to expand its UK portfolio with plans to open a rebranded 11-screen cinema in Wigan. The company has acquired the former Empire Cinema location at Robin Leisure Park that closed last July from the site’s owner, Otium Real Estate. The cinema is expected to reopen this summer following a £3.5m investment. On entering the foyer, customers will be greeted with food and drink trucks “serving everything from pizza slices to grilled sandwiches, soft drinks, beer and cocktails”. Paul John Anderson, director of Omniplex, said: “We are delighted we will be opening an Omniplex cinema in Wigan and can kick off our ambitious renovation plans, which we know will deliver a premium experience for our customers and allow them to watch films in the ultimate comfort.” The acquisition of the former Empire Cinema in Wigan comes after Omniplex expanded into the UK last year, with the company making an investment of £22.5m over 18 months to acquire and refurbish existing Empire Cinema locations across Great Britain. The move saw Empire’s Birmingham, Ipswich, Sutton, Clydebank and High Wycombe sites join Omniplex. The company first opened in Ireland in 1991 and has since amassed 353 screens across 43 locations. Avison Young represented Omniplex on the Wigan deal.
O2 Academy Brixton to reopen 16 months after deadly crowd crush: The O2 Academy Brixton is to reopen 16 months after it was closed following a crowd crush that killed two people. The south London music venue’s licence was suspended in December 2022 after Gaby Hutchinson and Rebecca Ikumelo died when fans without tickets tried to force their way into a show by Nigerian Afrobeats artist Asake. The venue, which is owned by Academy Music Group (AMG), announced on social media on Monday (4 March) it is to reopen on Friday, 19 April, with a run of performances by tribute bands. The venue faced permanent closure after the Metropolitan Police urged Lambeth Council to remove its licence. But following a two-day hearing in September, the council’s licensing sub-committee voted to allow the venue to continue operating, as long as it meets “77 extensive and robust new conditions”. AMG said it had developed new safety measures including stronger doors, a better queuing system and more secure ticketing. AMG added changes to its operating policies had been developed by “leading professionals” to prevent a repeat of the event. The venue spent £1.2m on maintenance and improvements last year, despite being closed, a hearing was told. Night Time Industries Association chief executive Michael Kill said: “This is a significant moment not only for the venue itself but for the entire live music industry. O2 Academy Brixton holds a special place in the hearts of music lovers, artists, and industry professionals alike. Its reopening marks a symbolic resurgence of the night-time economy, signalling a return to the vibrant cultural landscape we all enjoy.”
Michelin-trained chef opens Chester restaurant: Michelin-trained chef Andi Lowe-Smith has opened a new all-day restaurant in Chester. The 100-cover Boheme, at 29 Bridge Street, offers morning coffee and freshly baked pastries, plus lunch and dinner service, while snacks will be served at the bar until 2am. Lowe-Smith, who is also behind premium catering business Cheshire Dining Experience, has partnered with Ben Iles, with whom he created tequila brand Agave Thieves, for the venture. “We wanted to create a space that feels both luxurious and welcoming, where the art of dining is celebrated at any time of the day,” he said. “Boheme is our dream come to life, where every dish tells a story, and every visit creates a memory. This has been four years of passion and dedication to our vision to create an independent and unique restaurant.” A menu led by head chef Curtis Tonge uses seasonal produce for dishes with “a modern European feel and international influences”. There are also “experimental cocktail creations” and a drinks menu heavily focused on fine spirits from around the world.
Smokestak founder David Carter confirms plans for second Borough Market opening: Chef David Carter, the founder of Smokestak and co-founder of Manteca, has confirmed he will open a second restaurant in London’s Borough Market. Propel revealed in September that Carter planned to open on the ex-Rabot 1745 site in Bedale Street, under the name Oma and Agora. Carter has now confirmed that Agora, which means market in Greek, will open later this month under the soon-to-open Oma. Carter said: “This site is unique in that the infrastructure completely warrants and demands two concepts. While Oma will be more elevated, Agora is designed to mirror the bustling vibe of the market it opens out on to, heavily influenced by the lively streets of Athens, with our two-metre souvla rotisserie being the focal point. We want Agora to be high energy and lively.” Carter opened Smokestak in Sclater Street, Shoreditch, in 2016. At the end of 2021, he teamed up with fellow chef Chris Leach to open the first bricks-and-mortar site for their pop-up pasta concept Manteca, in Curtain Road, Shoreditch.
French budget hotel chain begins UK expansion: French budget hotel chain B&B Hotels has begun its UK expansion having acquired the lease of an Arora hotel near Heathrow airport. B&B first announced in 2022 its plans to expand to the UK and open 100 new venues here by 2035. It has now taken on a long-term lease of the Arora Park Hotel in Bath Road, Colnbrook, just to the west of the airport. Patrick O’Connell, chief executive of B&B Hotels UK, said: “Looking ahead, the B&B Hotels UK team remains committed to forging partnerships with existing hotel owners, developers, landowners, funds, and real estate owners to realise its expansion plans. B&B Hotels aims to establish a robust presence in the UK hospitality market and create memorable experiences for guests nationwide.” Sanjay Arora, chief operating officer and head of property at the Arora Group, added: “Arora Park Hotel was originally built and operated as a British Airways crew accommodation hotel before converting to a hotel serving all market segments. The building, facilities and its proximity to Heathrow airport lends itself as an ideal economy hotel and we are confident that B&B Hotels will do a fantastic job in repositioning the property as one of the best value-for-money accommodation offering in Heathrow.” B&B Hotels was established in Brest, France, as Galaxie SA in 1990 and has since grown to more than 650 hotels across 14 European countries, operating mainly on a management-agent basis.
Duo behind The Oystermen to open third Covent Garden venue this month: Rob Hampton and Matt Lovell, who are behind Covent Garden seafood bar and kitchen The Oystermen, are to open a third venue in the area this month. They will open bar and restaurant thirty7, at 37 Bedford Street, having previously agreed a deal with landlord Shaftesbury Capital. The venue will join The Oystermen, which opened in 2017, and wine shop and bar Bedford Street Wines, which launched in 2021. The new 1,544 square-foot venue will seat 45 diners, including a basement cocktail bar. Showcasing a blend of culinary influences from New York, Paris, and beyond, thirty7 will offer a brasserie-style menu led by head chef Grant Clark. Dishes will include Brixham hake with chorizo fregula, and mutton with charred aubergine, yoghurt and mint, completed with sides such as dauphinoise potatoes or sautéed greens. Also on offer will be the thirty7 burger, served with raclette and Dijon-mayonnaise in “an inventive twist on traditional offerings”, as well as a single oyster special as a nod to The Oystermen. Lovell and Hampton said: “We are excited to be opening thirty7 later this month, introducing our innovative new concept to the destination. Covent Garden has been the ideal location for our other concepts to thrive, offering us the opportunity to share our love for food with a diverse range of visitors who are looking for unique culinary experiences. We feel confident thirty7 will be no exception, and that diners will come for the distinct Manhattan-style atmosphere and provenance-focused brasserie-style menu.”

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