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Fri 24th Dec 2021 - Propel Friday News Briefing
This is the last Propel newsletter of 2021. We would like to take this opportunity to wish our readers a happy, safe and healthy Christmas and new year

Story of the Day:

Kate Nicholls – scientists must publish new Omicron data model immediately given threat of further restrictions on industry: UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has called on scientists to immediately publish a new data model based on the studies showing Omicron is a milder illness with the threat of further restrictions still hanging over the industry. Nicholls said given the government was “following the science” to decide on measures, it was “vital” the new information was modelled and made available to Downing Street as soon as possible. Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggested people are 30% to 45% less likely to go to A&E if they are infected with Omicron rather than Delta. They are also 50% to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital. However, the results are largely based on people under the age of 40, who currently have the highest case rates of Omicron. The variant is still less common in those aged over 60, who are more likely to develop severe disease, and the UKHSA said further analysis will be needed in the coming weeks. The findings, which were announced shortly after the UK reported a record 119,789 daily cases, are broadly similar to estimates calculated by researchers in Scotland and Imperial College London on Wednesday (21 December). Responding to a tweet about it being “useful for SAGE to publish a new model underpinned by that data”, Nicholls said: “This would be vital given the ongoing discussions about the potential need for additional restrictions, which would have a further economic hit for hospitality.” The ongoing “Plan B” restrictions and falling consumer confidence saw UK restaurants witness their weakest week since the spring as the rapid spread of coronavirus hit the public’s appetite for eating out. The latest weekly economic update from the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of seated diners fell by 14 percentage points in the week to 20 December. It said this was 88% of the levels seen in the equivalent week in 2019 and reflected the weakest showing since mid-May. UKHospitality said earlier this week that businesses had reported between 40% and 60% declines in booking numbers, with this worsening in recent days. The ONS said latest figures also showed overall retail footfall in the UK over the week to 18 December was at 81% of the levels seen in the same week in 2019. In central London, Pret A Manger stores witnessed a 29 percentage point drop in transactions to represent the lowest level in a week since the start of September, the ONS added. Nicholls’ calls came as health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed there would be no further announcements on restrictions before Christmas. He said: “We will keep the situation under review. We are learning more all the time as we have done from this new data. We will keep analysing that data and if we need to do anything more we will, but nothing more is going to happen before Christmas.”

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Andy Hornby: 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 final video – which will be sent at 9am today (Friday, 24 December) – features Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group, who discusses restructuring the business, the next stage of Wagamama’s growth, the strategy for its leisure division, the importance of Brunning & Price, and where the sector goes from here. 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

Scottish nightclubs to shut for at least three weeks: Nightclubs in Scotland have been ordered to close by the Scottish government for at least three weeks from Monday (27 December). An amendment to coronavirus regulations published on Thursday (23 December) ordered clubs to close – unless they could operate “within regulation”. New restrictions will mean hospitality businesses can continue to operate with social distancing and table service. Deputy first minister John Swinney made the announcement before the covid-19 recovery committee at Holyrood. “Having engaged with the sector, we now propose to require that nightclubs should not operate as such for this three-week period,” he told the committee. “While it would be open to them to operate with distancing and table service and that option will remain, we consider that closure in regulation, combined with financial support, may reduce losses and help these businesses weather what we hope would be a short period until they are able to operate normally again.” The legislation introduced to close nightclubs has no end date, meaning the restrictions could be lifted earlier or later than first intended. Scottish Tory covid-19 recovery spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “This news is a further setback to a sector already on its knees as a result of previously-announced restrictions to tackle the spread of Omicron. I understand this is a fast-moving situation but, when announcing this enforced shutdown, John Swinney should have spelt out the exact details of the support package that will be given to nightclub businesses, rather than merely promising an update on allocation ‘as soon as possible’. That’s not good enough – businesses on the brink need to know now exactly what financial support they will receive, and when.”

Stormont agrees £40m support package for Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry: Stormont ministers have agreed a £40m grant scheme to support hospitality businesses affected by the latest covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland. Grants of between £10,000 and £20,000 will be available to more than 3,200 eligible businesses. They include nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, bistros, snack bars, pubs/bars, social clubs or private members’ clubs. Sports clubs are not eligible. Nightclubs will close on Boxing Day under the new post-Christmas restrictions and indoor standing events will also be prohibited. For hospitality businesses remaining open, a series of added curbs will apply. Dancing has been banned while a table service only policy has been reintroduced, along with the “rule of six” limit on table sizes. Weddings are exempted from the hospitality measures. The grants will be allocated related to the net annual value (NAV) of businesses’ estimated rental value, the same system used to assess rates bills in Northern Ireland. Businesses with a NAV up to £15,000 will be eligible for £10,000 grants. Businesses with a NAV between £15,000 to £51,000 will be eligible for £15,000 while those with a NAV above £51,000 can claim £20,000. Ministers are due to meet again next Thursday (30 December) to review the health measures and assess whether more action is needed to suppress the spread of Omicron.

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group to require boosters for workers and diners: Danny Meyer, head of US business Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), has said the company will soon begin requiring customers to show proof of having received a covid booster shot in order to dine indoors. Employees and new hires must also receive a booster shot, effective immediately, Meyer announced on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” show. “At this point, the science has changed,” Meyer said. “What has been a little bit tougher has been watching this crushing wave of Omicron sweeping through New York City and certainly through the country.” In New York, the wave is particularly pronounced, with a seven-day average of new coronavirus cases almost doubling over the past week. “Hospitality is a team sport – it’s kind of like putting on a play on Broadway or playing a basketball game,” Meyer said. “If you can’t field a full healthy team, you’re going to have to hit pause. We’ll see how that goes.” USHG is asking all staff members to receive a third shot of the covid vaccine within 30 days of their eligibility, Meyer said. Indoor customers will have to meet the third-shot criteria in mid-January, he added.

Company News:

Inglenook Inns & Taverns acquires seven-strong pub package: North-west based pub operator Inglenook Inns & Taverns has acquired a seven-strong package of pubs for £2.4m. The company said the group was made up of both destination food sites and sports locals “thus playing to our strengths and increasing our freehold estate to 43”. The sites are situated in Yorkshire, the Midlands and the north west. James Waddington, Inglenook chief executive, said: “These are high quality sites that are a complementary fit to our existing estate as we continue with our quest to make all our sites the heart of the community. We are also confident we will have a further announcement with regard to expansion in the new year and we are on track to realise our 2022 projections. These are very exciting times for the team.” Earlier this month, Propel revealed Inglenook had secured £10m of investment through a new joint venture with a private investor to continue to expand its portfolio, Inglenook, which was founded by Waddington in 2012, is due to acquire an additional two sites shortly. Inglenook is understood to be seeking to aggregate a portfolio of 100-plus “community pubs” over the next two years. The portfolio is principally located in the north west, but the venture is believed to be willing to expand out of its core geography as the estate grows. The joint venture is separate from the group’s managed services operation, which incorporates up to 25 temporary management appointments and 16 leased pubs – operated as a managed estate. Inglenook has recently hired Alun Johnson, formerly regional operations director at Star Pubs & Bars and Punch, to aid on the operational management side of the new venture and wider group.

Trust Inns in ‘strong position to grow’ in 2022 following refinancing as pandemic results in £8.5m loss: North west-based pub company Trust Inns, which is owned by the family interests of the late Trevor Hemmings, has said it finds itself in a “strong position to grow” in 2022 having completed a refinancing. It comes as the company reported losses of £8.5m in the year to 31 March 2021. The company made no dividend payments in the year. The losses were caused by turnover falling from £39.4m to £15.4m as a result of reduced trading due to UK government restrictions during the pandemic. The company also incurred a pandemic induced property impairment loss of £4m and higher than normal interest payments. The company received a £35m shareholder loan in the year that allowed it to reduce its bank borrowings and refinance with Barclays Bank in September on favourable terms. Trust Inns managing director Mark Brown said: “The company, like everyone in the sector, has faced a difficult year, but with the help of Mr Hemmings we have been able to refinance with new lenders on much improved terms and find ourselves in a truly strong position to achieve future growth. We will be eternally grateful to Mr Hemmings who has left us so well-placed to take the business forward and build a strong future.” Trust Inns said it “looks forward to an excellent year of growth in 2022” through its ongoing acquisition programme and development of its existing estate through capital investment. Founded in 1995, Trust Inns owns about 350 pubs across the UK.

New World Trading Company – site pipeline ‘healthy’ and business ‘stronger than ever’: Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group The New World Trading Company has said its pipeline of sites remains healthy and expects to continue opening venues at the rate of between five and eight a year. The group said it is “stronger than ever” and since reopening its sites in April, trading has been “buoyant and ahead of forecasts”. During that time the business has opened four sites – The Botanist in Lincoln, “which has traded well and above expectations”, The Club House in Plymouth, The Furnace in Sheffield and The Botanist in Exeter – taking the portfolio to 32 sites. It has a number of sites already lined up for 2022 including The Botanist openings in Ipswich, Worcester and Edinburgh along with a second company site in Chester. The group provided the update as it reported turnover of £17.1m for the year ending 31 March 2021 versus £55.3m the previous year with “about seven months of trading lost due to restrictions”. The company reported a pre-tax profit of £16.6m, compared with a loss of £37.2m the year before. This was a result of £13.7m received from government grants through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and £22.9m of exceptional expenses, including a credit of £23.8m relating to the “extinguishment of debt and interest” relating to a refinancing in December 2020. The company stated: “There is uncertainty ahead, with Christmas trading being dampened by the news of the Omicron variant and the possibility of further restrictions, but the company has a strong balance sheet and is well-placed to thrive after the end of any further restrictions.” Chief executive Jesper Friis said: “The early part of the year allowed us to invest significant time on reviewing, renewing and reimagining the day to day of our business – gearing us up to trade strongly post-reopening. Our teams have performed exceptionally throughout and we have made significant progress in training and development, our people culture and openings pipeline.”

Urban Pubs & Bars to bring Salt Yard concept to Borough: London operator Urban Pubs & Bars is to bring its Salt Yard concept to London’s Borough. Propel understands Urban Pubs & Bars, which earlier this year partnered with Davidson Kempner and Global Mutual to help accelerate its growth plans, is to open a site in New Hibernia House, Winchester Walk. It is also set to open a site under its Salt Yard umbrella in Westfield London. In October, Urban Pubs & Bars acquired 13 sites from London bar group Barworks. The acquisition included sites such as the Exmouth Arms (Exmouth Market), Singer Tavern (Moorgate) and Harrild & Sons (Farringdon). Following the acquisition of the Barworks sites, Urban comprises 34 pubs, bars and restaurants across flexible trading formats including Salt Yard Group, Bat & Ball at Westfield (Stratford) and neighbourhood pubs in affluent locations such as Balham and Highgate.

Island Poke lines up three new London openings: Island Poké, the London-based, White Rabbit Projects and Hero Brands-backed business, is set to open three new sites in London, in January. The company, which earlier this month announced plans to open four new restaurants in Edinburgh over the next two years, will open restaurants in Northcote Road, Battersea, and at Boxpark, Wembley Park. It will also open a new dark kitchen site in Crouch End. The brand plans to open its first site in the Scottish capital in the first quarter of next year. The company said following the success of its restaurants in London and France, it is set to forge ahead with further growth plans in 2022 including plans for 30 new locations and a new partnership with dark-kitchen operators, Reef, which will see the brand treble its current UK footprint. The company currently operates 15 sites in London, eight in France and four dark kitchens. 

Country Inns Southern acquires eighth pub: Country Inns Southern, the Duane and Debbie Lewis-led, Hampshire-based operator, has acquired its eighth pub. The business has acquired the Woolpack, Sopley, near Christchurch, from the Stonegate Group. Late last year, Country Inns Southern acquired the freeholds of three pubs that it runs in the New Forest. The couple had been in charge of The New Forest Inn in Emery Down for 12 years, The Trusty Servant in Minstead for almost a decade and The Royal Oak in Hilltop for five years. Speaking on their recent addition, Debbie said: “We are delighted to have completed the purchase of The Woolpack on a 20-year free of tie lease from Stonegate. Our intention is to now offer fresh home cooked food, locally sourced where possible and all prepared on the premises by our exceptionally talented chefs." Nick Earee, of Fleurets, acted on the Woolpack deal. 

Lakeland Inns acquires North Yorkshire pub for seventh site: Cumbria-based pub group Lakeland Inns has acquired a site in North Yorkshire for its seventh site. The Kirsty Ridge-led company has taken on The Tennants Arms in Kilnsey, from the Stonegate Group. Located between the North Yorkshire towns of Hawes and Grassington, the Tennants Arms feature 11 bedrooms. Lakeland Inns’ portfolio includes The Commodore in Grange, The Royal Oak Inn in Curthwaite and The Sun in Ulverston. It also operates eco-brewery The Lakeland Brewhouse. In the summer, the company appointed Darran Hargan as its new executive chef, to oversee the food offer and the development of the kitchen teams at the group’s venues. 

Golf club concept Pitch confirmed for Soho opening: Golf club concept Pitch is set for further expansion in the capital after confirming it has secured a site in Soho. As previously revealed by Propel, Pitch, which is the brainchild of friends and golf professionals Elliot Godfrey and Chris Ingham, has secured a site at 8-14 Meard Street for its second venue. It is set to open next year. Pitch was launched in London’s Bishopsgate more than four years ago, complete with state-of-the-art golf technology. In January, the business told Propel the opening of its second site would form the first phase of a rapid expansion across London, with a view to opening multiple sites over the next two years across the capital. The original Pitch at 60-64 Bishopsgate is set over two floors with a split-level clubhouse on the ground floor. It features eight private golf bays, a clubhouse with a bar, changing rooms and a food menu from several local partners. Players have the choice of playing more than 60 of the world’s most popular golf courses, including classic venues such as Wentworth and Royal Troon. It is thought Adam Bowers, of onepoint2 ,and Piers Finley, of CWM, acted on the Soho deal. 

Tim Hortons ends year with triple opening: Canadian quick service restaurant brand Tim Hortons has ended the year with three new drive-thru openings in the UK. SK Group, which is leading the rollout of the brand in the UK, has opened the sites in Northampton, Broughton in North Wales and Bangor, Northern Ireland. Earlier this month, the business submitted plans to develop a drive-thru coffee shop in Bolton. It wants to transform the former Thomas Cook and Hays Travel building at Burnden Park into its first outlet in the town. Tim Hortons now has circa 40 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.

South west-based hotel operator doubles up: South west-based hotel operator Alex Horsfall has doubled up. Horsfall has bought Mill End Hotel in Dartmoor National Park, off an asking price of £2.1m, from Nick and Tara Culverhouse in a deal brokered by Christie & Co. The hotel comprises 21 en-suite bedrooms arranged over three floors, as well as a restaurant, lounge and snug. Under the ownership of the Culverhouses, who acquired the property through Christie & Co in 2015, the hotel has won a number of accolades, including two AA Rosettes for the restaurant and the South West England Prestige Awards “Boutique Hotel of the Year” for Devon for two years running since 2020. Having already sold their other hotel, The Fox & Hounds Hotel in Eggesford earlier this year through Christie & Co, they decided to put Mill End Hotel on the market so they could begin a new business challenge. Horsfall, who also owns The Valley in Cornwall, said: “After a year of looking for new opportunities and nothing quite coming off, I was delighted to find Mill End Hotel, which not only ticked all the boxes from a business perspective but also stole my heart with its stunning location and beautiful ambience. I’m excited to build on what Nick and Tara have already built and take Mill End Hotel from strength to strength.”

LGBTQ+ driven bar and events space to open in Shoreditch next month: An LGBTQ+ driven bar and events space will open in Shoreditch, east London, next month. Common Counter, which will be based within Brick Lane’s Glass House creative space, will “provide a safe space for creativity to flourish and like-minded people to collaborate”. The bar will offer locally-brewed beer and spirits distilled on its doorstep and a cocktail menu alongside freshly baked goods. This will sit alongside an events schedule, including weekly “Voguing” dance classes, LGBTQ+ fundraisers and poetry nights. 

Mitchells & Butlers announces board changes: Mitchells & Butlers has announced changes to its board. Susan Murray, who joined the board in March 2019, and is the senior independent director, has decided to step down to concentrate on her other commitments and activities and will not stand for re-election at the annual general meeting (AGM) in January. Jane Moriarty, who joined the board in February 2019 and assumed the role of chair of the audit committee in July 2021, has confirmed she will accept the board's invitation to become the senior independent director with effect from the end of the AGM. As previously reported, an announcement in relation to the chairmanship of the remuneration committee is expected to be made in the next few months.

Pizza Hut permanently closes Coventry branch: Pizza Hut has announced it has permanently closed its restaurant branch in Lower Precinct, Coventry. A Pizza Hut spokesman told Coventry Live: “Like many hospitality businesses, Pizza Hut has faced disruption due to the pandemic. We are doing everything we can to redeploy our team members to other Pizza Hut restaurants to minimise the impact to our workforce.” The remaining sit-in Pizza Hut restaurants in the city are now at the Arena Shopping Park and Cross Point retail park in Walsgrave. In September last year, Pizza Hut announced it would close 29 of its 244 UK restaurants as part of a company voluntary arrangement. 

Liverpool city centre bar set to launch its first aparthotel: Liverpool-based Harrison’s Bar & Kitchen will open its first aparthotel in January. Situated directly above the bar and restaurant, on the corner of North John Street and Victoria Street, Harrison’s Apart Hotel will feature eight boutique-style two-bedroom apartments. The venue is a joint venture between AR Leisure, owners of Harrison’s Bar & Kitchen, and iStay Liverpool. AR Leisure manager Jon Hewitt said: “Harrison’s Bar & Kitchen is a real centrepiece of our group, and it seemed logical to us to expand into accommodation as the space above is obviously also in this popular and dynamic location.” Ann Chambers, managing director of iStay Liverpool, added: “As a business community in Liverpool, we are really supportive of each other’s work, and this collaborative effort made sense to us both.”

West Midlands-based bistro and Italian pizzeria concept opens second site: West Midlands-based bistro and Italian pizzeria concept, Al Sorriso, has opened a second site. Husband-and-wife team Luciana Palmieri and Mark Smith have transformed the former Little Italy building in the village of Tettenhall, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. The concept offers Italian breakfasts, tapas and a range of pizza. Al Sorriso’s other restaurant is in nearby Albrighton. Palmieri said: “We’re excited to be opening in Tettenhall and bringing something new to people looking for a casual dining experience, fuelled by my culinary experiences growing up in Giovinazzo.”

Team behind Durham’s first ‘taster restaurant’ launches £100,000 crowdfunding bid: A team aiming to open Durham’s first tasting menu restaurant has launched a crowdfunding campaign to secure the funding to launch next year. Chef Ruari Mackay, along with Gemma Robinson and Craig Lappin-Smith, hope to open Coarse in Silver Street – serving up six-course taster menus with a focus on fresh, seasonal and local ingredients. To secure the restaurant, the trio must raise £100,000, and through Kickstarter are offering the chance for diners to buy meals in advance (£35 for a six-course tasting menu meal, which can be redeemed when Coarse opens). Other rewards for backers include having a dish named after them, a private meal at home for ten and private use of the restaurant for 40. MacKay, who trained with Terry Laybourne in Jesmond Dene House, worked as head chef at Bistro 21 before transforming Durham’s Garden House Inn, but now has the chance to take complete control of a menu. “For him it’s about doing what he wants, and getting his full creativity out there,” Lappin-Smith told Chronicle Live. “We will be changing the tasting menu seasonably, depending on the time of year, with a real focus on local stuff.” Mackay added: “We want to do an affordable tasting menu, not fine dining, but fun. A level up from pubs and things like that, but inclusive to everyone.”

Former Greene King pub in Stevenage reopens as fine dining restaurant offering £100 gold-plated steaks: A former Greene King pub in Stevenage, which closed in July 2020, has reopened as fine dining restaurant Tranquil Turtle. Greene King planned to refurbish the Crooked Billet after mother-and-son landlord team Jennie and Richard Edwards ended their seven-year stint, but it was instead taken on by a team of local investors. A team of senior staff hailing from Michelin-star hotels such as Hanbury Manor Marriott Hotel and Country Club – including head chef Noel Busby and sous chef Beth Watts – have been brought in. New features include an onyx bar, tinted windows, a DJ booth, a patio with outdoors heating and a live turtle in an aquarium. The menu includes a Salt Bae-style 250g gold-plated wagyu fillet steak for £100 and a gold-plated prime beef burger for £45, alongside more traditional offerings. “It shouldn't be that people have to go to London for an experience like this – we want the people of Stevenage to have this on their doorstep, and we are proud of what we have achieved,” general manager Andrew Tandy told the Stevenage Comet. “We want to create a whole experience. We hope to bring something to residents’ doorsteps that they would normally have to travel for.”

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