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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 21st Feb 2022 - Update: Marugame Udon, covid restrictions, Nightcap, McDonald’s, Diageo
Marugame Udon sets out plans to reach 100 sites within five years: International udon noodles and tempura restaurant brand Marugame Udon, described by one of its investors as “twice as fast as Wagamama but half the price” has unveiled plans to have at least 100 outlets within five years. Keith Bird, the European boss of Marugame Udon, told The Times its plans are “really well funded”, describing the company’s approach as “ambitious and bold but still humble”. The chain, which has a menu based around udon noodles and tempura, opened its first site in the UK near Liverpool Street in the City of London last July and has since opened three more at the O2, Canary Wharf and St Christopher’s Place. It will open another eight to ten company-owned outlets this year at a cost of £600,00 to £700,000 per site, with 40 to 50 employees for each of them, and by the end of the year Bird hopes to start upping the ante by taking on franchise partners. Once he’s got the franchises up and running, he reckons he should be able to get the opening rate up to 30 to 40 sites a year as the brand expands out of London to all the main cities, as well as in transport hubs, retail parks and shopping centres. Within the next 12 months Bird wants to take the business to the Continent, which will help him to achieve the target he’s been given of having 106 restaurants by 2026, although “that’s a minimum”. Launching in a pandemic had its challenges but Bird said that working with “enlightened landlords” had enabled the chain to secure a solid pipeline of new sites, including Waterloo station. Customers have a tray and help themselves to their food. Main dishes start at £3.45 and spend per head averages out at about £12. Bird said value was a core part of the offer, although at those prices margins were tight. Its Liverpool Street site has “more than 5,000 transactions a week, which is way higher than anyone had expected or hoped”. He added: “It’s about amazing value, speed, tasty and healthy food plus a sense of theatre.”

Host of hotel companies set to join updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies: A host of hotel companies are among the 49 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 (25 February), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, features south west-based Richardson Hotels, which is owned by Keith Richardson, and currently operates four sites in Cornwall and Devon. Also added this month is AG Hotels, which has recently acquired The Stuart Hotel in Derby, bringing its portfolio to eight sites. In addition, 43-strong hotel company Hyatt, which was founded by Jay Pritzker in 1957, will be featured. Also included this month is GLH Hotels, which has 19 hotels in London across its Guoman, The Clermont, Thistle, Hard Rock and Thistle Express brands. Premium subscribers will also receive a 3,750-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 seventh edition of the New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Friday, 4 March, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The seventh edition also includes a 12,000-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 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.

Boris Johnson to remove all covid restrictions: Boris Johnson will hail a “moment of pride” for the nation today as he announces the end of all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England. The prime minister will emphasise the importance of “personal responsibility” instead of government intervention as he unveils his plan for the country to “live with covid”. It includes a drive to end mass working from home. Vaccines will be used for the foreseeable future to maintain a high rate of immunity in the population. Speaking before publication of the government’s plan, Johnson said: “[It] will mark a moment of pride after one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history as we begin to learn to live with covid. It would not be possible without the efforts of so many – the NHS who delivered the life-saving vaccine rollout at phenomenal speed, our world-leading scientists and experts, and the general public for their commitment to protecting themselves and their loved ones. The pandemic is not over but thanks to the incredible vaccine rollout we are now one step closer towards a return to normality and finally giving people back their freedoms while continuing to protect ourselves and others.” The Times reports the most controversial move to be announced by Johnson today will be the decision to scrap the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus. It is expected to be replaced by guidance. The changes announced by Johnson will apply only to England, but Scotland and Wales are likely to follow next month. Northern Ireland scrapped all remaining covid measures last week.

Investor pushes McDonald’s to change the way it buys pork: An activist investor is trying to make McDonald’s change the way it buys pork for its bacon cheeseburgers and sausage patties. Investor Carl Icahn has nominated two new candidates for McDonald’s board of directors, the fast-food chain confirmed yesterday (20 February). The issue Icahn wants to change is that some of McDonald’s pork suppliers confine pregnant pigs in small crates. McDonald’s vowed a decade ago to phase out using pork from suppliers who use such crates. McDonald’s said it expects to source 85% to 90% of its US pork from pigs not housed in gestation crates during pregnancy by the end of this year. Icahn’s nominees will stand for election at McDonald’s 2022 annual meeting. The fast-food brand said: “McDonald’s can confirm that Carl Icahn has nominated Leslie Samuelrich and Maisie Ganzler to stand for election at the 2022 Annual Meeting. There is no shareholder action required at this time. The board will evaluate the nominees as it would any other candidates proposed to it.”

Diageo announces next phase of return of capital programme: Diageo has announced that it is commencing the third phase of its previously announced return of capital (ROC) programme of up to £4.5bn to shareholders to be completed during fiscal 2023. Under the first two phases of the ROC programme, which were completed on 31 January 2020 and 11 February 2022 respectively, Diageo repurchased shares with an aggregate value of £2.25bn. Diageo also announced that it has entered into a non-discretionary agreement with UBS AG London Branch (UBS) to enable the company to buy back shares with an aggregate value of up to £1.7bn, of which the repurchase of shares with an aggregate value of up to £1.4bn will be completed by 30 June 2022. In each case the aggregate value of shares repurchased will be net of any fees payable to or by UBS under the terms of the agreement. This agreement will commence on 21 February 2022 and will end no later than 5 October 2022. The purpose of the repurchases is to reduce the share capital of Diageo and all shares repurchased under this agreement will be cancelled. Further execution phases of the ROC programme, utilising the most appropriate mechanic of either share buybacks or special dividends depending on market conditions, will be subject to future announcements.

Nightcap confirms Cardiff and Exeter openings: Bar operator Nightcap has confirmed it will open two new sites in April, in Cardiff and Exeter, with a further 24 premises under offer or in legal negotiations. In early April, the group will open The Cocktail Club in Exeter. This bar opening follows the announcement, in January 2022, of the signing of a new Tonight Josephine bar in Cardiff, which too is planned to open in early April 2022. The latest opening for The Cocktail Club, which is located at 23 Gandy Street, Exeter, covers an area of approximately 3,400 square feet with a 2:00 am license Monday to Sunday. The site will have an unrestricted capacity of 200. In addition to these two new openings, and alongside its existing 27 sites, Nightcap said it has a further 24 premises under offer or in legal negotiations and continues to see favourable market conditions for site acquisitions across the country. Sarah Willingham, chief executive of Nightcap, said: “I am delighted that we continue to execute on our growth strategy with the latest signing in Exeter for The Cocktail Club brand – the fourth opening and third outside of London since Nightcap acquired The Cocktail Club just over a year ago. Our plans to significantly increase our footprint in the West Country are progressing well and we expect to be able to announce the signing of at least a further two additional sites in this part of the country in the coming weeks. This is the second of many planned openings across our brands scheduled for this calendar year as we look to significantly increase the size of the estate. I am so proud of the hard work all the teams are putting in to be able to execute on our growth plans and I look forward to updating investors on our progress in the current financial year when we announce our interim results on 14 March 2022.”

Duo behind London’s Radio Delicious and Electric Social to open new all-day bar and restaurant: Jamie Edwards and Arron Curtis, who have previously teamed up for New Cross pizza and ice cream concept Radio Delicious and Brixton cocktail lounge Electric Social, will today (Monday, 21 February) open new all-day bar and restaurant Tell Tale in Crystal Palace. Based at 69 Westow Hill, the venue will offer coffee and pastries for breakfast, a varied lunch menu and small plates and sharing dishes in the evening, reports Hot Dinners. The menu has been devised by Michelin-starred chef Martin Blunos, formerly of Lettonie in Bath and Bristol. Drinks will include cocktails, wine, natural beer and non-alcoholic options, and there are plans for live music at weekends. Curtis, previously head of retail operations at Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick, opened Radio Delicious with Edwards last summer. Their Electric Social project closed in 2015 after four years of operation.

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