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Thu 17th Mar 2022 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Hornby – it could be a rocky two quarters ahead, sector dining volumes down somewhere in the region of 15%: Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group, the Wagamama and Brunning & Price operator, has said that there could be a “rocky two quarters ahead for the sector” and that “sadly, we could see some blood on the carpet relatively quickly”. Hornby told Propel: “So, I’ve used the phrase today, cautiously optimistic. I think it’s probably about right. If you look at our numbers, in the first eight weeks of the year, our like-for-likes were strong and outperformed the market.  The second thing that reassured the market is we were able to tell people that we’ve already hedged all of our electricity and gas for this year, and 75% of our electricity and gas between 2023 and 2024. That is a huge cost pressure on us all at the moment. So, when you look at that, you would say everything in the garden is rosy. But then you look at the other side of the fence. We were clear that labour costs will go up by a minimum of 6% this year. We said the supply chain costs will be up by a minimum of 5%. Now, if you’d asked me pre-Ukraine, I would have said I don’t think it’ll be more than 5%, but clearly given what’s happened to oil costs, everyone is being hit by the increase in fuel and everyone is being hit by the fact that their own wage costs are rising significantly. So, I do think there’s a risk that the sectoral supply chain cost pressures are going to be even higher than we were saying when we last chatted pre-Christmas. Even before the war in Ukraine started, oil prices were very, very high. People kind of forget quite how far they’d already moved. If you look at the sector, the like-for-like Coffer Peach sales for January and February for restaurants was plus 8%. So, people say “isn’t it good we’re back above 2019 levels?” You have to take out 5% for VAT first of all, then you’ve got to take another 4% to 5% for the delivery mix shift, because this includes delivery. And then you’ve got to remember this includes three years of price inflation because we’re now comparing 2022 and 2019. So, I don’t think anyone can ignore the hard truth that sector dining volumes are down somewhere in the 15% range, maybe even closer to 20%. When you look at our sales, and everyone said today with Wagamama plus 21% we must be ecstatic, I said we’re pleased because it’s 13% ahead of the market, but we’re not stupid. We know within that there’s a 5% VAT benefit, and there’s three years of price inflation. So, along with Nando’s and Five Guys, and probably the market’s best performer in Wagamama, in volume we are only broadly flat. We’re only two weeks away from the 1 April, when labour costs are going to go up by 6% to 7% for everybody, and the rent moratorium ends for everybody. We could see some blood on the carpet relatively quickly, and that would be really sad. The VAT benefit, assuming that goes ahead, you’ve got to take 5% off everyone’s like-for-likes instantly. It could be a very rocky two quarters ahead.”
 

Industry News:

Next edition of Turnover & Profits Blue Book to feature almost 550 companies: The next edition of Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is updated monthly for Premium subscribers, will see 12 companies added, taking the total number to 546. Among the companies being added are Big Mamma Holdings and Mortons Bar & Grill. 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 348 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.
 
Yapster creates operational excellence mini video series, Vagabond MD to feature: Yapster has created a mini video series focused entirely on operational excellence as part of its Take the Lead Series. In the fourth episode, chief executive Rob Liddiard talks to Matt Fleming, managing director at Vagabond, who has spent 20 years building and leading bar businesses, both as an employee – with operations and management roles at companies such as Soho House Group, Be At One and Stonegate – and a founder. Fleming explains his operating philosophy of “extreme ownership”, which involves creating cultures of accountability where leaders take full responsibility for the success of their teams. He also touches on how Be At One created the strongest culture of development and performance he’s ever seen, and the ways in which that’s now informing the approach at Vagabond today. The video will be sent today (Thursday, 17 March) at 9am
 
Food and drink inflation doubles in one month as cost pressures continue to rise: Food price increases accelerated sharply in January, and more rises are to come, the latest CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index reveals. The CGA Prestige Index reported year-on-year inflation of food and drink in January was running at 7.9%, more than twice the rate in December. For the first time since its inception in 2016, every category in the index showed a month-on-month increase, with food rising 4.4% across the board, compared with a month earlier. Notable category movements month-on-month in January include oil and fats (up 7.9%), milk, cheese and eggs (up 6.8%), mineral water, soft drinks and juice (up 2.9%) and fish (up 2.6%). While the impact of covid-19 on prices has begun to recede, the rising cost of energy, petrol and diesel now dominate. In Britain, Brexit policy has stifled the labour market leading to shortages of product and higher wage costs for food and drink. The report notes these unusually high levels of inflation were recorded before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is anticipated to prompt further price rises across a number of food categories including wheat, sunflower oil, barley, corn, potatoes and rice. Sanctions on Russia are likely to cause rises in oil and gas prices, driving food and drink inflation even higher. Shaun Allen, Prestige Purchasing chief executive, said: “Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine we were predicting high levels of inflation during the first half of 2022. A protracted conflict, coupled with long-term sanctions on Russia’s economy might well raise inflation to levels not seen for a generation.”
 
Parliamentary inquiry recommends VAT stays at 12.5%: An inquiry by a group of MPs has recommended VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors stays at 12.5% beyond March. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hospitality and Tourism concluded VAT should not return to 20% this April, citing UKHospitality data revealing the lower rate would bring benefits including jobs, international competitiveness and social well-being. The inquiry examined seven areas in which 12.5% VAT would benefit the sector including supporting the viability of businesses, improving the rate of employment and easing cost of living pressures by limiting inflation through lower prices. The report stated: “Across every area, the inquiry found a substantial case for retaining the current 12.5% rate of VAT and, thus, the APPG recommends this policy remains in place beyond March.” A UKHospitality member survey cited as part of the inquiry showed nine in ten businesses believed retention of 12.5% VAT was crucial to their recovery. Other figures published in the report show all but one region of the UK employs more than 650,000 people in hospitality and receives more than £3.5bn in tourism expenditure from visitors, with domestic tourism redistributing £25bn per annum from urban to rural and seaside economies – “the largest form of non-governmental redistribution of wealth in the UK”. In its conclusion, the inquiry report states: “The evidence submitted to the APPG…strongly supports the case for retaining the current 12.5% rate of VAT to support the industry in playing a key role in the UK’s economic recovery and the government’s wider agenda, such as net zero and levelling-up.” Writing in the inquiry into the retention of the 12.5% rate of VAT report, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “For businesses to provide the best possible service, they need to return to financial strength. We welcome this report from the APPG on Hospitality and Tourism, which highlights the importance of keeping VAT at 12.5% to achieve this.” Yawar Khan, chairman of the Asian Catering Federation, has warned chancellor Rishi Sunak the proposed return to 20% VAT level will be the “final nail in the coffin” of many hospitality businesses.

Leisure sector shows signs of stabilisation with decline in vacancy rates: Britain’s leisure sector appears to be stabilising following the pandemic, with a first half-year decline in vacancy rates since 2018, according to a new report from the Local Data Company (LDC). The second half of 2021 saw the national vacancy rate drop by 0.1% from the first half, down to 14.4% from 14.5%, which the report said is “the clearest indication of the stabilising market”. The leisure sector led the way, with a record drop of 0.3% in the second half of 2021, “despite restrictions on hospitality continuing well into 2021”. The leisure vacancy rate dropped from 11.3% to 11.0% over six months – the largest decrease since LDC records began in 2013. Expanding chain and independent food and beverage operators bolstered growth, while England’s run in the European Championships, pent-up demand from the various lockdowns and the return of office workers later in the year provided a further boost to hospitality venues. The report concluded that vacancy rates are not yet expected to return to pre-pandemic levels but are projected to drop further over 2022 due to the continued redevelopment and repurposing of retail space. It said 2021 saw a record 49% jump in redevelopment activity, suggesting the worst of the pandemic-related closures is over as the industry shifts its focus from survival to recovery. Lucy Stainton, commercial director for LDC, said: “This latest analysis is significant because the figures finally point to a reversal of the structural decline we had seen accelerate with the onset of the pandemic. Long periods of restricted trading proved insurmountable for many chains across both retail and hospitality. Vacancy rates peaked halfway through 2021 as a result, but as we come into 2022, these latest statistics are cause for cautious optimism. Our analysis points towards this trend continuing as the final shakeout from various company voluntary arrangements and insolvencies is hopefully behind us, and independent operators continue to open new sites.”
 
Restaurants see 53% increase in Mother’s Day bookings: Restaurants have seen a 53% increase in Mother’s Day reservations compared with pre-pandemic 2019, according to research from OpenTable. The company also found 74% of those surveyed plan to treat their mum to a special meal on Sunday, 27 March. Furthermore, it found the average Brit is planning to spend £64 on their mum, despite growing concerns over the cost of living, while 33% will be looking to try somewhere new. Robin Chiang, vice-president growth markets for OpenTable, said: “After two years of spending Mother’s Day at home, our data shows pent-up demand for dining out for the holiday, with reservations exceeding pre-pandemic levels.”
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment has been retained by a client to hire a global chief financial officer in London. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “Our client is well funded and is looking to double its size – organically and through 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. A salary of up to £220,000 will be considered. For more information, email oliwia@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

Nightcap looking to more than double turnover to £100m by mid-2023: Nightcap, the owner of The Cocktail Club (TCC), the Adventure Bar Group and the Barrio Familia group of bars, is aiming to more than double its turnover to £100m over the next 18 months. Group founder and executive director, Michael Toxvaerd, outlined the ambitious plan during Wednesday’s (16 March) web meet with investors following the publication, earlier this week, of its interim results for the 26 weeks to 26 December 2021. The results saw Nightcap post an increase in revenue during the period to £15.8m, which included only five weeks’ of trading for Barrio and three new TCC acquisitions. Answering a question regarding how the group will cope with forthcoming cost increases, Toxvaerd said: “It is very much different to running a £10m turnover business to now be running what is a mid-£40m, and what will hopefully, in the next 18 months, be tracking the £100m mark – which is absolutely our ambition to get to. Where we differ from others in the industry is that additional purchasing power really moves the needle, so our goal is very much for it to outweigh any cost increases, and if nothing else, allow us to keep the same margins and do exactly the same things. It also makes for a more resilient business model if there should be any downturn in the economy. So, our goal is business as usual, but actually outweighing those pressures.” Nightcap chief executive Sarah Willingham, meanwhile, expanded on the group’s growth plans, saying: “You can see a hub appearing in the south west as we open more and more sites down there, and you will start to see a lot more cluster around those northern sites as the ones in advanced offer or legals start to come through. We’ve got a fantastic pipeline, and the most important thing is we use this window of opportunity to get some great sites. We have enough cash to do it, we will not have to go back to the market to raise funds to fulfil our organic roll out plans. We will come back to market when the share price has increased, and it will be for an acquisition. I’m confident we can grow the business as far as we’d hoped to, we’re still seeing those opportunities.”

Soho House set to accelerate openings programme and plans Balham site, CFO to step down: Soho House is set to accelerate its openings programme as it reported sales above pre-pandemic levels for the first time. Parent company Membership Collective Group (MCG) held an initial public offering in New York last year and set a target of opening five to seven new Soho Houses around the world each year. The company has now revised that target, saying it will now open eight to ten clubs per year from 2023.  Among its planned new openings is a site in Balham, south London, which will launch this summer. The 5,300 square foot site will feature a branch of its Italian restaurant Cecconi’s. The Bedford Hill site was previously home to restaurant, Foxlow. Soho House has owned the site since 2003 but rented it to other operators. It comes as MCG reported its first set of full-year results since going public. Revenue rose 45% to $560m for the year ending 2 January 2022, boosted by the reopening of its locations as covid-19 restrictions eased. Losses rose from $154m to $188m. Chief executive and founder Nick Jones said: “It’s been a year of strong growth for MCG, despite what at times have been challenging conditions for our houses across the world, especially with the emergence of the Omicron covid variant in December, which impacted the business during one of our busiest periods. This year has started more promisingly, with February revenues in our Soho Houses and restaurants ahead of 2019 levels and our waitlist exceeding 70,000 for the first time. Our proven ability to deliver new houses and unprecedented demand for our memberships gives us confidence to increase our Soho House openings to nine this year and eight-ten per year thereafter, and the expectation to beat our previous Soho House membership goal by 25% in 2022.” MCG, which owns other membership organisations, signed up 37,000 new members last year to take its total to 155,836 globally. Just over 122,000 of those are Soho House members. MCG also announced chief financial officer, Humera Afzal, is leaving “due to factors outside the company”. A search process is underway to appoint a successor and Afzal will continue to serve as chief financial officer until the end of her notice period on 14 June to help ensure an orderly transfer of her duties.
 
Banana Tree appoints advisors on funding options: South east Asian-inspired restaurant Banana Tree, led by William and Anne Chow, has appointed advisors as it explores its future funding options, Propel has learned. The 11-strong business is understood to be working with Dow Schofield Watts on its options, as it looks to finance its next stage of growth. Anne Chow told Propel the group’s current trading is “extremely good, with consistently positive like-for-like sales from pre-pandemic”. She said: “We have in fact been performing well above the Coffer Peach Tracker for every week since the reopening of eating-in in May, by an average of more than 20 percentage points. We still think we have growth potential within our existing estate, as well as outside, having grown our brand awareness from the huge increase we have had with our delivery sales. We are currently actively looking for sites, primarily in London, and hope to be able to announce a small pipeline soon.” The company currently operates eight restaurants in London, plus sites in Oxford, Milton Keynes and Chelmsford. In its recently filed accounts for the year to 30 April 2021, the company reported turnover of £7.9m (2020: £9.6m), with Ebitda of £1.2m, up 53% on the previous year, helped by an increase in delivery sales and the use of government support. Banana Tree features in Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is updated monthly for Premium subscribers and now features 546 companies. The Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, provides a five-year overview of turnover and profit, ranks companies according to turnover, pre-tax profit and profit conversion. The Blue Book also provides details of directors’ earnings and highest paid directors. 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 sign up
 
Hostmore to install ‘hot lockers’ in upcoming Fridays openings as it takes learnings from new QSR format to core brand: Robert B Cook, chief executive of Hostmore, has told Propel the company will be installing “hot lockers” in its three upcoming Fridays openings as it takes learnings from its new quick-service restaurant concept to its core brand. The debut “Fridays and Go” site opened in Dundee on Wednesday (16 March) and Cook said trade had got off to a “tremendous” start. Speaking from the restaurant, Cook said: “One of the key findings from the research when looking at this format was the use of technology, which has clearly been accelerated by the pandemic. We’ve introduced order and pay and touchscreens and then there’s the hot lockers for the food. We’re already seeing how well these work so we are going to be introducing them in our three new Fridays restaurants – in Chelmsford, Durham and Barnsley ­– to support the delivery function there.” Of the decision to launch the concept in Dundee, Cook said the Fridays brand has a strong following in Scotland with the country’s stores being among its best-performing. He added Dundee’s student population and the city having two football clubs made it as an ideal location to test the format. Cook said the business was still targeting 30 “Fridays and Go” sites in the next three years, but would be using the next three months “getting it right” first in Dundee. He added: “We’ve got a couple of sites that we are looking at already. We think it’s a great model and it’s also capital light – we can do four or five of these for every Fridays. An investor said to me this week: ‘Is this effectively your dark kitchen?’ and I said: ‘It’s our twilight kitchen – as it’s a bit lighter in there!’ The pandemic has shown the need for this type of format and we’re confident it’s something our customers are going to love.”
 
Wellfound lines up new site for Lino concept: Wellfound, the Imbiba-backed restaurant and bar company formerly known as Wright & Bell, plans to open a new site under the Lino name in north London, Propel has learned. The company, which last year placed its Kitty Hawk and Lino businesses into administration, is understood to have lined up an opening in Lonsdale Road, Queen’s Park, for the new restaurant and bar opening. Earlier this year, the Sarah Clark-led business converted its Whyte & Brown site in Carnaby Street, to its Marsha format, which focuses on free-range chicken dishes such as crispy chicken skins in seasoning, chicken hearts in blankets, sauteed chicken livers and buttermilk gochujang wings. It is the second Marsha site for Wellfound, having opened the first in Gabriel’s Wharf, near Waterloo on the South Bank, last April. Wellfound also operates the bar and restaurant Green Room on the South Bank.
 
Adamo to launch brasserie concept with rotating guest chef programme: Adamo, the new hospitality company from Andrew Fishwick, executive chair of sector consultancy firm Salt, and Tristram Hillier, former managing director of Corney & Barrow Wine Bars, is launching a modern brasserie in the heart of the City of London. Opening in Broadgate in partnership with British Land, Revolve will take its inspiration from the much-loved brasseries of Paris and New York. Revolve will also host a unique monthly guest chef programme, with renowned chefs Lee Westcott, John Javier, Anna Hansen, Josh Eggleton and Gareth Ward confirmed for the launch. Located in 100 Liverpool Street, the all-day menu at Revolve will focus on “simple, accomplished brasserie classics with British provenance at its heart”. For their monthly run, each chef will introduce four unique guest chef dishes to the brasserie menu, alongside creating one-off lunches, dinners and private dining experiences. The drinks list will include cocktails and wine. Hillier said: “We wanted to create a local brasserie with heart, soul and vibrancy but importantly, we also wanted some flexibility to invite our industry chef friends down to showcase their talents.” Fishwick added: “The concept of partnering with talent of this calibre, gives us a unique opportunity to create a dynamic, vibrant offering to Broadgate. This feels more necessary now than at any other time.”
 
Neat Burger expands food technology division as it takes products to retail market: Lewis Hamilton-backed plant-based concept Neat Burger is expanding its food technology division as it takes its products to the retail market. The group is establishing new innovation centres and has appointed James Skidmore, previously chief executive at Hain Daniels and responsible for Linda McCartney Foods, to Neat Burger’s advisory board. Neat Burger plans to roll out its burger patty and a range of other proprietary products including new improved versions of its chicken patty, hot dog, nuggets and shakes by the end of the year. The group is already in talks with leading retailers in the US and UK about stocking its range. Zack Bishti, co-founder and chief executive of Neat Burger, said: “Demand for plant-based products is outpacing all other food categories. We know there is everything to play for in terms of introducing plant-based food to the mass market and this development represents a major step forward for us to achieve this goal. With international ambitions and a clear roll-out programme, we expect our products to become household items.” Neat Burger will launch its home-grown product range into all verticals – be it restaurants, delivery kitchens, white label partnerships in the hospitality sector, online and via multiple retailers. Neat Burger operates eight restaurants in London and in October the group raised $7m round of funding, led by SoftBank’s Rajeev Misra, which will see it open 30 new sites across London as well as expand into the US, UAE and Italy. Marc Rogers, of MKR Property, acts for Neat Burger.
 
Starbucks CEO to step down next month as founder appointed interim, investor group writes to company over anti-union concerns: Starbucks president and chief executive officer, Kevin Johnson, will retire next month following a 13-year tenure at the company. After stepping down from his current role on Monday, 4 April, he will continue to serve as a special consultant through to September. Starbucks intends to have a replacement in place by then, but in the meantime has appointed founder Howard Schultz as interim. As well as overseeing growth to almost 45 million Starbucks Rewards members in the US and China, Johnson established Starbucks’ People Positive, Planet Positive and Profit Positive framework and expanded the company’s reach through the Global Coffee Alliance with Nestlé. He said: “As I make this transition, we are very fortunate to have a founder who is able to step in on an interim basis, giving the board time to further explore potential candidates and make the right long-term succession decision.” Schultz is working as interim on a voluntary basis and will receive $1 compensation. Meanwhile, Starbucks investor group, Trillium Access Management, has asked the company to find common ground with its employees in its alleged anti-union activities. With six Starbucks stores in the US now unionised, and more than 120 going through the process, union SBWorkers United last week filed charges for its parent company allegedly cutting hours of union supporters and organisers. Trillium has now written to Starbucks, expressing its concerns and urging the company to adopt a policy of neutrality instead of fighting employees trying to gain representation.
 
Lina Stores to open in Marylebone in June, still planning Clapham opening: Delicatessen brand Lina Stores will open its next site in London’s Marylebone this June. As revealed by Propel at the start of August, the White Rabbit Projects-backed company has taken over the former Sourced Markets site in Wigmore Street. Set over two floors, the ground floor will feature an all-day restaurant with an open kitchen and an open-plan delicatessen, which will transform into a seated wine bar at night. On the lower-ground floor, the restaurant will continue with a more intimate dining setting. Head chef Masha Rener said: “We’re excited to arrive in Marylebone Village, an area with many similarities to our first home in Soho. With its neighbourhood feel and strong sense of local community, Marylebone Village is the perfect location for us to open both a restaurant and delicatessen for the full Lina Stores experience.” The business most recently opened in Bloomberg Arcade in the City of London, on the site that was previously home to Andrew Wong’s Michelin-starred Kym’s restaurant. The company had been linked with taking on the ex-The Dairy and Counter Culture’s premises in Clapham, but Propel understands a deal for the site fell through. It is thought Lina Stores is looking at another site in the area. Lina Stores, which opened its first site outside the UK in Tokyo last summer, currently also operates restaurants in London’s Soho and King’s Cross as well as its original delicatessen in Brewer Street.
 
Black Bear Burger to open third site as it joins Market Halls’ Canary Wharf line-up: Black Bear Burger, operated by husband-and-wife team Liz and Stew Down, is to open its third London site this month. The concept is joining the line-up of traders at Market Halls’ Cargo Canary Wharf venue, which launches on Thursday, 31 March. Black Bear Burger will be offering a signature burgers and hand-cut fries including its eponymous burger that features dry aged beef, cheese, bacon, onion jam and garlic mayo. Stew said: “We’re excited to be returning to Canary Wharf – it feels a bit full circle for me as, before we started Black Bear, I used to work there.” Black Bear Burger also operates a site at Boxpark Shoreditch and a sit-down restaurant in Brixton Village.
 
Giggling Squid confirms plans to open in Cardiff: Giggling Squid, the Thai restaurant brand backed by BGF, has confirmed it will open in Cardiff later this year. In what has been described as its “first regional flagship in Wales”, the business will open a site in the dining quarter of the St David's shopping centre in The Hayes in the city centre. The 146-cover, 3,066 square-foot site will include the brand’s newly launched breakfast menu. As revealed by Propel at the start of the year, the company, which recently opened in Chelmsford and Welwyn Garden City, will also open a site in Mermaid Quay in the Welsh capital. Co-founder Andy Laurillard said: “I love Cardiff, it’s an amazing place. We are opening in a fantastic space on The Hayes for our Welsh debut and are excited to introduce our fresh and flavourful Thai menu to the foodies of Cardiff and St David’s visitors.” The 42-strong business also plans to open its first North Yorkshire site, in Harrogate, this spring, and has secured further sites in Cheshire, Manchester, Winchester and Maidstone for openings later this year. It is also thought to be exploring opportunities in Edinburgh and Glasgow and recently added to its delivery kitchen estate with a unit in Brent Cross.
 
Epic Bars and Clubs to open Labyrinth site in Windsor: Epic Bars and Clubs, the new venture from Mark Shorting and Nigel Blair, two of the founders of the Fever Bar business, is to open a new site under its Labyrinth concept in Windsor. It will open later this spring at unit 15a in the Windsor Royal Station, which used to host the former Vanilla nightclub, and comprise three bars and two dancefloors. It will be the second opening under the Labyrinth name after the concept debuted in Bath. Epic currently operates circa 10 sites, including the Trilogy nightclub brand in High Wycombe, Southampton and Warrington and Home & Botanic in Cheltenham, plus the Botanic Bar brand. It is planning another Trilogy club opening in Nuneaton town centre. Shorting and Blair established Fever Bars in 2007, with its first site in Cheltenham. It grew to operate 32 venues, comprising 29 bars and three Bierkeller Bavarian pubs, primarily in towns and cities throughout England. It was acquired by Stonegate Group at the start of 2019.

Mildreds launches ‘Careers for Ukraine’ project: Plant-based restaurant group Mildreds has launched a ‘Careers for Ukraine’ project offering assistance to Ukrainians in securing employment across its six sites in London. To support Ukrainians arriving in the UK, the company said it would provide travel to the UK from abroad (up to £250 towards the cost), up to £300 to help settle into the UK (finding accommodation, travel), free on-shift staff meals, flexible working schedules and a “positive, honest and kind environment”. Earlier this year, the Sam Anstey-led business opened on the former Steak & Co site in Covent Garden to add to its existing restaurants in Soho, Dalston, Camden and King’s Cross. It also operates the plant-based concept, Mallow, in Borough Market.

All Our Bars founder launches online wine and spirits service: The founder of All Our Bars has launched an online direct-to-home drinks service under the umbrella of Suburban BottleStore. Suburban, which has been developed by Paul Wigham and his family, offers a “media-enhanced online platform” that can be used by other operators to offer the same service to their customer base. The company is offering more than 1,800 products across all price ranges on the platform. Suburban has been testing the offer via All Our Bars and is now in advanced discussions with other partner operators. Wigham said: “In these challenging times, we need to think outside the box and develop additional income streams in our businesses. We cannot deny the impact of home consumption on the sector, and we ‘bricks and mortar’ operators need to tap into it in the same way as some do with food delivery.”

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