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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 9th Apr 2024 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Red Engine secures new £60m banking facility to support global expansion plans: Red Engine, the Flight Club and Electric Shuffleboard operator, has secured a new £60m facility from Santander, HSBC and Barclays to support its global expansion plans, including building out its presence both in the UK and the US. It comes after the business recently reported that its sales rose to more than £100m in 2023. Excluding franchise venues, Red Engine’s sales reached £67m, producing Ebitda of £12.2m. The total Red Engine and partners’ estate currently stands at 25 venues – 17 owner-operated and eight partner-owned by State of Play Hospitality (Flight Club in North America) and Night Owl (Flight Club in Australia). This portfolio is set to increase to 33 in 2024 as Red Engine and its partners are poised to open a further eight sites this year alone – four company-owned and four partner-owned. Red Engine will open Electric Shuffle Manchester and New York, and Flight Club Liverpool and Oxford, while the franchise partners opening pipeline for 2024 consists of Flight Club Philadelphia, Washington, Sydney and Melbourne. Last month, Steve Moore, founder and chief executive of Red Engine, told Propel he believes the company can grow to more than 200 Flight Club sites in the UK, helped by taking a smaller format into market towns and villages. Speaking at Propel’s Multi-Club Conference, Moore said he believed Flight Club could eventually operate 200 sites in the US but could possibly open more than that here. He said: “We think we can probably go to about 200 in the US. Vegas is as big as 16,000 square feet, which is about 900 people, but in the UK we go as high as that but we also go as low as our site in Islington, which is 100 people, and we can do everything in between. We’re still trying to work out in the US if that smaller model works. The big one does, but does the smaller one work to really give you that runway? We want to do a bit more of a hub and spoke approach because it is exhausting having one in Boston, in Vegas and in Denver. So, I think it could be more than that [in the UK] because we came up with the concept in Croyde in Devon, and it was in a little pub and we wanted to bring that sense of community back like when we grew up in the 1980s. If we can prove the smaller model, we can go into more towns and more villages and create that sense of community for groups of friends and families gaming.” Moore said 2024 had started “strongly” and that the business had begun having conversations with potential investors as it looks at a fundraise towards the end of the year. On the new banking facility, Ross Shepley-Smith, chief financial officer at Red Engine said: “For the last nine years, everything we have done has been with our customers in mind. Our in-house game developers, our interior and design teams, our venue teams of chefs, bartenders and everything in between, have strived to give people the best experience possible. It's because of this that we’ve built such a loyal customer following, and it's these customers that have made it possible to grow as we have done. Our mission has always been to make groups of friends everywhere ridiculously happy, and we couldn’t be more excited to continue that journey with this new facility.”
 

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Sir Rod Stewart’s Wolfie’s whisky brand reports ‘bumper’ first nine months: Wolfie’s has reported a “bumper” nine months of rapid expansion since launching in July 2023. The brand is now selling into more than 20 countries worldwide, including the UK, USA, Asia and all major European markets, and recently launched into global travel retail. A partnership between Sir Rod Stewart and drinks industry veteran Duncan Frew, Wolfie’s embodies its rockstar founder’s reputation as “the Cockney Scotsman” and pays tribute to his Scottish roots. It was designed to reflect Stewart’s rock ‘n’ roll heritage and was inspired by the musician’s early hell raising days with the Faces. Wolfie’s has notched up partnerships with on-trade customers including The Ritz, The Ivy Group, Nobu and the Hard Rock Group, while in the off-trade, the brand has secured a national UK listing in Tesco as well as distribution through Loch Lomond Group globally, and via RNDC in the USA. Significant agreements include Liquor Mountain in Japan and Total Wine & More in America. Frew said: “We might have a rockstar founder, but Wolfie’s is always going to be the star of the show.” Wolfie’s is available to the UK on-trade via Master of Malt, Mortons and Champers. To find out more about stocking Wolfie’s Whisky, email josh@wolfieswhisky.com. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com.
 
Christie & Co’s Stephen Owens to speak at Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference, open for bookings with 20% discount on tickets for Premium Club members: Stephen Owens, managing director – pubs and restaurants at Christie & Co, 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. Owens will set the scene for the market, with an update on sector valuations, price expectations, market sentiment, who the buyers and sellers are, and what’s in store for the year ahead. 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 two updated databases this week: Premium Club members are to receive two updated databases this week. The updated UK Food & Beverage Franchisor Database, which will be sent to Premium subscribers tomorrow (Wednesday, 10 April) at midday, will feature 16 new entries. It now has 250 entries and more than 126,000 words of content. Among the new entries are Indian street food brands Saffron Street, which has three branches, and Mi Chaii, which has 22 locations. Also included are north east burger brand Burger Drop and premium fries concept Chipsta, from the team behind dessert chain Treatz. Premium Club members will also receive the next Turnover & Profits Blue Book on Friday (12 April), at midday. A further ten companies have been added, while 48 have updated figures. The database now features 901 companies, with 577 in profit and 324 making a loss. Premium Club members also receive access to four other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database, the New Openings 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com today to sign up.   
 
The Guardian – UK’s craft beer scene says it’s on the brink: The UK’s craft beer scene says it is on the brink and that margins are threadbare, reports The Guardian. A report from the independent brewers’ trade body Siba, due for release in May but shared with the newspaper, will show double-digit growth in production volumes. Increased output correlates tightly with sales, reflecting Britain’s enduring thirst for craft sector offers, particularly compared with mass-market rivals. But competition is fierce, customers’ budgets are squeezed and costs associated with covid-19 are piling up. “It’s like death by a thousand cuts at the moment,” said Alex Troncoso, co-founder of the award-winning Bristol-based brewer Lost & Grounded. He reeled off a long list of factors paring back the industry’s meteoric growth including the inflation crisis, while the cost of energy, ingredients and wages has soared. Debt repayments, including on government covid loans, have also become more punishing, as the Bank of England raises rates to keep a lid on prices. Troncoso said: “If we were to expand now, we’re getting quoted interest rates of about 9%, about the same as when we were a high-risk startup business.” Paul Corbett managing director of Charles Faram, which supplies 90% of UK brewers with at least some of their hops, malt and yeast, said while it’s too soon to call the industry’s decline, the wider conditions are far from auspicious. “Covid has really affected people’s habits,” Corbett said. “Despite what people tell you, we’re drinking less, and the cost of living also means people are struggling with the money in their pocket. The price of a pint looks quite scary when you go out with friends. We’ve had more insolvencies [of brewers] than we’ve ever seen before in one year.” Breweries such as Lost & Grounded and Gipsy Hill are also responding to setbacks by tweaking their business models, intensifying focus on supplying pubs within a smaller radius, where the beer can be served fresh, to people who value local provenance, for higher margins.
 
Job of the Day: COREcruitment is working on a fantastic opportunity for a restaurant director to join a luxury hotel in Kent. It is looking for a talented, well organised individual with a real passion for food and beverage (F&B). As restaurant director, you will manage and develop the F&B team in the hotel to the highest level. Some of your responsibilities will include managing the team and ensuring that staff morale is high; overseeing the training and development of the team; supporting the restaurant manager with the day to day running of the restaurant; conducting staff reviews and action the areas in need of training and more. The salary for the position is up to £70,000 and is based in Kent. For more information on the role, please contact ed@corecruitment.com. 
 

Company News:

Zia Lucia – beginning to explore JV opportunities, planning two or three more UK openings this year: London pizzeria concept Zia Lucia has begun exploring expansion opportunities internationally through joint venture partnerships, as it continues to plan further growth in the capital and regionally. Last week, the business opened its first regional site, and tenth in total, on the ex-ASK Italian site in Mary’s Butts, in Reading town centre. 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”. D’Angelo told Propel: “We have proven to be a very resilient business, lots of sites are performing ahead of schedule, there are a couple that are in line with what we expected. All things considered, if you think about how much investment we have done within the business by building the entire management team, we are doing very well actually. The last opening in West Hampstead, in particular, is doing very well. There are sites like Aldgate, which we opened three to four years ago, that continue to grow. Obviously, it’s not the easiest time, the costs are very high to run the business and the minimum wage increase has a knock-on effect on the cost of labour, but we are a good margin business. We just need some stability in the market. We are in advanced talks on a further site in the capital, it is basically almost done, and waiting for the planning. It is an incredible, exciting area for us. We’ve been looking there for a while, and we have found an incredibly nice spot. Then we are hopefully looking for two or three more this year. We have some discussions out on a couple more in London and a couple outside of the capital. So hopefully, we’ll sign up two or three more for which one or two should be outside London as well.” The business has been working with consultancy firm GNF Worldwide, and D’Angelo said that rather than franchising, the company is looking to go down the joint venture route to aid its expansion plans. He told Propel: “We are thinking about how do we evolve a London-based successful brand into a national brand,, and the start of looking at possible joint venture (JV) partners came from inbound requests from international parties and also from parties in the UK. So, there might be an opportunity to scale in a more capital efficient way, in a faster way, without losing control of the brand. Our five-year growth plan was more growth in London and establishing a regional rollout. We are also now considering JV partners in international markets. It is crucial for us to replicate what has been successful in our corporate estate, which is to go slowly, make sure we do the right thing, in the right town, with the right people. We had had a few inquiries and we thought why not? We should explore that. Alongside our corporate expansion, we are open to conversations with strong JV partners around the globe.”

Dubai-based doughnut brand lines up London or Brighton for UK debut, seeks master franchisee for Scotland: Dubai-based doughnut brand La Donuteria is lining up London or Brighton for its UK debut and is seeking a master franchisee for Scotland, Propel has learned. Propel revealed last month that the brand, founded seven years ago when travelling investment banker Peter Stranak discovered a shop on a trip to New York “that would always have long queues outside, come rain or shine”, is set to come to the UK. The business, which now has circa 31 stores across Europe and the Middle East – the majority of which are in Slovakia and the Czech Republic – is working with Infinity Business Growth Network to find partners to grow it here. “Among the many inquiries, both London and Brighton have emerged as strong contenders to become the first La Donuteria franchise location in the UK,” said Gene Astell, a franchising specialist at Infinity Business Growth Network, giving an update. “The enthusiasm and support we’ve received from these cities have been truly remarkable, and we are grateful for the overwhelming response. With summer just around the corner, we are eagerly anticipating the grand opening of our first La Donuteria shop, and we cannot wait to see the brand come to life in the UK market. While La Donuteria may be new to the UK, it boasts a track record of success worldwide, and the demand for gourmet donuts is on the rise. La Donuteria is at the forefront of this trend and is perfectly positioned to capitalise on this growing market. With multiple revenue streams, scalable business models and the potential for high returns on investment, La Donuteria offers a pathway to prosperity.” Astell added that La Donuteria is seeking a master franchisee “to spearhead its expansion into Scotland”. He added: “While La Donuteria has garnered international acclaim, it has yet to make its mark in Scotland. As the master franchisee, you’ll have the exclusive rights to develop and expand the brand across the country. Scotland, with its vibrant cities, bustling tourist attractions and thriving foodie culture, presents an ideal market for La’Donuteria's delectable offerings. With its untapped market potential, proven success and comprehensive support, this is your chance to carve out a sweet slice of success in the Scottish franchise landscape.”
 
Sky News – Sessions secures £3m in new funding, to launch franchising arm: Sessions, the growth platform for original food brands, has raised a further £3m in funding to aid its growth plans, including the launch of a franchising arm. Sky News reports that Sessions, which was founded by former Deliveroo executive Dan Warne, has secured the funding from Guinness Ventures, an existing investor. The fundraising values the company at several tens of millions of pounds, according to insiders. The valuation is roughly double that of its Series A round. Sessions, which operates a chef-led food hall on Brighton’s seafront, works with brands such as SoBe Burger, Little Bao Boy and Patty Guy – the latter of which was founded by former Masterchef winner Kenny Tutt. It said the new capital would help launch a franchising arm, beginning with SoBe Burger and Ivan Ramen. Describing itself as “the record label of food”, it has assembled a roster of more than 300 kitchens and delivered over 3.5 million orders across its digital and physical platforms. The company raised circa £7.5m at the start of 2022 and struck a £3.25m debt deal with Virgin Money last autumn. Warne said the funding came after Sessions had “navigated a tricky couple of years” and was now “delivering strong, sustainable growth”. Ashley Abrahams, head of origination at Guinness Ventures, said: “Sessions is well-placed to take advantage of the increasing demand for high quality, authentic food from talented chefs across the country, at the same time supporting the wider kitchen partner ecosystem through the creation of complementary revenue streams.” Propel revealed in February that chef Ivan Orkin is to expand his eponymous Ivan Ramen concept to London in partnership with Sessions, with plans to eventually open in 50 sites across the UK. Sessions is also offering two further brands for franchising. SoBe Burger is its proprietary burger brand, already live in 200 sites for delivery, while it already works with Leeds bao concept Little Bao Boy in over 50 sites for delivery licensing.

Wendy’s UK set outs openings pipeline, new franchisee to open first site in Wood Green: Wendy’s, the third-largest quick service restaurant chain in the US, has confirmed its next set of openings in the UK, while revealing that its latest franchisee here, GH Burgers, will open its first site in Wood Green. The company said: “Wendy’s will continue its expansion in the north with a fresh spot in Middlesbrough in the coming months. Liverpool will also welcome its first brick and mortar restaurant later this year, following the success of the delivery kitchen, which opened in 2023 at Gravity Max. Wendy’s new Liverpool restaurant will be located on one of the main routes connecting Liverpool and Manchester, perfect for travellers and commuters alike. Brand fans in Sheffield can rejoice, with the arrival of a second Wendy's restaurant on Arena Road, joining the popular high street location which has been serving residents since 2022. In London, the brand is also heading north, setting sights on Zone 3. Wendy’s newest franchisee, GH Burgers, will be opening its first restaurant in Wood Green later this year. Brand fans in Essex will also be able to enjoy Wendy’s by the sea, setting roots in Southend-on Sea. After celebrating a successful year in the Northern Gateway Leisure Park, Wendy’s will be opening its second restaurant in Colchester, bang on the high street as a result of local residents demanding more access to Wendy’s in the city. This also follows a successful launch in Chelmsford in March. Wendy’s also added another location in Hull last month, joining the Kingswood Retail Park drive-thru which opened its doors in December 2023, as well as the hotly anticipated Cambridge restaurant, which will be welcoming fans for the first time later this year. Wendy’s is also pleased to confirm another franchisee restaurant opening in Newcastle later this year.” The new sites will collectively create more than 400 jobs.  Michael Clarke, UK managing director, Europe for The Wendy’s Company, said: “We'’e seen great momentum in building Wendy's fandom in the UK, and the love and excitement for this iconic brand grows stronger with each new restaurant opening. British consumers constantly ask, ‘Where’s Wendy'’s opening next?’ and we’re thrilled to answer the call by rapidly expanding our brand presence into new areas across the country, giving Brits more access to fresh, high-quality food that they deserve.” 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. GH Burgers joins Wendy’s other UK franchise partners, Square Burgers, Blank Table and JRK Restaurants.

Six by Nico lines up a second Edinburgh restaurant: Six Company, the company behind the Six by Nico restaurant business, has lined up a second opening in Edinburgh for its core brand. The company, which currently operates 15 sites throughout the UK and Ireland under the Six by Nico brand, is planning to open a new site in Edinburgh’s Queensferry Street, in the unit formerly occupied by Foundry 39. It already operates a site in the city’s Hanover Street. Last month, Rob Wirszycz, chairman of Six Company, told Propel that the business is taking a step-by-step approach to the expansion of its core Six by Nico brand and sees additional roll-out opportunities for its “explore” concepts. The company plans to open a site in Oxford’s Westgate scheme and the one in Edinburgh in the first half of this year, followed by a further three in the second half. Wirszycz said: “The format is flexible for between 30-100 covers, but operationally, it has to be on one floor with an open kitchen. We are providing a six-course food and drink experience served within two hours, turning out literally thousands of dishes and drinks, with each seat turning over four times a day. Our recent Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff openings are doing really well, designed on a ‘grand dining room’ approach that has been done down extremely well with customers, with each on track to deliver a return on investment in 12 months.” In terms of mapping out the UK for the brand, Wirszycz said the company is ambitious for growth but going “one by one”. He said: “With our Six by Nico database standing at over 900,000 and our ever-changing six-week menu cycle being 99% reservation driven, a big part of the future strategy is to ‘double up’ in cities after the successful launch of our second Manchester and Glasgow units.”

Kaye family open Kendal Street Kitchen in London’s Marble Arch: Adam and Sam Kaye, who founded the ASK Italian and Zizzi restaurant brands, have opened their new all-day restaurant near London’s Marble Arch, called Kendal Street Kitchen. Propel revealed last year that the brothers had acquired the ex-Kurobuta site (previously an ASK) in Kendal Street, for an opening in the first quarter of this year. It is believed that the new venture will be a one-off. The new all-day venue serves pizza, pasta, antipasti and “Mediterranean classics”. Main courses for the lunch menu range from £10 to £26 and include butterflied sea bass, shakshuka and sirloin steak tagliata. Main courses in the evening menu range from £14 to £38 and include truffle carbonara, chargrilled salmon and hand-cut ribeye. The Kaye family were previously the majority shareholders of Prezzo, which was led by Adam’s cousin Jonathan, who returned to the restaurant scene with his new Italian concept, Storia, in 2021. Adam Kaye is also an executive director at cinema chain Everyman. 

Paul Cutsforth takes on interim head of ops role at Fuller’s: Fuller’s has appointed Paul Cutsforth, formerly of RedCat Pub Company, Orchid Group and Peach Pubs, as its interim head of operations. Cutsworth joined the Simon Emeny-led business last March as an operations manager. He previously spent over a year and a half at RedCat and also held operations director roles at Orchid and Peach. It comes as Fuller’s is looking to recruit a new city operations director after the departure of Kate Eastwood. Propel revealed this week that Eastwood had left Fuller’s to become managing of Lounge, the Loungers-owned concept. Eastwood joined the Nick Collins-led Loungers from Fuller’s, where she was an operations director for the past four years and responsible for over 100 sites in London and across the south of England.

Rockfish launches ‘virtual fishmonger and seafood counter’ at Gloucester Services: Rockfish, the nine-strong seafood restaurant group led by Mitch Tonks, has launched a “virtual fishmonger and seafood counter” at Gloucester Services. It has partnered with Westmorland Family, which owns six motorway service areas stretching the length of the UK, for a “unique collaboration” which “seeks to change the way people buy seafood in Britain”. The new concept allows customers to choose fish and seafood from a digital, on-screen fish counter linked to the Rockfish Online Seafood Market. Customers ordering before 1pm Monday to Thursday or before 12pm on Friday will receive next-day delivery. The new kiosk features built-in screens showcasing the step-by-step journey of the produce from sea to counter, while knowledgeable counter staff will provide insight and guidance on the latest catch. The counter will offer a selection of frozen fresh fish, all blast frozen on the quayside as soon as it lands, alongside Rockfish’s line of tinned seafood, as well as smoked fish, selected wines, seafood cookbooks, house-made sauces and butters. Mitch Tonks, founder and chief executive of Rockfish, said: “Our aim is to share a sustainable way of enjoying world class seafood. Our zero-waste supply chain and digital market shares the very best of that day’s catch that will be delivered to your doorstep wherever you are cooking.” Sarah Dunning, chair of Westmorland Family, added: “We wanted to find more sustainable way of retailing fish that suited a motorway services with a focus on proper food. The Rockfish partnership offers the opportunity and inspiration to order and enjoy fresh seafood delivered to their end destination.” Westmorland Family’s original motorway service area grew out of the family farm in Tebay, Cumbria, when the M6 was built through their land in 1972. It currently employs 1,100 colleagues and welcomes over 10 million visitors a year. Earlier this month, Propel reported that Rockfish – which already has openings lined up in Sidmouth, Salcombe and Topsham – is planning to add a site in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, to its openings pipeline. In January, Tonks, said the business was currently “performing well with growth in sales, margin and overall conversion”, which has returned the group to “budgeted levels of profitability in the current financial year” and was in the process of completing a £3m fundraise.
 
Wonderland chairman steps down, company closes Park Row site: Michael Tobin, the former chief executive of Telecity, has stepped down as chairman of immersive restaurant company Wonderland, Propel has learned. Tobin and fellow director Jonathan Lewis, chief executive of Admedia, have both stepped down from the board of this business, which opened its debut site the DC Comics-inspired Park Row in London’s Soho in summer 2021. Founder James Bulmer, former Disney executive and chief executive of The Fat Duck Group, partnered with Warner Bros and DC to launch Park Row in Brewers Street. The “premium immersive restaurant” experience inspired by the stories and DC characters including Batman, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Superman and The Penguin, occupied an 18,000 square-foot basement venue at The Crown Estate’s grade II-listed 77 Brewer Street. The venue initially comprised five restaurants, offering 330 covers, and three bar areas. The restaurant has now closed, with a letter sent out to creditors last month saying the business had “taken the difficult decision to sell and assign our lease to a new operator”. A company statement confirmed this and added that it’s related DC-themed The Monarch Theatre experience would move to a new location. “After two and a half incredible years in Soho, Park Row served its last Gotham ‘39 cocktail at 77 Brewer Street on 8 April, as the DC-inspired experience closes its doors and the signature gastronomic show, Michelin Guide-rated The Monarch Theatre, prepares to open at a new location in London later this year,” it said. “Wonderland, Warner Bros Discovery Global Themed Entertainment and the entire Park Row team thank the DC fans and dining enthusiasts who’ve enjoyed the culinary journey over the years. Stay tuned for more news on relocation of The Monarch Theatre, to be announced shortly.”
 
Cake Box expecting to report 9% lfl revenue rise, ‘progressing well’ on 400-store target: Cake Box, the specialist retailer of fresh cream cakes, has said it expects to report a 9% like-for-like rise in revenue for the year to 31 March 2024 and was “progressing well” in its long-term target for 400 UK stores. In a trading update ahead of its full-year results in June, the company said it had increased the momentum seen in the first half of its financial year with further growth in the second half. This included further new store openings, positive sales growth, higher online sales including the “increasingly popular click and collect feature” and new product launches. In 2023, the group reported revenue of £34.8m. It said stabilisation in the cost of raw materials and further efficiency benefits, combined with the increase in revenues, means the group “expects to report adjusted profits slightly ahead of market expectations”. Franchisee stores continue to perform well too, with like-for-like sales expected to show an increase of 4.4%. The group said its pricing strategy remains under review and that it has launched a new customer data system and retail website. It rolled out fresh branding at nine of its stores and added 20 new ones during the year, bringing its total estate to 225. “The demand for new stores remains strong among the group’s existing franchisee base as well as new enquiries from prospective franchisees,” the group said. “The engagement with external property consultants, appointed to develop a strategy for Cake Box to reach its 400-store long term target, has progressed well and target areas for new stores have been identified.” Sukh Chamdal, Cake Box’s co-founder and chief executive, added: “We are delighted to have delivered a year of solid growth in all our key performance areas and full year profits slightly above expectations despite the backdrop of uncertain macroeconomic conditions. We expect to report an increase in all key financial metrics, an uptick in sales of products online including our click and collect offer, as well as in-store sales and an increased number of franchise stores. I am confident that with our strengthened senior management team and investment in our operations and processes, as well as our dedicated and determined franchisees, we will continue to grow the Cake Box customer base and brand.” Cake Box opened new stores in Purley and Lincoln over the Easter weekend, adding to the stores it opened in Sittingbourne and Edinburgh last month.
 
Brew York acquires trio of Market Town Taverns sites: Yorkshire brewery Brew York has acquired three pubs from Market Town Taverns, as part of plans to add five venues to its portfolio over the next few years. The business, which already operates four sites, said the acquisition marks a new phase of growth as “we continue to stride beyond our home ground”. The three new pubs taken on are The Mitre in Knaresborough, The Horse & Farrier in Otley, and Coopers in Guiseley. The company said its current plans are to take over all three in late April and, as the three venues are all established and well-appointed, it won’t be making significant changes. The company said: “The venue expansion has been on the cards for a while, and towards the end of 2023, we recruited John Hoe as bar operations director to lead the growth initiative. John brings extensive experience within retail and operations across multi-site pubs and bars, including former roles with Camerons and Black Sheep. As part of the venue expansion programme, the existing four Brew York bars in York (Walmgate and Osbaldwick), Pocklington and Leeds city centre have also had opening times extended, with further enhancements planned.” Brew York managing director Wayne Smith added: “We’ve now developed four solid Brew York venues that all offer a dynamic craft beer experience and we’ve realised a key opportunity to further strengthen and grow the business in this area. We’re confident that John’s expertise will be a great asset as we embark on this project, and with him working alongside our existing highly experienced teams across the venues, brewery, and head office, we’re excited to further hone our craft and spread our wings. John has been instrumental in making the Market Town Tavern (MTT) opportunities a reality via his impressive contact network and the MTT team have been really helpful in making the process run smoothly. We hope to work closely with them in the future.” The sale of the three pubs leaves Market Town Taverns with circa ten sites. 
 
José Pizarro to open sixth London restaurant: Spanish chef José Pizarro is set to open his sixth London restaurant this summer. Lolo will open at 102 Bermondsey Street, with the all-day affair meaning Pizarro will be serving up a Spanish breakfast for the first time, reports Hot Dinners. He also operates José Tapas Bar Bermondsey and Pizarro Restaurant in Bermondsey and José Pizarro Broadgate Circle in Liverpool Street, plus José Pizarro at RA and Poster Bar by José at the Royal Academy in Mayfair. Outside of the capital, he is also behind gastropub with boutique rooms The Swan Inn in Esher, Surrey, as well as José by Pizarro at the Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers in the Middle East.
 
Jonathan Kaye opens sixth Storia site: Ex-Prezzo chief executive Jonathan Kaye has opened the sixth site for his fledgling Italian restaurant business, Storia. Kaye, who was also the ex-chief executive of Dining Street – the formerly listed Richoux Group, which was the company behind the Richoux, Friendly Phil’s, Villagio and The Broadwick restaurant brands – has opened his latest Storia site on the ex-Prezzo unit in London Road, Redhill. It comes a few months after Kaye opened a Storia site on the former Prezzo in Woodford Green’s Johnston Road and follows the opening on the ex-Prezzo in Shepperton’s High Street. Propel revealed last July that Kaye was to double the size of the Storia estate after acquiring three sites previously operated by his former brand. The sites were part of the 47 restaurants that Prezzo closed last year, as part of its restructuring plan. Kaye, who grew Prezzo to circa 250 sites before it was acquired by US investment firm TPG in November 2014 for circa £304m, launched Storia in 2021. Storia made its debut at the former Prezzo site in Tring High Street before a second site opened on the former The Broadwick outlet in Radlett. In the summer of 2022, he opened a third Storia on the former The Broadwick site in Bridge Street, Maidenhead. Kaye launched the concept with business partner, and former Prezzo director, Mehdi Gashi.
 
Burgerism returns to Liverpool: Burgerism, the fast-growing, north west smash burger concept, has returned to Liverpool following the closure of its debut site in the city. Burgerism opened in the city’s Bold Street in February 2023 for its first site outside of Greater Manchester, but it shut six months later when its host venue, live music bar Jimmy’s, closed its doors. At the time, the business said it wanted to stay in Liverpool, and it has now opened a new site there, in the city’s Blackstock Market. The opening brings Burgerism’s footprint back up to six sites ahead of the launch of a seventh next week, back in Greater Manchester. “Burgerism is back in Liverpool and better than ever,” said head of operations Rachel Field. “We launch today in Blackstock Market, adding our award-winning ‘lean, mean burger cuisine’ to the city’s fantastic food and social scene. Now, in true hospitality fashion, we’re onto our next opening in eight days’ time, bringing the hottest name in premium fast food to East Manchester! Watch this space.” Mark Murphy, who founded Burgerism in 2018, told Propel last year that he remained “hugely positive” about the opportunity ahead and sees “significant upside” from near-term expansion.

SSP Group set to extend Italian operations: SSP Group, the UK operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide, is set to expand its operations in Italy with the opening of new restaurants in key travel hubs in Rome, Turin and Milan. The company announced its entry into Italy last year when it revealed plans to open six units in Rome’s Termini station, which is the country’s largest station and one of the largest rail hubs in Europe. Building on this, it has now secured contracts in Italy’s second and third busiest stations – Milan Central and Turin’s Porta Nova – after securing an agreement with Grandi Stazioni Retail, the organisation responsible for the commercial operations in Italy’s 14 main railway stations. The brand mix has been crafted to meet the needs of passengers at each of the three locations. In Turin, Tuscan dining brand Tosca has already welcomed its first customers. In Rome, SSP will open a second Tosca alongside YO! and Leon units, and a site for Belgian-based healthy restaurant concept EXKi. Passengers passing through Milan station will also have YO! as an option, alongside In Prima, which offers premium Italian and international cuisine. Gerard D’Onofrio, managing director of SSP Frabel and Italy said: “With a strong presence across mainland Europe and a history on the continent that dates back to the 1960s, our debut in the Italian market is particularly exciting. These latest ventures mark the first steps in SSP’s robust plans for expansion in the Italian market.”

Team behind Afrikana to open first UK site for French taco concept this week: The team behind African restaurant chain Afrikana will open the first UK site for French taco concept Tacosmash this week. Propel revealed in October that Afrikana managing director Omair Ali is also the managing director of City Restaurants Group (CRG), which was looking to bring Tacosmash to London. Ali announced in December that the first UK Tacosmash will open in London’s Mile End, with a further site to follow in Birmingham. The London site, at 568 Mile End Road, is now set to open on Saturday, 13 April and will include an arcade space. Tacosmash, which offers smash burgers, French tacos and a range of sides and milkshakes, has a site in Paris’ Rue Jussieu. “London foodies, brace yourselves for a flavour explosion,” the company’s website said. “We’re Tacosmash and we’re crashing the London food scene with some serious food vibes straight from the streets of Paris. It’s tacos with a French twist! It’s a fiesta in your mouth, and everyone’s invited!”

Domino’s launches new £4 lunch menu: Domino’s Pizza has launched its new £4 lunch menu, which is available seven days a week and features 14 products. The menu consists of three new product types. The ‘Cheeky Little Pizza’, a six-inch pizza with reduced-fat mozzarella and classic Domino’s toppings, comes in at under 600 calories. New Hot & Cheesy wraps feature Domino’s flavours and mozzarella in a folded tortilla, while a selection of lunch extras including chicken strippers, wings and kickers, Domino’s cookies and fries will also be available. Louise Pilkington, director of innovation at Domino’s said: “We are known for delighting people at dinner, but customers have been asking us to create a menu to give them a little Domino’s joy at lunch. That’s why we are launching a new £4 lunch menu with Cheeky Little Pizza and Hot & Cheesy Wraps. It’s a menu of classic Domino’s flavours in lunch size, and the Cheeky Little Pizzas are all under 600 calories. We look forward to customers popping in to see us at lunch! This is just the beginning so watch this space for more.” Last month, Andrew Rennie, chief executive of Domino’s, said the business sees the lunch daypart as a key opportunity for growth. He said: “We haven’t really gone after this daypart before and it’s an underutilised part of our business. The franchisees are fully supportive, and I think will really help us take more market share. Our stores are open, but our share of lunch is small, so this is a growth opportunity for us. There’s a lot of consumers out there that have never accessed Domino’s because of the price point. This is their access point. If you look at some of the other Domino’s markets around the world that run 20%-25% of their sales at lunch, we’re only at 15%.”

Stonegate celebrates first development programme graduates from all three of its business divisions: Stonegate Group is celebrating the first cohort of development programme graduates representing all three of its business divisions. The nine managers are the first graduates of the company’s Aspirations programme comprising its Pub Partners, Craft Union and Managed Pubs businesses. Among them are six new regional managers, one area manager, one general manager and a pub support team manager. The Aspirations programme, now in its 11th cycle, provides customised learning paths for career advancement in the hospitality industry. Tim Painter, Stonegate HR Director, said: “It is hugely rewarding to see another cohort of ambitious, motivated and forward-thinking individuals progress through the Aspirations scheme. We are committed to the development of our team and the Aspirations programme is a fantastic real-life example of our bar to boardroom ethos.”

Yorkshire burger concept makes high street debut for fifth site: Burger concept Yoh Burger, from Yorkshire forecourt operators Fuzail and Siddika Patel, has opened its fifth site, and first on a high street, in Manchester. The husband-and-wife team, who own a network of four forecourts in the region, founded Yoh Burger in 2018 as an own-brand food and beverage unit within their petrol station at Fitzwilliam Road, Rotherham. A second soon followed when the pair converted a former Subway unit within their petrol station at Doncaster Road, Wakefield, and this, in turn, was followed by delivery-only kitchens in Huddersfield and Leeds. It has now opened at 151 Oldham Road in the Manchester suburb of Failsworth, with a Sheffield site next in the pipeline. In February, Propel revealed that the Patels had brought on board experienced operator Paolo Peretti as a franchise consultant to help grow Yoh Burger. Peretti, a former managing director at Patisserie Valerie, now runs his own consultancy business, Paolo Peretti Group, which is also helping grow brands such as Tikka Nation, Rice Guys and Karak Chaii. “The owners are looking to move away from forecourts and into larger eat-in areas,” Peretti said at the time. “Manchester will be their first high street location and will be a prototype for future openings, and that’s what we will franchise. Eventually, it has the potential to grow to 50-60 stores over the next five years. While the plan is to start to move away from forecourts, we still plan to offer the brand to forecourt traders, especially those that wish to convert existing retail offers into Yoh Burger.”

Hand-pulled noodles and soups concept to open in London’s Chinatown: The team behind Hong Kong-style café, The Eight, and Pan-Asian concept, YiQi, are to launch SanHao, a restaurant focused on hand-pulled noodles and soups, in London’s Chinatown. Set to open its doors later this year at 3 Gerrard Street, SanHao, which will be housed in a 3,000 square-foot unit, will focus on traditional hand-pulled noodle dishes as well as cooked to order, pan-fried buns. Keng Yew Leong, founder of SanHao, said: “SanHao’s debut in Chinatown London marks another successful collaboration with Shaftesbury Capital and we are delighted to bring an authentic experience to what is the leading ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) cultural hub in the UK. The success of The Eight and YiQi fills us with great confidence in how our SanHao concept will be received by visitors and we look forward to opening our doors to the Chinatown London community later this year.” YiQi launched earlier this year in Lisle Street.

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