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Fri 14th May 2021 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

April like-for-likes down by a quarter at managed restaurants and pubs while total sales fall 60% versus 2019: Managed pub and restaurant groups recorded a 26% drop in like-for-like sales in April compared with the same month in 2019, the latest edition of the Coffer CGA Business Tracker showed. The figure covers three full weeks of outside-only service in England as well as briefer trading in Scotland and Wales, and represents a solid return to trading for the sector. Operators enjoyed the benefit of generally good weather and strong consumer confidence in the first fortnight of trading, though low temperatures and rain dampened sales towards the end of the month. The Tracker showed pubs have outperformed restaurants since reopening, thanks, in part, to greater availability of outside space. Pubs’ April sales were 21% down on April 2019, compared with a 30% drop for restaurants. Bars were the weakest segment, with like-for-like sales down 39%. On a total sales basis, with the majority of sites still closed, groups saw a 60% drop in April 2021 from April 2019. Restaurants (down 51%) performed better than pubs (down 67%) on this measure, due to strong delivery and takeaway sales. “The drop in sales of more than half over the past 12 months is a reminder of just how hard the industry has been hit by lockdowns and restrictions,” said Karl Chessell, business unit director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM. “While consumers are eager to get back to hospitality, it is clearly going to be a long and uneven road to recovery, and the sector will need sustained support from government if it is to help reignite the UK economy over the rest of 2021.” Mark Sheehan, managing director, Coffer Corporate Leisure, added: “These like-for-likes are testimony to the creativity of hospitality. The support of consumers across the country shows appreciation of the sector generally and operators individually. Undoubtedly, there has been pent-up demand and it will take some time for businesses to understand where trade levels really are.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Yapster launches KPI gamification feature: Yapster, the mobile communications platform for hospitality teams, is launching a KPI gamification feature, which turns the existing “chat” platform into a “powerful performance improvement engine”. Yapster’s new module turns site sales into “match play scoreboards”, which catalyse social interaction and friendly competition between groups of employees. Unlike conventional KPI league tables, Yapster’s social app allows organisations to run “head-to-head” matches between two sites at a time. With the Yapster platform’s core messaging capability, competing teams can then engage with each other “in-app” to boost rivalry and engagement with sales performance numbers. The feature was created and tested prior to coronavirus lockdowns with the Revere division of Marston’s, with coffee and dessert sales driving match scoreboards. Early tests generated a 7% like-for-like increase in featured items. Revere Pub Company managing director Colin Sadler said: “It was a win-win for us – we boosted like-for-likes and revenue and the participating teams really enjoyed getting stuck in too.” Join the feature release on Friday (14 May) at 1pm by registering here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email
Yapster is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
Propel Premium members to receive another ten videos featuring sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs: Propel Premium members are to receive another ten videos featuring the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. The videos, which will be sent to subscribers next Friday (21 May), include Cafe Rouge founder Karen Jones; Paddy & Scott’s founder Scott Russell; Sam Roberts, co-owner and chief executive of Boston Tea Party; Rob Darby, co-founder and chief executive of 200 Degrees; Ted Kennedy, owner of Pebble Hotels and veteran operator of pub assets; Mark Tughan, founder of the UK’s largest comedy club brand The Glee Club; Honest Burgers co-founder Phil Eeles; Daisy Green founder Prue Freeman; Alastair Scott, co-founder of food-led operator Malvern Inns and Catton Hospitality; and Jonathan Recanti, co-founder of Farmer J. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. Subscribers receive exclusive access to the Propel Premium multi-site database, which is now updated each month. The database, which has the most comprehensive multi-site operator information in the sector, will include a minimum of 69 new companies when it is released on Friday, 28 May, at midday. The exhaustive database was most recently sent at the end of April and included the details of 1,717 companies. The database 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. Premium subscribers are also to receive access to a second exclusive monthly database, The Propel Blue Book. This database will provide an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. It will be available on Friday, 4 June, at midday. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. In this week’s Premium Opinion column, Propel insights editor Mark Wingett looks at the latest issues impacting the sector, the link-up by Tesco and Sainsbury’s with Pret and Boparan Restaurant Group respectively, and Drake & Morgan’s decision to CVA. Email to sign up.
Propel Friday Wrap video series with Sarah Willingham, chief executive of listed hospitality group Nightcap: Propel continues its new Friday Wrap video series on Friday (7 May) at 3pm. The new series, which is sponsored by innovative staffing solution provider Stint, sees Mark Stretton, former sector journalist and now head of sector PR firm Fleet Street Communications, and Propel insights editor Mark Wingett discussing the week’s key issues facing the UK’s hospitality sector, with a leading sector operator or expert. This week, they are joined by Sarah Willingham, chief executive of listed hospitality group Nightcap, to discuss launching a listed company during the crisis, the expansion opportunities for existing concept London Cocktail Club and new acquisition Adventure Bar Group, and how she sees the UK’s bar sector evolving.

King – reopening will be against a background of having much of the hospitality sector remaining on the precipice of major failure: Corbin & King co-founder Jeremy King has said the next phase of reopening will take place while much of the sector is on the edge of failing. King said his business was gearing up “indoor dining” and confirmed all its restaurants will be fully open – albeit some with slightly modified hours. He said: “That’s the good news. The bad news is this will be against a background of having much of the hospitality sector remaining on the precipice of major failure. This is because should the government not intervene, at least on the rent debt, there will be so many significant closures this year because eviction moratoriums will have passed and the opportunity to trade out of the morass is lost. Ironically, further pressure is brought to bear in the attempt to trade because of yet another predicted reality of Brexit coming to fruition with the realisation that a vast number of European employees just ain’t coming back – and, sadly, I have to ask ‘who could blame them?’ I remain truly, madly, deeply optimistic about the future because I always believe in the British capacity to deal with adversity and I trust there are enough good landlords prepared to work with existing and emerging retail and restaurant entrepreneurs to fill those empty spaces. School leavers will also see how much we have to offer compared with the past and come to our doors. I also have optimism for the return to offices and have no concerns if it is only two or three days a week because when office workers do come to town, they will make better use of what London offers rather than purely the destination they commute to. I am buoyed by the support of both customers and staff who understand the nature of restaurants and the spirit, heart and soul that makes them tick. One of the benefits of this ghastly year is that customers will appreciate their favourite restaurants more and restaurateurs and their staff will appreciate their customers more.”
Grubhub launches commission-free direct ordering platform for restaurants: US delivery firm Grubhub, which is owned by Just Eat, has launched a commission-free direct ordering platform for restaurants. Grubhub Direct is designed to “encourage restaurants to become more independent, particularly in the technology, delivery, and marketing spaces”. The platform will let operators design and set up direct ordering through their own website, either with in-house delivery drivers or by using Grubhub’s drivers; and set up loyalty/rewards programmes and access consumer data. Grubhub is also offering order management services and product support from its team. While Grubhub is not charging commission or marketing fees, the company will be charging a “competitive rate” for delivery fulfilment and a flat monthly fee for the software, as well as a one-time set-up fee. However, it will waive the set-up and monthly fees until next April. Grubhub Direct has been in the works long before 2020 but was accelerated by the changing needs of restaurants during the pandemic. Last month, rival DoorDash launched lower-priced delivery options for US restaurants.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a logistics and food delivery business that is looking to grow its senior team. COREcruitment is looking to speak with accomplished operations managers who are proven at building a diverse and motivated team. With rapid growth throughout the UK, this is a newly created role. They will lead a team of City managers and report to an operations director for the UK. The role will include monitoring KPIs, looking for new opportunities and making strategic decisions for growth and improvement. They will continuously be optimising the delivery network and structuring the logistical processes, with a view to lowering the costs, improving service levels and ensuring growth. The ideal individual will have six years’ senior management experience and relevant knowledge of logistics, scaling up and working within complex matrix organisations. The position is based in the south of the UK, but location is flexible because 50% of the working week will be on the road. A salary up to £60,000, plus bonus, will be considered. Anyone interested can email with their CV.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Marugame Udon plans five UK openings this year, franchising part of long-term strategy: International udon noodles and tempura restaurant brand Marugame Udon hopes to open five sites in London before the end of the year and will look to franchise here as part of the business’ long-term growth strategy for the UK, Propel has learned. The brand, which has more than 850 restaurants in Japan and a further 250 across Asia, the US and Russia, will open its debut site in the UK, on the former Wahaca site in Middlesex Street in Spitalfields between late June and mid July. The business, which is led in the UK and Europe by Keith Bird, the founder of Natural Kitchen, former chief operating officer of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, has also secured a site in The O2 in Greenwich. Propel understands the brand has secured sites in Canary Wharf, believed to be the ex-Byron site, and St Christopher’s Place in Marylebone. It is working with Marc Rogers, of MKR Property on its expansion plans. Propel also understands the company wants to build an estate of company-owned sites in the capital before exploring franchise opportunities for the concept across the UK. The 4,000 square foot restaurant in Middlesex Street will feature more than 100 covers as well as takeaway, click and collect and delivery options from partner Deliveroo. The open-plan kitchen will allow customers to see the whole udon-making process. Capdesia Group, the backer of Wasabi, and Toridoll Holdings Corporation, the backer of Shoryu Ramen and Wok to Walk, and the owner of the Marugame brand, announced last summer they had formed a new joint venture to launch Marugame Udon in London. Marugame Udon (Europe) will become the master franchisee for Europe and the new London restaurant will be followed by an “ambitious roll-out plan”.

PizzaExpress to reopen all sites in England, Scotland and Wales for first time since pandemic hit: PizzaExpress will reopen all 347 of its restaurants in England, Scotland and Wales on Monday (17 May). Having opened 143 sites for alfresco dining last month, the full reopening will mark the first time every one of its outlets in the three countries will be open since the first lockdown in March last year. Managing director Zoe Bowley said: “While we have worked hard throughout the pandemic to introduce new ways for everyone to get their hands on our pizza, there is nothing quite like the buzz and bustle of a busy pizzeria. Our teams have worked tirelessly to make sure we’re ready.” Robust measures remain in place to ensure the safety and well-being of teams and customers in all reopened pizzerias. These include a physically distanced layout, hand sanitiser stations, heightened hygiene procedures and cleaning measures along with regular health checks of team members. To encourage social distancing and assist customers, PizzaExpress has also introduced a new digital menu and cashless payment. PizzaExpress sites in Northern Ireland will reopen on Monday, 24 May, and further reopenings will be announced in due course for Ireland in line with government guidance.
Shepherd Neame to create more than 300 jobs: Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame is to recruit more than 300 new team members as it prepares to reopen its entire estate in the next few weeks. The company has a total of 312 pubs and hotels – of which 65 are managed – across Kent, London and the south east. After more than five months of closure, Shepherd Neame reopened about 75% of its estate for outside service last month, and will be reopening the remainder from Monday (17 May) when indoor service is allowed again. Director of retail and tenanted operations Nigel Bunting said: “We have been overwhelmed by the positive customer response since we began opening our pubs last month, and we expect to be busy this summer. In preparation for this, we will be recruiting more than 300 full and part-time team members across a variety of management, front-of-house and kitchen roles. After a challenging year, we are delighted to finally be able to look ahead and plan for the future and recruit talented people to join our team – and also do our bit to help start rebuilding the local economy.” Shepherd Neame currently employs more than 1,500 team members in its brewery and pub estate.

Nico Simeone to open second London site with Canary Wharf launch: Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone is to open his second Six by Nico site in London, in Canary Wharf. Simeone has agreed a deal with Canary Wharf Group to launch the restaurant in Chancellor Passage later this summer. Six by Nico offers a six-course tasting menu that changes every six weeks. Each new menu is inspired by anything from memories, concepts, places and locations – all designed by Simeone. The Canary Wharf restaurant, which will have 100 covers inside and a further 30 in a covered outside space, will be the eighth Six by Nico site. It follows in the footsteps of its sister outlets in Glasgow (two restaurants), Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool, Manchester and London’s Fitzrovia. There are also plans to open a third location in Simeone’s home city of Glasgow, in Byres Road, in September. Simeone said: “It's always been a dream of mine to expand in this incredible city, and this area of London already has a lot to offer.”

McDonald’s boosts pay at US company-owned restaurants by 10% per hour on average: McDonald’s is to give staff at its circa 660 US company-owned restaurants a 10% hourly pay raise on average, joining the industry’s scramble to lure workers back as pandemic restrictions ease. The wage increases do not apply to employees at the 13,025 McDonald’s restaurants owned and operated by franchisees in the US. However, McDonald’s said it would ask those store owners to match the pay increases. McDonald’s said the pay hikes for more than 36,500 hourly restaurant workers had already begun and would continue over several weeks. Under the new pay scale, entry-level crew will make at least $11 to $17 per hour, and shift managers will earn at least $15 to $20 an hour. The company, which wants to hire 10,000 more hourly employees over the next three months, expects average pay at all company-owned restaurants to hit $15 per hour by 2024, up from about $13. Restaurants shed millions of workers after the pandemic forced many operators to close or severely curtail service. Some of those employees have shifted to warehouse or retail work. Earlier this week, Chipotle said it plans to hire 20,000 more employees and will raise the average hourly wage to $15 by the end of June, an increase of $2.
London bar group’s rule on only accepting ‘mixed gender bookings’ could breach Equality Act: London bar group Archer Street has been warned by legal experts its policy of only accepting bookings from “mixed gender groups” could see it breach the Equality Act. The cocktail bar business that has sites in Soho and Battersea, has insisted same-sex groups “must meet management before booking”, according to the Daily Mail. Lawyers said the operator could be breaching the Equality Act if its policy means LGBT groups are turned away. However, the bar said it is only accepting mixed bookings of men and women while restrictions ease. Manchester Met University equality law expert Prof Stephen Whittle said: “If they refuse a booking because it is to celebrate the wedding or civil partnership of a same-sex couple, or a couple where one or both partners is trans, the refusal is almost certainly contrary to the Equality Act 2010.” Imogen Hamblin of the Law Society’s LGBT+ committee said: “This would be either direct discrimination or indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The bar’s policy could also fall into indirect discrimination, which is a where a policy, criterion or practice substantially disadvantages a group of people with a protected characteristic.”

Black and White Hospitality strengthens management team ahead of reopening: Black and White Hospitality, which operates and manages the Marco Pierre White group of franchised restaurants, has strengthened its management team ahead of full reopening. Operating eight branded concepts under the Pierre White name, Ricky Challinor has joined the business as the new head of franchise for the south of the UK while Holly Ashworth has arrived as marketing manager. Meanwhile, Carys Cobley, who has been with the business for three years, has also been promoted to head of marketing. Chairman and chief executive Nick Taplin said: “We’ve been putting all the elements in place so that we’re in a strong position to provide our franchise partners and all our guests with the marketing and operational support and service they need now that we can reopen.” The business previously reported bookings are looking strong ahead of reopening, with 28,000 covers reserved in May and more than 10,000 for June.
Yotam Ottolenghi to open first deli site in six years, in Marylebone: Chef Yotam Ottolenghi is to open a new Ottolenghi deli – his first in six years. The deli, the fifth in total, will launch next month in Marylebone. It will be the most central deli yet, with the other sites located in the neighbourhoods of Notting Hill, Islington, Belgravia and Spitalfields. The Marylebone Lane deli, which will have an all-day menu, will operate a no-reservations communal dining area along with a couple of tables and chairs out the front. Main dishes will include char-grilled Loch Duart salmon with sweet chilli sauce; and vadouvan feta cakes with spinach, basil and rocket pesto, while there will be a range of pastries, cakes and salads. Ottolenghi also operates Fitzrovia restaurant Rovi and Nopi in Soho.
Camm & Hooper appoints Adam Blezard as new FD: Imbiba-backed events and hospitality group Camm & Hooper has appointed Adam Blezard, formerly of VQ restaurants and Gaucho, as its new finance director, Propel has learned. Blezard joins Camm & Hooper after five years with VQ as its finance director. He was previously head of finance at Aurora Media and financial controller at Gaucho. In February, Propel revealed Camm & Hooper had completed a business restructure and a company voluntary arrangement (CVA). The company, which operates eight sites across the capital, including Six Storeys in Soho, Tanner & Co in Bermondsey and Banking Hall in the City, said as an events-focused business it had been severely impacted by the impact of the covid outbreak and the restrictions put in place over the past 12 months.

Ultracomida dramatically pivots business to retail to ensure survival: Spanish deli and restaurant operator Ultracomida has revealed how it has dramatically pivoted its business to ensure its survival during the pandemic. The group, which operates four sites in Wales, has expanded on its wine retail offering – with investments in a new public-facing warehouse, wine subscription club and the creation of a specialist high street wine shop in Aberystwyth. It said retail has become a major focus as it looks to serve customers who may be unable to visit its restaurants and delis, and keep staff actively employed. More than 4,500 square foot of warehousing space has been acquired to support the move towards retail, resulting in a new employment opportunity for a dedicated site manager. The warehouse, at Glan Yr Afon Industrial Estate in Aberystwyth, is now open to the public and offers up to 15 bottles of wine to taste at any time; wholesale customers are also able to book in for guided tastings. Hot on the heels of launching a subscribers wine club at the end of last year, a new national website has also been created to drive further online sales. Meanwhile, the group’s 1,000 square foot deli in Aberystwyth has been turned into one of the largest collections of Spanish wines on the Welsh high street. Whereas 50% of the floor space used to be reserved for sit-in customers, the refurbishment has opened up room to grow the variety of wines on show by up to 30%, with scope to expand the range further in the near future. While Ultracomida co-founders Paul Grimwood and Shumana Palit have needed to adapt to the constant challenges of the pandemic, they believe the demand for quality Spanish wine will remain consistent in the coming months and years. Grimwood said: “We saw our online wine sales increase by more than 50% last year as people looked to drink better and more interesting wine at home.” Palit added: “It feels strange for us to be focusing so heavily on retail because we love the hospitality industry but we’re all doing our best to adapt in the current climate.”

Four London-based street food traders join Kerb’s Seven Dials market line-up ahead of reopening: Four London-based street food traders are joining the line-up at street food collective Kerb’s Seven Dials Market in Covent Garden ahead of its reopening on Monday (17 May). Teddington-based Bad Boy Pizza Society, which operated at festivals and events prior to the coronavirus crisis, will be offering its New York-style pizzas either by the slice or in 22-inch servings. It will be joined by Bait, which offers an innovative twist on classic fish cookery, and Smoke & Bones, which currently offers its Texas-style barbecue menu for collection from Riverbank Business Park in Hackney Wick. Completing the quartet is a second site for Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen, the Filipino-inspired concept from Lee Johnson and Sinead Campbell, founders of My Million Pound Menu winner BBQ Dreamz. Seven Dials Market will resume normal trading hours, offering a 350-seat capacity – including 30 new alfresco dining covers – due to social distancing restrictions. Kerb founder Petra Barran said: “Seven Dials Market is all about adventures in food and drink, and we’re excited to be serving even more of this up with the arrival of some new kids to the place. Bong Bong’s, Bait, Smoke & Bones and Bad Boy Pizza Society each come with something juicy to add to the mix – all independent, all looking to grow and all looking forward to cooking for a whole new audience.” Julia Wilkinson, restaurant director at Shaftesbury, landlord of Seven Dials Market, added: “We are thrilled we can provide the platform for these emerging operators to showcase their diverse concepts and international flavours.” 
Love Brownies chooses Bristol to open its 13th cafe: Bakery brand Love Brownies has opened its 13th cafe, in Bristol. Established in 2009 in the Yorkshire Dales, the shop and cafe will offer food and drinks to take away but will welcome indoor diners from Monday (17 May). Love Brownies head baker and owner Chantal Teal said: “The Bristol shop will be our first to open in the south west. The shop is in a fantastic location and we’re anticipating a busy summer. We’re so pleased to be bringing business into the area during a time that has been so difficult for so many and can’t wait to be a part of the reopening of the high street.”

Midlands-based Korean-inspired restaurant Grounded Kitchen to open fifth site, in West Bridgford: Midlands-based Korean-inspired restaurant Grounded Kitchen is to open its fifth site, in West Bridgford. The company will launch the outlet in Tudor Square on Wednesday, 2 June. Lee Porter, franchise director at Grounded Kitchen, told West Bridgford Wire: “Our West Bridgford restaurant is an exciting step for the business but, most importantly, it’s a chance for us to connect with the local community in Nottingham and bring the dishes that we’re so passionate about to a new area.” Grounded Kitchen opened its first restaurant in Leicester in 2017 and has since added sites in Market Harborough, Loughborough and Birmingham.

MJMK to open Cuban-influenced bar on former Sweet Chick site: Bar operator MJMK – the team behind piri piri brand Casa do Frango – is to open La Rampa, a Cuban-inspired bar and restaurant just off London’s Oxford Street. As first reported in Eater London, the company, which opened Bar Bolivar in the Reuters Plaza space that was home to Carluccio’s in Canary Wharf last October, will open the new venture on the former Sweet Chick site in Market Place. It said that La Rampa is a “homage to the decadent history of Havana, when the rich and famous flocked to the city in search of a good time”. Drinks are being created by Marcis Dzelzainis of Sager + Wilde, while the food offering is being developed by Tata Eatery, and “reimagines Cuban cuisine, taking influence from the entire Central American region and focusing on small plates to be shared and eaten without knives and forks”. The site itself spans more than 4,000 square foot on two floors, with a large, south-facing terrace at the front. Sweet Chick, the US concept backed by rapper, Nas, closed last year.
FB Holdings to open second site for Japanese fried chicken concept: FB Holdings, which is behind the rapidly growing Dirty Wild Wings concept, is to open a second site for its Japanese fried chicken concept, Karaage. The company will launch the venue at Resorts World in Birmingham on Monday (17 May) and follows on from the debut outlet, which opened in Moseley in February. The new restaurant will be on the ground floor of Resorts World looking out on to the main atrium. Freddie Spinzar, director of operations for Karaage, said: “With a larger space for the Bushi Bird to spread its wings, Karaage will bring the best of Japanese fried chicken to Resorts World.” Other brands within the FB Holdings portfolio include Indian street food establishment Indico, which currently operates in The Mailbox in Birmingham and Shirley; JAQKS Chicken & Chips, with sites across the Midlands; Jamaya, a Caribbean/jerk chicken concept at the Touchwood Shopping Centre in Solihull; and the most recent, Bulls Street Burgers, serving-up classic burgers and sides.
Japanese hand-rolled rice concept to open at former MeatLiquor site in Brixton: Traditional Japanese hand-rolled rice concept Temaki will launch its debut site at a former MeatLiquor site in Brixton in June. Founded by American Alex Maximilian Dupee, Temaki takes its name from the Japanese words “te” (hand) and “maki” (roll) and will focus on skilled rolling of rice and fish in front of customers. Executive chef Shaulan Steenson will lead the kitchen using his golden uruchimai rice at the core of each hand roll. Sushi-grade fish used will include “O Toro” fatty tuna to “Unagi” eel and marinated salmon in Steenson’s signature rice and with a piece of crisp seaweed. Other fillings include white and brown crabmeat, egg yolk and white soy; tuna, fresh wasabi and Nikiri soy; and eel with its own sauce, cucumber and wasabi. Alongside the food will be a range of wine, sake, Japanese beers and bottled cocktails. Dupee said: “Temaki is all about great food in a fun and communal atmosphere, which is why we knew Brixton would be the perfect place to launch.” The restaurant, which will accept walk-ins with a small number of seats available for reservations, will open on 11 June at Market Row from Thursdays to Sundays.
Former Jamie Oliver operations manager to reopen historic Salford pub: Experienced hospitality operations manager Neil Burke is to reopen a historic Salford pub. Burke has partnered with developer Salboy to create the new Black Friar venture at the historic landmark. He is currently putting together a team of professionals and overseeing a fit-out. The building is being restored as part of the Local Blackfriars development and extended to create a modern glass restaurant with open kitchen, private dining room and a dining courtyard, as well as a traditional pub area. It is a return to Manchester for Burke who worked for many years for the Jamie Oliver restaurant group and has, more recently, been based in Australia, running the Grounds of Alexandria in Sydney. Burke said: “It has been an ambition to be able to open a pub-restaurant and incorporate all the ideas I have had and honed over the years. And to have the financial support to be able to do that in a building as significant as this and hopefully create something very special is an incredible opportunity.” The Black Friar will be opening towards the tail end of this summer, with more than 200 covers.
Zucchini Pasta Bar doubles up with second Newcastle restaurant: Italian restaurant Zucchini Pasta Bar is set to double up with a second site opening on Monday (17 May). It will open its sequel restaurant in the Qube at Metrocentre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to complement its first site in Pilgrim Street, which opened in 2016. Founder Alan Barker said: “We are super excited to be bringing Zucchini Pasta Bar to such an iconic destination as the Metrocentre. The freshest hand rolled pasta, served in a few minutes, at an affordable price point is what we’re all about and it’s perfect for the centre. Our independently owned fresh mono concept began in Newcastle city centre and branching out to Metrocentre naturally feels like the next step for us.”

Birmingham fine-dining restaurant Opus shuts doors permanently: Fine-dining restaurant Opus has announced it will not reopen and its closure has left it “heartbroken”. The Birmingham restaurant, which was led by head chef Ben Ternent and was due to reopen on Monday (17 May), blamed the pandemic for its closure. A statement from Opus said: “Our conclusion that it is not viable to carry on trading is devastating for each and every one of us. The impact of the pandemic on our industry has been extraordinary and nobody will have escaped without some level of disruption.” The owners of the Cornwall Street restaurant added the support they received during the past 12 months from the Treasury, Birmingham City Council, the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, colleagues throughout the city and suppliers across the UK “has been immense”. Opus had been operating in the city for 16 years. 
Jason Atherton appoints new general manager at Michelin-starred City Social: Chef Jason Atherton has appointed Mark Hastings as the new general manager of his Michelin-starred restaurant, City Social. Hastings, who was most recently director of restaurants at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, has previously worked for Conran Restaurants, Gordon Ramsay and Hakkasan Group. He replaces Tim Smith, who was general manager at City Social, which is based on the 24th floor of Tower 42 in the City, for just under three years. 

LXi REIT acquires portfolio of Costa drive-thru sites: LXi REIT has exchanged contracts on the forward-funding acquisition of a portfolio of Costa Coffee drive-thru properties. The FTSE 250 real estate investment trust said it had exchanged contracts on the pre-let forward-funding of a portfolio of nine drive-thru coffee units across the UK, to be developed for and pre-let to Costa Coffee on new, long-term leases. It said each asset was being built on Morrisons supermarket car parks, with roadside prominence and dense catchment populations. When combined with the 12 Starbucks drive-thrus and one Costa drive-thru the company forward-funded in 2020, LXi said it would now own a portfolio of 22 drive-thru coffee units located in Morrisons car parks. “We are pleased to have deployed swiftly and carefully the full proceeds of our recent equity capital raise into accretive, high-quality investments,” said John White, partner at LXi REIT Advisors. “These acquisitions are in structurally supported sectors and further enhance the quality and diversification of our business, including providing further scale to our drive-thru coffee portfolio.”

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