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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 3rd Apr 2024 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Food price inflation in hospitality falls again but remains more than double the rate seen in retail sector: Food price inflation in hospitality remains more than double the rate seen in the retail sector despite steady easing over the last 12 months, the new edition of the CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index reveals. In March 2023, the level of food inflation in hospitality and retail briefly converged at 19%. However, while inflation in retail as measured by the Consumer Price Index has eased since then to 5%, wholesale price inflation for hospitality operators as measured by the Foodservice Price Index has only fallen to 12%. This means inflation in hospitality is currently 2.4 times higher than in retail. Supermarket food inflation typically falls faster than in the hospitality sector due to big retailers’ ability to swiftly pass on reductions in energy and commodity costs to consumers. These businesses often have more streamlined supply chains and can adjust prices quickly in response to market changes and government pressure to keep food prices stable – especially during economic downturns, which can accelerate the deflation process. In contrast, hospitality suppliers, with more fragmented and complex operational models, may not be able to reflect cost savings so rapidly. In more positive news for hospitality businesses, the latest Foodservice Price Index reports month-on-month deflation for only the second time in 28 months, and the first time since October 2023. Year-on-year inflation remains in double digits in eight of the ten categories of the index, with oils and fats the only one in deflation. Shaun Allen, chief executive of Prestige Purchasing, said: “It is positive to see inflation continuing to fall, and it will be encouraging for operators to see that after two years of sharp increases, food prices have fallen month-on-month in five categories.” James Ashurst, client director at CGA by NIQ, added: “Hospitality has dealt well with the inflation crisis but has inevitably had to pass on higher costs to menus, which in turn compromises consumer spending. We will hopefully see more easing over the spring and summer, but for now the trading environment remains challenging.”

Industry News:

Punch Pubs MD Robin Belither and COO Andy Spencer to speak at Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference, open for bookings with 20% discount on tickets for Premium Club members: Punch Pubs & Co managing director Robin Belither and chief operating officer Andy Spencer 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. Spencer and Belither will talk about building the company’s managed partnerships division from scratch, the journey the division has been on, its successes, learnings and what comes next. 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: kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com to book places.

Premium Club members to receive next New Openings Database and videos from Propel Multi-Club Conference on Friday: The next Propel New Openings Database and the videos from Propel’s March Multi-Club Conference will be sent to Premium Club members on Friday (5 April). The database features openings by cafe and bakery operators such as Ben’s Cookies, which has opened its first site in the north of England for its 14th UK location overall. Meanwhile, Cornish coffee roaster and retailer Origin Coffee is making its debut in Scotland while Indian street food concept Karak Chaii has opened two new stores, in Coventry and Birmingham. The database is published on a monthly basis and Premium Club members will also receive a 3,200-word report on the 54 new additions to the database. Premium Club members will also receive all the videos from the Propel Multi-Club Conference at 9am on Friday. They will include William Gordon-Harris, chief executive of Knoops, discussing the growth of the luxury hot chocolate shop concept and Nisha Katona, founder of Indian street food concept Mowgli, talking about growing into a national brand and what comes next for the business both in the UK and internationally. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com today to sign up.

March’s extra weekend helps boost sector sales 11.6%: The extra weekend in March helped hospitality sales increase 11.6% in March compared with the same month last year, according to the latest data from people, productivity and payroll system, S4labour. Outside of London, sales saw an increase of 13.4% year-on-year, ahead of the capital, which saw an uplift of 4.1%. Across the country, sales in food-led sites were up 12.4% and 10.2% in wet-led businesses. Chief growth officer at S4labour, Richard Hartley, said: “This year, March was a five-weekend month and Easter was earlier, so March saw the trading of Good Friday and the rest of Easter weekend. As a result of the bank holiday and additional weekend, an increase to like-for-likes was to be expected, albeit it is still a pleasant surprise to see them up by more than 11%. The increase here, and in February (3.5%), are indicators of a promising start to 2024.”

Nightcap – 2024 looks to be the year where the UK late-night sector is being reshaped: Nightcap – owner of the Cocktail Club, the Adventure Bar Group, Dirty Martini and the Barrio Familia group of 46 bars – has said that 2024 looks to be the year where the UK’s late-night sector is reshaped and that it intends to “continue to lead the consolidation efforts”. Speaking as part of an investor update, the company said that the late-night sector landscape was changing away from “nightclubs and sticky dancefloors” to late-night bars that provide “safer, more flexible and inclusive environments”. Nightcap co-founder Michael Willingham-Toxvaerd said the company’s brands and estate were well positioned to take advantage of these changes. Highlighting the issues faced recently by Rekom UK and Revolution Bars Group, Willingham-Toxvaerd said: “2024 looks to be the year where the UK late-night sector is being reshaped through restructuring and consolidation. Nightcap was founded in the belief that consolidation would take place. With five acquisitions in three years, the company intends to continue to lead the consolidation efforts with the very strong team we've assembled. We will keep a close eye on all of these developments and be part of them where we find that it is relevant and creates long-term shareholder value.” Fellow co-founder Sarah Willingham stressed the importance of the structural change the business has undertaken over the past 12 months to it aim of growing further. She said: “When you're a highly acquisitive business and also organically rolling out and you've got ambitions to grow so much bigger, you've got to make sure that you have the right foundations in place and the right people around you to be able to do that. We have made changes in each of our departments that come with running a much larger business so we now have a fantastic group in place, which gives us the confidence to grow.” On whether the business anticipates needing to raise further funding in the next 12 months given that its share price is at an all-time low, Willingham-Toxvaerd said: “The first thing to say is that we have our main banking facility with HSBC, and we have a very strong relationship there. We have an ongoing facility that stretches into 2025, with the option of extending that further as well. We have some convertible loan notes that we took on when we acquired Dirty Martini, and those stretch into 2026. So, we have good visibility on our core financing.”

Meaningful Vision – Easter should bring welcome footfall boost for casual dining operators because it usually appeals to wider demographic and dayparts: Easter should bring a welcome footfall boost for casual dining operators because the occasion “usually appeals to a wider demographic and dayparts”, according to market intelligence platform, Meaningful Vision. Chief executive Maria Vanifatova said: “Easter usually appeals to a wider demographic, including families, large groups, and individuals of various ages, with traffic growth focused on brunch and lunch services. By a daily measure, Easter’s growth looks to be half that of the 15% of Valentine’s Day. But since Easter lasts for four days rather than only one, the period should in fact should bring more additional traffic to casual dining. The same cannot be said about fast food as during the Easter holiday people generally favour dining at home over the fast food option. Valentine's Day is traditionally an important day for restaurants specialising in fine dining or offering a more upscale, intimate dining experience. Couples are often willing to spend more for a special night out and as a result the impact of Valentine's Day is primarily concentrated on dinner service, meaning the economic benefits it can bestow, while significant, are confined to one specific part of the day.” 

Scottish government urged to review calorie labelling proposals on back of new research: The Scottish government has been urged to review its proposal to introduce mandatory calorie labelling by UKHospitality Scotland on the back on new research. The findings by Public Health Scotland suggest calorie labelling can have negative consequences for people dealing with, or having dealt with, eating disorders. Leon Thompson, executive director of UKHospitality Scotland, said: “Understanding how calorie labelling impacts people with lived experiences of eating disorders is important in this debate and I commend Public Health Scotland for carrying out this research. The research recognises that hospitality can help people with their recovery by allowing them to enjoy the experience and socialising with family and friends. That’s the power of hospitality and these benefits must be recognised when legislation like this is being discussed. The Scottish government must now factor in these findings, alongside wider business concerns, and reconsider its proposals to introduce mandatory calorie labelling. We look forward to discussing these findings and the broader concerns of our members with the Scottish government to make the case for scrapping this harmful and unnecessary move.”

Olivia FitzGerald to become managing director at Feed It Back: Olivia FitzGerald is standing down as chief sales and marketing officer at hospitality technology supplier Zonal to become managing director of guest feedback service Feed It Back. She will also become chief operating officer of sister company Yoodee, which is being led by Feed It Back chief executive and founder Carlo Platia. Yoodee is a recommendations app that will go live later this year. FitzGerald, who has also worked at Majestic Wine, Planday and Bookatable, said: “I’m really looking forward to leading the team at Feed It Back. Using real-time feedback to drive performance in hospitality has never been more important, so there’s plenty of potential to grow, and help many more operators to excel.” Platia added: “With extensive experience of leading teams to deliver performance and growth to hospitality clients through technology, I am excited to welcome Olivia to help Feed it Back deliver greater value than ever to our clients. I am delighted that Olivia has seen the exceptional potential for Yoodee to transform businesses across all industries through trusted recommendations and private feedback.”

New initiative launched to enhance crowd management practices: A new comprehensive best practice guide to enhance crowd management practices in performance spaces and licensed venues across the UK has been released in response to several high-profile incidents resulting in loss of life or serious injury. The new initiative is part of a collaborative effort undertaken by the UK Crowd Management Association, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), LIVE, and UK Door Security Association. The guide aims to provide venue operators, organisers, and their stakeholders with a general outline of accepted good practice in crowd management, filling a “crucial gap in safety protocols, particularly for indoor spaces smaller than arenas”. The guide, which encompasses a wide range of indoor venues – including concert halls, theatres, nightclubs, bars, pubs, restaurants, and comedy clubs hosting cultural and entertainment events – addresses various aspects of crowd management, including risk assessment, planning processes, stakeholder engagement, and considerations for different types of venues and events. It emphasises the importance of proactive measures and diligent planning to mitigate potential risks, recognising that strategies may vary depending on the nature of the event and venue. “While this document serves as a valuable resource, it is important to recognise that it does not replace regulatory tools or official guidance,” said Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA. “Instead, it complements existing frameworks by offering practical insights and recommendations based on industry expertise.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a hotel that is seeking an experienced hotel manager/operations manager. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “You will have a strong background in food and beverage management to lead a prestigious hotel team. As a key member of the leadership team, you will oversee all aspects of hotel operations, including guest services, food and beverage outlets, staff management, and overall guest satisfaction.” The salary is up to £50,000 and the position is based in London. For more information, email david@corecruitment.com.

Company News:

Bubba Oasis plans to reach ten sites by 2026, ex-Itsu CEO joins business: Bubba Oasis, the all-day restaurant and bar concept, plans to reach between eight and ten sites in London by the end of 2026, and said it is “fixated on ensuring that the backbone of our concept is as scalable as possible”. The company, which was founded in summer 2021 by Rob Huysinga and Moe Sahrie, currently operates sites in Islington and Clapham. Speaking at Propel’s Multi-Club Conference, Huysinga said the concept looks to “tap into the Generation Z market, creating a work-friendly environment and a community-focused concept, which offers a wide array of events, all at a reasonable price”. He said: “We describe ourselves as an affordable club house with an authentic lifestyle concept. We want to bring our generation together in real life. And we do this by creating meaningful events, meaningful experiences, and environments within a really friendly and comfortable environment whereby it really facilitates and fuels working by day, playing by night, and connecting. We really love living off the land and taking on units that are already in pretty good condition. It means that we can spend a lot less on them and that results in a much better return on investment. We want the business to become a collection and not a chain. In the space of a week, I saw a 2,000 square-foot site in Soho and a 10,000 square-foot church in Notting Hill – and we would make both sites work, we're super flexible. We launched Islington in July 2021 and invested £235,000 on that fit out and last year our site Ebitda was £272,000, while in Clapham we spent £182,000 on the site, which included a 60,000 premium, and we will see within 12 to 18 months a return on that as well. We want to continue to celebrate the local community. We feel that we could get up to eight to ten in London, and then from there, the world's our oyster but we're really just taking one step at a time right now.” To aid its growth plans, the company has just appointed Ganan Kanagathurai, former chief executive of Itsu, as a non-executive director. Huysinga said: “We want to continue to surround ourselves with individuals that really understand the long-term vision. And for that reason, we're really proud to say that Ganan recently came on board as a non-executive. And already within just a few months, he's really helped steer me and Moe in the right direction. He's making such great inroads into improving our business and we really want to just continue to surround ourselves with incredibly talented and experienced individuals such as him.” Huysinga was among the speakers at the Propel Multi-Club Conference and Premium Club members will receive access to all 12 videos from the conference on Friday (5 April) at 9am. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com today to sign up.

WatchHouse makes international debut with New York opening: Specialty coffee concept WatchHouse, which completed a $10m (£7.9m) Series A fundraising round in December to continue the company’s rapid growth in the UK and US over the next 36 months, has opened its first international site, in New York. Located at 660 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, the modern coffee brand occupies approximately 1,500 square foot on the ground level of the 39-storey, state-of-the-art office tower. WatchHouse currently operates 17 locations in the UK. The company said like its other locations, the New York site is modelled like an espresso bar, serving coffee, locally sourced baked goods and grab-and-go items during the day. WatchHouse NYC also offers an evening programme with cocktails and light bites, with seating for more than 20 guests. “To be able to open our first location in the United States in iconic Fifth Avenue in New York City is beyond exciting. WatchHouse is delivering an elevated, modern coffee experience including a robust menu, highly designed space and welcoming atmosphere,” said WatchHouse chief executive and founder, Roland Horne. “660 Fifth Avenue is a beautiful building in a central location that is appealing to Midtown workers and tourists alike. We look forward to continued expansion in New York City and the states.” Jason Maurer, executive vice-president, national urban retail, Brookfield Properties, the landlord of the building, said: “We are thrilled to open the doors to WatchHouse’s first location in the US at 660 Fifth Avenue – a perfect fit for our building and tenants, and an excellent addition to the Midtown scene. WatchHouse delivers an unwavering commitment to quality and craft in all its offerings and has designed an exquisite new space for day-to-night service, perfectly pairing London charm with New York City energy.” Last month, WatchHouse opened in London’s Canary Wharf, in Cabot Place. The company has further openings lined up in the capital over the next six months. It will open in Marble Arch in May, in Hampstead Heath in June, in Fitzrovia in July and a further site in Canary Wharf in August.

Exclusive – Fallow group raises £3m toward expansion, first-quarter revenue up 70%: The team behind sustainable restaurant group Fallow, which includes the eponymous restaurant in London, has secured a new £3m loan to aid its growth plans, and told Propel it sees “huge potential” for its chicken concept Fowl. The business, which is gearing up to open its new 350-cover restaurant Roe, in Wood Wharf, east London, has secured the funds, with a five-year term, from NatWest. It comes off the back of the Fallow group reporting a 70% increase in net revenue for the first quarter of 2024 to in excess if £3m across its two sites, predominantly driven by the performance of Fallow in Haymarket. Co-owner James Robson told Propel: “It's been an incredible start to the year with our chicken shop Fowl going from pop-up to permanent, Fallow continuing to defy growth expectations with breakfast now a core revenue driver while the team is all poised to open our new restaurant Roe, in Wood Wharf, at the end of the month. This fundraising will enable us to explore a number of place making landlord approaches and to continue to invest in our digital team endeavours, which now have a stabilised monthly reach of more than 30 million.” Robson said that while Fowl is still in the concept stage, it is generating circa £100,000 of turnover a month, which the business believes will “triple over time”. In terms of what concepts the business will look to expand, Robson told Propel: “Our current thought process is that Fallow and Roe are not scalable. However, we believe there is huge potential with Fowl once we have honed the concept further.” The company, which Robson founded with Jack Croft and Will Murray, opened its first permanent site in London’s St James’ Market, in November 2021, while Fowl opened in the capital last October. Roe will follow the same nose-to-tail and root-to-stem ethos as its sister sites. The á la carte menu will be divided into nibbles and flatbreads, skewers and grilled options, with larger plates and sides also available. As well as championing modest, British ingredients, Roe’s dishes will showcase “underused and underappreciated produce”. Set across three floors, the restaurant will feature a chef’s table, mezzanine private dining room and terrace overlooking the South Dock canal.

Amber Taverns – Easter weekend trading up 11%, has a wide range of target towns for further growth: Amber Taverns, the 171-strong, wet-led, freehold community pub operator, has said it traded well over the Easter weekend with the full week last year versus this up 9.6%. The James Baer-led business said that the four days over Easter were ahead by 11%. It comes after the business saw its turnover increase by 15% to £110.4m in the year to 4 February 2024, with underlying earnings rising from £22.4m to more than £25m. Like-for-like sales increased by 11.3% for the year and were up 6% in the first six weeks of the new financial year, driven by a mixture of volumes and price. On further expansion opportunities, it said: “In addition to continued organic investment in the existing estate, Amber has an encouraging pipeline with a variety of good new site opportunities and is looking to add another 15 new pubs to its growing portfolio each year. The group has consistently achieved historic high returns of more than 24% on new freehold acquisitions and has a wide range of target towns both within regions and locations where Amber has an existing presence, as well as new geographies, to continue to expand its footprint with well invested pubs at the heart of their communities with broad appeal, across the UK.” Last year, the business hired investment bank Rothschild to explore strategic options, which could result in a £250m sale of the business. Amber's strong trading record is rumoured to have attracted bid interest and a spokeswoman told The Times: “Amber has previously stated it is likely to refinance or to take on new investment of some kind this year to fulfil its future expansion plans. A potential sale is one of a number of options.”

Buenos Aires Steak and Koh Thai Tapas owner consolidates estate: High Road Restaurants Group, the owner of the Buenos Aires Steak restaurants business and the Koh Thai Tapas brand, has consolidated its estate with the closure of two sites, as it reported a pre-tax loss of £2,719,039 for the year to 25 June 2023 (2022: loss of £891,393). After the period end, the group’s Buenos Aires site in Horsham, West Sussex, closed due to a fire and the decision was made by management not to reopen. The company has since exited the lease. Fixed assets with a book value of £114,000 at the period end were subsequently written off and a reverse lease premium of £50,000 was paid. As well as this, after the period end, the group’s Koh Thai site in Lymington ceased to trade and the company has exited the lease. Fixed assets with a book value of £30,300 at the period end were subsequently written off and a reverse lease premium of £30,000 was paid. The company currently operates four Koh Thai sites, four Buenos Aires sites and four restaurants under its Buenasado concept. During the period ended 25 June 2023, the group posted turnover of £13,580,342 (2022: £10,752,588), and an operating loss of £1,042,202 (2022: loss of £332,838). During the period, the group generated negative Ebitda of £443,957 (2022: positive Ebitda of £829,884). The company said: “Following a period of continued strong performance within the Koh Thai business, the company acquired a site at Port Solent Marina. The restaurant reflects a new direction in terms of design while retaining all other elements including the menus. The restaurant opened in April 2022. Although it has traded well, and is profitable, footfall at the scheme is lower than previous years, undermining the site's immediate profitability. The invasion of Ukraine, supply led inflation and continued increases in interest rates has negatively impacted the mood of the consumer. This was felt earlier on the south coast and as of summer 2023 was also being felt by some of the regional Buenos Aires sites.”

East Sussex brewer Lakedown unveils plans to build small regional pub co, agrees terms for first site: East Sussex brewer, Lakedown Brewing Co, has unveiled plans to build a small regional pubco and has agreed terms for its first site. The company – owned by actor and The Who singer Roger Daltrey, his son Jamie and two sons-in-law, Des Murphy and Chris Rule – has retained agent Fleurets to help it grow Lakedown Pub Group. In 2023, Lakedown Brewing Co hired James Cuthbertson, former managing director of Dark Star Brewing Co and operator of multi award-winning pubs, and he now heads up the Lakedown Pub Group. In early 2024, Oliver Neilson joined the team bringing with him a vast amount of experience in design and construction. Cuthbertson said: “Having opened the new brewery last September, we'd always planned to look at building a small pubco around that, to showcase the very best of our beer along with other amazing local brewers, distillers and food producers. Recognising that running a pubco demands very different skills from a brewery, we've built a new team, including the appointment of Oliver Neilson to the board. It’s very much our intention to only acquire a small estate to complement the brewery.” Simon Bland, senior associate of Fleurets, added: “Myself and Nick Earee [divisional director of Fleurets] are really excited to be assisting Lakedown with its plans and I’m delighted to announce we have already agreed terms for its first pub, targeted for completion in June.”

Bruce Group reports daytime trade in some food-led pubs ‘challenging’ as working patterns change, revenue hits record £17.2m: Scottish pub group Bruce Group, which operates 15 managed and four tenanted sites around Edinburgh and Fife, has said daytime trade in some of its food-led outlets has become “challenging” as people’s working patterns change post-covid, but reported record revenue. Turnover increased to £17,152,133 for the year ending 30 June 2023 compared with £11,014,189 the year before. Revenue also exceeded the £11,594,615 reported for the year ending 30 June 2019 – the last full year before the pandemic. Ebitda excluding the impact of investment property revaluations fell to £2,258,011 from £2,410,063 the previous year. Pre-tax profit was down to £1,393,647 from £3,593,004 the year before. During the period, the company opened the Drovers Inn in Loch Lomond and McKay’s on the Mile in Edinburgh. In February 2023, the Royal Mile Tavern in Edinburgh was damaged by fire and has remained closed while plans to sell the Dusk nightclub in Stirling were “well advanced”. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “The return to normal trading, coupled with pent-up demand, which had built up through the lockdowns and restricted openings, saw turnover in excess of pre-covid levels. Tourists started to return to the city and the Edinburgh Fringe also opened back up in autumn 2022, which all contributed to a buoyant trading environment. Turnover was further enhanced as the Drovers Inn started trading, after the successful acquisition in July 2022. Day trade in some of the food-led outlets has been more challenging as people's working patterns have changed post-covid with hybrid working becoming more prevalent. This has had a knock-on effect in daytime trade. The daytime provision of some of the trading units has been altered as a result, but as many of the units are focused on the night-time economy and live music, the group as a whole has been able to successfully adapt to the new patterns of demand.” The company did not receive any government grants (2022: £399,510). A dividend of £143,600 was paid (2022: £82,000).

Boston Tea Party hires Lucy Harwood as brand and marketing director: All-day dining casual cafe brand Boston Tea Party has hired Lucy Harwood, formerly of the Big Table Group, as its new brand and marketing director. Harwood stepped down from Big Table Group at the end of last year, after spending 23 years at Las Iguanas, including five and half years as its brand and marketing director. Speaking last autumn, Paul Hooker, chief operating officer of Boston Tea Party, told Propel that when it comes to expansion opportunities, the 25-strong business expects “ever more interesting opportunities to materialise”. On what expansion will look like over the next 12 months, Hooker said: “We remain vigilant, looking to develop opportunities that suit our proposition, especially in more affluent community focused locations. As the economic backdrop continues to deteriorate, we expect ever more interesting opportunities to materialise, especially from landlords looking for a differentiated daytime footfall driving offer. The shareholders remain positive about future growth opportunities and are well positioned to take advantage of the improving trading environment and investment in growing the business.”

Rockfish plans to add Budleigh Salterton site to its opening pipeline: Rockfish, the nine-strong seafood restaurant group led by Mitch Tonks, is planning to add a site in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, to its openings pipeline. The company – which already has openings lined up in Sidmouth, Salcombe and Topsham – has submitted a planning application to take over the Longboat Cafe in Budleigh Salterton and expand it into the storm shelter next door. The application stated: “The structure will prioritise modernity and adaptability. The design maintains a low profile, aligning with the height of the shelter to complement the surrounding buildings. This approach invites year-round public enjoyment along the seafront. The proposed layout will allow for seating to spill out on to the external space during summer months while being semi-enclosed during the winter.” At the start of the year, Rockfish said it was currently “performing well with growth in sales, margin and overall conversion”, which had returned the group to “budgeted levels of profitability in the current financial year”. It came as the business said it was in legals on a fourth beachfront site. To support the expansion, the company said it was in the process of completing a £3m fundraise, which was “materially oversubscribed by existing shareholders and institutional investors, which demonstrates the level of confidence in the brand, management and the future business plan”. 

Wendy’s plans double opening in the north east: Wendy’s, the third-largest quick service restaurant chain in the US, is planning a double opening in the north east, with sites lined up in Middlesbrough and Newcastle. The company’s franchise partner Square Burgers is understood to be planning to open a site on the former Viet Cafe unit in Grainger Street, in Newcastle, and on the ex-Thomas the Baker unit near Middlesbrough bus station. Last month, Propel revealed that Wendy’s had signed up its fourth UK franchise partner, GH Burgers, a new vehicle set up by Pizza Hut franchisee Alhassan Goussous. Through his MSAJ Pizza business, Goussous currently operates 23 Pizza Hut delivery sites and a restaurant and delivery outlet in Ilford. GH Burgers joins Wendy’s other UK franchise partners, Square Burgers, Blank Table and JRK Restaurants. The latter has lined up new openings for the US brand in Chelmsford and Southend. Last month, Gunther Plosch, Wendy’s chief financial officer, said its existing franchisees in the UK are “very excited” about the opportunity for the brand. The business currently operates 36 sites in the UK, comprising 12 company-owned sites, ten franchise sites and 14 delivery kitchens. Plosch also said the brand expects to continue to “build out the UK footprint” when it comes to company-owned sites. He said: “We are sitting at 12 restaurants currently. In the next couple of years, you can expect growth to about 20 restaurants.”

Premium takeaway burger concept Marlowe’s teams up with Laine Pub Co: Premium takeaway burger concept Marlowe’s has teamed up with Laine Pub Company, launching its offer out of the one of the pub operator’s Brighton sites. Marlowe’s, which is led by Carl Traill, the former chief executive of Miss Millie’s Fried Chicken, is operating out of the kitchen of The World's End, with its menu available in the pub or for delivery. Traill told Propel: “This is our first collaboration with Laine, but hopefully with many more to come. Marlowe's is the perfect solution for a quality quick service food offering in pub kitchens. With extremely strong home delivery sales on top of instore purchases, this gives great leverage for the business. We are about to launch our franchise model and new website in the next few weeks. The company is now geared up to expand through the franchise model, and we look forward to new customers being able to try our amazing burgers.” Traill, who was also previously consultant chief executive at Burger King franchisee Millcliffe and CPL Foods, told Propel in January that he planned to use his previous experience to take the business into a franchise format. He said: “The plan now is to continue expansion through the franchise model. We are hoping to have our first franchise partner in the next six months. We are looking for single site and multi-site franchisees, initially in England. We’re targeting ten new openings in 2024. The model has a low-cost entry point, with affordable capex and strong sales and margin opportunities.”

Native heads to the countryside with opening in former Pensons site: Zero-waste wild British food restaurant Native, founded by Ivan Tisdall-Downes and Imogen Davis, is heading to the countryside. The duo are opening the venue at the Netherwood Estate on the Worcestershire/Herefordshire border, on the site previously occupied by Pensons, which held a Michelin star. Scheduled to launch on Wednesday, 22 May, Native at Pensons will be a 32-cover restaurant with rooms (two in an adjacent building, with additional accommodation on the estate), and also feature a 14-seat private dining room on the upper level. There will be three menus – four courses at £65 per person, seven courses for £105 per person, and a Sunday lunch three-course offering at £45 per person. Dishes will include The Oak Pool (chalk stream trout, lapsang dashi, tempura, crayfish) and Herdwick lamb with Wye Valley asparagus and black garlic. Tisdall-Downes and Davis’ Native restaurant journey has taken them to establishments in Neal’s Yard and Borough Market in London and Osea Island in Essex. Most recently, until December 2023, it was residing in the capital at Brown’s in Mayfair. Pensons originally opened five years ago, with head chef Lee Westcott, who achieved a Michelin star but moved back to London after a year. He was succeeded by Chris Simpson, who led the kitchen from 2019, and retained the Michelin star, before the restaurant closed in December 2023. The 1,500-acre Netherwood Estate is owned by Peta Darnley and her family. Native is backed by Hestia Hospitality, a new investment vehicle led by Andrew Fishwick and features a consortium of high-net-worth individuals including Justin King, the former chief executive of J Sainsbury. 

London Mayfair’s Dukes Hotel reports return to profit but softening London top-end room rates in 2024: Dukes Hotel, the five-star hotel in London’s Mayfair owned by Seven Tides International, has reported turnover increased to £9,379,065 in the year to 31 March 2023, up from £3,569,637 the year before. The company produced a pre-tax profit of £359,112 compared with a loss of £614,204 the year before. The company stated: “The increase was in part due to the poor trading conditions of the financial year to March 2022, which were impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. The increase in business volumes for the year ended 31 March 2023 reflected the higher levels of inboard travel to London.” The company warned that there is increased inventory within the five-star market in London, with 812 bedrooms already opened since July 2023 and another 110 in the first quarter of 2024. It added: “The hotel’s direct competitors are attempting to drive occupancy by implementing room rate reductions, which is negatively affecting room rates within the market.”

Surrey food hall from former Prescott & Conran operations manager launches two new kitchen concepts: Epsom Social, the Surrey food hall opened in 2022 by former Prescott & Conran operations manager Peter Farrell, has launched two new kitchen concepts. Napo “brings the authentic flavours of Naples to Epsom” with its signature Neapolitan-style pizza. Napo also offers pizza sandwiches and the Angioletti alla Nutella – fried pizza dough covered with Nutella. Meanwhile, Pete’s Fish & Chips is an “elevated take on the beloved British classic”. The menu includes “indulgent” fish finger sandwiches. The additions have been developed internally as Epsom Social “continues to innovate and grow in response to changing market dynamics”. Farrell said: “I am thrilled to embark on this journey of culinary development within Epsom Social. Launching Napo and Pete’s internally not only allows us to maintain control over quality and consistency but also presents exciting opportunities for growth in a challenging market environment.” In 2023, the 200-seater food hall served more than 100,000 people.

Coniston Hotel reports year of two halves but increase in demand and footfall for spa business: Coniston Hotel, the luxury spa and hotel set within a 1,400 acre estate near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales, has reported the financial year to 31 March 2023 could be split into two halves – overall turnover dropped 1.3% to £8,077,087. The company stated: “In the first half, the six months to 30 September 2022, business and demand was strong and profitable with sales recorded at £4,249,000. However, in the second half, the six months to 31 March 2023, profit declined as turnover dropped by 12% to £3,736,000. Cost pressures remain high and continue to increase. Interestingly, income from the spa remained positive and this area of the business has seen an increase in demand and footfall. Given that the hotel had invested prudently during the lockdown period – a full refurbishment of the View restaurant, expansion of the spa thermal facilities, separation of corporate and leisure facilities, investment in outdoor walking tracks, bikes rides and establishment of picnic areas on the estate – it was not necessary to invest heavily in capital spend, apart from the ongoing annual cycle of refurbishment of bedrooms and the usual wear and tear in certain areas of the main public areas.” The company reported a pre-tax loss of £72,687 compared with a profit of £885,751 the year before. 

Turkish chef and restaurateur Kemal Demirasal to open second The Counter site: Turkish chef and restaurateur Kemal Demirasal, who made his UK debut last year with The Counter, a contemporary ocakbasi restaurant in London’s Notting Hill, is to open a second site in the capital under the concept. The Counter Soho – the second London venture from Gees Court Partners and Demirasal – will open in Kingly Street, with a new listening and cocktail bar, Under The Counter, located beneath it, next month. The restaurant will comprise 60-covers internally and a 20-cover terrace outside. The downstairs bar will have 30 covers. Demirasal said: “We're really excited to be bringing the flavours of the Aegean, which unites Greece and Turkey, to central London. We couldn't be happier to be opening our second restaurant in Soho, and to open our first bar, Under The Counter, in the heart of London's vibrant West End.” Demirasal, a seven-time national windsurfing champion in Turkey, opened his first restaurant, Barbun in Alacati, in 2009 following the end of his sporting career. In 2013, he followed that with Alancha in Istanbul, which made it on to Discovery’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants series. He has also founded several restaurant concepts including modern Aegean-Greek restaurant Yek, gastropub Atelier Malt and seafood grill Bluefin, and presents a gastronomy series on Turkish national television. His menu at The Counter focuses on the kebab traditions of Turkish ocakbasi restaurants, with the drinks offering includes an extensive selection of wine from Turkey and the surrounding region, alongside rakis (a popular Turkish spirit) and cocktails. 

BH Hotels well-placed to take advantage of staycation market after making key investments: BH Hotels – which is led by James Houlston and owns 50% of St Michael’s Resort in Falmouth, 40% of Hampton by Hilton in Blackpool and 60% of the Swan Hotel & Spa in the Lake District – has reported average occupancy rates of between 77% and 82% in the year to 29 June 2023. The company said each hotel was “fast becoming market leaders in their respective geographical area”. It reported that £1m had been invested in St Michael’s Resort to create four luxury lodges and a new spa garden, “cementing the hotel’s place as one of the leading hotel and spa resorts in Cornwall”. The company added: “The investment was in response to significant demand from customers for a unique spa experience and a luxury suite accommodation overlooking the beach.” The company also bought a site adjacent to Hampton by Hilton in Blackpool to add 74 bedrooms, opened in March 2023 and, following a £7m extension completed in 2022, the company invested in a new operating system to drive great efficiency, occupancy and revenues at the hotel. BH Hotels added: “The group’s focus now is on driving each hotel to stabilisation within the next two financial years, significantly growing stability through revenue growth and cost efficiency.” Turnover in the year was £7,470,622 (2022: £7,065,595) with a loss before tax of £1,174,616 (2022: loss of £1,026,321).

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