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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 4th Apr 2024 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Knoops – ‘we are just touching the surface of a huge market as we establish a new category’: William Gordon-Harris, executive chairman and chief executive of luxury hot chocolate shop concept Knoops, has said the company is “just touching the surface of a huge market as we establish a new category”. Knoops currently operates 17 sites in the UK, with plans to have 40 sites open by this time next year and 200 sites by the end of 2027. The company is set to launch in the Middle East and is in advanced talks to open in China and the US. Speaking at Propel’s Multi-Club Conference, Gordon-Harris said: “When we opened the first site in London, we discovered 89% of purchases were chocolate drinks. That was a light bulb moment for me and I shelved other projects because it was clear we had found a new category. The extraordinary thing is that we're just touching the real surface of what is a large addressable market. I think one of the most important things we found with Knoops and trying to create a new category is that chocolate has been seen in some ways as a slightly infantile drink, and that’s where the marketing has been. With our instore board and the choice of chocolates/blends, we can talk about specific brands in detail and we are presenting them to you rather like a wine list and we’ve got various price points. We have a sommelier approach, showcasing the quality.” On price, Gordon-Harris said the business is also helped by the fact that unlike coffee, chocolate drinks are not benchmarked on price yet. He said: “Therefore, we are establishing that category. And we are setting that benchmark. We are creating a sophisticated drink and we're giving permission for everybody to enjoy that and that is allowing a much bigger market to be created.” Gordon-Harris was among the speakers at the Propel Multi-Club Conference and Premium Club members will receive access to all 12 videos from the conference tomorrow (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 today to sign up.

Industry News:

BrewDog Bars MD James Brown to speak at Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference, open for bookings with 20% discount on tickets for Premium Club members: James Brown, managing director of BrewDog Bars, 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. Brown will discuss building temples to craft beer in the UK and internationally, evolving the group's model and its approach to hiring, training and retaining staff. 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.

Premium Club members to receive next New Openings Database and videos from Propel Multi-Club Conference tomorrow: The next Propel New Openings Database and the videos from Propel’s March Multi-Club Conference will be sent to Premium Club members tomorrow (Friday, 5 April). The database features openings by quick service restaurant operators such as burger brand Five Guys, which has added sites in Croydon and Wembley Park to its 2024 UK openings pipeline; Bristol operator Sandwich Sandwich, which is planning to launch two outlets in London; and Burgerism, the fast-growing, north west smash burger concept, which is opening a fifth site in the region. 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 Florian de Chezelles, co-founder at The Salad Project, which was voted the top restaurant in the UK & Ireland as part of Uber Eats’ Restaurant of the Year Awards, talking about launching a next generation salad bar concept, while Stephen Freeman, chief executive of Freeman Event Partners, talks about how the business has grown from a fish and chip van at Silverstone to be the food and beverage provider at Wembley, Lord’s, Twickenham, and the British Grand Prix. 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 are also 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.

Nisha Katona – work should be a place of solace, I built Mowgli to enrich lives in the cities we go to: Nisha Katona, founder of Indian street food concept Mowgli, has said that a culture shift needs to take place, not just in hospitality, but in the working environment, where work should be a place of solace. Speaking at Propel’s Multi-Club Conference, Katona, who founded the 21-strong group ten years ago, said: “I built Mowgli to enrich lives in the cities we go to, that's why we exist. It's not to peddle curry. That really helps me get up and work out how I create a working environment that people would want their kids to work in. So that enrichment starts with the people that you hire. Happy chefs make great food, happy servers give you that Labrador dog welcome that we need. So that really is the fundamental pillar and talking about this culture shift that needs to take place, not just in hospitality, but in the working environment – work should be a place of solace. Everyone goes through tough times in their home life and work should be the place that you go, and it actually feeds your soul. It leaves you feeling purposeful, nourished, fulfilled, and that's what I focus on. How do we build a business that does that? So things like we're closed Christmas Day, we close early on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day you have off, New Year's Day you have off. Staff get paid well and we don't let them work over a certain number of hours. The word gets round, thankfully, and recruitment has not been an issue.” When it comes to fulfilment, Katona said it’s about when staff come into work and feel “there is something that they're working for that is beyond them”. She said: “That is an immutable, completely philanthropic thing that makes 20-year-olds walk taller. So, from their very nascence when they start their working life, they have this charitable aim they understand that they're not just peddling food, they are making the world a better place. So, every Mowgli has a charitable champion. I've got one dedicated member of staff who's paid extra to make sure that each team has got a charitable endeavour that's ongoing for its house charities. Every Mowgli has got a house charity, and then we've got the world charities we support. That charitable limb just guilds the offer that we can give them as employers beyond imagination.” Katona said that the TriSpan-backed business would build five more sites this year, with openings already lined up in Lincoln, Newcastle and Knutsford. She also recently carried out a site scouting trip to Dublin. She said: “We're a business born and bred in Liverpool. Dublin and Liverpool have got that real synergy. I would love to be there if we find the right site, probably in 2025 is what we're thinking. And that's that first tentative step towards taking Mowgli overseas.” Katona was among the speakers at the Propel Multi-Club Conference and Premium Club members will receive access to all 12 videos from the conference tomorrow (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 today to sign up.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a company that has venues in London and the Midlands that is seeking a concept general manager. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “This is a varied role that will have responsibility for all food and beverage provisions, financial performance, guest/member experience and staff development. Alongside top-notch business management credentials, you need a high degree of creativity and passion. You will need to be able to influence stakeholders to embrace the journey. You will join the senior leadership team and report to the chief executive while collaborating with all departments – finance, marketing, sales and operations. This is a multi-faceted and growing business, so you are going to need a multitude of skills to succeed. But in exchange for your bright ideas, business acumen, boundless energy and passion for hospitality, you will be given the opportunity to build, shape, develop and deliver truly outstanding moments every day.” The role is based in London and the salary is up to £100,000. For more information, email

Company News:

JW Lees reports record sales of £94.3m despite costs ‘through the roof’: William Lees-Jones, managing director of Manchester brewer and retailer JW Lees, has hailed “record sales” despite the cost-of-living crisis battering the hospitality sector. Lees-Jones took to social media to mark the end of the group’s financial year by reporting that sales were up again on the previous year's record. He said: “It's tough running pubs. Costs are through the roof. Even more so with business rates and wages this week. But people love beer and pubs. And JW Lees just closed off the 2024 financial year with record sales of £94.3m, up 10% on 2023. Thank you to all our customers and teams. We go again with 2025.” JW Lees was founded in 1828 and is now in its seventh generation as a family business. It employs more than 1,500 people across its brewery and 48 managed pubs. In its most recent accounts available at Companies House, for the year to 31 March 2023, JW Lees reported turnover of £87.5m with a pre-tax profit of £3.5m.

Majestic Wine set to complete Vagabond deal: Majestic Wine, the Fortress Investment Group-backed business, is closing in on a deal to acquire Vagabond Wines. Propel understands that a deal for Vagabond is set to be completed this week, which will see Majestic acquire the 12-strong wine bar business and back its existing management team, led by managing director Matthew Fleming. It is thought that Majestic put forward an offer for Vagabond that is significantly higher than that of the next bidder, which is understood to have been investment firm Breal Group, the backer of Vinoteca and D&D London. It is understood that Majestic will look to operate Vagabond as a separate business and will invest in its further expansion. Vagabond currently operates nine sites in London, plus a site in Birmingham, Gatwick airport and Heathrow airport. Propel understands that Majestic first showed an interest in Vagabond last year and therefore was in a good position to move fast when the business was marketed for sale. 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 group’s site at Gatwick, which opened last year, is believed to have failed to meet expectations. Quantuma was appointed as administrator to the business last month. The company was founded in 2009 by Stephen Finch, who left the business at the start of the year.

Hunky Dory Dining Group – UK-wide expansion is a long-term plan for us: Scottish operator Hunky Dory Dining Group has told Propel that UK-wide expansion is a long-term plan for the business. Last month, Hunky Dory Dining Group confirmed details of the launch of its new high-end restaurant offering contemporary Chinese dining in Glasgow city centre. Zhima – which translates to sesame in Mandarin – will open at the former site of Prezzo in St Vincent Place this month, creating more than 60 jobs. Hunky Dory Group also operates the Chaakoo Bombay Cafe, Panang, and Topolabamba concepts. The new restaurant will be the ninth opening for the business. Paul Sloan, co-founder of Hunky Dory Dining Group, told Propel: “We have big plans for Hunky Dory Dining Group, and we are being particularly strategic at present as we evolve our offering. The most important thing is the right sites and locations, as there is little room for mistakes in our industry now. So, careful selection is paramount – even if it takes a little longer. We have already expanded Chaakoo Bombay Cafe and Topolabamba to multiple locations across Glasgow and Edinburgh. If Zhima takes off the way we hope it will, then we will look to open in Edinburgh quickly. UK-wide expansion is a long-term plan for us. We have some changes to make to our existing portfolio and then we will look to move south – but it's all dependent on finding the right locations.”

FY revenue at Merkur Casino UK tops £200m: Merkur Casino UK, formerly Praesepe, which is a subsidiary of the family-run Gauselmann Group, saw its full-year turnover top £200m, as it said it had “effectively executed a series of cost optimisation initiatives in order to safeguard the group's profitability”. Turnover stood at £201,789,000 in the year to 31 December 2023 (2022: £173,008,000), while the group posted a pre-tax loss of £2,099,000 against a pre-tax profit of £455,000 in 2022. The company said: “The large increase in revenue during the current year is a direct result of the additional venues opened since 2020, with more than 100 new venues having been opened during this time. The directors expect a period of circa three years from opening for a venue to reach its potential for revenue generation, and therefore expect revenues to continue to strengthen over the next 12 to 24 months. The results from operating activities before taxation increased by £10.4m to show an operating profit of £1.6m for the year (2022: loss of £8.8m). The increase in the operating result is mostly attributable to the increase in revenue during the year, while a concentrated effort has also been put into cost optimisation across the whole business. The group has diligently implemented and effectively executed a series of cost optimisation initiatives in order to safeguard the group's profitability. These measures have been instrumental in fortifying the group's financial performance, despite the challenges posed by an unpredictable economic environment.” The company opened 13 new adult gaming centres during the year (2022: 14) and relocated one venue. 

Parogon Group reports £2m profit reversal after cost headwinds and VAT relief removal, plans two new openings per year minimum: Parogon Group, the award-winning premium gastropub operator led by Richard Colclough, has reported a £2m profit drop in its year to 2 July 2023, producing a loss of £328,000. Turnover was £21.7m compared with £23.8m the year before. The company stated: “The prior period saw strong volume performance from pent-up demand built during long covid-19 lockdowns in conjunction with reduced VAT rates. Additionally, during the previous period two new sites were launched that experienced exceptionally buoyant opening phases contributing to higher sales. The year to 2 July 2023 also saw sales affected by a national cost-of-living crisis, with higher inflation levels than seen for many years. Administrative expenses totalled £7.5m (2022: £6.2m). The period was adversely affected by significantly increased utility rates (£350,000). The amended business rates relief scheme was capped at a relief of £110,000, which was also around £350,000 lower than in 2022.” A new £8.25m facility with Cynergy Bank was arranged, replacing Santander loans. The Cheshire Tavern was bought from Admiral Taverns in December 2022. Ebitda was £1m compared with £3.2m the year before. The company has incorporated Willow Holdings Company where its Willow concept will be established as its own entity. The company stated: “Willow’s all-day dining concept opens the possibility of taking high street and retail park units, which will further enhance expansion potential. A minimum of two new sites per year is the target for growth and several areas have been identified.” Mark McQuater became non-executive chairman in May 2023. The company added: “Mark has an extensive background as a leader and operator in the hospitality industry and is assisting the board’s ambition of accelerated further growth.” The company opened its tenth site, Parogon Mortlake, in November 2023. 

Chinese tea brand Heytea plans Manchester opening: Chinese tea brand Heytea, which made its UK and European debut with a launch in London last autumn, is planning to open a site in Manchester. Heytea, which operates more than 1,000 stores in China alongside four outlets in Singapore, where it launched in 2018, has applied to open in part of the former Santander unit in the city’s Market Street. Heytea’s debut UK site opened at 93-107 Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho. The outlet offers the brand’s signature cheese tea range alongside bubble, fruit and milk-based tea. Heytea was founded in Jiangbianli Alley, Guangdong, in 2012, with the founding principle of using only real ingredients and no artificial flavours or colourants.

JD Gyms sees turnover rise to record £81.1m as membership numbers pass 450,000: Gym operator JD Gyms has reported turnover increased to a record £81,106,000 for the year ending 29 January 2023 compared with £48,566,000 the previous year. The company saw pre-tax profit rise to £16,402,000 from £6,402,000 the year before as a result of £39,956,000 income from shares in group undertakings. The company operated 79 UK sites at the end of the period, four of which remained under the Xercise4less business that is bought in 2020. Membership numbers stood at 453,000 (2022: 400,000). In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “We have been pleased to see the sustained growth of the business in the period, with membership continuing to increase, reflecting the strength of the JD Gyms proposition, which combines great locations, stylish decor, exceptional equipment provision, and excellent service. The business continues to invest in new sites as well as the existing estate. The company opened seven additional organic sites during the year (2022: six) and converted a further five sites that had been previously operating under the Xercise4less fascia. The converted sites have received a very positive reaction with average membership in these gyms increasing by more than 39% between January 2022 and January 2023. Within the period, a number of sites have been converted to allow for 24 hours opening, ensuring our members have access to facilities whenever they choose. In addition to improvements in member volumes, the directors have also continued to review pricing strategy. As the gym estate has grown, the attractiveness of multi-site membership has increased, which has had a positive impact on overall yield. Since inception, organic growth has been the main focus for the company’s expansion. The business is well placed however to take advantage of targeted acquisitions where appropriate.” The business did not receive anything through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (2022: £567,000) or in business support grants (2022: £2,113,000). No dividend was paid (2022: nil).

Zia Lucia makes regional debut: London pizzeria concept Zia Lucia has opened its regional debut site, in Reading, which will mark the start of its national rollout. As revealed by Propel in November, the nine-strong company has opened on the ASK Italian site in Mary’s Butts, in Reading town centre. Zia Lucia signed a 15-year lease for the 1,173 square-foot property. Founded in 2016 by Italian born Claudio Vescovo and Gianluca D’Angelo, Zia Lucia said the opening in Reading will mark the start of its national rollout, as it looks to open up to ten sites throughout the UK over the next three years following the “significant success of its neighbourhood London restaurants”. Colin Doyle, managing director of Zia Lucia, said: “This opening represents a huge milestone for us as a company and it is the natural next step to fulfil our bigger vision to become the leading pizza brand in the UK and beyond.” In June last year, the business said it was aiming to open up to ten sites by 2026, with an initial focus on the south, east and south west of England. Zia Lucia instructed Savills to assist with its expansion outside of London and into the rest of the UK. 

Big Mamma Group hires María José Cuenca López as new CFO: Big Mamma Group, the McWin backed restaurant group, has hired María José Cuenca López, formerly of Sticks'n'Sushi and Nobu Hotels, as its new chief financial officer for the UK and Spain. Lopez spent more than three and a half years at Sticks'n'Sushi, including nearly three years as its head of finance UK. Prior to that she was finance manager at Nobu Hotels London for 17 months. She has also had stints at The Ritz London and The Curtain Hotels and Members’ Club. Her appointment comes as Big Mamma Group opens its third restaurant in Madrid, Circolo Popolare. At the end of last year, the business opened its first restaurant in Italy. The operator behind London restaurants including Gloria, Ave Mario, Circolo Popolare and Jacuzzi, opened a site under its Gloria concept in Milan. The company currently operates circa 25 restaurants across Europe. It has recently been linked with an opening in Manchester, at the St Michael's development alongside Japanese-Peruvian concept Chotto Matte. It is thought Big Mamma Group has been looking at a number of potential sites in the city. Last September, McWin, the investment firm of food industry entrepreneurs Henry McGovern and Steven Winegar which backs companies such as Vapiano and Gail’s, acquired a majority stake in the Big Mamma Group. The long-term investment made out of the McWin Restaurant Fund saw Big Mamma Group valued at €270m. The investment will help the business expand further in its existing territories and into new ones, including the Middle East and the US.

Sticks'n'Sushi alumni open second Sushi Revolution site: Aidan Bryan and Tom Blackshaw, who previously worked together at Sticks’n’Sushi, have opened the second site in London, under their Sushi Revolution concept. The business opened its first site in Ferndale Road, Brixton, in May 2021. It has now added a site in Curtain Road, Shoreditch. The concept’s menu comes in two parts, labelled “Sushi” and “The Revolution!”. The company said: “Sushi – with all your favourites including freshly prepared handmade sashimi, nigiri and makis… or The Revolution – our take on Japanese classics with a rebellious twist!” The founders said that “our main purpose is making our guests happy and we do that through good food and drink, served quickly, in a good venue, by good people at a good price”. 

Wahaca's Lizzie Haynes moves into group finance director role: Mexican-inspired restaurant group Wahaca has moved Lizzie Haynes, formerly of KPMG UK, into a group finance director role. For the past three years Haynes has run Wahaca's commercial and projects arm. Prior to joining Wahaca, Haynes spent nearly two years as a financial controller at Gourmet Burger Kitchen. The move comes after James Fisher left Wahaca to become finance director at Comptoir Group. Wahaca co-founder Mark Selby told Propel: “We have used the opportunity, with James moving on, to reposition the finance director role to incorporate a more commercial focus and are delighted that Lizzie Haynes, our group commercial head will be taking over the finance director role. This is an exciting opportunity for us as we get back to expanding. I want to thank James for being a fantastic rock for the business and helping guide us through all the trials and tribulations that covid threw our way.” The business will return to the expansion trail at the end of this month, with an opening in London's Paddington. The restaurant will be the group's first opening under the Wahaca brand since 2018, and its 14th overall. The 150-cover site will be located at the heart of Paddington Square, a new dining destination integrated with Paddington station. The business currently operates 13 restaurants under its eponymous brand and six DF Tacos sites, including three in Market Halls.

Stack unveils first set of traders for Lincoln site: Leisure venue concept Stack has unveiled the first set of street food traders for its Lincoln site. The transformation of the former Argos store at St Mark’s shopping Centre is already complete, and the first bunch of food operators who will be bringing their flavours to the development have been revealed ahead of the opening later this spring. Lincolnshire street food operator, The Barbell Burger Co, will now find a new home at Stack Lincoln, alongside Oh La La Loaded Fries, which focuses on potato and halloumi fries, covered in a range of toppings. Pulled pork creator, The Cheesy Pig, is also setting up shop at Stack, offering a range of pulled pork rolls and loaded fries, along with Acropolis – whose Greek food spans various locations including Stack Seaburn in Sunderland. They will be joined by pizza concept ZZA and Holy Duck, which sells duck wraps and loaded fries. Neill Winch, chief executive of Stack, said: “One of the secrets of Stack’s success is to offer an eclectic mix of food operators, so there is something for everyone. We feel we’re achieving that at Lincoln with a whole variety of different cuisines, some of whom are from Lincolnshire and want to be part of this exciting adventure.” Along with the food and drink outlets, Stack Lincoln will have a roof terrace, coffee shop and a central plaza with a stage for live entertainment. The venue is one of a number of Stacks currently being created around the country, including two new sites in Newcastle – one a fan zone in conjunction with Newcastle United FC. Venues in Durham, Bishop Auckland, Whitley Bay, Carlisle, Manchester, Wigan, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Northampton are also in the pipeline.

TVG Hospitality hires Simon Allison as its new group marketing and communications director: The Venue Group (TVG) Hospitality, which is headed by Ben Lovett of folk-rock band Mumford & Sons, has hired Simon Allison as its new group marketing and communications director. Propel understands that Allison is stepping down from his role as head of marketing at Caprice Holdings this month, after nearly two years with the business. He was previously head of marketing at Bill’s Restaurants for a year. He also spent seven and a half years at Inception Group as its head of marketing. Founded in 2015, TVG launched its debut live music venue, Omeara, in Southwark in 2016 and took over the running of the wider development of Flat Iron Square in 2017, before launching music, drinks and street food concept Goods Way in King’s Cross in 2020. In February 2022, the company announced it had raised $50m to help fund plans to expand in the US, with several venues already under development there. The first was the Orion Amphitheatre in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Gong Cha makes Midlands debut with Birmingham launch: Gong Cha, the fast-growing bubble tea brand headquartered in the UK, has made its Midlands debut. As revealed by Propel in February, Gong Cha has opened at 109 New Street in Birmingham. The store is Gong Cha’s 15th in the UK. Founded in Taiwan in 2006, Gong Cha operates nearly 2,100 stores in 24 countries and has plans to scale up to 10,000 stores by 2032, including 500 in the UK. Justin Goes, Gong Cha’s development director for the UK & Ireland, said: “We’re thrilled to debut Gong Cha in Birmingham, bringing Gong Cha’s high-quality and ultra-customisable offer to the Midlands for the first time. Birmingham is a unique city, with a fantastic blend of local consumers and tourists visiting to shop. This gives us an exciting opportunity to raise awareness of the Gong Cha brand, supporting our mission to make Gong Cha the go-to bubble tea brand for consumers. The global bubble tea market is soaring and expected to reach $4.3bn by the end of 2027. The new store opening in Birmingham forms part of our plans to expand our portfolio to more than 500 stores in the UK and Ireland and we’re looking for multi-site franchisees to join us on this exciting journey.” 

Poppies opens fourth London site: London fish and chip restaurant Poppies has opened its fourth site in the capital, in Portobello Road. The 64-cover site, which opened earlier this week, joins the company’s existing sites in Spitalfields, Soho and Camden. The company said the new site includes a nod to the site’s former occupants – wood panelling from its term as a bank and signage from when it was George Portwine’s butcher shop – plus additional retro touches and tributes to Poppies founder, the late Pat “Pop” Newland. Pop’s son, Danny Newland, said: “We couldn't leave west Londoners without decent Poppies fish and chips any longer, they deserve to taste the best! Poppies, like Portobello Road, is dedicated to preserving London’s rich traditions and history that makes it the perfect fit.”

JD Wetherspoon to invest £2.5m in new Waterloo station pub: JD Wetherspoon has confirmed it will open a new pub at The Sidings scheme in Waterloo station. Propel revealed last year that JD Wetherspoon had submitted plans to open a site across four units on the upper ground floor of The Sidings, the new shopping and leisure complex that occupies the space below the platforms of Waterloo’s former Eurostar terminal. The company is to invest approximately £2.5m developing the pub, which will open this summer and create a total of 120 full and part-time jobs. The pub will be named The Lion and the Unicorn, a reference to the Festival of Britain that was held close to the site of the pub in 1951. One of the pavilions was named The Lion and the Unicorn. It will be on one floor with floor-to-ceiling glazing around the perimeter, offering views in from the station concourse. JD Wetherspoon chairman and founder, Sir Tim Martin, said: “We are looking forward to opening our new pub. We are confident it will appeal to a wide range of people and be a great asset to the station itself.” London & Continental Railways' asset management director, Sian Evans, added: “The Sidings at Waterloo is set to become one of London's leading leisure and entertainment destinations. The new Wetherspoon pub will provide another great reason for people to visit.”

Lake District hotel operator sees turnover and profit fall: Choice Hotels, which operates five properties in the Lake District, has reported turnover fell to £19,945,018 for the year ending 30 June 2023 compared with £20,878,894 the year before. Pre-tax profit was down to £349,268 from £1,742,689 the previous year. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “The company has traded well and continued to invest in the maintenance of the hotels to ensure the quality of its offering to customers. The company maintains a strong balance sheet.” The company did not receive any government grants (2022: £194,601). A dividend of £18,000 was paid (2022: £18,000).

Sourdough Sophia opens second site: Sourdough Sophia, the London micro bakery concept that last summer raised £500,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to aid its further growth in the capital, has opened its second site. As revealed by Propel last year, Sourdough Sophia has opened on the ex-Costa Coffee site at 117-119 Essex Road, Islington. Founded by Sophia Handschuh and Jesse Sutton-Jones in Crouch End, the business achieved sales of nearly £1m last year out of its 650 square-foot bakery site. The company, which said it has an 87% repeat customer rate and a £10.26 average spend in store, raised the funds through Kickstarter in under three weeks. Sourdough Sophia said the investment would allow it to triple the capacity of its Islington site, open the Islington site, and add a third store by 2025. The business is targeting revenue of £3m by 2026. Adam Bowers, of onepoint2, acted on the Islington deal.

Strathmore Hotels continues to build back from pandemic: Strathmore Hotels, which operates eight sites across Scotland and the north of England, has reported turnover increased to £17,613,576 for the year ending 31 December 2022 compared with ££13,223,007 the year before. However, revenue remained below pre-pandemic levels, with turnover of £18,793,483 reported in 2019. The business saw a pre-tax profit of £751,132 compared with £1,397,610 the previous year (2019: pre-tax profit of £2,503,089). The company said: “2022 saw a continuation of increasing costs due to the war in Ukraine pushing energy costs upwards. Continued supply chain issues also saw significant inflationary pressures and by extension interest rate increases. However, due to Strathmore Hotels historic strategy of only operating units within key tourist and conference locations the company was, and is, always placed well to recover swiftly from any forced restriction on trade. In turn, the company has always maintained prudence and risk aversion in terms of borrowing so low loan to value has always been maintained. This. coupled with shift away in 2014 in relying on fossil fuels as its primary energy source, means that, although the company has experienced significant increases in costs, the company is as well placed as any other to cope, and absorb, such increasing cost pressures.”

Creative Restaurant Group reveals opening date for relaunch of 20 Berkeley as Japanese grill and sushi bar: Creative Restaurant Group has revealed the opening date for the relaunch of its modern British restaurant 20 Berkeley, in Berkeley Street in London’s Mayfair, as a Japanese grill and sushi bar. The group, which is behind Michelin-starred Endo at the Rotunda and sushi spot Sumi in London, will open Niju, meaning “20” in Japanese, on Wednesday, 17 April, complete with a new bespoke sushi bar, updated dining spaces, a 16-seat private dining room and hideaway cocktail bar, Nipperkin. Offering katei ryori style cooking, meaning “home cooked food” in Japanese, it will serve up an array of Japanese delicacies, with dishes including Wagyu beef tartare, and Iberico pork with apple barley miso. Led by culinary director Endo Kazutoshi, the team will also include head chef Chris Golding and head sushi chef David Bury. Nipperkin, the 20-cover, experience-led hideaway cocktail bar, will introduce a curated menu of Japanese-influenced sandos (Japanese sandwiches) to enjoy alongside its cocktails. In February, the group revealed it will open Kioku by Endo at The Owo in London, led by Kazutoshi, later this spring.

Beaverbrook reports reduced losses, negotiates new and cheaper facility: Beaverbrook, the exclusive hotel, spa and golf club in the Surrey Hills near Leatherhead, saw turnover of £21,912,842 in the year to 31 March 2023, down from £22,245,542 the year before. Pre-tax loss was £5,109,558 compared with £9,735,407 the year before. The company, which operates 35 bedrooms, two restaurants, a cookery school, a golf course and a spa, stated: “Since the year-end, operations have continued to trade well. The business is meeting its ambitious revenue and profit targets. The hotel, restaurants and health club have performed better than previous year, regularly breaking daily and monthly revenue records. Despite rising utility and interest rates, the directors are cautiously optimistic that the luxury hospitality market will continue to see strong performance over the coming years.” The company has arranged a new five-year, £52m finance agreement with OakNorth Bank reducing margin by 2% against the LaSalle facility agreement, which was repaid in full on 30 November 2023. The company added: “Although the Beaverbrook project overall has cost more and taken longer, the scale and quality of the final product has exceeded all expectations, as has the demand and the rates achieved. This has been mitigated by sales of Beaverbrook Golf Club debenture memberships, which are so far in excess of £66m at the balance sheet date.” The company had an additional gain of £3,881,023 by way of an insurance payment after a clubhouse fire. 
Ballerz reveals opening date for debut site: Ballerz, the new competitive socialising concept backed by ex-professional footballers including Rio Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora, has revealed it will open its debut site on Saturday, 18 May. Propel revealed last summer that the concept – to be housed in a purpose-built dome with a world class 5G pitch, mini stadium bench and tech-laden skills zones – had lined up Bluewater in Kent for its first site. Final preparations are now under way for the 30,000 square-foot Ballerz arena following a £3m investment in the concept and fit-out. The 500-capacity all-weather dome will also feature stadium-style seating, a players’ tunnel, pro changing rooms and real-time pitch technology, with big screen action replays. It will also be home to the Ballerz Cafe and Players’ Lounge, which will offer a full menu of light bites, mains, cocktails and drinks and can also host evening entertainment and corporate events. Ferdinand said: “We’re giving the beautiful game a makeover, with a stunning pitch and unique touches that’ll create an electric atmosphere – including big screen replays, crowd noise, and all your best match highlights ready to share. Ballerz is designed to make every player feel like a star.” The operational team includes ex-Groucho Club managing director Matt Hobbs and former Chelsea FC development coach Sam Hubert. Ben Childs, formerly of Puttshack and Junkyard Golf, has joined as operations director. Ballerz is expected to attract 250,000 visitors in its first 12 months and is creating 50 jobs.
New £7m entertainment complex to be launched in Liverpool: A £7m entertainment complex housed in a converted warehouse in Liverpool is set to open this spring. The Liverpool Echo reported that Blackstock Market, based in a disused warehouse in Blackstock Street off Vauxhall Road in the city centre, will host live comedy and music events, as well as broadcasting sports events on a big screen. There will also be a food market, cocktail bars and cafes onsite. The 60,000 square-foot development is the brainchild of Toxteth-raised brothers Paul and Binty Blair, who run the Hot Water Comedy Club in Hardman Street. The Blackstock Street venue will become the new home for the comedy club. Blackstock Market will house four theatres of varying sizes, from a purpose built, state-of-the-art 590-seat auditorium – reportedly the largest regular comedy club space in the world – to a 50-seat studio space, along with podcast studios. The venue, which will be open daily, will include a giant rooftop terrace – reportedly the largest in Liverpool – that is due to open later this year. The food market is set to include street vendors including Burgerism, Pattersons, KO Grill, Laros, Paulie’s Pizzeria, North Garden and Deserts by Dre. There will also be a cocktail bar called Parlour, and a prohibition era-style bar called Whisky & Water – offering more than 300 different whiskies as well as live jazz and blues music. A self-service beer wall will feature a selection of craft beer from Liverpool breweries. Paul Blair said: “Blackstock Market is set to become the ultimate destination venue in the city's entertainment and cultural sphere. This project has been a labour of love over the past 30 months. Blackstock Market is designed as an inclusive space, welcoming everyone to enjoy its dynamic atmosphere without needing a ticket for entry, affirming its status as a community hub. Open every day and night, we're dedicated to establishing Blackstock Market as a central pillar of Liverpool's vibrant cultural and community life.” 

Norfolk coffee shop opens second permanent site: A Norfolk coffee shop that started out in a converted horsebox has opened a second permanent site. Arron Smith started Coffeesmiths in 2021, serving hot drinks out of a trailer to local markets around his home town of Wymondham. The business found its first permanent home in North Walsham in 2022, and its second is now in Attleborough's High Street, in the former post office. The post office closed in 2016 before reopening as a charity shop until the end of 2022. Coffeesmiths’ coffee is a bespoke blend from Scottow-based roasters JavaBean, while cakes and bakes are supplied by Norwich business Eat with Ella. The shop sells a range of sweet options from classic pastries to Biscoff blondies, reports The East Anglian Times.

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