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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 11th Nov 2016 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Almost 40% of Scottish hospitality venues see decline in sales as trade bosses warn hundreds of outlets face closure without radical business rates change: Nearly 40% of Scottish pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels have a seen a decline in sales in the third quarter of 2016 as trade bosses warned hundreds of outlets face closure next year unless radical change is made to the way business rates are calculated for the industry. Publishing its latest quarterly business insight survey, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said outlets across Scotland continue to face “very difficult trading conditions”. The survey, based on responses from more than 700 businesses, ranging from city centre bars to rural outlets, found nearly four-fifths (39%) said turnover was down compared with the third quarter of last year. Some 13% reported sales were down by more than 10%, while one-third (33%) said their sales position had not changed. That is despite those figures being measured against a period last year during which sales were found to have radically fallen in light of the reduction in the legal drink-driving limit. The SLTA has also highlighted the pressure on operators from the introduction of the National Living Wage in April and warned the forthcoming revaluation of business rates will have a devastating effect on the industry. It has long argued that the method used to calculate rates for pubs, which takes account of turnover, puts the industry at a disadvantage to other sectors. SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson told Herald Scotland: “Our message is simple – the 8.5% of turnover we pay in rates has got to be reduced, and it has got to be halved. I don’t think there is any doubt that any increase in rateable values will be the death knell for many hundreds of pubs in Scotland.” According to the survey, 25% of respondents were unaware of the business rates revaluation, which is due to take place next year after being postponed in 2015 to allow the Scottish government to complete its review of the non-domestic rates system.

Industry News:

Propel and James Hacon partner for Advanced Marketing and Insights Masterclass, open for bookings: Propel is partnering with leading sector public relations and marketing expert James Hacon for the Advanced Marketing and Insights Masterclass, which is now open for bookings. The event takes place on Thursday, 12 January at One Moorgate Place in London. It will provide an insight into all aspects of marketing across the sector, including how to develop and deliver effective digital initiatives and the best ways to recognise and tell a brand’s story to maximise its PR or social media potential. There will also be the latest insight into consumer behaviour to help companies develop marketing strategies around their customers. The event will feature contributions from leading companies about some of the marketing initiatives they have used to improve results for their business. Hacon, who is Thai Leisure Group brands strategy director, will also lead a panel discussion with marketing directors from leading brands. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) members and £345 plus vat for non-ALMR members and are available by emailing Anne Steele on anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Ten more places released for Propel and ALMR Las Vegas study tour: Ten more places have been released for the Propel and Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) Las Vegas study tour, which takes place between Saturday, 25 March and Tuesday, 28 March 2017. The trip provides two food study tours, where delegates can explore the hottest concepts in Vegas, as well as two early-evening bar tours led by James Hacon. The trip also includes three nights’ stay at the MGM Grand Hotel, two hosted dinners, and the chance for delegates to explore Vegas at their own leisure. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to gain a valuable insight into the trends and concepts that are shaping Vegas and leading the way in the US market, which will no doubt provide fresh ideas and inspiration for delegates.” For more information or to book, email Jo Charity at jo.charity@propelinfo.com or call 01444 810304.

Research reveals key trends set to impact food and drink market in 2017: Operators have opportunities to provide customers with more functional food and drink designed for evening consumption and affordable healthy food for low-income consumers, according to new research. Highlighting key trends set to impact the global food and drink market in 2017, Mintel said 2017 would be a year of extremes, from “ancient” products including grains, recipes, practices and traditions to the use of technology to create more and better-tasting plant-enhanced foods. Mintel’s global food and drink analyst Jenny Zegler said: “People are seeking the safety of products that are recognisable rather than revolutionary. The trust in the familiar emphasises the opportunity for operators to look to the past as a dependable source of inspiration such as ‘ancient’ product claims, including ancient grains and also ancient recipes, practices and traditions. Potential also exists for innovations that use the familiar as a base for something that’s new but recognisable, such as cold-brew coffee. In 2017, the food and drink industry will welcome more products that emphasise plants as key ingredients to align with consumers’ nearly omnipresent health and wellness priorities. More retailers and restaurants are addressing the sheer amount of food and drink that is wasted around the world, which is changing consumer perceptions. In 2017, the stigma associated with imperfect produce will begin to fade, more products will make use of ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste, and food waste will be repurposed in new ways, such as power sources. Time is an increasingly precious resource and our multi-tasking lifestyles are propelling a need for short-cut solutions that are still fresh, nutritious and customisable. In 2017, the time spent on – or saved by – a food or drink product will become a clear selling point, inspiring more products to directly communicate how long they will take to receive, prepare or consume. The increasingly hectic pace of modern life is creating a market for food and drink that helps people of all ages calm down before bedtime, sleep better and restore the body while they rest. Many lower-income consumers want to improve their diets but the access to – and the cost of – healthy food and drink is often an impediment. More campaigns and innovations are to be expected that will make it easier for lower-income consumers to fulfil their healthy ambitions.”

How abolition of ‘beer duty escalator’ sparked industry turnaround – report: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has published a new report – The Story of Beer Duty: 2008-2016 – detailing how the government’s decision to abolish the “beer duty escalator” helped spark a major turnaround in the beer and pub sector. The report, published in partnership with the Society of Independent Brewers and Campaign for Real Ale, sets out the different approaches to beer duty between 2008 and 2016. It outlines the damage caused by the beer duty escalator, which saw beer duty rise by 42% between 2008 and 2012. During this time, beer sales fell by 18.5% and 3,700 pubs closed, with the loss of 75,000 jobs. The abolition of the escalator in 2013, coupled with the “penny off a pint” tax cuts, led to a major turnaround in the sector and beer sales have stabilised, with 2014 the first year of growth in a decade. More than £1bn is being invested a year by brewers and pub owners. The report presents several case studies while arguing it is now more important than ever that the government continues to protect British beer and pubs as the nation prepares to leave the EU. BPBA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “The effects of the removal of the beer duty escalator have been extraordinary and I am proud the BBPA, alongside SIBA and CAMRA, played such a key role in its abolition. We will continue to work with government as the process of leaving the European Union begins. Given that we still pay 40% of the total beer tax bill in Europe but only consume 13% of the product, it is vital there are no increases in beer duty. It is also vital that Britain’s beer and pubs are protected so the sector can continue to be a powerful source of growth and jobs.”

US restaurant stocks rise on Trump win: US restaurant stocks rose more than 1% the day after Donald Trump’s surprise win in the presidential election. Nation’s Restaurant News’ Restaurant Index increased more than 33 points following the election result, mirroring the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which rose 1.4%. Some companies that had been struggling all year saw stocks rise, including Papa Murphy’s (up almost 14%), Bravo Brio Restaurant Group (up 7%), Noodles & Co (6%), and Ruby Tuesday (5%). US restaurant stocks have been down most of the year amid same-store sales worries and profit concerns as labour costs rise. Some of those concerns didn’t go away with Trump’s win. Voters in four states – Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington – all agreed to increase their minimum wages to at least $12 per hour. That is likely to further the industry’s labour cost concerns. However, Trump has vowed to roll back some decisions made under President Obama, including the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to provide health coverage.

Company News:

Leon starts drive to offer flexible hours: Natural fast food brand Leon has launched a drive to hire flexible team members, managers and head office staff. The company will promote “Parents Shifts” to help workers with children find work that fits around family life. Leon has joined Hire Me My Way, a national campaign to increase the numbers of flexible, quality jobs in the UK. From now on, Leon will make it clear at the point of hire that it is happy to discuss flexible working arrangements that help team members balance joining the company with caring for their family. Debra Maccow, a shift manager at Leon, joined the company three years ago and has been working flexibly since. She said: “My manager at Leon has been really supportive. He identified a store where I could work shifts that would allow me to look after my daughter too. I love it. I think everyone deserves a chance to work, whether they’re a mum or have someone to look after.” Currently, 54% of the UK’s workforce already has an element of flexibility about their role. However, only 8.7% of jobs with a salary of £20,000 or more are advertised with part-time or flexible options. In the past year, Leon has hired a director of marketing, head of communications, and senior food developer on part-time hours. In joining the Hire Me My Way campaign, Leon will make it clear during advertising which roles are available to flexible workers and that it is open to discussing the possibility of flexible working options during the recruitment process. They have also pledged to examine remaining roles and ask what more can be done to make flexible working available. Marco Reick, of Leon, said: “At Leon we have one simple goal – to help everyone eat well and live well. We know there are lots of reasons why people want to work flexibly. Some are parents or carers, others are pursuing their passions. Helping our people balance work and home keeps them well – and that makes us happy.”

Arc Inspirations boss – ‘we see Manahatta concept growing to at least ten sites in cities across the country’: Arc Inspirations chief executive Martin Wolstencroft has told Propel the company’s Manahatta concept can grow to at least ten sites in cities across the country. Arc Inspirations is about to start expansion of the New York-inspired concept with a second site in Leeds. It is opening the £1.2m, 5,500 square foot venue in Greek Street in March following the success of its sister site in Merrion Street. Wolstencroft said: “Greek Street is coming back to the good times. There are some real good-quality operators in there now and we are delighted to be joining them with another fantastic flagship site. It’s a chance for us to prove the concept in a different area of the city and in a smaller unit. We are looking to evolve the concept ahead of rolling it out to different cities across the country. We are looking to grow it on a site-by-site basis. I think it’s a concept that would work in most cities and, over time, I can see it growing to at least ten sites. We are excited about Manahatta and its Ebitda conversion is very high. We don’t want to stretch the team too far so we are looking to build clusters within about an hour of Leeds and Manchester. Places such as Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle are what we are looking at.” Wolstencroft also revealed the company was in negotiations over two sites for Banyan Bar & Kitchen, while it will convert its Kobe site in Horsforth and Napa venue in Roundhay to the brand. He said: “We’ve had fantastic feedback from our customers about Banyan so we thought we’d open in the suburbs. Our Manchester and Harrogate sites are both taking more than £45,000 a week on average. Our Manchester site is in the Corn Exchange, where there is a number of high-quality casual dining operators and we understand Banyan is consistently the highest-taking venue in the building.” Wolstencroft said recent trading across the group had been fantastic and it was on course to hit its £25m turnover target for the year, with Ebitda of between £2.8m and £3m. He added: “It’s a very exciting time. We are looking to secure further funding to open new sites. I think our various offers gives us a bit of a niche in the casual dining market and therefore, while some operators are starting to pull back following Brexit, we are looking at further opportunities. We rode through the 2008 recession when we acquired quite a lot of our sites. We think we are aspirational and affordable.” Arc Inspirations, founded in 1999 by Wolstencroft and Chris Ure, operates 15 venues in Yorkshire and the north west.

Glendola Leisure sells Rainforest Cafe: Glendola Leisure has sold Rainforest Cafe for an undisclosed sum to international restaurant operator Savini in conjunction with Criterion Management, historic landlord of the business. Glendola said the sale was necessary following a 55% increase in rent and a 29% increase in business rates, due from April. The restaurant is a significant tourist attraction, being one of Europe’s largest and most popular family restaurants, employing almost 150 staff. Alex Salussolia, managing director of Glendola Leisure, which has run the restaurant under licence for the past 19 years, said: “We have worked hard to develop a strong and successful business that has great appeal among Londoners and tourists alike. It has taken a great deal of time, energy and investment to deliver a unique experience. A trip to Rainforest Cafe is a must for many families visiting London, particularly in the run-up to Christmas. We are saddened we will no longer be running Rainforest Cafe in London but are delighted we have secured the continuation of the business and especially the security of the 150 employees. The change of ownership of Rainforest Cafe will have no impact on Glendola Leisure’s investment and expansion plans. This sale is purely and directly linked to the new rent determination in this stand-alone business.”

David Mooney – ‘there is an oversupply of restaurants in Manchester’: David Mooney, whose Manchester venue Beef & Pudding has narrowly avoided closure despite the group behind it facing liquidation and debts of more than £4m, believes there is an oversupply of restaurants in the city. The Booth Street gastro-pub will remain open in its current guise until Christmas, when Mooney will “review its future” amid what he called Manchester’s “most challenging trading environment for 30 years”. Beef & Pudding has been sold out of administration by The New Moon Company to Carrwood Catering, which owns several of Mooney’s other pubs and restaurants, including The Old Blind School in Liverpool and The Old Sessions House in Knutsford. The old company also owned three other venues in the north west – Casa Matta near Northwich, The Mockingbird Taproom in Chester, and The Bronx bar in Knutsford – that will all close, in a liquidation that sees £4m owed to a raft of creditors. Beef & Pudding will close every Monday and Tuesday after Christmas, and may well change its name as it tries to attract more customers. Mooney told the Manchester Evening News: “The vast number of openings in Manchester is unsustainable and I think we’ll see more closures as the market levels out. I’ve been in the restaurant game in Manchester for 30 years and I’ve never known it to be so difficult. The number of people living in or visiting the city just hasn’t increased along with the number of venues. There’s a huge oversupply. We might look at a new design, a new offering and even a new name. Maybe Beef & Pudding wasn’t the right name. It was very food-orientated. Maybe we should have gone bigger on the bar element. Overall we were really pleased with the product when we launched and hindsight always has the best view.”

Butcombe Brewery substantially reduces pre-tax losses as turnover passes £20m mark: Butcombe Brewery, owned by Liberation Group, has substantially reduced its pre-tax losses as it saw turnover pass the £20m mark. The company reported turnover increased to £20,145,637 in the year ending 30 January 2016, compared with £18,407,597 for the 11 months to 31 January 2015. It saw a pre-tax loss of £3,402, compared with a loss of £417,852 the year before, according to accounts filed with Companies House. Ebitda was £1.4m (after charging one-off costs of £147,000) compared with £1.6m for the previous period. The company stated: “Brewing and brands sales for the period to 30 January 2016 were £11.4m (period ended 31 January 2015: £9.6m) and the business generated Ebitda (excluding non-recurring/one-off costs) of £0.4m (period ended 31 January 2015: £0.5m). Beer volumes sold were ahead of the prior period by circa 9.6%, a pleasing result overall, with good growth in packaged volume. On a like-for-like basis this part of the business made an operating loss of £0.5m for the period compared with an operating profit of £0.2m for the 11 months to 31 January 2015. During the period one of our managed pubs was sub-let and six were converted to tenancy. Sales in the pub estate were down on the 11-month comparative period to 31 January 2015 by £0.7m. Ebitda achieved was £1.0m (period ended 31 January 2015: £0.8m). Non-recurring and one-off costs include losses of £17,000 against the sale of fixtures and fittings at the managed pubs that converted to tenancy or were sub-let during the period. Net assets at 30 January 2016 stood at £6.4m (31 January 2015: £6.2m).”

JD Wetherspoon launches book prize: JD Wetherspoon has launched a book prize in partnership with Kit Caless, author of Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation. The Spoon’s Carpets Novel Award will be awarded to the author of the “best novel to read in a pub”. Caless told The Bookseller: “I want to celebrate the novel. The idea for Spoon’s Carpets came directly from reading a novel – Will Wiles’ The Way Inn – when I was in a pub. I’ve been fortunate enough to get my book out there in the public eye so I want to celebrate other people’s books at the same time. Pubs and reading go together so well. There’s nothing better than finding a cosy chair in a warm pub, drinking a pint or glass of wine and getting lost in a good book. With this humble prize, we can celebrate that.” Winners of the new award will receive £100 cash and a trophy, while the person who nominated the winning book will receive a £100 Wetherspoon’s gift card and five books by Square Peg, the company that publishes Caless’ book.

Former Michelin-starred chef Steve Drake to open Surrey restaurant: Former Michelin-starred chef Steve Drake is set to open a restaurant, Sorrel, in Surrey next year. He told Get Surrey he would open the restaurant in the spring, although he has yet to reveal the location. Drake was head chef and owner of Drake’s in Ripley, near Woking, but handed the restaurant to his wife in a divorce settlement earlier this year. The chef owns The Anchor, opposite Drake’s, and will host a special preview event at the pub, which was awarded a Bib Gourmand in the 2017 Michelin Guide. Drake said in his own newsletter: “The last few months have given me time to reflect on all that the team and I achieved at Drake’s and I am truly grateful for the support and inspiration so many of you provided me with. I’m looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and hope it won’t be long before I’m welcoming you to Sorrel.”

Cooplands Bakery bought out of administration: Alison’s Coffee Shops, which traded as Cooplands Bakery throughout Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, has been bought out of administration. The business and certain assets of Alison’s Coffee Shops, including 29 retail units, were acquired by Cooplands Retail. The 150 staff employed by Alison’s Coffee Shops have been retained by Cooplands Retail and the business continues to trade as Cooplands from all 29 outlets. A Cooplands Retail spokesman told Insider Media: “We are pleased to be continuing the hard work that had gone on over the preceding two years to return Cooplands to its former glories. An entirely new product range is on sale and an increasing percentage of product is made in-house at the original bakery of Cooplands in Doncaster. Customers are returning and sales are increasing once more. We are fiercely proud of Coopland’s Yorkshire roots and we believe we offer a genuine and valued alternative to the large national bakery chains and supermarkets.” Stephen Parker, partner at Opus Restructuring, which was appointed as administrator, added: “It would have been a tragedy if such a well-known local business as Cooplands had failed after being a fixture in its region since it was originally established in 1885. We are pleased to see it survive and continue to serve its loyal customer base.”

Revolution Bars Group to open two Revolución de Cuba sites this month, including first in Scotland: Revolution Bars Group will open two new sites under its Revolución de Cuba brand this month. The company is opening the venues in Aberdeen – its first in Scotland – and also Reading, increasing the portfolio to 12 across the UK. The Aberdeen site will open next Friday (18 November) at the Academy Shopping Centre and will be housed within a 5,200 square foot listed building. With Cuban-inspired interiors, the 130-cover site will include an outdoor bandstand with 40 covers, a Havana bar and a live music stage. The Reading Revolución de Cuba will open in Friar Street on Thursday, 24 November. Spread across two floors, the 5,700 square foot, 170-cover site will feature a retractable roof, which will be used year-round to accommodate 40 additional covers with a heated terrace. Revolution Bars Group chief executive Mark McQuater said: “We’re incredibly excited to bring the Revolución de Cuba experience to Aberdeen and Reading. Our passion is to spread Cuba’s rich culture nationwide and we are pleased that vision continues to grow as we open more venues.”

Jamie Rollo – ‘we think Whitbread’s upcoming Capital Markets Day should remind investors of its high quality and resilience’: Morgan Stanley leisure analyst Jamie Rollo has said Whitbread’s upcoming Capital Markets Day should remind investors of its high quality and resilience. Issuing an ‘Overweight’ rating on the shares, with a target price of 4,700p, Rollo said: “The company clearly has plenty to prove and most investors seem to be simply steering clear of the name, but 29 November’s Capital Markets Day should remind investors of Whitbread's high quality and resilience. All the negatives are known and more than reflected in the stock’s valuation, we think. What is perhaps less well appreciated is how many levers the company has to pull to drive top-line growth, cost savings, property gains, and overseas profitability. It is these factors that have made the company such a resilient business in the past and that should also limit earnings risk as we look forward. While we are not expecting any major announcements at Capital Markets Day, we think (and hope) the company will give a flavour of the following five key issues – efficiencies, internal sales levers, property management, international, and its long-term growth prospects/structure. We hope Whitbread can be a bit bolder and clearer on the scope for efficiencies. The external environment is admittedly challenging but we expect Whitbread to lay out what it is doing in both Costa and Premier Inn to drive the top-line regardless. Whitbread’s preference for freeholds over leaseholds is understandable given they offer superior future development potential, cheaper long-term funding at current rates, and higher/less volatile margins. However, we see scope for it to more actively manage its significant property base, aimed at showing investors the ‘hidden’ value created when it builds or extends hotels given these gains are not in its accounts. Whitbread’s overseas businesses have been a source of disappointment, in aggregate losing money every year since inception and generally being behind on targets. The conundrum Whitbread faces is that its sheer scale and success in the UK means its international business will never be material and to make it material it needs to make an acquisition, yet this is not something investors are likely to be keen on given the UK needs so much attention and the business has had so much management change. We think the company will recommit to its current 2020 targets (85,000 UK hotel rooms, £2.5bn Costa system sales), and give a taste of the expansion prospects it sees post-2020. We don’t think that at the current depressed valuation the company needs to worry about proving to investors it has more growth post-2020, when dealing with current headwinds and Brexit are the main areas of concern. Finally, we would like the company and its new management team to remind investors why they are committed to the current structure.”

Hippo Inns gives Isle of Dogs pub new lease of life: Hippo Inns, the joint venture between Enterprise Inns and Geronimo Inns founder Rupert Clevely, has given its London pub The George a new lease of life. The company has refurbished the site in keeping with its East End roots, having first opened its doors on the Isle of Dogs in 1865. Guests can enjoy a selection of modern British food with pub classics skillfully updated, alongside a selection of craft beer, wines and cocktails. The pub, which Hippo Inns opened earlier this year, features an open bar and upstairs dining area available for hire for up to 20 covers. Traditional features, including leather banquettes, gilt mirrors and wood panelling, are combined with contemporary touches such as a conservatory with colourful mosaic floor and eye-catching light fixtures. There is also an outdoor garden. Hippo Inns has four other sites, including The Duke of Sussex in Waterloo and The Black Horse in Kingston.

Neapolitan pizza concept Panzo to launch in Exmouth Market next week: Neapolitan pizza concept Panzo will launch in London’s Exmouth Market on Wednesday (16 November). Anna Skigin has partnered with Eccellenze Campane, an agricultural centre in Naples, to offer healthier pizzas “without compromising on taste”. The 50-cover restaurant’s menu will be determined by seasonal produce, while Panzo’s dough is a combination of soy, rice, wheat and sourdough. Prepared and fermented for up to 48 hours, the base is twice baked, making it lighter and crispier with less gluten and fewer calories than regular sourdough pizza. The restaurant will also offer small plates, seasonal salads and hand-made desserts. The plates will centre around “quality produce in its natural form”, including burrata, a cheese hand-made in Puglia. Wine and craft beer from Fourpure Brewing Co will be served on tap from eco-friendly kegs. The interior draws inspiration from Scandinavia and Italy, with an open kitchen, Italian marble top counter and hanging green terrariums, while tables and chairs will be a mixture of copper, wood and concrete banquettes scattered with oversized leather cushions. Skigin said: “We spent considerable time combining flavours and ingredients for Panzo that taste as good as they look.”

Center Parcs reports sales and profit boost in first half: Sales and profit has climbed at holiday park operator Center Parcs, despite a dip in occupancy due to ongoing upgrades. In the 24 weeks to 6 October 2016, turnover rose 4% to £208.3m, compared with £200.2m a year earlier. Accommodation revenue was up by 5.1%, while village revenue increased by 2.6%. A pre-tax profit of £41m was also generated compared with a loss of £29.9m for the same period last year, which was down to a £63.5m exceptional item. Center Parcs operates sites in Sherwood Forest, Longleat Forest, Elveden Forest, Whinfell Forest and Bedfordshire’s Woburn Forest. During the summer it also obtained planning permission for a village in Ballymahon, Ireland, which will be its first outside the UK when it opens in 2019. During the period, Center Parcs’ accommodation upgrade strategy, known as “Project Spring”, continued and a further 121 units will be revamped before the end of 2016, reports Insider Media. The construction of 57 further lodges at Woburn began in the period under review, along with the addition of executive and exclusive lodges in Longleat and Whinfell. A block with 48 apartments in Elveden is due to open on Monday (14 November). The company is also set to begin demolition work on the hotel at its Elveden site later this month, which will be replaced with a 51-bedroom apartment complex, nine three-bedroom executive lodges and four waterside lodges. Completion is scheduled for spring 2018.

Nando’s opens at Oldham’s Old Town Hall development: Nando’s has opened its restaurant at Oldham’s £37m Old Town Hall development, which features a multiplex Odeon cinema with 800 seats and seven screens. Nando’s joins Whitbread-owned Costa Coffee at the site, while Gourmet Burger Kitchen and cafe bar brand Loungers will open venues at the complex later this year. Work to transform the grade II-listed Old Town Hall took three years and the multiplex is the first cinema in Oldham town centre for more than 30 years. The property was named in Britain’s top ten most endangered buildings in 2009 and had lain empty since 1995. Over the years it became riddled with wet and dry rot and inhabited by hundreds of pigeons. Work to preserve the building’s heritage included a magistrates’ court room, which was converted into the cinema while retaining original features. 

Thai Leisure Group to open tenth Thaikhun site next month, in Southampton: Thai Leisure Group will open its tenth Thaikhun site next month, at Southampton’s £85m WestQuay Watermark development. The company is opening the venue, which seats more than 100 diners, on Monday, 5 December, creating 45 jobs. It is investing £850,000 to transform the 5,371 square foot site, which will include a theatre-style open kitchen, extensive outdoor dining area and Thai street market-style bar. Thai Leisure Group managing director Ian Leigh told the Daily Echo: “This is a pivotal launch for Thaikhun, with our footprint now reaching from Aberdeen to Southampton. The WestQuay Watermark development offers the perfect location in a high-footfall area alongside a range of household national brands. Southampton is an incredible city to operate in, with a significant student population – the perfect customer base for our unique blend of fun and friendly casual dining.” Thai Leisure Group, which is jointly owned by Thai chef Kim Kaewkraikhot and British entrepreneur Martin Stead, also operates the Chaophraya, ChaoBaby and Yee Rah brands.

Cheshire-based operator acquires second site: Cheshire-based operator James Hughes has started expanding his portolio after acquiring his second site. Hughes, who owns Piste Wine Bar & Restaurant in Tarporley, has bought Folks in Sandbach off a guide price of £340,000 through agent Fleurets. The bar and restaurant, which is based in the town centre, has 78 covers, plus a patio area to the front and rear. Hughes said: “We’re thrilled to be taking on The Folks in Sandbach. We have Piste Wine Bar & Restaurant in Tarporley presently and are looking to take our brand forward. We love the building and the area and after a significant refit we’re looking forward to opening.” Previous owner Phil Nuttall added: “I am not a leisure operator. The building has been in our family for a number of years but my main business is car sales. I felt I would be better selling Folks and releasing funds to put into my main business.”

New bistro concept Piccadilly Brasserie launches in Stoke city centre: A husband-and-wife team with more than 30 years experience in the hospitality sector have opened a brasserie in Stoke-on-Trent. Ray and Sandra Dobson have spent much of their married life running pubs in the city and in Cyprus. Now they have opened their first restaurant in Piccadilly in the city centre at a former jeweller’s site. The menu features fresh, local produce, with all dishes homemade, including pasta dishes, steak, fish and burritos. Rather than pulling pints, the couple serve a selection of craft beer, wine, artisan gin and cocktails. Ray Dobson told the Stoke Sentinel: “It feels like the right time to move from the pub trade and into a more food-led business. Being opposite the theatre, we will try to tie in with what is showing with special themed nights.” Piccadilly Brasserie will host a Greek night while Mamma Mia is on at the Regent Theatre and offer a special cocktail during Dirty Dancing.

Indian street food trader Horn OK Please returns to Southbank Centre’s winter market: Indian street food trader Horn OK Please has returned to the Southbank Centre’s winter market. The company’s wooden chalet is open daily until Sunday, 8 January offering vegetarian Indian street food that showcases contemporary recipes from across India. The menu includes limited edition street bites, alongside signature favourites from the company’s pitches at Borough Market and Southbank Centre food market. Dishes include egg kati roll (omelette wrapped in paratha flatbread) and moong dal dosa (lentil pancake stuffed with crushed masala potato and crispy sev). Launched in 2011 by Sandhya Aiyar and Gaurav Gautam, Horn OK Please also makes its own chutneys and chai.

Casual organic food concept Flavour Garden opens in Fenchurch Street: Casual organic food concept Flavour Garden has launched in Fenchurch Street, London, complete with stamp cards that reward customers with special offers, discounts and “random acts of kindness”. The new restaurant is in New London Street, with dishes including raisin and carrot curry, slow-cooked beef in wine gravy, and salmon cakes. There are also fresh oysters, small snacking dishes and salads, with all ingredients organic, sustainable and ethically sourced. There is also a range of cold-pressed juices and cocktails, with input from world champion mixologist Costa Nikolaidis and US nutritionist Ari Sexner, alongside wine, craft beer, organic cider and Lincoln & York coffee. City workers can relax in one of the upstairs armchairs or the garden-inspired decor on the ground floor. For those in a rush to get back to their desk, however, the venue offers self-service checkouts. In the evening, drinks are brought to consumers’ tables after they have ordered them via electronic screens, while there is also a self-service wine dispenser. Mark Ashley, of Flavour Garden, said: “We feel there is a huge gap in the market to launch a concept that can accommodate both an eat-in, counter-style restaurant and retail takeaway offer. Our approach is simple – high-quality, natural and honest dishes at sensible prices, which are good for you. We intend to roll-out further sites across London in the near future.”

Plans approved for new restaurant development in Solihull: Plans for a new restaurant development in Solihull town centre have been approved. IM Properties will convert eight shop units into three restaurants at its Mell Square development in Drury Lane South following approval by Solihull Council. The new restaurants will be next to Carluccio’s, which will open early next year. Rob Hemus, of IM Properties, told The Business Desk: “In a fast-changing retail environment, where many people prefer to buy online, shopping is becoming more about socialising and these proposals are essential to ensure the long-term future of Mell Square and the wider Solihull town centre. We hope to create a thriving hub of restaurants where people can meet up with friends, family and colleagues and enjoy the atmosphere. It will also significantly enhance the character of the existing street scene and attract potential new visitors to Solihull.” IM Properties acquired Mell Square in 2013 and, following the recent deal with Carluccio’s, it hopes to draw similar operators to the development.

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