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Wed 15th Dec 2021 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Health chief warns pubs and restaurants could close by January even without restrictions: Fears have been raised that UK pubs and restaurants could be forced to close by January – but due to a spike in covid cases sparking staff shortages rather than any new restrictions. Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told the Cabinet on Tuesday (14 December) the UK could face a million new cases of the Omicron variant by the new year, effectively causing a lockdown through a lack of workers. He warned astronomical infection rates will lead to staff shortages in hospitality venues, amid concerns of a new “pingdemic”. It comes as the Scottish government was accused of creating “lockdown by the back door” after announcing new covid restrictions. First minister Nicola Sturgeon told Holyrood that social distancing will return to pubs and restaurants, while Scots have been advised not to mix socially in groups of more than three households. Sturgeon also revealed a £100m aid package would be made available to help businesses affected by the new restrictions, but has been told that is not enough. Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, said: “This is another a bitter blow to Scotland’s pubs. The advice to cancel Christmas parties last week already devastated the sector, and these further restrictions effectively create lockdown by the backdoor. It is welcome that our calls for financial support have been listened to, and it is critical the amount of funding for individual businesses is confirmed and distributed to them as soon as possible.” UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson added: “Ensuring gatherings are limited to no more than three households and reducing crowding in some areas of venues will be challenging, but we will work with the Scottish government to ensure guidance is clear and available quickly. The announcement of the financial support of £100m is very welcome but falls short of what is needed.” Stephen Montgomery, group spokesman for The Scottish Hospitality Group, said: “December is a critically important trading month for hospitality, and without support, many venues will struggle to survive. The funding will provide a little breathing space in the short term, but it is clear the hospitality sector will require much more support if we are to save venues from going to the wall.” In England, the “Plan B” restrictions announced last week continue to hit hospitality businesses hard. Clive Watson, executive chairman of City Pub Group, said “every kind of booking was now in decline”. A Mitchells & Butlers spokesman added: “We are deeply disappointed by Plan B and the knock-on effect this will have on our industry.”

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Roland Horne: 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 (Wednesday, 15 December) – features WatchHouse founder and chief executive Roland Horne, who talks about how the coffee operator adapted during the crisis, the launch and success of its subscription model, and its plans for expansion both in the UK and internationally. 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 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

Douglas Jack – comments about Omicron being ‘mild’ hopefully sign pandemic is transitioning to endemic and ‘time for trading restrictions should almost be over’: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has argued the comments coming out of South Africa from health officials about Omicron being “mild” is hopefully a sign the pandemic is transitioning into an endemic, “in which case the time for trading restrictions should be almost over”. It comes as Jack cut his profit before tax forecast for the current financial year at JD Wetherspoon by more than 40%, arguing the business is more exposed to the “working from home” restriction than most operators. Issuing an “Add” note on the shares with a target price of 1,200p following Wetherspoon’s trading update, Jack said: “The ‘Plan B’ restriction of concern to Wetherspoon should be the advice to work from home. It is more exposed to this than many others due to its weighting to town and city centres as well as its low-cost positioning causing it to be more orientated to refuelling rather than event-led occasions. Also, the government's actions may trigger a more cautious approach from Wetherspoon’s older customers. We are changing our 2022E forecasts to reflect the company's expectations of minimal profitability in the first half and improving trading conditions in the second half. Wetherspoon’s low margin model is heavily sensitive at the profit before tax level to changes in sales, especially pricing. Not every company will he so affected; Oakman Inns said it does not expect to be negatively impacted by ‘Plan B’ restrictions. We are looking through short-term one-off events; our 1,200p target price equates to 9.5 times 2023E EV/Ebitda.”

Deposit Return Scheme delay in Scotland cautiously welcomed by Scottish Beer & Pub Association: A delay of the introduction of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in Scotland to August 2023 has been cautiously welcomed by the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA), but it warned the new timeframe remains a significant challenge. The SBPA, which is a founder member of Circularity Scotland – the government appointed scheme administrator – also warned challenges remain in implementing DRS including putting infrastructure in place ahead of the scheme being rolled-out, as well as renewed pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic. SBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “There are still a significant number of challenges that will need to be overcome between now and introduction, as well as significant additional costs for producers, retailers and customers, which the pandemic has worsened. There is also a tremendous amount of infrastructure required to deliver a scheme of this magnitude and it is imperative we get it right. The industry strong preference was for a UK-wider scheme. Introducing a DRS in Scotland effectively creates a separate market for all products captured by the scheme. This changes the logistical operations of all producers based domestically, but also those who sell products into Scotland from the rest of the UK and internationally and increases costs and complexity. Giving industry and the scheme administrator this additional time was the only workable option and we’re pleased the Scottish government have listened.” 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with an established food concept in London that requires an operations manager in the capital. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “The candidate should have experience in overseeing at least six to eight restaurants previously in an area/operations manager position plus experience with delivering training at both operational and management level.” The client is paying up to £65,000 plus bonus. For more information and to apply, email

Licensing update: Licensing solicitor John Gaunt & Partners has sent its last licensing update of the year providing a useful monthly summary of licensing news, including information on the latest covid regulations. This can be accessed here.

Company News:

Kerb to relaunch its Kerb Counter concept as all-day bar and test kitchen in Shoreditch: Street food collective Kerb is set to relaunch its Kerb Counter concept as an all-day bar and test kitchen in Shoreditch. Opening on Friday, 14 January at Rivington Studios, the site promises to host “exclusive collaborations, pop-ups and food residencies” as well as a “roster of food entrepreneurs”. Kerb Counter initially launched as Kerb’s debut bricks-and-mortar site in Camden Market in 2017, hosting beer pairings, supper clubs and private events as well as evening “trader takeovers”, but has since closed. An Instagram post from Kerb Counter stated: “We’re opening a fresh new space in the heart of Shoreditch. Its purpose? To be the core of our food and drink incubation and innovation over the coming year. We’re talking exclusive collaborations, pop-ups and food residencies from both the freshest talent in the city, and a roster of food entrepreneurs keen to reinvent the wheel. Our first Kerb Counter opened in Camden Market in 2017 (before hospitality was chewed up and spat out) and began rotating traders while experimenting on the bar. And after everything the industry has been through, it’s time we bring the focus back to coming together as a collective and nurturing the growth of these food geniuses. Alongside the test kitchen we’ll have an all-day bar, constantly developing and debuting new concoctions with our partners at Gipsy Hill and East London Liquor. We’ll be accepting coffee drinkers, dinner reservations, walk-ins, supper clubs, event ideas and more, and for those in our trader network, it doubles up as a workspace for the birthing of new ideas.” Nick Garston, of the Found Agency, acted on the deal.

Honest Burgers set to launch debut site for new plant-based burger concept: Honest Burgers, the Active Partners-backed business, will next month launch the first bricks-and-mortar site for its new plant-based burger concept, V Honest. The brand has converted its site at 17 Garrick Street, in London’s Covent Garden, and will also operate from delivery-only kitchens across London. V Honest will feature a new menu of plant-based burgers, sauces and sides and collaborations with foraging experts Fable Food Co, zero-waste pioneers Rubies in the Rubble and meat-alternative food producers THIS. Included will be vegan takes on Honest classics and new serves, all served with the company’s signature homemade rosemary salted chips. Among the all-vegan, gluten-free sides will be seasonal coleslaw, buffalo tenders and pulled shiitake nuggets. Honest Burgers co-founder Tom Barton said: “Since we launched our first vegan and flexitarian burgers at Honest in 2018, we’ve seen them go from strength to strength. We just don’t have space in our Honest Burgers kitchens to put more plant-based burgers on the menu, so we felt the best thing to do was to give them a home of their own. V Honest is that home, and it gives us the chance to spend even more time developing brand new burgers, collaborations and showcasing some of the best vegan food in the country.” 

PureGym secures £300m investment to support further expansion: PureGym, Britain’s biggest health and fitness club operator that runs more than 500 venues across the UK and Europe, has landed a £300m cash injection from private equity firm KKR to support further expansion. KKR will become a significant minority investor in the business alongside management and Leonard Green & Partners, which retain a majority ownership position. Leeds-based PureGym, which launched in 2009, runs 283 clubs across the UK and also operates Fitness World, which has 180 gyms in Denmark, and Basefit, which has 40 in Switzerland. PureGym now feels the conditions are right for significant further development, including opening more sites in its current markets and continuing its international expansion. It also plans to splash out on strengthening its existing gym network and maintaining and enhancing its technology platform. Last month, the group reported revenue of £194.1m for the nine months to 30 September 2021, with Ebitda of £70.9m. The group was also earlier this year considering a £1.5bn stock market listing but has since cooled on the idea amid market volatility.

Hillbrooke Hotels appoints new managing director: Hillbrooke Hotels, which operates four luxury boutique hotels in The New Forest and Lincolnshire, has brought back Paul Brown as managing director. Brown previously worked for the group as operations director for ten years before leaving to take up the role of regional director for Bespoke Hotels. He will now be responsible for Hillbrooke’s whole portfolio – which includes The Master Builder’s in the Beaulieu Estate, Spot in the Woods in Woodlands, near Southampton, and The Bull & Swan and The William Cecil, both in Stamford. Brown said: “It’s a privilege to be back working with Hillbrooke Hotels and its fantastic team, all of whom have worked so hard to steady the ship during the pandemic. Almost everyone appreciates the difficulties that the hospitality industry has faced in the last 18 months to two years, and the impact has been obvious. However, Hillbrooke is in a very strong position with four great hotels, great staff and a healthy dose of optimism for the future. Our focus over the coming months will be to create a positive culture where we can kill the acceptance of averageness and re-establish the basic art of hospitality in an uncomplicated way.”

Ugly Dumpling’s Fitzrovia site to open in January: Asian fusion concept Ugly Dumpling will open its second restaurant next month. The concept, which was founded by Ping Wong in collaboration with investment partner Philipp Chaykin, will open at 30 Rathbone Place in Fitzrovia for its second bricks-and-mortar site on Tuesday, 4 January. The concept, which operates across several street markets in the capital, launched its first restaurant in 2017, at the site formerly occupied by barbecue restaurant Pitt Cue in Newburgh Street. The Fitzrovia restaurant will be a much larger site than the Carnaby unit, with space for up to 60 diners including a bar counter and boxed off semi-private space for larger groups. Chaykin said: “Our Fitzrovia restaurant is the next step in Ugly Dumpling’s expansion, giving us a chance to extend our partnership with Shaftesbury, our landlord in Carnaby. Naturally we are concerned about the new covid restrictions that might come into force, but we won’t allow them to derail us from our planned opening and look forward to sharing many delicious dumplings with those in the area.” To celebrate the launch and mark “Veganuary”, Ugly Dumpling has created a limited-edition Vegan Cheeseburger Dumpling – topped with the brand’s signature burger sauce and avocado-lime vegan mayo, and filled with a soybean-based meat substitute and melted vegan cheese. Wong said: “Providing a wide choice of dumplings for vegan and vegetarian customers has always been important to us and we work hard to ensure the flavours are as bold and delicious. Our cheeseburger dumpling has been one of the most popular on the menu since we began, and we didn’t want our vegan customers to miss out.” 

Yotam Ottolenghi’s new Chelsea site set for January opening: Chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest opening under his eponymous deli concept in London’s Chelsea is set to open in January. Propel revealed in October the chef had applied to open a site in Pavilion Road, his sixth in total. The menu at the all-day eatery will feature special new dishes exclusive to the Chelsea site, and there will also be the usual large communal table and salad counter. Breakfast offerings will include scrambled eggs with cured salmon, while among the salads will be roasted sweet potato with lime and cardamom sauce. Earlier this year, Ottolenghi opened his first deli in six years, in Marylebone Lane, adding to his sites in Notting Hill, Islington, Belgravia and Spitalfields. Ottolenghi also operates the restaurants Rovi in Fitzrovia and Nopi in Soho.

Cubitt House set to reopen revamped Notting Hill pub in March, seafood offering to include raw bar: London gastropub operator Cubitt House is set to reopen the former Pomona’s site in Notting Hill as The Princess Royal pub next March – returning the venue to its original use and name. There will be a seasonal fish and shellfish focus to the menu, displayed on a raw bar within the pub. The move is part of former Salt Yard Group chef director Ben Tish’s overhaul of the Cubitt House offering since taking on the same role at the group after leaving Fitzrovia restaurant Norma. His brief was to ensure each of Cubitt House’s current portfolio of six pubs had a distinctive menu and will oversee their development alongside Richard Sandiford, previously of Hawksmoor and The Double Red Duke. The Princess Royal is one of two openings the group has planned for next year, the other being launching The Barley Mow in Mayfair. It also plans to refurbish The Alfred Tennyson in Belgravia and The Orange in Pimlico but will first focus on The Coach Makers Arms in Marylebone. The venue will continue operating as a traditional pub on the ground floor, with a 60-cover restaurant offering a chophouse-style menu on the first floor and a cocktail bar for up to 50 guests on the lower ground floor.

JD Wetherspoon – the pandemic means pubs need outdoor space: JD Wetherspoon has highlighted the importance of pubs having outdoor spaces after submitting plans for a rooftop beer garden at one of its venues. Although pubs in England have yet been hit by any new covid restrictions besides work-from-home advice, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant will have raised the spectre. Already, pubs in Scotland have today been told that social distancing measures will return to prevent crowding at the bar and between tables, and reminded to collect customer details to aid contact tracing. Outdoor space could therefore become ever more important to future trading, and Wetherspoon has already taken steps towards increasing outside capacity. The company has applied for planning permission to demolish a conservatory at the Moon Under Water in Boston, Lincolnshire, and replace it with an extension that will include a second-floor rooftop beer garden. A statement supporting the scheme said: “The covid-19 pandemic has shown it is essential that commercial premises have outdoor space where possible, to allow them to continue to operate and diversify their offer should future restrictions be put in place.” It went on to say the improvements will provide “additional customer accommodation and better facilities for pubgoers”, bringing economic benefits to the venue and wider town centre. Earlier this week, Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin warned the country “appears to be heading towards a lockdown by stealth” following concerns the government’s new “Plan B” restrictions will hit its sales. Meanwhile, Wetherspoon has revealed it has now raised £19m for its chosen charity – Young Lives vs Cancer, which the company’s staff and customers have been raising money for the charity since 2002. The money goes towards supporting 7,000 young cancer patients, and their families. 

Former Cordon Bleu alumnus opens deli kitchen concept in Henley-on-Thames: A new fine-foods deli, selling produce cooked in an on-site open kitchen, has opened in Henley-on-Thames. Pavilion is the first site to be launched under the Pavilion Foods brand, which is the brainchild of Henley resident Micah Judah, a former Cordon Bleu alumnus with many years’ experience in food retail. A kitchen team led by head chef Tania Steytler – formerly of the Severn & Wye Smokery and London’s Jeow Jeow – prepare fresh produce for the store’s own shelves or for customers to take away. Steytler will also lead an on-site cookery school, featuring guest chefs too, which is scheduled to open in early 2022. Dishes from the rotisserie include porchetta made from Gloucester old spot pork with herbs and citrus, and vegan treats such as miso-roasted celeriac with a nutty salsa romesco. Among the cold dishes are a salad of saffron-braised butter beans with fermented Isle of Wight tomatoes and smoked coppa, and a classic French onion soup with a sourdough croûte.

London-based luxury health club group opens seventh site: London-based luxury health club group Third Space has opened a seventh site, based in Mayfair’s Curzon Street. The 11,000 square-foot venue features five training areas over two floors fitted with the latest gym equipment. It is Third Space’s most technologically advanced site yet and includes a face recognition entry system and UV-treated fresh air among its smart features. Third Space chief executive, Colin Waggett, said: “Third Space Mayfair will epitomise exclusivity and personalisation – themes which will resonate with the local clientele. We’ve selected truly expert trainers to optimise the training experience and designed in all the critical touches of luxury that make every visit a great experience.” Founded in 2001 with a debut club on the Crown Estate in Soho, Third Space has since expanded to further sites in Canary Wharf, City of London, Tower Bridge, Islington, Marylebone and now Mayfair. Each club features a healthy grab-and-go cafe called Natural Fitness Food as well as facilities such as swimming pools, spas, medical centres, climbing walls, and altitude chambers, which vary from site to site.

Team behind Birmingham’s Opus restaurant open new independent kitchen and bar: Birmingham-based restaurateurs Ann Tonks, Irene Allan and Ben Ternent have opened their new venture, Chapter, in Edgbaston. The trio made plans for the new kitchen, bar and terrace after their previous venue, Opus, closed its doors permanently in May. The restaurant had been operating for 15 years but never opened again after the covid lockdowns. The new venue is based at 5-6 Greenfield Crescent in Edgbaston Village, with a menu sourcing top quality British produce from independent suppliers. Working alongside chef director Ternent is head chef Nathan Swift, with Sam Greenaway as senior sous chef and Ana Chiriac as restaurant manager. Ternent said: “This really has been a labour of love by us all, and it’s been fantastic to see it all come together after so many months of planning. Opening any new venture is always going to be a challenge, but with such a strong experienced team behind us and so many fantastic people showing their support, we cannot wait to see what the next few weeks and months have in store for us.” The venture was made possible by a diverse range of funding, including shareholder investment and club membership opportunities. Tonks added: “After the heartbreak of losing our long-established restaurant earlier in the year, this is a new lease of life. We’re starting this new chapter from scratch and have already had a huge amount of love from our community. This has given us confidence that our vision is something the city wants.”

Budweiser pledges to have net zero UK breweries by 2026, aims to inspire other businesses to reduce carbon footprint: AB InBev-owned Budweiser Brewing Group has announced plans to have net zero operations in its UK breweries by 2026, and hopes to inspire other businesses to follow in its footsteps. AB InBev wants net zero operations in five major breweries in 2028 as part of a new global ambition to achieve net zero across its value chain by 2040 – and the Budweiser Brewing Group is set to be its first to meet this target, at its Magor and Salmesbury breweries. Budweiser already brews every single can, bottle and keg in the UK with 100% renewable electricity from its own wind turbine and solar farms and has also removed plastic rings from its entire portfolio. The brewer has also met its goal of brewing with 100% British-grown barley, and recently launched a pilot to produce five million cans with the lowest carbon footprint for an AB InBev beer can produced in Europe. Now, it has partnered with Footprint to launch a report that identifies the challenges the hospitality sector faces in reaching net zero. According to the report, a growing number of hospitality businesses have begun preparing for net zero, but many remain uncertain about where to start. Mauricio Coindreau, head of sustainability and procurement at Budweiser Brewing Group, said: “As a global business, we know we can make a positive difference and set a good example, which we hope will inspire others to follow and help make significant change for the better.”

Zambrero opens second UK site: Zambrero, Australia’s largest Mexican quick-service franchise, which donates a meal for every burrito or bowl purchased, has opened its second site in the UK, in Essex. The brand, which launched in the UK, in Kentish Town, earlier this year, has opened in High Road, Loughton. Zambrero, which operates more than 200 restaurants globally, said last month that further UK sites are in the pipeline for next year, with Twickenham and Chelmsford “high on the list” for opening. The company’s UK chief executive officer, Emily Teh, said: “We’ve had an amazing reception from the Kentish Town community and, in the four months since our launch, I’m proud to say our customers have already helped us donate more than 11,000 meals to those in need. We’re really excited to be opening our second site and look forward to being a part of the Loughton community.” To date, through its Plate 4 Plate initiative, Zambrero’s global network has donated more than 52 million meals via its humanitarian partner Rise Against Hunger. Zambrero’s UK expansion marks the next phase in its goal to donate a billion meals. The business was founded in 2005 by then-medical student Dr Sam Prince.

Camden-based neighbourhood pub and restaurant launches wine store: Camden Market’s first pub has branched out into retail with the launch of a wine store. The Farrier opened in May 2021 as a neighbourhood pub and restaurant with a strong focus on natural and artisan wine. The wine store will sit alongside the pub, in a building converted from a former horse hospital and stables. The focus will be on specialty and rare natural wine, plus biodynamic and organic bottles, from small producers and wineries around the world. The Farrier was brought to Camden by friends George Hartshorn, Chris Gibson and Ollie Patterson, who have collectively worked in the hospitality and music industries for more than 30 years.

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