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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 26th Apr 2024 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

Stonegate CEO – our scale and resources should make us go faster, converting more managed pubs to leased and tenanted: David McDowall, chief executive of Stonegate Group, the UK’s largest pub company, has told Propel that the company’s business plan of optimising its assets and conversion strategy is happening at pace, but the hurdle for what now makes a managed pub viable means it has had to evolve. In a wide-ranging interview, which will be published in today’s (Friday, 26 April) Premium Club Opinion, McDowall said: “The leased and tenanted business is such a significant engine for us. And it’s such an important part of our ongoing conversion strategy. A lot of value creation comes from that conversion strategy. Optimising the assets and the conversion strategy was always the business plan. It’s happening at pace and it is happening slightly differently right now. So, we’re not converting a lot of leased and tenanted pubs into managed by dint of the fact that the hurdle for what makes a really viable managed pub has gone up a little bit over the last few years. We are converting leased and tenanted pubs to Craft Union really successfully. We’re converting some managed pubs to Craft Union very successfully, and we’re converting some managed pubs to leased and tenanted quite successfully. One of my continuing mantras with the team is that our scale and resources should make us go faster, not slow us down. So, in the next 12 weeks, there are 78 pubs converting from one business model to another at Stonegate, and that’s the pace that we are working at.” The full interview with McDowall, which includes his thoughts on the wider sector, the group’s late-night estate, investment, financing, culture, new management team and the importance of sport, will be in today’s Premium Club Opinion, which will be sent to members at 5pm. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Premium Club for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Email to upgrade your subscription.

Industry News:

Debbie Whittingham to speak at Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference, open for bookings with 20% discount on tickets for Premium Club members: Debbie Whittingham, employee director at JD Wetherspoon, will be among the speakers at the Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference. Whittingham joined Wetherspoon in 1992 as a shift manager before progressing to a regional manager responsible for 56 pubs. In 2021, she became an employee director, sitting on the Wetherspoon board. She joins a panel discussing the challenge the sector faces in ensuring it maximises the performance of its pub assets in an era of declining alcohol sales. The panel will also feature Shepherd Neame managing director Jonathon Swaine, Greene King managing director Clair Preston-Beer, City Pub Group founder Clive Watson and sector investor Luke Johnson. The all-day conference takes place on Tuesday, 14 May at One Moorgate Place in London and is open for bookings. 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.
Propel’s latest Multi-Site Database to be released today including 190 operators from the experiential leisure sector: The next Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate, providing details of more than 3,000 multi-site operators, will be released today (Friday, 26 April), at midday, to Premium Club members – and companies are now searchable in seven main segments. The database features 910 (29%) operators from the casual dining sector, 765 (25%) pub and bar operators, 510 (16%) cafe bakery operators, 420 (14%) quick service restaurant operators, 250 (8%) hotel operators, 190 (6%) experiential leisure operators and 53 (2%) fine dining operators. The database is updated each month – this edition includes 23 new companies and brings the total to 3,098. New additions to the experiential leisure sector include Family Adventures Group, a children’s leisure venue and day nursery that run sites across the south west and Midlands and recently received £5m investment from Foresight for expansion. There is also Curly Pepper Trading, the owner of inflatable theme park operator Jumpin Fun, which was founded in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, and operates six sites. 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.
Sector trade bodies call for UK alignment following latest delay to deposit return scheme: Sector trade bodies have called for a UK alignment on the deposit return scheme (DRS) following the latest delay to its implementation. The UK-wide go-live date for the scheme has been delayed until October 2027, after the government admitted the initial date of October 2025 was a “stretching target date”. DRS had initially been due to go live in Scotland in April 2023 before being put back to March 2024 and then October 2025. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “The collaboration between governments to reach this point has been positive to see and should act as a blueprint of how to work together on other common areas of concern. We support the delay until 2027 and it is recognition of the significant amount of work that still needs to take place to make these schemes work. Hospitality already has one of the best recycling records in the economy and we can do even more, so I hope all governments across the UK will continue to work with us to make these schemes work for businesses, consumers and all of our sustainability objectives.” Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “We welcome the clarity provided, the steps to closer align national schemes and the recognition that October 2025 is now an unrealistic target for DRS implementation across the UK. However, continued differences across the UK remains a huge challenge for industry, particularly in terms of glass inclusion, adding in significant additional costs and complexity that inevitably will impact consumers in terms of costs and choice. Fully aligned schemes across the UK are vital, as is the need for the UK government and devolved nations to clearly set out the cumulative costs of all the upcoming packaging reforms, and how these will deliver against environmental objectives in the most cost-effective and proportionate manner.” Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “Alignment across the UK is crucial, with consistent rules and materials adopted simultaneously. The disparity in materials, exemplified by Wales’ inclusion of glass, presents a significant challenge, penalising small businesses and potentially impacting, disrupting or placing businesses at a trading disadvantage. This discrepancy not only increases costs but also limits the choice and availability of independent products, detrimentally affecting both businesses and consumers alike.” Campaign for Real Ale chief executive Tom Stainer added: “The UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments working together on a deposit return scheme is good news for the environment and for consumer choice. We now want to make sure sufficient help is offered for small and independent breweries and cider producers to participate in the new DRS.”

Restaurants’ at-home sales flatten in March as deliveries rise but takeaways drop again: At-home sales for Britain’s major managed restaurant groups were virtually flat year-on-year in March, CGA by NIQ’s latest Hospitality at Home Tracker reveals. It shows like-for-like sales of deliveries and takeaways were just 0.8% ahead of March 2023. This is a tenth consecutive month of year-on-year growth, but down on the figures of 4% and 3% in January and February 2024 respectively. The rate is also well below the separate CGA RSM Hospitality Business Tracker, which reported like-for-like sales growth of 5.2% for managed restaurant, pub and bar groups in March. Delivery sales continue to rise at the expense of takeaways, the Hospitality at Home Tracker indicates. Deliveries saw like-for-like growth of 5% last month, while the value of takeaway and click-and-collect orders dropped by 3%. Deliveries accounted for 11p in every pound spent with restaurant groups in March. Karl Chessell, a director at CGA, said: “The softening of at-home sales in March partly reflects moves by some consumers to eat in restaurants more often as pressure on their spending eases. With the Easter weekend falling in March this year, it may also indicate that people still prefer to enjoy food and drink on special occasions with others rather than at home. While we can be cautiously confident that general spending in hospitality will rise as we move towards summer, operators will have to work very hard to achieve sustained growth in both their at-home and eat-in channels.”
Only A Pavement Away takes on new workplace programme: Only A Pavement Away, the industry charity helping those facing or at risk of homelessness find employment in the hospitality sector, has taken on a workplace programme set up by the former members’ club and charity, House of St Barnabas. Following the closure of the club in London’s Soho earlier this year, Only A Pavement Away has been selected by the House of St Barnabas to take on its Progression Project and ensure that 50 graduates from the programme continue to receive vital support and help with essential employment opportunities and training. As well as safeguarding the project, Only A Pavement Away has employed two former members of staff from the House of St Barnabas who will continue to support and mentor those who have graduated from the programme. The Progression Project was founded to help those facing financial issues, mental health declines or employment challenges. Greg Mangham, Only A Pavement Away founder and chief executive, said:“Following the closure of the House of St Barnabas, which came as an awful shock to the industry, we were driven to ensure something positive came out of the situation. By taking on the graduates and two former members of staff, we have committed to moving things forward with the goal to support as many as we can into long-term, fulfilling employment in the hospitality industry.” Jig Maidment, progression manager at Only A Pavement Away, added: “Greg and the team at Only A Pavement Away have provided tremendous support for House of St Barnabas over the years, and have made the transition process extremely smooth. After taking on the project, one graduate has already secured employment through Only A Pavement Away, and two more have been invited for trial shifts following an employment taster session organised by the charity.”
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a procurement organisation based in the north west of England that operates across various industries and is seeking a head of procurement. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “You will play a pivotal role in shaping and implementing the procurement strategy, optimising supplier relationships and driving cost-efficiency across the organisation. The business is looking for a visionary leader who can lead and inspire the procurement team to achieve its strategic objectives.” The salary is up to £80,000 and the position is based in Manchester. For more information, email

Company News:

Chipotle CEO – we’re working on unlocking the brand’s potential in Europe: Brian Niccol, chief executive of Chipotle, which operates 20 sites in the UK, has said the business is working on unlocking the US brand’s potential in Europe. Earlier this month, Propel revealed that the company had promoted Anat Davidzon, formerly Chipotle managing director Canada, to managing director international, overseeing both Canada and Europe, including the UK. Jacob Sumner remains director of European operations, reporting to Davidzon. Last summer, it appointed Ben Williams, who has been with Chipotle for almost 20 years, to managing director Europe, after previously being a regional vice-president in the US. Speaking about the group’s European business, which includes sites in France and Germany, after the group’s first quarter update, Niccol said: “We brought over one of our top operators about a year ago, who helped to identify areas of opportunity, including better aligning our training tools, systems and culinary with our North American operations, where it makes sense and is feasible. We have made nice progress aligning the culinary and are beginning to better align the operations, including a recent change in leadership structure as we expand the role of our Canadian leader to oversee both Canada and Europe. Over the last five years, Canada’s economics have improved to be on par with the US. In fact, Canada is leading our company in many key operational KPIs, including throughput. The successful approach of aligning the local strategy with our overall operational vision and diligently overseeing execution of Chipotle standards has set up Canada for rapid expansion. We see many similarities between the European operation today and the Canadian operation five years ago. The new leadership team in Europe, including two top operators from the US, will take a similar strategic approach to improve economics and unlock Europe’s growth potential.” Asked if the company can grow faster in Europe than it has in Canada, Niccol said: “We are taking what we think are some of our best operators in the US and giving them the opportunity to grow by working in our European business. I don’t know what the timeline is going to be, but I am feeling optimistic that we've got the right operators, the right leadership. And then the proposition is compelling, right? Clean food, great culinary done fast with high levels of customisation that resonates. So, I’m optimistic about where we go from here.”
Blackrose CEO – opportunity to acquire for scale or merge will be a key driver in the pub sector over the next year, secures new backing: Daren Knipe, chief executive of north east pub management company Blackrose, has said the opportunity to acquire for scale or merge will be a key driver in the pub sector over the next year, as the business announced it had secured a multimillion-pound deal to build a 100-plus pub portfolio. The 15-strong Blackrose said it has formed a strategic partnership with a London-based investor, which Propel understands is new to the sector, for the formation of a new pub portfolio. Blackrose said the investment underlines a confidence in the industry and its future, as well as its vision and operational expertise to “curate and deliver successful pubs businesses”. Knipe said: “We are delighted to have secured this funding to kick-start an exciting time in the industry. Blackrose is committed to strengthening the pub sector, and this venture further supports our commitment, alongside our partners, to create a portfolio of venues that offer excellent value and all-round great experiences for our customers.” With this backing, Blackrose said it is poised to embark on a strategic expansion plan over the next 12 months, identifying prime locations and opportunities to enhance its new pub portfolio with predominantly wet-led high street venues across England. Knipe told Propel: “We are after wet-led leased and tenanted and managed freehold community and secondary town centre sites all over the UK.” Blackrose said the creation of the new portfolio will build on its existing success so far this year, adding to its growing list of pub owner clients. In December, Knipe acquired the company name and goodwill following its insolvency by its former owners. Knipe said at the time the acquisition marks a significant turning point for Blackrose, allowing it to trade independently and “charting a new course beyond its former structure”. Knipe told Propel that the business has the firepower to go after packages alongside single site opportunities. He said: “We are looking at large portfolios and then singles if they are the right fit.” On whether the sector is ripe for further consolidation and that therefore more opportunities are set to become available, he said: “I think the sector is looking for liquidity in some areas and facing the need to restructure and reshape costs. The opportunity to acquire for scale or merge will be a key driver over the next 12 months.”
French-based Junk Group to launch smash burger concept in London: Junk Group, the French-based business which operates four brands across France, is to make its UK debut with an opening in London under its smash burger concept, Junk Burger, Propel has learned. Junk Group, which was founded by Wissem Ben Ammar and Majed Mansour in 2013, is understood to have secured the Wonderland site in Old Compton Street, Soho, for an opening later this year. The company launched Junk Burger in 2022 and has grown it to seven sites in France, including openings in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux. The business also operates the Meatpacking burger brand, cookies and coffee shop format Puffy and gourmet salad brand Phoebe’s Salade. Marc Rogers, of MKR Property, and Nick Scott, of Ian Scott International, acted on the Soho deal.
Glasgow smash burger and dessert concept launches £150,000 fundraise as it prepares to franchise: Glasgow smash burger and dessert concept Big Licks has launched a £150,000 fundraise as it prepares to franchise. Founded in 2008 by Anees Ahmed, Big Licks has grown to two locations in Glasgow and one in Manchester. Its crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube has so far raised more than £100,000 with three weeks to go. The company is offering investors equity of 1.48%, giving it a pre-money valuation of £10m. Big Licks said it has positive Ebitda of £362,000 and has reported sales of £3m-plus over the past 12 months, while serving 400,000 customers. The business has partnered with consultants Platinum Wave for its franchise push and said it will sell franchise stores for circa £15,000-£20,000 each, with each also paying royalties of 6%. “Ever been to a restaurant and argued over starter versus dessert?” Big Licks said in its pitch. “Do you visit two establishments just to satisfy your cravings? Lots of quick service restaurants focus on one, yet not many focus on both. No sides taken here! We put just as much oomph into our sweet and savoury offerings, making sure to source local, high quality, fresh ingredients with a focus to satisfy all. With a growing brand, we focus on desserts and burgers in both offering and quality. We’re getting ready to roll out our concept using the franchise model. We will allocate the funds to prepare our business for franchising and to optimise our warehouse infrastructure to meet the anticipated demand.”
Merlin Entertainments partners with media company to develop television and other entertainment programmes: Merlin Entertainments has partnered with US and UK-based media company Wheelhouse to create a range of entertainment content. The partnership aims to leverage Merlin's expertise in creating immersive and engaging experiences alongside Wheelhouse’s talent in developing and producing content for television and other platforms. The partnership will explore the potential of Merlin’s brands, such as SeaLife, and its other attractions – such as Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures – to develop TV programmes that will span a diverse range of genres, including reality, documentary and game show. Led by founder and chief executive Brent Montgomery, Wheelhouse is behind original hit series for Netflix, Hulu and Max, as well as a wide variety of US cable and broadcast networks. Prior to launching Wheelhouse, Montgomery was chief executive of ITV America, which produces programmes such as “Hell’s Kitchen”, “Queer Eye” and “Alone”. Glenn Hugill, Wheelhouse chief content officer and president of the company’s UK division, will drive and oversee the Wheelhouse-Merlin slate. In addition, the Merlin-Wheelhouse collaboration will integrate talent and digital strategies through Wheelhouse DNA – the company’s creator-focused division – and its talent-management arm Additive Creative. Scott O’Neil, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, said: “Currently, our guests have to come visit us in person to enjoy the immersiveness of our 140-plus theme parks and attractions in 89 cities around the world, but our ambition is to amplify how we bring joy, create connections and make memories for even more than the 62 million guests who visited us in 2023. Through creative innovation and storytelling, our partnership with Wheelhouse will allow us to bring a new dimension to our stories, characters and intellectual property on the largest platforms in the world: TV and entertainment programming.”
Five Points Brewing closes crowdfunding campaign after raising more than £460,000 as it looks to start expanding pub estate: London-based Five Points Brewing has closed its crowdfunding campaign after raising more than more than £460,000 as the business looks to start expanding its pub estate and increase brewing capacity. The company, founded 11 years ago, had been aiming to raise £350,000 and was offering 2.25% equity in return for the investment, giving a pre-money valuation of £15,200,000. The campaign has now closed with £461,051 being raised from 736 investors. Led by its founders and existing investors, the campaign will raise investment for additional brewing capacity, production efficiencies and the expansion of its current taproom and courtyard premises, alongside the acquisition of new pub sites. The company said it views the expansion of its own pub estate as a crucial part of its growth strategy. Its Pembury Tavern site in Hackney will serve as a showpiece for additional sites – providing a model for beer sales, increased brew volumes, diversified routes to market and a showcase for its beer range. Last week, Propel reported Five Points Brewing had agreed outline terms on a new London pub, which it hopes will be open and trading by this summer. The business also reported strong growth so far in 2024. This raise marked a third crowdfunding round for Five Points Brewing, having previously raised more than £950,000 in 2021 and almost £1.2m in 2018.
Toca Social parent company receives investment from world chess champion Magnus Carlsen: Toca, the US parent company of interactive football bar concept Toca Social, has received investment from world chess champion Magnus Carlsen. Toca was founded by former US international footballer Eddie Lewis and owns 12 football training centres in the US, as well as 18 affiliates throughout North America. “Magnus is regarded as the best chess player of all time and we are proud to welcome him to Toca,” said Toca chief executive Yoshi Maruyama. Toca Social, which offers interactive football games that use artificial intelligence-enabled technology alongside food and drink, launched in London’s The O2 in the summer of 2021. A second Toca Social site is set to open this summer, in a former Debenham’s unit in Birmingham’s Bullring centre. Toca Social also has plans for a second London site, at Westfield White City, and to take the concept international. Alex Harman, president at Toca Social, told Propel in August the business was aiming for 20-30 sites and that it is “just scratching the surface of demand in London”.
Beds & Bars puts south east London site on market for offers in excess of £4.5m to focus on larger units across Europe: The pan-European hostel company Beds & Bars, led by Keith Knowles, is looking to sell its site in London’s Greenwich as it seeks to focus on larger units across Europe. Christie & Co is marketing the freehold of St Christopher’s Inn, located at 189 Greenwich High Road, which has been in its portfolio since 1999, for offers in excess of £4.5m. “Beds & Bars is poised to reinvest capital that is tied up in the freehold asset in London, in line with the company’s strategy to provide larger units across Europe,” Christie & Co said. “There are currently several opportunities that the company is pursuing, in new and existing territories, that are a better fit for the company’s long-term strategy of expanding under the St Christopher's Inns brand, while continuing to have a food and beverage offering available to walk-in customers through Belushi’s bars. St Christopher’s Inn Greenwich is perfectly located next to Greenwich station, providing backpackers and groups with a unique platform to explore London while staying in the centre of one of London’s most historically significant areas, as well as high footfall available to target for food and beverage. With 14 rooms for guests and modern bar complete with a sunny street terrace, it is a hugely desirable and popular venue among travellers and locals alike. While it is with great sadness that the site goes to market, Beds & Bars is positively looking forward to reinvesting the money from the sale into the ever-growing youth travel industry and is confident that the site will continue to be a fantastic asset to Greenwich.” Knowles told Propel in December that Beds & Bars is in “robust financial shape” but that business rates and the rate of VAT made the UK “uncompetitive to invest in”. He was speaking after the company, which operates 4,500 beds in nine countries, reported record Ebitda and turnover and a return to profit in the year to 25 March 2023. Revenue increased to £68,852,382 from £29,868,256 the previous year while Ebitda was up to £10,083,898 from minus £234,747, and the group posted a pre-tax profit of £5,615,036 compared with a loss of £4,996,667 in 2022.
Heavenly Desserts to open in Milton Keynes this weekend: Artisan dessert restaurant  Heavenly Desserts will open a new site in Milton Keynes tomorrow (Saturday, 27 April). The company will launch a 76-cover restaurant at the city’s MK1 Shopping & Leisure Park. Local franchisees Javid and Surhya Rana will serve up the brand’s signature menu including the croffle – a croissant-waffle combination unique to Heavenly Desserts – along with a dessert tapas range inspired by worldwide flavours. Yousif Aslam, managing director of Heavenly Desserts, said: “We are delighted to be opening our third restaurant of 2024 in the vibrant city of Milton Keynes. The restaurant’s franchisees, Javid and Surhya Rana, bring with them a wealth of knowledge, having already delved into the franchise business world with previous ventures. As Heavenly Desserts continues to rapidly expand, it is important the brand perfectly resonates with our newest franchisees, and we know that Javid and Surhya are the right people to communicate our community ethos and inspiring dessert experience to Milton Keynes locals.” Surhya Rana, co-owner of Heavenly Desserts Milton Keynes, added: “We’ve always had a passion for quality, premium desserts, and we knew that we wanted to channel this into a business opportunity. We chose this area as we live locally and raised our family in Milton Keynes, often visiting MK1 for days out ourselves. We saw a gap here for a premium dessert destination, and we wanted to give visitors to the park something new and exciting to try.” Milton Keynes will be a 56th UK location for Heavenly Desserts, which also had an overseas presence in Mississauga, Canada. Aslam told Propel in January that he has targeted 100 sites by end the end of 2026, and that he has launched a smaller scale kiosk format in a bid to attract more franchisees.
YO! launches volunteer programme for employees: YO!, the Snowfox Group-owned sushi brand, has launched a volunteer programme for its employees. YO! has partnered with Bristol-based Neighbourly, a giving platform that helps businesses make a positive impact in their communities by donating volunteer time, money and surplus products, all in one place. A YO! spokesman said: “This partnership and programme will give every single member of our team the opportunity to take a day off work each year to participate in a local community project, which they choose themselves via the Neighbourly platform. We are hoping to see our teams perform more than 600 hours of volunteering collectively this year as we aim to be better neighbours and give our teams the opportunity to give back to their local communities.” It comes as YO! earlier this month launched a new restaurant in Kent’s Bluewater shopping centre and a to-go location at Rushden Lakes in Northampton. “We have been open in Bluewater since 2006, with our iconic kaiten dining experience, and our new location within the shopping centre is next level YO!” the spokesman added. “At Rushden Lakes, we’re dishing up all your YO! favourites; from hand-crafted sushi to the best of Japanese street food.” In February, Propel revealed that Snowfox Group – which owns the YO!, Panku, Bento and Taiko brands – had launched the second phase of its franchising programme for its circa 500-strong kiosk estate. Snowfox opened its 500th kiosk in the UK last autumn, in the Tesco Express in Tooley Street, London. It followed the news that YO! had opened its 300th sushi kiosk in Tesco stores. At the same time, the company’s Panku brand now has almost 150 kiosks in Asda stores.
Love Churros expands further outside London with High Wycombe launch: London urban dessert experience Love Churros has expanded further outside the capital with a launch in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The business has six locations based within London and its outskirts – including Watford in Hertfordshire and Grays in Essex. But it has now taken a larger step outside of the capital with a launch at the Eden shopping centre in High Wycombe. Love Churros has also this month launched in its second international market of Bahrain, as revealed by Propel in March. The Bahrain site, at Vila 437, Block 908, adds to its three overseas sites in Saudi Arabia. “This month marks a few exciting milestones for Love Churros London, both in the UK and internationally,” the company posted to social media. “We are thrilled to announce the launch of our first location in the Kingdom of Bahrain. This launch holds particular significance for us as it marks the opening of our first stand-alone brick-and-mortar store. April also marks a milestone for our presence in the UK as we expand beyond the immediate London area by opening at the Eden shopping centre in High Wycombe. We’re incredibly proud of the dedicated team behind these endeavours and the ongoing growth of our company. Stay tuned for more exciting announcements throughout the year.” Love Churros was founded in 2015 by former professional footballer Jake Nicholson.
Hastings Hotels reports drop in profit and turnover, completes £15m refurbishment project: Hastings Hotels, which owns and operates six venues across Northern Ireland, has reported a drop in both turnover and profit for the year ending 31 October 2023. The company’s turnover fell from £43,179,362 in 2022 to £25,458,615 while its pre-tax profit was down from £6,156,896 to £4,298,320. It received no government grants compared with £120,000 in 2022. Rental income grew slightly from £261,320 to £271,011 while investment income was up from £197 to £228. The 2022 figures included a £1,694,345 gain on revaluation of assets. The group has net assets of £22,687,165 (2022: £49,523,717). Average staff numbers almost halved from 802 in 2022 to 403. No dividends were paid. The group sold the Slieve Donald Resort & Spa, which it had operated since 1972, to US operator AJ Capital Partners in October 2021. Post year-end, in April 2024, the group completed a long-running £15m refurbishment project at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, including upgrades to all 272 guest bedrooms as well as improvements to The Lobby Bar, the Piano Restaurant, all conference rooms and the penthouse function room. The group is still operated by the family of Sir William Hastings, who founded it in 1966 with the purchase of two hotels.
Heineken beer sales beat expectations: Heineken, the world’s second-largest brewer, sold more beer than expected in the first quarter, notching up its first increase in volumes in 12 months after higher prices hit demand last year. The FT reported the Amsterdam-listed brewer said the volume of beer sold rose 4.7% organically in the three months to the end of March compared with the previous year, ahead of the 2.5% increase forecast by analysts. The return to volume growth comes after Heineken raised prices aggressively last year to offset higher costs on everything from barley to aluminium, hitting demand. Heineken said sales volumes of its premium beers, which include brands such as Birra Moretti and Kingfisher Ultra, grew at 7.3% in the first quarter, outperforming its total beer portfolio. Net revenue rose 9.4% to €6.8bn, ahead of the 7.2% rise forecast by analysts. Chief executive Dolf van den Brink said all regions had grown volumes and revenue, boosted by Easter falling earlier and other one-off effects. However, the company held firm to its guidance for 2024, amid a “challenging and uncertain” economic environment. Heineken tempered expectations for annual profit growth in February and is currently expecting operating profit to grow organically at a low to high-single digit. European sales volumes rose 1.6% in the quarter as European pubs held up through the cost-of-living crisis. However, the brewer said it had noted a shift in some markets, with customers buying more beer in supermarkets instead of in bars and restaurants.
Chef Niall Keating to open new restaurant Tender at Gary Neville’s Stock Exchange Hotel: Two-time Michelin star chef Niall Keating is to open a new restaurant called Tender at Gary Neville’s Stock Exchange Hotel in Manchester. Keating has worked in the two-star Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham and the three-star Benu in San Francisco. Tender will replace the Stock Market Grill, which closed last summer. The new restaurant will open on Wednesday, 5 June, offering a weekday brasserie lunch, an à la carte dinner menu, afternoon tea, a special Sunday roast and chef’s table, and special tasting menu. Neville said: “We couldn't be happier to be partnering with Niall Keating for Tender and bringing his culinary expertise to the hotel. His vision to create versatile and accessible dining options is exactly what we’ve been looking for, to allow everyone visiting Tender to find the right experience for them. We will also shortly be announcing a series of events and live music experiences, including a weekly music plan within Tender, which will really bring the venue to life, making it the heart of Stock Exchange Hotel.” Keating added: “From when I first walked through the doors of the hotel into the dining room, I knew this was the place for me and that we could create something really special. I immediately felt connected to both Gary and general manager, Tracy Harrison, and I knew what I wanted to create at the hotel and restaurant. I want a space that feels vibrant, warm and energetic, that brings to life the history of the Stock Exchange roots of the hotel, while providing an upscale and comfortable brasserie dining experience. In addition to the main dining room, we will also be opening The Bank, a private space for up to 12 guests, where we will be providing a truly exceptional dining experience.”
Liverpool’s Turncoat Distillery relocates to Love Lane Brewery: Liverpool’s Turncoat Distillery is relocating its production facility to Love Lane Brewery – also located in the city’s Baltic Triangle. The decision to relocate operations will allow the distillery to leverage the brewery’s infrastructure and resources, elevating its production capabilities while maintaining the same standards. “We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Love Lane Brewery as we embark on this exciting new chapter for Turncoat,” said Edward Ridding, head of Turncoat Distillery. “This move not only allows us to streamline our operations but also allows us to offer on-site gin tasting experiences and distillery tours. It also represents a homecoming, with Turncoat and Love Lane both having a mutual co-founder.” Gary Manning, the new managing director of Love Lane Brewery, added: “We are delighted to welcome Turncoat. Its commitment to craftsmanship and innovation aligns perfectly with our own values, and we are excited to work together to create a wonderful experience for all guests here at Love Lane Brewery.” Gin tastings and distillery tours are available to book online via Turncoat’s website, while Love Lane Brewery’s bar and kitchen has undergone an extensive makeover since being rescued out of administration by TJ Morris Brewing and will now be open six days a week. The brewery reopened under its new ownership earlier this month after entering administration for the second time in October 2023.
Bubbledogs to returns to London’s Mayfair as summer pop-up: Bubbledogs, the concept that pairs gourmet hotdogs with champagne, will return to London’s Mayfair as a summer pop-up. The company, owned by husband-and-wife restaurateurs James Knappett and Sandia Chang, launched in Charlotte Street in London in 2012, with plans to originally expand the concept. Its previous incarnation within Michelin-starred Kitchen Table closed in 2020 but it is returning – at The Dorchester Collection’s 45 Park Lane, for an alfresco pop-up at the Mayfair hotel’s exclusive terrace. Chang and Knappett, in collaboration with 45 Park Lane’s executive chef Elliott Grover, will offer a bespoke menu of gourmet hotdogs and grower Champagne pairings under the banner of “Bubbledogs at 45”. The special menu will be available from Friday, 10 May to Sunday, 29 September, open daily for lunch and dinner. The hot dog options will include Native Dog (crispy native lobster tempura, Marie rose sauce and beluga caviar), The Kagoshima (A5 Wagyu striploin, Japanese mayo and shaved summer truffle) and Fourth of July (spicy barbecue sauce, coleslaw and crispy bacon), alongside finger foods such as tater tots spiced with Japanese togarashi, mac and cheese and Bubbledogs’ signature buffalo chicken wings. Grover said: “I am thrilled to collaborate with James and Sandia, the creative minds behind Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table. This partnership will offer a unique dining experience with innovative and fun dishes. For devoted Bubbledogs enthusiasts, it’s the perfect chance to savour its beloved gourmet hotdogs again and enjoy the summer on our beautiful terrace.”

Mission Mars confirms July opening for new £7m Albert’s Schloss in London’s Soho: Mission Mars, the BGF-backed operator of Albert’s Schloss and the Rudy’s Pizza Napoletana brand, has confirmed a July opening for its new £7m Albert’s Schloss in London’s Soho. The biggest Albert’s Schloss site yet, the Alpine-inspired beer hall, bar and restaurant will open at 20-24 Shaftesbury Avenue on Friday, 5 July. Set over two floors over 18,000 square feet and with room for more than 600 guests, it will have five bars, a stage for live performances and an on-site bakery for Bavarian treats. It is also currently recruiting for more than 100 roles including bartenders, servers, cook haus chefs and bakers, as well as performers and musicians. The site will offer Munich’s “big six” beers – Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Hofbräu, Lowenbräu, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu and a whole dedicated section reserved for Munich’s oldest brewery, Augustiner (1328). Guests will even be able to “push for pilsner”, using special on-table buttons to order a pint. There will also be cocktails and spritzers as well as a “ski shot” of 20 Schnapps, featuring a selection of flavours served on a wooden ski. The menu will include 12-hour brined, crispy Bavarian Schweinshaxe pork knuckle; a whole section dedicated to Schnitzels; a selection of wursts; a sharing fondue; skillet-toasted sandwiches and more. Among the breakfast offer will be the bacon kroissant with cooked onions, gouda, Burford Brown fried egg, crispy shallots, chives and curry ketchup, plus poached eggs and Bloody Marys. A full seven-days-a-week of shows will include cabaret, live music, resident choirs and DJs. It will be the fourth UK Albert's Schloss, with other sites in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester. Earlier this month, Propel revealed that Mission Mars had added a further site in London to its 2024 openings pipeline for the 24-strong Rudy’s brand. The company, which aims to open a further ten pizzerias in FY24, has lined up an opening on the former The Dairy site in The Pavement in Clapham, subject to licensing and planning. Mission Mars also has openings lined up for Rudy’s in York, West Bridgford and Altrincham. 

Breakfast-focused concept Bangers opens first bricks-and-mortar site: Breakfast-focused concept Bangers has open its first bricks-and-mortar site, in London’s Shoreditch. Following a year-long residency operating as a delivery-only restaurant, serving more than 50,000 breakfasts last year, founders Will Rhys and Will Mogoseanu have launched the outlet at 5 Leonard Circus. The restaurant offers its signature smashed sausage sarnies alongside a range breakfast sandwiches that come with a choice of freshly baked brioche bun or toasted English muffin. Sides include crispy hash browns, homemade baked beans and specialty pots like banger and beans or buttery scrambled eggs. New additions include ultimate breakfast smoothies, seasonal yoghurt pots and vegan-friendly overnight oats, while all sauces are homemade in small batches from scratch. In-store, the breakfast deli offers homemade products from the bangers and beans to homemade sauces and award-winning free-range maple bacon. “We’re so excited to be bringing the people of London an unforgettable breakfast experience,” said the founders. “We realised that breakfast was almost always an afterthought for the current quick-service operators in London, so we set out to change this and do breakfast better than anyone else. We’ve spent countless hours perfecting our menu, sourcing the finest ingredients and creating a warm and inviting atmosphere that keeps everyone coming back for more.”

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