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Tue 1st Mar 2022 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

City centres building back as hospitality sales rise, Bristol most vibrant but London recovery slower: Hospitality sectors in major British cities are recovering their vibrancy as covid restrictions wind down, new research has shown. The latest in a new series of Top Cities: Vibrancy Ranking reports from CGA and Wireless Social combines sales and device log-in data to assess the performance of Britain’s ten most populous cities over the four weeks to 12 February 2022. It shows that Bristol was the most vibrant, with eating-out and drinking-out sales in modest growth from pre-covid levels and check-in numbers improving. Sales were also up in Manchester, lifting the city from ninth place in the last report to second in this one, while Glasgow is the third-placed city and Sheffield moves up four places to fourth. Across the ten cities monitored, sales were just 3% down on the same period in 2019 – a sharp improvement on the 10% shortfall in the previous four weeks. However, with inflation running high, sales are substantially lower than 2019 levels in real terms. Since check-in numbers are flat compared to the previous period, the improvement may be due to greater spending per head rather than increases in visits. Elsewhere in the rankings, London is in bottom place for the second time in a row, with sales and check-ins still 11% and 38% down on pre-covid levels respectively. While both figures are improvements on the previous four weeks, it suggests workers have been slow to return to the capital, and the shortfall of tourists has reduced sales further. There were modest drops in sales in other leading cities, but clear signs that trading is improving. CGA’s client director, Chris Jeffrey, said: “After two very difficult years for Britain’s city centres, our report is proof of their growing vibrancy as covid restrictions ease. Positive trends in Bristol, Manchester and elsewhere raise hopes that sales and footfall may soon return to pre-pandemic norms. However, while many consumers are making up for lost time in pubs, bars and restaurants, others remain cautious about spending as inflation mounts, and trading in London remains particularly challenging.” Julian Ross, founder and chief executive of Wireless Social, added: “It’s really encouraging to see activity is on the rise for hospitality across UK cities after what has been an unprecedented two years. However, sector businesses still face mounting economic challenges with the impending rises in VAT, energy bills and inflation on the horizon.” 

Industry News:

Variety of Japanese sites added to the seventh edition of The New Openings Database, 15,720-word report included: A variety of Japanese sites have been added to the seventh edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock. The database will show the details of 279 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches for Premium subscribers when it is published on Friday (4 March), at midday. The database shows the details of which company has opened a site or its plans to open one in the future. It will have details on what type of site it is and its location. There will also be a website link to the businesses so you can find out more about them. It is published on a monthly basis. The seventh edition of the database features Kibou, which is led by David Franks, and will open its fourth site, in Solihull, this spring. In addition, Fuwa Fuwa, which serves up Japanese souffle pancakes, opened its second site in January in Soho, London. Also added this month is The Aubrey London, a new Japanese izakaya bar and restaurant from Asian restaurant group Maximal Concepts, which opened in January in Knightsbridge, London. Also featured is premium Japanese restaurant concept Roketsu, which has opened its debut site in London’s Marylebone, and features a dedicated area where customers can witness and engage in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Premium subscribers will also receive a 15,720-word report on the new additions to the database. Subscribers also receive access to two other databases. The latest Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, was sent to Premium subscribers last Friday (25 February). The database contained 49 new companies, bringing the total number of businesses listed up to 2,341. The 227 sites run by those 49 new additions means the entire database of sites has reached 64,253 sites. Premium subscribers also received a 3,750-word report on the new businesses added. The go-to database 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. There is also a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Premium subscribers also receive the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated every month, 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. 

Conference venue bookings in 2022 almost on a par with 2021 already as virtual meetings ‘tail off’: There have already been almost as many conference venue bookings in 2022 as in the whole of 2021, according to new data from venue benchmarking group, Venue Performance. The company reported that an average of 15 conferences have already been booked per venue for 2022, compared with an average of 18 delivered all last year. Peter Heath, managing director of Venue Performance, said: “The pandemic hit the sector hard, but business is now picking up and returning to previous models. We are seeing virtual conferences tailing off and a return of the larger gatherings that stopped during the pandemic. People are eager to meet face to face again.” Venue Performance has also announced a partnership with The Hospitality Professionals Association, giving the organisation access to data about trading and trends within the meetings and events industry. 

Job of the day: COREcruitment has been retained by a client to hire a global chief financial officer in London. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “The client is well funded and is looking to double its size – organic and acquisition – within the next three years. We are looking to recruit a chief financial officer – ideally with plc/AIM-listed experience. As well as looking after finance, this role will also get involved in all operations of a growing business – technology, HR, openings and property.” The hiring company is looking to establish more markets globally in the next few years and add to its existing operations. All finance and commercial functions will report to this role. The salary is up to £220,000. For more information, email oliwia@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

Cambscuisine to demerge Smokeworks as it focuses on growing pub restaurant estate: Pub and restaurant operator Cambscuisine is to demerge barbecue concept Smokeworks as it turns its focus to growing its pub restaurant estate. Max Freeman, who is managing director of Smokeworks, will leave Cambscuisine to set up a new company under which Smokeworks intends to expand its reach over the next few years. Smokeworks had been part of the Cambscuisine group of eight restaurants based in and around Cambridge, with two sites within the city. Oliver Thain, who will remain chief executive of Cambscuisine, said: “I want to wish all our friends and colleagues at Smokeworks the best of luck in the future, and particularly thank Max for his efforts with Cambscuisine over the last 14 years. I’m sure under his leadership, Smokeworks will flourish, while the demerger allows Cambscuisine to focus our efforts on growing our pub restaurant estate. We have traded very well over the last 12 months, despite the pandemic, and have exciting plans to invest not only in our current restaurants, but also add additional pub restaurants to the group in the near future.” The remaining sites in the Cambscuisine portfolio are The Cock in Hemingford Grey, The Tickle Arms in Whittlesford, The Crown & Punchbowl in Horningsea, The Three Horseshoes in Madingley, Millworks in Cambridge and The Cambridge Chop House. During lockdown, the group launched a range of cook-at-home meal kits, including a traditional Sunday roast, which customers were able to order online to collect. The group also raises money for local good causes through its Cambscuisine Community Fund, and earlier this month reintroduced its loyalty card scheme, which offers customers 25% off their bill after collecting six stamps.

Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company puts London Fields Brewery up for sale for circa £2m: Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) has put its London Fields Brewery in Hackney up for sale for circa £2m. Located in Warburton Street, the brewery includes a taproom licensed until midnight and features a state-of-the-art 15-hectolitre Kasper Schulz modern brew kit, installed during a £2m investment programme in 2019. Opened in 2011 as the first commercial brewery to launch in Hackney in more than a century, it has a 3,000-hectolitre on-site capacity. Property consultancy Gerald Eve has been instructed by CMBC to bring the brewery to the market. CMBC announced in December it was proposing to close and sell the brewery, which it acquired in 2017 in a deal worth circa £4m, and has since ceased brewing and closed the taproom. CMBC chief executive Paul Davis called it a “difficult decision”, but said such actions are “crucial to investing in scaling the right brands for the future and making CMBC a stronger industry-leading business”.

Deliveroo opens first high street restaurant Pizza Paradiso: Listed delivery firm Deliveroo has launched its first high street restaurant, Pizza Paradiso, complete with sourdough pizzas priced at £5.95 to £9.75. As revealed by Propel in December, the site in New College Parade, near Swiss Cottage tube station, has been launched by Deliveroo to train staff and help it “find better ways to serve our partners”. The menu comprises starters (2.75-£4.95), salads (£7.95-£8.50), pizzas and desserts (£3.25-£5.25). The made-to-order pizzas include a marinara (£5.95), a margherita (£7.50), Americana (£8.50), a Neapolitana (£8.95) and a Capricciosa (£9.75). The new business, which is open 5pm to 11pm, Tuesday to Saturday, also includes beer, wine, tea, coffee and soft drinks. A Deliveroo spokesman told Propel last year: “Deliveroo will manage a high street restaurant to deepen staff expertise and understanding of restaurant management so we can find new and better ways to serve our partners. Staff will learn about how to manage restaurant dine-in and delivery services. We want to understand restaurants’ pain points with the aim of solving them, and to do this by having a deep understanding of restaurant owners’ mindset.” Propel understands there are no plans to scale this beyond the single site.
 
Kaye lines up third site for fledgling Storia concept: Former Prezzo chief executive Jonathan Kaye has lined up a third site under his fledgling Italian restaurant concept Storia, Propel understands. Kaye, the ex-chief executive of Dining Street – the formerly listed Richoux Group, which was the company behind the Richoux, Friendly Phil’s, Villagio and The Broadwick restaurant brands – is understood to have secured the ex-Prezzo site in 9-10 Bridge Street, Maidenhead, for an opening later this year. Last year, he secured two sites in Hertfordshire for his new venture, launched it on the former Prezzo site in Tring High Street before a second site opened on the former Dining Street-owned The Broadwick in Radlett. The restaurant’s website stated: “Storia is an independent restaurant. We are not part of any large corporate group, and the personal touch is key to everything we do.” The restaurant will showcase a selection of home-grown and international wines from countries including France, Spain, South Africa, Chile and New Zealand.
 
St Austell Brewery appoints Gareth James as operations director: Cornwall-based St Austell Brewery, which operates 180 pubs, inns and hotels across the south west, has appointed Gareth James, formerly of Stonegate Group and KFC, as its new operations director, Propel has learnt. James was previously at Stonegate for four years, with the last 18 months of that time spent as an operations manager, overseeing 100-plus pubs in the central division of Craft Union Pub Co. Previous to that, he was a regional manager at Compass and an area manager at KFC. In his new role, he will help oversee the Kevin Georgel-led St Austell’s pubs, inns & hotels business. Earlier this year, the company launched a six-figure campaign to attract new talent to the hospitality industry. The visual-led campaign, entitled Your Adventure Starts Here, showcases the scenery the region has to offer, with imagery of employees carrying out their day-to-day roles against a backdrop of sun, sea, surf and the great outdoors.
 
Derry – we’re not going to undermine the quality of the offer: Mark Derry, chairman of Brasserie Bar Co, the White Brasseries owner, has said the business, which was recently acquired by Alchemy Partners in a circa £40m deal, is not going to undermine the quality of its offer in a rush for new sites. Speaking on Propel’s Friday Wrap series, Derry said: “Building ourselves a stronger pub business is at the forefront of what we want to do. If we could muster the energy to do 10 a year, we would love to. We would love to have some freeholds in the portfolio, but we’re not going to undermine the quality or the premium positioning of the offer by compromising on the specific location. The pub business that we’ve developed, the average sales of the sites that we took on was around £10,000 a site, and our average sales per site is £40,000. So, having a very specific and type brief on where you want to be, I think dictates that you will take a blend of freehold and leases, depending on what’s available in the right spot. You got to be in the right place. You can be 50 yards apart, and that can make £20,000 of sales difference a week.” In terms of acquiring small groups of sites, Derry added: “There’s a degree of caution in our approach to this. There’s a lot of very good operators, and what we do is look to add value to individual sites. So, if the site’s too small, we can’t do it. And that is true of many businesses, where we simply cannot create space to do what we need to do. So, our model is we need 4000 square feet on the ground floor, space for a bar, 100 covers minimum in the restaurant, an outside space. So, it precludes a lot of the groups who do things differently to us. If we’re looking at people who do what we do, there’s a lot of good operators, and you know you have to pay a full price for it. So, I’m sceptical about our ability to find a good fit that we can create more value with. That's a compliment to a lot of the other operators.”
 
Ole & Steen lines up West End opening for 17th site in London and 18th overall, more to follow: Danish baker Ole & Steen has secured a site in Seven Dials for its 17th in London and 18th overall. The two-floor, 2,411 square-foot corner site at 39-43 Neal Street will be its largest in the capital and sit alongside more than 100 global locations. Set to launch in April, the 47-cover all-day dining restaurant will serve an array of freshly baked Danish sourdough, rye breads and pastries in addition to soups, open rye-bread sandwiches and focaccia sandwiches. The opening will be part of the operators’ ambitious 2022 expansion plans as it gears up for several new site openings throughout the year. Lee Nixon, managing director of Ole & Steen, said: “Neal Street and Seven Dials are iconic London destinations in the heart of the West End, so it was a natural development for Ole & Steen to open our latest bakery there. We’re seeing more and more customers returning to our Central London stores after the pandemic, so it is clearly the right time to welcome in the Seven Dials community, as well as visitors to the local area.” Other recent arrivals at Seven Dials include a debut London flagship restaurant from Aspirational Brands as well as the new WatchHouse cafe, Chai Guys, From The Ashes BBQ and Longboys. Hanover Green Retail, Cushman & Wakefield and Nash Bond represented Seven Dials, while RAB Retail acted for Ole & Steen.
 
Wagamama trials study areas for students: Wagamama, The Restaurant Group-owned business, has launched a campaign to combat loneliness and isolation amongst students by introducing special study areas. The scheme, which will see students invited to study during quiet afternoons (3pm-5pm) from Wednesday to Monday and offered free green tea, is being trialled across 30 sites in England and Scotland. Wagamama has also created a menu at exclusive student prices, should they want to dine during or after their studies. The launch comes as Wagamama gears up to open its fifth site in Essex, at the Braintree Shopping & Leisure Park, as well a second regional delivery kitchen site, in Preston. Earlier this month, Wagamama started rolling out its lunchtime delivery-only BOX concept following a successful trial.

Multi-interactive leisure experience to launch debut site at Hemel Hempstead in April: A multi-interactive leisure experience which formerly operated as a pop-up concept will launch its first permanent site in April, in Hemel Hempstead. Cloud 9, which encompasses the best of Gladiators, Ninja Warrior and Total Wipeout to create an “unbeatable inflatable experience”, will open at the Hertfordshire town’s Jarman Park. The experiences will include a huge inflatable obstacle course, dodgeball arena and one-on-one battle platform alongside a beach bar, guest DJs, live music, big screens and a selection of bar games including interactive darts, shuffleboard and pool. With a regularly changing rotation of offerings, the venue will also feature a large sports arena, shooting gallery, interactive bungee run, human hungry hippos and surf simulator. An in-house restaurant will also offer a variety of breakfast and patisserie options as well as an all-day menu of starters, mains, desserts and sharing platters, plus speciality coffee, fruit slushies, smoothies and frappuccinos. Private rooms will be available for corporate events and parties too, complete with TV screens, music and interactive games. General admission is £12.50 per hour, with a party package starting from £7 per person. Co-founders Andrew Fairnington and Megan Thomas said: “After an amazing response from the public at our pop-up, we are now incredibly excited that our vision will become a reality when we open the first permanent Cloud 9 venue in the UK this spring. It will be a spectacular destination for all ages, with a huge variety of activities, a fully stocked licensed bar and delicious café.” The site was partly funded by a £540,000 fundraise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube in 2020, via 280 investors, who were offered 12.77% equity.

Macdonald Hotels begins refinancing talks, current trading ahead of forecasts: Macdonald Hotels has begun refinancing discussions for a new banking facility that will include “meaningful” capital to allow it to enhance its current portfolio. The company, which operates 28 hotels and nine resorts, sold two sites in November last year – in Manchester and Edinburgh – that the business said had allowed it to reduce its net debt below £50m ahead of the talks. The group said current trading was ahead of forecasts, although there was no certainty yet when business will recover to pre-pandemic levels. The company stated: “As at 30 November 2021, the group was financed by a combination of cash balances, bank debt, loan notes and shareholder loans. The loan notes and shareholder loans, which total £13m, are subordinated to the bank debt and cannot be repaid until the bank debt is repaid in full. The group's banking facilities comprise a fully drawn term facility of £39.9m and a revolving credit facility of £8m that expire in June 2022. The financial covenant is for the group to maintain a minimum liquidity of cash or undrawn facility of £5m. Cash reserves amount to £13.1m as at 31 December 2021.” The group provided the update as it reported turnover of £75.9m for the year ending 1 October 2020 versus £236.8m for the 18 months previously as a result of the impact of the pandemic. The business had a pre-tax profit of £29.4m versus a loss of £702,000 for the 18 months before after selling four sites during the period, which realised a gain on sale of £72.7m.

Stem & Glory hits £500,000 crowdfunding target to support opening of third restaurant: Vegan restaurant Stem & Glory has hit its £500,000 target on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to support the opening of its third site and develop its supermarket ready meal range. Stem & Glory is offering 7.69% equity in return for the investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £6m. So far, almost 600 people have invested in excess of £511,000 and the campaign is overfunding with ten days remaining. The business, founded by Louise Palmer-Masterton, is set to launch its third site – and second in London – in Broadgate in April. This will add to its sites in Cambridge and London’s Barts Square, which are both profitable. Sales between July and November were up 88% on 2019 levels, with the London and Cambridge sites having a combined Ebitda for the same period of £122,000. Since relocating its Cambridge site in July last year following a £250,000 fundraise on Seedrs and SeedLegals, the venue has seen 122% net sales growth versus its previous home and was profitable in the first full month of trading. Palmer-Masterton told Propel: “We now have more than 1,600 individuals invested in our brand. We are proud that Stem & Glory is a 100% crowd supported business and we are really looking forward to getting open at our new site at London’s Broadgate.” Stem & Glory is also growing with direct-to-consumer products such as ready meals and retail merchandise, which it successfully piloted during the lockdowns. Palmer-Masterton previously told Propel the business was looking to add one site per year to the portfolio but “could possibly step that up”. In 2018, Stem & Glory reached its £350,000 target on Crowdcube within five hours of its public launch to support its growth plans.

Middletons’ survival and progress due to ‘strength of brand’: Founder and managing director Stephen Hutton has said the survival and progress of Middletons Steakhouse & Grill is due to the strength of the brand. The Norfolk-based company has opened a £500,000 restaurant in Leamington Spa, marking its West Midlands debut and taking its estate back up to nine sites. Propel reported last summer that Middletons has secured the former Gusto Italian site in Leamington Spa’s Regent Court, which at the time would have been its tenth location, but it has since closed its Watford restaurant. “We’re so excited to bring Middletons to Leamington Spa,” Hutton said. “It’s a beautiful town and has a thriving dining scene that we wanted to be part of. It aids our expansion plans across the Midlands. It’s been a difficult time for hospitality with all the restrictions during the pandemic, but we’ve managed to take our business into Cambridge and now Leamington Spa, and I think our survival and progress is due to the strength of the brand and what it offers. It’s all underpinned by a sensible and sustainable expansion model.” The new restaurant has 190 covers and an outdoor area for alfresco dining. Middletons, which opened its first restaurant in 2011, has a pipeline of sites and is looking at towns and cities like Nottingham, Sheffield and Stratford-upon-Avon. Hutton recently told Propel the business is focused on further steady expansion into the Midlands and South Yorkshire after reaching a “sweet spot” where it can self-fund its future openings.

Six by Nico to open in Aberdeen for tenth site: Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone is to open his tenth Six by Nico site, in Aberdeen. The venue will open this spring on the site of the former Topolabamba restaurant at 367 Union Street. It will be the first Six by Nico in Scotland outside of the Central Belt. Simeone told the Press and Journal: “Expansion into Aberdeen signals our first move into Scotland’s north east and a significant step in our plan to grow further this year. In the nine locations where we operate in the UK and Ireland, we have quickly established an enthusiastic base of repeat customers, and we intend to and look forward to doing the same in Aberdeen.” Six by Nico serves six-course tasting menus based around a specific theme that changes every six weeks. The first Six by Nico restaurant opened in Glasgow in 2017 and it has since added sites including in Edinburgh, London and Manchester. In January, Propel revealed Simeone’s restaurant group secured a £5.5m debt facility last year through ThinCats to aid its continuing growth and development.

JW Lees tops survey of UK pub companies for third year in a row: Manchester-based brewer and retailer JW Lees has scored highest in an independent survey of licensees, which rates pub companies and family breweries, for the third consecutive year. The company, founded in 1828, were rated top in every category in The Licensee Index, including the overall rating.  Additionally, in what has been a difficult period for the pub industry, JW Lees received a score of 9.8 out of 10 for their continued covid-19 support. William Lees-Jones, managing director of JW Lees, said: “The Licensee Index has given JW Lees an essential benchmark in terms of how we support our pub partners better. We’re delighted that we’ve been top for the third time, and that the continued efforts of the team have improved the service and support received by our pub partners.” Katy Moses, founder and managing director of KAM Media, which carried out the survey, added: “This year’s results are very encouraging. Overall, we saw an increase in ratings in 43 out of 47 criteria – a reflection of the hard work and support given by pub companies to their licensees during a very difficult period.  It’s also good to note that licensees are increasingly optimistic about the future, and as we come out of the pandemic, the level and quality of support offered by parent pub companies will be crucial.” JW Lees operates 43 managed pubs, inns and hotels and lets another 100 pubs to JW Lees Pub Partners.
 
Farmer J opens flagship West End site: All-day market concept Farmer J, which is backed by Imbiba, has opened its first site in London’s West End. The company has opened on the former EAT site in Regent Street, which becomes its seventh site in the capital. At the end of last year, the Jonathan Recanati-led business opened on the former Wasabi site in Paternoster Square. The company will open an eighth site in London this spring, in Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge. Recanati told Propel last year that Farmer J had always been developed with expansion outside central London in mind, and the group was looking to build its pipeline further. He said the resilience of the business during the crisis had given it the confidence to explore further expansion opportunities. Etch acted on the Regent Street deal.
 
McDonald’s to bring back Big Mac Chicken to UK menus: The McDonald's Big Mac Chicken is returning to UK menus on Wednesday (2 March) – a fortnight after having to be temporarily pulled after selling out. The Big Mac Chicken was launched at the start of February but had to be removed after nine days “after selling out almost everywhere”. The limited-edition burger, which is 50p more expensive than the regular Big Mac and has a beef patty instead of chicken, was meant to have a six-week run. On its Twitter account, McDonald's UK tweeted: “Yep. That's right. Chicken Big Mac – back this Wednesday, while stocks last.”

Sleeperz pursuing ‘a number of city centre sites’: UK budget hotel operator Sleeperz has said it is pursuing “a number of city centre sites” for new properties. The company currently operates Sleeperz hotels in Cardiff, Dundee and Newcastle along with a Cityroomz site in Edinburgh. Sleeperz stated: “The group is currently pursuing a number of other city centre sites including Manchester, Glasgow and Wolverhampton with the aim of developing Sleeperz into a leading UK premium budget hotel operator. These opportunities will be primarily by agreeing full repairing and insurance lease terms with hotel developers or as Sleeperz has done in the past by funding and building as hotel developers/operators.” Sleeperz provided the update as it reported turnover of £1.6m for the year ending 28 February 2021 versus £8.4m the previous year due to its sites being shut for most of the period due to covid-19. Group Ebitda increased to £487,000 from £433,000 the previous year. The company reported a pre-tax loss of £2.7m versus a profit of £169,000 the year before. Sleeperz received £915,000 in support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and grants. During the period, the business also secured £2.25m through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support operations.

Costa reveals food range for M&S Food partnership: Costa has revealed the food range for its new partnership with M&S Food. The menu, which launches on Thursday (3 March), will be available across more than 2,500 UK Costa Coffee stores and via click-and-collect. The range will feature 33 M&S Food classics from its Plant Kitchen, Taste Buds, Eat Well and Made Without brands, ranging from porridge, sandwiches and salads to sweet treats such as Yumnuts and Percy Pigs. Costa is also adding a new range of its own food items, including a vegan burrito meal box and, for a limited time until Thursday, 5 May, a bacon mac ‘n’ cheese bloomer toastie. With Easter fast approaching, there will also be chocolate hot cross buns, hot cross spiced loaf cakes, hot cross treacle tarts, chocolate and orange mini eggs cakes and vegan hopping bunny gingerbread biscuits. Adrian Cook, Costa’s UK & Ireland chief operating officer, said: “The launch of the Costa Coffee Now Serving M&S Food menu is an exciting first step in our collaboration with M&S Food. We’ve exciting plans ahead, using our joint expertise to develop better food and drink experiences for customers to enjoy throughout the day.” The M&S Food range will also be available as part of Costa’s ongoing partnership with anti-food waste app Too Good To Go, which allows people to buy and collect unsold food from going to waste.

Company behind Royal London Lancaster hotel expects to return to profitability in 2023: The company behind the Royal London Lancaster hotel has said it expects to return to profitability in 2023 with occupancy rates for this year expected to be at 50%. As well as the five-star hotel in Hyde Park, the company operates The Landmark London in Marylebone, K West Hotel & Spa in Shepherd’s Bush, the 15 Basil Street apartments in Knightsbridge and two hotels in Thailand. The company stated: “Excepting a subdued Christmas period as a result of worries over the Omicron variant, the last six months has seen a mild improvement. An occupancy rate of 50% is forecast for the 2022 financial year which, accompanied by average room rates similar to 2021 should see gross revenue for the year only 20% or so behind the pre-coronavirus 2019. Strong cost control is expected to hold net losses at circa £3m. At Ebitda level the company is forecast to be positive to the tune of £5.2m. Thereafter, the company is expected to move back into net profit in 2023.” The company provided the update as it reported turnover for the year ending 31 October 2020 of £15.1m versus £38.4m the year before as a result of its hotels being shut for seven months of the period due to the pandemic. Pre-tax losses increased to £10.6m from £1.1m the previous year. The company received £2.9m through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme during the period.

Sukho Group confirms sixth Zaap Thai opening: Sukho Group has confirmed the opening of a sixth site in seven years for its Zaap Thai street food concept this spring. Propel revealed last month the group was lining up an opening for the concept in Sheffield’s Eccleshall Road to follow its sites in Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, York and Headingley. It will open in the space previously occupied by hamburger restaurant Mud Crab, from the team behind the Felicini chain of Italian restaurants. The 100-cover restaurant will feature tuk tuk seating booths and an open kitchen lined with Thai hawker carts, while the menu will include more than 80 dishes from founder and executive chef, Ban Kaewkraikhot. The drinks menu offers Asian beer and cocktails, coffee by 200 Degrees and a range of bubble teas, with flavours ranging from Thai milk tea to lychee fruit tea. Kaewkraikhot said: “We’ve been looking for a location in Sheffield for a number of years, it’s been at the top of our priority list. Sheffield is a fantastic city with a rich history and diverse population, and we believe a great fit for Zaap. The restaurant is currently undergoing a major fit out and will be unrecognisable when we come to open in spring.” Sukho Group also operates three branches of premium Thai concept Sukhotai in Yorkshire, including two in Leeds and one in Harrogate.

Blue’s Smokehouse plans third opening: Blue’s Smokehouse, the BBQ concept, is planning to open a third site later this spring, in Southampton. The concept, which was previously part of PS The Pub Company, is to take on the ex-The Stable site in the city’s Above Bar Street. The concept currently operates sites in Bracknell and Newbury. Gareth Wright, managing director of Engage Convert, which looks after the concept, told the Southern Daily Echo: “We are really excited to come to a big city like Southampton. Blue’s is going to be a place where you roll up your sleeves and get stuck into a menu full of American house favourites.” The first Blue’s Smokehouse launched in Bracknell, in June 2014.

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