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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 2nd Dec 2021 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Pho – we are looking at 2022 with confidence, lfls up 23%: Patrick Marrinan, managing director of the TriSpan-backed Pho, has said the Vietnamese street food restaurant group is looking toward 2022 with confidence after seeing like-for-like sales increase by 23.3% over the past three months, compared to the same period in 2019. Marrinan was promoted from finance director earlier this year at the same time as TriSpan acquired a significant majority stake in the business. He told Propel: “We went into the crisis in rude health and came out a little bit bruised and battered, but in a resilient position. Since the end of our financial year in February, and despite the challenges the sector has faced, trading has been above our expectations. The last three months our like-for-like sales have been up 23.3% on the same period in 2019. We have had two great openings in Lincoln and Edinburgh – two very different places, which is a good sign for the future expansion of the business. Both have opened well above expectations and will be good additions to the portfolio. We have Nottingham coming on board in January and Cheltenham next spring. We are looking at 2022 with confidence, but with the caveat that no more restrictions come in.” For the year to 21 February 2021, the company saw turnover drop by 46.3% to £20.9m, with Ebitda down from £3.2m to £920,000. Restaurant Ebitda stood at £3m down from £7m in the previous year, aided by a pivot to delivery. Marrinan added: “The business was in a very strong position going into the crisis and was resilient throughout, helped by pivoting to delivery. Any time dine-in was allowed, such as last August and September, we out-performed expectations. One of the real strengths of the business during the crisis, and now, is its national presence. We are performing extremely well across the whole country.”

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar, Dorothy Purdew OBE to feature: Propel has launched its Premium Advent Video Calendar, giving subscribers access to a great video each day in December from our autumn conference series. Each day in December in the run-up to Christmas, Premium subscribers will be sent a video featuring some of the sector’s leading operators, who will share insights, advice and expertise. The second video, which will be sent at 9am today (Thursday, 2 December), features Dorothy Purdew OBE, who is the lady behind the Champneys brand and at the forefront of change in the spa industry. She talks about how she started the business in 1981, built it into the success it is today and remains as passionate and excited about the future now as she did 40 years ago. Premium subscribers will also receive the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Friday (3 December), at midday. The database will show the details of 366 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches. Premium subscribers also receive access to two other databases. The latest Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, was sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (26 November). The go-to 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. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Premium subscribers also receive the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated every month, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. 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 group editor Mark Wingett. 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. To subscribe, email

Generation Z ‘craving attention in venues’: Generation Z are most likely to be craving interaction with staff when in venues, according to new research. The findings, by KAM Media in partnership with pointOne, found 59% of Generation Z said staff friendliness has become more important to them since the start of the pandemic, compared with just 39% of over-55s. Generation Z and younger millennials also have higher expectations when it comes to staff knowledge about the food on offer, where it is sourced and allergens. They are also more likely to ask staff for personal recommendations compared with older customers. The research found one in three quick service restaurant (QSR) customers want staff to pro-actively engage with them, but one in ten want minimal contact with front-line staff. Customer groups who want the most interaction from staff are women (compared with men) and customers with children. Blake Gladman, strategy and insights director at KAM Media, said: “Despite the growth in technology within the customer experience, there is still a firm place for service with a smile.” The full research report is available as part of a webinar – People + Tech: A New Era of Customer Experience in QSR – that will be sent to all subscribers today (Thursday, 2 December) at 11am.

Osmond – new covid fears leading to Christmas party cancellations: Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond has warned that hospitality venues are already getting Christmas party cancellations amid fears about the Omicron variant. Pubs, bars and restaurants were excluded from the new mask-wearing rules introduced in England this week, although the measures will be reviewed after three weeks. But in a week of mixed messages, while the prime minister said people should not cancel upcoming festive gathering, one of the UK’s most senior health officials urged people to reduce social contact. “We are seeing that some of the people in large organisations who organise bigger events are taking the cautious view, because I guess they feel some overriding responsibility,” said Osmond. “We are not seeing that in young people. Social interaction is, after food and water, the most important thing for a human being’s mental health.” Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said venues around city were suffering from Christmas cancellations, adding: “They needed a good December behind them. Now this has thrown a grenade in.” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls admitted that the trade body’s members were starting to see more cancelled bookings and fears the financial impact of a second cancelled Christmas on industry businesses. She said she has no doubt that fears about the new variant would “have a dampening effect just as we were about to head into our busiest trading period, and any drop in revenue pushes businesses back to loss-making as government support like grants and furlough has fallen away”.

Seedrs set to be bought by US start-up investment platform Republic for $100m: Crowdfunding platform Seedrs is set to be bought by US start-up investment platform Republic in a $100m deal. It comes after Seedrs was stopped earlier this year by the Competition and Markets Authority from merging with its UK rival Crowdcube. Seedrs was the first regulated equity crowdfunding business in the world and £1.5bn has been invested via its platform to date. It has helped to raise early-stage funds for hospitality businesses including Australia-inspired restaurant, bar and coffee group Daisy Green. Seedrs co-founder Jeff Lynn will continue in his role as chairman and oversee Republic’s European expansion. As part of the deal, US investment firm Davidson Kempner will buy stakes owned by several of Seedrs’ largest shareholders to become a shareholder in the merged group. Almost 5,000 smaller investors – mainly Seedrs customers – also own stakes in the business. These investors will mostly be given cash for their shares, though larger investors will also be offered equity in the combined business. The deal is subject to approval by the Financial Conduct Authority and Seedrs shareholders. Republic said it would “commit substantial capital to drive growth in the UK and Europe”. Founder Kendrick Nguyen said he wanted to develop “the strengths of both companies to create a clear industry leader”. As part of the new structure, Jeff Kelisky will join Republic’s leadership team and continue as Seedrs chief executive.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a Bristol-based leisure sector company. This is a high-volume single-site venue with multiple revenue streams including accommodation, food and beverage and events. The company is looking for a general manager who will work with the senior management team to help drive the business and grow the brand. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “You will have an ability to work under pressure, with a drive and determination to achieve the best; have great people skills, with an ability to motivate and inspire team members; and excellent organisational and time-management skills with impeccable attention to detail and an ability to spot trends and errors.” The position is paying up to £65,000 base salary. For more information, email

Company News:

Rekom has capacity to acquire 30 sites per year: Scandinavian company Rekom Group, the owner of the former Deltic Group business, has capacity to acquire up to 30 sites per annum as it looks to introduce five of its brands into the UK market. Propel revealed earlier this year that the company planned to launch its Heidi’s Bier Bar brand into the UK, in Cardiff, next year. It is also looking to launch its cocktail concept Rabalder Bar, pub/bar concept Proud Mary, club concept Lou Lou and premium club concept Dorsia into the UK. The company is looking at opening clusters of venues at each location and will take leases of up to 20 years for the right location. For Heidi’s Bar and Proud Mary, it is looking for sites in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. For all the brands, which need sites ranging from 2,500 to 20,000 square feet, it is looking at sites in locations across the UK, from Aberdeen to Plymouth and York to Brighton. In April, Rekom UK chief executive Peter Marks told Propel the company planned to introduce brands from its new parent company here. Rekom Group, which operates circa 120 late-night venues across Finland, Norway and Denmark, acquired 44 of Deltic’s 55 sites out of administration at the end of last year in a circa £10m deal.

McDonald’s adds further sites to delivery kitchen estate: McDonald’s UK is continuing with the rollout of its delivery kitchen format with an opening in Nottingham, and another lined up near Derby. The Alistair Macrow-led business has opened its latest delivery kitchen, its seventh in total, on the Chettles Trade Park located off Nottingham’s Midland Way, with another expected to open in Derby later this month. The company said the opening of delivery kitchens will help nearby restaurants meet the demand from McDelivery orders while “ensuring we continue to provide the service and convenience that our customers expect”. A McDonald’s spokesperson told Propel: “At McDonald’s, we’re always looking at how we can enhance the customer experience. Our new delivery kitchens, the latest of which opened yesterday in Nottingham, will create jobs in the local area and provide a better experience to our customers ordering through our delivery service.” Propel revealed last month that the fast-food brand had opened new delivery kitchen sites in Minden Road, Sutton, and Swan Close, Croydon. Meanwhile, Propel understands McDonald’s is looking to open a further delivery kitchen, in the Hengrove area of Bristol. In June, Propel revealed McDonald’s had opened its second UK delivery kitchen site in Partnership Park in Fratton, Portsmouth. This came 17 months after the company opened its first UK delivery kitchen site in Hanworth, west London, which it launched to “meet a boom in demand for home deliveries”. The company is also trialling having separate entrances for delivery drivers picking up orders, with delivery now accounting for a third of its business. The changes are being made to help make the delivery service easier and less disruptive for those who want to eat in and are being tested in several UK restaurants. One of the first to adopt the new approach is the Bermuda Park branch in Nuneaton.

Kaye opens second site under new Italian restaurant concept Storia: Former Prezzo chief executive Jonathan Kaye has opened a second site under his new Italian restaurant concept Storia. Kaye, the ex-chief executive of Dining Street – the formerly listed Richoux Group, which was the company behind the Richoux, Friendly Phil’s, Villagio and The Broadwick restaurant brands – secured two sites in Hertfordshire for his new venture earlier this year. He launched the new concept on the former Prezzo site in Tring High Street over the summer and a second site has now launched on the former Dining Street-owned The Broadwick in Radlett. Kaye was understood to have previously been in talks to secure another former The Broadwick-branded site for the new concept. The restaurant’s website stated: “Storia is an independent restaurant. We are not part of any large corporate group, and the personal touch is key to everything we do. Our chefs make all our food in our kitchen; each dish is prepared from scratch, whether it’s blending our sauces, rolling arancini, whisking polenta or stirring risotto. Our fresh pizza dough is made on site and proved for at least 24 hours for maximum flavour. Many of our wines are sourced from trusted family vineyards in Italy but we’re also proud to showcase a selection of home-grown and international wines including those from France, Spain, South Africa, Chile and New Zealand.”

Burger & Lobster founder to launch new concept bringing famous chefs together under one roof: Misha Zelman, founder of Burger & Lobster, the nine-strong London-based restaurant group, will launch a new restaurant concept in January which will see well-known chefs collaborate on a multi-cuisine menu in one place. Zelman has partnered with former Harrods and Heston Blumenthal marketing lead Ben Hedley for Neyba, which will open its first site in London’s Westbourne Grove. Partnered chefs include Tony Singh (south and north Indian currys), Miguel Barclay (Miguel’s Pizza) and Yoko Nakada (Makes Miso Hungry), while an exclusive cook-at-home Japanese dish has been created by Endo Kazotushi for takeaway and delivery. Having struck a partnership deal with Deliveroo, Neyba will also be offering any of the chef’s dishes, or the dishes’ ingredients, for delivery. The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks from 7am-11 pm, daily. Hedley said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to bring all these incredible chefs together to offer authentic ingredients and cuisines under one roof. Having one place where we can go to sample what celebrity and Michelin star chefs eat at home, at affordable prices, we think is a game-changer.” Zelman added: “We’re excited about bringing not only fully prepared meals that are focused on delivery and eating on the go, but to bring individual grocery elements to our neighbours’ homes.” Burger & Lobster last month announced plans to expand both here and abroad and is set for a tenth UK site next year. The business, which marks its tenth anniversary this month, said week-on-week sales continue to increase and it is currently well-positioned for expansion. Dan Rogers, of Restaurant Property, acted for Neyba.

Collins – our banded pricing strategy still represents good value for money: Nick Collins, chief executive of cafe bar brand Loungers, has told Propel its banded price strategy still represents good value for money. Collins said the way the business had grown in terms of site numbers and geography had given it the opportunity to introduce the structure. Speaking following the company’s interim results, Collins said: “We have three bandings depending on the location and there is about a 3% difference between them in the pricing. For example, a flat white coffee is band A is £2.75, £2.85 in band B and £2.95 in band C. It’s only a modest amount, and we feel it continues to represent good value for money for our customers.” Meanwhile, Collins said while prime minister Boris Johnson’s message around “carrying on as normal with their Christmas celebrations” was welcome, he stressed “there needs to be much more of it” from the government and health officials. While several operators have reported cancellations as consumer confidence is hit by the emergence of the Omicron variant, Collins said the business had not seen any changes in the way consumers were behaving. “We remain optimistic about the Christmas period – and beyond – and believe covid is largely behind us,” Collins said. “It’s very welcome to see the prime minister telling people to carry on as normal, but we need to have much more of it. The last thing we need to see is consumer confidence being further dented by mixed messaging.” Collins believes the major reasons for the business’ success were down to its efforts in continually innovating and evolving by improving its offer, food consistency and hospitality, as well as the benefits of having its sites in suburban locations and market towns. He expects the business to maintain its rate of 25 openings a year in the short to medium term and would be cautious in accelerating that rate – and would only do so after consulting with its teams. He added: “We’ve performed extremely well, and that’s down to some amazing performances from our staff across the UK, and we don’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on them. We have a strong balance sheet and are still seeing plenty of site opportunities, and we’re keen to crack on once circumstances allow.” 

Fireaway set for further rapid growth as it closes in on 100-site milestone: Fast pizza brand Fireaway is set for further rapid expansion. During 2021, the company has been opening new locations at the rate of about one a week. The business has grown from 50 outlets in January to around 90 and is set to pass the 100 barrier in early 2022. This growth is due in large part to its initiative to open 25 new branches in as many weeks. Additionally, a further 20 franchise agreements have been signed, and locations for them are being sought. Fireaway has launched a global strategy aimed at following in the footsteps of Domino’s and Pizza Hut. Master franchisees have come on board in Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Founder and chief executive Mario Aleppo opened the first branch in Mitcham, south London, in 2016 and is aiming to eventually see several Fireaways in every UK city. The brand offers four different bases, four types of cheese and four types of meat as well as 20 toppings for diners to customise their pizza, with the price remaining the same regardless of the combination.

District founder branches into evening sector with opening of coffee and wine bar concept: Chelsea Finch, founder of the three-strong London-based coffee shop brand District, has launched a coffee and wine bar. Finch has opened Where’s Fred’s in Frederick’s Place in the City, having previously agreed a deal with landlord The Mercers’ Company for the 750 square-foot unit at 7 Frederick’s Place. As well as its famed coffee, Where’s Fred’s offers an array of the brunch and lunch options alongside a Mediterranean-inspired evening menu featuring charcuterie boards, sharing plates and a selection of organic wine. Finch said: “Where’s Fred’s is an evolution of the things District does so well for daytime with the addition for evening of great classic cocktails, sociable, shareable food and, of course, amazing natural wine.” Simon Taylor, property director at the Mercers’ Company, added: “Where’s Fred’s opening is particularly timely with the gradual return of people to the capital, not only does it enhance the traditional atmosphere on Frederick’s Place, but it also provides city workers and London locals with a fantastic location to enjoy, at all times of the day.” Finch operates District sites in Parsons Green, Mayfair and Nine Elms.

Ceru opens Queensway site: Eastern Mediterranean fusion restaurant Ceru has opened its second London site, at the former Royal China site in Queensway. Founded by husband-and-wife team Barry and Patricia Hilton in 2014, the duo opened their first permanent Ceru site opened in South Kensington in December 2016 after a series of pop-ups across London. They opened a second site in the capital in D’Arblay Street, Soho, in 2018 but are now swapping that for the new outlet in Queensway. Open from noon until late, the restaurant seats 68 covers including five counter seats, 12 sofa seats and 8eight bar seats. The menu contains nearly 100 ingredients and more than 20 spices, promising “a flavour journey through a bustling bazaar in Turkey, the fertile soils of Israel and Lebanon and over to the sun-soaked shores of Cyprus”. On weekends, Ceru will also host a brunch featuring Turkish eggs, spicy lamb hash, kahvalti with merguez sausages, grilled halloumi and baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. “At Ceru, we have worked hard to create a place where dining out feels like eating in – a home away from home,” said the Hiltons. “Our menus have always been reflective of our travels across The Levant, and we can’t wait to bring more of this culture and the amazing flavours to London.” Gabriella Sether, of Restaurant Property, acted on the Queensway deal.

New seafood restaurant and wine bar set to open in Shoreditch hotel: Goddards & Gibbs, a new seafood-focused restaurant and wine bar, will open at the Lore Group’s One Hundred Shoreditch hotel next February. Specialising in British seafood with a focus on ethical sourcing and local suppliers, the restaurant will offer an open and accessible menu, led by head chef Tom Moore, and a raw bar. Sitting at the front of the restaurant, overlooking Shoreditch High Street, will be The Wine Bar, where a modern offering will be complemented by sharing plates. Completing the new set-up will be The Hatch, a take-out service also specialising in seaside favourites. Goddard & Gibbs will be open every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The recently opened One Hundred Shoreditch is the latest hotel from the Lore Group and its second in London, boasting 258 bedrooms and suites. It will have six restaurants and bars in total, including a cocktail bar and rooftop bar and terrace, plus a coffee shop using local roasters Ozone Coffee. Lore Group’s international portfolio includes Pulitzer Amsterdam, Sea Containers London, Riggs Washington DC and Lyle Washington DC.

Domino’s UK founder to step down from board: Colin Halpern is to step down as non-executive vice-chairman of Domino’s Pizza Group, almost three decades after bringing the company to the UK and Ireland. Halpern will leave the business at the annual general meeting in 2022 as he seeks to focus on his business interests in the United States. Halpern secured the Domino's Pizza master franchise agreement for the UK and Ireland in 1993 and took the company public in 1999 as chairman. He became non-executive vice-chairman in 2007. Chairman Matt Shattock said: “Colin has been a pivotal figure in the development of the Domino's brand in the UK and Ireland, and it is thanks to his vision the company is as strong as it is today. He steps down from the board with the gratitude of all of us in the business.” Domino’s Pizza Group has also appointed Lynn Fordham as chair of the audit committee. She takes over from Ian Bull, who remains the senior independent director. The group has also established a sustainability committee which is being chaired by non-executive director Natalia Barsegiyan, with chief executive Dominic Paul, non-executive directors Stella David and Elias Diaz Sese appointed as committee members.

Just Eat for Business makes double appointment as it looks to build on 70% growth: Just Eat for Business, the food delivery service’s corporate arm, has made two new appointments as it looks to build on its growth fuelled by workers returning to the office or hybrid working. Matthew Fox has been brought in as head of enterprise sales, while a partnership has been struck with Sprung Collective founder James Greetham to act as an industry consultant. Just Eat for Business has reported a surge in demand for flexible workplace dining, with its commercial team announcing 70% growth since offices reopened, and hopes Fox and Greetham’s expertise will help with further expansion. Matt Ephgrave, managing director at Just Eat for Business said: “The pandemic shook up office catering as we knew it, and with it has brought a more flexible and logical model that we predict will remain relevant for years to come. With Fox and Greetham’s expertise, I’m looking forward to seeing more and more relationships develop with enterprise clients, providing more teams with the rewards and office culture they deserve.” Fox added: “I am thrilled to be joining such an ambitious business as it continues on an exciting trajectory. We are seeing huge growth in demand for delivered-in office catering and at-home employee perks, and Just Eat for Business is leading the way in providing experiences that teams really want and need.” Just Eat for Business recently launched Just Eat Pay, a service allowing companies to give employees a daily or monthly allowance to order meals at home or in the office.

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