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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 24th Feb 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

MOD Pizza highest restaurant and pub brand in best companies to work for list: MOD Pizza, the Sir Charles Dunstone-backed concept led by John Nelson, has been ranked the highest restaurant and pub brand on The Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies To Work For list 2020. MOD Pizza, which operates ten sites in the UK ranging from London to Gateshead, was listed 18th. The highest-ranked company in the hospitality sector as a whole was holiday park operator Verdant Leisure, which is backed by Palatine Private Equity. The Lancaster-headquartered company, which added Erigmore Estate in Perthshire to its portfolio this month for its tenth site, was ranked 13th. HIT Training, the national apprenticeship provider to the hospitality industry, was 17th on the list, while Indian restaurant brand Dishoom, which operates five London sites and one each in Edinburgh and Manchester, was 20th. Oakman Inns and Restaurants, the 24-strong business led by Peter Borg-Neal, was 27th, while Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group The New World Trading Company, which opened its 20th site earlier this month, was 30th. Flat Iron, the nine-strong “single steak” dining concept backed by private equity firm Piper, was 38th on the list, while Coaching Inn Group, which acquired its 17th venue earlier this month and is led by Kevin Charity, was 44th. Graphite Capital-backed steak restaurant group Hawksmoor was 46th, while Rick Stein Group was 55th. The company operates 11 restaurants, four shops, forty bedrooms, a pub and a cookery school. Rick Stein said: “The people make this business what is it today and I’m so pleased for everyone who has played a part in being recognised as one of The Sunday Times top UK employers.” Meanwhile gastro-pub operator Peach, which operates a 19-strong portfolio, was 64th and Mission Mars, the north west-based operator of fast-growing concepts such as Albert’s Schloss and Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, was 73rd. Scottish bar and restaurant operator Buzzworks Holdings was on the list for a fifth year in a row (98th), while Landmark London was the highest-ranked hotel (fourth). Brian Hladnik, managing director of Lancaster Landmark Hotel Company, said the accolade was thanks to its “robust people programme, its team and continual investment in their development”. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times Best 25 Big Companies To Work For list featured two hospitality firms – Bourne Leisure, which operates the Haven, Warner Leisure Hotels and Butlin’s brands, was ranked 11th, while 100-strong better burger brand Five Guys was 21st. On the Best 100 Small Companies To Work For list, Active Partners-backed craft brewer Northern Monk Brew Co was 49th.

Industry News:

Propel launches ground-breaking delivery conference, open for bookings: Propel has launched The Delivery Conference, which is open for bookings. The ground-breaking event, which takes place at Painters Hall in Little Trinity Lane, London, on Tuesday, 21 April, will cover all aspects of this fast-growing sector, offering expertise, ideas and insights. NPD Group foodservice director Dominic Allport will talk about the delivery market’s growth, key developing trends and where the sector goes from here. KAM Media managing director Katy Moses will reveal consumer perceptions of the market and how they use and interact with delivery operators. Robin Himmels, of Eatclever, will explain how the company has become one of the leading virtual delivery brand operators in Europe and how he sees this part of the market developing. Alasdair Murdoch, chief executive of Burger King UK, will talk to Mark Wingett about early adoption of delivery during his time at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, challenges and opportunities, and how delivery is working for Burger King. Just Eat UK head of strategic accounts Amy Heather, who leads the company’s relationships with QSR, casual dining and mid-market operators, will discuss major trends Just Eat is seeing, key things it has learned, and how it is using data and insights to help operators improve the delivery experience. AlixPartners US director Eric Dzwonczyk and UK counterpart Steve Braude will talk about the US delivery market and how it differs with our own. Susan Martindale, group HR director at Mitchells & Butlers, will look at building a delivery strategy for pubs, the company’s use of virtual brands and a possible move into dark kitchens. Richard Morris, chief executive of Tortilla, will reveal how delivery has forced an evolution of his business for the better. Wagamama’s Andre Johnstone will reveal how the brand has incorporated delivery and click and collect into its model and how it strikes a balance between in-store and digital sales. Deliveroo director of national accounts Matt Ring will talk to Propel insights editor Mark Wingett about how the business continues to innovate, its use of data to create virtual brands and the challenges it faces to stay ahead. Meanwhile, a panel featuring Macro Foods founder Kirsty-Lee Griffiths, Crosstown Doughnuts’ JP Then, Yard Sale Pizza founder Johnnie Tate, and Bababoom founder Eve Bugler will discuss launching, operating and growing in a delivery-focused world. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “Given delivery is one of the fastest-growing channels in the sector – and as its importance continues to rise – we are delighted to present this ground-breaking conference, which will allow operators to make the most of the opportunity delivery offers.” Tickets to the event cost £295 for Propel Premium members, £345 for operators and £395 for suppliers. Email

Business leaders survey highlights level of sector opposition to points-based immigration system: Business leaders in hospitality think the sector needs better support on immigration to avoid crippling labour shortages. CGA’s 2020 Business Leaders’ Survey revealed widespread concerns over a points-based immigration system amid calls for temporary visas to help fill vacancies in restaurants, pubs and bars. The survey, run in partnership with Fourth and conducted before the government’s plans were announced, revealed more than two-fifths (41%) of leaders think a points-based system for immigration would have a negative impact on hospitality – almost twice as many as those who think it would have a positive impact (21%). The poll confirmed fears the plans could make it harder to fill roles in an industry that heavily depends on overseas labour. More than three-quarters (77%) of business leaders think sectors struggling with labour shortages should be taken into consideration when setting criteria for potential workers – significantly higher than other factors such as language skills (56%), skilled work experience overseas (40%) and offers of employment (38%). The survey also revealed support for a system of temporary visas to ease pressure on labour shortages. Almost two-thirds (66%) of leaders thought a temporary visa should last for 24 or 36 months, while only 8% considered it wasn’t a viable solution. The results reinforce alarm across the industry over the impact of the government’s new immigration plans, which would see a points-based system brought in from January 2021. The proposals reduce the salary threshold for employing skilled workers from overseas but so far indicate no route into the UK for general low-skilled or temporary workers. CGA group chief executive Phil Tate said: “Our survey shows the strength of feeling about freedom of movement in our industry and should remind the government of the damage it could do to hospitality if these proposals go ahead.” Mike Shipley, vice-president of analytics at Fourth, added: “Given 53% of our industry’s workforce is made up of overseas workers, the new legislation is set to have a catastrophic impact on the available pool of pub, bar, hotel and restaurant workers.”

Casual Dining awards winners revealed: The nation’s best casual dining restaurants and pubs have been revealed at the Casual Dining Restaurant & Pub Awards 2020. The event took place at the London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square, with Dishoom, Loungers, The New World Trading Company and Wagamama picking up two accolades each. Azzurri Group was named Casual Dining Group Of The Year for the second time in a row. Loungers’ pair of accolades came as it scooped Employer Of The Year for the 50-plus venues category and Pub/Bar Brand Of The Year for 50-plus sites. Dishoom’s double saw it named Restaurant Brand Of The Year for between one and 19 sites and Best New Restaurant for its venue in Manchester. Employer Of The Year for up to 49 sites went to The New World Trading Company, which also won Best Designed Pub/Bar for The Florist in Watford. Wagamama won Restaurant Brand Of The Year for 51-plus sites along with the Menu Innovation accolade for 20-plus outlets. Best Family Dining Experience was scooped by Franco Manca, New Casual Dining Concept Of The Year went to Vardo, and Brand Marketing Of The Year was won by Nando’s. Pub/Bar Brand for between two and 49 sites was won by The Alchemist, with Restaurant Brand Of The Year for between 20 and 50 sites going to Caprice Holdings for The Ivy Collection. Inception Group took home the Best New Pub/Bar accolade for Cahoots Ticket Hall & Control Room, while Sustainable Operator went to Oakman Inns and Restaurants. The Menu Innovation award for between one and 19 sites went to Caravan, while Bill’s took home Best Designed Restaurant Of The Year for its site in Spinningfields, Manchester. Mowgli founder Nisha Katona received the Trailblazer Of The Year award – the only category nominated directly by the judges. Meanwhile, Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive and chairman of the Tourism Alliance, received the Casual Dining Special Award for her outstanding contribution to the casual dining sector.

Whisky and gin tax cuts can ‘lift UK’s spirits’, says think-tank: Cutting the duty paid on whisky and gin would boost the economy and “help family finances”, according to a report by think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). Nick King, head of business at the CPS, told The Sunday Telegraph: “The knock-on benefits of increasing exports, investment and customer satisfaction are great examples of the incredible impact a cut in spirits duty could have. The government should seriously examine the potential for a cut in spirits duty as part of the forthcoming alcohol duty review. In the meantime, the duty should – at the very least – be frozen.” The CPS report follows research carried out with the UK Spirits Alliance, for which a spokesman said: “Lowering spirits duty has proven to deliver more jobs, more cash for the Treasury and economic growth across the country. In his new role as he approaches his first Budget, the chancellor can show his support for this British success story by beginning to reduce the duty burden and backing our vital sector.”

Last orders at Lincolnshire pub that ‘inspired The Archers’: A Lincolnshire pub that claims to be the inspiration for BBC radio show The Archers has closed. Landlord John Smith has shut The Bull Inn in Rippingale, with the pub’s future remaining uncertain. Rippingale parish council chairman Chris Charlton told The Sunday Times: “We want the pub to reopen because it’s central to the community.” In a strange twist, a current storyline in the world’s longest-running soap opera sees the owners of The Bull in Ambridge advised to change its name to The B to attract a younger, trendier crowd. 

Job of the week: COREcruitment’s executive search team is supporting an international restaurant and retail business as it embarks on a period of regeneration and innovation. To support concept development as well as structural, service and product change, it is seeking a food and beverage director to join its executive team. The ideal individual will have significant restaurant and retail experience as well as a proven track record of creating, planning and rolling out emerging premium food concepts. Knowledge of high-end catering, fine dining and department store operations would be an asset. Salary is in the region of £150,000 with the addition of an extensive benefits and bonus. For further details, email with your up-to-date CV or profile.

Company News:

TRG looks to exit struggling retail parks: Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group (TRG), is set to announce drastic cuts to its Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito brands this week in his first major strategy update since joining in August, The Mail On Sunday reports. Many sites are thought to be in retail parks, with options including converting them to Wagamama or ending leases as they come up for renewal. It has set targets to leave half the remaining sites when leases come up for renewal or have a break clause, the newspaper said. A third of its leisure portfolio – primarily Frankie & Benny’s sites – have been identified as “structurally unattractive” and are earmarked for closure. This week’s update from Hornby is expected to accelerate the process of slimming down its dining brands as he battles to return the group to profit. Analysts expect full-year 2019 profits before tax of £74.7m but after exceptional costs they predict an overall loss. TRG shares are down 40% since the start of 2018, closing at £1.29 on Friday. The group has already cut its leisure dining sites from 368 to 352 as its fights for customers in an overcrowded market. However, it’s also thought Hornby will announce plans for expansion in the US, where Wagamama has five sites, following a strategic review. Earlier this month, Propel revealed Jacqui McManus had joined TRG as people director of its leisure division. McManus was previously culture and people development director at TGI Friday’s UK, a role she held for seven years. TRG also added virtual pie-based delivery brand PIE (Guys) to its Frankie & Benny’s estate earlier this month. TRG has launched a number of virtual delivery brands over the past year through its restaurant estate and out of dark kitchens. 

The Coconut Tree eyes expansion: Sri Lankan street food operator The Coconut Tree is looking to expand, Propel has learned. The Coconut Tree is understood to be working with agent Fleurets as it looks to add to its six-strong estate, with Birmingham, Exeter and Reading thought to be its main targets. The Coconut Tree is also believed to be interested in opening in Brighton, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester. The company is understood to be seeking freehold or leasehold sites of between 1,750 and 4,000 square feet with a maximum rent of £55,000 per annum. Split-level properties would be considered, with an external area preferred. The Coconut Tree was founded in 2016 by five Sri Lankan friends living in Cheltenham – Praveen Thanginah, Dan Fernando and Shamil Fernando, who oversee the food, financial director Mithra Fernando, and operations director Rodrigo Rashinthe. The company operates two sites in Bristol and one each in Bournemouth, Cheltenham, Cardiff and Oxford. 

Buy & Bite snaps up third site: Healthy Japanese concept Buy & Bite has snapped up its third site – hot on the heels of opening its second outlet in the capital. Buy & Bite will open the outlet in Tottenham Street, Fitzrovia, in the spring. It has signed a new lease on the 1,356 square foot premises following a deal brokered by agent Restaurant Property. Taiwanese-based food specialist Han Dian founded Buy & Bite in 2018, with its debut site in Paul Street, Shoreditch. It has just opened its second site, in Cowcross Street, Farringdon. The concept serves omurice (fried rice wrapped in an egg omelette) as well as noodles, bao burgers and Taiwanese sausage. It also features a tea bar serving ginger, green ice, hot and fruit ice tea. Gabriella Sether, a surveyor at Restaurant Property, said: “We are delighted to have helped Buy & Bite with its expansion into yet another part of London and, as its sole agent, we look forward to working with it on future launches as the brand expands across the city.”

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele opens second London site, at former Patisserie Valerie in Soho: L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, the oldest pizzeria in Italy, has doubled its presence in London by opening a site in Soho. The restaurant has launched at the former Patisserie Valerie cafe in Old Compton Street. As at its Marylebone sister site, the Soho restaurant focuses on Neapolitan pizza including its Gold Pizza, which features shellfish bisque, caviar and lobster medallions covered with 24-carat gold leaf. The brand also offers pasta, salads, sides and desserts alongside seafood dishes. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele was founded in Naples in 1870. The site in Old Compton Street was one of 27 loss-making Patisserie Valerie stores closed by the joint administrators of Patisserie Holdings in January 2019.

JD Wetherspoon buys former department store in Hamilton: JD Wetherspoon has bought the former Bairds department store in the Scottish town of Hamilton (population 54,000). The property has lain empty since closing in 2014 and Wetherspoon’s plans to turn it into a pub have advanced after South Lanarkshire Council approved the sale in February last year. Wetherspoon, which will spend about £2.5m on the development, has also acquired planning permission and licensing for the site but still needs to receive a building warrant before work can take place. The opening of the pub, which would have capacity for almost 900 people and feature terraces on the ground and first floors, would create 70 jobs. Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon told the Daily Record: “We are delighted to have purchased the former Bairds department store. It is another huge step forward in the company developing the site into a Wetherspoon pub.” Meanwhile, Wetherspoon has had its plans to expand its pub in Bingley, West Yorkshire, approved. Bradford Council has granted permission for the company to change the use of a former NatWest branch in Main Street into a 1,130 square foot extension of its pub The Myrtle Grove. The work, which the company said would cost about £1m, would also include the first floor of the vacant bank being demolished to make way for a 1,300 square foot beer garden and roof terrace, reports the Telegraph & Argus.

Storm Dennis to cost Sat Bains £50,000 despite flood defence work: Michelin-starred chef Sat Bains has said flooding that caused his eponymous restaurant in Nottingham to close has cost his business about £50,000, despite spending £10,000 on flood defences 20 years ago. Bains was unable to open his two Michelin-starred restaurant on Wednesday and Thursday last week after Storm Dennis caused the nearby river Trent to overflow, making the lane leading to the venue impassable. Bains told Harden’s: “There’s a dip in the road and the water is about four foot deep for about twenty feet. It’s a nightmare – but it’s nature.” The restaurant flooded in 2000 following extreme weather and underwent a £500,000 refurbishment, with £10,000 spent on flood defences. Meanwhile, the owner of Rushden Lakes in Northamptonshire is planning a “temporary fix” that will allow operators to reopen two weeks after its leisure terrace closed following damage caused by Storm Ciara. The terrace, which launched less than a year ago, has been closed since cladding was pulled loose by gale-force winds on Sunday, 9 February. Blue Mountain Yard, Cineworld, Five Guys, Flip Out, Greggs, Heavenly Desserts, Hopmaster, Nando’s, Paradise Island Adventure Golf, Rock Up, Starbucks, TGI Friday’s and Zizzi remain closed “until further notice”. Restaurant Lago Lounge has had to halt its launch date twice because it is on the end of the leisure terrace. The rest of Rushden Lakes’ stores and restaurants are open as normal.

Staffordshire-based baker Wrights moves for healthy options as it opens first cafe since losing four stores to franchisee: Staffordshire-based baker Wrights has opened a cafe, its first site since losing four stores to a franchisee. The cafe has opened in the former Bee Jay Discounts store in King Street, Kidsgrove, only a month after its previous venue in the town and other shops in Chesterton, Hanford and Biddulph closed before reopening with existing staff under the name Woods Catering. Wrights operations manager Julie Brereton told Stoke-on-Trent Live: “Woods was the franchisee of the stores and chose to end its agreement on the shops in Hanford, Chesterton, Biddulph and Kidsgrove. We thought it was really important to keep Wrights in Kidsgrove because it’s a local name we need to keep in Staffordshire. The new location is great, especially the easy pull-in parking. It makes the store accessible and easy for a lot of people to pop in and out. We’d love to have more Wrights branches in similar locations. We’re always looking to expand and have plans to open at least three or four shops this year.” The cafe element is also part of Wrights’ move to dispel its image of being an “unhealthy takeaway”. The revamped menu features a number of healthy options including skinny soup, salads, wraps and oatcakes.

Cafe bar concept MacKenzies takes over Taunton town centre pub for third site: Cafe bar concept MacKenzies has taken over a pub in Taunton town centre for its third site. The brand, led by Gael MacKenzie, has taken on grade II-listed The Winchester Arms in Castle Green, which was put up for sale for £500,000 at the end of 2019. MacKenzie told the Somerset County Gazette: We will invest significantly to produce something that complements Castle Green. Following an extensive refurbishment, we aim to open this summer and become a firm fixture on the Taunton food and drink scene.” Michael Easton, of agent JLL, who brokered the deal, added: “The Winchester Arms is an impressive site in the historic centre of Taunton. We look forward to seeing MacKenzies become a popular fixture on Taunton’s cafe scene. The market in Somerset in this sector has generally responded positively during the past couple of months.” The other MacKenzies sites are in Bristol and Swindon.

North Yorkshire-based operators to open shared dining concept in Leeds for second venture: Former Dakota Deluxe operations manager John Quinlan and ex-D&D London executive chef Lee Murdoch are to open their second venture in North Yorkshire. The duo will launch shared dining concept Farrands in Leeds on Saturday, 29 February. The 48-cover venue in Swinegate will feature a veranda to offer an inside/outside dining experience. Murdoch told The Business Desk: “The menu will change often based on seasonal ingredients available. We are all about shared small plates paired with wine and cocktails. As a chef, this is the perfect opportunity to be creative and I know the people of Leeds will embrace the opportunity to share, socialise and enjoy.” Quinlan and Murdoch launched gastro-pub Three’s A Crowd in Harrogate last year backed by Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars.

Climbing window experience to launch on 25th floor of London skyscraper this summer: A climbing window experience is set to launch in the City of London this summer. The climbing “wall” will be on the 25th floor of the City’s latest skyscraper, 22 Bishopsgate, and will be the first such experience in the capital. The holds will be on the inside of the windows providing epic views across the city and the feeling of scaling a skyscraper without the “danger and risk of death”, London On The Inside reports. As previously reported by Propel, the building will also house a restaurant, bar, lounge, gym, wellness space, viewing gallery and a 20,000 square foot food market run by experience brand and events caterer Rhubarb and grass-roots champion the Young British Foodies (YBF). The Market will be run in partnership with building owners and developers AXA IM – Real Assets. Occupying communal spaces across the second floor of 22 Bishopsgate, The Market will include a restaurant and adjoining terrace, a wine bar, and a rotating selection of food and drink offerings in street food-style kiosks. The 450-cover market will also house an events space for talks, music and private events. While The Market will only be accessible to the 22 Bishopsgate community during the day, it will open to the public outside business hours and on Saturdays. It will also offer food and catering services to the 12,000 occupants in the “vertical village” development. YBF will source operators for the kiosk elements of The Market, working with “stars of the future”, while Rhubarb will oversee the wider culinary offering and venue management.

Braintree-based restaurateur to open toast-focused coffee shop for second site: Braintree-based restaurateur Rob Ely is set to launch a toast-focused coffee shop for his second site in the Essex town. Ely will launch the venture with Dan Pearson and Louis McNamee at 64 High Street, a stone’s throw from his award-winning restaurant, The Chophouse. The new venue will focus on toast alongside more than 100 spreads and toppings. Hot and cold drinks and toasties will also be available. Ely told the Daily Gazette: “A considerable amount has been spent getting the shop to a high standard and we hope to be at the heart of the town’s rejuvenation. Yes it’s another coffee shop but it’s next to a Costa, which often sees queues out the door so there’s clearly a demand. We acknowledge the idea is new and to many a bit bizarre but how often have we seen a simple idea and kicked ourselves we didn’t think of it? We hope this is the case otherwise we’ll be known as the idiots who tried to set up a toast shop in Braintree.” Ely is also chairman of the Braintree Town Partnership, which is calling for the town centre to be pedestrianised to turn it into a destination for visitors to eat, drink and socialise.

Bristol-based chocolate cafe opens second site, in Bath: Bristol-based chocolate cafe Mrs Potts Chocolate House has opened a second site, in Bath. Owners Michael and Jennifer Potts have launched the venue in York Street overlooking Bath Abbey. The site spans three floors with the kitchen on the top level, which will also be used for chocolate-making masterclasses from next month. Michael Potts told Bristol Live: “We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from customers to our first store in Bristol and excited to bring Mrs Potts Chocolate House to the historic city of Bath.” The concept is a contemporary take on the original English chocolate houses of the 17th century. The menu offers chocolate cake, brownies, cookies and cookie sandwiches as well as a selection of chocolate-based drinks. The Potts launched the concept in Park Street, Bristol, in 2017.

Bizimply creates NLW calculator: Workforce management company Bizimply has created a calculator to help operators work out the cost of the National Living Wage (NLW) increase to their business. Operators can download a free spreadsheet from the Bizimply website and populate it with each employee’s date of birth and current hourly wage. This will show whether a pay increase is due in April and, if so, by how much. Existing Bizimply customers can transfer all the information from current employee files. The NLW is set to rise by 6.2% in April – from £8.21 to £8.72 an hour for over-25s, and from £7.70 to £8.20 for those aged 21 to 24. Bizimply chief executive Conor Shaw said: “The increase in NLW is going to have a massive impact on hospitality businesses but working out exactly what that will be can be complex and time-consuming, especially for multi-site operators. That’s why we’ve created this simple calculator, which makes it easy for operators to see how much their wage bill will rise in April.”

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