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Fri 23rd Sep 2016 - Update: The Restaurant Group, Welcome Break, Leon, Rosa's Thai Cafe, 3Sixty Restaurants et al
The Restaurant Group brings five Northern Ireland sites to market: The Restaurant Group has brought to market a portfolio of five restaurant units across Northern Ireland. Agent Savills has been appointed to dispose of the leases of four Frankie & Benny’s-occupied units and a Chiquito-let unit, in a portfolio dubbed Project Tail. The five restaurants are located at high-profile retail parks and shopping centres in Belfast, Ballymena, Bangor, Coleraine and Londonderry. Paul Wilson, of Savills, told Property Week: “This is an extremely rare opportunity to acquire a portfolio of restaurant units – ranging from 3,600 square feet to 6,750 square feet at some of the most prominent retail destinations across Northern Ireland. Each location has a strong retail and/or leisure offering and a high calibre of neighbouring A3 occupiers, making it an ideal location for a food and beverage operator to either acquire multiple sites to provide a critical mass or as individual outlets.”

Welcome Break reports profit growth, doubles expenditure with restaurant roll-outs: Motorway services operator Welcome Break’s operating profits grew from £30.8m to £40.9m for the year ended 26 January 2016, newly filed accounts have revealed, while its capital expenditure more than doubled following significant investment, including the full roll-out of new restaurants to its portfolio such as Harry Ramsden’s, Tossed and Subway. In its annual report, Welcome Break revealed its capital expenditure for the year increased to £32.5m from £13.6m 12 months earlier, while the company recovered from a pre-tax loss of £3.6m, posting a profit of £5.8m for the year. The group reported turnover of £648.3m for the year, down from £670.6m a year earlier. The decline was blamed on a fall in fuel prices. Revenue excluding fuel was up by 6.1% year-on-year. Welcome Break stated: “There has been significant investment improving the facilities provided within the business. This has included the full roll-out of branded catering offerings, including new brands to the portfolio such as Harry Ramsden’s, Tossed and Subway. We have also had major upgrades of toilets and disabled facilities at some sites. The Starbucks drive-thru concept has continued to be rolled out. The forecourts have also seen investment in both overall infrastructure improvements and also the introduction of the Deli2Go brand into the Shell forecourts.” Welcome Break operates 27 sites across the UK, attracting 85 million motorway customers a year and employing more than 5,000 staff.

Leon opens Brighton site as it ramps up regional roll-out plans: Natural fast food brand Leon will open its 40th store on Sunday (25 September), in Brighton, as it starts to ramp up its regional roll-out. The new site is only Leon’s fifth venue outside the capital. Last month, Leon secured a £19m funding deal from OakNorth Bank that will be used to fund 50 new openings in the next four years. Leon chief executive John Vincent said: “We will open in Oxford this autumn and plan to open 50 more Leons around the UK in the next four years – in high streets, railway stations and shopping centres, wherever people need us.” The 55-cover restaurant in North Street, Brighton, will be the first Leon site to use digital menu boards, while the venue will also offer a delivery option via Deliveroo. The menu will feature the new exclusive chicken satay salad made in collaboration with chef, food writer and TV presenter Gizzi Erskine. In July, the company said it had brought in former Whitbread boss Alan Parker as an adviser to oversee expansion into the US. Vincent said he planned to create a separate company, Leon America, with its own management team and balance sheet, with the aim of Leon making its US debut by April 2017. Vincent founded Leon with Henry Dimbleby in 2004.

More than a quarter of diners take smartphone snaps of their meal: More than a quarter of people “frequently or always” use their phone to take a photo of a meal at a restaurant, according to a new survey by smartphone retailer mobiles.co.uk, with a further 17% sharing the image on social media. Students (24%) are the worst culprits for using their phones at the table, according to the survey, with journalists (10%) and executives (12%) also named among top offenders. Key calendar days also increase the likelihood of people using social media to share pictures of their meal – conversations on dining out almost doubled on Valentine’s Day this year. Technology is also changing the way we pay, with 12% opting to pay for their meal using mobile payment. Andrew Cartledge, of mobiles.co.uk, said: “With mobile technology becoming such an important part of enjoying a meal out, it’s crucial restaurants are keeping up with the trend. People want to go to restaurants that are recognisable or will look good on their social media feeds, are easy to book and pay for, and where technology adds an interesting twist to an evening out. A few technology changes would allow restaurants to not only keep up with the latest social trends but make their brand stand out in an extremely saturated market.”

Rosa’s Thai Cafe founders to launch permanent site for Lao Café concept in central London: Rosa’s Thai Cafe founders Alex and Saiphin Moore are set to open a permanent home for their Lao Café concept, in central London. Following a Pimlico pop-up last year, Lao Café will launch in Chandos Place, near Covent Garden, later this year. Born to a native Lao family in Thailand’s Phetchabun province, Saiphin Moore will draw on her upbringing to offer a range of traditional Lao salads, curries and char-grilled dishes at the new restaurant. She said: “These recipes have been in my family as long as I can remember. This restaurant will celebrate my love for Laotian cuisine, with every dish reflecting a specific memory from growing up in the countryside – from cooking meat over a charcoal grill to mixing salads with a wooden pestle and mortar.” The 60-cover venue will be spread across two floors and has been designed in collaboration with agency Rebel Hospitality. The centrepiece will be a mural based on an old family photograph from Moore’s childhood as interpreted by London-based graffiti artist Mr Cenz. The Moores founded Rosa’s Thai Cafe in Brick Lane in 2006. In July, the company secured a site in Brixton for its eighth venue.

Crowdfunding campaign to save Fabric raises more than £200,000 in less than a week, Columbo Group donates £5,000: A crowdfunding campaign to save London superclub Fabric has raised more than £200,000 less than a week after launching, including a £5,000 donation by The Columbo Group, led by Steve Ball and Riz Shaik. DJ Seth Troxler, who owns “beats and eats” concept Smokey, has donated £4,000. Islington council revoked the Farringdon venue’s licence earlier this month following two teenage drug deaths, saying it had a “culture of drug use”. Fabric’s owners launched crowdfunding campaign #saveourculture on its website to “take on this fight”, saying the council and police “abused archaic licensing laws” to close the venue. The campaign asks supporters to “stand with us and contribute to the campaign fund” to prepare a “legal battle to reopen and stop this police oppression”. Addressing the deaths at the venue, the club stated: “We want to learn, we will try harder. We always have. We started this to create a safe place, a home – not a ‘superclub’. It’s about the fabric that unites us all, that stitches together race, gender, age and sexual preference into a brilliant tapestry.” A petition to reopen the club has been signed by about 160,000 people.

YO! Sushi founder gets go-ahead for Manchester flats plan: YO! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe has had his plans to develop 24 modular apartments in Manchester approved, as the company diversifies into the property market. Last month councillors rejected the futuristic YO! Home housing, with one describing the 41 square metre flats as “boxes”. The flats will now be built in Old Mill Street, with beds lowered from above and furniture such as dining tables popping up out of the floor and folding away again at night. YO! Home managing director Jack Spurrier told the committee affordable housing would make the scheme unviable, adding that the company was only just breaking even on the project. He said: “No other developer would continue the project on these margins. However, we believe New Islington is the perfect place to establish the YO! Home global brand.” He said the site’s “sustainable location” near Piccadilly station and the tram network meant seven parking spaces for the 21 apartments would be ample. Woodroffe said: “Homes help shape our lives. They are our refuge, and our rock. Since the invention of the city centre apartment, we’ve never really reinvented it. YO! Home is that new invention.”

3Sixty Restaurants secures fifth pub site for Ego brand: 3Sixty Restaurants, led by James Horler and backed by Luke Johnson, has secured the fifth pub site for its Ego brand, this time in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire. The company will launch the Mediterranean bar and restaurant on the site of The Old Colonial pub, which will be renamed The Dorset Arms, reports The Business Desk. Ego describes its philosophy as “great food, a relaxed atmosphere and a wonderful dining experience”. The West Bridgford restaurant will be Ego’s 14th site in total. It is also set to open a venue at Fountain Bridge in Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire on Monday, 31 October.

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