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Mon 14th Dec 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

SA Brain sale talk resurfaces: Speculation that Welsh brewer and retailer SA Brain was considering its options has resurfaced. The Sunday Times reported the Alistair Darby-led business, which has been owned by the same family since it was founded in 1882, had put itself up for sale after grappling with a slowdown in trading and rising costs. Propel Premium flagged up last month that the company was working with advisory firm Evercore in regards to its future funding options and, at one point, the possibility of buying the business was being floated under the noses of rival pub companies. Propel understands Evercore was appointed earlier this year and has been exploring a number of options to refinance the business. At the start of December, Darby called new alcohol rules in Wales “closure by stealth” and announced more than 100 managed pubs would be closed from 4 December. Brains said the majority of its 1,500 staff would be put on furlough to cover 80% of their wages. Darby told the BBC, the earlier “firebreak” cost it £1.6m. Welsh pubs and restaurants were banned from selling alcohol from 4 December and must close by 6pm. Earlier this spring, the Welsh brewer and retailer announced it was looking to sell a quarter of its circa 160 pubs as part of “a three-year plan to significantly grow the profitability of our business and to future-proof it for the benefit of generations to come”.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Star Pubs & Bars seeks experienced operator to take on pub set to benefit from £220,000 investment: With pubs in suburbs in great demand on the back of covid-19, and a planned £220,000 investment, The Ship Inn in Worsbrough, Barnsley, looks set to benefit. Keen to capitalise on the expected post-covid uplift, Star Pubs & Bars is seeking an experienced operator to take on The Ship Inn, a large community pub, currently closed due to covid-19. Providing good value, home-cooked food and positioning the pub at the heart of the community with regular weekly events and live sports will be central to the pub’s success. Investment manager Mike Smith said: “The demographics, size and location of the pub and its lack of similar competition in the same market segment ticked all our boxes. The investment will see the pub completely overhauled inside and out. In addition to the beer garden, a new patio will be added at the front to seat 50. Inside, the pub has three distinct seating areas surrounding a central bar, providing seating for 97. Although traditional in style, the pub’s look will be brought up to date with new carpets and TVs and nautical decorative touches throughout. A spacious three-bedroom flat above the pub will also be renovated as part of the investment.” Anyone interested in taking on the lease for The Ship Inn, which would be free-of-tie for food, spirits and wine, should click here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com

Peach Pubs co-founder fears closure for thousands of pubs as they face ‘torture of being forced to dismantle everything that makes us hospitable’: Jo Eames, co-founder of 19-strong pub company Peach Pubs fears thousands of pubs face “real” threat of closure amid the “torture of being forced to dismantle, inch by inch, everything that makes us hospitable”. She said: “There were just under 40,000 pubs [at the start of the pandemic] in the UK – down 22% since 2000, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Industry bodies now predict that more than 10,000 may never reopen. This year has been agonising for those who love and practise hospitality. Not merely financially – although the terror of losing everything, whether you are a pub tenant living over the shop with a young family, a fifth-generation family brewer, or (like me) the owner of a group of gastro-pubs built with a long-serving team over two decades – is real. Much worse is the torture of being forced to dismantle, inch by inch, everything that makes us hospitable. Every late-announced, badly communicated, ill-considered restriction is another sword-cut to hospitality’s body, until we are left like Monty Python’s Black Knight, limbless and impotent, roaring that we can still fight on, even when it’s so hopeless it’s funny.” Eames also told the Financial Times: “Well-meaning epidemiologists and scientists advising the government mean to kill the pub forever – but they’re doing it, with their dogged insistence on covid-19 deaths as the sole measure of gross national health condemning as collateral damage the places that contribute so much to gross national happiness. So, let me be clear to the government and its advisers. We can’t take it. The irony is that, during lockdown, the pub is the one place people have longed to return to. What will Britain be, without its pubs? They are disappearing and with them goes our shared culture, our simple, unplanned fun and our necessary relief on a Friday night. Oddly, there are few protests. Perhaps no one yet believes the situation is as bad as it looks. The government does not fully understand the political damage it will suffer as the chancellor quietly abandons his pledge to stand behind all good businesses, and beloved local pubs are destroyed by clumsy restrictions imposed for too long to be survivable without support. But things are as bad as they look. So I’m starting a protest here. One simple chant, to get prime minister Boris Johnson’s attention: ‘Hey, hey, hey, BJ, how many pubs did you kill today?’”

Gunewardena – let us trade until midnight on New Year’s Eve: D&D London chairman and chief executive Des Gunewardena has called for the prime minister to allow hospitality sites to trade until midnight on New Year’s Eve in the capital. London is currently in tier two restrictions meaning pubs, bars and restaurants must cease trading by 11pm but other operators are planning to celebrate at 10pm – assuming the capital has not moved to tier three restrictions by then. Gunewardena, chief executive of D&D London, which owns Le Pont de la Tour and Quaglino’s, said: “If Boris has got any sense he will allow people to trade to midnight. It’s just one hour and we will all want kick 2020 away.” Thomas Kochs, managing director at the Corinthia Hotel London in Whitehall, told the Evening Standard: “We are hosting celebrations both at Kerridge’s Bar & Grill with dinner and live music, and at The Northall with a black tie gala dinner. We will apply the principle of ‘resort time’ and will turn back our clocks by two hours, celebrating a new year moment at 10pm.” Simon Thomas, chief executive of the Hippodrome casino in Leicester Square, said its bars and restaurants would start celebrating new year from 10am, when it is midnight in Samoa. He said: “The Hippodrome will mark every midnight through to the UK’s own, two hours early, at 10pm. Now, more than ever, it’s important to come together and mark 2021 positively.” Sam Harrison, owner of Sam’s Riverside in Hammersmith, said: “We will be seeing customers away with a midnight pack – chocolate truffles and a cocktail to enjoy at home.”
 
COREcruitment – traditional corporate structures being scrapped in favour of cross-function senior teams, highlights latest executive salary levels: The pandemic has forced businesses to scrap traditional corporate structures in favour of senior leadership teams that can work cross-function, according to research by recruitment consultancy COREcruitment. The company has also highlighted the latest executive salary levels, with chief executives earning from £100,000 for small businesses, up to in excess of £250,000 at large companies. A COREcruitment spokeswoman said: “One trend we are seeing is the new thinking around business structure and team, with many businesses scrapping traditional job titles and corporate management structures in favour of collaborative senior leadership teams that can work cross-function and contribute to the business in a hands-on manor. We are also seeing great opportunities for site level management teams to step into more responsible positions, covering a cluster of businesses rather than one. Though there are fewer national level businesses in a position to recruit, the shifts in the market have allowed space for entrepreneurs and creative hybrid concepts that are directly meeting the changing needs of the market and have now had the opportunity to secure investment and funding for growth.” COREcruitment also said there has been a culture shift that has placed “more emphasis on employees’ talent, wellness and mental health and allowing less structured ways of working and managing people”, with the concept of working from home remaining permanent in some form. Areas showing growth include digital marketing, tech and in-house developers and finance. To view the salary checker, click here.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Lord – report shows Sage never even mentioned a meal restriction for wet-led pubs: Sacha Lord, night-time adviser for Greater Manchester and co-founder of Parklife and The Warehouse Project, has said that a government letter in response to his judicial review, shows “no evidence in support of the requirement to close wet pubs/the restriction on serving alcohol unless its with a main meal”. Lord began a judicial review into the legality of implementing emergency restrictions on Greater Manchester’s hospitality sector without scientific evidence in October. Led by Sam Karim QC, Sarah Clover and Leo Charalambides, of Kings Chambers, a pre-action letter was filed in relation to a proposed challenge to the reclassification of Greater Manchester from tier two to tier three in accordance with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local Covid-19 Alert Level) (Very High) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. Over the weekend, Lord tweeted he had received a response from the government, it read: “We’ve had a response from government. Legal team will update me shortly, but a couple of stand-outs: Sage confirmed the original tier system wasn't right. They also said they have carried out an Equality Impact Assessment report, but have decided not to share it. I can also confirm that the letter shows no evidence in support of the requirement to close wet pubs/the restriction on serving alcohol unless it’s with a main meal. The report shows Sage never even mentioned a meal restriction. A policy, not scientific decision.”

11pm curfew will lead to surge in illegal New Year’s Eve parties, warns NTIA: The 11pm curfew on sector businesses has led to the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) warning more than 5,000 illegal parties will take place over the new year weekend. The trade body said the situation could be exacerbated by the lack of planning by the government around New Year’s Eve and the subsequent closure of night-time economy businesses, which would normally manage huge crowds of people through the new year celebrations. It warned the ongoing restrictions have created an “increasing level of frustration and angst from people who have been socially starved for an elongated period of time”. Desperate for a release, many will turn to illegal parties to fill the void following the closure of night-time economy businesses at 11pm, one hour short of the end of 2020, the NTIA said. It warned that could create a fresh wave of covid-19 infections across the UK in January, with a potentially huge number of attendees mixing together in non-covid-safe environments. NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said: “There is a growing concern New Year’s Eve is going to culminate in social unrest and will see a substantial number of illegal parties and mass gatherings. The government needs to consider ways in which to manage this grave situation. People will want to celebrate the end of 2020 in their own way, ignoring the issue will not resolve what will be a significant car crash in every sense of the term. There needs to be some consideration given to the current restrictions on New Year’s Eve, and a unified message, urging people to consider the impact of their actions.” Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, has also warned keeping Manchester city centre’s hospitality industry locked down could backfire if people instead gather in homes and spread the virus.

Campaign for Pubs makes six demands of Alok Sharma to save thousands of pub families: The Campaign for Pubs, the grassroots campaign for publicans and pub-lovers, had made six demands of the government as many pub families face the loss of their businesses and even homelessness. Campaign for Pubs has written to business minister Alok Sharma to call for an urgent change of approach and policy to avoid a Christmas crisis for tens of thousands of pubs and pub families. The letter explains the dire situation is “simply not being understood or appreciated within the government” and that “successive policies have led to a widespread crisis for pub families just before Christmas”. The six key demands are: announce now what the situation will be for pubs from 16 December, review all the current questionable rules, drop the substantial meal rule, urgently announce a meaningful and adequate package of support for pubs, supermarket funds repaid must be used to support pubs and hospitality, and address issues and problems with the December grants for wet-led pubs. It explained wet-led pubs have been singled out for “especially harsh treatment” because they are expected to change their entire business model under tier two restrictions or remain closed. The Campaign for Pubs chairman Paul Crossman, who is also a licensee in York said: “The government either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the desperate situation facing pubs and the tens of thousands of people who rely on them for an income. The absurd tier two requirement for all pubs to provide a ‘substantial meal’ does nothing to make pubs safer. The current level of [financial] support is woefully inadequate and will lead to business failure and great hardship”. Dawn Hopkins, vice-chair of the group and licensee of the Rose, in Norwich, added: “Publicans up and down the country … have abided by the rules, changed how they do business, followed ever-increasing demands and spent thousands of pounds adapting so they can trade safely. Instead of being applauded for their efforts they are now facing severe hardship.”

‘Test and dine’ scheme put forward to allow diners to eat out in tier three city: Birmingham City Council is considering a “test and dine” scheme that could allow hospitality businesses to function under tier three restrictions. The scheme would see people who want to dine out tested for covid-19 a few hours before their meal and, if the test came back negative, they could go to a restaurant to eat. Council leader Ian Ward told a West Midlands covid-19 briefing: “We would allow them to be tested and provided the test was negative and the booking was within six hours of that test, they would be able to go and dine at that restaurant. We think this is a measure that could further help the hospitality sector. We would pilot it initially with a very small number of restaurants. If it worked, we would look to expand that, looking forward. It is a proposal we have put to government and we are awaiting a decision.” Meanwhile, West Midlands mayor Andy Street said he would fight for the region to be returned to tier two.

Tim Martin – ‘Sweden still doing far better than us’: JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has argued the results of Sweden’s covid-19 policies have been widely misunderstood. He said: “Whatever way you look at the numbers, Sweden’s no-lockdown strategy is working better than the UK’s approach. According to the Worldometer website, Sweden had 1,330 covid-19 fatalities from 1 November to 9 December, 2020. The UK had 16,011 fatalities during the same period. Adjusting for population, the Swedish fatality rate is just over half that of the UK during this period. In the last week of the period, to 9 December, the average fatality rate per day was 19 for Sweden and 410 for the UK. Adjusting for population, the Swedish fatality rate was less than a third of the UK’s. In fact, Sweden’s annual all-cause mortality rate in 2020 is in line with the past five years, adjusted for population growth – although the 2019 mortality rate, as has been widely reported, was unusually low. The Swedish outcome is not surprising since medical studies have long established lockdowns don’t work. As Dr David Nabarro, of the World Health Organisation, recently said: “We appeal to all world leaders to stop using lockdowns as your primary method of control as they have just one consequence that you must never belittle and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.” The government and Sage have tried to marginalise Sweden because it makes their ruinously expensive lockdown policies look absurd. Indeed, more than 600,000 jobs have already been lost in the hospitality sector alone – with many more set to be lost in the coming months. It is not clear why so many media organisations appear to support the government, by misreporting Sweden’s position.”
 
Pubs and restaurants in Scotland allowed to play music: Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to play music when they reopen, the Scottish government has confirmed. Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues will be allowed to play background music regardless of the level of restrictions imposed in the area. It comes as level four areas’ cafes and restaurants prepare for a limited reopening on Saturday (12 December). In level 3, restaurants, cafes and pubs will be allowed to open until 6pm but are barred from serving alcohol. Previously, the Scottish government had banned all background music from 14 August. 
 
Independent hospitality traders in west Kent pen open letter for further support in tier three: Independent hospitality traders in west Kent have come together to write an open letter to the government, proposing a seven-point plan to further support businesses during the county’s tier three restrictions. Penned by Alex Greig, owner of Fuggles Beer Cafe in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge, the letter has been co-signed by more than 30 operators in the area including Whiting & Hammond, Thackeray’s The Small Holding and I’ll be Mother. It asks for a more bespoke rescue package to save viable businesses and livelihoods, including grants that are representative of hospitality costs in tiers two and three, support for company directors, and the reinstatement of the Job Retention Bonus. Furthermore, an extension to the VAT reduction is called for, along with support for supply chains, and clarity on business rates in 2021. The letter, addressed to chancellor Rishi Sunak as well as business secretary Alok Sharma, is backed by local councillors. Greig requested “tailored and appropriate support for the industry”, which “has been under immense financial pressure since the covid-19 pandemic began”. He stated: “The businesses represented by this letter were all thriving, profitable businesses prior to this pandemic. Many of our suppliers are in a similar position – without us, they have no business, and many are seeing sales at 20% to 30% of last year’s levels. There is no reason at all to suggest we will not return to being profitable and prosperous when restrictions are finally lifted. However, for us to be able to contribute in the future and be a vital cog in the country’s economic recovery, we need investment and support now – the alternative is millions wasted, and a reduced income stream for the treasury to balance the books in the future.” Matthew Sankey, owner of Sankey’s in Tunbridge Wells, said: “While we understand and appreciate the need for tier three restrictions in certain parts of the county, the lack of meaningful government assistance to keep us afloat has put us all in dire straits, and will lead to widespread redundancies and closures if immediate action is not taken. We desperately need help, and we need it now.”

Indoor dining at New York City restaurants closes indefinitely: Dining indoors at restaurants in New York City will be closed indefinitely from Monday (14 December). The move comes as the hospitalisation rates tops 5,000 for covid-19 cases across the state for the first time in nine months. New York state governor Andrew Cuomo will still allow the sector to continue business through outdoor dining, deliveries and takeaways but added there is no timeline on reopening indoor dining rooms. Cuomo also suggested harsher lockdown measures may soon take place, and that if any of New York state’s regions hits 90% hospitalisation capacity during the weekend, he will impose a “red zone shutdown”, which would see non-essential businesses, schools and restaurant table service close in that particular region for an indefinite amount of time. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told NBC: “I feel tremendous empathy for restaurant owners, a lot of them are mom and pop businesses, we want them to survive. We need them to survive. At the same time, these numbers don't lie.” New York state’s contact tracing data showed 73.8% of covid-19 cases are caused by community spread via household and social gatherings, with 1.4% attributed to restaurants and bars. Cuomo has attributed part of this disparity in numbers to Thanksgiving in late November. Andrew Rigie, executive director of New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents the sector, said: “Governor Cuomo’s announcement to once again shut down indoor dining in New York city is at odds with the state’s own data that’s been presented as driving these decisions, and it will be the last straw for countless more restaurants and jobs.” Rigie said Manhattan has a covid-19 positivity rate of 2.7% while New York state counties such as Albany (7.2%), Westchester (6%) and Suffolk (6.1%) are higher but indoor dining remains open.

Pubs Matter campaign launched to save community pubs and highlight sector safety: Trade bodies have launched a campaign to highlight the importance of the sector to communities and why pubs must not be shut when they are a safe haven. Pubs Matter has the backing of the British Beer & Pub Association, British Institute of Innkeeping, the British Guild of Beer Writers, the Campaign for Real Ale, the Society of Independent Brewers, the Independent Family Brewers of Britain and UKHospitality – and pub-goers have started expressing their opinions too via social media and to MPs’ inboxes about why their pubs matter this Christmas. The cross-industry campaign has called on the government to relax restrictions on pubs ahead of the next tier announcement on Wednesday (16 December). The campaign puts a spotlight on pubs, taprooms, social clubs and hospitality venues that are at the centre of their communities and have been “disproportionately hit” by coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns despite the important role they play in looking after their regulars, providing local amenities, raising money for charities, and tackling loneliness and social isolation. Anyone who loves their local is encouraged to share why #PubsMatter to them on social media and contact their MP, using resources available at whypubsmatter.org.uk. A spokesperson for Pubs Matter said: “There has never been a more important time to send a clear message to politicians and the media that pubs matter. Despite the fact many publicans have spent thousands ensuring their pubs are covid-secure, hundreds are still unable to reopen under the current guidelines. This is not only hurting local businesses, but also the wellbeing of the people using them. Pubs need fair treatment and better financial support to get through the festive period.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking to speak to general managers for a fitness business. The business is based in London and the hiring team is considering a salary up to £60,000. The business is looking for a general manager who will have sole responsibility for the strategic development and commercial success of the site. The position will be responsible for the best standards of customer service as well as building, training and mentoring a growing team. The ideal candidate will have extensive fitness management experience and ideally additional hospitality or customer service experience. Anyone interested can email David@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

Company News:

Tokyo Industries opens second Impossible site with £3m investment: Tokyo Industries, led by entrepreneur Aaron Mellor, has made its biggest investment ever of £3m to open its second Impossible venue, in York. The Impossible WonderBar and Tea Rooms, which features a bar, restaurant and cafe and cocktail bar, opened at the weekend in the former Carluccio’s site in St Helen’s Square. The huge investment also includes the transformation of the site next door into a boutique 18-bedroom hotel with another restaurant inside that is slated to open in September 2021. The project will create 200 jobs when completed. A Tokyo Industries spokesman told The Press: “Impossible York brings a totally new drinking and dining experience to the city, set across its three floors in York’s St Helen’s Square. Located in the historical Terry’s of York building, Impossible York breathes new life into the incredible property, complete with ground-floor tea room and brasserie and opulent first-floor cocktail bar.” General manager of the site, Stephanie Powell, said: “This will include a restaurant bar and tea room – with a British-Bavarian food menu for the restaurant, and an exceptional tea room experience that uses local providers. As well as a beautifully crafted central island bar where classic cocktails have been rejuvenated with added flair.” Powell said more work would begin in January on building a new whisky lounge above the Impossible Wonderbar, and a secret speakeasy bar at the back of the site. There will also be two rooftop terraces overlooking York Minster. Tokyo Industries opened Impossible Manchester in 2017 in Peter Street.

Greene King chief executive – four-week Christmas closure would cost an average £5,000 per pub: Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said that the costs of closing and reopening would cost an average £5,000 per pub, plus significant additional ongoing costs, for a four-week Christmas closure, rising to £13,000 for three months. Greene King has 200 pubs in London, meaning a short shutdown could cost almost £1m. Mackenzie fears smaller pub businesses, and Greene King’s 1,000 tenants, could struggle to reopen. He told The Sunday Times: “December is the busiest time of year and it’s a chance to get some cash to see them through the quietest time of year, which is February.” He said that any move to put London into tier three restrictions should be accompanied by a further support package: “If [ministers] don’t do something, even big businesses are not going to be able to invest on the other side. They don’t seem to understand we are burning cash left, right and centre, which we then can’t invest in the future.” According to trade body UKHospitality, up to 160,000 jobs could be lost if London went into tier three. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive, told the newspaper the impact would be “catastrophic”. “In London, it would have a longer-term impact on business and consumer confidence returning,” she said.

Chopstix adds to franchise estate, makes pubs and dark kitchen debuts: Chopstix, the pan-Asian quick service restaurant concept, has added new franchisees to its business, including its first pub model and dark kitchen launch, Propel has learned. The business, which was founded by Sam Elia and Menashe Sadik, has linked up with the Jason Tudor-led, five-strong Great British Inns group, to launch a trial of the delivery concept. The first site to add Chopstix to its kitchen was the Three Trees in Bletchley, Milton Keynes. A second site under the new partnership is already under development. Propel understands Chopstix is in talks with a number of national pub companies about partnering on the delivery kitchen model. Great British Inns founder and director Jason Tudor said: “We are delighted with our partnership with Chopstix. The Chopstix dark kitchen has provided us with another delivery revenue stream in addition to our current food operations. It’s an amazing brand with great food that was easy to implement into our dormant kitchen space.” The group has also added two new locations with existing franchise partner Welcome Break, at Fleet Services (South) and Warwick Services (South). John Diviney, chief executive at Welcome Break, said: “Chopstix are a great partner and brand and have become a staple part of our portfolio. We are looking forward to extending our partnership further and opening more sites across our estate.” In addition, the group has opened its first pure dark kitchen with a new franchise partner in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, that is quickly becoming the group’s best performing delivery site. Chopstix managing director Jon Lake said: “We had been looking at opportunities to explore new revenue streams pre-covid, but that has now sped up this process. We are pleased with the initial trading that we have seen through the pub with Great British Inns and the dark kitchen in Burslem and hope to expand the concept over the coming months to more locations.”

Chilango – our goal is to have more sites than Barburrito before the end of 2021 and become larger than Tortilla before 2025: Sameer Rizvi, chairman of Mexican brand Chilango, has said the goal of the business and its new backer RD Capital Partners (RDCP), is to have more sites than Barburrito before the end of 2021 and become larger than Tortilla before 2025. Earlier this summer, the ten-strong Chilango was acquired out of administration by investment group RDCP, of which Rizvi is a co-founder, for £1m. It marked the first move into the hospitality industry for RDCP. In the investment firm’s annual update, Rivzi said: “The Chilango accelerated M&A was a highly competitive process, with more than ten bids made for the business. Although, our bid was the third highest, we negotiated a good deal with the secured creditors and officially became the approved buyer. The transaction completed within a month in August 2020. Chilango is one of the strongest brands in the UK hospitality sector. There is no question about it. In a ‘new normal’ of being stuck at home, no other food delivers as well as Mexican food. So why did the business get into trouble as the lockdowns started? The previous shareholders had funded growth with the wrong type of capital. They had also focused on growth and not profitable growth. They had made a number of poor decisions when it came to site selection and lease negotiation. In addition, the head office was unusually bloated for a business of this size. Fortunately for us, English law has allowed us to save all 130 jobs, leave all of the historical debt and liabilities with old company, acquire just the business and assets, and set up a new company. This means we have a strong operating business, all of the brand recognition and brand identity, renewed leases at favourable terms, a clean balance sheet with no debt, a trimmed head office and an extremely bright future.” He said that the growth strategy for Chilango is focused on two simple principles – “risk minimisation when it comes to site selection; we do this by getting Deliveroo data on area sales, as well as by testing a new location by firstly opening a very low capex ‘Vibrant Kitchen’, and reduction in investment required by focusing our site and Ebitda growth almost exclusively via the highest ROI sites, which are ‘Vibrant Kitchens’ and ‘Chilango Express’-style small-sized sites. I have no doubt Chilango could become the next Chipotle. This is my long-term vision for Chilango. As for my five-year vision, as a bare minimum, I want Chilango to become one of the three largest Mexican restaurant groups in the UK.”

Roadchef opens debut stand-alone Costa Coffee drive-thru site: Motorway services operator Roadchef has opened its first stand-alone Costa Coffee drive-thru site. Roadchef has opened the drive-thru at the Integra 61 development, just opposite the main services site, following a £500,000 investment. Additional investment has also been spent on a full rebuild for the existing Costa Coffee in Roadchef’s Durham services, as well as a total refurbishment of the WHSmith shop and the introduction of a McDonald’s drive-thru. In line with government guidelines, the Costa Coffee drive-thru will be open for takeaway only while Durham remains in tier three. Roadchef chief executive Mark Fox said: “We have a real confidence in the Durham area following our launch of the UK’s first and only McDonald’s drive-thru on the motorway here. Integra 61 is an exciting development to be a part of, and Costa Coffee is an ever-popular brand, so we are delighted to work with it to develop our first stand-alone Costa Coffee drive-thru unit.” A Costa Coffee spokesman added: “We’re delighted to be opening our first stand-alone Costa Coffee drive-thru store at Durham’s Integra 61. The drive-thru lane includes a bespoke serving hatch to support social distancing and we have enhanced hygiene measures in place to help serve customers as safely as possible.”

Unsecured creditors of Bristol-based restaurant group Aqua owed more than £1.3m: Unsecured creditors of Bristol-based Italian restaurant group Aqua, which went into administration last year, are owed more than £1.3m. A progress report by administrators Simon Rowe and Rachel Hotham, of Milsted Langdon, showed claims from 45 creditors totalling £1.04m had been received with claims from 64 creditors, whose debts total £334,000, yet to be received as per the company’s statement of affairs. Based on the present information, the administrators said they estimate the value of the company’s net floating charge to be £110,860. Arising from this, the value of the unsecured creditors’ fund is estimated to be just over £25,000. The report also showed secured creditor Barclays indebtedness had now been agreed at just over £1m and, to date, an interim payment of £85,000 has been made. Preferential claims from 66 employees totalling £6,700 have been received but yet to be agreed although preferential pension contributions of £536 have been agreed with The People’s Pension and paid by the Redundancy Payments Service. As previously reported, Aqua went into administration in April last year after “struggling to meet its repayments on a £1.5m loan to funds its expansion into the south east”. The company, founded by Richard Smithson in 1998, borrowed the money from Barclays as it built on its first two sites in Bristol. The sites in Milton Keynes, Lewes and Worthing were closed with the remaining four sites – two in Bristol and one each in Bath and Portishead – were sold in a pre-pack agreement to Smithson through a new company, Smithson & Sons, for £305,000. The company has no connection with Hong Kong-based Aqua Restaurant Group, the David Yeo-founded international restaurant business that operates more than 20 restaurants in London, Hong Kong and Beijing.
 
Costa Coffee launches books and treats Christmas giveaway: Costa Coffee has teamed up with charity The Reading Agency to give 100,000 books to families that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. The 50,000 book and care packages will include one adult book, one children’s book and a range of festive Costa Coffee treats that will be distributed to food banks, community hubs, hospitals and care homes across the UK, in time for Christmas Eve. The books in each Costa Coffee Gift-A-Book care package have been selected from the works of six best-selling authors connected to the Costa Book Awards, including Malorie Blackman, Candice Carty-Williams and Michael Morpurgo. Costa Coffee UK & Ireland managing director Neil Lake said: “Tradition is a big part of Christmas and, although this year will feel different for many people, we wanted to help some of those hardest-hit to create a new tradition inspired by this heart-warming custom of gifting books on Christmas Eve.” The Reading Agency chief executive Karen Napier added: “We have had an extraordinary response to the campaign. We are working towards a world where everyone is reading their way to a better life, and initiatives like this help our work towards giving every child and adult equal access to the joy of reading.”

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