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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 9th Feb 2022 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Alchemy deal gives Brasserie Bar Co £100m-plus war chest: Brasserie Bar Co, the operator of Brasserie Blanc and the White Brasserie Company, is set to benefit from a £100m-plus war chest as part of its recent circa £40m acquisition by Alchemy Partners, Propel understands. It is thought that Alchemy, which also backs The Inn Collection Group, has set aside an initial £100m in funding to support the Richard Ferrier-led, 32-strong business. Propel understands that this figure may be substantially larger as it is not thought to include debt. Brasserie Bar Co said the deal, which sees OakNorth remain in the business as debt provider, with Alchemy would underpin its plan to accelerate growth towards a portfolio of 70 premium pubs over the next five years. It is thought that with Alchemy’s backing, the business will not only look at single-site freehold opportunities, but also have the funding to look at acquiring smaller groups or packages. It is also thought to be keen to explore opening its first site with bedrooms. The Inn Collection Group had just seven sites when it was acquired by Alchemy back in June 2018 and, on the back of significant funding, has since boosted its list of leisure venues either operating or in its openings pipeline to 28 across Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, County Durham, Lancashire and Wales. It is thought that Alchemy has invested more than £100m in backing the growth of the Sean Donkin-led business. Brasserie Bar Co, which operates 18 pubs and 14 restaurants, said it has “rebounded strongly” from the impact of covid-19 and continues to trade well across all of its sites.

Industry News:

Propel Multi-Club Conference expands to four full-day events this year, first now open for bookings: The Propel Multi-Club Conference is being expanded from three full-day conferences to four this year, with the first one now open for bookings. Propel managing director, Paul Charity, said: “As the sector bounces back from the pandemic, we want to give operators even more opportunities to learn from their peers. We’re therefore delighted to be offering four full-day conferences this year, including our much anticipated summer party, giving even stronger value for our sponsors, without who these events would not be possible.” The first conference of 2022 – Pivot and Profit – takes place on Friday, 25 March, at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s Kensington. Operators of multi-site hospitality companies can book two free places each by emailing Speakers will include Graeme Smith, managing director at AlixPartners, who discusses the latest investment landscape, who the winners and losers are in a post-pandemic world and the businesses to watch. Seton Leung, head of UK foodservice at NPD Group, will discuss the key trends that have accelerated and developed over the past year across the entire sector and how they will shape the industry over the coming years. Paul Campbell, sector investor and non-executive director at Hawksmoor, Vinoteca, Hickory’s, Blacklock, Tortilla and The Alchemist, explains what he now looks for when investing in the sector post-pandemic, the key traits he looks for in management teams and the thinking behind his new competitive socialising concept. Colin Hill, chief executive of Nando’s UK, talks to Propel group editor Mark Wingett on how sustainability is the cornerstone of the group’s future development, the challenges and opportunities around becoming carbon-neutral in the sector and what the industry needs to do next. Brandon Stephens, founder of Tortilla, discusses the challenges of taking Europe’s biggest burrito business onto the public market, its success so far, staying ahead of the pack and what the next opportunities the brand is exploring are. James Shapland, co-founder of Coffee#1, the Caffe Nero-owned brand, and new venture Coffi Lab, talks about the development of his new business, why he has returned to the coffee sector and how he believes the sector will develop in a post-covid world. Jyotin Sethi, co-founder of JKS Restaurants, talks about the company’s move into pubs, food halls and pop-ups and why they are all providing fresh ideas and inspiration for the growing business. Alexandra Miller, founder of high-class cafe brand EL&N, discusses the concept’s origins, its growth through the pandemic both in London and overseas, the potential for the business and what operating “the most Instagrammable cafes” entails. Jonny Boud, founder of Kitchen Ventures, talks about the creation of the cloud kitchen and virtual dining start-up, its expansion and how it picks and develops the brands it works with. Tom Snellock, founder of Clays, discusses the development, launch and expansion of his indoor virtual clay pigeon shooting experience. Mario Aleppo, founder of the fast-growing pizza brand Fireaway, talks about growing the business to 100 sites in five years, further expansion opportunities and launching a global strategy aimed at following in the footsteps of Domino’s and Pizza Hut. There will also be a panel session where Fleet Street Communications managing director Mark Stretton talks to James Hacon, global chief marketing officer at Mapal Group; Sol Schlagman, co-founder of Stint; Roland Horne, founder of WatchHouse Coffee; Kate Daines, chief people officer at PizzaExpress and Brian Trollop, managing director at Dishoom, about solving the staffing, recruitment and retention crisis. 

Next edition of Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows sector losses of £7.4bn: The next edition of Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, produced in association with Mapal Group, shows the effects of the pandemic, with total losses of £7.4bn being reported by 340 companies. However, a further 196 sector companies are still reporting total profits of £788.4m. The next edition will include 536 companies, an increase of 28 companies compared with the January edition. The 536 companies produce total turnover of £26.7bn. The next edition of the Blue Book will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday, 19 February, at midday. The Blue Book, which is updated every month, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Premium subscribers also receive two other databases – the New Openings Database, produced in association with StarStock, and the Multi-Site Operators Database, produced in association with Virgate, which are also updated each month. 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 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.

Costs soar by more than a quarter for nightlife businesses, operating at almost 70% of pre-pandemic levels: Total operating costs for night-time economy business rose by 26% over the past year – and they will have no choice but to pass them on to consumers – according to a Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) survey. The figure included average increases of 18% in both food and drink and workforce costs, 29% in utility costs and 31% in insurance costs. Even more worrying, according to NTIA, is the fact that April will see the “perfect storm” of a rise in both National Insurance contributions and the National Living Wage, an end to the moratorium on legal action by creditors, a return of VAT to 20%, a reduction in businesses rates relief and proposed changes to alcohol duty punishing higher ABV products. The survey, which involved 198 NTIA members across the UK, also revealed that businesses are operating, on average, at 68.9% of their pre-pandemic trading levels, while 90% said they would need further government support to survive. Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA, said: “These statistics show just how bleak things remain for our sector. I think there is a temptation to think that, because it feels as if the pandemic restrictions are now behind us, nightlife will just snap back to its pre-pandemic strength. Sadly, this couldn’t be much further from the truth. We are still running into severe economic headwinds, and April threatens to be a perfect storm for the sector. I would now, even at this late stage, urge the chancellor to postpone all the tax increases to give some perfectly viable night-time economy businesses a fighting chance of survival. It is unfortunately the case that when you see enormous cost increases of the kind we have felt in our sector, for the vast majority of businesses, there is little else they can do other than pass these on to consumers.”

Leeds has most vibrant hospitality sector out of UK’s ten most populous cities: Leeds has the most vibrant hospitality sector out of the UK’s ten most populous cities, according to new research by CGA and Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social. The findings from the debut Vibrancy report, based on a combination of sales data from CGA and device log-ins from Wireless Social, showed that in the four weeks to 15 January 2022, Leeds saw a 0.2% drop in sales compared with the same period in 2019. This was ahead of Glasgow, Bristol and Birmingham, where restaurant, pub and bar sales held up relatively well in late December and early January. At the other end of the rankings, London finished bottom, having suffered a 19% drop in sales. Wireless Social’s data shows check-ins in London were 43% lower than over the same period two years ago. Sales and log-ins were down on pre-covid levels in other major British cities. However, separate research from CGA has indicated that while visitor numbers have dropped in recent months, average spend has increased slightly and consumer confidence has increased since the end of 2021. Julian Ross, founder and chief executive of Wireless Social, said: “The findings are sobering, especially with the lens focused on London, but as we’ve seen time and again over the last two years, pent-up consumer demand combined with decreasing covid case numbers does positively impact activity across hospitality venues.”

Professor Chris Edger steps down from Birmingham University role: The UK’s leading expert on hospitality multi-site leadership, Professor Chris Edger, is retiring from his role as director of the Academy of Multi-Unit Leadership, Birmingham City University, Propel has learned. Edger has held the position for 12 years. He previously held executive director roles with Bass Brewers, Coors Brewers and Mitchells & Butlers. An author of 13 books on senior operational, branded and franchised multi-site leadership and coaching, he held several masterclasses for Propel prior to the pandemic and taught hundreds of area managers from a range of sector-leading companies on his university courses – many of whom have progressed to senior field leadership positions throughout the industry. Propel understands Edger has already embarked on a post-graduate research degree at the University of Oxford, where he is focusing on 17th century ale house evolution. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “Chris has made an immense contribution to our sector’s understanding of how it can professionalise itself, capturing and codifying best practice across many influential text books. He is a towering figure in the academic understanding of the hospitality sector – in fact, it’s hard to think of another academic globally who has made as large a contribution.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a hospitality concept that is expanding rapidly. As part of this expansion, it is looking for a head of central operations in London. The individual will be responsible for brand agnostic central support and management, covering all new hotel openings and operational properties. They will be accountable for performance data analysis, diagnosis and subsequent solution creation including communication, process change and training recommendations. They will also be accountable for operational third-party relationships (including contract housekeeping) and brand activation bespoke to each product brand. The position is paying circa £120,000 plus bonuses and benefits. For more information and to apply, email

Company News:

City Pub Group plans roll out of new all-day dining concept: City Pub Group, owner and operator of 46 premium pubs across southern England and Wales, is to launch a new all-day dining concept later this spring which it then plans to roll out, Propel has learned. The Clive Watson-chaired business will launch the new concept in the former Café Rouge site in Bury St Edmunds, which it acquired last year. The company is understood to have appointed property firm Colliers to aid it on expansion opportunities for the concept, with sites of between 3,000-8,000 square feet at ground floor in market towns, London suburbs and city centres being sought. In a planning application for the Bury St Edmund’s site, the offer proposed by City Pub Group is a new casual-dining, all-day trading concept “based on a brasserie, entirely seated and table service only, where guests are greeted by a host on the entrance”. It is thought that the site in the town’s Abbeygate Street will not feature bar service, although subsequent openings under the concept are expected to.

Wells & Co gears up for ‘exciting period of growth’ despite challenges ahead, with pipeline of sites ‘remaining strong’: Bedford-based brewer and retailer Wells & Co has said its pipeline of sites “remains strong” as the business gears up for an “exciting period of growth”. The company added its managed business is entering the new financial year in a robust position, with the 42-strong estate set to move to 50 sites by the end of 2022. It comes as Wells & Co reported turnover for the year ending 3 October 2021 fell by £8m to £30.5m, with its UK pubs shut for 19 weeks of the period, and for 30 weeks in France. The business, which operates a total of 190 pubs in the UK, performed “well ahead of expectations” in the summer. When coupled with the sale of a handful of smaller pubs, together with careful cost control, the year concluded well ahead of 2020, with a positive Ebitda of £5m and net debt reduced by £1m. Despite the pandemic, Wells & Co moved ahead with its strategic plans to grow its managed house division. This saw seven pubs being added to the UK managed estate, which totalled 25 at the end of the year. Its 17-strong French estate has now also fully reopened. Group managing director, Peter Wells, said: “In many ways, 2021 felt harder than the first year of the pandemic. The fear we all felt at the beginning was replaced with a palpable sense of fatigue. Important to us has been our ability to support our pub partners in the leased and tenanted estate by conceding all commercial rent during the periods of closure. There are very real challenges ahead. Consumer confidence has a long way to build. A return to full VAT in April 2022 coupled with the wide-ranging increases in input costs, in particular energy costs, means we will have to navigate numerous speed bumps on the path to full recovery. Recruitment for our expanding managed house division will remain testing in the current market. However, we also see it as a real opportunity for our team members to gain internal promotion and develop their careers. Our pipeline of sites remains strong, and we are also actively searching for further freehold opportunities within our heartland of the home counties. Despite the challenges, we are looking forward to an exciting period of growth.”

Pret sales in London financial districts at 78% of pre-covid levels, suburban sites trading almost a third higher than before pandemic: Sales at Pret A Manger in London’s finance hubs are now at 78% of pre-covid levels as more people return to the office, according to the latest Bloomberg Pret Index. The level is about 10% less than the pandemic high set in the areas last year, when almost all restrictions were lifted. Pret stores in London’s suburbs are recording sales almost a third higher than they were before the pandemic as a strategy to cater to those employees still working from home pays off. Sales in London train stations improved as more workers returned to office commutes. “As countries start to loosen restrictions, I hope we will keep seeing that upward trend, especially as workers get back into the office in bigger numbers,” Pret chief executive, Pano Christou, said. Bloomberg is monitoring Pret’s transactions each week for its glimpse at the pandemic recovery. Christou said the growth in other parts of Britain, such as London’s West End shopping district “reflects the same cautious optimism I hear when I visit our stores here every week” that life is returning to normal. Pre-boarding transactions at London’s airports climbed to the highest level so far this year and are just below two-thirds of normal. 

Doppio Malto makes England debut: Italian restaurant chain Doppio Malto has opened its debut site in England, at the Metrocentre in Gateshead. Doppio Malto has taken over the unit that was previously occupied by The Restaurant Group-owned brand Coast to Coast. Doppio Malto, which currently operates circa 30 restaurants across seven Italian regions and one in France, made its UK debut in August when it opened in Glasgow – the first of 100 planned sites for the brand in the UK. A Doppio Malto spokesman said: “Each and every Doppio Malto is renowned for its motto ‘unpostofelice’ – a happy spot to enjoy genuine craft beer paired with hearty dishes, a place where family and friends gather on all occasions. From beer-based bespoke cocktails to pool tables and darts, fun is always guaranteed.”

Biggest ever Greggs cafe to open this weekend in Birmingham: Greggs will open its biggest ever café on Saturday (12 February), in Birmingham’s High Street Primark store, following a collaboration with the clothing retailer. The 130-seater Tasty by Greggs concept will offer sausage rolls, bakes, pizza and sweet treats to eat in or take away, or be pre-ordered for collection via the Greggs app, as well as a range of freshly-ground coffee. Design features will include a doughnut swing and seats, a picnic area and a self-serve coffee cart. Taking over the mezzanine level, Tasty by Greggs joins the Mezz Restaurant, Primarket Café and Disney Café in food and beverage options at the five-level flagship store. As part of the partnership, Greggs will also be launching its own 11-piece clothing range within 60 Primark store across the UK, from Saturday, 19 February. Raymond Reynolds, business development director at Greggs, said: “Our Tasty by Greggs café will be the first of its kind and will offer an exciting Greggs experience, underpinned by the great products and service that’s already delivered across all of our shops.” Tim Kelly, director of new business development at Primark, added: “We’re thrilled to have teamed up with Greggs to bring the Tasty Café to our Birmingham store and give fans of the brand the chance to get their hands on the limited-edition clothing range.”

EG Group to create 300 new apprenticeships over next three years: Forecourt and roadside operator EG Group has announced plans to create around 300 apprentices over the next three years. They will be available at EG’s head office as well as with its proprietary brands, including natural fast food chain Leon and bakery business Cooplands, which were both acquired in 2021. The apprentices will cover a wide range of disciplines and departments, including foodservice and courses in hospitality management. Around 200 apprentices are already working across EG Group’s business, with a further circa 300 roles expected to be created in 2023 and 2024. Vincent O’Donovan, head of learning and development at EG Group, said: “We are very proud to be significantly extending apprenticeship opportunities across various areas of our business. The fact that our apprenticeship programme continues to go from strength to strength is a testament to the hard work, skill and dedication of everyone involved.” Founded in 2001 by the Issa family, EG Group currently employs more than 50,000 workers across the UK and Ireland, US, Europe and Australia.

Deliveroo to open Birmingham office as demand soars: Deliveroo is set to open an office in Birmingham after doubling the number of its restaurant partners in the city since the start of the pandemic. The company said it is seeing huge growth in orders despite the ending of lockdown restrictions, as it continues to expand its reach across the UK. Customers in Birmingham can now order from more than 2,500 restaurants on Deliveroo. In December 2021, the number of Deliveroo orders in Birmingham were more than 300% higher than in February 2020. The growth over this period comes despite the ending of lockdown restrictions. The top three orders in Birmingham are hot wings from KFC, the big flavour burger from Wingstop and a cheeseburger from Five Guys. Deliveroo said the new office would open this April. Deliveroo vice-president of regional growth, Jeff Wemyss, said: “We’re really proud of this massive growth in Birmingham over the past year and are committed to continuing to support our restaurant partners and the local community after delivering a vital service during the pandemic.”

Second site for modern Indian cuisine concept partnering with Madhu’s: A restaurant concept that has partnered with Indian caterer and operator Madhu’s to offer a “modern and sophisticated take on traditional Indian cuisine” has opened its second site. Madhu’s Brasserie has opened in Sheen Road, Richmond, following last year’s launch of its debut site, on the fifth floor of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. Its contemporary menu has been developed in partnership with Madhu’s, which itself operates four venues across London and Hertfordshire after starting out in Southall in 1980. Included will be “a dedicated menu of signature toasted wraps”, served in a soft roomali roti or tandoori naan with fillings of chilli chicken, marinated paneer or minced lamb. Starters include the palak patta chaat, made with British samphire and crispy baby spinach leaves, while among the main courses are masala fish, masaledar kuku and makhani dal. Guests can also enjoy a little of everything with a thali, including meat-free, vegan variations. Tony Lit, director of Madhu’s Brasserie and Gourmet, said: “Following on from a successful launch last year, Madhu’s Brasserie is excited to expand southwards and share our passion for authentic Indian food with the vibrant Richmond community. Supported by our strategic partner Madhu’s, our brand new restaurant will bring years of history and culinary creativity to the area.”

Parkdean Resorts commits to biggest ever apprenticeship intake: Parkdean Resorts, the UK’s largest holiday park operator, has committed to its biggest ever apprenticeship intake for 2022, with 150 places on offer. The two programmes being offered are the Kitchen Academy, designed to develop new and existing chefs throughout the business, and the Leadership Academy, which seeks to identify and develop people that want to grow their career within the business. Lisa Charles-Jones, HR director at Parkdean Resorts, said: “People think an apprenticeship is aimed at young people just starting out in the world of work. This couldn’t be further from the truth, you can study for an apprenticeship qualification at any age.” 

Just Eat Takeaway to delist shares from Nasdaq: Just Eat Takeaway has said it will delist its shares from the Nasdaq stock exchange in a bid to limit costs and regulatory burdens. Shares of the company remain listed on the Amsterdam and London stock exchanges. “The main considerations for the voluntarily delisting are the low trading volumes on Nasdaq and the low proportion of the company’s total share capital held on Nasdaq,” Just Eat Takeaway said. The company made a big move on the American market in June last year as it bought US delivery firm Grubhub for $7.3bn. But it has come under pressure from investors in recent months to sell operations, including Grubhub, to reduce its operating losses as the boost it received from increased orders during the covid-19 pandemic has begun to fade.

Poole restaurant to appoint liquidators as pandemic takes toll: A restaurant in Poole, Dorset, has gone out of business. Maison Sax, at Ashley Cross, was the trading name of La Cave Dorset, which is set to appoint liquidators this week. The restaurant’s founder, David Sax, left as a director in 2020. A statement from RSM UK said: “Phillip Sykes and Glen Carter, of RSM UK, are proposed to be appointed as joint liquidators of La Cave Dorset, which traded as the Maison Sax Restaurant, on Thursday (10 February). The business suffered following the onset of the pandemic. Despite an increase in trade through the summer of 2021, public concern regarding the Omicron variant of covid-19 hindered the business further and significantly reduced its festive bookings. The company subsequently ceased to trade.” Maison Sax opened in September 2018 in the former Brit pub in Britannia Road, as a French-inspired bistro and bar.

Enhanced non-alcoholic beer brand secures £2.5m of investment: A County Durham-based alternative beer company founded last year has secured £2.5m of investment after being rejected on TV’s Dragons Den. Mark Wong created Impossibrew after being diagnosed with alcohol induced liver damage, and after trying a number of non-alcoholic beers, decided to create his own using plants his ancestors once used for medicinal benefits. Less than six months later, Wong was invited to pitch his business to the Dragons’ Den panel, where he asked for £50,000 for 10% business equity. Despite being spurned by the Dragons, Wong has since secured funds from more than 700 investors, including two independent angel investors – one of whom is a FTSE 250 chief financial officer. He has also grown the business by 930% since launch and achieved £100,000 in sales, as well as cementing plans to expand into the US before 2023. Wong told Business Live: “We were driven by the dream to create the best alcohol alternative and did not expect to resonate with people so much. We almost had six figures in orders just this weekend alone, and 680 investors decided to go against the Dragons and sign up with £2.5m in funding.” Wong, whose drinks are crated at a brewery in Allendale, Northumberland, believes he has created the world’s first mood enhancing non-alcoholic beers, made with herbs that are known to help with relaxation, anxiety and stress-relief. He added: “I wanted to be able to go out with mates and enjoy myself, and sitting sipping soda water just wasn’t going to be the same. I found a book written in 1211 AD by a Japanese monk who found plants could create certain effects in the body, and he used them as medicine. It just struck a chord with me, and I thought maybe the answer lay in nature.”

Compass Group makes sustainability-led appointments: Catering company Compass Group has appointed Kevin Watson as net zero lead to its hospitality arm, Levy UK & Ireland, and Emily Robinson as senior nutritionist and sustainability lead to Compass Scotland. Watson, Levy’s business director, will lead a range of initiatives to help it become net zero in the UK by 2027. These will include a commitment to using a minimum of 80% seasonal fruit and vegetables and creating plant-forward menus with carbon labeling. He said: “As net zero lead, I am collaborating with each of our venue partners to create tailored, individualised sustainability plans to ensure that everyone can take ownership for the delivery of environmental commitments.” Robinson, meanwhile, will be responsible for the delivery of nutrition and sustainability education to employees, clients and consumers across all Compass Scotland sites. She has worked for Compass Group UK & Ireland for three years, most recently as a regional nutritionist. Robinson said: “My ambition is to help drive positive, evidence-based change in education, menus, behaviour and wellbeing among children and adults in Scotland.” Last month, Compass Group announced it had banned the air freight of fresh fruit and vegetables as it focuses on increasing the use of local and seasonal products.

Cumbria-based operators set to expand second site by adding coffee shop: The owners of The Clarence pub and The Olive Tree cocktail bar in Dalton-on-Furness, Cumbria, are set to open a coffee shop too. Louise Stewart and partner Kieran McDaid reopened The Clarence in May 2021 after taking on the tenancy during the pandemic, and then took on the former Bar20 in Tudor Square six months later. Opening The Olive Tree initially just as a cocktail bar, the pair are now set to open a coffee shop in the same premises, offering light snacks and drinks to eat in or take away. Stewart told The Mail: “Every idea that we’ve had has come about from when we tried to get food on a Saturday and couldn’t find anywhere. We look at the town, see what’s missing and try to provide it. We’d like to put Dalton back on the map. It used to be a brilliant place for a night out, but a lot of places have closed down.”

Waterside Holiday Group to expand Dorset holiday park: South west-based Waterside Holiday Group has received the green light to expand its Waterside Holiday Park & Spa in Weymouth – including 31 new premium static homes. A planning statement noted the venue is well established but parts of it are now considered to be dated. It said the business had “struggled to remain viable” due to the nature of accommodation units available and had “struggled to be able to continue to offer the high level of on-site facilities that are currently available”. The approved application allows Waterside Holiday Group to develop 31 premium static holiday homes, down from its original application for 56, all in a low-density format and spaced out for a more open feel. Allen Main, group general manager at Waterside Holiday Group, said: “We are looking forward to bringing these plans to life as we create a wholly different development and new area designed to enhance our existing high-quality offering and drive further tourism success for Weymouth.” Work should get underway this winter, with a view to completion by Easter 2023. The group also operates two other Dorset sites – Chesil Vista in Weymouth and Osmington is Osmington Mills – and in October 2020 branched outside the county for the first time with the opening of Tregoad in Looe, Cornwall.

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