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Sun 18th Apr 2021 - Weekend Press Roundup – all the leisure stories
Asda brothers snap up fast food chain Leon in £100m deal: The billionaire brothers who own supermarket giant Asda have struck a secret deal to snap up fast food chain Leon for up to £100 million. Mohsin and Zuber Issa are understood to have agreed to buy the business, co-founded by Boris Johnson’s food tsar Henry Dimbleby, in the early hours yesterday. The Mail on Sunday understands that Leon chief executive and co-founder John Vincent has signed the deal off and is preparing to issue an announcement to staff tomorrow. Sources said Leon’s 70 restaurants across the UK and mainland Europe have been sold to the Issa brothers’ giant petrol forecourt business EG Group for between £80 million and £100 million. It is the latest acquisition in a buying spree that has seen the brothers hoover up petrol forecourt and roadside service chains around the world and even consider buying Topshop. They have also been in a long-running battle to buy the Caffè Nero coffee shop chain. EG Group – part-owned by private equity firm TDR Capital – is chaired by former Marks & Spencer chief executive Lord Rose, who is also chairman of food delivery firm Ocado. Leon, which was advised by Rothschild, was in discussions with a number of other parties. They include other hospitality businesses and private equity firms. The sale will crystallise a multimillion-pound stake held by Vincent, who remains the largest private investor after founding Leon in 2004, with smaller stakes owned by Dimbleby and co-founder Allegra McEvedy. Leon was majority-owned by two private equity firms, Active Partners and Spice Private Equity. A Leon spokesman declined to comment. EG Group also declined to comment. (Mail on Sunday)

YO! Sushi eyes listing as it shifts focus to US and shops: YO! Sushi, the conveyor-belt sushi chain, is exploring a stock market listing as it invests in a major expansion into supermarkets and the US and seeks to navigate a post-covid recovery. Mayfair Equity Partners, which bought the company for £81m in 2015, is understood to be considering an initial public offering of YO! as part of a range of options for its planned exit strategy. Since acquiring a majority stake in YO, Mayfair has overseen a string of acquisitions to grow the company’s presence in North America. The company paid $100m (£72m) for Canadian sushi brand Bento Box in 2017 before merging with American rival Snowfox in 2019, giving the combined group an enterprise value of $400m. North America now accounts for two thirds of YO!’s total sales, with the UK playing an increasingly smaller role. The company has been shifting its focus in recent years to selling pre-packaged sushi and opening kiosks in supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco. This month it secured a deal with WH Smith to start selling its Food To Go range in some of the retailer’s hospital and travel locations. It has also launched a tie-up with fitness centre chain David Lloyd Leisure. YO! shut 19 restaurants and cut 250 jobs last year as part of an insolvency procedure to shore up costs. Shareholders in YO!, including Mayfair, gave the chain £13m as part of the restructuring. (The Telegraph)

The PM must stick to his hospitality roadmap: The bosses of the UK’s biggest pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and leisure groups have said that vaccine passports cannot be used as an excuse to “derail” the end of social distancing in nine weeks’ time. The warning is set out in a letter in The Telegraph, signed by the leaders of 38 bar, pubs and restaurant chains, which between them employ two million staff at 70,000 sites. The UK hospitality industry is only estimated to employ 2.8 million staff at 110,000 sites. Signatories include the head of the UK’s biggest pubs groups – Nick McKenzie, the chief executive of Greene King, Phil Urban, the chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers and Simon Emeny, the chief executive of Fullers. Others include Steve Richards, chief executive of Parkdean Resorts, Gerry Ford, chairman of Caffe Nero and Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainment, which owns Legoland. The industry leaders pointed out that Mr Johnson’s four-stage roadmap to ease lockdown culminated “in a pledge fully to reopen the economy, remove all legal restrictions on socialising and end social distancing on 21 June”. The letter states: “Eight weeks ago, the Prime Minister set out a roadmap to ease lockdown, culminating in a pledge to reopen the economy, remove legal restrictions on socialising and end social distancing on 21 June. Delivering this rested on vaccination – protecting the most vulnerable nine groups and over-50s – and declines in deaths and incidence. Almost two thirds of adults have now received a first vaccine dose and cases have fallen dramatically as a result. We must be driven by data not dates – and the data say it is safe to confirm now the reopening of indoor hospitality on 17 May and the lifting of all social-distancing restrictions on hospitality on 21 June. This is vital as government support for hospitality tapers away then, and without it many businesses will be unviable. Two thirds couldn’t open outdoors from 12 April, and none is breaking even. The Prime Minister set out the right path. He should stick to it and not let it be derailed by talk of vaccine passports in pubs and restaurants.” Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “The government must listen to our hospitality businesses and change course. Instead of imposing all the extra costs and bureaucracy of covid ID cards, Ministers should be supporting pubs, bars and restaurants to get back on their feet as we emerge from the pandemic.” (The Telegraph)

UK pubs and restaurants warn of staff shortages: UK pub and restaurant owners warn of staff shortages after thousands of workers leave the hospitality industry to return to their home countries or take up other jobs during a pandemic. “There are some businesses that have lost a significant number of teams. [and because of furlough]”, Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers, the UK’s largest publicly traded pub group, said. Urban estimates that about 9,000 of M&B’s 39,000 staff have left since the first lockdown last year, many undertaking other jobs in courier and critical retail. Jeremy King, chief executive of Corbin & King, who owns The Wolseley and Delaunay restaurants in London, expects 20 new staff to be needed to bring the group to about 600 people before reopening. However, it currently has 130 roles. “People actually said we weren’t going to come back. I don’t think restaurant owners understand how serious it is.” Des Gunewardena, D&D London’s chief executive, who owns 38 restaurants in London, Manchester and Leeds, said they are planning a “rapid rebuild” of the company’s employees to meet the high demand. “We don’t know how much of a challenge it will be for many EU employees to leave the UK permanently, but it seems difficult,” he said. (FT Weekend)

Two-thirds of hospitality firms are optimistic about the next year: Two-thirds of hospitality firms feel optimistic about the next 12 months as the country continues its path out of lockdown. Millions of people have already flocked to pubs and restaurants since many opened for business again last Monday, with experts reporting drink sales up 114% compared with the same period in 2019. The reopening of outdoor hospitality is a boost for the sector, which has lost £74 billion since last March. According to a study by trade body UKHospitality, 65% of businesses now feel optimistic, with just 16% pessimistic about remaining financially viable for at least another year. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Seeing some venues open for business again was a long overdue sight for sore eyes. Hospitality is alone in being subject to so many stringent restrictions and so will be the last sector to recover. But, as we saw after the financial crisis, it has the economic potential to punch above its weight in terms of driving recovery.” Less than two-fifths of venues in the UK have outside space but 41,100 pubs, bars and restaurants in England have opened so far. Businesses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are due to follow suit later this month. The survey of 110 firms, which run 8,400 venues, found they expected turnover to be just 29% of regular trade while customers are only allowed to eat and drink outside. From mid-May, when venues can admit customers inside under the rule of six, they expect to reach 56% of normal turnover, rising to more than 80% when restrictions are scheduled to end from 21 June. (Mail on Sunday)

Councils urged to stop applying covid rules ‘disproportionately’: Councils have been told by ministers to stop applying covid-19 rules “disproportionately” and threatening to punish pubs for failing to ensure social distancing outside. Robert Jenrick, the local government secretary, wrote to council leaders urging them to ensure they work with pubs and bars that are trying to open safely and within the rules. The Telegraph reported last week that pubs and bars were facing fines or the removal of their licences over queues on the street after officials threatened to crack down on the most popular venues. Several councils have set up enforcement squads to patrol pubs and restaurants to look for customers breaking the rules. Investigations were threatened by councils into pubs in Coventry and Maidstone after locals queued to get into beer gardens. Scuffles broke out over table reservations on Friday night as drinkers packed their local outdoor pubs and bars on the first Friday night out after lockdown restrictions were eased. In the letter to all council chief executives and leaders in England, as seen by the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Jenrick said that official guidance on what is defined as an outdoor shelter had to be “applied proportionately and consistently in your areas to support businesses to reopen safely and to avoid overzealous interpretations of the rules”. “It is in the public interest that local residents can socialise in a licensed and controlled environment outside, where covid-19 risks are lower. If a disproportionate regulatory approach is taken, it risks driving residents into unregulated activity and premises which may be far less covid-secure and/or illegal.” (The Telegraph)

Will Deliveroo dive by another 40%?: A damning report by an influential city firm has warned the value of loss-making Deliveroo could plummet by another £1.8 billion, raising fears over how the company has been governed. The stock price has already dived by one third since Deliveroo’s disastrous stock market launch on 31 March – prompting critics to brand the firm ‘Flopperoo’. About 70,000 small investors, tempted by an invitation to buy shares before the float, lost heavily after taking initial stakes of up to £1,000 each. Major city firms are currently subject to a research blackout preventing investment banks that worked on the float from publishing research for at least a month after the launch. But independent research firm The Analyst – which raised the alarm on collapsed payment giant Wirecard and is not subject to the reporting restrictions – warned that Deliveroo’s dire performance may worsen. Mark Hiley, who runs The Analyst, told The Mail on Sunday: “We still think the stock could well fall another 40% before it hits bottom.” Hiley said: “We looked at Deliveroo in January when an IPO was first mooted and it was obvious then that the company was operating in a highly competitive market and was facing legal challenges to its labour practices on multiple fronts.” (Mail on Sunday)

Brits hit the pubs for alfresco booze-up: Brits hit pubs and beer gardens for an alfresco booze-up on the first Saturday since restrictions eased across England. Punters made the most of their new freedoms yesterday after 12 April saw covid restrictions ease and allow pals to meet outdoors at a pub or cafe in groups of six. Across the UK, pub gardens were packed with drinkers since early yesterday morning – with six million pints expected to be drunk. High streets were also busy as an estimated 18.4 million people went shopping and blew more than £1.6 billion – but this was still down on pre-pandemic levels, when £2 billion was typically spent. Around 1.5 million pub punters are set to make up for lost time on the first Saturday session for all areas of England since October. Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “Pubs and pub-goers are looking forward to the first weekend drinks in months. We’re beginning to rebuild our businesses and reconnect our communities.” (The Sun)

Ramsay – On the day restaurants reopen London is sunny and I’m up early, buzzing with nervous energy: It’s been a long four months since we once again closed our restaurants’ doors and headed into another lockdown. We’ve spent over a year navigating the fears and tears, hopes raised then lowered, a hospitality industry battered and bruised in the storm of a global pandemic. We have had a rare moment in time to reimagine our guest experience, to rewrite menus and do some excellent wine tasting and bread making! I feel a deep appreciation like never before for the loyalty, for the passion in our industry across our whole team. We will come out of this stronger, braver and kinder. In early February we received confirmation the next wave of restrictions could be lifted on 12 April and I challenged the teams to get creative. We spoke to our landlords and councils to devise how we could create warm and welcoming outdoor spaces wherever possible. Grosvenor Estates were quick to agree to a beautiful new terrace at Pétrus. We are hoping for spring sunshine but prepared for unpredictable British weather and invested in heaters, wind breakers, blankets and umbrellas. It’s a true Michelin experience and will be a permanent edition. The phone lines opened on 24 February and our call centre received 800 enquiries that day. We have 10,000 covers booked for the first week back and amazingly this level of reservations continues for the next six weeks, when indoor dining is due to open on 17 May. Monday is finally here. I’m up early, buzzing with nervous energy. The vaccine roll-out across the UK has been phenomenal. As I jump in the car, I hear on the radio that over 30 million of us have received at least our first dose and the scientific evidence shows the monumental effort is working. It feels like today will be a good day! First stop is the impressive Battersea Power Station, a new location for our fourth Street Pizza. Pizza for breakfast? Absolutely! We are fully booked for the week ahead and we discuss how to accommodate walk-ins. We are new to this community and we want the experience to be welcoming and accessible. It’s just a few hours to opening and the team is excited to get going. Next stop, Heddon Street Kitchen – always a Ramsay family favourite. Driving up Regent Street, London is buzzing in the sunshine, people are happy, there is an air of relief and optimism. The terrace is filled with guests and it’s like greeting old friends as I stop to say hello. On the drive home, I check in with the other teams. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and The Savoy are getting ready for opening in May, London House in Battersea Square is hosting its first wedding in the beautiful secret garden on Saturday and our first Street Burger outside London opens in a few days in Woking. Everyone is doing an amazing job, I’m so proud of them all. My phone rings and it’s Tana saying the kids want pizza for dinner, so I head back to Battersea to meet the family. From fine dining on the terrace of Pétrus to opening three new restaurants, this week has been amazing! We are excited to be back doing what we love and even more importantly, to help our guests experience the pure joy of breaking bread with friends, family and those loved ones we all have truly missed over the months apart. (Evening Standard)

Rise of the ‘pub-hood’? Sales of hoodie blankets ‘soar by 781%’: The re-opening of pubs with outdoor space has led to the emergence of a new cocktail. Part hoodie and part blanket, the ‘pub hood’ is, according to new figures, selling fast. Online home shop, OHS, tells me it has seen sales of hoodie blankets rise 781% compared with last year. The ‘pub hood’ hoodie blanket is an oversized hoodie sweatshirt usually made with fleece type material. With outdoor leisure re-opening during chilly weather, the fashion trend is perhaps predictable. Less expected is the way this trend has divided opinion – with one pubgoer taking to Twitter to say: “If I see someone wearing one of those at the pub, I think I’ll stick to staying at home.” Sales are expected to rise further as England prepares for another “Super Saturday” the first weekend of pubs re-opening their outdoor spaces. There is now a camouflage version being marketed as “for those who can only get a weekday pub garden booking and want to avoid being spotted by the boss”. Some may prefer never to be spotted wearing one – in any circumstances. (ITV online)

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