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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 22nd Feb 2022 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Junkyard co-founder to launch ‘intergalactic’ roller skate concept: Chris Legh, co-founder of crazy golf concept Junkyard, is to launch a new roller skate concept. Paradise Skate World will open in May in Manchester's Deansgate. Legh has teamed up with Junkyard’s national PR and events manager, Sophie-Larissa Houghton, to create the destination. Paradise Skate World will introduce a new roller-skating experience to the UK, inspired by laidback Miami and Los Angeles lifestyles with an intergalactic twist. The venue will also feature an interactive roller rink, where space, art, roller-skating and cocktails combine. The site will house a main bar serving galactic cocktails, and a selection of Japanese/Mexican snacks. Paradise Skate World plans to fill the venue with art installations built by a team of designers and artists. Visitors will “escape reality and enter a dream like world as they cruise around on roller-skates and float between the dimensions of space and time”. Legh said: “After creating a new genre of social competitive venues and expanding Junkyard Golf Club across the UK, I'm excited to be working on this new concept. We'll be reinventing the way people roller skate and creating a new experience where no matter what your levels of skating, you can escape reality, hang out, drink and socialise.” Houghton added: “We have a passion for bringing new and creative business ideas to life and giving people new experiences to try. After being inspired by the roller-skating culture in Miami and Los Angeles, we both envisioned creating a cool cosmic venue that reinvents roller-skating and transforms it into something no one has ever seen before.”

Industry News:

Variety of coffee and bakery concepts set to join updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies: A variety of coffee and bakery concepts 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 Bristol-based The Crafty Egg, which is owned by Ben Bennett, and is opening its second site next month in Bristol’s Fishponds Road. Also added this month is family-run cafe concept Society Cafe, owned by Jane and Adrian Campbell-Howard. The company is opening its fifth site, at Alliance House in Bristol. In addition, Gloucester-based Janes Pantry, which is led by Neville Morse, and currently operates ten sites across Gloucester and Cheltenham, will be included. Meanwhile, husband-and-wife team Billy and Charmayne Gray – who have operated Gourock Bakers in Greenock for the past six years – have now opened Café Gray, their debut cafe in the town. 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 12,600-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.

Hospitality businesses welcome ‘living with covid’ plan but call for further government support: Hospitality businesses have welcomed the government’s ‘living with covid’ plan but called for more support from Number 10 to survive in the long term. Prime minister Boris Johnson has outlined his plans to scrap all remaining covid restrictions in England, which he said would bring society “towards a return to normality”. With hospitality having been hit especially hard by the measures, the announcement was greeted positively, but with a degree of caution, in the industry. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “It is heartening to hear that we are now moving to trading based on the safety measures that businesses have put in place, and we hope this will ignite consumer confidence in our sector and beyond. Hospitality was hit first, longest and hardest by this pandemic, however, and with costs rising across the board and a VAT rise due this April – just as the cost of living crisis is set to bite – businesses in the sector still need support. At the very least, we need the government commit to keeping VAT at 12.5% beyond April.” Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “Moving beyond covid restrictions marks an important milestone in the road to recovery for pubs. However, as we move to living with covid as an endemic virus, it is important the pub and brewing sector receive the necessary support and guidance to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery. We urge the government to support the sector’s recovery by continuing to reduce the punitive tax burden on our sector to ensure the sustainability of brewing and pubs.” Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “The withdrawal of the remaining covid restrictions is welcomed – we now need to see further economic support for our sector. We are calling for the extension of VAT and business rates relief to allow businesses the financial headroom to survive. This is a sector that has sacrificed more than just about any other part of the economy, and it seems right that continued support is commensurate with the scale of hit we took during the pandemic.” Steven Alton, chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, said: “Pubs are an integral part of our economy, providing vital local jobs and careers for people in every community across the UK. Their essential role in society has been formally recognised by the chancellor in recent times, and we now look forward to his continued support to safeguard their futures. A continued low rate of VAT, alongside a reduction in the ongoing unfair burden of business rates, will be critical.” Clive Chesser, Punch Pubs chief executive, said: “There remains considerable uncertainty about the path the pandemic will now take in the UK, but learning to live with the virus signals another balanced step in the right direction after an incredibly challenging two years. However, strong cost headwinds and inflationary pressures remain a material cause for concern, and businesses like ours must continue to be agile, as well as to call on the government for further strategic and financial support. Cancelling the impending increase in the rate of VAT would provide essential and meaningful support to the hospitality sector.” Nick Mackenzie, Greene King chief executive, added: “While we’re optimistic about the coming months, we know the hospitality industry will continue to face challenges as we start to recover from the impact of the last two years. Many of the issues pubs were facing before the pandemic, such as the disproportionate tax burden, will continue to hurt the sector and limit the ability of pubs to invest and create new jobs. We’re urging the government to extend the current VAT reduction beyond April and freeze business rates, to help support the sector in its recovery.”

London congestion charge scrapped after 6pm on weekdays to help support night-time economy: The congestion charge in London has been scrapped after 6pm on weekdays in a bid to help support the capital’s night-time economy recover from the pandemic. Mayor Sadiq Khan has decided to return the charge to its pre-pandemic weekday hours of 7am-6pm, having extended it until 10pm as a temporary measure in June 2020 to encourage walking and cycling and discourage car travel. But the charge will remain at £15, rather than returning to £11.50, and will also be enforced from midday to 6pm at weekends. Khan told the Standard the congestion charge’s extended hours had been a “blunt instrument” and a short-term measure. Khan said: “What it was leading to was damage to the night-time economy, leading to jobs being lost, but also leading to our recovery not being as fast as it could have been. It’s really important for our policies to be pro-environment, pro-cleaning up our air and also pro-businesses. These are businesses, by the way, that pay their taxes that lead to us having some of the brilliant policies that we have, from more cycle lanes to widening the pavements, to investing in public transport. If businesses go bust, if fewer people are working in our city, if there is more unemployment, it’s more difficult for us to provide the public transport system we want, but also it damages our economy.” Meanwhile, Westminster Council is planning to increase its on-street parking charges. It currently charges £5.10 an hour to park in Soho, Covent Garden, Marylebone and Fitzrovia. This will increase by 3.5%, to £5.28 an hour. The council is planning “an increase of pay-to-park charges across all zones to maintain the differential with increasing public transport costs”, documents state. 
Majority of office workers yearning to socialise with colleagues in pubs and restaurants once more: New research from brewer and retailer Greene King shows 85% of British office workers are looking forward to a return to the office, with work social events high on their agenda. More than 50% believe it’s important to socialise with work colleagues at a local pub or restaurant, but due to previous work-from-home guidance, they haven’t yet had the chance. In fact, nearly two thirds (65%) of Generation Z workers (18 to 24-year-olds) have only met their work colleagues in person once since starting work in the pandemic. When asked what they missed most about working in the office, more than a third of Brits said they missed social occasions such as a pub lunch and after-work drinks, and 52% admitted to feeling a physical disconnect from colleagues while working from home. Furthermore, 75% of those polled stated in-person events are an essential way to bond with colleagues, and half believe their employers should be spending more time and money arranging social events to make up for those lost in 2021. With 44% of UK office Christmas parties scrapped last year, Greene King is inviting businesses across the UK to rebook their missed festive party. Alex Dawson, Greene King’s business unit director, said: “The pub isn’t just a place to drink, it is a hub for creative ideas, friendships and team bonding. Working from home had a major impact on social activities, with everything from midweek lunches to after-work drinks had to be put on hold. So, it’s no surprise people are eager to get back to socialising and spending time together in the pub.”
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a bar and restaurant concept that is looking to hire an operations manager. This role will see the individual take on five sites, growing to nine by the end of 2022. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “We are looking for someone who has strong people skills, will add to the culture of this business and sees people as the most important part, has excellent experience around quality food and drinks offerings and has done a roll out and expansion. Ideally you will come from a reputable bar/restaurant background but looking to join something more entrepreneurial. There will be a focus on retention and attraction of new staff and organic growth going forward.” The role is London based but some national travel is also required. The salary is £100,000. For more information and to apply, email

Company News:

Fever Bar founders back new burger and dessert concept Cow & Cream: Mark Shorting and Nigel Blair, two of the founders of the Fever Bar business, which was acquired by Stonegate Group at the start of 2019, are backing a new burger and dessert concept called Cow & Cream, Propel has learned. The concept, which is the brainchild of John Dunning and Rob Green, launched last year in Barnsley. The company said on the “back of phenomenal success” with its original site, it is now launching a second restaurant in Crystal Peaks, Sheffield. Shorting and Blair established Fever Bars in 2007 with its first site in Cheltenham. It grew to operate 32 venues, comprising 29 bars and three Bierkeller Bavarian pubs primarily in towns and cities throughout England. They also back the Epic Bars & Clubs vehicle, which currently operate nine sites, including the Trilogy nightclub brand in High Wycombe, Southampton and Warrington; Labyrinth in Bath; and Home & Botanic in Cheltenham, plus the Botanic Bar brand. It is planning a further Labyrinth site in Windsor and another Trilogy club in Nuneaton town centre.
Rekom secures first UK site for pub/bar concept Proud Mary: Rekom UK, the Peter Marks-led nightclub operator, has secured the first site in Britain for its pub/bar concept, Proud Mary, in Swansea, Propel has learned. The company has secured the lease on the former Idols nightclub in Wind Street. The group said Proud Mary Swansea will be located within a “stunning Jacobethan building of circa 30,000 square foot” and will offer food during the day. The group’s first Heidi's Bier Bar in the UK is due to open in Cardiff next month, with a second in Birmingham currently under construction. Scandinavian company Rekom Group, the owner of the former Deltic Group business, has capacity to acquire up to 30 sites per annum as it looks to introduce five of its brands into the UK market. Propel revealed earlier this year Rekom planned to launch its Heidi’s Bier Bar brand into the UK. It is also looking to launch its cocktail concept Rabalder Bar, club concept Lou and premium club concept Dorsia, here. The company is looking at opening clusters of venues at each location and will take leases of up to 20 years for the right place. For Heidi’s Bar and Proud Mary, it is also looking for sites in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. For all the brands, which need sites ranging from 2,500 to 20,000 square feet, it is looking at sites in locations across the UK. Rekom Group – which operates circa 120 late-night venues across Finland, Norway and Denmark – acquired 44 of Deltic’s 55 sites out of administration at the end of last year in a circa £10m deal.
Global bakery brand Paris Baguette to make UK debut: South Korean-born bakery brand Paris Baguette, which operates just under 4,000 sites worldwide, is to make its UK debut in London. The company, which is owned by the SPC Group, is to launch its debut UK site in the Battersea Power Station development. SPC Group currently operates around 3,500 Paris Baguette stores in South Korea and 450 international locations across China, the US, Canada, France, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Last year, it embarked on a programme of international expansion, entering the Canadian, Indonesian and Cambodian markets and announcing its intention to operate 100 US stores by the end of 2021, as part of a wider goal to reach 1,000 locations in the US by 2030. SPC operates a total of 17 hospitality brands in South Korea and internationally, including Caffè Pascucci, Jamba Juice, and Shake Shack. Propel understands SPC has appointed Nicolas Gaillot, formerly of Le Pain Quotidien, the all-day bakery and cafe concept, and the Imbiba-backed wine bar business Vagabond Wines, as chief operating officer of Paris Baguette UK, with plans to open further sites here. Galliot, who also stints at La Bottega, Villandry and Mitchells & Butlers, initially spent six years at Le Pain, including stints as operations manager in the UK and director of operations in France. In early 2016, he rejoined Le Pain as director of operations, before leaving in spring 2019 to become director of operations at Vagabond. 
Former Benito’s Hat CEO to launch debut permanent restaurant for meat-free pizza concept: Former Benito’s Hat chief executive Rich Baker is to launch a permanent site for his meat-free pizza concept Flat Earth. The concept, which Baker co-leads with Sarah Brading, has operated a number of residencies over the past two and a half years, including at The Plough in Hackney. Now Flat Earth is opening its own home, in Cambridge Heath in east London, after securing funding through SWIG Finance – a not-for-profit social enterprise. Refurbishment of the site will begin next month ahead of opening in April. Flat Earth creates meat-free pizzas “that are kind to the planet”. Brading told Propel: “Our new restaurant is going to be an evolution of our current offer. Pizza will still be at the very heart of the menu but we’ll be throwing in a selection of small plates – British mezze style – into the mix. We’ll have brunch dishes, coffee and wine that we'll also be selling in our little bottle shop. We’re also developing a line of retail pickles and pizzas for launch later this year.” 
Starbucks franchisee 23.5 Degrees soars to £10.3m profit after almost doubling sales: Starbucks first and largest UK franchisee, 23.5 Degrees, saw sales almost double from £35.7m to £66.7m in the year to 31 August 2021, thanks to its investment in drive-thrus and digital platforms. On the back of the increase in sales, the company, which opened its 85th site during the year, posted a pre-tax profit of £10.3m against a loss of £1.8m in 2020. The business opened 12 stores in the period, comprising ten drive-thrus and two in retail parks, creating 479 jobs. Luca Contardo, 23.5 Degrees finance director, said: “The year to 31 August 2021, heavily affected by the covid pandemic, presented numerous challenges for the group as it operated within the rules and restrictions introduced by the authorities in order to contain the spread of the virus. Nonetheless, the business performed strongly, aided by the government stimulus packages introduced to support the hospitality sector and the wider economy. Operationally, the teams adapted well to ever changing health and safety rules, which saw multiple tiers of restrictions applied across the country for the majority of the year and the business reacting quickly to changes, putting its partners and customers’ safety at the front of decision-making processes. During the last 12 months the business has invested in its new sales channels, being delivery, mobile order and pay and kerbside, which were initially launched in July 2020. The directors firmly believe these new channels, together with the drive-thru model, were among the factors that allowed the business to successfully navigate through the last 18 months.”
Gaucho secures Liverpool site as it sets out five-year growth plan: Rare Restaurants, the Martin Williams-led operator of the Gaucho and M Restaurants brands, has secured a new site in Liverpool, as it sets out a new five-year growth plan, Propel has learned. The company, which already has openings in Glasgow, Newcastle and Canary Wharf lined up for this year, is set to open in the former Martins Bank headquarters in Water Street, Liverpool, in the third quarter. Williams told Propel it was part of the group’s new five-year growth strategy, which could see it opening up to 30 new sites across the UK. He said: “We have been doing some market mapping work, which actually showed there were up to 60 locations where we could open across the UK. We’ve trimmed that back, but we are confident there is plenty of runway for the business.” Williams said the company, which before his time operated the now-defunct CAU brand, would not look at doing a smaller sister concept, but would look more toward how The Ivy has been successfully rolled out. He said: “We are probably 15%-20% more expensive but with people looking for a more premium experience I believe there is an opportunity for Gaucho to go into more markets. We will look at further opportunities in London but also in the likes of Cardiff, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, St Albans, Cheltenham, Belfast and Dublin.” Williams said after a successful second half of last year, trading in January had been disappointing, “although we continued to post sales growth”. He said: “However over the past couple of weeks, before the storms at the weekend, we returned to generating double-digit growth.”
Market Halls to launch third London site next month and reopen at Oxford Street, more openings to follow: Market Halls, the London-based food market hall operator, will next month launch its third site in the capital – with more set to follow. Opening in late March, the 20,000 square-foot Market Halls Canary Wharf will feature a line-up of creative kitchens and bars and a programme of community-led events. These include existing Market Hall favourites Gopal’s Corner, DF Tacos and Baoziinn, as well as new additions Le Bab, Pasta Evangelists and Inamo Sukoshi. It will tie in with the reopening of Market Halls Oxford Street, on Thursday, 10 March, which following extensive refurbishment, now houses eight restaurants and three bars (down from 12 and four respectively). Market Halls also has a site in Victoria and had another in Fulham, which has now closed permanently, despite reopening in September. Up to four more new sites could follow, with one in a central location due to open in September, followed by another, in a suburban location, early in 2023. Market Halls founder, Andy Lewis-Pratt, said: “We couldn’t be more excited to be opening two Market Halls locations, which will bring this concept to Londoners who might not previously have been able to visit the existing Victoria site. These new openings have provided us with the perfect opportunity to expand our events programming and work with even more fantastic food and drinks vendors.” Market Halls raised more than £800,000 through a crowdfunding campaign with Seedrs last year – helping its plans to branch out into live performances, corporate events and festivals, rapid delivery partnerships and flexible working spaces. This followed four of the group companies launching company voluntary arrangements last summer, which led to a restructure of the business where the Try Market Halls group was sold to a new holding company, Market Halls Group.
State of Play Hospitality secures Battersea site for first Bounce opening in seven years, appoints new development director: State of Play Hospitality, the Toby Harris-led, US and UK experiential leisure operator, will open the first site in seven years under its ping pong concept Bounce, after securing space at Battersea Power Station. The new venue will span nearly 8,000 square foot within Turbine Hall B in the original power station, which will be opening to the public from September. The company said the site will showcase an entirely new look and feel for the brand and reflect “State of Play’s commitment to creating design-led, playful and premium social environments”. Plans for the new venue include 11 gaming areas, a central cocktail bar and a private room. As well as ping pong, Bounce Battersea Power Station will also offer several Wonderball tables, the brand’s proprietary gaming platform, which uses laser mapping technology to create various interactive games. The company said the Battersea opening followed the “remarkable and sustained success of its Farringdon and Old Street-based Bounce sites. The business has also appointed Louise Neilson, formerly of Bill’s Restaurants, as its new development director. Neilson, who spent more than 11 years with the Richard Caring-backed restaurant group, will head up all new projects in her new role, including Bounce Battersea Power Station, as well as supporting State of Play’s acquisition strategy in the UK. Harris said: “We’re excited to be opening a new Bounce in the power station, which has to be the most eagerly awaited development in London of our lifetimes. The launch of Bounce in 2012 represented the start of the State of Play journey and it feels fitting that almost exactly ten years on we’ll be opening an all-new version in an extraordinary setting.” The new location will add to State of Play’s portfolio of owned and operated venues in the UK where it also operates bingo concept Hijingo. The group also operates Bounce’s sister brand AceBounce and Flight Club, under licence, in the US.
Star Pubs & Bars to more than double the size of its Scottish managed operator estate: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars is set to more than double the estate size of its Scottish managed operator, Just Add Talent (JAT). The company currently has six JAT pubs in Scotland, and subject to recruiting new operators, will create a further seven during 2022. While the managed operator model is widespread in England and Wales, it is still relatively uncommon in Scotland, and Star believes rolling out the model will provide a cheaper and lower risk option for those looking to get their first pub. JAT is a turnover and profit share model in which operators run the business but only fund their and their staff’s costs, with the revenue and profit shared between both parties. Matthew Dyson, Star Pubs & Bars operations director for Scotland, said: “Getting your first pub in Scotland is challenging, and there is a significantly lower proportion of leased and tenanted tied pubs than in the rest of the UK. Furthermore, almost two thirds of pubs are independently owned. Where these are rented out, they usually come with no support, and if they’re being sold, the high price puts them out of reach of most people.” The Horse & Barge in Clydebank and The Keg in Inverness will be the first two pubs to move to the JAT model. Headquartered in Edinburgh, Star Pubs & Bars has 230 pubs in Scotland that it leases to independent licensees. The vast majority of its 2,400 UK pubs are leased out to small businesses and entrepreneurs, with 140 pubs operating under the JAT model.
Boxpark reports record growth in traders’ delivery sales with revenue up more than 100%: Boxpark has reported record growth of delivery sales for its traders in 2021, with total revenue up more than 100% across the estate. During the year, Boxpark’s food and beverage traders processed more than 500,000 orders and delivery revenue doubled across its three London locations, rising from £4.7m in 2019 to £9.5m in 2021. Boxpark Croydon and Wembley showed particular strength, with Shoreditch more impacted by the lack of local office workers due to the changes that covid restrictions have had on working from home trends, the group said. It added before the pandemic, food delivery sales at Boxpark were increasing at a steady rate but since pandemic-related lockdowns started in March 2020, the growing fast-food delivery business spiked to new heights. In 2022, almost 75% of its 80 independent food traders are trading via at least one delivery platform. Dan Fullarton, head of new business and partnerships at Boxpark, said: “Deliveries have been a helpful boost for our food traders and restaurants throughout the pandemic. As we work with many small and independent businesses, it was crucial to ensure they had all the tools, resources and support to survive during the lockdown and we were delighted to help our traders with their delivery integration. It is incredibly reassuring to see such positive figures from our traders’ delivery revenue and we are proud to be a platform for these fast-growing food businesses.”
Gordon Ramsay, Le Bab and Poke House among tranche of F&B operators to sign up for Battersea Power Station: Gordon Ramsay, Le Bab, Poke House and Clean Kitchen Club are among the first tranche of food and beverage operators set to open inside the grade II-listed Battersea Power Station from September. Where The Pancakes Are, Joe & The Juice and Starbucks are also joining the line-up. Following the opening of Street Pizza in Circus West Village, the riverside neighbourhood at the foot of the power station, Ramsay will also be opening Bread Street Kitchen & Bar, inside the building. Battersea Power Station’s food and drink offering will be located in the historic Turbine Halls and Boiler House. Other operators signed up include authentic Malaysian restaurant, Roti King. A circa 20,000 square foot food hall offering an all-day dining experience will also be opening in the Boiler House section. Sam Cotton, head of Leasing at Battersea Power Station Development Company, said: “We have an exciting year ahead of us as we countdown to the power station opening and further retail, leisure and dining concepts to announce, so watch this space!” 
Greene King takes on Lake District bar and grill: Brewer and retailer Greene King has acquired The Village Inn Bar and Grill in Bowness for an undisclosed sum. The pub, which came to the market last year, sits close to Lake Windermere and holds seating for 135, with an outdoor dining facility for up to 90 covers. A Greene King spokesman said: “We’re refurbishing the pub over the next few weeks and are aiming to have it back open again for the community as soon as possible.” Colliers acted on the deal. 
Leon to open third counter-style site: Natural fast food brand Leon, owned by EG Group, is to open its third counter-style restaurant. The outlet, which opens on Friday (25 February), will be based within the EG Group-owned Shell petrol forecourt on the A31 in Tongham, Surrey. It follows counter-style openings for Leon in Holtspur, Buckinghamshire; and Milton Keynes, which opened last year. The Tongham site will feature counter ordering as well as digital kiosk order screens. Leon managing director Glenn Edwards said: “Since opening our first counter-style restaurants in 2021, we have been eager to grow this style of restaurant in order to bring Leon to more guests and allow them to experience Leon while on the go.” The Tongham site will see the launch on new Leon rice pots alongside favourites such as carbon neutral burgers and grilled wraps. Speaking on the latest in Propel’s Friday Wrap video series, Edwards revealed Leon has begun the trial of a new coffee express kiosk format, including at the Holtspur and Milton Keynes sites. In December, Leon, which has openings lined up in Camden and Kingston, announced plans to accelerate its expansion plans from an original target of 20 new UK restaurants to more than 50 over the next three years.
Jeremy Paxman invests in Scottish organic whisky distillery: Jeremy Paxman has invested in what is thought to be Scotland’s first organic whisky distillery, Nc’nean Distillery. The television presenter is one of the financial backers of Nc’nean, a “green” Scotch producer on the Morvern peninsula in the west Highlands, founded by Derek Lewis, the former director general of the Prison Service, and his daughter, Annabel Thomas. The company uses renewable energy to make whisky from organically grown barley. It is sold in bottles made from recycled glass and 99% of the waste created by the distilling process is reused by a neighbouring farm. Paxman told The Guardian: “I have enjoyed a dram for more years than I care to remember. When the opportunity came along to get involved with a Scotch that is made while taking care of the environment, I was keen to get involved. How often can you say that your pleasure causes no harm to anyone else?” Nc’nean – an abbreviation of Neachneohain, the name of the Scots Gaelic goddess of spirits – was established in 2017 when Thomas gave up her job as a management consultant in London to follow her dream of making whisky with the help of her father, who owns the Drimnin Estate, on which the distillery sits. To build the business, she raised £7.5m from an EU grant and other investors, including Paxman, who owns a 0.6% stake. A fresh round of funding in 2020 brought in a further £1.7m and handed 11% of the company to the taxpayer-backed quango Scottish Enterprise. Lewis remains on the board of directors.
Just Eat sees demand for vegan food orders soar during Veganuary: Just Eat saw a huge increase in demand for vegan food in January as thousands of people went meat and dairy-free for Veganuary. Vegan orders on the food delivery platform soared by 1,000% this January, compared with the same month three years ago. There was also a 75% in vegan food orders compared with January 2021, pointing to a lasting change in public behaviour as consumers begin to consider healthier, more sustainable food choices. More than 600,000 people officially took part in Veganuary, with the top five UK areas for vegan orders being London, Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Liverpool. Andrew Kenny, managing director for Just Eat UK, said: “There’s always a big buzz around Veganuary, and these figures show that going vegan isn’t just another fleeting food trend. With consumers becoming more aware of health and the climate crisis over the last few years, choosing healthier and more sustainable food is now a booming part of what people are ordering.”
JD Wetherspoon scoops seven accolades at Loo of the Year Awards 2022: JD Wetherspoon has landed seven top prizes at the Loo of the Year Awards 2022, which highlight top quality washrooms standards in pubs. Independent inspectors judged the toilets on criteria including décor and maintenance, cleanliness, accessibility, hand-washing and drying equipment and overall management. Wetherspoon won three accolades in England – the Champions League standards of excellence award, the corporate providers entries UK winner and market sector awards hospitality. It was also a double national winner in the accessible toilet categories – in Scotland (The Carrick Stone in Cumbernauld) and Ireland (The Forty Foot in Dun Laoghaire). It also won two further national awards in Ireland – washroom cleaner of the year for its in-house cleaning team, and individual category entries for The Silver Penny in Dublin. More than 820 Wetherspoon pubs across the UK and Ireland also achieved high individual toilet ratings following visits from inspectors. Wetherspoon’s operations director, Martin Geoghegan, said: “We invest time and money, along with creating great designs, to ensure we provide our customers with excellent toilets. The fact independent judges have rated Wetherspoon pubs so highly, in terms of design, cleanliness and facilities, is very rewarding. We will continue to offer the best-possible toilets in our pubs.”

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