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Wed 26th Sep 2018 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

People and Training Conference opens for bookings: The British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) has launched this year’s People and Training Conference, which will showcase outstanding people culture among companies in the sector. The event, organised in association with Propel and open for bookings, will take place at Bafta Piccadilly on Tuesday, 20 November. BII chairman Anthony Pender will talk about the training landscape and how it needs to change. Jamie Campbell, chief commercial officer of online training and staff engagement business CPL Online, which is now part of CGA, will share exclusive research and data, benchmarking performance in the sector, highlighting the challenges and opportunities in front of operators in developing and engaging teams in an authentic and cost effective way. Rob Liddiard, founder of hospitality chat app Yapster, will present some of the key findings from the ‘Happiness in Hospitality’ survey of UK hospitality staff attitudes to issues such as work/life balance, training and well-being. Joe Cripps, managing director and founder of Trail, will talk about maximising the service profit chain and why behavioural economics finds the flaws in us all. Susan Martindale, human resources director of Mitchells & Butlers, which won Best Apprenticeship Programme and Overall Best Place to Work at this year’s National HR Distinction awards, will talk about the company’s approach to developing people – and its apprenticeship programme. Colonel Mike Tanner, commandant of the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre at Lympstone, Devon, will set out the training philosophy of the Royal Marines. Edward Barlow, managing director of 16 Hospitality, which won the BII award for Best Managed Training Programme for a company with fewer than 50 sites, will talk about the company’s approach to developing its people through its Hub programme. Kenny Blair, managing director of Buzzworks Holdings, which has placed in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list on three consecutive occasions, will talk about the company’s unique approach to its staff. Propel managing director Paul Charity will talk to JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin about his “people philosophy”, touching on rewards, longevity, inclusiveness, training and applying his time to the front-end of retail. Charley O’Toole, head of HR at Bill’s, which won the BII Award for Best Managed Training Programme for a company with more than 50 sites, will outline the innovative Bill’s approach to training. Linda Moir, who created the customer services strategy at the London Olympics and was director of customer services at Virgin Atlantic, will talk about motivating staff and effective leadership. Tickets are £65 plus VAT for operators who are BII members and BIIAB members and £200 plus VAT for operators who are non-BII members. Supplier tickets are £95 plus VAT for BII members and BIIAB members and £245 plus VAT for all other organisations. To book, email anne.steele@propelinfo.com.

Industry News:

Luke Johnson – no acquisitions for Brighton Pier Group in short term but there are merger targets: Brighton Pier Group executive chairman Luke Johnson has told Propel the company doesn’t expect to make further acquisitions in the short term but admitted it does have merger targets. Johnson said the company would concentrate on bedding in Paradise Island Adventure Golf into the business, which it acquired in December. Paradise Island Adventure Golf will open its first site under Brighton Pier Group’s ownership – and seventh in total – at Rushden Lakes in Northamptonshire next spring. Johnson said: “It is unlikely we will do any deals, at least in the short term. We have plenty on our plate. I think we need to launch the mini-golf centre at Rushden Lakes and make sure that works. We have potential merger targets in the experiential space but there’s no rush for us to do anything.” He said the company was in negotiations over potential sites for Paradise Island Adventure Golf but didn’t expect to open further venues until the back end of 2019 “at the earliest”. Johnson added the company had made “slight tweaks” to the concept such as adding amusement machines in Glasgow and looking at the food and drink offer in one or two other outlets, but in the main he felt it “worked well so no major changes were needed”. Johnson said having spent £1.3m on Brighton Pier last year, no further capital expenditure was planned in the next 12 months as “we need to sweat the assets we’ve got”. He added: “We are making returns on our investment. There will be further projects that come up but they are for the future. There is an ongoing maintenance programme we will be continuing with, though.” Explaining the reason behind deciding to increase his shareholding in Brighton Pier Group to 27%, Johnson said: “I want to demonstrate how much confidence I have in the business. I believe in its long-term prospects.”

Fourth unveils partner programme by integrating Wireless Social data for mutual customers: Fourth, the software provider to the hospitality industry, has unveiled a new programme that will see it work in partnership with select software providers to streamline digital services across the hospitality industry. Fourth has integrated functions from Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social into its Fourth Analytics platform to provide deeper and richer context for its mutual customers. The partnership integrates data from the Wireless Social platform, which, among other functions, tracks the number of customers in a venue or location through Wi-Fi – not just those logged into Wi-Fi but anyone with a smartphone. When overlaying this data against sales data, operators can add greater clarity to figures. Equally, Wireless Social’s geographical data can show how busy a city or region within a city has been on a particular day, again adding context to sales figures. Fourth chief executive Ben Hood said: “This ground-breaking partnership programme sees us align with like-minded businesses such as Wireless Social to collaboratively make the lives of operators easier by reducing admin time and giving them better context on their business performance.” Wireless Social managing director Julian Ross added: “We have spent a lot of time and effort developing a platform that fundamentally provides our customers with information that will make their businesses better. Working with a like-minded company such as Fourth means we can come together for the good of our customers and the industry.” The partner network extends across areas such as point of sale, financial management, time and attendance, HR, and talent management. It will also see partner technologies integrated into the Fourth Analytics platform. Hood added: “In the past, it’s true to say we have tried to be one platform that looks after every aspect of a company’s digital needs. That is simply no longer possible. What is a necessity is that technology providers work together in harmony and combine innovation for the greater good of the industry.”

North London-based meat supplier sold in pre-package deal, secured creditors owed £8.7m: North London-based meat supplier Nigel Fredericks has been sold in a pre-packaged deal having gone into administration owing secured creditors £8.7m, a new document has revealed. A statement of proposals by administrators Rachael Wilkinson and Zelf Husaain, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, showed secured creditors – NatWest Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lombard North Central – could recover 60% of the total owed in the next 12 months. There are no preferential creditors with all employees transferred to the new owner, Nigel Frederick Trading, which bought the company on 7 September for a consideration of £23,033.29. Unsecured creditors are not expected to receive any distribution. For the year ending 31 March 2017, the company turned over £44.4m with unaudited management accounts for the year ending 31 March 2018 showing turnover of circa £67m. The report showed that despite the increase in turnover, the company had invested heavily in capital expenditure, expanding from four manufacturing units to six during FY17 and investing in new equipment. Much of this expansion was funded by third parties through finance lease agreements, which led to high monthly servicing costs and repayments of circa £70,000 per month. The report stated: “Another factor was the fall in value of the pound following the result of the UK referendum to leave the EU, which led to an increase in the price of meat from outside the UK. The resulting increase in raw material costs had an adverse impact on profitability as the company was unable to pass on all the increase in costs to its customers. The fall in profitability, increased finance lease costs and a reduction in credit insurance led to the company significantly exceeding the limit on its confidential invoice discounting facility with Royal Bank of Scotland in August 2018 to the point where no further funds were available.”

Amazon held two rounds of discussions with Deliveroo: Amazon has made two preliminary approaches for Deliveroo as the food delivery company is circled by ride-hailing giant Uber, the Daily Telegraph has reported. Deliveroo, known for its green-jacketed bike couriers, has raised hundreds of millions of pounds in investment and is currently valued at about $2bn. Last week it emerged that Uber, the US ride-hailing company, and Deliveroo had held early-stage talks about a possible deal. Amazon is also understood to have held two sets of early stage discussions with Deliveroo with a view to an acquisition, including one within the past year, according to a source familiar with the situation. 

Panera founder Ron Shaich launches $300m investment fund to help emerging restaurant brands: Ron Shaich, founder and former chief executive of fast-casual chain Panera Bread, which he sold to JAB Holding last year for more than $7bn, has launched a $300m investment fund to help entrepreneurs in the restaurant industry stay off the “Wall Street treadmill”. Shaich and business partner and Panera veteran Keith Pascal said the fund would provide emerging brands with industry expertise to give them room to focus on building a business rather than the short-term demands that “typically come with investments from private-equity funds or venture capitalists”. Shaich, who clashed with activist investors while running Panera, has railed against a Wall Street culture he argues distracts executives and founders from day-to-day running of a business. The new fund, Act III Holdings, has already invested $140m in a deal that involves a takeover of Zoe’s Kitchen by privately held Mediterranean chain Cava Grill. Act III Holdings has also put money into smaller restaurant companies including Boston-based cafe chain Tatte Bakery & Cafe and Life Alive, which serves vegetarian and vegan food. Shaich said the goal was not necessarily to take chains public, pointing to Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger as examples of successful restaurant chains that have thrived while remaining private. He told Bloomberg: “We are providing capital and they don’t have to spend time fund-raising or dealing with board fights. We want to make money doing this but we think and act differently. We want to build good businesses, we’re not looking for that next liquidity event.”

Sports professionals partner with business leaders for new hospitality campaign: Business thinking and opinion communicator EP Business in Hospitality has launched a campaign that sees business leaders join forces with more than 25 sports professionals in a bid to “broaden mental agility and create change”. The Emerging Leaders Club will “open new channels of communication and support knowledge share across different industries”. In June, EP Business in Hospitality appointed former Olympic swimmer Kate Haywood to support its business development strategy. She said: “We believe a new approach is needed to give a voice to talent breaking through. As an Olympian I always had a team of people around me – success isn’t about working in isolation. Sharing knowledge with people from any industry sector can be extremely powerful in business.” Other sports professionals involved in the campaign include Olympic, world and European medal-winning athlete Marilyn Okoro.

Company News:

G1 Group reports turnover soars to £125.7m, ‘core’ leisure business performance leads to Ebitda topping £20m: Scotland’s biggest managed operator G1 Group has reported turnover soared to £125.7m for the year ending 31 March 2018, compared with £70.5m the previous year following its acquisition of convenience store operator G101 Off Sales but said its “core” leisure business continued to perform. G1 Group said not only did the core business build turnover but it converted that into a significant uplift in results for the year, with Ebitda rising to £20.8m compared with £17.6m the year before. There has been extensive development activity at the Scotsman Hotel, which has continued into the new financial year. The Grand Cafe was created to complement the Scotsman Hotel and was launched in July. In November 2017, the group acquired a portfolio of 12 tenanted outlets from Heineken, taking the tenanted estate to more than 100 outlets. In the current financial year, the group has expanded its hotel and serviced apartment activities in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The group now has about 2,500 employees. Chairman Brian McGhee said: “We are now two years on from the EU referendum result and the media provides a daily diet of debate and speculation. However, the eventual outcome is no clearer and the resultant political and economic uncertainty is a constant challenge to business. In parallel with this the UK has seen major disruption in the retail sector, while the leisure sector too has seen many high-profile casualties particularly in leasehold casual dining groups. Against this backdrop it is reassuring to see continued solid growth at G1, with significant increases in turnover, operating profit and Ebitda. The acquisition of G101 Off Sales has been a major contributor to the increased turnover but the ‘core’ G1 business has also seen substantial growth from a combination of targeted investment and careful management. With the acquisition of the Scotsman Hotel in March 2017 and G101 right at the start of the new financial year, it was clear the development and integration agenda for the year had been mapped out. Alongside these projects, G1 continued with its programme of reinvestment into the estate, which has reflected in the results for the year. The group has continued its solid progress in the 2018/2019 year and, as ever, is looking at further acquisitions that fit with the strategic footprint.”

JW Lees ‘still has firepower for acquisitions despite £18m estate investment’: William Lees-Jones, managing director of north west brewer and retailer JW Lees, has told Propel the company still has firepower for acquisitions despite spending £18m on its estate. Lees-Jones said like-for-like sales were up 2% in the first half of 2018, while retail sales had risen 16%. He added it was all about maintaining that momentum but admitted the past three weeks had been “quite tough”. He said: “We had a very good summer but I’m terrified about what Brexit might bring and I think it’s a bit of a knife-edge at the moment. We have invested heavily in the estate and I think we’re certainly seeing the benefits of that at the moment. Despite spending that money, we are still in a position to make purchases because the company keeps being profitable. We may not buy the 12 sites this year we originally envisaged but if a little pub company becomes available, who knows? It’s about making sure they are the right sites.” Lees-Jones said hotels had become a bigger part of the business and the company recently had its best night on record, with all 287 bedrooms available in the estate occupied.

DHP Family reports pre-tax profit boost as turnover passes £30m: Live music venue operator DHP Family has reported turnover increased 25.1% to £31,653,117 for the year ending 31 December 2017, compared with £25,300,118 the previous year. Pre-tax profit was up to £1,655,199 compared with £1,456,970 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “Turnover increased across the board within the venues and live divisions. Gross profit increased 20.6% as a result of an improved performance across most sites. The live division had a strong year, with excellent festivals adding to the bottom line. Continued investment in our ticketing business has resulted in further growth to sales. Cash generated in operating activities was again invested into fixed assets. Cash held at year-end increased year-on-year due to ticket sales in advance for large stadium-sized shows in summer 2018. Our financial health remains strong with net assets increasing to £8.7m from £7.3m.” The number of employees increased to 369 from 342 the previous year. DHP Family currently operates eight venues in London, Nottingham and Bristol as well as outdoor festivals, national tours and standalone shows across the UK. Last month the company appointed Richie Deeney to the newly created role of head of brand partnerships.

Michelin-starred Imperial Treasure Group to make European debut in London: Michelin-starred Imperial Treasure Group will make its UK and European debut when it opens in London’s Waterloo Place this November in a grade II-listed building in the heart of the St James’s conservation area. The group, which owns restaurants in Singapore, Hong Kong and China, has become synonymous with authentic fine dining and has received numerous accolades and awards. Its Shanghai restaurant has two Michelin stars, while Singapore and Hong Kong each hold one. On the menu will be high-end authentic Chinese specialities, fresh seasonal ingredients, responsibly sourced fish and live seafood.  A cocktail bar will offer a list of Asian-inspired creations alongside sake, champagne and a rare whisky collection. Interiors at the 140-cover, 8,500 square foot restaurant will be created by French designer Liaigre and feature a palette of grey, onyx and bronze across the main dining room, bar and three private dining rooms to create an “elegant, contemporary and sultry dining environment”. Imperial Treasure founder Alfred Leung said: “We are delighted to bring Imperial Treasure to the capital. London has become one of the most exciting cities in the world for gastronomy and we are looking forward to showcasing our authentic fine dining Chinese cuisine to locals and visitors to London alike.”

Great British Menu finalist to open second site, in Liverpool: Great British Menu finalist Ellis Barrie is to open his second restaurant. Barrie, who is competing in the finals of the current series of the BBC2 show this week, opened Marram Grass with older brother Liam in Anglesey in 2011. Once a cafe on their parents’ North Wales caravan park, the venue is now in the Good Food Guide and specialises in carefully sourced local seafood and their own livestock. Now the brothers will launch a restaurant in Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock next year. Liam Barrie told Insider Media: “We are incredibly excited to get the site up and running in such a brilliant part of town. What I love about the Albert Dock is the diversity it brings to the city – it’s full of locals and tourists alike and there’s a real buzz about the place. I’m confident my brother’s cooking and our concept will work well here. We’re Liverpool born and bred so we’re really looking forward to being back in the city to showcase what we do.”

Chipotle highlights ingredients in high-spend campaign: Chipotle has launched what is thought to be its most expensive marketing campaign within a quarter in a bid to focus attention on natural ingredients the brand uses in its dishes. The “For Real” campaign features images of 51 ingredients such as garlic, honey, cloves and lemon juice with the tagline: “The only ingredient that’s hard to pronounce at Chipotle is ‘Chipotle’.” Chief marketing officer Chris Brandt, who joined Chipotle (pronounced Chi-poat-lay) earlier this year, said the campaign celebrated the fresh, non-processed foods served at its near 2,500 restaurants and brought the company “back to its roots”. He told Nation’s Restaurant News: “Chipotle has always emphasised food prepared fresh daily in all its restaurants and we want this campaign to highlight that.” The company also launched a second Instagram account – ChipotleForReal – designed to “educate followers about each of Chipotle’s 51 ingredients”. A company spokesman said: “For 25 years Chipotle has believed there is a connection between how food is raised and prepared to how it tastes.” The campaign comes after another food safety scare hit the brand during the summer, affecting 600 people and prompting Chipotle to retrain hundreds of employees.

HBO to use Game of Thrones film sets to launch live experience in Northern Ireland: US television network HBO is to launch a Game of Thrones live experience based on sets used to film the hit series in Northern Ireland. The attraction will be on a larger scale than HBO’s previous live experiences based on the show, such as the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, and will allow fans to set foot inside some of the most iconic locations from the series. Each site will feature costumes, props, weapons, set decorations, art files, models and other production materials. The series has spent a decade filming in Northern Ireland, with the final episodes set to air in 2019. Standing sets for iconic locations such as Winterfell, Castle Black and King’s Landing – alongside a studio tour of Linen Mill Studios – are being lined up with a targeted opening date of 2019. Jeff Peters, vice-president of licensing and retail at HBO, told Insider Media: “We look forward to opening the gates and sharing the excitement of stepping inside these amazing sets with Game of Thrones fans from around the world.” John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, added: “The Game of Thrones Legacy project will be a game-changer for Northern Ireland on a global tourism level.”

Punch launches The Academy in Burton: Punch has launched its training and development centre. The Academy has opened in the company’s support centre in Burton-upon-Trent following a “significant investment”. The venue features a food development kitchen, a fully fitted bar, a training cellar and a 300-seater conference room, ensuring every aspect of operating a pub can be delivered on-site. Attendees will gain hands-on experience in the fully functioning pub, with each trainee creating the perfect serve for all products including specialist spirits and cask-conditioned ale. The cellar will enable publicans to get the best experience to ensure their beer is maintained and served perfectly “from the moment they take on their pub”. The Academy will provide a range of courses alongside online training through the Punch Progress console and training app. More courses will be developed with brand partners such as Cask Marque, Sky, Diageo and Vianet. Clive Chesser, the new chief executive at Punch, said: “Providing the most innovative training facility for our publicans will unlock more possibilities for them and their pubs. We are all extremely excited about seeing what this supercharged facility can do for all the people who put their heart and soul into running pubs with us.” Punch has a national tenanted and retail pub estate of more than 1,200 pubs.

TGI Friday’s launches ‘Fridarians’ campaign: TGI Friday’s has launched an integrated brand campaign that introduces the world to “Fridarians”, who “smash through the so-called rules of going out and live every day like it’s a Friday”. The campaign features three short films by BAFTA award-winning Pretzel Films. The campaign has been created by agency Partners, which has been tasked to help “reignite guests’ love for the brand”. TGI Friday’s chief marketing officer Steve Flanagan said: “We have a promise written on the wall in every one of our restaurants which is simply ‘in here it’s always Friday’ – and we pride ourselves on making sure for every guest we deliver outstanding food, unrivalled service and a relaxed, fun experience. In almost every aspect of life people have been told what to do and how to do it when going out for dinner and drinks. Being a Fridarian at TGI Friday’s is different. Friday isn’t just Friday. It’s Monday lunchtime. It’s Tuesday night. It’s Sunday evening. It’s whenever a Fridarian wants it to be.”

Park Holidays UK reports turnover nears £150m following ‘substantial’ investment in resorts: East Sussex-headquartered holiday park group Park Holidays UK has reported turnover has neared £150m following “substantial” investment in its resorts. The company saw turnover increase 13.8% to £149,668,000 for the year ending 31 December 2017, compared with £131,546,000 the year before. Ebitda was up to £42,940,000, compared with £35,768,000 the previous year. Pre-tax profit was up to £34,605,000 compared with £31,838,000 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The company has invested more than £5m on entertainment complexes alone in the past couple of years and “much more” on other features such as swimming pools, clubs and children’s activities. During the period the company added two parks to its portfolio – Carlton Meres Holiday Park in Suffolk and Pevensey Bay Holiday Park in East Sussex – while in May this year it added Martello Beach Holiday Park in Clacton, Essex. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “Despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the impact of Brexit, during the year to 31 December 2017 the UK economy was relatively stable with continuing low interest rates and growth in residential property values. Holiday-home ownership for UK residents has shown steady increases in recent years and this trend continued during 2017 with an increasing movement towards lodges and larger, higher-specification caravans. Lodge and larger caravan sales have increased in 2017 for the fifth year in succession, with all parks now including these products in their sales mix. The holiday fleet has seen investment over the past year, which has further improved the quality of units available for holiday lettings. This has driven a strong increase in repeat bookings and an improvement in online review feedback and ratings. The company will also offer lodges for rent at various parks in 2018.” Park Holidays was founded in 1984 and has 29 sites across the south of England. The company, which was acquired by private equity firm Intermediate Capital Group last year, is headquartered in Bexhill-on-Sea.

England cricket star Stuart Broad opens second pub: England fast bowler Stuart Broad has opened his second pub in partnership with fellow cricketer Harry Gurney and former Moleface Pub Company employee Dan Cramp, who ran the Larwood & Voce pub at Trent Bridge cricket ground. The trio, as the Cat & Wickets Pub Company, took on the Punch-owned Three Crowns in the Leicestershire village of Wymeswold in 2016. Now they have added The Tap & Run in Upper Broughton to their portfolio, which was previously called The Golden Fleece and had been closed for almost two years. It has been transformed following a £350,000 investment into a gastro-pub. The venue features lighting shaped like stumps, 18 bails dotted around to represent the English county sides and a pub sign in the style of a cricket scoreboard. Broad told the Melton Times: “It was the potential of the site that was the most attractive thing. It’s bigger than our other pub, The Three Crowns, and we were ready to take on a slightly bigger pub. We wanted somewhere people would drive out to for a great Sunday roast and a nice glass of beer and wine – this is what we’ve tried to create here.”

Opso team launches Pittabun in Carnaby: The team behind Marylebone eatery Opso and two Michelin-starred Athens restaurant Funky Gourmet has launched a pitta bread concept in Carnaby. Pittabun has opened in Newburgh Street at a site previously occupied by Carnaby Burger Co. The concept offers a “new take on the kebab”, with sweet and savoury-filled pitta bread. The seasonally changing menu features fillings such as slow-cooked pork neck, and panko-crusted fried cod fillet. Meat is finished on a robata grill or custom-made rotisserie, Hot Dinners reports. Sweet versions include chocolate and sour cherry, and baked apples with vanilla ice cream. The restaurant also offers draught beer from select micro-breweries and Pittabun’s own-label Greek wine.

Partnership bids to bring breath of fresh air to Skegness foreshore: Economic development company Focus Consultants and architect Guy Taylor have been appointed to draw up ideas to transform Skegness foreshore. The Lincolnshire seaside resort’s foreshore is grade II-listed and East Lindsey District Council has appointed the companies to freshen its masterplan. Cllr Steve Kirk, portfolio holder for the coastal economy, told insider Media: “It is fair to say Skegness foreshore is in need of investment. By undertaking this work now, the council is positioning the resort to be able to make funding applications when grant schemes open. We all know Skegness is one of the UK’s leading resorts, with visitor numbers to the area increasing year-on-year. We must ensure that continues.” Guy Taylor Associates director Paul Stanton added: “We are taking into account all the natural and built heritage in the area as well as how people use the area – for recreation, shopping and traditional seaside activities such as donkey rides – as well as considering practical elements such as seating and cycle parks. We hope the refreshed masterplan and new design manual will ensure the resort continues to offer a memorable experience long into the future.”

Eggs-centred concept Yolk to open first permanent site, in Holborn: Eggs-centred concept Yolk is to open a permanent site in New Street Square in Holborn, London. The venue will open towards the end of October offering new egg pots and other additions to the menu. Yolk began as a pop-up before taking a residency at Flat Iron Square in Broadgate. Its new home, just off New Fetter Lane, will mainly offer takeaway options, although there will be stools for those wanting to dine in and a covered seating area outside. Breakfast egg pots will include eggs benedict with pulled ham hock, while there will be three new breakfast baps on offer, including the maple bacon (maple-cured streaky bacon with whisky butter) and a vegetarian version featuring spiced halloumi with avocado, Portobello mushroom and Yolk’s secret hot sauce, Hot Dinners reports. The lunchtime menu will include a new range of sandwiches and salad boxes.

Hostel operator Safestay reports 60% rise in revenue to £6.5m: London-headquartered hostel operator Safestay has reported a 60% increase in total revenues to £6.5m for the six months to 30 June 2018 (2017: £4.1m). The company saw a 50% increase in hostels Ebitda to £2.4m (2017: £1.6m), while group Ebitda remained stable at £1.3m (2017: £1.3m). Safestay saw a loss before tax of £0.8m including £0.4m of exceptional costs (2017: loss before tax £0.4m after exceptional costs of £0.1m). The company said good demand had contributed to £2.6m of revenue. Group occupancy rose to 76.1% (2017: 71.6%), while UK hostel occupancy increased to 76.2% (2017: 71.6%) driven by particularly strong performances in London’s Holland Park and York. Safestay achieved 4% growth in UK revenues, held back by the impact of extension works at its site in Elephant and Castle, London, which are expected to complete in December. The company acquired six European hostels in the past 12 months, including 351-bed Hostel Barcelona, which it bought in March, with the full benefit of the acquisition expected in the second half of its financial year. Mainland Europe now represents 43% of Safestay’s bed stock and 43% of total turnover in the first six months of 2018. Operational efficiencies achieved in the UK will be extended into the European portfolio, while its 226-bed Paris hostel is due to complete at the end of 2019. Safestay chairman Larry Lipman said: “The group is performing to plan and the new hostels have been quick to integrate under the Safestay brand and operating structure. Alongside benefiting from the continuing growth in awareness and popularity of modern hostels, we have significant opportunities internally to increase returns from our young portfolio. Safestay is well positioned for further organic growth and to continue to pursue our acquisition programme.” Safestay currently operates 2,618 beds in ten properties in four European and three UK cities.

Ice hockey-focused dive bar FirePit Rocks launches in Sheffield: FirePit Rocks has launched in Sheffield with the owner claiming it is the UK’s first dive bar outside London. The venue in West Street focuses on ice hockey, with memorabilia from the sport decorating the walls and ice hockey games shown on screens in the bar. FirePit Rocks owner Rick Bailey said: “Ice hockey is a massive spectator sport in Sheffield and provides great family entertainment. We wanted to show our commitment to it and provide fans and players with their very own home from home. We’ve worked with teams to amass interesting and iconic memorabilia. The reaction has been fantastic so far.” Based on the American dive bar concept, FirePit Rocks offers screened sports, a soundtrack of indie, classic and college rock, quality drinks and casual dining via in-house smokers and barbecued food.

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