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Wed 9th Mar 2022 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Greene King appoints new MD to oversee new investment in hotel division: Greene King, the Nick Mackenzie-led pub company, has appointed Vincent Madden as managing director of its Venture division, which will oversee new investment across some of its accommodation stock, Propel has learned. Madden joins Greene King from Arora Hotels, where he has been managing director since the summer of 2019. Arora Hotels operates 12 hotels across London and the south east, including the Renaissance London Heathrow and InterContinental London – The O2. It is understood in his new role, Madden will oversee the investment in circa 40 of Greene King’s hotels across the UK, which are being separated from the company’s other pubs with rooms and moving to Venture. It is thought the majority of these sites will come from its Old English Inns estate, as Greene King looks to build a more premium-focus estate of inns. Karen Bosher, managing director of Greene King Premium Urban and Venture division, said: “We are really pleased to welcome Vincent Madden to Greene King and his appointment signals our ambition for the Venture part of our business, alongside Metropolitan Pub Company. This plan addresses our intention to invest in our hotel portfolio and redefine our position in the UK hotel and inns marketplace.” Talking to Propel at the end of last year, Mackenzie admitted the Greene King needed to do some work on the accommodation across its estate. He said: “We have got just over 3,000 rooms across the estate. If you look across those rooms, it is fair to say there are probably some of the most uninvested parts of the business over the past decade. It is something we are focusing on and is very much about how do you segment those rooms to make sure you are giving the right offer to the right people, there is no point having one brand that sits across everything. We are starting to build refurbishment plans into our future brand plans.”

Industry News:

Propel to launch fourth exclusive database – the UK Food & Beverage Franchisor Database: Propel’s Premium subscribers will be given exclusive access to a new database early next month. The UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database will be an exhaustive guide to the companies offering a food and beverage franchise in the UK. The first edition will feature more than 100 companies, providing insight on the offer, locations, cost and other key details. The first edition provides almost 25,000 words of content. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “The world of food and beverage franchise in the UK has become increasingly sophisticated in the past few years. We now have more than 100 food and beverage franchises available in the UK – and more popping up every month. These franchisors include international companies offering franchises within the UK – but also an increasing number of UK-based franchises. Our database is the UK’s first dedicated guide to this increasingly important franchise universe – and an updated version will be available every two months.” Meanwhile, 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 £7.6bn being reported by 350 companies. However, a further 198 sector companies are still reporting total profits of £828.9m. The next edition will include 548 companies, an increase of 12 companies compared with the February edition. The 548 companies produce total turnover of £25.9bn. The next edition of the Blue Book will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday, 18 March, 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.

McDonald’s to temporarily close all restaurants in Russia: McDonald’s will temporarily close all its 850 restaurants in Russia and suspend other operations in the country after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine together accounted for about 9% of group revenues last year. They contributed less than 3% of operating income, as wholly-owned restaurants such as it has in Russia are less profitable than its franchised operations. Chief executive Chris Kempczinski told employees and franchisees that it was “impossible to predict” when McDonald’s would be able to reopen its Russian locations. The company, which opened its first restaurant in the country, in Moscow, in 1990, said it was experiencing supply chain disruptions as a result of the conflict and would continue to monitor the “humanitarian situation” in the region. The company had already shut down its roughly 100 McDonald’s restaurants in Ukraine. In his letter on Tuesday (8 March), Kempczinski said the situation was “extraordinarily challenging” for a global brand such as McDonald’s. “For 66 years, we have operated with the belief that communities are made better when there’s a McDonald’s nearby,” he wrote, adding the company employs 62,000 people in Russia and serves millions of customers there each day. “At the same time, our values mean we cannot ignore the needless human suffering unfolding in Ukraine,” Kempczinski said. McDonald’s will continue to pay its employees in Russia, he said. As of Tuesday, Starbucks was still operating in Russia. Yum Brands, owner of Pizza Hut and KFC, has said it will pause investment in new restaurants in the country while it assesses possible further changes.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with an award-winning global event provider that delivers events for the world’s biggest brands and is seeking an experienced account director to join its growing team. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “We are seeking an individual who is confident in full 360 event management, has an excellent understanding of the industry and a proven record of driving account growth.” Key responsibilities for the role will include full management of each event to include venue sourcing, supplier sourcing, and on-site delivery, as well as negotiating contracts and ensuring competitive costs are secured for clients. This role is based in London and the salary is circa £55,000. For more information and to apply, email

Company News:

Domino’s UK to fight cost of living crisis with national deals, rolling out delivery charge, investing £20m in digital acceleration: Domino’s Pizza UK chief executive Dominic Paul has said he believes the business can continue to entice customers in the face of rising inflation as it serves up national price cuts. With inflation hitting a 25-year high in January, households are facing a cost of living crisis, but Paul said the group’s revitalised ability to offer national deals to customers will support sales. Speaking following the company’s full-year results, Paul said: “We are acutely aware of cost increases consumers in the UK are experiencing this year. This is where our really strong value message and proposition will resonate well with those consumers who want a treat but are priced out of going to eat at restaurants and following our franchisee resolution we are now able to promote our value message using a price-point nationally. That gives us confidence that we can accelerate our growth.” The company is also rolling out a delivery charge following a trial at about 150 of its stores, with the rate being different “depending on franchisee and area” but likely to be between 99p and £2.50, Paul said. He added: “As the delivery space has evolved, customers have got much more used to and comfortable with paying a delivery charge. Of course many of Domino’s markets globally have a delivery charge. We’ve had a data-led trial in place since October because we wanted to properly assess the impact of a delivery charge. We found it had little impact on sales overall but allows us to have a strong national price-point message and allow our franchisees to invest some of that delivery charge in labour and operations and offset some of the inflationary pressures.” To help drive its digital acceleration further, Domino’s has committed to investing around £20m over three years. As part of this it will be investing in personalisation and the development of its new app, which has had more than one million downloads, as well as in-store innovation to enhance the customer experience and boost top-line growth. So far in 2022, the company has opened five new stores compared with one in the same period last year, and believes this quick start means it will open at least 45 new sites this year. Paul added he was also confident of exceeding the 200 new store target set out in his medium-term plan in December, and believes the company can hit the upper end of its £1.6bn to £1.9bn sales target in the next few years. The company has circa 70 franchisees and Paul said it only expected to add “a handful” in the year ahead. 
Greggs to wait to see how marketplace reacts before deciding whether to put up prices, opportunity for brand to double current sales: Greggs chief executive Roger Whiteside has said the business will wait to see how the marketplace reacts before deciding whether to raise prices but said the group was in a good place to deal with the pressures of inflation. Greggs put up the prices of its products at the start of the year by between 5p and 10p. But speaking following the company’s full-year results, Whiteside said it was looking at what its competitors were doing and assessing the impact on its customers before making a decision on raising prices again. He said the cost of ingredients had gone up “right across the board” and with energy prices also rising, inflation was running at about 6% – up from 5% about two months ago. “Labour makes up about 40% of our costs, and that hasn’t really changed,” Whiteside said. “When we have moved pricing before it’s always been a few pence here or there. I can’t promise it will always be like that – it depends how the market reacts. We might want to protect a certain part of the market by keeping prices low and then be more aggressive in another part.” The company expects profits to be flat in the coming year because the business no longer has the benefit of the business rates holiday. However, Whiteside said there were ample opportunities as it looks to become a larger, multi-channel business that could see the brand double its current sales. This would come through new openings, taking further market share and extending its reach into other dayparts. The company is looking to build its presence in the evening market with plans to extend late opening to 500 sites in the year ahead. “It will take years not months to change perceptions that Greggs is somewhere to go for an evening meal, but we done something similar before – with breakfast – and now we are the number two brand in the market for that daypart,” Whiteside said. “The difference this time is we are not going from a standing start – 30% of our customers are interested in what we are selling in the evening – and we’ve also got delivery to support this. We’re offering products like pizza slices and pies and we’re also experimenting to see what else we can add to the offer.” Whiteside said sales at its city centre sites were “recovering strongly” but believes the trend of flexible working means many of those shops will not see sales return to pre-pandemic levels. However, he did not feel this would be dramatic, with sales down by “single rather than double figure digits”. He added this was being outweighed by sales at its suburban locations. The company is set to add “half a dozen or so” drive-thru sites to its estate this year while Whiteside said its debut cafe at a Primark, in Birmingham, was “performing well” and hoped there would be opportunities to extend the partnership. “We want to be opening Greggs anywhere where there’s lots of people, whether that be in a Primark or a supermarket,” Whiteside said. Looking ahead, Whiteside, who will hand over the reins to Roisin Currie, who is the company’s retail and property director, at the annual general meeting in May, said: “What Greggs has shown over the years is that it is a resilient business. There’s an opportunity to reach more parts of the market and double sales for the brand. Eventually we will look at how we can take the brand abroad to increase our reach even further. I think the prospects for the business are more exciting in the next five years then they have been in the last five years. There will be some short-term pain but we’ve come through inflation years in the past. Greggs has a fantastic opportunity to take even more share in a growing market and Roisin, who I’ve worked with for the last eight years, is the right person to drive this forward.”
The Big Table Group to open Amalfi site in London later this month: The Big Table Group, the Epiris-backed operator of Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge, has confirmed it will open a site under its fledgling Amalfi concept in central London, later this month. As revealed by Propel last year, the Alan Morgan-led business began a trial of the new Italian restaurant concept at the Center Parcs in Woburn Forest, last summer, after converting its Strada site in the resort. The new site near Oxford Circus will open on Monday, 28 March, on the group’s ex-Bella Italia restaurant in Argyll Street. A further site under the trial had been mooted for Milsom Place, Bath, although that is thought to have been placed on the back burner for now. The company said: “Offering an Italian inspired dining experience, the restaurant will bring together lovers of quality food and drink, paired with warm hospitality, in a relaxed yet elegant setting. Reigniting a passion for Italian classics, the menu will feature an array of hand stretched sourdough pizzas, fresh pasta, a range of carpaccio’s and an exciting cocktail menu.” The restaurant will be split across two-floors serving 152 covers, as well as an outdoor terrace seating up to 20 guests for alfresco dining. Morgan, chief executive of the circa 150-strong The Big Table Group, said: “We can’t wait to bring Amalfi to the Soho area. With a rising demand for effortlessly luxury dining we are excited for Londoners and visitors alike to experience all that the new restaurant has to offer.” In terms of the positioning of the new concept, it is thought The Big Table Group believes there is an opportunity for something “flavourful, fresh and premium in the casual dining space”.
Former Hakkasan executive head chef planning new London venture: Tong Chee Hwee, former executive head chef at international restaurant group Hakkasan, is planning to launch a new venture in London, Propel has learned. Hwee, who left Hakkasan after 18 years in the summer of 2019, is understood to be part of a new venture that is planning to open a new restaurant on the ex-Garfunkels site in Cockspur Street, Trafalgar Square. At the time of his departure from Hakkasan, a spokesman for the company confirmed Hwee had moved on to “pursue other projects”. Hwee joined Hakkasan in 2001 at the request of co-founder Alan Yau and was appointed executive head chef of Hakkasan Hanway Place, which would go on to become the first Chinese restaurant in the UK to win a Michelin star, in 2003. He was later appointed executive head chef for all restaurants within the Hakkasan Group. 
Honey & Co plans new restaurant opening in London’s Bloomsbury: London-based Middle Eastern restaurant Honey & Co, which is set to close its site in Warren Street next month, has lined up a new site in Bloomsbury. Propel understands the business, which launched in 2012, has applied to open on the ex-Cigala restaurant site in Lamb's Conduit Street. Last month, Honey & Co co-founders Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer said their original restaurant would shut in April, saying they were not offered the opportunity to renew their ten-year lease. Srulovich said: “Sadly the time came to renew and the building was sold instead. While it was a bit of a blow after such a crazy 18 months, we are moving on and excited for the next ten years of Honey & Co, whatever that may bring. We had this simple idea to open a little place of our own – at first, we thought it would be a kebab shop, but we came to the idea of serving up all the dishes we missed from home: shawarma in the oven, delicious fresh salads, tahini with everything.” The duo also run Honey & Smoke in Great Portland Street and deli Honey & Spice in Warren Street.
Manchester-based vegan restaurant Vertigo ceases trading: Manchester-based vegan restaurant Vertigo has ceased trading at its three sites citing the impact of the pandemic, reduced footfall in the city centre and lack of office trade. The concept, which was founded by Michael Jebelli, operated three sites in Manchester – in First Street, Royal Exchange and MediaCity UK. It was due to make its debut in Yorkshire at the start of this year, but a site on the former Stevie’s Bar unit under the Everyman Cinema in Harrogate, never opened. In a post on Instagram, the business said: “It is with a heavy heart we have to announce Vertigo is no more. Sadly, we have ceased trading at all of our sites. The pandemic really took its toll on us, and trade is still well behind what it was pre-March 2020. And now with significantly increased costs (especially utilities) it is no longer viable for us to operate from our city centre locations, which rely heavily on a Monday-Friday office trade. We want to thank all of our wonderful customers, suppliers and everyone who has supported us over the past few years.”
Hostmore to launch new Fridays and Go QSR concept next week: Hostmore, the parent company of Fridays and the 63rd+1st concept in the UK, will next Wednesday (16 March) launch its new quick service restaurant (QSR) concept Fridays and Go. Propel revealed in January the brand had taken on the former Fat Burger site in Dundee’s Reform Street for its new venture. The restaurant will span 2,600 square feet and offer items from the Fridays menu to take away or eat in, including chicken wings and strips, nachos and burgers. It will also offer vegan options, milkshakes and coffee, while new menu items include the bucket of bones and boneless chicken dog. Furthermore, Fridays aims to potentially open up to 30 additional QSR sites across the UK in the next three years, with the business believed to be in talks over a site in London. Last month, the Robert B Cook-led business brought in Chris Liddell to head up its QSR format, alongside the appointment of Julie McEwan as chief operating officer. Earlier this year, Fridays confirmed it would be opening its 86th UK restaurant, in Barnsley’s The Glass Works, this spring, and also secured a site in Chelmsford’s Springfield Road.
London-based catering firm opens second social enterprise bakery and soup kitchen, third site to follow later this year: London-based catering firm, Humdingers Catering, has launched its second bakery and soup kitchen, in Hornsey, to complement its existing site in Hoxton. As well as selling freshly baked goods and coffee and providing a space to host evening events, the soup kitchen will be open to anyone in need of a hot meal. The Hoxton soup kitchen was launched as a social enterprise during the pandemic, where the firm’s catering facilities and staff were used to feed the local community. Founder Robert Hunningher said: “It’s about playing our part to ensure no one in our community goes hungry or is stuck at a disadvantage. This will also hopefully inspire other businesses to act in a similar way, to always be mindful of their surrounding community and what they can do to help.” Following the Hornsey opening, Humdingers will also later this year launch a new café/bakery in Old Street, where anyone aged 16-21 and unemployed can undergo free barista training. Having worked in London restaurants L’Escargot and River Café, Hunningher founded Humdinger Catering in 2006, starting out with a cake stall and sandwich delivery service.
New Hertfordshire development to include F&B and entertainment hub, set to launch in 2023: The new Wheat Quarter development, which is set to open on the former Shredded Wheat factory site in Welwyn Garden City next year, will feature a food and beverage and entertainment hub. A food hall will house a mixture of kiosks and open bars, hosting up to six independent kitchens, a coffee shop and a bar serving craft beer, wine and cocktails. Alongside this, the Falcon Bar will sit on former silos 120 feet above the town, with views across Hertfordshire, and accessed via a new external lift. There will also be an art house cinema with three screens. “It’s such an honour to bring this amazing building back to life in such a vibrant and relevant way,” said John West, co-owner of The Wheat Quarter. “For years, people have walked, driven or taken the train past this iconic site, and now it’ll become somewhere they can enjoy and create memories. Bringing life and energy back to Welwyn has always been at the heart of our vision for the Wheat Quarter, and why we bought the site. I want the very best for the area, and by creating this entertainment hub, we bring something that is missing and needed, especially by our younger residents.”
CH&Co introduces diversity training: Independent caterer CH&Co has introduced diversity training for all team members to coincide with International Women’s Day. As well as challenging gender bias, CH&Co’s training and communications programme encompasses all forms of unconscious bias via an online training course. Designed to help people understand what unconscious bias is and its influences and impact, it also explains the different types and provides strategies to reduce its effect. Allister Richards, CH&Co chief executive, said: “We have a responsibility to increase and broaden our efforts in equality, diversion and inclusion, and we are committed to leading the way towards a more diverse and inclusive CH&Co as we continue to rebuild the business. The launch of the unconscious bias training for all team members is a significant step forward. As uncomfortable as people may find it, we all have unconscious bias, even if we don’t realise it.”
Fish and chip shop chain plans restaurant and B&B venture for fourth site: The Chip Shed, a three-strong fish and chip shop chain based in the Cotswolds and Warwickshire, is planning a restaurant and B&B venture for its fourth site. The company has applied to bring back into use a grade II-listed building in Stratford-upon-Avon, which used to be an Edinburgh Woollen Mill store but has lay empty for several years. The Chip Shed, which has branches in Warwick, Bourton and Minchinhampton, has applied to Stratford District Council to build an eat-in restaurant and takeaway on the ground floor, and turn the upper two floors into six B&B bedrooms with en-suites (three on each floor). Gregg Howard and Dan Chuter are the Chip Shed’s co-owners.
Southampton-based coffee house brand back up to three sites: Southampton-based coffee house brand Mettricks, which five years ago had grown to five sites, is back up to three locations after opening a new shop in Portswood. Merricks, which also has sites in the Guildhall and Woolston areas of the city, has opened in the former Lloyds bank building in Portswood Road. Founder Spencer Bowman opened his first Merricks site in 2013, and by 2017 it had expanded to five venues. That same year, Bowman also branched out into the burger business by launching Vospers at Woolston Waterside, featuring high-end burgers, craft beer and cocktails. Bowman is now targeting university students and local residents with his new Merricks opening. “There is nothing quite like us in Portswood,” he told The Daily Echo. “I had a pizza here when it was Baffi, and I thought it would make an amazing Mettricks. The landlord contacted me and said it really liked our concept, and the idea of opening a coffee house in Portswood made lots of sense. We started the conversations in September and October last year, and it all moved really quickly. After a really challenging beginning to 2021, we received so much support later in the year, so this felt like a good opportunity. From the beginning, we have been asked by students and people in this community if we would ever open a Mettricks in the area, so Portswood was always on our radar. I have high hopes for Portswood Mettricks and I have a great feeling about it .”
South Kensington boutique hotel sells for £10.6m: The Exhibitionist hotel in South Kensington has been acquired for £10.6m by an undisclosed buyer following a competitive bidding process. The 37-bedroom freehold boutique hotel in Queensberry Place was sold for 15% over its quoting price, reflecting a net yield of just over 2%. It is the first time the freehold of the property has been sold for more than 75 years. The hotel is let on a triple net lease for a further 15 years, with four-yearly upward only rent reviews, and generates a current annual rent of £237,500. Richard Talbot-Williams, senior director hotels at BNP Paribas Real Estate, who brokered the deal, said: “Investor sentiment towards rarely traded prime London hotel assets has remained extremely robust and durable through the pandemic period. The competitive nature of the bidding for this prime town house hotel from both domestic and foreign buyers demonstrates a very high level of future confidence in the success of London hotels.” Dating to 1876, the property consists of two interconnecting Victorian town houses arranged over lower ground, raised ground and five upper floors. The property became a hotel in the late 1980s and underwent extensive refurbishment in 2015.
Edinburgh-based coffee shop and bakery opens third site: Edinburgh-based coffee shop and bakery Fortitude has opened its third site in the city. The new premises, in Newington Road, adds to the venues it already has at York Place, in the city centre, and Hamilton Place, in Stockbridge. Founded by Helen Coburn in 2014, Fortitude has become known in the Scottish capital for its specialist coffee and homemade snacks. A spokesman said: “Pair your drink with some delicious baked French toast, our famous avocado toast, or some sourdough grilled cheese. We offer two espresso options and a variety of filter, hand-brewed on Kalita Wave or batch-brewed.”
Warwickshire-based pub operators double up with restaurant venture: Warwickshire-based pub operators Jonathan Carter-Morris and Marc Hornby have doubled up with the opening of a restaurant. The duo, who run Kenilworth’s oldest pub, the Virgins & Castle, have launched their new venture in nearby Warwick. They have transformed the former Racehorse pub in Stratford Road into No 34 garden and grill. It is described as a “botanical dining destination” offering a range of drinks as well as brunch, light bites and evening meals, all using locally-sourced seasonal ingredients prepared on site by its team of chefs. Half of the menu is plant-based and half celebrates British farming and sustainable fishing from UK shores, reports Coventry Live.
Former Enniskillen hotel manager plans expansion after making cafe debut: Sophie MacAindriu, former general manager of the Westville Hotel in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, is planning to expand her new cafe business after opening the first site. Together with husband Rossa, she has opened The Toastery in Church Street, and the couple will look expand into more locations when the time is right. “We’d like to open up a couple more Toasteries if it keeps going the way it is,” Sophie told MyFermanagh. “This isn’t just a one stop shop for us, we would love to be able to expand as much as we can. We had always wanted to open our own cafe – we decided just to take the plunge, so we opened last week, and it has been flat out since. Everything is made in house and there is nothing bought in, so I think that sets us apart.”
Worcestershire burger restaurant to open second site after going viral on TikTok: Worcester-based gourmet burger and cocktail bar Hanbao will soon be opening a second branch after becoming a hit on TikTok. Hanbao, based in Worcester’s Foregate Street, went viral on the social networking website thanks to a post from food and travel blogger Magda Brzdak, which was viewed by more than 600,000 people. The new site will open in Floodgate Street, in the Digbeth area of Birmingham. Plans to open it in 2021 were thwarted by the pandemic, pushing the launch back to early this year.
Glasgow doctor branches out into seafood restaurant and takeaway: Dr Usman Qureshi, who practices aesthetic medicine in the Bearsden area of Glasgow, will open a seafood restaurant and takeaway in April. Qureshi has invested more than £350,000 in The Scallop’s Tale at Bearsden Cross, which will be set over two floors and have covers for 28 people. It will offer an extensive menu of locally sourced seafood dishes, including vegetarian and vegan dishes, while the scallops high tea for two includes two “posh fish and chips”, sourdough bread and tea with cakes and scones. The restaurant and takeaway menus have been devised by executive chef Stephen Pohler, who has worked at the Lisini Dalziel Park Hotel, Hilton Garden Inn, Crowne Plaza and Radisson Red in Glasgow. Qureshi told Glasgow World: “I have a lifelong love of seafood, which stems from enjoying dishes in Scotland and overseas in places like Turkey, Thailand and Malaysia. I’ve always dreamed of having my own seafood restaurant, and I can’t wait to open one in Bearsden. It is a fantastic community with a strong restaurant and takeaway offering, but there is nothing quite like the Scallop’s Tale. We want people in Bearsden to love us as their favourite local, and diners from Glasgow and farther afield to see us as their special treat.”
Blackpool-based Thai restaurant concept opens second site: Blackpool-based Thai restaurant concept, The Ploy, has opened a second site, in Lytham St Annes. The company has opened The Ploy Thai Seafood restaurant in St Andrew’s Road South in the premises previously occupied by Bilash Balti. It is the sister restaurant of the Ploy Thai Cafe in Topping Street, Blackpool, reports The Gazette.

Scottish gin distillery set for bigger premises and to branch out into beer production: A Scottish gin distillery is set to move to larger premises to scale up production and start brewing beer too. The Isle of Bute Gin Distillery, which specialises in using local botanicals, including oyster shells, to flavour gin, opened in 2020 but has experienced high levels of demand with the return of tourists and day-trippers. It is now preparing to move to a larger space at ButeYard, allowing the team to scale up production and introduce gin tastings and cocktail masterclasses. It will also start brewing beer under the brand Bute Brew Co – a mothballed business it purchased last year that will be operational by the time the business relocates this summer. The changes have been made possible by funding from the Business Gateway Local Growth Accelerator Programme. Co-owner Rhona Wheatley said: “There is a significant opportunity for Argyll and Bute to expand the craft food and drink market in the area, maximising on interest from locals and tourists. Projects such as ButeYard, helped along by support packages from organisations including Business Gateway and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, bring jobs back to the area and will help grow the industry in the future.”

Former MasterChef: The Professionals contestant makes two key appointments ahead of debut restaurant launch: Former MasterChef: The Professionals contestant, Reece Elliott, has made two key appointments ahead of the launch of his debut restaurant on Friday (11 March). Raffina by Reece Elliott, in Eccleshall Road, has appointed Josh Barnsley as general manager and Jamie Fullen as new sous chef. Barnsey spent five years at Chatsworth House as resident manager, while Fullen worked with Elliott for three years at the three-rosette rated Cavendish Hotel in Baslow, Derbyshire. Barnsley said: “I’ve always admired Raffina. We’re right in the heart of one of the most iconic areas of Sheffield, and I can’t wait to meet our diners and help provide them with an excellent experience." Fullen added: “When I heard about Reece’s new venture with Raffina, I knew I wanted to be involved. Reece is so passionate about serving the very best food, and it is inspiring to be a part of the same venture.” The partnership with Elliott marks a new phase for Raffina, which launched in May 2021. His new menu will offer Italian-inspired food for lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Saturdays.

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