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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 18th Jun 2015 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Host of foodservice entrepreneurs launch London Union to create flagship food market and 15 local food markets: A host of senior sector executives have formed London Union as a new parent company to highly successful Street Feast, aiming to transform the capital’s food landscape forever by creating the world’s greatest food market in central London. Founded by Leon’s Henry Dimbleby and Street Feast’s Jonathan Downey, London Union is backed by some of the biggest names in British food, including Jamie Oliver, Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers, Russell Norman, founder of Polpo, Soho House’s Nick Jones, Yotam Ottolenghi and some of the UK’s best known food writers and broadcasters. The pioneering Street Feast model takes under used and neglected spaces in London and turns them into vibrant street food markets, bringing communities together, creating employment, and providing opportunities for new food traders to establish themselves without requiring large amounts of capital. London Union has already opened three local markets this year: Model Market in Lewisham, Dalston Yard in east London, and Dinerama in Shoreditch. These markets are expected to welcome 750,000 visitors in the next 12 months, create over 400 jobs and support over 60 small businesses. Over the next five years, London Union plans to open 15 more local, day and night markets, as well as one flagship market in a permanent location in central London. Downey said: “London is the greatest city in the world, but it doesn’t yet have the world’s greatest food markets. With London Union we are going to change that. The past 18 months have been phenomenal for Street Feast. We’ve turned underused and derelict parts of London into lively food markets that have brought people together, created countless jobs and helped individuals get their new business ideas off the ground. We’re making a real difference to local communities and London Union will help us take this model to a whole new level.” Dimbleby added: “London is in danger of being hollowed out. It is full of empty spaces that have been bought by investors awaiting planning to build flats. We want to take those spaces and use them to create something both profitable and positive for Londoners. In particular we want our flagship market to become one of the great global food destinations and to cement London’s place as the street food capital of the world.” Ottolenghi said: “The London food scene is the most dynamic in the world. London Union creates fantastic platforms for all this talent and enthusiasm to manifest themselves. It’s a privilege to support and take part in this great process.” Potential locations currently being considered include a huge floating market on the south bank of the Thames and Smithfield’s Fish Market, restored after 30 years of closure. Over half of Street Feast’s 60-plus strong network of traders have also chosen to invest in the business.

Company News:

Luke Johnson nets £12.6m from sale of Patisserie Holdings shares, remaining stake worth £120m: Patisserie Holdings executive chairman Luke Johnson has netted £12,626,087 from the sale of 4,046,823 shares for 312p each, leaving him holding 38,621,181 shares, a 38.6% stake worth £120,498,000 at the 312p a share value. Chief executive Paul May sold 506,000 shares for 312p each, netting him £1,578,000 and leaving him with 4,554,000 shares, a 4.6% stake worth £14,208,480. Non-executive director James Horler sold 147,000 shares for 312p each, netting £458,640 and leaving him with 465,052 shares. Finance director Chris Marsh sold 51,000 shares for 312p each, netting £159,120 and leaving him with 147,116 shares. The 321p value compares with a May 2014 float price of 170p. The company said the sale had been made “in order to satisfy specific market demand for shares”. It is thought that all of the stock was sold to a single institutional investor. A stock market note on the sale stated: “As a result of the sale, the concert party comprising Luke Johnson, Paul May, Ben Redmond and Risk Capital Partners LLP (the “Concert Party”), now holds a total of 45,417,780 Ordinary Shares representing 45.4% of the issued share capital of the company. Consequently, the Concert Party will be unable to acquire, without the prior consent of the Takeover Panel, any further interest in Ordinary Shares without triggering an obligation to make a mandatory offer for the remaining Ordinary Shares under Rule 9 of the City Code on Takeovers and Mergers.”

3Sixty Restaurants acquires second pub: 3Sixty restaurants, led by James Horler, has secured its second pub site for an Ego opening – it has taken a new free-of -tie Wellington Pub Company lease at The Beverley Arms in Ackworth, Yorkshire. The company has also secured planning permission for an extension to the front of the property – it will open in late August this year. Chief executive James Horler said: “This is a very exciting property for us to develop the Ego brand into. Our first pub development has been very successful in Stockton Brook and we are keen to expand the Ego brand into public house venues across the country. Our local community behaviour gives us a very strong point of difference and has contributed to two years of strong like for like sales growth.”

Retail standards rise in 1,300-strong Star Pubs & Bars estate: Retail standards rose 3% across the Star Pubs & Bars estate in the first half of 2015 with coffee quality surging ahead by 13.4%, according to an independent retail audit designed to improve Star pubs’ customer service and performance. The average score across all areas of the customer experience was a record 83.7% with pubs achieving 4.08 out of five for their coffee quality. The results follow Star’s restructuring of its BDM call cycle to focus the whole company simultaneously on raising retail standards in 2015. Chris Jowsey, Star Pubs & Bars trading director, also credited the company’s groundbreaking coffee supply agreement with Kimbo, launched in 2014, with improving Star pubs’ coffee offer. To reward lessees for great standards, Star is giving the top scoring 10% of its estate a choice of 12 months free marketing support, ranging from website creation, social media support to local ad campaigns, worth £150,000. Jowsey added: “The results of the retail audit show the push to improve the quality of coffee in the estate and company-wide focus on improving retail standards are proving effective. This is great news for customers, our pubs and for Star as quality drives sales. Traditionally the leased pub industry has lagged behind managed pubs when it comes to service. Our intention is to challenge that giving customers a winning combination of excellent retail standards in a unique environment.”

Asha’s to open second UK restaurant in Manchester in September: Indian restaurant Asha’s is to open its second UK venue – and tenth worldwide – in Manchester in September. The brand, inspired by Bollywood singing star Asha Bhosle, is spending £2m converting the former Baby Grand club in Peter Street. The 100-seat restaurant and bar area with capacity for 60 people covers 6,000 sq ft over two floors in a Victorian building opposite the old Theatre Royale. The venue is owned by the AIRL Group, which has opened Asha’s venues across the globe, although the Manchester site will be only the second in the UK after Birmingham. General manager Peter Warden told The MEN it had hoped to open in Manchester last October but is confident the restaurant will be ready for September. He said: “Manchester is a very cosmopolitan city, and we wanted to make sure we are the very best we can be to compete in the thriving bar and restaurant and market here. We’ll be bringing a bit of Dubai glam over with us, but it will be stylish without being intimidating in any way.” Asha’s opened its first restaurant at Wafi City in Dubai in 2002 and also has venues across the Middle East including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

Downing reveals £4m investment in Walthamstow pub/restaurant/open-air cinema site: Investment fund Downing has revealed it is investing more than £4m acquiring the former EMD Granada in Walthamstow, which it is developing alongside its operating partner Antic London. The EMD, an iconic Grade II-listed property located in the heart of Walthamstow, previously traded as both a theatre and cinema but has remained closed to the public since 2003. EMD Walthamstow LLP intends to refurbish and extend the building to create a mixed-use leisure complex including bars, restaurants, a café, boutique B&B rooms, a rooftop open-air cinema and garden, a restored 1000-seat auditorium and residential accommodation. The LLP will work closely with both English Heritage and Waltham Forest Council to ensure the project provides a sustainable future with wide local appeal, yet remains faithful to the unique features of the building. A spokesman for Antic stated: “Supporting our investment partners in achieving their potential is at the core of what we do, and over the past five years our funds have financed over 30 pubs and a number of property development projects in and around the London area. Our long-term relationship with the team, and knowledge of the sector and local market, enabled us to promptly provide a funding solution for this exciting project. We are delighted to help bring this historically important building back into public use and continue to support Antic London in their growth ambitions.”

North-west multi-siter eyes Didsbury opening: A north-west multi-site operator has lodged plans to convert Didsbury Police Station into its next bar. Elle R Leisure has submitted a full planning application to Manchester City Council to change the use of the property at 742 Wilmslow Road in Didsbury Village into a drinking establishment. The proposal would involve retaining the front part of the existing building while opening up the ground floor, introducing a new two-storey extension set back at the rear, and adding a glazed canopy between the façade and the pavement. The £11.7m-turnover Elle R Leisure company owns and operates a string of Greater Manchester venues including Albert’s Shed in Castlefield, Albert’s Restaurant and Bar in Didsbury, and Albert’s Restaurant and Bar in Worsley.

Starbucks sponsors Pride in London festival: Starbucks has signed up as a sponsor of this year’s Pride in London festival championing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. As the Pride in London festival’s Gold sponsor, Starbucks will benefit from a significant presence in the Pride Parade with a Starbucks float as a section lead, as well as a presence in Pride’s advertising campaign across central London in June.

BrewDog opens Oslo site, 250-capacity site without external branding: Brewer and retailer BrewDog has opened its first bar in Norway. Located in Oslo, BrewDog Grünerløkka brings the total worldwide bar count to 28, and will be the fourth Nordic bar to be opened by the brewery, following the launches of BrewDog Stockholm in 2013, BrewDog Gothenburg in 2014 and BrewDog Helsinki earlier this year. The new bar is located in the Grünerløkka district of Oslo, a former factory district turned bohemian fashion hub famed for its independent boutiques, cafe culture and design shops. The building was historically used as a hostel for the homeless, and was awarded a Houens Fond prize for Architecture in 1923. With a capacity of 250 people over two floors, BrewDog Grünerløkka has 20 beer lines serving a range of BrewDog beers as well as guest local and international beers, with dedicated taps for sour beer and cider. The bar will also offer about 50 beers in bottles, focusing on beers that are less readily available in the region. The bar will host live music gigs, beer and food pairing evenings, as well as regular tap takeovers and brewing master classes with a range of Norwegian and international brewers. Due to Norway’s alcohol law that prevents breweries from advertising to consumers, BrewDog Grünerløkka will be a unique site in the brewery’s bar fleet. No BrewDog branding will feature on the exterior and interior of the bar, and it will be known locally as BD57. In the UK, BrewDog is launching bars in Brighton and Soho, London, and recently secured a site for a second bar in Aberdeen. The brewery also recently announced plans to launch its first “ShuffleDog”, combining craft beer with vintage arcade and board games, in Leeds this year.

Freehold Chelsea pub investment offered for £1.9m: Agent Savills is selling a freehold investment in The Sydney Arms, Chelsea, off a guide price of £1.9m on behalf of a private client. The four-storey public house includes a traditional U-shaped bar, dining area for 50 people, trade kitchen and small external seating area. The asset is currently let to The Thoroughbred Pub Company, on a 15-year lease expiring in 2024 and generates a current rent of £75,000, due to increase to £80,000 in September 2015. Nick Lyell, associate director in leisure and trading at Savills, said: “The Sydney Arms benefits from a fantastic position, close to a number of attractions including the Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museums. It is not often we see a London pub of such good quality come to the market and we expect a high amount of interest for this first class asset.”

Shepherd Neame buys seafront restaurant in north-east Kent: Shepherd Neame has bought the seafront Minnis Bar & Restaurant in Birchington-on-Sea in north-east Kent (population: 9,800) from chef patron Jason Freedman. The Kent brewer and retailer will take control of the site on 29 June. Freedman acquired the property, a former 1930s beachside cafe, in 2003, but was forced to undertake a complete refurbishment when the two-storey building suffered major fire damage in 2007. The Minnis Bar & Restaurant has inside seating for over 140 diners and alfresco seating for a further 80 on the sun terrace. “It’s been a labour of love for nearly 13 years, it’s a big operation and open every day of the year,” said Freedman. “I want to devote more time to my event catering business, developing artisan food crafts and be involved in a more intimate dining concept.” Last year, Freedman opened Curiously Kentish a cafe-delicatessen joint venture with The Minnis’s head chef Kevin Faux, as an outlet for the pair’s home-made and home-cured produce. In November, Freedman and Faux will travel to Tuscany in Italy to an advanced six-day sapori (theory) and salumi (practice) course to learn how to making a wide variety of traditional artisan Tuscan salumi (cured pork products), to enhance their existing range of home cured meat offerings.

Antic eyes openings in Bromley and Penge: Antic London, the operator of 35 London pubs led by Antony Thomas, is eyeing new openings in Bromley and Penge. Former haberdashers C & V Trading, in Penge High Street, disused for a number of years, could undergo a conversion and refurbishment if Bromley Council approves proposals. Plans include turning the downstairs of the two-storey building into a bar/cafe, serving bakery goods, coffee, lunch and a wine bar during the day. This would turn into a “intimate” bar after dark. The first floor would be turned into a restaurant with its own bar, providing a range of foods including pizza and pasta among suggestions. It is hoped this will allow the floors to offer “different and distinctive” food. Finally, a roof terrace overlooking the back of the building will be open until 9pm. A function space could also host events such as a pop-up cinema. Antic has also secured Grade II-listed building the Royal Bell hotel in Bromley. The site, along Bromley High Street, has been empty for many years with previously unsuccessful talks to turn it into a Chinese restaurant. The company has agreed terms to take it over, describing the venture as “a hugely exciting development that will enable this lovely old pub to be brought back into public use”.

Two MasterChef finalists near crowdfunding target for Asian takeaway brand Hokkei: Two MasterChef finalists are nearing their crowdfunding drive on Seedrs, looking to raise £275,000 in return for 25% of the equity in their takeaway concept, Hokkei, which “flips the traditional Chinese takeaway on its head”. The offer is now 92% funded with 11 days to go. The business was set up by Dale Will and Larkin Cen, who opened the doors to their first site in Cardiff in November 2014. The company has a pre-money valuation of £825,000. The pitch says: “Hokkei is a modernised and reinvented Asian takeaway with the potential of growing into more than one site through business improvement and product innovation. We found that the market is dominated by independent, family-owned Chinese takeaways and we believe this is largely down to the skill factor required, usually retained by the site’s proprietor. From an original idea early in 2013 Hokkei was tested as a concept in the five-star Celtic Manor resort, fully booked for its sellout four-day pop-up. Another successful pop-up followed and a BBC TV series was commissioned to follow the story of taking the business from an idea to a trading business – it aired on BBC Wales last month. From a standing start, the business has turned over more than £150,000 in three months, trading with a limited menu and a soft launch, averaging a product GM of 60%. Now fully operational, the business is gearing up to propel forward, taking into account all of the lessons of the first three months’ trade.”

M&B hires Manchester agency to lead family dining campaign for Harvester brand: Manchester agency Brazen has been hired to launch a national campaign to promote family dining at Mitchells & Butlers’ Harvester brand, in a campaign to be fronted by broadcaster Sue Atkins. Brazen will support Harvester’s new “Feel Good Dining” campaign by implementing what it describes as “a number of traditional PR tactics” to encourage people to spend more time together dining as a family. The campaign is fronted by Atkins, a broadcaster and parenting author and coach on ITV’s This Morning. Brazen founder Nina Webb said: “We were delighted to secure Harvester, one of Mitchells & Butlers most recognisable brands. With such a large portfolio of sites across the UK, there’s huge scope for us to implement a really strong, family focused campaign.” Brazen’s Harvester team will be headed by Michael Travers, account director and Amy Power, account manager. Harvester has a portfolio of 224 restaurants nationwide.

Former Costa employee launches new coffee shop and dessert concept in Middlesbrough offering triple blend coffee: Former Costa employee Imran Ayoub is launching a new coffee shop and dessert concept in Middlesbrough offering triple original blend coffee. Ayoub, who worked for the Whitbread brand while at Teesside University, is opening De Melo in Linthorpe Road at the end of June. The menu includes American-style sundaes, waffles and mini patisserie cakes as well as milkshakes and coffee that uses the finest ingredients from three different sources. Ayoub says he spent the most time on the coffee, sampled 34 blends before finding his choice, which he describes as “really bold with a lot of body”. He told Gazette Live: “I used to work for Costa when I was at university and learned the process of making a really good cup of coffee and what goes into it. Most of the big chains offer a single a double origin blend of coffee. But I wanted to do something a little bit different and offer a triple origin blend.” The majority of the funding for De Melo has come from a Virgin Startup loan with advice from Sunderland-based business support group TEDCO. 

Red’s True Barbecue brings out meat-scented cologne for Father’s Day: BBQ brand Red’s True Barbecue is bringing out a smoked meat-scented cologne in time for Father’s Day. To launch the new fragrance, co-founder Scott Munro has stripped to re-create the famous Athena “Man and Baby” poster – by replacing the baby with a giant rib. The “Meat Water” aftershave gives off the “manly scent of slow smoked meat in time for the BBQ season” and is a “fragrance for the truly devoted Father”. It says the smell has hints of “pepper, earth, smoked oak and meat” – and after trial sessions last week, has been “very popular” with customers at branches of the eatery in Manchester, Leeds, Headingley and Nottingham. Customers this Sunday can purchase bottles of the aftershave for £20, which will also be accompanied by a huge 1.5kg beef “Dino” rib to eat. The smell was created with the help of perfumers at the Aroma Company, which used specialist gas chromatography techniques to recreate the smell of smoked wood and pulled pork.

Jamie Rollo – Whitbread is cheaper than peers, with superior and more visible growth: Morgan Stanley leisure analyst Jamie Rollo has upgraded his Whitbread share recommendation to “overweight” with its shares now well below his £58 price target. He said: “We see Whitbread as a steady compounder given its leading market positions and weight of capex – its calendar year 2016 price to earnings ration of 19x should be sustained by mid-teens EPS growth. Whitbread has leading positions in growth markets, is generating double digit EPS growth through strong unit expansion, and offers balance sheet optionality. Its 2020 expansion targets imply 50% EPS growth, and with modest like-for-like sales growth we forecast February 2020 earnings per share of 370p. The slowdown in the UK hotel cycle seems temporary to us. UK hotel revpar has slowed from 8% in 2014 to 7%/5%/2% over February to April 2015. This slowdown is mostly in London (currency, supply), and 8% looked unsustainable anyway. Premier Inn’s quarter one 16 revpar was 6%, and we think 4-6% is the new norm (and in our forecasts) and that it can still see solid margin expansion, particularly as all this was a room rate increase. Our work mapping the UK to previous cycles is encouraging, and suggests we are only one-third to halfway through this cycle. International expansion and balance sheet changes are free options now. Whitbread dropped or pushed out most of its international targets at its FY15 results, and we think investors now expect little outside the UK. Similarly, the upcoming change in chief executive means little action is likely on the corporate activity front for now, be it a separation of Costa or some hotel real estate. At this valuation, we think any surprise in these areas is a free option. The recent pullback in the shares, while understandable, puts them at a 5-15% P/E valuation discount to Accor and IHG, yet we estimate Whitbread has stronger and more visible growth, mostly due to the sheer weight of its capex programme (capex = 80% of Ebitda). We think this capex will drive 10% annual EPS growth, and we forecast mid- to low-teens EPS growth including like-for-like growth, so we think the shares can sustain their high multiple for as long as this growth comes through.”

Starbucks expands mobile order and pay to 21 more states in southern and central US: Starbucks is expanding mobile order and pay to stores in 21 more states in the southern and central US. The company, which trialled the app in Portland, Oregon, in December 2014 before launching it in the Pacific Northwest in March this year, plans to continue a national roll-out throughout 2015. Starbucks says the system is expected to increase speed of service, drive incremental transactions and increase throughput across its stores. The app uses the GPS function on a customer’s iPhone to find the nearest Starbucks offering mobile order and pay. They can then select the food and drink items they want, customising if necessary, and select a store to pick up their order from. The app will show the approximate wait time and, if needed, directions to the store, and take payment for the order from the customer’s Starbucks card. Orders are sent immediately to the store, where baristas begin preparing them.

Kirkstall Brewery embarks on larger brewery and bar project: Kirkstall Brewery in Yorkshire is embarking on a major expansion project. The brewery, which opened three years ago, is starting work on converting the former milk distribution centre at Kirkstall Road. The new brewery site, which is set to create up to ten new jobs when it starts operating by the end of this year, will allow the brewery to produce eight times more than the current 17,000 pints a week. A new bar and brewery shop are also to be built at the site. John Kelly, Kirkstall Brewery sales director, said: “We are very proud of the pub and we like to use it as a showcase for our beers and some of the American and European craft beers we import. We are building a much bigger brewery at another site further down Kirkstall Road. It’s an ambitious conversion project and we look forward to showing everyone the results later in the year.”

Bar with fluctuating prices to open today in the City of London: A bar themed on the stock exchange opens in the City of London today (Thursday, 18 June) with drink prices changing in line with their popularity that evening. Owner Alan Grant told the London Evening Standard: “We’ve worked with companies in Berlin and Mumbai to develop a pricing algorithm that is the closest thing you’ll find to real-time markets. Effectively, if someone buys three beers then the price of that beer will rise and the price of others will decrease. The more popular a drink is, the more expensive it will be – it’s market economics.” Reserve Bar Stock Exchange opens on Gresham Street, spread across three floors, and will run from 5pm-2am every Monday to Thursday and until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays. It will operate a “beer market”, a “spirits market” and an “alternative market”, with big screens and a ticker showing the current prices of drinks. There will also be an app that allows at-table ordering, ensuring the price hasn’t changed by the time customers get served.

Dorset brewery begins crowdfunding push: Dorset’s Southbourne Brewery is aiming to secure crowdfunding investment to open brewing premises in Bournemouth and pave the way for the launch of a new national brand. The brewery was founded by entrepreneur Jennifer Tingay at the end of 2013. So far, eight varieties of Southbourne Ales have been brewed using spare capacity at the Lyme Regis Brewery. Its oatmeal stout was awarded a silver medal at The International Brewing Awards earlier this year. The brewery is now hoping to secure £149,940 through the Angels Den platform, with 10% equity in the business offered. Half of the funding total has already been pledged with 49 days remaining.

Brew reaches more than 50% of target on Crowdcube with 36 days still left: Brew, a new concept that is described as “a pub for tea”, has reached more than 50% of its crowdfunding target on Crowdcube with 36 days still left. The company, backed by a team including leading food entrepreneurs Giuseppe Mascoli, founder of Franco Manca and Roast and Cinnamon Club founder Iqbal Wahhab, is aiming to raise £180,000 in return for 27.80% equity. So far it has raised £98,870 from 70 investors – 54% of its target. The company, which aims to tap into the nation’s love of a cuppa by pairing it with alcohol and food, says in its pitch: “With successful completion of crowdfunding we should be ready to launch the first Brew in South London, opening this autumn. We aim to build on the first outlet by opening another Brew in East London a year later. Building on the experience of two successful outlets, we plan to raise further finance in 2017 and expand rapidly with directly-owned and franchised outlets across London and other major centres in the UK.” Brew’s business plan forecasts turnover of £4,494,970 by the end of June 2019 with Ebitda of £853,740. Investors giving £10,000 or more will get a bespoke tea blend named after them among other rewards.

New Wimbledon brewery set to produce first beer: The new Wimbledon Brewery Company is due to start producing its first beer on Monday completing the revival of a brand that went up in flames 183 years ago. The first batch to leave the pumps of the brewery, founded by Wimbledon resident Mark Gordon in partnership with Derek Prentice, a former brewer with Fuller Smith & Turner, will be the Common pale ale at 3.7% ABV. The new 30-barrel brewery, opposite the Dog and Fox pub at College Fields in Prince Georges Road, is on the same site of the original five-storey tower building that burnt down in 1889. The new building, which is due to officially open in September, contains the few bricks that remained from the original brewery.

Malmaison Hotel Du Vin bought for £363.4m: The 29-strong Malmaison Hotel Du Vin group of boutique hotels has been bought by a Singapore-based group in a deal worth £363.4m. The company has been acquired by Frasers Hospitality UK Holdings, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Frasers Centrepoint, from an affiliate of KSL Capital Partners. “This acquisition is important as it doubles our offerings in Europe to about 4,000 keys and it propels Frasers Hospitality to be one of the leading hospitality players in this market,” said Lim Ee Seng, chief executive of Frasers Centrepoint. Frasers Hospitality’s chief executive Choe Peng Sum added: “With these two best-in-class lifestyle brands, we are on track to reach our goal of operating 30,000 keys by 2019.”

Ed’s Easy Diner opens in Luton: Ed’s Easy Diner has opened its latest restaurant in Luton, Bedfordshire. The company is now welcoming customers to its outlet at the Mall shopping centre. The Mall marketing manager Lavinia Douglass told Luton on Sunday: “We’re thrilled that Ed’s Diner has chosen The Mall, Luton, to bring their next fifties style diner to life. The restaurant and the tasty choice of dishes have already been hugely popular with our shoppers, and I am sure will continue to be over the forthcoming months.” The company, which launched its American dining concept in 1987 in Soho, London, has more than 30 restaurants across the UK.

Work on first ever stand-alone Wetherspoon hotel delayed by archaeological dig: Work on the first ever stand-alone new-build Wetherspoon hotel, due to be built next to a new pub in Huntingdon, has been delayed to allow an archaeological dig on the site. Wetherspoon is converting the former Post Office and George Hall in George Street into a pub. Previously, Wetherspoon has either acquired pubs with letting bedrooms or converted upstairs space – for the first time the company is building a hotel, with 22 bedrooms, in a separate building. A spokesman for Wetherspoon said the archaeological dig was being carried out as part of a planning condition for redeveloping the site. He said the start of work on the new pub would depend on how quickly Huntingdonshire District Council agreed the completion of the archaeological condition and whether anything was found. He added: “Hopefully, it won’t be too long, but it is difficult to say. At this stage there are no on-site or opening dates.”

Prezzo tipped to open in Wickford, Essex: Prezzo is tipped to open a new site in Wickford, Essex. The brand is set to take over Bar Plazma, which has been up for sale since November last year. The company already has a branch in Billericay and Rayleigh. UKIP councillor David Harrison said: “I welcome any business coming into the area. I understand that Prezzo is likely to be the new occupier of the property, and think we are fortunate that the property might be taken over very quickly rather then left empty.”

Geronimo Inns invites customers to enjoy a litter of piglets: Gastro-pub group Geronimo Inns will be launching a series of pork dinners following their acquisition of a litter of Mangalitza pigs. This July, the pub group is partnering with pig farm, Gothelney Hall in Somerset, to launch a weekend of hog roasts and pork dinners at a selection of Geronimo pubs. Customers will be able to enjoy the Mangalitza pork, which the group has been nurturing for six months, at a series of hog roasts, set tasting menu dinners priced at £30 per person and “The Best Pig” Sunday roasts throughout Geronimo Pubs from 3-5 July. On top of this, there will be sausages made from the shoulders of the pork, sausage making masterclasses and a recipe competition between Geronimo head chefs to produce the finest pigs head terrine. The sausages will also be available at Geronimo’s “Pub on the go” The Curious Pig in St Pancras Station. Jono Jenkins, Geronimo’s’ director of food, said: “We have been incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity and it has been an exciting journey watching the pigs grow and learning from the farmers how best to rear them. The team and I have been making regular trips to the farm to visit them and Fred has been doing a fantastic job of feeding and caring for them, giving them a very happy life indeed! We have hopefully helped these piggies enjoy three times a longer life before market.”

Nam Long launches new late-night lounge and cocktail bar: Nam Long Le Shaker, the upmarket restaurant and nightspot in Chelsea, has launched a new late-night lounge and cocktail bar called The Opium Den. Located under the restaurant, the Opium Den, which offers “a distinct, more upbeat ambience to the rest of the venue” features velvet banquettes and a mosaic cocktail bar. Among the drinks on the new cocktail menu is one in honour of Nam Long’s founder Thai Dang called Mr Thai, which comprises of rye whiskey, truffle honey, and grapefruit bitters, served short with ice. It sits alongside the likes of the world-famous Flaming Ferrari, a cocktail set on fire and drunk quickly through a straw, that shot to global fame in the 1990s. Dang’s daughter Dzuyen has been managing the establishment in Old Brompton Road since her dad died last year and has created The Opium Den and also launched a new Pan-Asian inspired food menu as she looks to continue her father’s legacy. Nam Long has been at the forefront of the London night scene since opening in 1985 and has famously denied Prince William and Mick Jagger entry.

Barrafina named as London Evening Standard’s best new restaurant: The London Evening Standard has teamed up with Taste of London to reveal Barrafina Adelaide Street as winner of the Best New London Restaurant 2015 Award, as chosen online by Evening Standard readers. The winner was selected from a shortlist chosen by a panel of judges including restaurant critics Grace Dent and Fay Maschler, alongside Joe Warwick, author of Where Chefs Eat. The five other shortlisted contenders included Camberwell Arms and Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair, Lyle’s in Shoreditch, The Manor in Clapham Common, and The Typing Room in Bethnal Green.

Propel Conference on 2 July at the Oxford Belfry: Multi-site operators can book up to two free places at the Propel Multi Club Conference on Thursday 2 July at the Oxford Belfry, followed by the summer party by emailing Cyril Lavenant, of NPD Group, looks at the current performance of the UK foodservice market, areas of growth and how the UK is performing within a European context. Steven Pike, managing director of HospitalityGem, talks about what operators can learn from listening to their customers and how it can drive sales. Berry Casey, founder of pioneering better burger brand Hache, celebrating its tenth birthday, talks about the better burger market, evolving and staying ahead in the increasingly crowded better burger market. Corrado Accardi, founder of Pizza Rossa, talks about transforming the pizza offer, creating an award-winning business plan, going through two rounds of successful crowdfunding and planning to expand the company. Keith Knowles, chief executive of Beds and Bars, explains how the company’s food beverage and accommodation performance has been transformed in the past 18 months. Giggling Squid founder Andy Laurillard, who was previously head of brand strategy and innovation at TUI, talks about his company’s steps towards becoming the first UK national Thai restaurant brand. Industry consultant Eddy Passey provides his top ten operational tips gleaned during a career that has spanned working at high volume beds, bars and buffet businesses. Darren Tristano, vice president of research and insights form Technomic, provides an overview of the most interesting and innovative new concept launches in the United States in the past year. Jamie Barber talks about how his Brazilian barbecue brand Cabana was developed from scratch, its birth, evolution and future prospects. Sector investor and Patisserie Valerie executive chairman Luke Johnson sets out the ten key steps in turning Patisserie Valerie into a national brand.

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