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Fri 11th Mar 2022 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

McDonald’s – many UK restaurants doing more than 100 delivery orders a day, loyalty programme to launch in second quarter: Kevin Ozan, executive vice-president and chief financial officer at McDonald’s, has said many of the brand’s sites in the UK are doing more than100 delivery orders a day. Speaking at the UBS Global Consumer and Retail Conference, Ozan said: “We have seen some countries significantly accelerate the delivery business through and coming out of the pandemic, places like the UK, many of the restaurants are doing more than 100 delivery orders a day. And so, that's been a key aspect of the growth throughout the pandemic.” Ozan said the brand’s loyalty programme will launch in the UK “probably in the second quarter this year”. He said: “We currently have loyalty programmes in more than 40 markets around the world, but we just started getting it into some of our larger markets. So, in 2021, mid-year or so, we launched it in the US. By the end of 2021, we had also launched in Canada and in Germany. It's just being launched, as we speak, in Australia, and then it'll likely get launched in the UK probably in the second quarter this year.” Ozan also expects the business to return to unit growth in the US this year. He said: “So, for example, we'll open roughly 800 units in China, those open up at lower unit volumes, it takes some time to grow over the first several years. So, it's not as big an immediate contribution to sales growth as the unit growth is. But we do believe there's unit growth opportunity, both in many of the emerging markets, certainly like China, and some others in Asia and Latin America, as well as in most of our major markets. That includes the US, we believe there's opportunity, we'll return to net unit growth for the first time in several years this year. It includes places like Canada, UK, France, Italy – areas where we have a lot of restaurants, but as we look throughout, there's still a lot of opportunity for us to continue to grow in those markets.” Ozan said McDonald’s will take a $50m (£37.9m) hit each month after temporarily closing its 847 restaurants across Russia. He said: “We expect this to be temporary and we certainly don’t take this decision lightly. But for us this is about doing what we think is the right thing to do, both for the global business and for our people locally.” The company’s business across Russia and Ukraine — where it has also shut about 100 outlets — typically generates approximately 9% of its annual revenue and 3% of operating income. It has pledged to keep paying employees in both countries. McDonald’s features in Propel’s new UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which is being launched early next month and will be available exclusively to Premium subscribers. The database will be an exhaustive guide to the companies offering a food and beverage franchise in the UK and be updated every two months. The first edition will feature more than 100 companies, providing insight on the offer, locations, cost and other key details and provides almost 25,000 words of content. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription

Industry News:

Sponsored message – new digital platform Krowd launches in UK to aid growth of hospitality sector by targeting new customers: Just launched in the UK, Krowd is a new, easy-to-use business tool that helps independent and national chains attract new or lapsed customers, and build back post-pandemic. It connects potential customers, with a known preference for a particular food style or experience, with relevant operators. Using data and insight gathered from bank, airline and retail loyalty card schemes, Krowd’s technology can identify thousands of relevant people and send bespoke operator offers straight to their mobile phones. The offers are received by prospects from one of Krowd’s loyalty card partners, such as British Airways or Revolut, as part of their customer marketing programmes. Krowd is already working with Barrio Bars, Gaucho and M, Aqua Group, and Frenchie. Jim Robertson, managing director of Barrio Bars, said: “For the first time, we can target prospects who may not be familiar with us but enjoy the vibrancy and flavours of our kind of food and beverage. Krowd’s smart use of data to hyper-segment audiences at scale means we can get one-off personalised offers in front of millions of potential new customers.” For more information click here or visit Krowd at stand H345 at the HRC Show from 21-23 March at ExCeL. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com

Only 14 of 548 companies in next edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book generating pre-tax profit of more than £10m: Only 14 of the 548 companies featured in the next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book are generating pre-tax profit of more than £10m. Meanwhile, 93 companies are managing to generate pre-tax profit in excess of £1m. Premium subscribers will receive the latest edition of the Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, on Friday, 18 March at midday. The Blue Book 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 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 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. Premium subscribers are also to 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 and be updated every two months. 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. 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. In this week’s Premium Opinion, which will be sent to subscribers today (Friday, 8 March) at 5pm, he looks at the departure of KFC UK & Ireland managing director Paula MacKenzie.

Propel Friday Wrap video series continues with Emma Woods and Richard Morris, chair and chief executive respectively, of Tortilla: Propel’s Friday Wrap video series continues today (Friday, 11 March) at 3pm. The series, which is sponsored by Mr Yum, the mobile menu, ordering and payment platform used by leading hospitality and entertainment venues, sees Mark Stretton, former sector journalist and now head of sector PR firm Fleet Street Communications, and Propel’s group editor Mark Wingett discussing this week’s key issues facing the UK’s hospitality sector, with a leading sector operator or expert. This week they are joined by Emma Woods and Richard Morris, chair and chief executive respectively, of Tortilla, to discuss life as a listed company, how the brand needs to shout more about itself, diversity in the sector, pricing and the crucial first six weeks of recruitment.

Licensing and planning policies need to be more flexible and consistent, hospitality leaders tell inquiry: Industry leaders have told the government that its vital now more than ever that licensing regulations become consistent across the country, and there are no variations in interpretation. The House of Lords liaison committee on Thursday (10 March) heard evidence to follow-up on the recommendations of the Licensing Act 2003 Committee, which published its report in 2017. Among those giving evidence concerning the current system was Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, and Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association. Nicholls said: “The same problems arise that we explained to the committee in 2017. There’s a high degree of variability – where it works well, it works really well, but there’s no consistent practice across the country. There’s variations in the ways the policy is envisaged and applied at a national level and a local level. There’s variation between local authorities and between local stakeholders in the way in which they interpret and apply the national legislation.” Nicholls pointed to the lockdown-inspired pavement licensing guidance as an example of different stakeholders working well together. She added: “As we move out of the pandemic and move forwards to, hopefully, regeneration and rejuvenation, with businesses taking over existing premises and changes of use, it’s going to be ever-more important that planning and licensing work coherently and consistently together to streamline that process, and the two systems work in tandem rather than sequentially, which happens all too often at the moment.” Nicholls called for licensing to be “professionalised”, for a “covid reset in terms of training” and for data to be updated to reflect the ways in which people socialise post-pandemic. Kill, meanwhile, said as the country moves into the post-covid phase, “we need to look to a more flexible licensing and planning policy to allow for recovery”. He added: “We’ve got a difficult road ahead, and I think it’s vitally important that planning and licensing come together alongside key stakeholders so we can start to look at regeneration recovery and work together on more flexible outputs.”

UK public supports 12.5% VAT rate for hospitality and wants government to play central role in sector’s recovery: Just one in five (17%) people have said VAT should return to 20% in April, a new study by YouGov commissioned by UKHospitality, has revealed. The same research showed almost three quarters (72%) believe the government has a central role to play in the economic recovery of the hospitality sector. The representative study of 1,743 UK adults revealed the extent of the cost crunch with 92% of respondents saying their cost of living has gone up since before the pandemic, with two thirds of those adults (67%) saying they are cutting back on meals out as a result. It revealed strong support among the public for VAT to remain at its current rate of 12.5% beyond April, a move that will help restrain rampant inflation, which is expected to peak at more than 7% in the spring. Excluding those who didn’t give a view, only 21% believe the government should stick with its current plan to increase VAT in April for hospitality, with almost half (49%) wanting the reduced rate to be retained long-term and 30% want an extension to the reduced rate. The UK already has one of the highest rates of tax for food and accommodation in Europe. In France and Spain, the VAT rate is set at just 10%, and in Germany and Belgium, just 7% and 6% respectively. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “After two extremely challenging years and, with the unfolding cost-of-living crisis, there is now a very strong case for the government to use the next Budget to deliver the vital support that these surviving and indebted businesses need, to protect jobs and defend the current fragile recovery. Holding VAT at 12.5% will provide vital support for thousands of small, local, community businesses. It will protect jobs at a pivotal moment for the recovery. Extending the existing VAT rate will help hospitality operators to hold down their prices, secure jobs and will help keep a lid on inflation.” 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with an award-winning food and beverage company that is seeking a nightshift transport manager to join its London-based team. This role is fully accountable for the day-to-day running of the transport function, ensuring the business is meeting customer needs and pushing to exceed them at all times. This is a very hands-on role, which requires the job holder to be readily available and get involved , identifying where things can be improved and developed, so the business drives forward. Responsibilities will include overseeing the daily allocation of deliveries and liaising with all drivers to ensure deliveries are carried out in an efficient manner and making sure any shortages and extras are re-delivered. The nightshift transportation manager will also lead the team of delivery drivers ensuring they are engaged, well managed and perform to the highest standards against the business’ set key performance indicators. The salary is up to £40,000 and London based. For more information, email James@corecruitment.com

Company News:

Greene King to acquire The Bull in Highgate from Gorgeous Pubs: Greene King, the Nick Mackenzie-led pub company, is to acquire The Bull in Highgate, London, from Gorgeous Pubs, Propel has learned. It is thought Greene King will pay in excess of £3.5m for the freehold of the site. The Bull will undergo initial works to introduce the group’s Metropolitan Pub Company’s operating format and food and beverage offering, with an investment to follow later in the year. Michael Horan, managing director of Metropolitan Pub Company, said: “We are delighted to be acquiring The Bull in Highgate, which will open as a Metropolitan gastropub following completion of the purchase this spring. We have exciting plans to further develop the pub with a refurbishment later this year. We are hoping the current employees will be staying with us, where we will look to develop their careers for the future.” Last October, Gorgeous Pubs, which is led by former Geronimo Inns employee Rob Laub, acquired The Plough at Sleapshyde, St Albans. Meanwhile, Metropolitan Pub Company is to reopen its recent acquisition, the Bear Inn in Bath, today (Friday, 11 March). Located in the Bear Flat neighbourhood, The Bear Inn has been completely renovated. As part of the renovation, guests will also be able to stay in six individually designed en-suite boutique bedrooms. Paul Tallentyre, of Davis Coffer Lyons, acted for Gorgeous Pubs on the Highgate deal, while Michael Penfold acted for Greene King. 

Pret appoints Katherine Bagshawe as new UK food and coffee director: Pret A Manger, the JAB Holdings-owned business, has appointed Katherine Bagshawe, formerly of Dobbies Garden Centres and Debenhams, as its new UK food and coffee director, Propel has learned. Bagshawe joins Pret after just under a year as head of restaurants at Dobbies. Prior to that she spent more than four years at Debenhams as its head of food and drink. She also previously had stints at Carluccio’s and Patisserie Valerie. Propel also understands that Pret has appointed Iain Scotland as its new global head of customer experience. Scotland joins the business from Tapi Carpets and Floors where he was head of customer experience. 

Gareth Bale and The Depot line up Bristol opening for Par 59 concept: Football star Gareth Bale and Welsh independent entertainment brand The Depot have lined up a site in Bristol for their new mini-golf bar and restaurant concept, Par 59, Propel has learned. It is understood the new venture, which goes under the umbrella name True Swing, has lined up a site in Millennium Promenade, in the city’s Harbourside area for an opening later this year. Last month, Bale’s company, Elevens Group, and The Depot announced they would open the first Par 59 at the 23,000 square-foot site of the former Liquid/Life nightclub in St Mary Street, Cardiff. It is understood the concept is working with Cardiff-based property advisors Fletcher Morgan to build a pipeline of new openings, with sites in Exeter, Bath, Newcastle, Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh under consideration. It is also thought the business will look overseas, with an opening in Dubai on its target list. The Cardiff Par 59 venue, which will create 45 jobs, will eventually have three nine-hole courses and a billiards room. Phase one – which will open on Friday, 18 March – will include 4,000 square feet of bar space and two nine-hole courses.

Red Oak Taverns makes first acquisition of 2022 with Worthing pub deal: Red Oak Taverns, the national pub operator founded by Aaron Brown and Mark Grunnell in 2011, has made its first acquisition of 2022 – The Vine in Worthing, West Sussex. The deal brings the company’s estate to 206. Grunnell said: “Following the five portfolio acquisitions we completed in 2021, we are delighted to start our 2022 programme with The Vine. We are looking forward to welcoming the tenant partner of The Vine to the Red Oak business. We continue to focus on growing our pub estate through single and multiple pub package acquisitions to develop our pub business further.”

Cornish Bakery eyes 100-site estate after making several senior appointments: Growing independent chain The Cornish Bakery has made a number of senior appointments to help build towards its target of 100 bakeries. Ralf Goad, previously of Risk Capital Partners, Quilvest and Ernst & Young, has joined the board as finance director, while Stephen Evans-Wrobleski, formerly responsible for national operations and innovation at Whitbread’s Bar + Block operation, has been promoted to director of commercial operations. Jen Rowlands, originally a bakery manager with the company, has been promoted to head of operations, while Alice Leach has joined as bakery innovation manager. Tina Dicks, who has worked for the company for more than 20 years, has been promoted to operations excellence manager, while Victoria Lintern has been made head of HR. Cornish Bakery founder, Steve Grocutt, said: “We are constantly on the push for growth, but always retaining a strong culture and independence. To keep exceeding all targets, I’ve brought an enhanced team of experienced innovators and leaders into the business, as well as recognising and promoting our in-house talent. Together with our colleagues across our bakeries, this committed team is focused on going pedal to the metal right across the UK. We’ve refocused our brand vision, we’re converting our younger target markets, we’re swiftly growing our estate and we’re innovating across our product range – all while maintaining the highest customer satisfaction scores in the sector. As an enlarged, team, we’re hungrier than ever for growth, and collectively, we’re well on our way to achieving our journey towards 100 branches.” Cornish Bakery last month opened its 47th site, in Rye, with branches in Beverley, Bury St Edmunds, Gretna Green, Plymouth and Stamford set to follow in 2022.

Mak Halal plans ten new sites in 2022: Mak Halal, the Birmingham-based burger concept, plans to open a further ten sites by the end of this year. Since launching in 2016, Mak Halal has opened four sites in Birmingham. Last year, it began to expand further afield with new restaurants in Walsall and Bradford. Earlier this month, the business opened in Nottingham, and will take its first step outside England, with an opening in Cardiff on Monday, 28 March. The company, which has a motto “come hungry, leave happy", offers a variety of flame grilled burgers, a range of pizzas and paninis along with vegan options. A Mak Halal spokesman said: “We couldn’t be happier with the recent growth of our brand and we’re looking to keep that momentum going this year. Our latest openings have seen a strong turnout and the initial feedback was very positive. The fact that we’ve been able to go from a local Birmingham restaurant to getting set to expand into Wales tells us there is a demand for the authentic taste of halal in the UK.”

Prezzo confirms dark kitchen move: Prezzo, the Cain International-backed restaurant chain, has confirmed it is to open its first dark kitchen site. As revealed by Propel earlier this week, the Karen Jones-chaired business will open its first Dine@Home Kitchen in Brent Cross, north London in the second quarter. Dean Challenger, chief operating officer at Prezzo, told Propel: “We are excited to become part of the community in Brent Cross. Customers will be able to order delicious takeaway treats from our new Dine@Home Kitchen through our delivery partners. The site will also give us a platform to optimise our delivery channel, as we seek to create a friction-free Dine@Home experience that we can offer to customers across the country.” In January, sector peer Azzurri Group launched a delivery kitchen site featuring all its brands – ASK Italian, Coco Di Mama, Pod and Zizzi, with delivery kitchen operator Foodstars at its site in Bethnal Green. Earlier this year, Prezzo appointed Olly Smith as chief culinary officer, who is responsible for overseeing menu development, food and drink standards and kitchen skills.

Soho Bars Group to expand London portfolio later this month: Soho Bars Group, the team behind Freedom Bar and Soho Residence, will later this month open a third venue, theatrical bar and restaurant The Act. Located in the heart of Notting Hill, The Act will feature singing and dancing as part of a programme of live entertainment, alongside cocktails and dining. As well as regular pop-up performances by casts from the latest West End productions, The Act’s bar team will break into live performances as they fill the glasses. With space for 180 covers, The Act will hold weekly theatrical brunch parties on Saturdays and Sundays, with rotating feel-good themes. The cocktail menu, curated by Benji Purslow, European ambassador for Heaven Hill Distillery, includes a twist on the espresso martini with Bacardi Spiced Rum, Mr Blacks Coffee Liqueur, fresh coffee, Cherry Liqueur and homemade vanilla syrup. The food menu has been put together by the team from the Richmond restaurant Chatora, featuring authentic Indian cuisine with a contemporary twist including semolina shells with pomegranate, honey yoghurt, paneer tikka and quail keema naan. Soho Bars Group founders, Siobhan McGill and Keith Todd, have been joined in the venture by Michael Belle, who has previously led operations at the group. McGill has previously been involved in The Cross Keys in Chelsea, The Pheasantry in Kings Road and Beach Blanket Babylon in Notting Hill.

Newcastle-based Italian restaurant rescued from administration: A Newcastle-based Italian restaurant has been bought out of administration by a new owner, who has also taken on the adjoining property to turn into a cocktail bar. Casa San Lorenzo, in the Newcastle suburb of Gosforth, has been acquired in a pre-pack deal – including the adjoining unit, which was under refurbishment – by a company owned by Geoff Knowles, a local barrister. Knowles said he plans to give the restaurant “a bit of TLC” and turn next door into a cocktail and tapas bar called The Lounge, which is set to open next week, subject to licensing paperwork. “San Lorenzo has been a part of Gosforth restaurant culture forever,” he told Business Live. “When my kids were growing up, everybody went there. The idea is to bring it back to its greater days. We’ve got a good team in there. It’s a great opportunity to breathe a bit of fire and life back into an old favourite. Sundays on the High Street are very quiet, but with good Sunday lunch fare, it can be a standout place. Next door in The Lounge is going to be a different offering, with tapas and high-end cocktails.” Lorenzo (North East), which also operates a sister restaurant in Washington, just south of Newcastle, went into administration last week. Administrators FRP Advisory said the business had encountered difficulties after covid restrictions hampered trade and caused staffing challenges. The Washington restaurant, which closed late last year, is not part of the deal, and nor is Newcastle bar Okana, which is run by Lorenzo director Kevin Pattison and is also currently closed. Lorenzo (North East) acquired Casa San Lorenzo from its founders in 2018.

Douglas Jack – TRG is ‘swimming hard against a strong tide’: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said The Restaurant Group (TRG) is “swimming hard against a strong tide” as he upgraded its share recommendation but cut the target price. Issuing a “Buy” note on the shares with a target price of 90p ahead of the company’s full-year results next Wednesday (16 March), Jack said: “The shares have been hit hard to reflect increasing food, fuel and labour cost inflation along with falling consumer confidence. Thus, it is fortunate TRG started to hedge its utility costs in the second half of 2021. In our view this, in addition to a 6% increase in restaurant sector like-for-like sales in January, should limit downgrades. 2022E forecasts were cut in September to reflect rising energy costs, and in January due to the Omicron variant. The former was justified due a lack of hedging which has, to some extent, been rectified. The Omicron-related downgrades may have been over-cautious. The key issue now is to what extent rising cost inflation and taxation can be passed on to consumers at a time when confidence is low. Our 2022E and 2023E forecasts are below consensus, particularly in relation to profit. Largely due to rising energy /fuel costs and related consumer weakness, we do not expect forecast upgrades after these results, while the wait for some kind of normality (and fiscal stability) continues. After recent weakness, the equity free cash flow yield is almost 13% and the EV/Ebitda is just 5.3 times (IAS 17), both on a 2023E basis. On valuation grounds, we are upgrading our recommendation from ‘Add’ to ‘Buy’, but we are also cutting our target price to 90p to reflect the more difficult consumer and cost environment, neither of which we expect to recover quickly.”

New World Trading Company confirms The Botanist opening in Worcester: Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group The New World Trading Company (NWTC) has confirmed it will open a site under its The Botanist concept in Worcester. As revealed by Propel in October, the Jesper Friis-led business is to take the former Q Panda site in the city’s Cathedral Square. Doors are expected to open later this year. Earlier this month, NWTC confirmed it will open a site under its The Botanist concept at the St James Quarter in Edinburgh, its first in Scotland. As first revealed by Propel last September, the company is taking 11,400 square feet of space in the St Andrews Hall building of the scheme for its first opening in Scotland. NWTC also recently secured a site in Barnsley’s Glass Works development for an opening under its core The Botanist brand. The Botanist grew to 23 sites when it opened in Exeter at the end of last year. NWTC has also secured openings in Ipswich, Chester (The Florist) and a second site in Cardiff. The company is also believed to be in talks on sites in Bracknell, Durham and Portsmouth. Natasha Waterfield, chief operating officer at NWTC, said: “Bringing our unique concepts to new cities and towns for the first time is always an exciting moment for the business. Cathedral Square is an exciting new lifestyle destination that aligns with our brand vision. We can’t wait for the residents of Worcester to experience our truly immersive offer at The Botanist.” 

Nightjar to double up with Soho opening: Nightjar, the east London speakeasy, will open its second site in the heart of London’s West End this April. Nightjar Kingly Court will “recreate the low-lit magic of the Old Street original, complete with a lavish range of rare, revived and original cocktails, late-night live music, prohibition-era decor and a menu of vintage spirits and cocktails dating to the mid-19th century”. Founders Edmund Weil and Roisin Stimpson have agreed a deal with Shaftesbury for the Soho site, which in the 1930s and 1940s existed as The Blue Lagoon Club, the city’s first black-owned music club, before becoming Club Eleven in the 1950s under Ronnie Scott. The cocktail menu at the 85-cover venue will like its Old Street counterpart honour three distinct historical eras in 20th century cocktail-making – pre-prohibition, prohibition and post-war – alongside Nightjar signatures and large-format sharing cocktails. These will be accompanied by creative small plates such as smoked mozzarella and jamon serrano toastie, and Catalonian Romesco with olive crackers. Weil and Stimpson said: “We’re delighted to have the opportunity to bring everything we’ve learnt over the last decade of Nightjar to such an iconic space in what was once the home of live music in London. The city has changed so much in that time, and as we started to emerge from the pandemic, we felt there was an even bigger appetite for what Nightjar has always provided – skilfully created cocktails, live music, and hospitality that culminates in an overall experience that can’t be found elsewhere.”

I am Döner to donate all proceeds for one day to Ukraine humanitarian appeal: I am Döner, the award-winning better kebab brand backed by Think Hospitality, will donate all proceeds for one day next week to a Ukraine humanitarian appeal. On Wednesday (16 March), 100% of the revenue from all three of the brand’s stores will go to Disasters Emergency Committee via Work for Good. Paul Baron, owner and chef director, said: “It’s impossible for us to ignore what is going on in eastern Europe. We want to show our solidarity and support to those children and families in Ukraine. We really hope we can make a difference to people’s lives in such a difficult time.” Baron started I am Döner in 2016 and it now has venues in Headingley, Harrogate and Leeds. In September, Propel revealed it has signed a multi-site franchise deal with Dash Hospitality Group to take the brand to the United Arab Emirates.

Sykes Holiday Cottages increases portfolio with double acquisition: Holiday property rental business Sykes Holiday Cottages has added 450 new properties to its portfolio with the takeover of two rivals. The Chester-based business has agreed deals to acquire LHH Scotland and Dorset-based Lyme Bay Holidays for an undisclosed sum. Both businesses will continue to operate as sister agencies, but their properties across Scotland, Dorset and Devon will be available to book through Sykes. Founded 30 years ago, Sykes offers more than 22,000 holiday cottages across the UK, Ireland and New Zealand, having grown from just 5,000 properties five years ago.

Aspirational Brands’ new flagship Covent Garden restaurant to open next month: Aspirational Brands, the growth vehicle behind brands including Handmade Burger Co and Thai brand Lemongrass, will officially open its new flagship Covent Garden restaurant in April. The 5,000 square-foot venue in Upper St Martin’s Lane has been named St Martin’s House. It will house a bar and dedicated alfresco dining area, while head chef, Val Armstrong, has curated an all-day dining menu of British dishes, sourcing sustainable local produce from London farms and the British coastline. There will also be a large selection of wine, spirits and botanical cocktails on offer. Robert Carlson, regional operations manager at Aspirational Brands, said: “St Martin’s House will bring something special to Seven Dials, and we are excited about its contribution to this popular destination in the West End. There is so much history in the village, and we hope we can embody that within our concept at St Martin’s House.” Hanover Green Retail and Shelley Sandzer represented Seven Dials, while Restaurant Property acted on behalf of Aspirational Brands on the deal. 

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