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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 28th Mar 2024 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Haute Dolci lines up seven new locations following record-breaking sales, set to increase overseas presence in 2024: Premium dessert and gourmet burger concept Haute Dolci has told Propel it is lining up seven new locations following record-breaking sales and is set to increase its overseas presence in 2024. The business was founded in 2017 by Heavenly Desserts founder Nizam Mohamed, who sold the rights to Heavenly Desserts four years later to focus on the expansion of his Haute Dolci and IceBurg concepts. He has since grown Haute Dolci to 19 UK sites, the latest having opened in February in Perth’s High Street, for its second Scottish location. “We are thrilled to announce that we have seven new UK openings in the pipeline,” director of operations Tahir Mahmood told Propel. “This year has been an incredibly exciting one for us at Haute Dolci. We've witnessed remarkable growth and achieved record-breaking sales across our sites in the UK. Group-wise, we’ve seen an impressive average growth in sales of 27.7%, a testament to the dedication and hard work of our team. Our recent marketing campaigns have exceeded all expectations and our Valentine’s Day campaign last month resulted in a record-breaking single-day sale across all our stores, achieving a phenomenal growth of 210% compared with the previous year. Looking ahead, our vision for Haute Dolci in the UK is ambitious. We aim to continue growing our footprint strategically, and our expansion plans prioritise regions and cities where there is a high demand for premium Dolci experiences.” Haute Dolci is also set to expand overseas this year, having entered its first international market last year with an opening in Lahore, Pakistan. “We celebrated the grand opening of our flagship store last year within the city’s bustling food hub and the response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, reinforcing our commitment to delivering exceptional Dolci experiences globally,” Mahmood added. “Additionally, we are excited to announce that two more locations are being added to our estate in Pakistan, further solidifying our presence in this dynamic market. We are also gearing up for our second international opening in Kuwait, with a grand launch planned for the second week of April. This highly anticipated event will mark another milestone in our journey to bring the Haute Dolci experience to dessert enthusiasts worldwide.”

Industry News:

Oakman Group founder Peter Borg-Neal to speak at Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference, open for bookings with 20% discount on tickets for Premium Club members: Peter Borg-Neal, founder of the Oakman Group, will be among the speakers at the Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference. The all-day conference takes place on Tuesday, 14 May at One Moorgate Place in London and is open for bookings. Borg-Neal will talk about maintaining the company’s award-winning standards against the backdrop of a volatile trading environment, his return as chief executive and how the sector must remain agile and respond quickly to the extraneous pressures it is facing. For the full speaker schedule, click here. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for operators and £395 plus VAT for suppliers. There is a 20% discount for operators and suppliers who are Premium Club members. Email: to book places.
Next Propel Multi-Site Database to be sent to Premium Club members today, grows to 3,075 businesses: The next Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate, will be sent to Premium Club members today (Thursday, 28 March), at midday. The database has now grown to include 3,075 multi-site operators, which operate 72,186 sites. An additional 16 companies, which operate 492 sites between them, have been added during March 2024. The database has been redesigned so Premium Club members are able to search the data segmented into key industry sectors. This new straightforward segmentation allows users to search quickly in key categories such as pubs and bars, cafe bakery, quick service restaurants, casual dining, fine dining, hotel and experiential leisure. Premium Club members will also receive all the videos from last week’s Propel Multi-Club Conference at 9am on Friday, 5 April. They will include Marcello Distefano, managing director of restaurant group San Carlo, speaking about the challenges of building and evolving a premium casual-dining business; and Charlie Elek, managing director of Lucky Voice, setting out how the company is taking a unique approach to evolving its offer. Premium Club members also receive access to five other databases: the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, the New Openings Database, the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database and the Who’s Who of UK Hospitality. Plus, all 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 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 a supplier. Email today to sign up.
European branded coffee shop market grows to more than 45,000 locations, UK closing in on 10,000 sites: The European branded coffee shop market has grown to more than 45,000 locations, with the UK closing in on 10,000 sites, according to the Project Café Europe 2023 report. It said the UK was one of four markets to expand by more than 100 outlets over the past 12 months – alongside Russia, Turkey and Spain – having totalled 9,885 last year. Germany, Greece, Austria and Cyprus, by contrast, contracted by number of outlets. The total European market grew 3.3%, with 33 out of 40 major markets achieving net outlet growth including Ukraine, which achieved double-digit outlet growth despite Russia’s ongoing invasion. The top 20 largest European operators – including McCafé, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Greggs and Caffè Nero – account for nearly half of the total branded coffee shop market. The survey also identified the growth of specialty coffee as the major market trend of the last 12 months, with ambitious smaller and mid-sized chains successfully deploying boutique-at-scale models including WatchHouse in the UK. A survey of 400 European industry leaders by World Coffee Portal also indicated positive trading, while 42% believe the trading environment will improve over the next 12 months and nearly three-quarters believe there is further growth potential for branded coffee chains in their market. World Coffee Portal forecasts the total European branded coffee shop market will exceed 46,600 outlets within 12 months, rising to more than 52,800 outlets by 2029. Allegra Group founder Jeffrey Young said: “Branded coffee shops across Europe face significant headwinds with the high cost of goods, staff and property all eroding profit margins for operators. However, despite these challenges, consumer appetite for coffee shops remains robust and demand for high-quality coffee, particularly specialty-grade coffee, is on the rise and creating new opportunities for operators to double down on quality and menu innovation. That being said, it has never been more important for coffee brands to focus on lean, efficient business models and ensure that customers perceive value as the price of visiting a coffee shop continues to rise.”
Lamb prices reach new heights: Lamb prices in the UK have reached new heights, according to analysis by catering butcher Birtwistles. A lower domestic supply, limited import volumes, growing exports and higher than-expected demand are to blame, it said. Since the first week of 2024, nine consecutive weekly price rises have carried the current deadweight average price for lambs across the UK to almost £7.90/kg. The UK deadweight has grown by 174p/kg since the beginning of the year, with price increases of up to 46p recorded week on week. In the week ending 16 March, the measure rose by 46p from the previous week, with an increase of 51% (267p) from the same week in 2023. The latest figures exceeded the highest price recorded last year of around £7.43/kg in May and is notably higher than historical averages by some 50%. UK finished pig prices have been continuing to track downwards through the first two months of 2024. In February, the EU spec standard pig price (SPP) averaged 211.32p/kg, a decline of 0.59p/kg compared with the average for January, but still nearly 4p/kg above prices recorded this time last year. Prices were not consistently negative through February with weeks two and three both seeing small positive movements. Overall, these were outweighed by the larger declines seen in weeks one and four. However, the most recent weeks data (week ending 9 March) recorded another small weekly increase of 0.16p/kg, bringing the EU spec SPP to currently sit at 211.49p/kg. This may indicate towards some stabilisation in prices through March the report said. January saw the highest level of beef imports for that month in at least the last decade, but despite this, the UK marketplace appears to remain stable. UK farmgate cattle prices continued an upwards trajectory as weekly kill rates remained stable and close to 2023 levels. The price difference between UK and Irish cattle remains historically wide and remains notably large, despite the price gap having narrowed into January, Birtwistles said. Irish steers averaged around 60p lower than UK equivalents during the month, and since January, the price gap has begun to widen again.
Hospitality industry poised for booming Easter weekend with bank holiday lfl bookings up 40%: The hospitality industry is poised for a booming Easter weekend, with bank holiday like-for-like bookings up 40%, according to new insight from hospitality technology partner Zonal. In 2023, Zonal data showed that bookings were up by 14% from 2022. Across the four-day period, Easter Sunday remains the most popular date to book, with bookings up 75% compared with 2022, and nearly 50% from 2023. Reservations on Good Friday are also up 32% on 2023, Easter Saturday by 43% and Easter Monday up by 26%. Tim Chapman, chief commercial officer at Zonal, said: “Our insights shows that Easter weekend continues to be an important calendar occasion for the hospitality industry. This year, Easter falls at the end of the month around payday, which could provide one explanation for the rise in bookings. Given bookings could continue to increase over the next few days, operators would benefit from showing potential customers real-time availability of tables to make it easier for them to make bookings throughout the weekend and drive additional footfall over the bank holiday.”
More than half of bar-goers actively avoid venues without inclusivity policies after experiencing discrimination: More than half of bar-goers (59%) actively avoid venues without inclusivity policies after experiencing discrimination, accord to new research. The research, commissioned by VK, the ready-to-drink brand owned by independent drinks business Global Brands, also showed how important embracing LGBTQ+ policies are for venues, in terms of both customer footfall and spending. One of the key findings was that members of the LGBTQ+ community prefer to visit establishments that actively embrace diversity, with more than 70% reporting feeling safer and more welcome in such venues, and 80% indicating a preference to spend more money in bars that actively prioritise inclusivity. As a result, VK has partnered with charity Ask For Clive, in an effort to support venues in creating welcoming spaces for LGBTQ+ customers. VK is sponsoring 1,000 venues to become part of the Ask For Clive programme, with those who sign up receiving the Ask For Clive training pack and in-venue display items. Founded in 2019, Ask for Clive partners with venues to promote inclusion and to create welcoming environments for the LGBTQ+ community. 
Beer made by AI ‘tastier than a normal pint’: Beer made by artificial intelligence (AI) is tastier than a normal pint, a study suggests. A trained computer system can take existing beers and elevate them to an elite drink by knowing exactly what chemicals to add, new data claims. A five-year project combined taste tests from a panel of 15 experts with chemical composition from lab analysis, and an AI algorithm combined this information with the opinions of 180,000 public reviews on the RateBeer app. Computer models were then able to predict accurately what a beer would taste like based on a range of chemicals of different concentrations. Professor Kevin Verstrepen, director of the VIB-KU Leuven Centre for Microbiology and the Leuven Institute for Beer Research, led the project and tested out the AI beer connoisseur by asking it to improve a standard beer. “After the modifications suggested by the model, the score jumped quite nicely and was among the best beer in the set,” he told The Telegraph. “Moreover, it was a statistically significant change, which is not so trivial in aroma science because even with trained professional tasters, the ratings humans give are always a bit noisy – tasting is not an exact science. So, to get statistical significance, one really needs a big jump that is noticed by almost all tasters.” The scientists also tested the system on an alcohol-free beer. “We believe that most progress can be made with zero alcohol beer,” professor Verstrepen added. “We are now working on tailoring the models to try and generate superior low and zero-alcohol beer. I bet that AI will gradually get integrated in food science in general, including brewing, just like in most other parts of technology. Some brewers are more sceptical, fearing that this takes away from their craft or would result in only a few ‘standard’, bland beers. I want to stress that this is absolutely not the case – people are all different and each of us has their preference, so there simply is no ‘one beer fits all’. But we can use new insights and tools to make existing beers even better, tweaking them.”

Company News:

Lucky Voice to shift focus to US launch: Lucky Voice, the social entertainment brand, is to shift its focus to launching in the US after the opening of its latest site in the UK, in London’s Waterloo, next month. Speaking at Propel’s Mult-Club Conference last week, Lucky Voice managing director Charlie Elek said the business is aiming to launch in the US next year. He said: “We will shift our focus on to a US launch. We think there is a real opportunity to open there. The private room karaoke segment in the US is growing and there are currently no multi-site, multi-state operators.” Propel understands that Lucky Voice will primarily look at opening a site on the US east coast, with a site in Washington DC its initial target. Next month, the business will open its sixth UK site, in Waterloo. The company is investing £1.6m in launching the 3,200 square-foot unit in The Sidings scheme, which will be its first London site south of the Thames. Lucky Voice currently operates sites in Soho, Islington, Holborn and Liverpool Street in the capital, as well as in Brighton, plus a further venue in Dubai. In January, the company reported a record-breaking performance across its estate in December 2023, marking its best Christmas ever. In the four-week period leading up to Christmas, Lucky Voice said it achieved sales growth of 48% compared with 2022. Its performance was 11% up in terms of like-for-like revenue across the estate. The company said Ebitda for the month of December exceeded its previous best month by 49.3%, with strong performance across its estate. Elek said: “While unaffected by the pandemic, the period wasn’t without its own headwinds – with consumers closely monitoring their spending amid the rise in cost of living and the sector as a whole monitoring for potential train strikes. Our team pulled together to navigate these challenges and the results speak for themselves. To us, this performance establishes the continued strength of our business model in delivering our mission to combine karaoke with great service, technology and food and drink.” Elek was among the speakers at last week’s Propel Multi-Club Conference and Premium Club members will receive access to all 12 videos from the conference on Friday, 5 April at 9am.
Lina Stores targeting two or three openings a year, begins exploring regional move: Lina Stores, the deli and restaurant brand backed by White Rabbit Projects, has told Propel it is targeting opening two or three sites a year for the foreseeable future and has begun exploring a regional launch. The business, which is led by Éadaoin McDonagh, is currently gearing up to open its seventh site in London, in South Kensington, next month. The company will open a 140-cover restaurant on the ex-Le Pain Quotidien site in Exhibition Road on Friday, 19 April. A 22-cover wrap-around terrace will run alongside the restaurant and an additional 28-cover terrace will sit on the square in front of the restaurant. Later this year, Lina Stores will open a further site in the capital, in Shoreditch. The business will open a site at 180-182 Shoreditch High Street, which will include the second site for its Bar Lina concept, in the basement. Last year, the business opened the first site under its “hidden aperitivo bar” concept at its Soho site, in Brewer Street. The Shoreditch Bar Lina will have its own separate entrance to the 100-cover restaurant. Propel understands that Lina Stores is also currently in advanced talks on a further site in the capital, which will open next year. At the same time, the business told Propel it had begun exploring regional locations for Lina Stores, with Edinburgh and Manchester top of its target list. Last year, Lina Stores launched a “food hall range” of its products, including pasta and sauces, in Selfridges. Lina Stores is set to ramp up its retail offer this year, including signing a deal with designer department store operator Fenwicks. Lina Stores also operates three sites in Japan after opening its latest site in the country, in Kyoto Takashimaya, last October.
Albion & East focusing on growing business through organic sales after ‘toughest year’ for sector: Albion & East, the Imbiba-backed London bar group led by Sarah Weir, has told Propel that it is focused on growing the business through organic sales growth and is on the “hunt for future sites”. It comes as the five-strong business said it posted strong underlying performance for the “toughest year in living memory for the sector”. Turnover for the year to 27 June 2023 stood at £8,727,502 (2022: £8,922,107), with the business reporting a pre-tax loss of £921,882 (2022: £292,948). Company Ebitda was a loss of £67,852 (2022: profit of £745,539) and site Ebitda was £790,148 (2022: profit of £1,645,373). The business said it was a year of consolidation, with a clear decision to focus on sites that fit its long-term strategy and growth plans. As such, it took the decision to close a site in Crouch End during the year and has subsequently closed its Pacifica Burger & Cocktail Bar in Brixton. It said: “Despite this being a very tough year for the sector with soaring inflation, the cost-of-living crisis and utilities crisis, coupled with the fall in consumer footfall in London caused by unrelenting train strikes and the growth in flexible working-from-home patterns, our core trade of evenings, weekends, parties and events remains robust. In these key trading sessions, we often experience more demand than we are able to supply, particularly with pre-booked events. We are working hard to counter these negative economic and behavioural impacts on sales, and we achieved largely flat like-for-like sales, with 1.2% growth in our core trading period, Thursday to Saturday. We took a strategic decision to hold our prices as much as we could, given the impact of cost-of-living on our customers, increasing price by less than 1% throughout the year. As many other operators have reported, summer trading was dampened by adverse weather and significantly higher travel abroad in 2023 versus 2022. We had great autumn and Christmas trading with record trading in December for the company. We traded 12% higher than the prior December and posted a record week for the company in our week ending 12 December. Last November, we opened our new flagship site, Botanica Hall, near Clapham Junction station, which has performed very well and ahead of our expectations.” Weir said: “We are on the hunt for future sites and have a number in our pipeline at various stages of development. We are focused on growing our business through organic sales growth coupled with new site openings in London neighbourhoods where young professionals live, work and socialise. Gross margins, including labour costs, for the year were 47.1% compared with 48.8% in the prior year. This was a great result given the inflationary pressures on the business. We are very positive about the future. The underlying performance of the business is strong, and we continue to appeal to our target customers, offer good value for money and create leading edge bars and restaurants.”
Big Table Group finishes fast-casual test, Banana Tree proves most popular: The Big Table Group – the operator of Las Iguanas, Banana Tree, Café Rouge and Bella Italia – has told Propel it has taken some valuable learnings from its short-term pop-up in London’s Victoria which closed earlier this month and featured fast-casual versions of some of its brands. Located in the ex-Café Rouge site in Victoria Place, the pop-up, which had been running since November last year, featured versions of the company’s pasta delivery concept Super Nonna, its Las Iguanas brand with a focus on burritos, and its Banana Tree brand. Big Table Group chief executive Alan Morgan told Propel: “It was very valuable for us, we learned a lot operationally and it is clear that a market exists for all the brands/formats we tested but perhaps no surprise, the most popular was the Banana Tree-based products. If we decide to open any smaller sites or different operating models at any time we have some great insight and knowledge now.” Propel revealed last autumn that Big Table Group was to test fast-casual versions of its existing brands, through the launch of a number of pop-ups. It is thought the testing could also include some of the “dark” brands that the business inherited from its acquisition of The Restaurant Group’s leisure division, which completed last October. Earlier this week, the company opened the 20th site under its Banana Tree brand after converting the Café Rouge site at Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth. Morgan told Propel in December that he believes the company can grow Banana Tree to a “Las Iguanas-sized business in 18-24 months”. Big Table Group currently operates 50 sites under its Las Iguanas brand.
Thesleff Group founder looking to expand other concepts as he gears up to launch second Los Mochis site: Markus Thesleff, founder of The Thesleff Group, has told Propel he’s looking to expand his other concepts as he gears up to launch a second Los Mochis site. Thesleff will open his second Los Mochis on Thursday, 11 April in Liverpool Street, adding to the Mexican-Japanese restaurant concept’s debut site in Notting Hill. The group also operates cocktail bar Viajante87 in Notting Hill and owns Italian restaurant Sale e Pepe in Knightsbridge – as well as small scale omakase concept Juno within Los Mochis Notting Hill. “We’re looking at a number of things,” Thesleff told Propel. “We’re looking at Mayfair for doing another Los Mochis, and we’re close to agreeing terms to take it to the US as well. We’re also in talks for more sites in London for Sale e Pepe, and I would look to grow Viajante87 too. We launched that concept to show that you didn’t have to go all the way into the West End to get a good cocktail – and it’s something we can open as a stand-alone, in a hotel or within a Los Mochis. It’s only a year old and it’s doing really well.” At 14,000 square feet and featuring a 3,000 square-foot outdoor terrace, the new Los Mochis will be the group’s biggest site yet. “They said opening a new site is like adding a limb to the body, but this is like adding a body to the limb,” Thesleff said. “We’ve gone to that from the complete opposite, having opened Juno, which is only six feet across, four to six weeks ago. That has been fully sold out and we don’t have a seat available until mid-May.” Thesleff said trading across the group has been “incredible” and “beyond what we expected”, with sales up 23% last year and like-for-likes up a further 20% so far this year – all without increasing prices. “Average spend has gone up and we can’t get any more customers into our venues,” he said. “We’re also noticing that people are not necessarily buying more alcohol but better alcohol – it’s all about quality. Things like tequila are becoming more well-known and people know what they want and are upselling themselves.” Thesleff also believes London’s night-time economy is bouncing back but that the city needs a transport system to match it. “I believe strongly in the night-time economy, which is why I have applied for a 22-hour licence at Los Mochis,” he said. “Transport is a challenge – people just can’t get home, which you don’t see in other cities the size of London. The system no longer supports the late-night economy. I also think that post-covid, we are no longer just hospitality businesses but entertainment businesses as time is time for us all, and that is what we are competing for – people’s time. Concepts are having to become more multi-dimensional and those who adapt will thrive.” The new Los Mochis will employ more than 250 people, all of whom receive private healthcare from The Thesleff Group. “That was something I started when I noticed that team members who were getting sick couldn’t get treatment as the NHS was under pressure, and I could get them back to work quicker if we gave them private healthcare,” Thesleff added. “It is now something we are proud to be able to offer our team members and it shows that hospitality is a professional career option.”
Mowchi set to make London debut this summer with launch of flagship store as it aims for ten new openings in 2024: Bubble tea franchise Mowchi is set to make its London debut this summer with the launch of flagship store as it aims for ten new openings in 2024. It is set to open a 40-seater cafe in Mile End, offering bao buns, sandwiches, coffee and frozen yoghurt alongside its bubble tea. Mowchi currently has three sites – in Birmingham, Bradford and Essex’s Lakeside shopping centre – and the London location is set to be one of ten new sites this year. Founded in 2022 by Afrikana brand and marketing director Syeda Kayanath, Mowchi opened its first store in Birmingham’s Ladypool Road before launching its first franchise location, in Bradford, last summer. Its first southern site was launched just before Christmas at Lakeside by franchisees Ish Ikram and Ahdil Akhtar.
Escapism Bars looking to double its estate in 2024 with three new openings: Escapism Bars, the bar business founded in 2004 by husband-and-wife team Phil and Mel Harrison, is looking to double its estate in 2024 with three new openings. With three venues already established in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, Escapism is looking to roll out its Mean-Eyed Cat concept in Sheffield, Birmingham and Nottingham. The deep south dive bar concept offers free pizza offer alongside a “roll the dice” initiative, where customers can get discounts, or even a free round, if they roll a six. David Aldred, operations manager for Escapism Bars, said: “We opened Mean-Eyed Cat, alongside sister bar concept Tiki Hideaway, in Manchester last summer, and sales were 134% above target in the first full month of opening. Sheffield, Birmingham and Nottingham are all cities that we are looking at for our expansion plans. All three cities suit the bars perfectly and we feel they would be a great fit. We are working towards a three to five-year plan where we take learnings from opening each venue and focus our efforts on establishing them within the city. We invest heavily in our staff members and aim to make Escapism Bars a great place to work, learn and progress. We invest in people with our barback to boardroom training programme and pay everyone a fair wage. We also put on quarterly away days, offer paid well-being leave after the Christmas rush and make sure everyone really gets to know each other, which has a knock-on effect when it comes to team spirit.”
Liberation Group reports strong start to spring/summer season: Brewer and retailer Liberation Group has reported it has made a strong start to the spring/summer season, seeing record breaking figures thanks, in part, to a bumper Mother’s Day weekend and the Cheltenham Festival. The Mother’s Day weekend saw the pub group, with sites across the south of England, cater for nearly 8% more covers than last year. It said that this year, both Saturday, 9 March and Sunday, 10 March proved equally popular with those celebrating, equating to an increase in food sales of more than 29%. Jayson Perfect, chief operating officer at Liberation Group – owners of Butcombe Pubs & Inns – said: “We’re delighted with such a strong start to the spring/summer season. Mother’s Day is a big deal and one of the first seasonal sale markers of the year, so to beat our own past records is something to be very proud of.” At the same time, the business said its Butcombe Pubs & Inns’ sites in and around Cheltenham were fully booked both in terms of accommodation and dining, with race-goers choosing to stay for the duration of the Cheltenham Festival, which ran from 12-15 March. 
Urban Baristas signs third franchisee, plans White City opening: Aussie-inspired coffee concept Urban Baristas has signed up its third franchisee. The 12-strong business, founded in 2016 by Huw Wardrope and Jono Bowman, launched its franchise programme in December, and told Propel that it was set to double its estate in 2024 as it also explores opportunities outside London. Its first franchise location is due to open soon, in Balham High Road in Tooting Bec. Last month it secured its second franchisee, Gustavo Paseto Zonta, who has worked for the business for five years since arriving in the UK from his native Brazil and is planning to open in New Cross Gate. Its latest franchisee is Veronica Murrighile, who is planning to open a site in White City. “Meet Veronica, our first Italian franchisee and the newest addition to our ever-growing franchise family,” a spokesperson for the business said. “This partnership marks another great achievement for both Urban Baristas and Vero as we join forces to spread the Urban love of epic coffee throughout the UK. Vero has worked in the hospitality industry for her whole career and she’s super eager to dive into a new coffee adventure with us. She’ll be bringing her Urban branch to a fresh spot in White City soon. As we expand upon our 12 existing cooperate locations around London, our goal is to open 30 additional stores over the next three years through a strategic franchising approach.” Urban Baristas also has sites in Richmond, in south west London, and Maidenhead, in Berkshire, in the pipeline, with the latter possibly becoming its first regional location.
Portobello Pub Company acquires former JD Wetherspoon site in Battersea: Portobello Pub Company, the London and south east pub operator, has acquired a freehold pub in Battersea, south west London, for an undisclosed fee. The business, which operates 21 sites, has acquired The Asparagus in Falcon Road, which used to be operated by JD Wetherspoon. Following the acquisition, Portobello, which is led by managing director Richard Stringer and chaired by industry veteran Mark Crowther, has reopened the venue for trade, with a full capex refurbishment due to take place in the coming months. The pub is named in homage to the vegetable that was historically grown and harvested in the Battersea area. Crowther said: “This is a wonderful acquisition for us, expanding our network and taking on such an iconic pub in bustling Battersea. We are always on the lookout for opportunities to add to our growing estate and, when a chance like this arises and things fall in our favour, it is very rewarding. We are looking forward to welcoming guests through our doors ahead of what's set to be a busy Easter weekend for the wider industry, but even more so once the full refurbishment has been completed in the coming months. This is an exciting time for the business, we've got some growth irons in the fire, and are looking forward to continuing to build this business.” 
Insomnia Coffee opens first airport location: Insomnia Coffee, which operates more than 100 coffee shops and kiosks in Ireland plus 13 in the UK, has opened its first airport location. The company, in partnership with franchisee KSG, has opened the outlet at Terminal 1 Arrivals at Dublin airport with what is also its second 24-hour location, according to its website. “Exciting news, Insomnia has officially landed at Terminal 1 Arrivals Dublin airport,” the company posted on social media. “We’re delighted to be collaborating with KSG on this new opening. We're open 24 hours, so whether you’ve an early morning flight or time to spare on your onward journey, we’re ready to serve you up the best coffee, hot chocolate, milkshakes, freshly baked pastries, tasty treats and handcrafted sandwiches.” A spokesman for Dublin airport added: “An extra shot of choice for coffee and tea lovers is now available in Terminal 1 following the opening of the new Insomnia Coffee in the arrivals hall. The new Insomnia unit, opened by KSG, Insomnia’s franchise partner, is already proving a massive hit with passengers and is the first of 23 new and improved food and drink outlets that will be opening in our two terminals over the coming ten months. Insomnia is open 24 hours a day, which is great news for passengers, their waiting loved ones and also airport staff.” Insomnia opened its first store in Galway in 1997.
Hunky Dory Group invests £1m in new Chinese restaurant: Scottish operator Hunky Dory Dining Group has confirmed details of the launch of its new high-end restaurant offering contemporary Chinese dining in Glasgow city centre. As revealed by Propel last month, Zhima – which translates to sesame in Mandarin – will open at the former site of Prezzo in St Vincent Place next month, creating more than 60 jobs. The interior of the site has been transformed following a £1m investment fit-out into a “contemporary and elegant” restaurant. There will be a business lunch, a pre-theatre, and evening menu, with private dining available for up to 12 guests. The business said that Cantonese, Hunan, and Sichuan influences will underpin the cooking style and small plates will be catered for at its “elegant cocktail bar”. Hunky Dory Group also operates the Chaakoo Bombay Cafe, Panang, and Topolabamba concepts. The new restaurant will be the ninth opening for the business, which was established in partnership with Scottish restaurateurs Mario Gizzi and Tony Connetta of Di Maggio's Restaurant Group (DRG). Paul Sloan, co-founder of Hunky Dory Dining Group, believes the new venue – which opens on Wednesday 17 April – will bring an “elevated” dining experience to the Glasgow restaurant scene. He said: “The concept has been in development for close to four years but finding the right site was the key. There aren’t many places in the city centre where diners can go and get properly dressed up and that’s the point of difference we’re bringing to this part of Glasgow. It’s all about elevating customer experiences and providing a late-night venue with a bit of glam and sophistication. Chinese food is a big part of Glasgow’s culture and the Zhima concept champions this. We’ve recruited chefs with more than 20 years’ experience working in Asian-fusion restaurants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and hope to bring to Glasgow what Hakkasan does to London and Tattu does to Edinburgh – an elegant, adventurous dining destination.”
Chickpea Group adds seventh site to pubs with rooms estate: Chickpea Group, the hospitality business founded by siblings Ethan and Jordan Davids along with Tommy Tullis, has added a seventh site to its growing pubs with rooms estate. The business has acquired the Manor House Inn, located in the village of Ditcheat, Somerset. The 18th century pub, which has been closed since last November, will reopen after a renovation and feature seven rooms upstairs. Plans also include having 50 covers inside the main pub, with guests offered classic “pub bangers” from a menu overseen by executive chef, Harry Russell. There will be a further 40 covers served by a separate kitchen offering sourdough pizza. Ethan Davids said: “The Manor House is a truly beautiful pub and offers everything we look for in a Chickpea country pub. The pub has always been incredibly well-supported by the local area, so we hope people are as excited about our plans as we are.” Richard Wood, regional director – pubs and restaurants at Christie & Co, who brokered the deal, added: “Given its reputation and expertise, I have no doubt that the new owners, Chickpea Group will maximise the potential of this historic pub and transform it into a thriving establishment once again.” Last week, Propel revealed that Chickpea Group is to launch a new pub concept in Salisbury. The Market Inn, located in Salisbury’s historic market square, will launch a new line of pubs focusing on “great food and drinks”. Chickpea Group, which was founded in 2019, last year opened its sixth pub with rooms, the Silver Plough in Pitton. Ethan Davids also last year launched the Rude Giant Beer House as part of his new brewery venture, plus The Wellington Arms in Marlborough, a third site for his wet-led vehicle Great Boozers.

Star Pubs & Bars revises communications with tied tenants over premises insurance following PCA review: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars has revised its communications with tied tenants over premises insurance following a review by the Pubs Code adjudicator (PCA). In December 2022, the PCA reported Star Pubs & Bars had identified breaches of the Pubs Code in relation to the provision of information given to tied tenants about premises insurance. Under the code, a pub company must provide tied tenants with information about premises insurance where it intends to charge the tenant in respect of the premium. If the tied tenant finds a cheaper policy that is suitable and comparable in coverage, the pub company must buy that policy or agree the tenant will not have to pay the difference. Star Pubs & Bars has a self-insurance arrangement through a company owned by Heineken. Star Pubs & Bars argued as it insures its estate as a group, it does not hold information on the insurance premium for individual premises. After reporting the breach, Star Pubs & Bars worked with the PCA “to ensure transparency is provided to tenants as required by the code”. Star Pubs & Bars has now revised its correspondence with tenants “to ensure it clearly explains our insurance arrangements and the method used to calculate the premium for each premises”. The PCA said it is satisfied that Star Pubs & Bars “has taken appropriate action in response to the reported breach”.

Edinburgh’s The Caledonian hotel to receive investment of more than £35m as it prepares to rebrand: Edinburgh hotel, The Caledonian, is to receive an investment of more than £35m as it prepares to become part of the Curio Collection by Hilton this summer. Private real estate investment fund manager Henderson Park, together with its in-house hospitality operator and asset manager, Klarent Hospitality, plan to transform the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian, marking a new chapter in its 120-year history. Having acquired the property in July 2023, Henderson Park and Klarent Hospitality have investment plans that will see improvements in the infrastructure, bedroom refurbishment as well as upgrading and restoring the public areas of the Princes Street hotel. There are plans to extend the hotel, expanding its capacity to more than 300 rooms by early 2026. The companies said the rebrand provides an opportunity for The Caledonian “to further elevate its heritage and position as one of Edinburgh’s most famous and loved hotels”. Klarent Hospitality, led by chairman John Brennan and chief executive Peter Stack, manages a portfolio of Henderson Park-owned hotels across the UK and Europe, including five Hilton Hotels across the Central Belt of Scotland. Stack said: “As custodians of this landmark hotel, we have committed to the significant investment and transformation that will see The Caledonian as a world-renowned, leading hotel at the heart of Edinburgh.”

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