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Tue 16th Mar 2021 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Nightcap looking to build a 150-strong business of three to four brands: Listed bar operator Nightcap, which owns London Cocktail Club (LCC), is looking to build a business of up to 150 sites through the acquisition of three or four brands that are hindered by the current need to restructure their balance sheets. Speaking at the Propel Multi Club conference, Sarah Willingham, chief executive of Nightcap, said: “There is an unprecedented opportunity for businesses where the founders’ equity is underwater and the [investor] funds might need to get out. A restructure of their balance sheets is needed and we think we could be the home where these companies start on that path.” Willingham said by having these brands on a firm footing within Nightcap, with access to funding for growth, there is an opportunity for them to take advantage of the inevitable property shakedown. She said target companies will be solid businesses with great people that are ideally founder-led. She added: “These will be great businesses but with no opportunity to grow. It could be 18 months before they sort out their balance sheets but by then they’ll have missed the opportunity.” The first acquisition into Nightcap will likely be the size of LCC – that comprises ten outlets – although it could be double the size. The plan is to leave them as separate businesses and let them roll-out the concept. “There could be some sharing of things like HR resources but I see the synergies mainly coming from purchasing goods,” said Willingham. Meanwhile, the strategy is to also grow LCC. Willingham said: “We’ve got nine in London so we see more opportunity outside London at the moment. We plan to open them in clusters around the UK. We’ve built LCC safely with hardly any debt and it has a reliable and replicable model so we can now put the accelerator down. We’re excited about opening bars all around the UK. When we open in Stoke, where I’m from, I will know we have a national brand.” Propel Premium subscribers will receive access to the video of the Propel Multi Club conference featuring Willingham and other industry leaders from Wednesday (17 March). They should email now to receive an access code on Wednesday to view the conference. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. To sign up, email

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Flow Learning offers free Road to Recovery learning resources: Flow Learning is offering its new Road to Recovery learning resources modules free to Propel subscribers, to offer to their teams to help maximise and streamline their trading when they are able to reopen. In a recent survey conducted by Flow Learning, it was revealed the biggest concerns for leaders around the mass onboarding of new team members is maintaining product quality and delivery, closely followed by the potential negative impact on guest experience and then concern around the short timescale to prepare teams to relaunch. To prepare for these challenges, more than 70% of respondents said they were renewing training materials. In response to this survey, Flow Learning said it was helping sector companies get back on their feet with free access to new content, even if they are using another learning management solution. These resources cover conflict resolution, revenue maximisation, service excellence with covid restrictions and increasing delivery and takeaway efficiencies. To request access to these new resources, click here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email
Flow Learning is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Propel Premium subscribers to receive access to Propel Multi Club Conference video on Wednesday: Propel Premium subscribers will receive access on Wednesday (17 March) to the video of the first Propel Multi Club Conference of the year. Premium subscribers should email now to receive their code on Wednesday to view the conference. Speakers include Graeme Smith, managing director at AlixPartners; Dan Warne, founder of Sessions Market; Yishay Malkov, chief executive of Various Eateries; Victor Lugger, co-founder of the Big Mamma Group; Alex Reilley, chairman of Loungers; Salima Vellani, founder of host kitchen business KBox Global; Philip Turner, founder and chief executive of Chestnut Group; Neat Burger co-founder and head of operations Stasi Nychas; and Sarah Willingham, chief executive of bar company Nightcap. There are also two panel sessions. Fledgling concepts talk about evolving and growing in a covid-impacted world featuring Grace Regan, founder of SpiceBox; Carla Casadei, founder of Young Vegans; Oliver Hyde, founder of Flour Pot; Morten Jensen, founder of Light Bar & Market; and Marco Reick, director at Qoot. Meanwhile, leading sector players look at what comes next for the industry featuring Simon Wilkinson, chief executive of Byron; Steve Holmes, chief executive of Azzurri Group; Zoe Bowley, managing director of PizzaExpress; and Dermot King, chief executive of Oakman Inns. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. Propel is also to improve its service for Premium subscribers by publishing a monthly updated list of multi-site operators – with a standalone report. The new multi-site list will be sent to subscribers at the end of each month with a report on new companies and changes in the list. A refreshed list of circa 1,600 companies will be sent out to all Premium subscribers at the end of March. It provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different, and what each business specialises in. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. The list will then be updated at the end of each month. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email

Food brands need a physical presence: Virtual foodservice brands created purely for digital channels by corporate entities have been dismissed by a former senior executive of Deliveroo. Speaking at the Propel Multi Club conference, Dan Warne, founder of Sessions Market and former Deliveroo UK & Ireland managing director, said he was very much in favour of using spare kitchen capacity, including dark kitchens, but believes brands should have a physical presence “with real-world founders, with real passion for their brand” who are able to share their stories. Warne said this thinking is being used within his Sessions Market business that operates Shelter Hall food market in Brighton and is forming partnerships with property owners to develop food halls that house, and help incubate, early-stage food concepts. After opening Shelter Hall in July last year, lockdowns meant Warne moved quicker than planned on digital developments and recognised the need to scale the brands over other channels. He said: “The obvious route was to use kitchen capacity [like Deliveroo Editions], which can boost efficiency and enable the scaling-up of the fledgling Shelter Hall brands.” Warne said that values the fact the brands have a physical presence and believes market halls will play a big role housing new hospitality brands in the future. He said: “I noticed at Deliveroo commoditised brands can do well as people know them. These brands will therefore become more prevalent online so the high street will become more experiential, more immersive, and social. Food markets embody this – you can see the founders, hear their story, there’s lots of choice, and you don’t need to book.” As well as opening its own food halls, Warne highlighted how Sessions Market can “place make for developers” – through joint-ventures or with a capital contribution – as it can drive footfall. This model has been adopted with a partner on a site in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. Although Warne said the appeal of food markets was already “pronounced” ahead of covid-19, he suggested it has brought the demand levels forward and forecasts the opening of many community-based halls across the UK with a combined food and beverage and entertainment proposition. Propel Premium subscribers will receive access to the video of the Propel Multi Club conference featuring Warne and other industry leaders from Wednesday (17 March). They should email now to receive an access code on Wednesday to view the conference. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. To sign up, email

Mark Warburton – hype around pent-up demand for hospitality ‘should not be taken for granted’: The hype around pent-up demand for hospitality should not take it for granted and the industry “needs to be on top of our game”, Mark Warburton, managing director of West Country-based The OHH Pub Company, has warned. He added the company has heavily invested in its four-strong estate as it prepares for reopening and vowed to return “better than ever”. He said: “A few people look at me and think I’m bonkers for spending money having been through the trauma of the past 12 months. But little old me and my wonderful people will be back next month, better than ever. We have lost a small fortune and our balance sheet has taken a dent, but in 12 months we have not made a single redundancy, created four new roles and heavily invested in all of our sites. We have just commenced the construction of our second outdoor bar and wood-fired pizza oven in the group. We continue to refresh all of our 32 bedrooms and we are now cleansing our pubs ready for 12 April. I know there is hype around pent-up demand for hospitality but we should not take it for granted. We need to be on top of our game and not be complacent. I’ve always been led by my gut and I have a good feeling about our investments in our assets, systems, and some of the best people in the business. The next 36 months will see OHH back on the acquisition trail and I for one finally feel really positive about the future.”

Pub companies reveal outdoor reopening plans in England: Pub companies have revealed their plans for reopening outdoor areas in England next month. JD Wetherspoon has unveiled a seven-point plan, which includes customers being able to come into the pub to use the toilet – or if it is the only way to reach the outdoor area. In and out routes will be marked for those customers entering and leaving the pub, while test and trace will be in operation – as it was last time pubs were open. The company, which runs almost 900 pubs across the UK and Ireland, will encourage customers to use its app to place orders, though customers can still pay via a member of staff. There will be a slightly reduced menu that will still include breakfast options, burgers, pizza, deli deals, fish and chips and British classics. But customers will not be able to book places ahead of their visit – Wetherspoon will instead opt for a first-come-first serve policy. Meanwhile, Mitchells & Butlers has slammed the government's decision to keep pubs closed until 12 April, describing the evidence behind the decision as “flimsy”. But it plans to open up to 300 pubs in England on that date. A spokesman told the Mail: “These plans assume we will have normal April weather – needless to say we have all fingers crossed for a spell of fine weather, in which case we may be able to open more pubs which we'd love to do. In pubs which do reopen, we'll be encouraging customers to use apps to both pre-book and then to order from their table.” Brewer and retailer Greene King plans to reopen 442 of its managed pubs outdoors in England from 12 April. Greene King Pub Partners tenants, who make up a further 875 pubs across England, will also be deciding on an individual basis whether to reopen their outdoor areas from that date, the company said. A Greene King spokesman told the Mail: “Sadly, we can only open around a third of our estate in April where we have outdoor space that will work and have a chance of being viable, but we know the vital role pubs play in communities and feel it's important to open as many as we can to help people get back together once again.”

Estimated 2,000 pubs shut permanently a year on from start of pandemic, £8.2bn in beer sales wiped out: An estimated 2,000 pubs have shut permanently since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has revealed. It said £8.2bn in trade value has been wiped out from the sector in beer sales alone, with 2.1 billion pints lost due to a full year of either forced closure, or trading under severe restrictions. While the BBPA has welcomed continued support for the sector in the most recent Budget, in the form of £2bn worth of measures including grants and furlough support, it stated longer-term investment in the sector was still needed. It also expressed concern for wet-led pubs who would not be able to take advantage of the VAT cut for hospitality, which only applied to food, soft drinks and accommodation, and urged the government to provide more support for these community pubs. The BBPA said it was now all the more important pubs can operate without restrictions from 21 June as stated in the government’s roadmap for reopening, to aid with their recovery and the economic fightback after the virus. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “Our sector has been devastated by covid-19 and the lockdowns. It has been a year to forget for the British pub. Sadly, we still haven’t seen the full extent of the damage yet and won't do for some time until things really do go back to normal. And by normal, I mean a return to what life was like pre-covid.”

Further financial support still needed for Welsh sector business despite new grants, says UKHospitality Cymru: Further financial support will still be needed for Welsh hospitality businesses while they remain shut despite new grants for small and medium-size sector companies, UKHospitality Cymru has said. The additional support will help eligible closed businesses with their costs up to 31 March. Those with a rateable value of £12,000 or less will receive an extra £4,000 grant payment and firms with a rateable value of between £12,001 and £500,000 will receive £5,000. UKHospitality Cymru executive director David Chapman said: “The best support we could receive would be the ability to reopen. It was vital, while businesses are forced to remain closed, they received this support. It will help our pubs, cafes and restaurants and also our smaller hotels across Wales. With things so precarious, we could always do with more but it is great the Welsh government has listened to us. It comes on top of the job-supporting Economic Resilience Sector Specific Fund, which has been a boon for our stricken larger businesses. It will help get them through to the end of the financial year. However, as we now know, most of our businesses will still be closed into April, so we are already back in negotiations for a further extension to these funds to help them until viable trading is re-established. Remember, reopening is bound to be come with restrictions like social distancing which means viability is a long way off. So, it really is vital we get these businesses open as quickly as possible.”

British Airways prepares digital vaccine passports for passengers: British Airways has proposed implementing coronavirus vaccine passports to help passengers travel abroad easily as optimism grows about the people in the UK being able to take foreign holidays. The airline’s plan involves customers who have had two vaccine injections to register their status by uploading details on its smartphone app. Chief executive Sean Doyle told Metro: “For us, it’s quite simple. I think people who’ve been vaccinated should be able to travel without restriction, and those who have not been vaccinated should be able to travel with a negative test result.” Under the government’s roadmap rules, foreign travel won’t be allowed until 17 May at the earliest. It is thought BA’s passport system will be ready in time for the rule change. 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is supporting an entrepreneurial food retail, restaurant and cafe concept that is looking for a managing director/chief executive. The founder has been pushing growth, exploring and developing new channels to grow the product brand. The business is supported by a very experienced board and a passionate and committed team. The concept is a quality, artisanal offer with a strong focus on sustainability and, from a people point of view, an emphasis on encouraging innovation and creativity. As well as growing the retail offer, the business is keen to scale physical locations outside of London and across the UK. A salary of between £130,000 and £200,000 is being considered plus an equity stake. Anyone interested can email for a confidential chat.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Qoot Restaurant Group among investor group that agrees to buy By Chloe out of bankruptcy but won’t get to use name: Qoot Restaurant Group, which operates a number of fast-growing brands in London, is among a group of investors that has agreed to acquire plant-based concept By Chloe out of bankruptcy, although they won’t get to use the name. By Chloe’s parent company, BC Hospitality Group, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, citing the impact of the pandemic. The company has for the past several years also been involved in a legal tangle with one of the concept’s co-founders, celebrity vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli, who left the company in 2016 and has fought to prevent the use of her name with the concept. The group of buyers, which also includes Bain Capital Double Impact Fund, Kitchen Fund, Lion Capital and Simple Capital Management, agreed to pay $333,000 and assume debts for By Chloe, which before the pandemic had grown to 14 sites in the US, Toronto and London. The investors had already provided $3.25m in bankruptcy financing to enable the company to continue operating. Under terms of the acquisition agreement, the new owners would be allowed to continue using the By Chloe name for up to six months during the transition to a different name, which has not yet been disclosed. The judge in the case ruled BC Hospitality’s ownership of the By Chloe trademark was “significantly restricted” and could not be sold to another party because the sale would reduce Coscarelli’s ability to protect her interest in the name.

Immersive concept based on Monopoly board game lines up UK debut site: A new immersive concept based on the popular board game Monopoly is set to launch in central London, with a site lined up in Fitzrovia, Propel understands. Hasbro announced last year it had entered into a partnership with new company Gamepath to adapt the board game brand into a fully immersive event. The Monopoly experience will incorporate just 75 minutes of challenges and activities, which teams must race to complete in order to move across the board and buy up their property. Propel understands the companies have lined up the ex-Paperchase site at 213-215 Tottenham Court Road for the first location for the concept, which is set to launch later this year. Speaking last year, David Hutchinson, chief executive of Sellador Worldwide, parent company of Gamepath, said: “We're delighted to launch our new company, Gamepath, dedicated to developing and producing experiential productions in partnership with leading global brands. The gaming sector is a huge industry, and by working alongside household brands developing them into innovative, dynamic live gaming experiences – we're hoping we can bring a whole host of new audiences to live performance who want to consume entertainment in a different way.”

Whitbread to hit 1,000 room milestone for Premier Plus: Whitbread has said it will reach the 1,000 milestone for its number of Premier Plus rooms by the first half of the year. More rooms are being converted into the enhanced concept while “many more” are planned for the future. The premium Premier Plus rooms feature amenities such as a rainfall shower with luxury toiletries, mini-fridge with complimentary water, and “ultimate” Wi-Fi. The rooms will be available in many new hotels opening over the next six months, including London Tooting and Premier Inn’s upcoming opening in Oxford city centre, as well as converting existing standard rooms to the new style in a variety of locations such as Inverness, Kendal and Plymouth. Simon Ewins, managing director, Premier Inn UK, said: “At Premier Inn we know choice is important for our guests, so we’re delighted to give guests more choices when it comes to their room.”

BrewDog opens debut India site: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has opened its debut site in India. The company has opened the brewpub in Kamala Mills in Mumbai, which is operated by its franchise partner Ace-Aloha Group. It marks BrewDog’s 108th bar globally. The 4,500 square foot split-level taproom offers more than 20 different craft beers on tap as well as a food menu that features BrewDog staples such as sweet and spicy chicken wings and batter-fried cauliflower wings alongside Indian-inspired dishes including browned garlic chicken tikka, kung pao chicken, and paneer and butter chicken naan bombs. A further five BrewDog bars are set to open in India – in Pune, Gurgaon (two sites), Bengaluru and another in Mumbai.

Bristol-based Scarlett Pub Company set to take on third site: Bristol-based Scarlett Pub Company is set to open its third site in the city. The company, which was founded in 2012 and is owned by Alex Major, has secured the Butcher’s Hook pub in the Thornbury area of the city. The company also operates the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer (The Volley) in the city’s King Street and the Nettle & Rye in Clifton.

Nando’s strengthens management team: Nando’s has strengthened the management team of its UK & Ireland business with the appointment of Trudi Van Niekerk to the new role of chief operating officer, and Sarah Warby as chief customer officer. Van Niekerk spent the past four years leading Nando’s licensed markets and will join the leadership team, reporting to Colin Hill, the brand’s chief executive of UK & Ireland. Warby was previously chief executive of Lovehoney and is a current non-executive director of the Moneysupermarket Group. She was also previously innovation director at Scottish & Newcastle, marketing director at Heineken and marketing director at Sainsbury’s. Hill said: “Trudi joins us after leading Nando’s licensed markets for the past four years to take up a newly created role within the Nando’s UK & Ireland leadership team. After an immersion in the business and market she will lead the team on our journey from restaurant business to truly multi-channel restaurant brand while continuing to nurture the flame that has made Nando’s culture so special. With the appointment of Trudi in this role alongside that of Sarah Warby, who recently joined as chief customer officer, I am confident we have the right leadership team to lead us through the next exciting chapter of our growth.”
Freehold of ‘Lincoln institution’ The Wig & Mitre comes to market for first time: The freehold of The Wig & Mitre, described as a “Lincoln institution”, has been brought to market for the first time with “offers invited”. The gastro-pub, which has featured consistently in the Good Pub Guide, was founded by the owner Valerie Hope, and her husband Michael, in 1977, but they have finally decided to call last orders. The property has about 100 covers over two floors and two private dining rooms. Food is served throughout the day and the range is varied from modern European to traditional gastro-pub food. Everard Cole director Jon Heald, who is marketing the property, said: “The Wig & Mitre is a special venue that has been a mainstay of the Lincoln hospitality landscape for many years. It will be a very sad day when Valerie finally does step back, but the sale presents a tremendous opportunity for a new owner and provides a great platform to take the business further.”
Fuller’s London Pride announces British & Irish Lions partnership: Fuller’s London Pride, owned by Asahi UK, has announced a two-year partnership to be the official beer of The British & Irish Lions. The partnership will launch with Fuller’s London Pride’s Roar with Pride campaign, offering supporters a range of VIP experiences around the Lions’ three-test series against Rugby World Cup champions, South Africa, this summer. The campaign will also look to support clubhouses and grounds across the UK, with Fuller’s London Pride set to also announce further promotions in partnership with the Lions. A limited-edition range of Fuller’s London Pride and Lions merchandise will be available to win for promotional activities.
Asahi UK is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member 

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