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Tue 21st Dec 2021 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Weekend hospitality sales plummet over Omicron fears, third of nightclubs fear permanent closure: More than half (54%) of venues were down more than 40% in revenue last weekend, with one in five businesses reporting a crushing sales drop of more than 60% amid fears over Omicron, according to figures from UKHospitality. On top of this, 88% of operators said they feel negative about the potential of New Year’s Eve trading and four in five operators have already experienced cancellations for bookings in what was already set to be a quiet first quarter next year. Ministers are mulling over further restrictions, with covid cases having risen to record levels in the past week. Asked if financial support for the hospitality industry was coming, prime minister Boris Johnson said: “No one wanted this to go this way – Omicron has exploded so fast we have seen people naturally deciding to protect themselves. Packages are already in place, and we will keep everything under review.” With concerns heightening of more measures, a third of night-time businesses fear permanent closure while a fifth believe they could lose their entire workforce, without urgent government support. The survey of more than 500 venues by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) found venues have lost £46,000 per unit in lost sales and cancellations during the festive period. Half of all businesses in the night-time economy will have to slash more than half of jobs in their workforce if the government does not help, the NTIA said. London was 38% down on visitors to hospitality on Sunday (19 December), compared with 2019, according to figures from Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social, while Manchester was down by 32%. UKHospitality has already warned 10,000 sites are at risk of shutting altogether unless immediate financial support is forthcoming. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We know from previous lockdowns that it causes venues to haemorrhage cash. It costs £10,000 to close each site and a subsequent £10,000 per month on overheads, and that was with full furlough and rate relief. Hospitality operators desperately want to keep their doors open and trade their way to recovery, particularly during the Christmas period, which is not only key for balance sheets but for the communities and people our businesses serve. However, these catastrophic figures clearly show that trading levels are now so low that without government support, many businesses will not survive into the new year and jobs will be lost. Cancellations have annihilated cash reserves. The industry urgently needs grants for short-term business survival and an extension to business rates relief and the lower VAT rate to secure longer term survival and planning. It is also crucial the government lets the industry know as soon as possible if measures are to be imposed and what they might be, to allow for as much damage limitation as possible.” Corbin & King has joined the growing list of operators announcing temporary closures after shutting its St John’s Wood restaurant, Soutine, with the “prevailing combination of a high volume of cancellations and covid concerns putting considerable strain” on the venue. The company stated: “We plan to open again as soon as possible in January, and we thank all our customers for their understanding.” 

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Michael Harrison: 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 (Tuesday, 21 December), – features Michael Harrison, co-founder of Gravity, who discusses the company’s “future of the high street offer”, the thinking and launch of its 80,000 square foot entertainment venue in London’s Wandsworth, and how it offers a solution for landlords who are looking to diversify and secure the future of their assets. 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

Hospitality businesses no longer need planning permission for outdoor dining gazebos: Measures involving outdoor dining originally introduced during the pandemic will now be made permanent following a public consultation. Pubs, cafes and restaurants will now be able to install gazebos on their own land without planning permission, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced. Craig Beaumont, chief of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Today’s announcement is a positive, sensible deregulatory measure. It permanently removes barriers for small businesses to do things that we all love in our local areas, and so small firms will be pleased to see this. As we look to keep going through the Omicron wave, this will be something that supports the spring economic recovery, giving a boost to firms that have been affected so deeply by covid. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, added: “Marquees and other structures provided a lifeline for some businesses during the pandemic, evidencing the value of covered outdoor spaces to hospitality venues. Today’s announcement is a really positive move to rid businesses of an administrative burden and encouraging better use of outdoor space – for many venues it will expedite future recovery and growth.”

Business rates relief for Welsh hospitality businesses welcomed, but warning sounded more relief is needed: UKHospitality Cymru has welcomed the 50% business rates relief for struggling pubs, restaurants and leisure businesses announced in the Welsh budget. However, the trade body added urgent additional support will still be needed to “avoid economic carnage in the sector”. David Chapman, UKHospitality executive director for Wales, said “This help was essential to help our businesses from April forward, when there will be a new raft of challenges to face, including VAT returning to 20%, higher national insurance contributions and food, drink and energy inflation. However, the sector faces economic carnage in the new year after a vital Christmas season trading was dismantled by pessimistic messaging surrounding the new Omicron variant. We desperately need proportionate grant support to pull our businesses and workers out of huge debt and sub viable trading that we have endured for most of the past 21 months or so.” 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a fast-expanding bar and restaurant group that is looking for a managing director. A COREcruitment spokesman said, “The business is looking in the London market for someone who has strong commercial awareness but can prove they can upscale a business. The client has several successful sites and will be rapidly expanding across London in 2022-23.” The role is paying up to £150,000 plus bonus and benefits. For more information and to apply, email

Company News:

Oakman forecasts sales to increase to £160m by 2026 as it sets out expansion plans for £10m fundraise: Oakman Group, the Dermot King-led pub-restaurant operator, is forecasting sales will increase from a run rate of £46m to £160m by June 2026 as it sets out its expansion plans as part of proposals to raise up to £10m. The company is undertaking its first Financial Conduct Authority regulated fundraise as it builds on the £4.4m it previously raised to support its growth, as it aims to have 70 sites in its portfolio in the next five years. Oakman said the projected sales growth represents a compound annual growth rate of 23% versus 30% achieved in the preceding five years. More than 95% of this is expected to come from new openings and major capital improvement projects, with less than 5% coming from the existing 36-strong estate. Site Ebitda is expected to increase from a run rate of £9.5m to £38m by June 2026, while business Ebitda is expected to grow from a run rate of £5.3m to £30.9m by June 2026. Oakman said this increase is a product of site Ebitda increasing by £28.3m while central costs are only expected to increase by £3.8m as management believes the group “already has the infrastructure and senior management costs required to operate a much larger business”. The company said four sites expected to open in the current financial year were already owned or under option. Two of the nine sites expected to open in FY23 are also either already owned or under option, with at least six more in advanced stages of negotiation. Oakman said 21 of the 45 sites that are expected to be added are freehold, with the balance being either long leasehold or held on “sensible” commercial free-of-tie leases. While excluded from the business plan, Oakman said “significant opportunities exist to consolidate the premium pub market”, and management has identified a “number of complimentary pub/restaurant groups with between five and 30 sites that might become available to purchase”. Oakman hopes to raise at least £5m, with the funds being used to develop its current pipeline of The Beech House in Epsom (£1.8m), The Beech House in Watford (£2.3m) and The George in Ludlow (£2m). If it achieves above its target, with the group having the authority to allot up to £10m of shares, the funds will be part used to develop The Anchor in Hullbridge (£2.9m), Kingston House in Harpenden (£2.8m) and Bush Hall in Hatfield (£3.2m). Executive chairman Peter Borg-Neal told Propel: “Despite a difficult backdrop of cancellations and renewed threats of further restrictions, we have had a superb start to the fundraise. We have commitments of more than 600,000 already, and we will be nearing £1m within a few days. I like to think that this reflects the confidence our customers have in the ability of our management team, and their belief enduring consumer attractiveness of well-run premium public houses.”

Rekom UK secures Birmingham site for Heidi’s Bier Bar concept: Rekom UK, the Peter Marks-led nightclub operator, has secured a second site for Danish concept, Heidi’s Bier Bar. Propel has learned Rekom has secured a site next to its existing Pryzm nightclub in Broad Street, Birmingham, for an opening next 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 Rekom 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 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. 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.

Blackrose launches first site under new Dirty Habit concept: Blackrose, the pub company backed by real estate investment company Aprirose, has launched a new pub concept called Dirty Habit, which it hopes to roll out nationally, Propel has learned. The circa 40-strong business has rebranded a site in Whickham, Gateshead, to the new concept. The company said: “We have recently completed a full rebrand and refurbishment of a new concept pub named Dirty Habit Whickham, Gateshead – a concept we hope to take nationally. As one of our most ambitious refurbishments to date, we have created a new brand, food and cocktail menu as well as an urban, industrial (while comfortable) interior, with artwork inspired by our north east England roots. This new venue steers clear of the classic pub ‘function room’ and instead is host to a fan zone, with benches, faux grass and multiple TVs so you don’t miss the action.”

BrewDog launches workplace code following independent review into staff bullying accusations: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has launched its first workplace code following an independent review into accusations of a “toxic attitude” and “culture of fear” at the company. The accusations, made earlier this year, led to an apology to former employees from BrewDog co-founder James Watt – followed by the review. Watt has now shared its findings in announcing the code, which he described as a “framework for how we will look to build a fantastic culture”. Watt said: “The review highlighted the vast majority of our people really enjoy working at BrewDog, and we have moved on a long way in terms of how we look after our people through our eras of extremely high growth. However, we also recognise we did not always get things right. The review highlights the need for us to do more to support our people, provide them with a proper career path and give them the right learning and development opportunities. We need to train the leaders of tomorrow, giving them the skills they need to manage people, and we need to ensure we have the right level of resource in place across the organisation.” Alongside the code, BrewDog has made several structural changes including appointing a new head of learning and development, introducing management developing training, upsizing its human resource department and appointing a series of mental health ambassadors. Watt added: “This has been a tough year, but despite all these challenges, I am proud to say we’ve managed to navigate the pandemic and grown the business considerably. We will achieve top-line growth of around 25% year-on-year in 2021 and we’ve opened 16 new, fantastic hospitality venues, with many more planned next year. The open letter was tough to read, but it was the catalyst for a period of reflection, individually and as a business. The steps we have already taken, and the further measures announced, will not only make a real difference to the experience of our hard-working people, they will also make BrewDog a stronger business, better prepared to capitalise on the huge opportunities we see ahead in 2022 and beyond.”

The Inn Collection Group secures first Welsh site: The Alchemy-backed Inn Collection Group is set to make its Welsh debut after securing The Swallow Falls Hotel, in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. The undisclosed deal for the 19-room site and adjoining hostel with campsite is also the Northumberland-based operator’s first acquisition outside of its north of England heartland. The site will be closed as an immediate restoration of the building, which is located next to the Swallow Falls waterfall in Betwy-y-Coed, north Wales, begins. Sean Donkin, managing director of The Inn Collection Group, said: “What sets The Inn Collection Group aside is the exceptional locations of our trading environments and their beautiful outdoor localities and The Swallow Falls Hotel is a perfect match. We are passionate about investing in unique sites like Swallow Falls and to unlocking their potential through sympathetic restorations while preserving their character and charm. We look forward to investing in a significant but careful refurbishment of this property and beginning a new chapter for The Inn Collection Group.” The Swallow Falls Hotel is the group’s seventh purchase of 2021, with more acquisitions in the pipeline as it continues to expand with strategic “buy and build” growth plans, supported with funding from OakNorth. Imogen Holland, of Ward Hadaway, acted on The Swallow Fall Hotel acquisition, along with Silverstone and Bradley Hall.

Shepherd Neame and Robinsons to give licensees 10% rent reduction from January: Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame and north west-based brewer and retailer Robinsons are giving their licensees a 10% rent reduction from January in light of the ongoing covid-19 situation. Shepherd Neame stated: “When lockdown first came into effect in March 2020, we immediately cancelled all pub rent during the period of closure. This was followed by continued provision of reduced rent after reopening, totalling more than £7m of support to date. In light of the ongoing covid-19 situation, we have announced a 10% rent reduction for our licensees from 1 January.” The support is aligned to the government’s “Plan B” restrictions and will remain in place so long as they are retained. Chief executive Jonathan Neame said: “These remain challenging times, and we want to ensure we continue to offer every support possible to help our licensees preserve the future of their businesses. Throughout this crisis, our focus has always been to protect our people, our pubs and the company for the long term.”  In a letter to his company’s tenanted pubs, Robinsons managing director (pub division), William Robinson, wrote: “We have made two quick decisions that will support your businesses. Firstly, we are delaying our annual price increase by a month, to March. Secondly we will be reducing your rent in January by 10%.” The company has also written to several MPs to ask them to lobby the chancellor for a targeted furlough scheme for hospitality, an extension of the VAT reduction to the end of 2022, axing business rates until April 2022 and removing the £110,000 cap. Robinson added: “The financial stability of our extended family of tenanted licensees is crucial to plans for us to invest our way out of this pandemic, so we will continue to do what we can, but recognise the government is going to have to step in too.”

Red Lion Holdings opens Cotswolds-based boutique country inn: Red Lion Holdings (RLH), the pub investment group led by sector entrepreneurs Jason Myers and David Ramsey, has opened Wild Thyme & Honey – a new boutique country inn in the heart of the Cotswolds. Located in the village of Ampney Crucis, near Cirencester, Wild Thyme & Honey has 24 bedrooms as well as events spaces. It sits with The Crown at Ampney Brook, a pub and dining room. The company said The Crown has been “lovingly restored from a 16th century inn to create something beautiful and long-lasting for the local community”. It said: “Expect farm-to-table menus that roll with seasons and the surrounding Cotswolds hills – making the most of the centuries-old farmers and local suppliers to source the best quality meat, fish and vegetables.” The Crown also features two private dining rooms upstairs – The Hide, and the smaller, The Eaves. There are also three Riverside Hives, alfresco glass domes on the terrace that look over the water. While being run as an independent boutique, Wild Thyme and Honey is owned by RLH, which also backs Grosvenor Pubs & Inns and Red Mist Leisure. 

Hertfields partners with Star Pubs & Bars for third leased Hertfordshire pub, eyes further sites: Hertfordshire-based events and hospitality company Hertfields has taken on its third leased pub following a £170,000 refurbishment with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars. The grade-II listed The Fox at Pirton, near Hitchin, has had many of its original features restored, while a new kitchen will enable the venue to introduce food in the new year, with a focus on pub classics. Hertfields, which also operates The Red Lion at Weston and The White Horse in Arlesey, took its first leased pub eight years ago before expanding into event management, specialising in festivals and corporate activities. Owner Steve Birch said: “The two sides of the business complement each other well. Our events expertise helps us create special experiences and additional income opportunities at our pubs. Our pubs, in turn, provide consistent employment for our events team and more flexibility with food and drink stock. It all makes for an efficient and robust business model with a lot of growth potential. The Fox is a great addition to our growing business. We continue to look for other new projects in and around Hertfordshire.”

Cooplands saw rise in Ebitda and profits in year before sale to EG Group, new owners eyeing national expansion: South Yorkshire-based bakery and cafe chain Cooplands has reported a revenue increase of 12.9% in its full financial year before its purchase by EG Group. Recently filed accounts show Ebitda of £3.68m in the year ending 31 March 2021, up 12.9% from £3.26m the previous year, while pre-tax profit rose to £1.35m from £815,565. Cooplands, founded in 1885, and headquartered in Scarborough, has about 180 shops, cafes, bakeries and sandwich vans across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Humberside and the north east. In October, the Business Growth Fund-backed chain was acquired by forecourt and roadside operator EG Group for an undisclosed sum. Belinda Youngs, chief executive at Cooplands, said: “Like-for-like trading has been strong this year in our shops, with around 16 new shops added, one of which is our new format Cooplands Eats & Seats, offering an eat in experience for customers. The last year has seen us enter the South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire regions as well as deepen our presence in West Yorkshire. We’ve also accelerated our digital strategy, with click-and-collect and pre-order online services now available. We have demonstrated our resilience throughout this period.” Ilyas Munshi, group commercial director at EG Group, added: “We will explore opportunities to roll out Cooplands nationally – for example, across EG Group’s forecourt network and other locations – as well as consider prospects to supply wholesale bakery products.”

German Doner Kebab to open 12 restaurants over remainder of December: German Doner Kebab, owned by Hero Brands, is set to open 12 new restaurants over the remainder of December. The new locations are Basingstoke, Barkingside, Bicester, Manchester Oxford Road, Tottenham Hale, Willesden Green, Hammersmith, Sunderland, Greenford, Burton, Stirling, and Meadowhall Sheffield. The brand has already opened four restaurants during December. The openings mean German Doner Kebab will deliver on its commitment to open 47 new restaurants in the UK during 2021 and will shortly announce new growth for 2022. German Doner Kebab chief executive, Imran Sayeed, said: “2021 has proven to be a landmark year in the German Doner Kebab story as we continue our mission of growing the fast-casual brand of the future. It’s a huge statement for us to open 12 new restaurants in the last 11 days of the year and demonstrates how we are responding to the huge consumer demand across the UK regions. The openings set us up firmly for new growth in 2022, and we look forward to growing our reach and bringing the German Doner Kebab experience to even more cities and towns up and down the country.”

Chester-based operators to double up with pizza concept, plan further expansion: Chester-based operators Valentina Aviotti and Fabrizio Gobbato are to double up with a contemporary-style pizza concept in the city. The husband-and-wife team, who own Italian restaurant Da Noi in Bridge Street, will launch Augusto Pizzeria, in Northgate Street in February. Augusto marks the first steps towards the creation of a complete Italian family of brands “that embrace all aspects of Italian food and drink traditions”, with plans for expansion in 2022 and beyond. Inspired by the Neapolitan-style pizzas found in Italy, the  menu will feature the “classics” alongside “gourmet” pizzas, with plans to launch a wine pairing in the coming months. Guests will be able to watch their pizza being prepared and choose to eat in or take away. Gobbato said: “Augusto Pizzeria has been a long time in the making and the concept is something we are so proud of. We’re hoping to bring something extra special to the city, including recipes that people may not have tried before.”

Glasgow’s Lorne Hotel bought out of administration: The Lorne Hotel in Glasgow has been bought out of administration by a group called PL Glasgow. The 102-bed three-star hotel, located in Sauchiehall Street, was forced to close in December 2020 due to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic. Administrators from Interpath Advisory were subsequently appointed to the hotel’s owner, Bellhill, in May 2021. Interpath’s Alistair McAlinden, together with joint-administrator Blair Nimmo, have now completed the sale. McAlinden said: “We’re extremely pleased to have concluded the sale of this landmark building in Glasgow. Despite these being incredibly difficult and uncertain times for companies operating across the leisure and hospitality sector, the level of interest shown in this building from the outset of the administration has been remarkable.” Christie & Co acted on behalf of the joint administrators.

Third Merseyside site for former Winter Olympics chef: Chef Fendy Serdar Gokhan, who was one of the chefs at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia and was part of the team at Scotland’s award-winning Balbirnie House, has opened his third Merseyside site. Gokhan, who also has venues in Eastham and Liverpool, has launched the 70-cover Mediterranean restaurant Zoom Bar and Grill in Woodland Road in Whitby, Ellesmere Port. Zoom, a phrase used to describe a good night out in Turkey, specialises in steak dishes including the tomahawk, which is for two people and comes with a variety of sides and sauces, and also boasts a woodfire oven for pizzas and calzones. Desserts include the homemade Turkish baklava and Gokhan’s signature fried goat’s milk ice cream, while the drinks offering features coffee from Cheshire-based Lost Barn Coffee Roasters. Meanwhile, plans to convert a former Blockbusters site in Ellesmere Port’s Marina Drive into a Caprinos Pizza restaurant have been given the green light. Primarily a takeaway and delivery chain, Caprinos, which operates 58 sites across the UK, plans to launch a 28-cover restaurant, having reduced the takeaway element in order to gain planning approval.

Midlands-based operator set to open third cafe: Midlands-based operator Lydia Papaphilippopoulos-Snape is set to open her third site after converting a former supermarket into a cafe. Papaphilippopoulos-Snape, who owns Warwick Street Kitchen in Leamington and Saint Kitchen in Birmingham, has signed a lease for 23 Coten End, which will also be named Warwick Street Kitchen, following a refurbishment. The new site will include a wholesale kitchen, designed both to service their existing cafés and allow them to sell their produce further afield. “I’m really excited to be opening in Warwick,” Papaphilippopoulos-Snape told the Coventry Telegraph. “I work with such an amazing team of chefs and bakers who are all looking forward to the expansion. Not only can we service all three sites from Warwick and centralise our bakers, but it will also give us capacity to export to other businesses across the Midlands. While our opening date isn’t fixed quite yet, we can’t wait to welcome people in. Our ethos is all about making homemade produce on site and teaming it up with great coffee, as we believe really great food and coffee does not have to be mutually exclusive.”

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