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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 8th Mar 2016 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

AG&G – time for government to legislate for upward and downward rent review clauses: Anthony Alder, rent review specialist with agent AG&G, has argued it is time for government to legislate for upward and downward rent review clauses. Alder told Propel he believes the crux of the problem was leisure properties were becoming unique as one of the few property classes where the traditional 20-year lease ruled supreme. He said the high level of capital investment involved in setting up a bar or restaurant dictated this. He added while there may be advantages in bars and restaurants binding themselves to 20-year leases, tenants were too often hit by large rental rises during the good times. He said the nature of the “upward only” rent review clause was these tenants then had to carry this burden for the duration of their remaining lease term. Alder said it was time for the government to legislate for upward and downward rent review clauses, while he credited major pub landlords such as Punch and Enterprise Inns for agreeing to upward and downward rent reviews. He said this system appeared to be working well and he considered this would help to remove a perceived inequity of the current rent review system for the leisure market as a whole. Alder identified a number of other issues he felt would assist in making the system more efficient for all parties, arguing at rent review the strength of the actual tenant at review (rather than the hypothetical one) should be considered. In addition, he said the presumption new letting evidence should carry most weight in a rent review process needed to be examined. Alder argued in many cases rent review settlements agreed between experienced rent review practitioners able to sort the "wheat from the chaff", and discounting rogue letting evidence, should carry more weight. Last month at the Casual Dining Show in London, sector investor Luke Johnson described the rent regime in the leisure industry as a “fix” that acts to ensure rents tend to rise on an ongoing basis, where there is vested interest in rents rising, and where too many inexperienced operators are agreeing high rents that penalise the more cautious operators at rent review.

Industry News:

Readers sign up to Propel Premium service: Operators, drinks companies, law firms, accountants, distributors and marketing firms are among the first companies that have signed up to receive the Propel Premium subscription service, which launched on Tuesday (1 March). The current free service to all existing readers remains the same, but readers can opt to upgrade to receive the Propel Premium service. Propel Premium subscribers will be able to receive the Morning Newsletter, which is sent at 6.30am each weekday, 12 hours earlier at 6.30pm the day before. Subscribers will also receive a copy of the Propel database of 500 multi-site companies, which will be updated every six months, and receive a digital version of Propel Quarterly magazine a week before publication. For operators, annual subscription costs £345 plus VAT per year, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. For suppliers, annual subscription costs £445 plus VAT, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. To subscribe to the Propel Premium service, email adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com

ALMR appoints former Lord Prescott adviser as director of communications: The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), the trade body for more than 200 eating and drinking out businesses, has appointed Tony Sophoclides as director of communications. Sophoclides will oversee the ALMR’s media and political stakeholder engagement, reporting to chief executive Kate Nicholls. He joins from the Altitude Consultancy, which he co-founded in 2007. Sophoclides was previously a director at both Jefferson Communications and Westminster Strategy, having begun his career in Parliament, spending more than five years as an adviser to former MP and Labour deputy leader Lord Prescott. Nicholls said: “Tony has a wealth of experience across communications disciplines, and has worked for clients spanning the many policy areas that affect our members, and their 650,000 employees. The ALMR continues to grow – we gained 6,000 new members in the casual dining sector in 2015 – and our capacity must reflect that growth. Tony will be a great asset as we stand up for the interests of more than 22,000 of the UK’s pubs, clubs, bars and casual dining outlets.” Sophoclides said: “I’m genuinely excited to be joining the ALMR. Its members make a significant economic contribution to the UK, as well as providing outlets that are central to British culture and our way of life. My eight years at Altitude has been a huge pleasure and great fun. I worked with talented colleagues and for interesting, varied clients. I feel it’s time to move on and I wish Altitude the best for the future.”

Wadworth pub becomes first in UK to be accredited gluten-free: The Bartons Mill in Basingstoke, Hampshire, which is owned by Devizes-based brewer and retailer Wadworth, has become the first pub in the UK to be accredited as gluten-free. The Old Basing has received its official accreditation from Coeliac UK and Wadworth now hopes to roll-out the menu at its other pubs. Bartons Mill manager Ray Turnbull decided to offer customers a gluten-free menu after his sister died from complications caused by coeliac disease five years ago. All options on the menu can be made without gluten, offering those with coeliac disease, a digestive condition, which causes an adverse reaction to gluten, somewhere safe to dine. Turnbull told the Basingstoke Gazette: “We had an audit and passed. They had to see us cook a meal and we had to train our staff prior to that. We are the first pub company to get the accreditation. It’s very difficult to achieve because of the cross contamination. We have bought new equipment, it was a process that was a year in the making.” The menu was developed with the assistance of Wadworth food development manager Scott Ferguson, who added: “This is something that we have wanted to trial and working with Ray and his team has produced a great menu.”

Small pub companies growing at twice the rate of large chains, new report reveals: Small pub companies are growing at twice the rate of large chains, seeing their turnover increase almost one-third in the last five years, a new study has found. The smaller companies have been expanding by acquiring new pubs and had taken advantage of interest in more expensive craft beers and gastro-pub meals, said commercial lender Ortus Secured Finance. Chief executive Richard Beenstock told the Press Association: “Smaller pub companies often have more freedom to experiment and respond to what the customer wants than the larger chains and many have been able to transform the pubs sold by the big chains back into profitable enterprises. If the small chains and independents get their offering right they can add significantly to their turnover and more importantly profit by shifting customers from mass-market brands to local favourites.”

Sheldon Inns ordered to pay record £23,900 for illegal Sky use: Midlands-based pub management company Sheldon Inns has been ordered to pay £23,900 in fines and costs for showing Sky Sports illegally in the Castle Inn in Park Lane, Kidderminster. The sum is a record following the conviction brought by the Federation Against Copyright Theft for illegal Sky use in licensed premises. Sheldon Inns entered a guilty plea at Redditch Magistrates’ Court for dishonest reception of a Sky televised football match without a commercial viewing agreement with the intent to avoid payment of the applicable charge. Alison Dolan, deputy managing director of Sky Business, said: “This issue is very close to the hearts of our legitimate Sky pub customers, who are being left short-changed by licensees broadcasting Sky content illegally.”

European hotel industry passes US in revpar growth for first time since 2010: The European hotel industry has passed the US in year-on-year growth in revpar for the first time since 2010, new figures have revealed. Europe’s year-end 2015 revpar growth was 6.9% at $83.94 while in the US it increased 6.3% to $78.65, according to data from STR Global. Both the US and Europe have reported six consecutive years of revpar growth since each experienced a double-digit decline following the financial crisis in 2009. From 2011 to 2014, the US consistently experienced a higher year-end growth rate. In 2014, US revpar growth reached 8.1%, compared with 4.3% for Europe. Despite recent safety concerns across Europe due to terrorist attacks and threats, which affected key cities including Paris and London at the end of the year, several markets in the region experienced strong overall performances in 2015. According to STR analysts, the weakened Euro and displaced demand from North Africa played major roles. European hotels reported exceptionally high performances in the summer months, reaching 9.9% revpar growth in June, 13.0% in July and 8.4% in August. Europe’s strong performance trend has continued into 2016, with the region finishing the month of January at 3.0% revpar growth versus 2.5% in the US. STR managing director Robin Rossmann said: “Most European hotels had a fantastic 2015 and should be able to carry this momentum through to 2016. While the US has maintained higher performances after recovering from the recession, Europe is definitely catching up and the future looks bright.” 

Company News:

Tim Martin claims taxing sugar in drinks is ‘illogical’ as JD Wetherspoon reveals rise in popularity of sugar-free beverages: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has said taxing sugar in drinks would be “illogical” and food was often branded as unhealthy “based on fashion, rather than science”, as research revealed the popularity of non-alcoholic, sugar-free drinks at its pubs has increased. The company said its own research showed 59% of soft drinks, coffee and tea sales in its pubs were sold sugar-free, although some customers might choose to add sugar to hot drinks. JD Wetherspoon’s figures revealed average weekly sales of low-sugar hot and soft drinks stood at almost 1.28 million out of total hot and soft drink sales of 2.18 million during the trading period 25 January to 21 February. The low-sugar sales included coffee and tea (890,476), cola and lemonade (309,366), water (42,546), tonic water (20,412), and other low-sugar drinks (16,191). Martin said it highlighted given the range of drinks on sale in the company’s 950 pubs in the UK, most customers were opting to go sugar-free. He said: “In my opinion, the figures show that taxing sugar in drinks is illogical unless you go further and tax desserts, chocolate, birthday cakes and other products that contain sugar. In addition, the views concerning the apparent unhealthy characteristics of food are uncertain and are often based on fashion, not science. Eggs, for example, were regarded as unhealthy for decades, but the advice has since been reversed. Had the government imposed a tax on eggs, an injustice would have been compounded. Since vast areas of pseudo-medical advice concerning food have been overturned in recent years, legislators should tread warily before imposing extra taxes.” 

Innis & Gunn appoints Pernod Ricard’s Neil Innis Sharp as US general manager ahead of expansion plans: Scottish brewer and retailer Innis & Gunn has appointed Neil Innis Sharp as general manager – USA. Sharp, brother of Innis & Gunn founder and master brewer Dougal Gunn Sharp, returns to the Edinburgh-based company where he was instrumental in the brand’s launch and early success in its largest export market, Canada. He also helped develop Innis & Gunn’s business in Sweden where the brand has become its top imported ale, the company stated. Dougal Gunn Sharp said: “Neil has a wealth of experience in the drinks business and was integral to our early launch of Innis & Gunn into the Canadian and Swedish markets. His appointment comes at a time when we are gearing up for a period of accelerated growth in the US. It’s a hugely competitive market and Neil will be instrumental to driving our business strategy with the support of our newly appointed importer, United States Beverage. It’s exciting times for the brand and I am thrilled to have my brother back on board.” Neil Innis Sharp returns to Innis & Gunn from global drinks business Pernod Ricard, where he worked in strategic consumer marketing roles within its European travel retail division. Neil Innis Sharp said: “Innis & Gunn is a truly entrepreneurial business and I am incredibly proud of the huge success my brother and the team have achieved to date. The company is renowned for its brewing quality and craftsmanship and is fast becoming a global success story. I am delighted to return to the business at a time when craft beer has never been more popular or exciting, to help strengthen our position in the USA, a leading craft beer market.”

The Social Company’s Jason and Irha Atherton open seventh London restaurant: The Social Company has opened its seventh London restaurant, Sosharu, a 75-cover Japanese izakaya-style venue in the Turnmill Building, Clerkenwell Road. The restaurant adds to Jason and Irha Atherton’s repertoire of Michelin-starred venues, while 40-cover cocktail bar Seven Tales – “reminiscent of the night-time atmosphere of Tokyo” – has opened in the basement. Sosharu, meaning “to socialise”, is a collaboration between Jason Atherton and executive head chef Alex Craciun, who spent a year immersed in Japan’s top kitchens in preparation for the launch. Jason Atherton said: “Sosharu is a complete departure from anything I’ve done before, which makes it that much more exciting for us. This restaurant has been a long time in the making as we wanted to get it right – Alex has dedicated himself to learning everything there is to know about Japanese food in the past couple of years and the result is some incredible cooking.” Serving Japanese cuisine using British seasonal ingredients, Craciun’s menu comprises small dishes with sections dedicated to specialities such as temaki, hibachi grill, yaki grill, tempura, and sashimi, as well as dishes inspired by Japanese classics. Guests are encouraged to try plates from each section such as bream sashimi with shichimi crispy potato and sukiyaki wagyu beef with glass noodles, young leeks and shiitake. Desserts include Craciun’s shaved ice kakigori. Seven Tales’ cocktails include Champagne Papi, combining Perrier Jouët NV, umeshu, banana and lactic sugar, served with a Seven Tales “coin”, which enables guests to use a vending machine in the bar that dispenses a sugar cube designed to enhance the flavour. Kisetsu, meaning “season”, will also open soon, a separate dining space with its own kitchen accessible via Sosharu. Kisetsu will offer a tasting menu served in fine dining style in the “omakase” tradition – loosely translated as “trust the chef”.

Enterprise reopens flood-hit pub in York after £100,000 refurbishment, one of 88 damaged: Enterprise Inns has reopened The Ship Inn in York after a £100,000 refurbishment following severe flood damage. The Ship Inn, on the banks of the River Ouse, was forced to close after it was hit by heavy flooding that affected parts of northern England, including Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, at the end of last year. Licensees Tony and Sarah Nicholson have reopened the bar area while the rest of the building continues to be refurbished. Tony Nicholson, who has occupied the pub for little more than a year, said: “The pub closed several times in November and December due to flood warnings, but it was on Boxing Day night when two-and-a-half foot of water came in and caused terrible damage. It’s a relief to have the pub back up and running.” Enterprise regional manager Greg Smith said: “The floods at the back end of last year caused damage to 88 of our pubs and devastating damage to 12, one of which was The Ship Inn. We’ve pulled out the stops to support all affected pubs and publicans, and have worked with them to get their businesses back up and running.”

Revolution Bars Group submits licensing application for site in Southend: Revolution Bars Group is set to open a new site in Southend, Essex. The company, which operates Revolution and Revolución de Cuba sites across the country, wants to open in Queens Road on the site of the former HMV shop, which closed in 2009. It has submitted a licensing application to Southend Borough Council to open between 11am and midnight Sundays to Wednesdays and 11am to 2am Thursdays to Saturdays. Milton ward councillor Julian Ware-Lane told the Echo: “In terms of reusing an empty business establishment, I’m delighted, and I hope it creates jobs and a place where revellers can enjoy themselves responsibly. My only caveat is I hope it will be a well looked after establishment but, with it being a major chain, I’m sure it will be.” Revolution, which currently has 60 sites across the two brands, will open two more venues by July and plans to add another five outlets to the portfolio by 2017. 

Healthy eating restaurant concept Skinny Kitchen set to make UK debut: Skinny Kitchen, a healthy eating restaurant concept launched in Ibiza in 2014, is set to make its UK debut next month. The concept is opening in Bournemouth in Post Office Road in the former Longhorn Burgers restaurant, opposite PizzaExpress. It was launched in Ibiza by former Bournemouth University student David Mason and three friends after looking for somewhere to eat that meant “all their hard work in the gym before their summer holiday didn’t go to waste”. When they couldn’t find anywhere, they decided to set up their own business on the island, which immediately took off reaching number one on TripAdvisor. Now Skinny Kitchen, which is backed by investors in the Lineker’s and Ocean Beach Club brands, is opening its first UK site and Mason told the Bournemouth Echo: “Bournemouth is a huge place, where people care about what they eat and how they feel – our brand allows them to eat out in a great restaurant setting without running the calorie gauntlet: so it’s a perfect match.” The Skinny Kitchen menu takes conventional meals and uses a “waistline friendly approach” with the menu including lean steak mince and sweet potato chips, flaxseed waffles, protein bowls, low carb pizzas and fresh pressed juices. 

EatFirst delivers 100,000th meal, eyes expansion: Online restaurant delivery service EatFirst has delivered its 100,000th meal and will look to expand to cities outside London and Berlin. EatFirst delivers fresh meals produced by Michelin-trained chefs to people’s homes, providing nutritious meals as a convenient way to dine-in. The company, founded by Torben Schulz, Rahul Parekh and Humberto Ayres Pereira in 2014, said it recently added some top names from the culinary world to its roster, including Benn Hodges, who worked for Roka and Itsu, and Jane Tran, who trained in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Parekh told the Evening Standard: “Our chefs are very entrepreneurial and enjoy the freedom they have to create great new menus.” Customers can order their lunch or dinner through the EatFirst app or website which, Parekh said, has had almost a million visitors during the past 12 months, while the app has been downloaded 25,000 times. Currently available only in London and Berlin, EatFirst has undergone 30% month-on-month growth and employs 40 people. Parekh said: “For now the main focus is on London. It would be a mistake to internationalise the brand early on. However, once we are comfortable with the way that London is going, we will start to look at expanding EatFirst to other UK and German cities.”

Award-winning curry chef heads kitchen at new Indian restaurant in Birmingham’s Chinatown: Mofur Miah, who was named best British culinary chef at the British Curry Awards, has been appointed head chef at the new James Dahl Indian restaurant in Birmingham’s Chinatown. Mofur previously owned the Amina restaurant in Sutton Coldfield and has also cooked for Tom Cruise, Janet Jackson and The Spice Girls. The new restaurant in Hurst Street is owned by Bangladesh-born Husban Ahmed and is named after one of his ancestors. Dishes include Jhinga Bateta (marinated king prawns grilled in a clay oven and cooked with roast potatoes in special sauce), and Rosely chicken – slow-cooked chicken marinated in light herbs and spices and cooked in a sweet sauce. Ahmed told the Birmingham Mail: “I like to joke I’m the only Indian in China! Customers have told me they were pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant here and that it’s nice there is somewhere new to go for an upmarket dining experience.”

Manchester-based restaurateur open to offers from external investors to help launch more sites: Manchester-based restaurateur Nick de Sousa has said he is open to offers from external investors who can help him launch more sites. De Sousa is the owner and operator of The Lead Station, which recently marked its 20th anniversary in Beech Road, Chorlton, and is set to undergo a major refurbishment this summer. He also owns and operates Tariff & Dale, which opened on the corner of Tariff Street and Dale Street in the Northern Quarter in May last year, and is now looking to expand his portfolio further. De Sousa, who is the sole shareholder of both companies, told Insider Media: “The thing about restaurants is that they require a huge amount of capital upfront. I’m pragmatic that you need external capital sometimes. I’m glad I’ve financed Tariff & Dale by myself because it’s given me more autonomy, but I’d welcome people who can add to the business and if that’s an equity investment that’d be fine as long as they add complementary knowledge and complementary skills. I do have a couple of new concepts in mind that would require external investment but it’s still very early days and ideally I’d like Tariff & Dale to bed in a bit more first. I’d certainly be open to it though.” The Lead Station opened its doors in 1995, with de Sousa taking over the restaurant in October 2007. 

Stonegate Pub Company to launch new Popworld cocktails menu: Stonegate Pub Company will launch a new cocktails menu for its Popworld nightclub brand on Tuesday, 15 March. Its “Poptails” range will include nine new recipes and a tropical Tiki-pop section. The Tiki range will consist of pina coladas, spiced zombies and June bugs served in Malibu Tiki glasses, while an apple and raspberry jam flavour will be added to its Absolut Flaskas range – the jam-jar-style drinks account for 20% of Popworld’s cocktail sales. Popworld has also added two new WKD flavours to its Popshots collection – blue, and fiery mango and chilli – while a nostalgic Candy Pop collection has been introduced, featuring rhubarb and custard, cola bottle, raspberry bonbon and bubblegum martinis. The Pop Icons menu section, which accounts for four out of ten Popworld cocktail sales, will now include a Pornstar Martini and a UV G&T, served with a shot of popping candy. Alan Armstrong, head of marketing for Stonegate Pub Company’s venues division, said: “Following some great customer feedback on what they’d like to see more of, we’re focusing on bringing new and innovative additions to the menu.” Stonegate Pub Company operates more than 660 pubs across its Proper Pubs, Yates, Common Room, Slug and Lettuce, Town, Pub & Kitchen, Classic Inns, and Venues brands, including 16 Popworld sites.

Bravas Tapas co-founder opens first solo restaurant in Covent Garden: Bravas Tapas co-founder and restaurateur Victor Garvey has opened his first solo venture – modern tapas restaurant Duende in Covent Garden, London. The 26-cover venue in Maiden Lane is spread over 775 square feet and features an open kitchen. Dishes include cured salmon rulada with crispy sweet potato, red onion escabeche and wasabi alioli, oyster fritura with toasted almonds and caviar, and Tapas Bravas favourite foie gras crema Catalana. The venue offers an all-Spanish wine list, while Garvey told Hot Dinners the dishes are “rooted in my Spanish parentage and childhood but influenced by my travels and experience of working in restaurants around the world”. The restaurant is currently open for dinner only, with lunch to be added in mid-March. Garvey teamed up with Bal Thind to open Bravas Tapas in St Katharine Docks in 2014, offering contemporary regional Spanish cuisine overlooking the marina.

Bristol-based independent bar and restaurant set to expand to Cardiff: Bristol-based independent bar and restaurant company Urban Standard is set to expand to Cardiff. The company, which has two sites in Bristol, has lodged plans to open its third venue in the Gabalfa area of the city. It has submitted an application to the city council to convert the former Cardiff Sportsgear shop in Whitchurch Road for its latest outlet, reports Wales Online. The company describes both its restaurant and bars in Bristol as “offering quality food and drink in a laid back atmosphere” and also as “a welcoming space for anything from a coffee to a three-course meal”. Urban Standard’s eponymous venue is in Gloucester Road, Bristol, while its sister venue North St Standard is in North Street. 

Pod adds new items to menu with ‘Hot Lunch Legends’ range: Pod, the healthy eating brand with 22 sites in London, has added new items to its menu with its “Hot Lunch Legends” range. The new Hot Pods additions are: Sri Lankan Chicken, featuring fragrant spices, chicken, green beans, carrot, cauliflower, chilli, yoghurt and almonds; Keralan Chicken, a south Indian dish of chicken, sweet potato, green beans, garlic and ginger; Vietnamese Pork, a sweet and spicy sauce with black beans, carrot, tomato and pulled pork; and Keralan Vegetable, a concoction of cauliflower, sweet potato, green beans, carrot, coconut and seven Indian spices. All four are served with three-grain rice and a crunchy salad, although the rice can be exchanged for slaw salad. Each “Hot Lunch Legend” is both gluten and wheat-free while the Vietnamese Pork and the vegan-friendly Keralan Vegetable options are both dairy free. Director of food Sean Burlinson said: “All items on our menu are freshly made on the premises every day. Our Hot Pods have been enormously successful and we’re delighted to introduce four new Legends to give our customers variety and easy access to wonderful new tastes.”

New Hanoi Coffee Company cafe concept brings taste of Vietnamese street food stalls to Bristol: New Vietnamese cafe concept Hanoi Coffee Company has opened in Bristol. The venue in St Stephen’s Street has been launched by the team behind Japanese restaurant Sticks & Broth and Asian venue Baowow, both around the corner in Baldwin Street, as well as soon-to-open Thai bistro bar Bangkok Joe’s in Redcliffe. The cafe brings a taste of Vietnamese street food stalls, the Bristol Post reports, including offerings to eat in or take away such as congee (rye porridge with ginger, spring onions and a choice of toppings) and bun bo hue (spicy lemongrass noodle soup with a choice of brisket, pork belly, spiced chicken or mushrooms). There are five types of banh mi, including vegetarian Shroom Mi (roasted mushrooms, chilli garlic mayo, pickled dikkon and carrots, red onions, roasted green onions, coriander and hoisin sauce) and Cluck Mi (turmeric chicken with spicy sirarcha sauce). Drinks on offer include brown rice tea.

Manchester bar co-owner opens new American breakfast and brunch restaurant in city: The co-owner of The Whiskey Jar bar in the Northern Quarter in Manchester has opened a new American breakfast and brunch restaurant concept in the city. Brad Parkins has launched Alabama’s in Newton Street in a grade II-listed building and site of a former pizza takeaway above the old Roadhouse venue. It features an open kitchen and service bar and many of the fixtures and fittings are American imports, with large glass donut lights brought in from Portland, Oregon, and all the seating sourced from all over the country. The menu includes New Orleans Etouffee – a kind of curried gumbo with king prawns, Monte Cristo sandwiches, omelettes, fruity waffles and pancakes. Specialist breads, traditional bagels, and Benedict soft muffins are all made on site, and there’s a range of coffees, milkshakes, bottled American beers, and bespoke cocktails. Parkins told the Manchester Evening News: “We tend to think American menus are just trash food, the obvious massive burgers and pulled pork, which photographs really well and is really easy to sell because it’s covered in sauces and tastes great. People do eat that in America, but there’s a lot more to their dining scene.”

Chopstix to open restaurant on site of former Pizza Hut in Aberdeen: Noodle brand Chopstix is to open a new site in Aberdeen. The company is launching the venue in Union Street next to the Trinity Shopping Centre on the site of the former Pizza Hut, which closed in 2011. Chopstix, which uses “authentic Asian recipes from China, Thailand, and Korea”, is aiming to have the restaurant and takeaway open within the next two months. Chief operating officer Max Hilton Jenvey told the Evening Express: “This will be one of our larger sites in the UK. We can’t wait to come to Aberdeen. We have always been very welcomed north of the border and are delighted at how our Scottish cousins have received us. Everything will be cooked fresh on site and in front of the customer. A huge investment is being made into the premises. It’s hoped work will be finished in the next six weeks to two months.”

Welsh restaurateurs to open third venue, on Gower Peninsula beachfront: Neil Kedward and Zoe Agar, the team behind the award-winning Grove of Narberth and Coast at Saundersfoot, are set to open a beachfront restaurant on the Gower Peninsula. The new venue overlooks Oxwich Bay, a short distance from Swansea, and will seat 60, plus a further 50 on a large terraced area overlooking the coast. The interior will be decorated with the help of acclaimed interior designer Martin Hulbert, who designed sister restaurant the Grove. The venue is slated to open in the summer, with the owners currently advertising for staff. Kedward told Wales Online: “Like many people, I have enjoyed many happy times on the Gower and it holds a special place in my heart. Our team look forward to taking inspiration from the fantastic local produce on the Gower and stunning coastal scenery.”

New Mediterranean concept Espeto opens in Leeds city centre: New Mediterranean concept Espeto has opened in Leeds city centre. Taking its name from the Portuguese word for “skewer”, the restaurant in Wellington Street offers marinated, fresh ingredients cooked on the skewer, including meat, seafood and vegetables. It also has its own champagne cocktail bar, which will feature live music. Espeto manager Elodie Rousset told the Yorkshire Evening Post the restaurant would also offer “an express lunch and takeaway option for office workers so we can have their food ready when they arrive”.

Real China set to open 23rd site in Fareham: Chinese buffet restaurant operator The Real China is set to open a site in Fareham, Hampshire, its 23rd venue in the UK. An alcohol licence has been granted to The Real China Kungfu on the site of a former JJB Sports shop in West Street. The town centre restaurant will open until 11.30pm, Monday to Thursday, until midnight on Friday and Saturday, and until 11.30pm on Sunday. Fareham councillor Katrina Trott told The News: “We have got some very good Chinese restaurants in Fareham but this will bring competition and a boost to the night-time economy in the town centre.” JJB Sports went into administration in October 2012 and the large second-floor unit had remained empty since. The Real China’s closest site to Fareham is in Eastleigh.

Greene King smashes target to raise £2m for MacMillan Cancer Support, renews partnership for further three years: Pub retailer and brewer Greene King has raised £2m for its charity partner Macmillan Cancer Support – double its initial target – and has marked the milestone by renewing the partnership for a further three years. The national charity partnership launched in May 2012 and was a first for Greene King. It aimed to raise £1m across three years but smashed the target a year early. To raise funds, team members took part in activities such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge and the London Marathon while customers also played their part, raising £200,000 through Greene King’s selected charity desserts, which included a donation to Macmillan. Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand said: “I am so proud of all our team members and incredibly grateful for our guests’ support, all working together to help raise £2m for Macmillan. It is a phenomenal achievement; especially as we have raised double the amount we originally set ourselves. I am thrilled that we are able to stay working with Macmillan to continue to help fund its important work across the country.” The money raised over the next three years will continue to fund vital services, such as Macmillan nurses and local support programmes supporting people with cancer to better self-manage in their own communities.

New gluten-free bakery and coffee shop concept opens in Bideford: A new gluten-free bakery and coffee shop concept has opened in Bideford, Devon. Sarah Logan has launched Instow Kitchen in Market Place, which sells a variety of 100% gluten-free food, including wedding cakes, pasties, fondant fancies and cupcakes. She was inspired to set up her own gluten-free business after being diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2001. Logan told the North Devon Journal: “My food is decadent. I taught myself to cook gluten free. Lots of people who aren’t coeliac are still attracted to my cakes. Recently I had been doing market stalls and people were asking what savoury things I am selling. I will be doing quiche, scotch eggs, bread and biscuits.” The Instow Kitchen will also host a variety of bakery and cookery courses.

Casual Dining Group to convert Basingstoke La Tasca site to Las Iguanas brand: Casual Dining Group is to convert another of its La Tasca restaurants into its Latin American-inspired concept Las Iguanas, this time in Basingstoke, Hampshire. The company has closed the doors of La Tasca at the Festival place shopping centre and will reopen it as Las Iguanas later this month, reports the Basingstoke Gazette. Casual Dining Group is currently converting a number of its La Tasca branches, the brand it acquired last year, to Las Iguanas, including in Newcastle and York. On Friday (4 March), Casual Dining Group reported it’s on track to achieve run-rate Ebitda of £50m in its current financial year to May 2016. The company is also planning major expansion into Ireland with chief executive Steve Richards telling Propel it is looking to open as many as 20 sites in the next two years.

Topland Group acquires The Feathers Hotel Collection: Topland Group, led by Sol Zakay, has added The Feathers Hotel Collection to its new Hallmark Hotels chain as part of a bid to create a £1bn hotel business in the UK. The company, which bought the Liverpool-headquartered Feathers Hotel Group a year ago, has acquired eight hotels in the north west of England. It brings the total number of Hallmark Hotels nationwide to 28 and the uniting of the portfolio brings the total number of rooms offered across the UK up to 2,700. Topland said the deal follows another positive financial year, with the Feathers acquisition growing its portfolio by 40%. Topland director of hotels Lionel Benjamin told The Business Desk: “Topland Group’s investment into the north of England’s hotel industry supports the northern powerhouse’s efforts to improve economic growth for the area. The expansion of the Hallmark Hotels portfolio within this specific region brings with and supports employment, both for hotel teams, suppliers and partners whilst also driving demand to the destination both for leisure and business travellers.”

Chapel Down raises more than £1.7m as it closes crowdfunding drive to build new brewery: Kent-based Chapel Down’s beer and cider arm Curious Drinks has completed its fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Seedrs as it looks to expand the business and build a new brewery. It hit its initial £1m target in November to get the project under way but then extended the campaign to try to raise £3.65m. The company has now completed the offer and has raised £1,749,100 in return for an 8.60% equity stake in the business. Proceeds from the crowdfunding will be used to construct a state-of-the-art new brewery and visitor attraction in Ashford as well as further strengthen the Curious Drinks team, enhance its domestic and international routes to market and further develop the brand. Demand for Chapel Down’s beer and cider sales are growing at about 40% per annum. 

Propel partners with Digital Blonde for Advanced Social Media Masterclass: Propel is partnering with digital marketing company Digital Blonde for the Advanced Social Media Masterclass, building on last year’s Social Media Masterclass with all-new content. The event takes place on Wednesday, 20 April at One Moorgate Place in London and will provide a comprehensive overview of how to make the best use of social media. Digital Blonde founder Karen Fewell will share research into the importance of social media in customers’ lives as well as insight into the psychology of food and drink marketing in order to produce persuasive social media activity. The day will also include advice on using storytelling techniques to achieve stronger results in marketing and social media campaigns as well as how to use analytics to develop a social media strategy. There will also be a first-look at Digital Blonde’s “Love, Lust and Trust” research, which will unveil the best loved pub and bar brands and what can be learned from their social strategies. Tickets are £295 for Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers members and £345 for non-members and to book email adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com

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