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Thu 20th Jan 2022 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Government must now ‘lay out plan for living with covid’ and ‘support sector long term’: Hospitality leaders have called on Number 10 to introduce long term support for the sector following the announcement that Plan B restrictions will be removed from next week. There were also calls for prime minister Boris Johnson to lay out a plan for living with covid so hospitality can plan for a strong recovery. Johnson today told MPs that, from next Thursday, measures introduced last month to help stop the spread of Omicron would be lifted. These include the scrapping of advice to work from home, covid passports and mandatory face mask rules, following ONS data showing infections falling and hospital admissions stabilising. “It is vital the government now lays out its plan for living with covid as an endemic disease, as this will enable the sector to plan for a strong and sustainable recovery,” said British Beer and Pub Association chief executive, Emma McClarkin, who called for business rate reform for pubs, alcohol duty reform proposals to be implemented and an extension of the lower level of VAT for food and beverages sold in pubs. “After yet another setback and numerous false dawns, now is the time to support the sector for the long term with measures that will enable pubs and brewers to thrive as the heartbeats of our local communities and economies.” UKHospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: “Lifting the working from home recommendation is a particularly important move as it enables town and city centres, and the businesses that are their lifeblood, to begin their revival and recovery. The end of mandatory certification is also a hugely welcome step, particularly for English nightclubs and those businesses whose trade has been drastically restricted. We would now urge the devolved administrations to begin removing these and other conditions at the earliest opportunity.” Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said: “We hope this gives the public a confidence boost to get back out and socialise. We want to see our towns and cities get back to the thriving social hubs we enjoyed pre-covid. Omicron had a crushing impact on consumer confidence and trading over Christmas, just as we were starting to build business back from the effects of the last 18 months.” Sacha Lord, the night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, tweeted: “It’s now a race against time…today will be a relief for many in hospitality, but sadly, many simply won’t make it. Camerons chief executive, Chris Soley, also tweeted: “Now time to promote a return to normality and people back to offices…further VAT & Rates support needed to aid the recovery of businesses.”
 

Industry News:

Host of Italian concepts to join updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies: A host of Italian concepts are among the 87 new multi-site companies being added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released on Friday, 28 January, at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, features Scarpetta, which was founded by friends Uberto Jasson and Patrick Philion in 2012, and currently has three sites in London. Also added this month is L’ulivo, which is opening a second site this year at The Strand, London, and Chester-based restaurant operators Valentina Aviotti and Fabrizio Gobbato, who are opening their second site next month, which will be called Augusto Pizzeria. In addition, West Midlands-based bistro and Italian pizzeria concept Al Sorriso, which has opened a second site in the village of Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, will be featured. Premium subscribers will also receive a 6,430-word report on the new additions to the database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. It features more than 2,000 companies. Premium subscribers will also receive the sixth edition of the New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Friday, 4 February, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The sixth edition also includes a 20,100-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to another database – the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated monthly, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. 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 single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. 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.

Christie & Co – average pub prices increased 3.3% last year: Average pub prices in the UK increased 3.3% in 2021 as a large pool of buyers seeking quality pubs outstripped the level of supply, according to Christie & Co’s Business Outlook 2021 report. The company said that “the imbalance in the demand and supply equilibrium has offset any potential negative impact of trading and cost issues and created an upwards movement” in the index. The report reveals the transactional market remained buoyant in 2021 and Christie & Co’s pub sales volumes were up 103% on the previous year. The company said: “Despite the unpredictability caused by the emergence of new covid variants throughout the year, 47% of these properties were sold to private buyers and 87% were purchased for continued use as a pub, indicating there remains an appetite for purchasers to buy and operate pubs. Freehold assets with letting rooms in popular rural and coastal tourist locations remained most attractive, driven by the staycation boom.” Looking ahead to the coming 12 months, the property advisory firm said it expects an increase in supply as operators re-evaluate their estate post-covid, taking into account capex and other increasing cost pressures. It expects to see continuing competition between the “fast-growing PE backed companies as well as multiple operators and regional pub co/brewers eager to fulfil their expansion plans”, which will lead to a greater diversity of buyers and sellers. The company also predicts a race to “premiumisation” and operational efficiencies to help drive margins and offset operational headwinds and inflation, while the benefits of “localisation” and working from home are set to continue for regional towns and cities. Stephen Owens, managing director of pubs and restaurants at Christie & Co, said: “During 2021 we saw demand exceeding supply for the right kind of assets and this resulted in positive price movements, notwithstanding the operational and financial challenges that covid brought. As we move into 2022 and with hopefully the worst of the pandemic behind us, we can expect a more normal trading environment with an increasing number of buyers and sellers returning to the market.” There was also an overall, albeit moderate, recovery in hotel values, with average prices increasing by 4.3%.

Surging food prices push inflation to 30-year high: Soaring food costs and the energy bill crisis are driving up prices at their fastest rate in almost 30 years. Inflation surged to 5.4% in the 12 months to December, up from 5.1% the month before. The last time inflation was higher was in March 1992, when it was 7.1%, and with gas and electricity costs set to increase further soon, analysts warned it could reach that level again. Households have seen their energy bills kept in check by the government's price cap, which limits the amount suppliers can charge, but this is set to be revised on 1 April. As a result, fuel bills could increase by another 50% in the next few months, the energy industry has warned. Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said: “After rising from 5.1% in November to 5.4% in December, CPI inflation is now further above the Bank of England’s target than at any point since the UK first adopted an inflation target in October 1992. What’s more, our forecast is that CPI inflation will shoot up to just above 7.0% in April.” The Bank of England expects the consumer prices index (CPI) to rise to 6% by April, while some analysts have forecast it could hit 7% unless the government decides to pump billions of pounds into the energy sector to cap spiralling heating costs.

Pedalling for Pubs targets £200,000 after closing in on £150,000 milestone: Volunteer riders behind charity initiative Pedalling for Pubs: Cycle Jordan are closing in on the fundraising milestone of £150,000. The final amount will be distributed evenly between Only A Pavement Away and the Licensed Trade Charity, both of which have been fundamental in supporting those in need across the pub and hospitality industry over the last 24 months and beyond. The brainchild of KAM managing director Katy Moses, the two-wheeled challenge – which has so far raised £146,000 – will see 27 riders from across the industry pedal almost 350km across the country of Jordan in four days. Moses and fellow organisers believe with just under two months of training and fundraising still ahead of the departure date of Thursday, 10 March, they can aim for a total north of £200,000.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a restaurant and bar business that is looking to hire a head of HR. The role will be London-based and oversee the whole group of five operations. A minimum of CIPD level 5 or equivalent is required. A COREcruitment spokesman said, “It is essential the candidate comes from a premium restaurant/pub group with multiple sites – on this occasion we aren’t considering a hotel background.” The salary is up to £80,000 plus 10% bonus. For more information, email Kate@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

Tim Martin – sector faces further turmoil from return to restrictions in future ‘unless lessons are learned’, hopeful Wetherspoon will be profitable again in spring: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has told Propel the sector faces further turmoil in the future from a return to restrictions “unless lessons are learned” and is hopeful the business will become profitable again in the spring. Martin also said the company was pushing ahead with plans to open new pubs but waiting for better trade “to push the button”. Speaking following the company’s trading update, where Martin warned the business would be loss-making in the first half of its current financial year, he said: “Like Professors Carl Henegan, Sunetra Gupta, former judge Lord Sumption and millions of others, I feel lockdowns and heavy restrictions were a terrible mistake, with long-term adverse health and economic consequences. Hopefully, Sweden’s successful example, which avoided lockdowns and hospitality closures, will be recognised as a success. In economic and health terms, Sweden did better than the UK. Unless the lessons are learnt, more restrictions in the future are a real danger.” Martin said trading had started to “pick up a tad” in city centres, with the “ludicrous predictions of inept Sage modellers having been shown to be false”. The business is also starting to see a return of its older customers thanks to the combination of the booster vaccination programme and milder Omicron variant, “but it hasn’t shown in the numbers yet”, Martin said. He added that partly for that reason, food and drink in its pubs orientated towards young people was doing better than products consumed by the older generation. Martin added that things were “hard for a while” on the staffing front due to isolation rules, but things were improving now, helped by the reduced isolation period. Looking ahead, he said: “Things can only get better – as the song goes – we hope.”

Rekom UK revenue down 25% but group ‘performing well’ and demand remains strong: Rekom UK, the Peter Marks-led nightclub operator, saw its like-for-like revenue fall by 25%, to £8.8m, last month compared to the same four-week period in 2019, according to its trading update to 31 December. But chairman Marks said the company performed well under difficult trading circumstances in December, with like-for-like revenues up by 7% in the first week before the government’s Plan B restrictions kicked in. Marks also said demand for the group’s late-night venues remains strong, with customer spend and time in-club both continuing to improve on a two-year basis. Marks said: ‘’Despite the many challenges our sector has faced over the past two years, we are pleased that we performed well under the difficult circumstances over the Christmas period. The demand and trading patterns we have seen during the run up to Christmas clearly demonstrate that the demand for our clubs is incredibly strong following a very difficult two-year period for young people.” Rekom’s relatively strong December performance was also achieved in spite of restrictions imposed on nightclubs in Scotland and Wales, where it has two and four clubs respectively. Marks added: “We are delighted that the government has confirmed the scrapping of Plan B covid restrictions which were very damaging to our business. It is important the government allows clubs to open in a ‘normal’ way without covid testing, social distancing, or mask-wearing – all measures that put customers off and prolonged the impact on our already hard-hit sector. It was always unjust to single out the late-night sector – indeed, there is no evidence that nightclubs caused an increase in covid cases. We are excited at the prospect of giving everyone access to our clubs and the fantastic experiences they all deserve.” Rekom last month announced that it has capacity to acquire up to 30 sites per annum as it looks to introduce five of its brands into the UK market. The company plans to launch Heidi’s Bier Bar into the UK, in Cardiff, this year, and has since secured a second site for the brand, in Birmingham. It is also looking to launch cocktail concept Rabalder Bar, pub/bar concept Proud Mary, club concept Lou Lou and premium club concept Dorsia over here.

BrewDog places six UK sites on the market: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has placed six of its UK bars on the market, Propel has learned. The company is understood to be working with Hay Hill Property Services on the marketing of the portfolio, which comprises its bars in Essex Road, Islington; Charterhouse Street, Farringdon; Stoke Newington Road, Dalston; New York Road, Leeds; Friar Lane, Leicester and Devonshire Street, Sheffield. Earlier this month, BrewDog said it was planning to open more than 30 sites in 2022 including its biggest site to date – complete with bars, brewery, workspaces, bowling alley and a coffee shop – in London’s Waterloo. At the weekend, co-founder James Watt told the Mail he “doubled down” on property investments during the pandemic, swooping on bargain sites for its bars and hotels. Watt also revealed the business had two takeover approaches last year but remains focused on its plans to float. The company recently received approval for its plans to open a second bar in Bristol and plans further UK openings in Basingstoke, Bournemouth, Cheltenham and Chester.

Popeyes makes its UK dark kitchen debut: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, the US fried chicken quick-service restaurant brand which opened its first UK restaurant in Westfield Stratford last November, has now opened its first dark kitchen unit here, Propel has learned. The business, which is led by Tom Crowley in the UK, is understood to be operating out of the Deliveroo Editions in Whitechapel. It is thought that a further site with Deliveroo Editions will soon also launch in Battersea. The brand, which currently operates circa 3,400 restaurants more than 25 countries, announced plans in April 2021 to enter the UK, with the goal of opening 350 new restaurants in Britain over the next ten years. The company has also used the UK market to launch its first vegan product – a creole red bean sandwich featuring a 100% plant-based red bean patty.

Greene King lines up third Crafted Pubs opening: Greene King has lined up a third opening under its new Crafted Pubs premium format. Propel understands that the Nick Mackenzie-led pub company is to invest a seven-figure sum to upgrade the Four Oaks in Sutton Coldfield to the new format, enhancing all areas including a new outdoor space. Last summer, the company invested a six-figure sum in transforming former Chef & Brewer The Boat in the Solihull borough of Catherine De Barnes 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 opened at The Watermill in Dorking, Surrey, near the end of last year. Mackenzie told Propel at the time: “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.”

Arc Inspirations eyes Manahatta opening in Newcastle: Leeds-based multi-site operator Arc Inspirations is planning to launch a site under its Manahatta concept in Newcastle. The Martin Wolstencroft-led company is understood to have applied to open a site on the former Allied Irish Bank building in the city’s Collingwood Street. It is thought the business, if its application is successful, hopes to build on the success of its Banyan site in the city. Last year, the business opened a new 8,000 square-foot Box sports bar in Manchester’s Deansgate and a new 7,000 square-foot Manahatta in Birmingham, which took more than £75,000 per week after opening in October. This growth agenda is part of the company’s plan to increase the footprint of the business in key cities, predominantly in the north and Midlands. Speaking at the end of November, Wolstencroft said: “We have secured two further new sites, which we expect to open in the next 12 months, and are actively exploring more opportunities in new cities as we continue to build a meaningful pipeline for our brands. Therefore, while it has of course been the most challenging of times, we look forward to the future with great confidence.”

Blind Tiger Inns ‘in a very solid position’ and eyeing further expansion across north west England: Blind Tiger Inns, the north west-based, wet-led operator, is in “a very solid position” and looking to expand across the region, according to managing director Chris Tulloch. Speaking in a week in which the company celebrated its fifth anniversary, Tulloch also revealed plans for its 19-strong existing estate, including a £250,000 cash injection for indoor and outdoor refurbishments and an “new and exciting concept” for one of its flagship venues. “Five years in, and despite the obvious challenges of the past two years, I’m massively proud that we come out stronger in every area of our business,” said Tulloch. “We are in a very solid position going into 2022 with a great team who are being well rewarded, investments planned and funding to begin acquisitions and new projects as opportunities arise. We are looking to acquire properties and meet amazing operators in all areas of the north west. So much has been achieved over the half decade, and despite the last 18 months, milestones and accomplishments have just kept on coming. Looking back on the last year, huge investments were made across the estate to ensure venues could open outdoors, along with a £100,000 refurbishment to transform site number 19 in Wigan.” The company has also increased management fees across the board and introduced a bonus structure which sees operators earn a potential £18,000 on top of the management percentage. In addition, managers found to have hit all bonus metrics during the fourth quarter of 2021 when the results are released will be rewarded with an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas.

Robinsons to relocate Stockport brewing and head office operations in £12m investment: North west-based brewer and retailer Robinsons Brewery is planning to relocate its Stockport town centre brewing and head office operations to its packaging centre site in Bredbury. The relocation – an investment of more than £12m – will include the installation of a new brewhouse and will mean all operations including brewing, cask racking, kegging, bottling lines, logistics and a new office facility will be housed on one site for the first time since 1949. The packaging operation has been in Bredbury for more than 40 years. Joint managing directors Oliver and William Robinson said it would give the business the ability to provide a more modern, flexible and greener brewing and packaging operation. The relocation is expected to be completed by 2025. Robinsons has been custodians of the town centre Unicorn Brewery since acquiring the Unicorn Inn in 1838 and acknowledged moving had been a difficult decision, but the economic and logistical limitations of the site could not be ignored. The company confirmed there were no compulsory job losses and envisaged it will increase employment in the coming years through its ongoing pub investment and expansion strategy. Wider plans include the acquisition of new pubs to add to the brewery’s 23 managed houses and further investment in its 230 tenanted pubs. Around 50 people who currently work in head office, brewery and cellar service roles in Lower Hillgate will make the move to Bredbury. Oliver and William Robinson said: “The family is very proud of our heritage in Stockport and very respectful of it. This announcement demonstrates our commitment to writing a new chapter in our history, continuing to brew, deliver and package award-winning cask, keg and bottled beer from Stockport under 100% family ownership.” 

Piri Fino opens sixth site and first outside the Midlands following franchise deal, eyes further expansion: West Midlands-based piri-piri chicken restaurant Piri Fino has opened its sixth site, and first outside the Midlands, following a franchise agreement with commercial kitchen suppliers Northern Quality Food Group. The deal enabled the opening of the first Piri Fino outlet in Sheffield, at 833 Ecclesall Road, adding to its other outlets in Marston Green, Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall and Wolverhampton. It is also planning two further Sheffield outlets, in Kellam Island and Crystal Peaks, as well as ones further afield in Chesterfield, Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham, according to Business Desk. BRM acted as legal adviser to Piri Fino owner Mike Brown on the deal, led by corporate and commercial solicitor, Matthew Lilley, who said: “We were delighted to advise Mike on his franchise agreement to facilitate, hopefully, the first of many new Piri Fino franchises in the north. Mike is driven and enthusiastic about the franchise, and I’m confident the franchise will be a success.”

Saint Espresso opens sixth London site: London-based neighbourhood cafe and coffee roasters, Saint Espresso, has opened its sixth site in the capital. Launched as the company’s flagship London location, at Angel Central, is based just around the corner from its first ever café, on Pentonville Road in Islington. Saint Espresso founder, Leon Zadeh, said: “The location within the heart of Angel Central provides our brand with a perfect space to share our offer with local residents and new visitors alike. We worked closely with the destination to deliver our second site in the area. Being brand new, the café design is totally unique, providing a retreat from daily life and a time to reflect alongside great company.” South Korean fried chicken brand Pelicana is also set to open at Angel Central early in 2022. Saint Espresso dealt direct, while CBRE and CWM represented Angel Central.

Loungers to open four sites next month: Cafe bar operator Loungers, which last week opened its first London site in Ealing, plans to open four sites next month. The company, which is planning to open up to 25 sites a year, will launch at Basildon’s East Square Development; on the ex-Paperchase site in Shrewsbury’s Pride Hill; at Fosse Park in Leicester and on the Bon Marché unit in London Road, Bognor Regis. It comes as the Nick Collins-led group opened Bardo Lounge in Maidenhead, which became its 157th Lounge and 188th site overall. A further London site, Estadio Lounge in Wembley Boulevard, is set to follow later this year. Further Lounge openings are planned in High Wycombe, Gainsborough, Uxbridge, Newport (IOW) and Barry Island, while the business is also set to open a Cosy Club site in Chester. In December, chief executive Nick Collins said that the Lounge and Cosy Club operator was now confident it could add a fifth build team and increase its openings capacity to 30-32 sites a year.

Heart of England Co-op eyes coffee shops and drive-thru takeaway expansion: Heart of England Co-op is looking to expand its chain of coffee shops across the country. The Coventry-based society has tasked retail specialists Harris Lamb with identifying suitable sites for neighbourhood coffee shops and drive-thru takeaway opportunities. David Walton, head of retail at Harris Lamb, said: “The drive is for coffee shop sites located within an hour of Coventry. We are looking for suitable sites across a variety of retail landscapes. We’re specifically looking for ground-floor properties of 1,000 to 1,700 square feet, ideally with outdoor seating. Drive-thru sites and commuter routes are a priority as well as high streets in market towns and good neighbourhood parades. This is a huge area of growth, and we are confident that we can support the society in its aims to expand its footprint across the UK.” The society is a member of the UK-wide Co-operative Group.

Davenports adds another Birmingham city centre pub to portfolio: West Midlands brewer and retailer Davenports has continued its expansion plans by adding a second Birmingham city centre pub to its portfolio. The company, which has also extensively refurbished its existing venues over the last 18 months, has acquired the Jekyll & Hyde pub in Steel House Lane. Formed in 1829, Davenports also operates the Bulls Head in Birmingham’s Bishopgate Street as well as the Coach House in Stratford-upon-Avon, The Elms in Shareshill, Dares Bar in Tamworth and Port House in Stourport-on-Severn. Other recent acquisition include yet-to-be announced locations in Hednesford, Worcester, Tamworth and Stourbridge. Davenports finance director Ian Robinson said: “Despite the testing climate, Davenports has gone from strength-to-strength, adding to its portfolio with considered venues in what we believe to be great locations. The Jekyll & Hyde was hugely popular, and while we have our own plans for a new theme and offering, we’re delighted to be able to build on the reputation it had.” The Jekyll & Hyde was formerly run as an independent bar which announced last summer that it would not be reopening following closure during the pandemic as parent company Bitters N’ Twisted Venues wanted to focus on food-led venues.

Rockwater team confirms plans for £8.7m Dorset venture: The team behind Rockwater, the three-storey food and beverage destination and community hub in Hove, has confirmed it will open a similar venture in Dorset. Propel revealed last week that Rockwater, which is led by investor and operator Luke Davis, had applied to open a similar venture at Branksome Beach and Sandbanks near Poole. Davis has now confirmed he intends to turn restaurants and kiosks at Sandbanks and Branksome into a Rockwater Village. The company said the two prime seafront sites will help drive tourist footfall and it plans to invest £8.7m on the new venture. In Sandbanks, the site will be fully refurbished, with the bar and restaurant featuring a cocktail bar, ice cream parlour and terrace that will overlook the sea. It will also feature a beachside deck from where a lifestyle programme, Rockwater Life, will be run, and kiosks selling takeaway food and drink and a beach retail range. The Branksome venue will be fully refurbished to feature a ground-floor restaurant and a large roof terrace with retractable roof, offering food, drink and entertainment, including comedy and music. Rockwater Hove opened at the end of 2020 after a £4m investment, including £3m from Davis, who is chief executive of investment company IW Capital. He said: “We are proud to now announce the next phase of the Rockwater brand, the two venues linking through the concept of Rockwater Village. The new venues will completely change the way Bournemouth seafront operates, offering an elevated and community-driven hospitality experience.”

Chiquito signs partnership with Iceland for exclusive sale of its Mexican food range: Chiquito, the Mexican restaurant brand led by The Restaurant Group, has signed an exclusive deal which will see its range of Mexican food sold in Iceland and Food Warehouse stores across the UK. Among the 21 new products featured will be Chiquito’s spicy chicken enchiladas, piri-piri half chicken, halloumi fries, pulled pork and beef burrito bowls and a nacho chilli lasagne. Simon Felsted, store manager at Iceland’s Fulham store, where the range was launched this week, said: “Our new hot and spicy Chiquito food range is spicing up mealtimes with colour, fun and flavour.”

Peach receives three-star Food Made Good rating from SRA: Gastropub operator Peach has been awarded a three-star Food Made Good rating by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). The 21-strong pub group, which has been a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association since September 2020, achieved a 73% Food Made Good rating on the SRA’s three pillars of assessment of sourcing, society and environment. Peach scored consistently well across all three, with a score of 72% on sourcing, 74% on society and 72% on environment.  When benchmarked against other pub groups and the SRA average, Peach was 5% and 10% above in celebrating local and seasonal, 17% and 15% above in valuing natural resources and 28% and 24% above in supporting the community. Hamish Stoddart, managing director of Peach, said: “We are hugely proud that what we have been doing to be a better business and put the planet first have been recognised in this way. We shall be redoubling our efforts over the year ahead to be even better.”

Flight Club’s Cheltenham site to open in March: Flight Club, the darts concept owned by Red Engine, will open its ninth UK site, in Cheltenham’s Brewery Quarter, on 11 March. It will be a first town-based site for the concept, which operates venues in cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester, as well as overseas in the US and Australia. Its last opening was in Bristol, in August 2021, since when Flight Club has announced plans to make it Welsh and Scottish debuts this year, in Cardiff and Glasgow. The 250-capacity Cheltenham venue will have nine oches and bar tables for food and drink, with offerings including sharing platters, pizzas, small plates and cocktails and a main-and-drink for £10 lunch menu. There will also be a Thursday to Sunday bottomless pizza brunch offer, including a bottle of prosecco for each guest, and the option to sample the darts games. Flight Club chief executive and co-founder, Steve Moore, said: “We’re ecstatic to announce the opening of Flight Club Cheltenham. It’s going to be a beautiful bar, and we’re just in time for The Cheltenham Festival. We cannot wait to bring some unexpected, ridiculous, joy to the already buzzing area.”

Humble Grape launches first recipe and wine book: Humble Grape, the five-strong London wine bar and shop concept founded by James Dawson, has launched its first e-book of dinner party recipes and wine pairings. A Humble Dinner Party is free to download from the Humble Grape website, containing nine recipes from canapés and starters through to mains and desserts, with expert wine pairings from its Wine Spirit & Education Trust-accredited team. The recipes have been created by Humble Grape executive chef Dane Barnard and include a vegan crispy cauliflower canapé, a rustic pork cheek starter and glazed lamb chops with baby potatoes and pea purée. The selected wines are part of Humble Grape’s own portfolio, made up of sustainable wines imported from small, family-owned producers all over the world.

Venue Group relocates Flat Iron Square food and drink market: Venue Group, which is headed by Ben Lovett of folk-rock band Mumford & Sons, has relocated its food and drink market, Flat Iron Square, near London Bridge. Due to ongoing development in the area, the venue is now based in nearby St Felix Place. The new site, which Venue Group said it was planning to stay at for the long term, has an on-site brewery and taproom. There will also be a collection of food trucks every week, with the initial line-up including New Orleans-inspired Po’ Bros; focaccia-styled pizza concept Good Slice; burger brand Gamekeeper and Lebanese concept Lil’Watan.

BaxterStorey appoints new director of food: Contract catering company BaxterStorey has promoted Greg Bramwell to a newly created director of food role after 15 years with the firm. Bramwell, who has held several roles at BaxterStorey but was most recently head of food and marketing, will be responsible for “ensuring food remain central to the business”. He said: “Hospitality has a huge role to play in supporting businesses get back to the workplace, and we want to be creating experiences to help welcome people back. The Monday to Friday 9-5 is no more, and we will be creating environments for colleagues to connect and communicate throughout the day.” Bramwell’s appointment is one of two new additions to BaxterStorey’s executive board, with Rob Brown joining as head of IT to coordinate technology across the business, including improvements to the BaxterStorey app and artificial intelligence technology. He said: “We will be advancing how we use technology right across the business, training our teams and working with other WSH brands including Portico and Benugo to provide clients an efficient, multi-brand offer.” BaxterStorey chief executive, Ronan Harte, added: “Food has always been at the heart of BaxterStorey, and Greg will join the board in a new role, leading on food and beverage development. Advancing technology is a huge focus in 2022, and Rob will ensure we are focused on driving the latest technology across our business.”

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