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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 18th May 2015 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Chozen Noodle bought by Thai conglomerate CP Foods: Chozen Noodle, the 16-outlet fast casual noodle bar brand founded by Matthew Kirby and John Dodds, has been bought by the Thailand-based agro-industrial and food conglomerate CP Foods. Kirby, Chozen's chief executive, and Dodds, together with the senior management team, will remain with the business and plan to continue to grow the business through a combination of owner-operator and franchise models. CP Foods said: “The acquisition creates a significant strategic opportunity for both businesses by sharing complementary strengths. It provides CP with a direct channel to the UK consumer for its products while using the existing Chozen management team to help us build out a much larger network of stores across the UK.” CP Foods has worldwide sales of £9bn and extensive expertise in new product development, manufacturing, and logistics. Chozen, meanwhile, can offer CP a direct route to the customer for the first time in the UK. Chozen has successfully targeted motorway service areas, railway stations and shopping centre locations, where its very flexible footprint has demonstrated it can go into a range of venues. The owner-operated motorway locations can fit into a 12 sq m footprint, while the high street locations tend to be 60 to 80 sq m, the company said. Kirby, who stepped down as managing director of the marketing firm Fishbowl’s UK operations in September 2014 to return to hospitality operations, said that Chozen had received a number of approaches over the past two years but none of them was as good a strategic fit as CP Foods. He said: “We wanted to find a partner that could help us accelerate the planned development of the business, and CP ticked all the boxes in terms of infrastructure and investment support, which was overall a much better option for us. Both John and I wanted the opportunity to stay in the business and grow Chozen to its full potential. CP already have a very successful business here in the UK. They acquired Fusion Foods in 2006 and its UK-based directors remained stakeholders. CP Thailand gave them great support to help them grow their business, and this gave us the belief that we were dealing with the right entity. Both parties believe this is great news for the customers, staff and suppliers of both businesses, as it creates a highly integrated business that can make and deliver great product direct to the customer, which is a first for the Asian segment of the UK hospitality market." Chozen Noodle's outlets range from the Howgate Shopping Centre in Falkirk to the Claket Lane Services on the M25 near Westerham in Kent. CP Foods is part of the Charoen Pokphand Group, Thailand's largest private company, and one of Asia's largest conglomerates.

Industry News:

UK restaurant turnover rises 39% since recession: Turnover in the UK’s restaurant sector has risen by 39% since 2010 after a wave of new start-ups and the growth of smaller chains, according to a study by the finance provider LDF. It looked at 52,000 accounts for restaurant businesses at Companies House to conclude that the restaurant sector’s turnover rose from £15.5bn in 2010 to £21.6bn in 2014. The rise, it said, was driven by the expansion of fast casual chains such as Franco Manca and Honest Burger. Peter Alderson, managing director of LDF, told The Financial Times: “There is generally more money available for people to spend. There’s a feelgood factor in certain parts of the country,” pointing to northern cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool, in addition to London. Alderson said businesses were in turn investing heavily to take advantage of a rise in spending: “The restaurant industry is seeing a huge increase in demand for funding as it continues to benefit from the knock on effect of the economic recovery and low inflation.” He added that the value of equipment assets in the industry such as kitchen equipment, fixtures and fittings, has risen by 33% to £5.5bn in 2014. Household disposable income has improved thanks to low inflation, falling commodity costs and higher wage growth, leading to consumers spending more on going out. Barclaycard figures for April showed spending on restaurants rose by 17% year-on-year. In April, the EY Item Club predicted that disposable incomes would grow by 3.7% in 2015, the fastest rate for more than 20 years.

UK hotel supply growth 'higher than expected' says Morgan Stanley: Active new room construction by the UK's largest hotel groups is "higher than expected", Morgan Stanley said on Friday. With around 20,000 rooms under construction, total market supply growth, set to be around 3.5% over the next 12 to 24 months, the brokerage said, puts UK supply "at the top end of developed hotel markets". Premier Inn has the largest pipeline, with 5,500 rooms under construction, equal to 9% of its existing supply. However, Morgan Stanley said, "contrary to expectations of little growth except for Premier Inn", the six other largest hotel groups in the country "are all expanding in the high-single to mid-double digits." International Hotels Group is building around 3,500 new rooms, equal to 8% of its current supply; Travelodge is building around 2,750 rooms, equal to 7% of its existing portfolio; Accor is building around 2,600 rooms, a figure around 10% of its current number; Hilton is building around 2,200 rooms, a little under 9% of its existing number; Marriott is building some 1,800 rooms, around 15% of its current total; and Carlson Rezidor is building some 1,700 new rooms, equal to 13% of its number at the moment. Morgan Stanley said it was "too early to say" whether supply pressures, or other factors, such as currency or calendar, were behind the UK's RevPAR slowdown in 2015. The warning of potentially high room supply comes as pub operators such as JD Wetherspoon and Mitchells & Butlers have been increasing the number of letting rooms in their estates.

Fosters drops 'Brad and Dan' advertising: Fosters is dropping the Australian characters Brad and Dan from its advertising after six years of what the brand said had been the most successful beer campaign ever in terms of estimated revenue return, at £32 in revenue for every £1 spent on advertising. The campaign drove a claimed 70% sales growth between 2010 and 2013. However, Heineken, which owns the European rights to Fosters, has not yet said what the campaign will be replaced with. Fosters will host a month-long charity eBay auction of items from the ad campaign from Monday, including the "paddle of rebuke". The campaign was awarded the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards in October 2014. The campaign ended as Alan Clark, the chief executive of SABMiller, which owns Foster's outside Europe, said last week that sexist ads had alienated women from drinking beer and that it was time to move away from the loutish and laddish image.

TGI Friday's announces the end of Happy Hour: TGI Friday's in the United States has announced that Happy Hour, which the brand popularised 50 years ago, is officially dead. The reason, the Texas-based chain said, is because dictating a specific time for people to get together for drinks is "an outdated idea". Instead, it said, "Friday's is breaking the barriers by introducing a new line-up of food and drink features all day, every day," in a promotion called Happy Every Hour. Brian Gies, chief marketing officer at TGI Friday's in the US, said: “The world does not operate on a 9-5 schedule, so we’re no longer living by the old 4-7 happy hour rules. Friday's has one objective – to bring people together with an experience that makes them happy, and rules don’t make anyone happy So, bye-bye happy hour. Hello, Happy Every Hour.” Friday's in the US is introducing a range of new appetisers and cocktails for the promotion, including bacon-wrapped stuffed japalenos, Jack sliders and blood orange cooler, with all appetisers in the promotion $5 and adult beverages from $3 to $5, all day, every day.

Company News:

Reading Council cuts hours and capacity for new Revolucion de Cuba: Revolution Bars Group has had the maximum capacity of its new Revolucion de Cuba bar in Friar Street, Reading cut by almost a quarter and weekend opening hours restricted to 1am rather than 2.30am, after objections from police and the council's licensing officer. Revolution already has planning permission for the new bar, in a former HMV shop which has a capacity of 650, with operating hours set by planners to 2.30 am Thursday to Saturday and 1.30am Sunday to Wednesday. But at a licence hearing on Friday, councillors imposed restrictions limiting the bar's capacity to 500 and restricting closing times to 1pm between Thursday and Saturday and 12.30am Sunday to Wednesday. Thames Valley Police said in a report to the town's licensing committee: “If the venue is granted a premises licence it is going to attract a lot of new interest, thereby putting a further 650 persons on to Friar Street at the requested terminal hour of 2am.” Richard French, the council's licensing officer, in a report to the committee, referred to the council’s cumulative impact policy for Friar Street and urged the committee to reduce the licensing hours to midnight. Revolution Bars Group also owns a Revolution bar in Station Road, Reading.

Crowdfunding Association urges regulator to crack down on BrewDog share offer: The UK Crowdfunding Association has complained to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) about the £25m share offer being made by the iconoclastic Scottish brewer and bar owner BrewDog. It said that BrewDog, which is offering shares via its website, should have to comply with the same rules as Crowdfunding Association members, and carry out the same risk-assessment checks that are required for investors on equity crowdfunding sites. The association said: “Unlike FCA-authorised crowdfunding platforms, anyone can invest on BrewDog’s platform without needing to be categorised or pass an appropriateness test." The FCA approved BrewDog's prospectus, but asked the brewer to change the wording of the offer, which has raised £5m in three weeks. James Watt, the company's co-founder, told The Sunday Times: “We include detailed risk factors in our investment prospectus, which everyone is required to confirm they have read prior to investing.” BrewDog launched its first Equity for Punks offer in 2010 and now has more than 14,000 investors.

Nick Miller – Meantime was readying for a float or PE deal when SAB knocked:
Meantime Brewing was looking at a possible float or private equity deal when SABMiller knocked on its door, the Greenwich-based craft brewer's chief executive has revealed to Propel. Its decision to agree to a takeover by the second-largest brewer in the world was prompted by a growing realisation at Meantime that it did not have the resources and capability itself to move on up to the next stage of its growth journey, Miller said. Miller, who joined Meantime as chief executive in 2011 from Miller Brands, said that he, the company's founder Alastair Hook, and the rest of the board were already looking at a tie-up with a big brewer as one of the strategic options that could be followed to enable the company to grow further. "We were on the cusp of making a decision that partnership was a better route than going to refinance," he said. "I think we may have gone to a process later this year, could have gone for a float, could have gone for private equity money, could have gone to AIM, though that's a hugely costly and time-consuming exercise, could have sold out to a major brewer, could have gone crowd-funding, could have borrowed money from the bank. But it's a bit more than just financial. It's, 'Have you got the brewing capability, the engineering capability, the route-to-market capability, the global reach capability?' The financial side wasn't that much of an issue to us, because we've got a very good relationship with our bank. They've been trying to chuck money at us for a while now. It was more about, 'how do you sustain the growth, relative to the capabilities within the organisation?' That was the key strategic challenge for us, and the partnership with SAB really helps with that." Beer volumes at Meantime grew by almost 60% in 2014, with turnover hitting £17m, and the company has grown tenfold since 2010. Miller said: "We're all looking forward to the opportunities that partnering SABMiller brings. This isn't a deal where we're putting our feet up, going and lying in the sun. This is, 'Right, how do we kick on again?' I know Sue [Clark, managing director, SABMiller Europe, to whom Miller will now report] is extremely excited – she runs all the markets in Europe, and you can see her eyes lighting up. I think this is a great story for British beer. We've got plans to take the brewery up to a quarter of a million hectolitres within the next 18 months to two years. If we can take Meantime around the world under the SAB capability, I think it's really a great news story for Britain."

Longhorns Barbecue to open second permanent outlet in Newcastle: The street food specialist Longhorns Barbecue, which opened its first permanent base on Mosley Street in Newcastle upon Tyne in November, is to open a second venue in Jesmond. The new outlet, due to open on Monday 15 June in the former Firenze Italian restaurant, off Holly Avenue West, will have room for 100 people, double the size of the Mosley Street restaurant, and up to 120 or 130 when a “phase two” is opened, with a bookable private dining area. It will also allow the company to offer more food to go, and perhaps alfresco dining too. Owner Mick Dixon said: “When we started out we didn’t know if Mosley Street would work but our biggest complaint is that people can’t get in." A downstairs "express bar" called The Slaughter House is planned for the new Jesmond outlet and outside Dixon wants to build a big "salt lick" fire pit with outside seating areas around it and "maybe a little smokehouse.” Longhorns Barbecue is also looking to increase its capacity to produce smoked meats and plans to expand its menu to try to entice in diners earlier in the day.

Gordon Ramsay MD Stuart Gillies gets £2.7m share award:
Stuart Gillies, managing director of Gordon Ramsay Group, was awarded a £2.8m share-based bonus last year, the company's accounts have shown. Gillies, who was formerly an executive chef at the Savoy Grill, part of the Ramsay empire, received half the share-based award immediately and will be able to cash the rest in five years. The company's accounts show turnover at Ramsay’s 26 restaurants dipped slightly to £44.7m, from £44.8m in 2013. The holding company, Kavalake, narrowed its operating losses to £1.5m. During the previous year it recorded a £5.5m operating loss after losing a High Court battle with Ramsay's father-in-law, Christopher Hutcheson, over the liability for the rent on a pub near Regent’s Park, London. The celebrity chef failed to persuade the court that Hutcheson had used Ramsay's signature unlawfully. Ramsay said the performance was “solid” in light of the closure of his restaurant in Claridge’s and “significant investment in central management costs as we prepared for our expansion in the 2014/2015 financial year”. On a like-for-like basis, sales at his London restaurants were up 5.7%. “In the context of the current economic environment, I am particularly encouraged by the excellent trading performance of our London and Las Vegas restaurants during the year,” he said. Ramsay took a loan of £836,000 from Gordon Ramsay Holdings, which increased his total borrowing from the company to more than £12.5m, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The loan was partly used to fund the development of London restaurants. So in the new financial year, Ramsay has opened new restaurants in Hong Kong and Atlantic City. His company is also planning a Singapore branch of its City restaurant Bread Street Kitchen.

Restaurant Group finally names opening date for new Exeter Chiquito: An opening date of 31 July has finally been named for the new Chiquito restaurant being built at the entrance to the Marsh Barton industrial estate in Exeter. Restaurant Group announced in September last year that it was pushing back the opening of the restaurant to 2015. It was granted planning permission, along with a Frankie & Benny’s next door, a drive-through KFC and a drive-through Starbucks, in September 2012. Chiquito now has 82 restaurants in the UK.

Enoteca da Luca and Draft House join Bower line-up: Enoteca da Luca, the four-outlet central London Italian restaurant chain, and Charlie McVeigh's Draft House chain have joined three other restaurant and bar operators at The Bower, the mixed use office-led refurbishment and redevelopment on the Old Street Roundabout in the City of London. The other operators already announced for the development are the ramen restaurant chain Bone Daddies, Honest Burger and Ceviche. McVeigh said: “For a long time now we have been imagining an iconic site, in a great location – and it looks like Draft House Old Street will be that spot. At its heart, as with all of our pubs, there will be a focus on quality beer, only this site allows us to push it forward and experiment with things we have never tried before. The pub will lend itself to an industrial, warehouse vibe for brewer take-overs, food and beer festivals and the arts right in the heart of one of the most exciting and creative hubs of new London. We have some great neighbours and I’m really excited about the future for this area.” Draft House has taken a 15-year lease on a two-floor site is connected by a spiral staircase and another staircase made of minimalist concrete slabs. The ground floor will have an adaptable space for events, and three 500-litre "tankova" copper tanks holding unfiltered Pilsner Urquell will be suspended above the kitchen. Upstairs will have low lighting and banquette seating, with a bar lit by reclaimed neon lights, and a timber floor. Enoteca da Luca currently has restaurants in Watling Street, near St Paul's; Lansdown Row, Mayfair; Devonshire Square in Spitalfields; and Basinghall Street in the City. Nikki Gibbard of Helical Bar, which is developing The Bower with Crosstree Real Estate Partners, said: “We welcome this high-quality line up of tenants to The Bower, where we believe we have created an unrivalled restaurant offer, serving not only as an excellent amenity to The Bower’s office tenants, but also as a location to attract visitors from further afield. The Bower is fast becoming an important lifestyle destination, and we are excited to be such an integral part of the regeneration of the surrounding area.”

Cairn Group opens Newcastle's latest cocktail and gastro bar: The Newcastle upon Tyne-based hospitality firm Cairn Group has launched the city's newest cocktail and gastro bar after a £500,000 refurbishment of one of its most popular venues. Cairn which runs venues including Sohe in Jesmond, Jalou at Newcastle Central Station and Riverbar in Washington, has reopened the former Berlise bar in Jesmond as the 97 & Social. The makeover, which was carried out by the bar design company Bar Hound, has seen the bar being transformed into what Cairn called a "stylish and contemporary" venue, with booths, an outdoor terrace and a "cosmopolitan ambience". General manager Sarah Harker said Jesmond was a prime location where the company wanted to develop a concept which "responded imaginatively to the demands of customers". She said: "We wanted to transform the bar and let our guests enjoy something new. There's nothing like this around, it's a prime location for a bar with a real difference, where people unwind, listen to great music while enjoying world-class cocktails."

Seafood restaurant Tedfords to open second Belfast venue: Tedfords Restaurant, a seafood restaurant that has been open at Donegall Quay in Belfast, for 15 years, is to open a casual dining restaurant just across the road at 1 Lanyon Quay, near the Belfast Waterfront, under the name Tedfords Kitchen. The 4,000 sq ft venue, which was previously the Harbour View Teppanyaki Restaurant, will have 90 covers and a wine bar. The Tedfords team has just six weeks to fit out the restaurant and train staff, as owners want to open in time for the Tall Ships coming to Belfast on 2 July. Shaun Wallace at McConnell Chartered Surveyors, who negotiated the acquisition and letting, said: "Our client was delighted to secure the purchase of these high-profile riverside premises overlooking the Waterfront Hall, and to attract such a well-respected and established restaurant operator in a very short space of time."

Redcomb Pubs appoints learning and development manager in preparation for expansion: Redcomb Pubs, which merged last August with Broken Foot Inns to form what is now a 13-outlet company turning over more than £12m a year, has hired the woman responsible for JD Wetherspoon's recent major airport openings, Louise Porter, to be learning and development manager. Dan Shotton, Redcomb's managing director, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Louise to the team. As Redcomb Pubs steps up its acquisition and growth strategy, it is vital that everyone in the organisation focuses even harder on ensuring we deliver market leading experiences to all of our guests, both to increase average spend per head rates and most importantly repeat visits – our entire business model revolves around our customers visiting us two to three times per week, and to achieve this we must continue to offer the very best in amenity, value and service." Porter's role "will primarily be to assist everyone in the company focus harder on the guest journey, and to ensure all sites consistently deliver the highest levels of relaxed yet professional service," Shotton said. "She will also be fully involved in the recruitment, induction and training of staff for all new openings." Porter, who spend ten years at Wetherspoon in operational, training and development roles, "will also be looking at people development within the company, identifying how we can help employees at all levels gain extra skills and experience through a mixture of on and off-job training, as part of their development to more senior roles – with an overall aim of increasing our internal promotion rates, so that our next generation of supervisors, assistant managers and general managers are, wherever possible, recruited from within," Shotton said.

Former Yates's to reopen as The Burlington after £300,000 refurb:
Stonegate Pub Company is reopening a former Yates's outlet on Burlington Street in Chesterfield at The Burlington after a £300,000 refurbishment. The venue has been repositioned as a "traditional town centre pub" with value food, four cask and three craft ales on draught, sports viewing facilities and music-led entertainment at weekends. Wednesday is craft and cask ale night, during which customers will get double stamps on the pub’s new cask ale collector card. The Burlington will open Monday to Saturday from 9am, closing at 11pm on Sunday to Wednesday, at midnight on Thursday and at 1am on Friday and Saturdays. It will open at 10am on Sundays.

Richoux turns to Midlands to meet target of 30-plus outlets: Richoux Group, the owner and operator of the Richoux, Dean's Diner, Villagio and Zippers chains, has a war chest of almost £4m and is turning to the Midlands to meet its target of 30-plus restaurants in total, managing director Ed Standring has told Propel. "We've got cash in the bank and no debt," he said, referring to the £3.95m shown in the company's full-year results for the year ending 28 December 2014, which were released on Friday. "With the five openings we're got planned, we'll have 22 restaurants. We want to get to 30 and beyond. Our geographical spread at the moment is from the south coast as far west as Trowbridge, and we're going into Bristol next year. But we're in Bicester and we're starting to expand our geographical area into the Midlands. it's about finding the right site in the right location. Dean's Diners, for example, our American diner brand, are located in two places, one in a retail park, out of town or in town, and secondly by a cinema, possibly in the High Street, where there's a mix of retail and leisure. Our target size with Dean's Diner, is probably 1,500 sq ft to 2,300 sq ft, which is quite good because it can fit into a small space. The one we've got in Bromley is 1,800 sq ft right by the cinema entrance. We can fit into landlords' smaller boxes: Orpington is 2,000 sq ft, Yate is 1,600 sq ft plus a little bit of mezzanine. In this market you do have to have something a little bit different to secure a location." The company's results showed turnover up 10.4% to £12.68m and adjusted Ebitda for the year up 10% to £1.63m. The Ebitda margin, at 12.85%, was more than a percentage point higher than in the first half of the year, when it was 11.68%, and close to the Ebitda margin for 2013 of 12.98%. The company's chairman, Philip Shotter, said there had been a "positive start to the current financial year and the restaurants were trading in line with expectations. A new Richoux restaurant is due to open next to the Waitrose in the Gloucester Arcade off the Gloucester Road in West London, taking it to five outlets, and we are looking to build on this with further Richoux openings in order to exploit the considerable goodwill that exists in the Richoux brand," Shotter said. The "measured" roll-out of the Dean's Diner concept was continuing, he said, with two more sites opening in later in 2015 in Orpington and Hempstead Valley, Kent, and another two in Bromley and Yate which are due to open in 2016, which would take the chain to ten in total. Two Villagio Italian restaurants were sold in 2014, in Chiswick, West London, and Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, leaving the chain with five outlets from Chatham to Basildon. Standring told Propel the two closed Villagios were both High Street locations – "The High Street's very competitive. We took a view to close those and focus on other areas. If we were to do another Villagio, it would be in a leisure park, "he said.

BrewDog attacks Glasgow licensing board for delaying opening of new bar: BrewDog co-founder James Watt has attacked Glasgow licensing board for delaying the company’s work on a new bar in the Merchant City district. Speaking to The Scottish Licensed Trade News, Watt said the board took more than eight months to grant a premises licence for the unit. “It’s too long,” Watt said. “In England the main kind of licence application gets determined in 28 days. With that site in Glasgow we’re going to be investing about £600,000, we’re going to be employing over 20 people. That’s great for the economy, that’s great for regeneration. The council should determine the licences in one month, not eight and a half months. We could have been open now, we could have been employing those people, generating more income for the Scottish economy, but it was delayed because they took so long to do things.” BrewDog’s second Glasgow bar will be a hybrid premises for the firm, combining bar, restaurant and bottle shop. Meanwhile, Watt said, the company had already identified potential locations in Scotland and further afield, based on where it had large numbers of investors in its Equity for Punks crowdfunding scheme. “In St Andrews we seem to have a lot of Equity Punks, so there could be an opportunity there,” he said. “In Inverurie there’s a lot, Aberdeen there’s a lot, London there’s a lot as well. In the south coast, we’ve got a few in Southampton. So there’s a few places we don’t have bars yet but we’ve got a lot of Equity Punks. Oslo was another one as well.”

Casual Dining Group pushes Bella Italia further out-of-town:
Casual Dining Group is pursuing its plan to open more Bella Italia restaurants in out-of-town retail and leisure parks with a new £1m restaurant opening today (Monday) in the Bishop Centre, Taplow, Berkshire, between Maidenhead and Slough and close to the M4 motorway. Phil Derbyshire, group property director at Casual Dining Group, said: “This latest opening forms part of our current out-of-town retail and leisure park growth plans for Bella Italia. We’re delighted to have partnered with scheme owner Land Securities to secure this new opening, and are confident it’ll be a high quality addition to the growing Bella estate." The almost 4,000 sq ft restaurant has room for 145 covers inside and 20 covers outside. Casual Dining has signed a 15-year lease on the unit, which will be open all day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The company has recently repositioned the Bella Italia chain as "the UK's premier all-day Italian restaurant", with revitalised interiors, a broader menu and the development of external dining areas. It now has 90 restaurants in Britain, with recent new openings including Milton Keynes, Bexley Heath and Bristol.

Giraffe promotes half-price vegetarian mains during National Veggie Week:
The Giraffe restaurant chain is running a promotion offering 50% off vegetarian main meals from today (Monday) until Friday, during National Vegetarian Week. Its vegetarian dishes include "veggie brunch", falafel burger and jambalaya risotto. The chain, owned by the Tesco supermarket chain, now has more than 60 outlets.

First Taco Bell to serve alcohol may open in Chicago: Taco Bell, the Tex-Mex restaurant chain owned by Yum! Brands, has applied for a licence to sell alcohol at the new outlet it is planning in the Chicago suburb of Wicker Park, according to local media. Yum! Brands had already said that it was planning a "completely new urban restaurant design" for the Wicker Park Taco Bell, on North Milwaukee Avenue. Taco Bell had considered selling alcohol at other locations in the past, with plans to offer boozy milkshakes at US Taco Co, the upmarket concept the chain has been trialing in California that features lobster tacos and other premium items, but those plans were postponed. In February this year it was rumoured that the Wicker Park site would be used for the second US Taco Co outlet, a rumour denied by the company, which said it would be a "normal" Taco Bell. The restaurant is expected to open some time during the summer.

Caffe Nero opens in Sharjah:
Caffe Nero has opened its first location in the emirate of Sharjah, part of the United Arab Emirates. It comes after the brand's partner in the UAE, the Al Tayer Group, opened nine Caffe Nero outlets in neighbouring Dubai, and others in the UAE in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Ain. David Singleton, vice-president of hospitality at Al Tayer Group, said: “The new rustic coffee house design is well received by our loyal customers in Dubai and we’re happy to offer an avenue for the residents of Sharjah to gather and experience really good, award-winning coffee, expert baristas handpicked from across the globe and end to end service in a great environment that radiates a feeling of comfort, relaxation and warmth for all our customers.” The new outlet is on the ground floor of the Sahara Centre in Sharjah. Al Tayer Group is on target to open six more Caffe Neros in the UAE this year.

Itsu owner Julian Metcalf splits his grocery business into two:
Julian Metcalfe, owner of the healthy eating chain Itsu and co-founder of Pret A Manger, is to split his grocery and snacks business Metcalfe’s Food Company in two. Metcalfe founded the company in 2009 to sell popcorn and healthier snacks to Itsu and Pret A Manger outlets. Robert Jakobi joined as managing director in 2010 and six years later, Metcalfe’s Food Company is the fastest growing privately owned food and drink company in the UK, selling its products to all the major supermarkets, as well as selected retailers abroad. From 1 June Metcalfe’s Food Company will split to form Itsu [Grocery] Ltd and Metcalfe’s Skinny Ltd, each with its own managing director. Julian Metcalfe, said of the news: “It is true testament to our incredibly passionate team that this demerger has happened as fast as has. We have grown at such a incredible rate. It's an incredibly exciting time for us.” Metcalf's Skinny sells Metcalfe’s skinny topcorn, Metcalfe’s skinny corn’ers and Metcalfe’s skinny corncakes. The Itsu [Grocery] range includes miso soups, chocolate edamame, rice cakes and seaweed thins.

KFC franchisee pays £19,000 in settlement to Filipina workers who claimed racial and sex discrimination: Herbel Restaurants Ltd, which runs KFC franchises in Northern Ireland, has made payments totalling £19,000 to two Filipina former employees after accusations of racial and sexual discrimination. The payments, £10,000 to Maria Galvan and £9,000 to Karen Cahalig, were made without admission of liability by Herbel Restaurants. Galvan, a married mother of two aged 35, worked for Herbel from 2004 to 2013. She was a general manager at a KFC in the greater Belfast area before she left her job over alleged verbal racial harassment and significantly less favourable treatment than local workers, and she was also subjected to unwelcome and unwanted gender-based comments, she told the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. Cahalig, 37, a married mother of four, also told the Equality Commission that she was forced to leave her job because of treatment from her employer. She was working as a trainee manager at KFC in the greater Belfast area and alleged discriminatory treatment in terms of pay, unequal treatment at work, verbal racial harassment and unwelcome and unwanted gender-based comments. Both cases were taken against Herbel with the assistance of the Equality Commission. Herbel has since agreed to meet with the Equality Commission to review its equal opportunities practices and procedures and to provide both women with written references.

Taco Bell finally opens Chelmsford outlet with apology to customers: The Tex-Mex restaurant chain Taco Bell finally opened its store in Moulsham Street Chelmsford, Essex last week, tweeting an offer of free tacos and saying: "Your patience will be rewarded." The store sits opposite an outlet for its fellow American chain Dunkin' Donuts. It is Taco Bell's sixth outlet in the UK, was originally slated to open in April, and was first announced in July last year. Taco Bell's other UK outlets are at the Lakeside shopping centre and Basildon's Eastgate Shopping Centre, two restaurants in Sheffield and one at the Arndale Centre in Manchester.

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