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Thu 5th May 2022 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Stonegate makes first move into food-led arena with launch of new Premium Division: Stonegate Group has launched a new division aimed at growing an estate of premium food-led pubs, Propel has learned. The circa 4,580-strong, Simon Longbottom-led business has traditionally focused on wet-led formats, with a circa 35% or under food mix. But the new format, which has been launched at The Clerk and Well pub in London’s Clerkenwell Road, will aim for a more 50/50 drink/food sales mix. The new division will feature unbranded sites but is understood to come under the umbrella of The Chapter Collection internally at Stonegate. It comes under the control of Helen Charlesworth, managing director of Stonegate’s circa 800-strong managed estate. The move into the premium, food-led category comes off the back of Stonegate’s acquisition earlier this year of the remaining 25% share of Hippo Inns, the 12-strong, London-based pub venture, from Rupert Clevely and Ian Edward. It is thought to have a couple of further pubs “highlighted” to convert to the new format but is keen to first take learnings – around offer, front of house and back of house – from the Clerk and Well, which has been trading for two weeks. James Metcalfe, director of marketing insight and innovation, describes the menu as featuring “pub classics elevated with a twist”. Starters are prices at £6 to £10 and include bacon and cheddar croquettes with mustard aioli and a handpicked crab and crayfish cocktail. Mains range in price from £15 to £23 and feature a beef, Merlot and wild mushroom pie with clotted cream mash; and cider-battered cod loin with chunky chips, minted mushy peas and samphire tartare. Desserts are all priced at £7 and include a rhubarb and custard knickerbocker-glory, and a baked Alaska with lemon and strawberry ice cream and salted caramel sauce. There is also a weekly lunch specials menu priced at £8-£13, which includes a sourdough cheese toastie and smashed sweet potato jacket and five-bean Valrhona chocolate chilli. Metcalfe added: “We are keen to tap into the ongoing trend of premiumisation. The learnings the company has taken from Hippo Inns, and the ability of food-led operators to keep trading over the course of parts of the last two years, has encouraged the company to move into an area it hasn’t traditionally explored. We believe the time is right to make that move. We want to provide consumers with a premium offer and experience that encourages them to come out and try something new. The offer will be flexible in its approach in terms of how the menu and drinks offer differs to other parts of the Stonegate estate.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Lisini backs Hospitality Rising, invest today: Lanarkshire-based Lisini is supporting Hospitality Rising. The initiative aims to unite the industry by asking it to invest in and back its plan to change the perception of hospitality for the better, in the biggest sector recruitment advertising campaign the UK has seen. Siobhan Edwards, director of marketing and purchasing at Lisini, said: “Our passion has always been about the people – all being local and community led. We are a third-generation business, whose employees are indeed themselves third generation. Our success in recruitment has always been in the fact that our local approach has galvanised and cultured great young people. As we transition from the end of the pandemic, we have lost a couple of strong solid years to recruit fabulous people who believe that hospitality isn’t just a stepping stone, but the bedrock to the fundamentals in life and a career. That is why we are backing this great initiative and look forward to participating in its success.” Invest in Hospitality Rising now from just £10 per employee here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email
More than 2,000 people now taking advantage of Propel Premium benefits: More than 2,000 people are now taking advantage of the vast range of benefits offered to Propel Premium subscribers. Around 1,600 people have signed up in the last 12 months as Propel has added three information-packed databases that are published monthly to the list of benefits. The databases include The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, and the latest release will show the details of 309 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches when it is published tomorrow (Friday, 6 May), at midday. The database shows the details of which company has opened a site, or its plans to open one in the future. It will have details on what type of site it is and its location, and a website link to the businesses so you can find out more about them. It is published on a monthly basis. The next edition of the database features expanding restaurant and bar concepts, niche cuisine, regional pub operators and growing hotel and leisure concepts. Premium subscribers will also receive a 13,610-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to three other databases. The latest Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, was sent to Premium subscribers last Friday (29 April). The database contained 31 new companies, bringing the total number of businesses listed up to 2,439. The 90 sites run by those 31 new additions means the entire database of sites has reached 65,197 sites. Premium subscribers also received a 2,607-word report on the new businesses added. The go-to database provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. There is also a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Premium subscribers also receive the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated every month, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Premium subscribers also have access to the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which is an exhaustive guide to the companies offering a food and beverage franchise in the UK and updated every two months. The first edition features 100 companies, providing insight on the offer, locations, cost and other key details, and provides 27,000 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 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.

Poultry prices continue to climb, chicken rising fastest: Poultry prices are continuing to climb with chicken seeing faster rises than any other meat, catering butcher Birtwistles has warned. In its latest market report, Birtwistles said the cost of beef, lamb and pork has risen again. It comes after the World Bank Group warned in its latest commodities market outlook report that global food and fuel price shocks linked to the Russia-Ukraine war are set to last until at least the end of 2024. In the week ending 16 April, the average British all-prime deadweight cattle price rose by another 4p to average 436.3p per kilogramme. This meant the price stood 33p above the price recorded in the same week a year ago, and up 80p on the five-year average. Trim prices are “through the roof”, according to Birtwistles’ report, while the price of lean boneless beef is providing the most drive to prices. Wholesale prices for UK visibly lean boneless beef is up more than a third compared with a year ago. The standard pig price rose a further 4p in the week ending 16 April, to 161.74p per kilogramme, while the deadweight old season lamb quotation was 595.40p per kilogramme, up 2.5p from the week previous. There are also challenges with duck due to the ongoing issues around the avian flu outbreak in France. UK chicken thigh meat is “still very much in short supply, with the lack of labour available to further process legs into boneless cuts”, the report said. It added: “Anyone still unsure [about the rising cost of chicken] can take a look at the retailers who can be the most competitive in terms of pricing. They have also had to act, with the cost of skinless/boneless thigh ranging from £5.25 to £7 per kilogramme. These challenges are not only around labour, but the rocketing cost of feed to farmers, which has risen by more than 50%. Soaring food prices are here, and historically, chicken was always cheaper and good value for money, but is rising quicker than any other protein. Comparisons in prices on free range chicken to beef rump steaks are real and out there.”

Britvic – premium soft drinks and cocktails in more demand than ever as customers trade up: The trend for premium drinks looks set to keep growing as more people seek to “live in the moment” and are prepared to pay for quality products when doing so. Britvic’s Soft Drinks Review 2022 showed one in three people said it is now more important that their drinks are of a high quality. Furthermore, the company said 62% of price growth is due to people trading up to more expensive products. Ben Humphrey, category strategy manager at Britvic, said: “There is a strong outlook for premium, despite economic headwinds. There are fewer visits, but people are spending more per visit. People want that experience when they are out.” Cocktails are also making up more of total sales since reopening (10% compared with 6% before), with cocktail drinkers visiting the on-trade more frequently and spending more. Hotels, pubs and restaurants are now getting more a share of cocktail sales, at the expense of more traditional outlets like nightclubs and bars. Cocktails are also increasingly being drunk with food, and 35% of consumers said they would be willing to upgrade their soft drink to a non-alcoholic option. “The premium element of pubs is driving growth,” said Katie Leech, head of channel development at Britvic. Paul Graham, Britvic’s managing director, added: “Cocktails are the fastest growing drink format, and people are prepared to pay for that experience. Premium soft drink solutions without packaging is also an interesting space we’re working in.” Recent roll-outs of such packageless concepts are Aqualibra, which are dispensable systems for flavoured water, and London Essence, which is premium tonic on tap. Bruce Dallas, GB marketing director for Britvic, said: “We see it as a parallel with the beer industry, a draught opportunity, and making sure it’s a more desirable experience for the consumer.” Further data showed eating and drinking out is a priority for 27% of consumers post-covid, with more people now willing to travel into city centres and drink in pub environments. A third of consumers said they would be willing to upgrade to premium and find high quality drinks more important post-pandemic, while 32% said their drinks choices are led by quality, and 58% would trade up to a premium drink if it was recommended with a dish. Furthermore, 70% of consumers said experiences are now more important than material possessions, and 61% said a good range of soft drinks contribute to a good quality experience. As well as premium options and experiences, other future trends identified by Britvic include consumers wanting more health and wellness options, seeking value for money and using technology more both before and during visiting venues.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a hospitality app business to hire a head of people and culture based in London. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “You will drive the continued, rapid growth with the team already in place. The head of people position is a challenging role in which you will have the opportunity to impact every employee’s experience and contribute to the delivery of the business vision. Responsibilities will include setting and driving a people strategy and developing people growth plans that sit perfectly alongside the business growth strategy. Working within the leadership team, you will plan, lead, and deliver on people project activity throughout the business as well as recruitment and onboarding, using innovative approaches to attract and retain the best available talent.” The salary is £90,000. For more information and to apply, email

Company News:

KFC UK system sales up 7% in first quarter: Yum! Brands has reported KFC system sales in the UK rose 7% for the first quarter ended 31 March 2022, compared with the previous year. The UK now accounts for 8% of KFC’s system sales worldwide following the closure of its Russian operation. Globally, KFC like-for-like sales in the quarter increased 3%, with US like-for-like sales up 1%. System sales worldwide rose 6%, with the lockdowns in China weighing on sales – China is KFC’s largest market by system-wide sales, making up 27% of global sales. System sales in China were down 4% in the period. Operating margin was down four percentage points, and operating profit fell 3% to $291m. Profits in Russia declined versus the first quarter last year, negatively impacting KFC operating profit growth, excluding foreign currency, by two percentage points. KFC opened 587 gross new restaurants in 49 countries during the period. Meanwhile, Pizza Hut system sales in Europe, including the UK, were up 28% – the continent now accounting for 8% of Pizza Hut’s system sales globally following the closure of its restaurants in Russia. Pizza Hut sales were up 2% globally, with like-for-likes flat. Lockdowns in China, which is the brand’s second largest market, again weighed on results, with sales down 1% in the period. US system sales, which account for 43% of global sales, were down 6%. Operating margin increased by 1.4 percentage points, while operating profit was flat at $102m. Pizza Hut opened 334 gross new restaurants in 40 countries during the period. Taco Bell like-for-like sales increased 5% and system sales were up 8%. Operating profit increased 4% to $185m. Taco Bell opened 63 gross new restaurants during the period in 13 countries. Yum! Brands’ total revenue in the quarter was up 4% to $1,547m.

Inn Collection plans four to five new sites this year and to invest £46m on capex: Sean Donkin, managing director of The Inn Collection Group, has told Propel the company plans to add a further four to five sites to its 32-strong estate by the end of this year. At the same time, he said the business, which earlier this year was acquired by a new company backed by the Harris family, working with Kings Park Capital, would be investing £46m in capex across its existing estate. He said: “Realistically, before the end of this year, we will add another four or five sites. It’s about when the right opportunities come around, we don’t have a fixed number we have to hit. We tend to feel we understand the geographies in which we operate – we’ve done it in Northumberland since 2007, and from 2012 down in Yorkshire – so we feel we know that the east of the country very well. We’ve had good expansion into the west now. We originally had a horseshoe pattern to follow down the east coast, across the bottom, and up into The Lakes. We had originally had a line drawn across the map between Lytham St Annes and Hull, and we were always going to stay there north of that border. We thought we would create a good strategic acquisition for somebody at some point in the future, so we wanted a good tight geography where we had prominence, and potentially dominance, in those locations. But the economics of other areas at the moment certainly are quite appealing to us. So, we bought a site in North Wales, which we’ve got closed for a serious redevelopment, and so when we do that, we’re not just going to buy one and then have a remote satellite business which is going to fend for itself – we’ll build an estate around that within that area. So, anything that looks similar to the Lake District, to Northumberland, to Yorkshire – which is quite a lot of the country – but we will probably, unless the opportunities are vast enough, stay within our geography and build new nucleus. I’m not saying never to going down south, but it’s got to have the potential to grow a patch of sites.”

Watt – we’ve seen a 15-fold increase in people wanting to work for BrewDog: James Watt, co-founder and chief executive of Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog, has said that the company has seen a 15-fold increase in people wanting to work for the business in the last 24 hours. The increase comes after Watt yesterday announced he was to donate a fifth of his personal stake in the business, worth £100m, to staff to mark the firm’s 15th anniversary, and the launch of a profit-sharing scheme, allowing its 1,500 hourly-paid bar staff to share half of the earnings from each bar. The two measures were part of a new blueprint the company, which also includes major investment in the brewer’s Ellon headquarters, several people and culture initiatives, a continued focus on sustainability, a push into spirits and further international expansion. As part of the company’s commitment to sustainability, it is investing £50m to reduce its environmental impact. In terms of expansion, it plans to open 27 bars this year, creating 1,000 new jobs. New openings will include prominent sites in Vegas and Waterloo, and new bars in Melbourne, Berlin, Hyderabad, Cork, Atlanta, Paris, Milan and Ipswich. 
Burger & Beyond secures Soho and Borough Yards sites: Burger & Beyond, the London-based concept founded by Tom Stock and Craig Povoas in 2015, is to open two new sites in the capital this summer, in Soho and Borough Yards. The company, which opened its debut restaurant in Shoreditch in 2018, has secured the ex-Temakinho site in Soho’s Old Compton Street for a 119-cover restaurant. This will be followed by an 89-cover site in the new Borough Yards development, which will also feature an outdoor terrace. Both locations will offer “all the signature burgers and sides that have made it one of London’s best-loved burger restaurants, as well as brand new and exclusive dishes for each of the new sites”. As with the company’s Shoreditch site, an extensive drinks list of beers, cocktails and wines will be on offer at both new restaurants. Burger & Beyond was originally launched from a converted Citroen H van before taking up spots at London’s street food markets KERB and Street Feast. The business also operates several delivery kitchens across London, as well as appearing at major music and food festivals in the UK and around the world. CDG Leisure acted for the vendor on the Soho deal, Distrkt represent Borough Yards, and the Found Agency acted for Burger & Beyond.

Former Wagamama CEO Emma Woods joins the board of Huel: Emma Woods, the former chief executive of Wagamama and current chair of Tortilla, has joined the board of Huel, the complete nutrition company, as independent non-executive director. Huel said Woods, who is also currently a non-executive director of The Gym Group and Great Portland Estates, brings “significant experience of supporting consumer focused businesses as they scale and develop their brand presence”.  Woods was chief executive of Wagamama from December 2018 until June 2021, during which time she navigated the company’s acquisition by The Restaurant Group and the operational shift to a delivery-led business during the pandemic. Prior to this, she held global marketing roles at Merlin Entertainments and Unilever. James McMaster, chief executive of Huel said: “We are delighted to welcome Emma to Huel, where I know her substantial experience working within strong brand-led consumer businesses will be of great value to us. We remain confident that the opportunity ahead for Huel is substantial, as demand for affordable, convenient, nutritious and sustainable food continues to grow. Emma’s appointment is another step in building a business with the experience and capabilities to support Huel in reaching its potential as we pursue the next stage of global growth.”
McManus Pub Company returns to profit as business builds back from pandemic: McManus Pub Company has reported a return to profit as the business builds back from the pandemic. The Northampton-based group currently owns 18 pubs – ten freehold, six leasehold and two part-freehold/part-leasehold. Accounts for the year ending 31 July 2021 showed a profit of £976,000 compared with a loss of £255,000 the previous year. Turnover stood at £8.8m, up from £7.9m the year before, with the estate closed twice during the period for a minimum of 18 weeks and a phased reopening during April and May 2021. Turnover in the full year before the pandemic was £11.3m. During the year ending 31 July 2021, the company received government support in the form of £812,000 through the furlough scheme, £658,000 from grants and claimed £153,000 from the Eat Out To Help Out initiative. In March 2021, the group extended its overdraft facility to £2.1m, which was used to settle an expiring revolving credit facility. In February this year, £1.7m of that was converted into an 11-year term loan facility. During the period, the group invested £554,000 into its existing pub estate and has completed refurbishment works at two venues – Brampton Halt and Barratts Club. Work has also started at a third, the Shipmans in Northampton, which is scheduled to reopen in June 2022. In October 2021, the business acquired the freehold of The Old George Hotel, in Stony Stratford, which was funded from cash flow. The company stated: “Trading conditions are expected to remain competitive, but the group continues to focus on improving its gross margin and cost control to improve net operating margin.”

OneGym receives investment to support growth expansion: County Durham-based gym business, OneGym, has received investment from family-run investment company Middleton Enterprises to help scale up its operations. OneGym has sites in Bishop Auckland, Durham, Newton Aycliffe, Redcar, Stockton and Thornaby. Newcastle-based Middleton Enterprises provides growth capital to established and profitable small and medium-sized enterprises. OneGym co-founder David Pearson said: “Coming out of the pandemic was difficult for any business in the leisure and hospitality sector, but having the support from Middleton Enterprises reinvigorated our ambition. We are already working on plans to open multiple new sites and are utilising Middleton Enterprises’ experience to refinance and grow the business.” Jeremy Middleton, chief executive of Middleton Enterprises, added: “We know from experience that gyms represent a great investment opportunity. Memberships generate a recurring revenue model. The economics just make sense, and OneGym has a proven track record.” Ward Hadaway worked on the deal on behalf of Middleton Enterprises while One Gym used an in-house solicitor.

Scotsman Group confident business will ‘emerge strongly’ and ‘well placed’ for further growth following refinancing: The Scotsman Group, which operates a large portfolio of hospitality venues in Scotland, has said it believes the business will “emerge strongly when circumstances allow” and is “well placed” for further growth following refinancing. The group – which operates 15 restaurants, 11 bars, six hotels, five clubs, three cinemas, two apartments and several other flagship venues – made a pre-tax loss of £5.2m in the year ending 31 March 2021, compared with a £17.2m profit the previous year. Turnover was down to £6.2m from £49.3m the year before, while the group received £11.8m in government support. In March 2022, the company renegotiated the terms of its financing agreements with its bankers. A statement accompanying the accounts said: “The company has supported its licensed tenants in a variety of ways, including rental concessions, to ensure each can continue as a viable going concern…to safeguard the sustainability of these businesses from both the company’s and tenant’s perspective.” Forecasting cash flow projections for the year to March 2024, on the basis that “turnover will remain below normal trading levels for a period of time”, the company added: “The directors are confident the actions and strategies in place will allow the business to emerge strongly, when circumstances allow. The company does not envisage having to seek additional funding as a result of covid-19 and continues to enjoy the ongoing support of its fund providers in the form of rescheduled capital repayments and financial covenant waivers as appropriate, along with a refreshing of bank facilities including the resetting of covenants. The group looks forward to returning to normal trading conditions and is well placed to further grow as opportunities to do so arise.”

Creams to strengthen London presence with Putney opening: Dessert parlour operator Creams is opening its 37th London restaurant, in Putney High Street. The site, which opens on Monday (9 May) marks the first for franchisee Basel Almasri. The 1,739 square-foot, 33-cover restaurant will feature the full range of Creams’ signature desserts, including sundaes, waffles, pancakes, shakes and doughnuts. Savoury items, tea, coffee and vegan desserts will also be available. Almasri said: “I’m thrilled to be joining the Creams family – it’s a really exciting opportunity and the start of something big for me. With a prime location in Putney High Street, I’m confident we’re going to be well received.” Creams operates more than 100 sites in the UK.

Farmer J opens London Bridge site: All-day market concept Farmer J, which is backed by Imbiba, has opened its latest site in the capital, near London Bridge. The Jonathan Recanati-led business has opened what is its eighth site, in Bermondsey Street, alongside Honest Burgers and Pizza Pilgrims. Earlier this year, the company opened its first site in London’s West End, when it launched on the former EAT site in Regent Street. Recanati told Propel last year that Farmer J had always been developed with expansion outside central London in mind, and the group was looking to build its pipeline further. He said the resilience of the business during the crisis had given it the confidence to explore further expansion opportunities.

Ultracomida invests in wine retail operation: Spanish deli and restaurant operator Ultracomida has invested in a Cardiff wine warehouse that will be open to both trade and the general public by the summer. The company is behind wine shops, delis, and restaurants in Wales including Ultracomida in Narberth and Aberystwyth, and Curado Bar and Vermut in Cardiff. More recently, wine retail has become a major focus for the group, with more than 4,500 square feet of warehousing space acquired in Aberystwyth last year. After the success of its Spanish Wines Direct venture, the group is now investing in a further 6,900 square feet of warehousing space in Cardiff, in Penarth Road. The second venue will stock more than 500 different Spanish wines, with a focus on smaller producers, indigenous grapes and less well-known regions. The warehouse will also feature a pantry shop and a small bar area for holding tasting sessions. Although Ultracomida founders Paul Grimwood and Shumana Palit originally began focusing on wine retail during the pandemic, while their restaurants were closed, they believe the demand for quality Spanish wines is only set to continue.

Former Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing chef adds new outdoor restaurant to Cambridgeshire village pub site: An award-winning chef who worked under Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing has added an outdoor dining restaurant to the Cambridgeshire village pub site he gave a new lease of life five years ago. Adebola Adeshina arrived at the former Fitzwilliam Arms in the village of Castor, which had been closed for three years, in 2017 and opened the Michelin-recognised The Chubby Castor. He has now added The Yard, a 50-seater venue located behind the grade II-listed The Chubby Castor, which will offer a more relaxed alternative to the fine dining restaurant menu. It will also focus on sustainability, using seasonal produce and vegetables grown in raised beds beside the outdoor restaurant’s terrace. Adeshina said: “My love of nature and being outdoors has grown since opening The Chubby Castor. I first started growing a small amount of produce myself, in the garden behind the restaurant, shortly after opening, which increased my passion for growing my own ingredients. At The Yard, 70% of our vegetables and herbs will be homegrown, and we use local suppliers where possible, which means the produce we use is seasonal and has low mileage. We care about the provenance, sourcing and ethics of the ingredients we use, and we believe that food that has been raised correctly, grown responsibly and sourced locally heightens the enjoyment of our guests.” The menu will include gourmet burgers, spatchcock chicken, fresh lobster, fish, oysters and steaks, plus vegan and vegetarian options.

PureGym to double up in Bath: PureGym, Britain’s biggest health and fitness club operator, is doubling up in Bath. The company has transformed a former Argos store in Upper Bristol Road, opposite Victoria Park, into a new 20,000 square-foot workout space. The site, which is based over two floors and will be open around the clock, will open on Wednesday, 11 May. A PureGym spokesman said: “There is huge appetite for affordable gyms in Bath, and we are therefore delighted to be opening our second club in the city. We have ambitious plans for UK expansion and look forward to welcoming new members to PureGym Bath Victoria Park.” PureGym opened its first Bath gym in March 2020 at Spring Wharf. Last month, the business said it plans to double its estate size to more than 1,000 sites in the medium term following a £300m investment from private equity firm KKR in December.

Taco Bell gets go-ahead to open in Hornchurch: Mexican restaurant brand Taco Bell has been given the go-ahead to open a site in Hornchurch, Essex. The company has been granted permission by Havering Council to convert the former Thomas Cook premises in High Street, reports Essex Live. There are currently five Taco Bell branches in Essex, and it has also submitted plans to open a store in Southend. Taco Bell operates 95 sites in the UK. The company has more than 7,500 restaurants across the globe.

Burger King set for Gillingham drive-thru: A new branch of Burger King is set to open in Gillingham’s Hempstead Valley shopping centre, including a drive-thru service. Jeremy Wright, people director of Burger King UK, said: “During what has been a very challenging few years for many businesses, we are delighted to be creating new job and career opportunities in the area, and look forward to welcoming 36 new starters into the Burger King family, at our Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre restaurant. We continue to be bold and ambitious in our growth plans across both locations and job opportunities.” It follows the launch last week of a new JD Gym at Hempstead Valley – the latest opening for the circa-66 strong fitness brand.

Kent duo behind virtual gin-tasting concept make bricks-and-mortar debut: Karl Cowell and Roxii Hoare-Smith, who set up virtual tasting concept Kent Gin Co during the pandemic, have launched their first bricks-and-mortar site. The pair have opened the Kent Drinks Co bar at the Lockmeadow food, drinks and entertainment centre in Maidstone’s Barker Road. It replaces The Moondance Bar, which joined the complex in November but closed last week. Kent Drinks Co focuses on serving drinks from local suppliers such as Maidstone Distillery, Anno Distillers in Tonbridge, Copper River Distillery in Chatham, Dudda’s Tun Cider in Sittingbourne and Curious Brewery in Ashford.

University of Sheffield plans to open new F&B outlet in city: The University of Sheffield has received the green light for plans to turn the former Henderson’s Relish factory in Leavygreave Road into a cafe, restaurant or social space operated by the university. The property has lay empty since Henderson’s relocated to a site off Sheffield Parkway in 2013. A planning statement accompanying the application said: “Although owned by The University of Sheffield, the building is intended to be for public use, not just for students, creating a diverse space for visitors and offering job creation opportunities.” The university already has several campus-based outlets, including AMRC Cafe, The Arts Tower Cafe, Diamond Kitchen, Edge Bar, Grill & Go and The View Deli.

Berkshire-based gin distillery set for new venue including bar and restaurant: Berkshire-based gin distillery, Lumber Distillers, is moving to a larger venue complete with a bar and restaurant. The distillery currently operates out of The Newbury pub, in Newbury’s Bartholomew Street, where founder Peter Lumber has been landlord for ten years. He is now leaving the pub and setting up an expanded home for the distillery at Newbury Parkway shopping centre. Called Eat.Drink.Distil, the venue will also eventually feature a gin school. “Following a successful decade of running The Newbury, as well as the distillery for the last few years, I’ll be handing over the reins to a new landlord and focusing solely on the distillery venture from May,” Lumber told Newbury Today. “The opening of Eat.Drink.Distil is the culmination of a lifelong dream. The new location will allow people to not only enjoy great food and carefully crafted drinks from the bar, but visitors will also see and learn the process of distilling from start to finish when we open the gin school shortly after our initial launch in May.”

Leicestershire pub setting up microbrewery with grant to help combat beer supply issues: A Leicestershire pub is using a £5,000 local authority grant to set up a microbrewery, which it hopes will help combat beer supply issues. The Swan Inn, in the village of Mountsorrel, just north of Leicester, hopes to open the microbrewery later this year after receiving a covid-19 business grant from Charnwood Borough Council. The grant comes from the council’s business development and diversification fund. Danny Harwood, landlord at The Swan Inn, said: “The past two years have been incredibly difficult for our business and the hospitality sector. Alongside having to close the pub for a period of time, the supply of beer was another challenge we faced when we reopened, and in particular, cask ale proved really difficult to get hold of. By creating a microbrewery on site, it means we can deal with beer production in-house, decide on how much we need and add another dimension to the business.”

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