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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Mon 13th Dec 2021 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Oakman reports 16.3% like-for-like sales growth, best ever openings pipeline: Oakman Group, the Dermot King-led pub-restaurant operator, has reported like-for-like sales growth of 16.3% for the 21 weeks to 5 December, versus the same period in 2019. The group delivered sales of just over £26m during the period, with total growth of 34.1%. The company said it does not expect to be negatively impacted by the recently introduced “Plan B” restrictions and is forecasting year-end sales in excess of £64m. Since the start of the pandemic, Oakman has added nine new sites consisting of six Seafood Pubs, The Grand Junction, in Bulbourne near Tring, The Woburn and, the most recently opened, The Rose in Wokingham, taking it to 36 sites. The business said The Rose has traded “extremely well” since opening in October and is averaging in excess of £40,000 net per week. Oakman is on-site in Buckingham where it is restoring the traditional name to The Grand Junction Arms, which will open in the spring. Further new sites will open in 2022 with planning permission secured for sites in Watford, Epsom and Ludlow. The company has also acquired a freehold site in Harpenden and has applied for planning permission to develop a three-storey pub, to be named Kingston House, featuring a roof terrace. Negotiations are at an advanced stage for a site in Gerrards Cross and for further locations in Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Lancashire. Work will also start next year on a major project, Bush Hall in Old Hatfield, which will complete in 2023. The company plans to have 70 sites open by June 2026. King said: “This success hasn’t come from nowhere: it is an outcome of our huge focus on people. We are not unduly concerned by the ‘Plan B’ restrictions. Although we have seen some corporate bookings cancelled, they are being rapidly replaced by smaller, family bookings and I expect Christmas trading to be very strong.” Executive chairman Peter Borg-Neal added: “We have by far the best pipeline we have ever had and are looking forward to the future with great confidence. All our new sites are performing ahead of expectation. Our core estate continues to deliver big numbers with reassuring regularity. To see sites such as The Akeman in Tring and The Kings Arms in Berkhamsted, that are more than ten years old, deliver sales in excess of £50,000 during November is not only heart-warming but also evidence of the longevity of our business.” Oakman will also launch its first FCA regulated fundraise since becoming a plc. The fundraise, which launches on Friday (17 December), allows Oakman shares to be available to the general public – in particular, customers of the group. Subscribers to the issue will also be able to access discounts of up to 50% off food, deals on hotel bookings and enjoy privileges such as invitations to new openings and major sporting events. 
Seafood Pub Co division reports like-for-likes up 14.9% and opens first site in south – see Company News 

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Sam Jones: 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 next video – which will be sent at 9am today (Monday, 13 December) – features Sam Jones, Junkyard Golf managing director, who talks about the evolution of the experiential brand from pop-ups to five permanent sites, evolving the offer, the advantages of in-house design, developing the bar offer and preparing for future expansion. Earlier this month, Premium subscribers received the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock. The database showed 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, and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. 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 

Halting of further covid restrictions welcomed by Welsh hospitality but more guarantees needed: UKHospitality Cymru has pleaded with the Welsh government to keep further covid restrictions at bay during the festive period to give operators a fighting chance. Friday’s (10 December) announcement there would be no more restrictions on hospitality businesses in Wales for at least seven days has been welcomed by the trade association. Diners and drinkers have instead been asked to take a lateral flow test before going out and wear masks when not eating or drinking in pubs and restaurants to help stop the spread of the Omicron variant. However, with the measures being reviewed weekly, UKHospitality Cymru executive director David Chapman has urged Senedd to avoid further restrictions until the new year. “It’s very welcome news indeed for our anxious, cash-strapped businesses,” he said. “More restrictions in Wales would have been very damaging at this crucial trading time. However, the new weekly reviews do add uncertainty, and it is now essential we remain restriction-free until the new year as businesses are reporting revenues are around 20% below expectation for this pivotal season, and that they are facing difficult commercial decisions going into 2022. We have been restricted, closed or trading below viability for more than 20 months, and now the cupboard is bare. The festive season is not providing the safety net we need to get us through the hard post-Christmas period, so I have asked the minister for the economy to consider sector business rates support, support to retain VAT at 12.5%, rent protection and a grants scheme to protect businesses and our employees going forward.”
Sacha Lord launches ‘Axe the Red Wall Tax’ campaign: Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester's night-time economy adviser, has launched a campaign to fight back against the government’s latest proposed tax hike. The “Axe The Red Wall Tax” campaign has been launched as part of a protest against a second tax rise for pubs and restaurants “which will put 12,600 businesses at risk”. Lord said: “Britain’s pubs, cafes, restaurants, and hotels have already suffered immense damage since March 2020. Sales across hospitality are around half what they were in 2019, and the sector remains in crisis mode. Yet for some unfathomable reason, this government plans to practically double VAT for hospitality businesses, putting at risk the survival of 12,600 businesses, forcing them to raise prices for consumers and six in ten of them to cut jobs. And it’s in Red Wall constituencies that this tax will hit people the hardest. This Tory tax rise is a Red Wall tax on working class northerners, plain and simple. It will hurt the poorest in our society more than anyone else, eating into the disposable incomes of the UK’s poorest 10% of people three times more harshly than the richest 10%. I’m not sure why it’s left to me to tell a Conservative government not to raise taxes, but the road we are going down will do nothing but stifle investment, economic growth and recovery. Despite having entered the pandemic as one nation, the Red Wall tax would mean we emerge more unequal than ever. This is why I’m launching my campaign to ‘Axe the Red Wall Tax’. If politicians of all stripes are really serious about levelling up, and helping those parts of the country that have had a poor deal for so long, they need a strong and thriving British hospitality sector. The Red Wall tax will kill our industry and is the surest route to levelling down, and I’ll certainly be fighting it every step of the way.” 

Company News:

Oakman – Seafood Pub Co like-for-like sales up 14.9%, opens first site in south with more to follow: Oakman Group, the Dermot King-led pub-restaurant operator, has said the six Seafood Pub Company sites it acquired from administration in February have delivered like-for-like sales growth of 14.9% for the first 21 weeks of the financial year. Oakman, which paid just under £3m to acquire the six sites, told Propel progress had been “excellent” since the sites reopened in May following a programme of repairs, decoration and the installation of enhanced outdoor facilities. Due to the success of the Seafood sites, Oakman said it had taken the decision to expand the business. The Pointer in Brill became a Seafood site in November and when The Grand Junction, in Bulbourne near Tring, reopens next spring after a £1.1m development it will also join the Seafood ranks. Oakman said it was also very close to acquiring a substantial freehold pub in Lancashire that will also become a Seafood pub. A further site from within the Oakman Group is likely to be added in the new year to bring the total up to ten by Easter. Oakman said it now has a clear two-pronged strategy to develop the Seafood Pubs division as well as continue to grow the main Oakman Inn estate. At the same time as the deal for the six sites, Joycelyn Neve joined Oakman as managing director of the newly formed Seafood Pubs division. The company said it had also utilised the supply chain and product knowledge of the Neve family to upgrade its fish offer across its entire estate. It said Neve has also “clearly demonstrated a flair for hotel operations” and she has been given cross group responsibility for the marketing and product development of its rooms offer. Oakman Group founder and executive chairman, Peter Borg-Neal, said: “We were always confident this would be an excellent deal and now we have that confirmed through some very good trading numbers. With these positive sales and the advantages of the operational efficiencies, delivered by the integration of the Seafood Pubs into Oakman, we can state we have purchased this business on a three times Ebitda multiple, which is clearly good business. But more importantly we have had a really smooth integration and I know all of Joycelyn’s team are delighted to be part of the Oakman family. We have an objective to have 70 successful sites open by June 2026. What proportion of these will be Seafood Pubs depends on the performance of the Seafood Pubs. Both concepts will be developed nationally and three of the next four Seafood Pubs will open in the south east and we expect to have an Oakman Inn in Lancashire within 18 months.” Neve said: “I am excited the Oakman Group board is showing the confidence it has in me and my team by transferring some of our existing pubs to me and approving an acquisition programme to deliver more sites in 2022.”

Mackenzie – we are looking to broaden our focus so Greene King has a more diverse portfolio: Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, has told Propel the company is looking to broaden its focus and makes its portfolio much more diverse. He said: “Greene King has, for a while, been focused on mainstream value, and been slightly more wet-led than food-led. We are looking to broaden that, make it a much more diverse portfolio. Long-term, this gives you a hedge against situations like this (the pandemic) – it also means you can get a much more stable profit base. Where we think we can make better returns and a long-term stronger business is by investing in new concepts and new brands, like Crafted Pubs.” Earlier this year, the company invested a six-figure sum in transforming The Boat in the Solihull borough of Catherine De Barnes – a former Chef & Brewer – into the new format. The company said the trial site was the start of “fulfilling our strategy to explore how we might enhance our pub experiences and expand into the premium market”. A second Crafted site has recently opened at The Watermill in Dorking, Surrey. Mackenzie said: “On Crafted, that was about how we develop our own concepts and brands and build the expertise to do that. We have done two, and there is a pipeline to do more, and we think in time, we can take that to some decent numbers. I think it is more than an evolution of Chef & Brewer. It is quite differentiated, but it may use some of that brand’s sites.” Another focus will be on the growth of its premium-led Metropolitan Pub Co division. Mackenzie said: “In Metropolitan, we sit on a business that is delivering really strong customer scores and is in a really strong segment but is predominantly located in London, with one or two outside. When I came in, one of the first things I recognised was that business had a lot of potential if we can scale it. We have 60 or so pubs in there at the moment, and I wouldn’t want to take it to 200, but could you take it to 120? Maybe, and that’s through a combination of acquisitions and utilising existing pubs. This year, it has been about getting some of these premium offers up and running, spending millions on upgrading our outside spaces and focusing on the next evolution of Chef & Brewer, which has rooms. The Riverside in Shrewsbury opened as we came out of lockdown, and that is doing very well. This was an acquisition we acquired pre-lockdown and invested more than £1m in. We are looking at how to best to maximise that circa 130-strong Chef & Brewer estate.”

Red Oak Taverns acquires eight free of tie pubs from Euphorium: Red Oak Taverns, the national pub operator founded by Aaron Brown and Mark Grunnell in 2011, has completed the acquisition of eight free of tie pubs in Bristol from Euphorium Pubs for an undisclosed sum. This makes it the fifth portfolio acquisition this year by Red Oak, growing its estate to 208 pubs operating on a range of flexible agreements. Grunnell said: “We are delighted to add these eight free of tie pubs located across Bristol to complement our already significant free of tie estate. There’s plenty of scope to build trade at each of them and we are looking forward to integrating the pubs into the Red Oak business. Our ability to operate a range of agreements that are flexible and are specifically tailored to each pub and the operator rather than a rigid business model mean we have more options when considering pub purchases. We continue to seek out the right opportunities and are confident we can accelerate our plans and substantially grow the size of our pub estate with our ongoing acquisition strategy.” Euphorium was advised on the transaction by Kevin Conibear, divisional director at Fleurets. Red Oak was not externally represented.

Azzurri Group to open delivery kitchen site featuring all its brands: Azzurri Group, the TowerBrook Capital-backed business, is to open a delivery kitchen site featuring all of its brands – ASK Italian, Coco Di Mama, Pod and Zizzi, early next year, Propel has learned. The Steve Holmes-led business is set to team up with delivery kitchen operator Foodstars at its site in Bethnal Green, for a launch in early January. Over the course of the pandemic, Azzurri Group has rolled out the Coco Di Mama brand as a delivery concept to circa 130 sites across its ASK estate and through parts of its Zizzi business. In October, the group launched a food to go trial partnership for its Coco di Mama brand with Sainsbury’s. It saw a range of Coco di Mama’s fresh, premium grab and go products available in 15 London convenience stores. Sainsbury’s customers are able to choose from eight of Coco di Mama’s “made fresh, every day” baguettes and salads. In September, Holmes told Propel the Coco Di Mama brand has some “exciting opportunities” ahead with licensing and franchising as a delivery brand.

Japanese concept Kurobuta to open in Fitzrovia: Japanese rock ‘n’ roll concept Kurobuta is to open a site in London’s Fitzrovia. The concept, founded by Scott Hallsworth, is to take on the former Mac & Wild site in Great Titchfield Street. Kurobuta was launched as a pop-up before opening permanent sites in Chelsea and Marble Arch, with the latter still operating. Mac & Wild also operated a site in Devonshire Square, which is closed. CDG Leisure acted on the Great Titchfield Street deal.

Gloucester Brewery passes £500,000 crowdfunding target: Gloucester Brewery has passed its £500,000 fundraising target on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. The company reached its target on Friday (10 December) thanks to 767 investors, and with the campaign running until Wednesday (15 December), it remains open to further funding. Founded by Jared Brown in 2011, the company is offering 9.09% equity in return for the investment, giving a pre-money valuation of £5m. The funds will also be used to further develop its new Warehouse Four space to include events space, a sustainable wedding venue and the region’s first waterside taproom and self-serve bar. The company opened the Tank bar in Gloucester in 2015, and in 2020 brought out its own range of spirits. Sales across the group exceeded £1m in 2019, and prior to the pandemic it had been profitable for three years, with 2019 profits of £40,863. Its post-covid recovery has been impressive too, with revenue in August 2021 up 612% on January 2021, from £15,600 to £116,000, and average monthly growth of 39% over the last six-month period. The company, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by the end of next year, is also aiming to grow its portfolio of bars across the south west.

Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini’s debut London restaurant to launch in January: Restaurateur Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini will open Itaku, his first London restaurant, in Fitzrovia in January. Fernandez-Versini has brought on board Ivan Simeoli as head chef and taken on what was his previous restaurant, Raw, at 110 Great Portland Street. Simeoli, who has previously worked at Massimo Bottura’s three Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Francescana in Italy, only opened Raw seven months ago as a second branch of his Brick Lane-based seafood bar and fishmonger concept, previously called Crudo. He opened the restaurant on the site of one of his former pizzerias, Laboratorio Pizza. At Itaku, a menu of mixed Italian and Japanese cuisine will include Sicilian red prawns with black truffle ponzu and shiso, and soya milk poached pork belly with baked Umbrian beans. Nicholas Medicamento, a former bartender at The Savoy’s American Bar, will be in charge of a cocktail menu that includes a Japanese twist on the Bloody Mary, using yawataya isogoro seasoning and yuzu juice. Fernandez-Versini is also behind Cannes Film Festival pop-up restaurant Cosy Box, which is now in its 15th year.

Video-based hospitality hiring platform raises $1.5m in funding round: Gigl, a video-based jobs platform targeting the hospitality industry, has closed its latest funding round at $1.5m. Instead of using the traditional CV approach, Gigl allows employers to combine the application process, telephone screening and first-round interview into a 60-second video. Many of the positions on the platform – which has had more than 40,000 jobseeker downloads and is used by Hard Rock Hotel, Subway and Tortilla among others – are now hospitality and events based. The funding round, led by Cerebrum Tech and supported by OxBridge Angels and other investors, will enable Gigl to grow its marketing coverage and tech offerings, and further expand its user base. Holly Smith, Gigl’s head of employers, said: “Companies are keen to engage on using an innovative digital solution to find motivated candidates seeking to work in the hospitality industry. The hospitality sector has reportedly more than 200,000 open roles across the UK alone. This funding will enable Gigl to evolve much faster across the UK and plan for international expansion.”

London-based Mexican bar and restaurant to double up with January opening: Mezcalito, a Chelsea-based Mexican bar and restaurant specialising in tacos, quesadillas and burritos, will open a second London site in the new year. Mezcalito will launch in January at the site of the former Meze Bar & Restaurant at 63 Newington Green Road, in Highbury. Small plates on offer will include a Mexican take on the bao, with a choice of either chicken tinga or pulled pork carnitas. A drinks offering featuring 250 agave spirits – claimed to be the second biggest collection in London – will also include “a journey through Mexico” in the form of cocktails.

Former The Savoy head mixologist opens debut solo venture: Elon Soddu, former head mixologist at The Savoy, has opened his debut solo venue, Kensington cocktail bar Amaro. Soddu has put together a team with experience of working in five-star hotel bars for the 38-seat, 75 square-metre, Kensington High Street venue. A cocktail list that includes the caramel punch – with brandy, dulce de leche, coconut milk, fernet and lime – will sit alongside Italian wine and spirits, while a small plates offering will feature an Italian charcuterie and cheese selection, panzanella and burrata salad, and Sardinian tuna tartare. “I met my business partner at an event where I was bartending – he had a site in Kensington and asked if I’d be interested,” Soddu, who was also head bartender at the Beaufort Bar, told Class. “We’re both Italian, so we agreed on the Italian concept from the beginning. We wanted to have a focus on cocktails but also an elevated experience for the guest – to bring the five-star hotel experience into a neighbourhood cocktail bar.”

Beannchor opens £1m venue in former JD Wetherspoon pub in Lisburn: Northern Ireland hospitality company Beannchor Group has opened its new £1m venue in JD Wetherspoon’s former Lisburn pub. Beannchor has launched The Lark, creating 30 jobs. The two-floor venue mirrors Beannchor’s pub in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter – The Dirty Onion – with a fully heated and covered outdoor area. The upper level is taken up by the group's second “Yardbird” restaurant. Beannchor director Conall Wolsey told the Irish News that The Lark reinforces the group’s commitment to further enhancing Lisburn’s growing hospitality scene. It follows the opening of the £4m Haslem hotel last year, and the Little Wing pizzeria, which has been open since 2017.

Compass Scotland offers jobs through first Gateway to Employment programme: Contract caterer Compass Scotland, part of Compass UK & Ireland, has completed its first Gateway to Employment programme. In partnership with hospitality charity, Springboard, the programme offers each candidate a guaranteed information, advice and guidance interview about employment and skills development opportunities with Compass Scotland. Following the three-week programme, six candidates have accepted roles at the Scottish Events Campus in a mix of apprentice chef, front of house, administration and stock control positions, while two secured roles at other venues. The bespoke programme was launched by Compass Scotland with a commitment to create and develop 100 new Modern Apprentice opportunities in its first year. David Hay, Compass Scotland managing director, said: “Scotland’s reputation for hospitality and food and drink is world-renowned, and we are proud to be looking to the future and ensuring the next generation of talent is nurtured.”

Shropshire-based service station operators branch out with coffee shop and bar concept: Brother-and-sister duo Darren and Laura Barker, who have run St Martin’s Service Station in Oswestry, Shropshire, for the last six years, have opened a coffee shop and bar concept in the town. Twisted Taste, which was launched on the Leg Street site on a former clothes shop, operates as a coffee house by day and a bar by night. The siblings lease the premises. “We have been running the service station at St Martin’s for six years, which has been going very well, so decided it was a good time to expand our interests through this new opportunity,” Laura told The Business Desk. “We started selling some craft ale at the service station and that really took off, so thought the idea of a coffee shop-come-bar would be a good idea. The plan is to concentrate on craft ale and cocktails, so the focus will be very much on high-end coffee in the day and high-end wine, cocktails and ale during the evenings. We will be trialling opening times to gauge demand and will then change things if we need to.” 

Tim Hortons set for Bolton drive-thru opening: Canadian quick service restaurant brand Tim Hortons has submitted plans to develop a drive-thru coffee shop in Bolton. SK Group, which is leading the rollout of the brand in the UK, wants to transform the former Thomas Cook and Hays Travel building at Burnden Park into its first outlet in the town. The application has been lodged with Bolton Council on behalf of Tim Hortons, which was formed in 1964 and now has 37 UK outlets and a further 15 “coming soon”. Having first come to the UK in 2017, Tim Hortons has plans to bring a restaurant to every major UK town by 2022. Last week, the business opened drive-thru sites in Belfast and Thurrock.

Birmingham brothers to double up with new restaurant in city: Independent restaurateurs Sunny and Sonu Rull are opening their second site in Birmingham with the launch of The Rolling Mill in the city’s Jewellery Quarter. The bar and restaurant will serve guests a “fresh take on European flavours and classics with a vintage twist”. The Rulls, who also run the Hen & Chickens in Constitution Hill – a pub famed for its Indian desi food – bought the 19th century former tram shed last year. Made up of two industrial barns joined together inside, the 7,857 square-foot space has undergone a six-figure refurbishment to create capacity for 280 covers, a heated mezzanine rooftop, a covered courtyard, two bars and a private internal terrace. The final stages of the build are scheduled for completion on Thursday (16 December), and at least 40 jobs are expected to be created. Sunny said: “We’re thrilled to be moving forwards with our first phase of launch. We believe The Rolling Mill concept is going to help revitalise what was such a thriving sector in the city.”

Chopstix opens site in Ilford: Chopstix, the pan-Asian quick service restaurant concept, has continued its UK expansion with an opening in Ilford, east London. The Jon Lake-led business, which operates more than 60 sites across the UK, has opened the outlet in High Street. The store includes the brand’s “living wall”. “We’re thrilled to have the chance to bring another store to the south east and continue our expansion,” Rob Burns, marketing director for Chopstix, told Essex Live. “We’re looking forward to getting to know the locals and mixing things up with our faster, fresher, tastier way!” Chopstix has just launched its limited-edition Christmas churros and customers can scan the QR code at the bottom of their medium box to be in with the chance of winning one golden ticket to eat free at Chopstix for a year.

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