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Thu 12th May 2022 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Scottish government outlines proposals to allow outdoor restaurant seating without planning permission: Outdoor restaurant seating could be permitted in Scotland without a planning application under new proposals to support the hospitality industry. As part of its permitted development rights review, the Scottish government is consulting on measures that would save applicants the time and expense of applying for planning permission for some types of development, including outdoor seating. Planning minister Tom Arthur said: “The pandemic has highlighted that use of outdoor spaces can help bolster our hospitality industry and make city, town and local centres feel more welcoming and vibrant. I encourage local businesses and communities to submit their views on these proposals to relax planning requirements. Extending permitted development rights to make changes in use easier will help to deliver our entrepreneurship ambitions by creating enterprising communities, as set out in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation.” UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson added: “Over the course of the pandemic, hospitality businesses made great use of outdoor space, allowing them to trade while keeping customers and workers safe. Outdoor seating is extremely popular with guests and these often imaginative and creative spaces continue to be used extensively. UKHospitality Scotland is pleased the Scottish government has listened to our calls and is putting forward plans to relax planning requirements. This will save businesses time and money, while adding to the vibrancy of our towns and cities. This move will also help to boost local economies and create jobs.” The UK government announced new laws this week to allow councils to grant “pavement licences” for outdoor dining and drinking on a permanent basis.
 

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Humble Grape backs Hospitality Rising, invest today: Humble Grape, the five-strong London wine bar and shop concept founded by James Dawson, is backing Hospitality Rising, but will you? Hospitality Rising 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. Kevin Coetzee, people and operations director at Humble Grape, said: “Hospitality is a fun and dynamic sector that has had me on a rollercoaster journey for more than 30 years! And I still love the thrill and adventure that each day brings. There is nothing quite like the buzz of a busy venue filled with memories and magic moments. These moments are only made possible because of the wonderful people that we have in our teams. People are the business and the business is people! We need more people to get involved and excited about the skills and prospects a career in hospitality can bring. We would urge hospitality companies of all sizes to join us and get involved. The current crisis has emphasised the need for a fresh approach, and we believe Hospitality Rising is an ambitious campaign that will change the face of hospitality forever!” 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 paul.charity@propelinfo.com.
 
Only 32 of 583 companies in next edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book generating pre-tax profit of more than £5m: Only 32 of the 583 companies featured in the next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book are generating pre-tax profit of more than £5m. Premium subscribers will receive the latest edition of the Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, on Friday (13 May) at midday. The Blue Book shows the effects of the pandemic, with total losses of £5.9bn being reported by 352 companies. However, a further 231 sector companies are still reporting total profits of £1bn. A total of 31 companies have also updated their accounts since the April edition. 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 also now 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 will be updated every two months. The first edition features 100 companies, providing insight on the offer, locations, cost and other key details. The first edition 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 jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and 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.

Pret removes chicken items from menu amid salmonella fears: Pret a Manger has removed all chicken items on its menu amid fears of a salmonella outbreak at suppliers. It comes after Aldi recalled its chicken and bacon Caesar wraps, reports Mail Online. Although Pret has yet to comment on whether or not it is experiencing salmonella issues with its chicken supply, on Wednesday evening (11 May), it had no chicken items available on its online menu. Pret’s issues have been linked to Aldi, which had to recall its chicken and bacon Caesar wraps over salmonella fears, and Sainsbury’s, where customers have reported being “blocked” from buying chicken. Anyone with the Aldi items in their fridge is being advised not to eat them by the Food Standards Agency.
 
Special 9% VAT rate for hospitality businesses in Ireland extended: The lower VAT rate for the Irish hospitality sector of 9% has been extended for a further six months. The proposal was approved by the Irish government and will see the 9% VAT rate remain until 28 February 2023. The estimated cost of this further extension is €250m. Minister for finance, Paschal Donohoe, said: “The tourism and hospitality sector was one of those most impacted by the public health restrictions put in place throughout the pandemic. Through no fault of their own, bars, hotels and restaurants had to close on multiple occasions to help the country make its way through the worst of the public health crisis. The 9% VAT rate was introduced in response to the challenges posed by covid-19 to support the hospitality sector and the government has decided to extend the period when the 9% rate will apply for a further six months. This will provide further support to the tourism and hospitality sectors over the busy November/December period and into the early new year.”

Contract caterers building back from covid-19 but growth stunted by closures and cost pressures: Sales in the contract catering sector remain well below pre-covid levels despite good year-on-year increases, CGA research has revealed. The new edition of CGA’s Contract Caterer Tracker showed sales from January to March 2022 were 69% higher than the first quarter of 2021, when the country was under lockdown restrictions. However, sales are 20% below the figure recorded in the first three months of 2019 – the last first-quarter in which businesses were able to trade as normal. It reflects the closure of many contract catering venues and lower footfall in others, despite an easing of restrictions and concerns about covid. The tracker showed caterers now serve around 1,250 fewer units than they did three years ago, while high inflation’s impact on spending and costs is also restricting real-term growth. Despite the challenges, there are signs that both units and sales are building momentum. The three-year sales comparison of minus 20% marks a steady improvement on the figure of minus 36% in the third quarter of 2021, and of minus 26% in the fourth quarter. Karl Chessell, CGA’s director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “These figures show the contract catering sector will be dealing with the aftershocks of covid-19 for some time to come. Offices and other venues served by caterers remain well short of pre-pandemic usage, and the soaring costs facing all businesses and consumers are adding to the challenges. Our tracker indicates that sales momentum is starting to build, but we can expect fierce competition for sales and share throughout 2022.”
 
Sarah Willingham and Luke Johnson among speakers at UKHospitality Summer Conference: Nightcap founder Sarah Willingham and sector investor Luke Johnson will be among the speakers at UKHospitality’s Summer Conference on Tuesday, 7 June. Also speaking will be Nisha Katona, chief executive and founder of Mowgli Street Food, and Suzanne Baker, commercial and property director at Stonegate Group as well as MPs and local mayors. The conference will look at the sector’s role in levelling up and driving both sector and UK recovery, and is an opportunity for hospitality to put its vision for the future to key government and political figures. Speakers, panellist sessions and interviews on the day will address how, with the right support, the sector can become a catalyst for UK economic growth and the role it can play in the levelling up agenda. The industry’s progress in sustainability, business recovery and the plan to developing a highly skilled workforce for the future will also be under the spotlight. The conference will take place from noon-6pm at Hilton London Bankside, with both members and non-members welcome to attend. UKHospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: “This conference comes at a particularly key time for the industry as we look to recover from the pandemic while facing a challenging economic climate and soaring costs. This year in particular is an opportunity for operators, who should be in the room as we look at how the sector and its stakeholders can come together to work collectively to shape our industry, so it is fit for the future and able to play its full role in the wider UK recovery.”
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a branded hotel group in London that is seeking a people and culture manager. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “You will be responsible for supporting and advising management on policies and procedures to deliver an excellent staff experience across the group. Responsibilities will include instilling the ‘company culture’ ensuring consistence in delivering exceptional best practice, actively overseeing and managing the recruitment process for properties, including interviewing for senior hotel roles, and ensure HR documentation process is adhered to.” The salary is up to £45,000. For more information, email Lara@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

Portfolio of sites let to Marston’s placed on market: A portfolio of seven leisure investments located in south Wales, and let to Marston’s, have been placed on the market, Propel has learned. King Street Real Estate have been appointed to market the investment opportunities, with offers in excess of £4.6m sought. The portfolio comprises the Beaufort Arms, Swansea; Cockett Inns, Swansea; Heath Hotel, Cardiff; Malsters Arms, Cardiff; The Piercefield, Chepstow; The Vivian, Swansea; and the Windsor Hotel, Penarth. The seven sites are understood to have a total passing rent of £310,000 per annum. All properties will be let on new 25-year leases, with a tenant only break option in year 15, let to Marston’s.
 
Thunderbird Fried Chicken begins exploring franchise opportunities, in talks with UK and international businesses: Thunderbird Fried Chicken, the wings and fried chicken concept backed by TriSpan, has begun talks with prospective franchisees as it looks to expand its presence in the UK and internationally, Propel has learned. The Paul Gilchrist-led business, which recently opened its sixth bricks-and-mortar site in Wimbledon, is understood to be in talks with a transport hub operator in regards to opening sites both in the UK and overseas. It is also believed to be in discussions with established, multiple-brand franchisee in regards to taking the Thunderbird brand into new parts of the UK, such as the north and Scotland. In regards to expansion internationally, it is understood to be initially targeting the Middle East and northern Europe. Thunderbird currently operates five franchise sites in partnership with Parkdean Resorts. It is thought Thunderbird has spent the past two years preparing itself to go out to talk to prospective franchisees. The business, which was founded by Matt Harris and has been backed by private equity firm TriSpan since January 2019, is set to open further company-owned sites this year in Putney and Kingston. It is also in talks on a further two sites in the capital.
 
Clean Kitchen Club secures Notting Hill and Fulham sites: Vegan concept Clean Kitchen Club – which was founded by former YouTube celebrity Michael Pearce, with Made in Chelsea TV star Verity Bowditch joining in 2020 – is set to increase its presence in London, with openings in Notting Hill and Fulham. The business, which will launch a 2,441 square foot flagship restaurant at Battersea Power Station later this year, will open its fifth site at the end of this month in Portobello Road. Meanwhile, Propel understands Clean Kitchen Club has secured the ex-Cote site in Jerdan Place, Fulham Broadway, for an opening later this summer. This Fulham site will be the group’s biggest project to date at 3,000 square feet and will feature an 80-cover outdoor terrace. Earlier this year, the business launched a further fundraising round, with the target of raising £2m. Last November, Bowditch and Pearce closed a £1.4m seed funding round for the business, announcing plans to open 40 locations across the UK. On the latest fundraising, Pearce said he and Bowditch have signed the “lead investment for our next round – £500,000 at £12m valuation from our first raise”. He said the new fundraising campaign would allow the business to open more sites, “increase our retail range while continuing to innovate by investing in our research and development centre and strong marketing campaigns”. The venture began as a plant-based meal delivery service, but began opening physical locations following the easing of covid-19 restrictions. The group’s previous funding round gave it a £7.5m valuation, with lead investors in the round including Clive Sharpe, ex-chairman of Quorn, and Grace Beverley, fitness influencer and chief executive of health and fitness app Shreddy and sustainable activewear brand Tala.
 
Munich Cricket Club secures third site: Moonshine Bars has secured a third site for its Bavarian concept, Munich Cricket Club, Propel has learned. The company, led by father-and-son team Tom and Robbie Gill, will open its latest site next Thursday (19 May) under the Archways of Tower Hill. The business has secured the former Bierschenke in Crutched Friars for the new opening. Munich Cricket Club also operates sites in West India Quay and Victoria. Munich Cricket Club offers imported Munich beer along with authentic Bavarian dishes, served by staff in traditional dress. Moonshine Bars also operates The Rose gastropub in Chelsea and The Loose Box Bar & Kitchen in Westminster. Davis Coffer Lyons acted for the vendor on the Tower Hill deal.

Ole & Steen secures Clapham site: Danish baker Ole & Steen is to further increase its presence in London with an opening in Clapham. The 18-strong business has secured the former Byron site in Northcote Road for an opening this summer. The company is currently gearing up to open a two-floor, 2,411 square-foot corner site at 39-43 Neal Street, Seven Dials, which will be its largest in the capital so far and sit alongside more than 100 global locations. Last month, Propel revealed the company had secured its second regional site, in Windsor. The business, which already operates a site in Oxford’s Westgate scheme, will open a site in Kings Edward Court, in the Berkshire town, later this summer. The company recently increased its presence in London with an opening at More London after taking over the former Caffe Nero site at the scheme near London Bridge. RAB Retail acts for Ole & Steen. 
 
Maltese pizzaiolo takes on first UK pub: Pizzaiolo Claude Camilleri has taken on his first pub in the UK. Camilleri – whose pizzas have been ranked in Worldwide Pizza guide La Enciclopedia Della Pizza – has taken on The Old Mill in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, following a £300,000 joint investment with brewer and retailer Greene King. The Old Mill is the first pub the pizzaiolo has opened and his first hospitality business in the UK, having operated two well-known pizzerias – called Margos – in Malta for more than 17 years. The investment has also been used to transform some of the site into a deli and bakery for pub-goers and residents to use as a food shop. The pub serves the same authentic Neapolitan pizza as that of Camilleri’s pizzeria business in Malta, but with an English twist, alongside beer, wine, spirits and non-alcoholic and soft drink options. Camilleri said: “When I visited Berkhamsted before, I fell in love with The Old Mill pub. As soon as the opportunity came to take it on, I just knew I had to pounce on it! Our joint investment with Greene King Pub Partners has enabled us to bring in the state-of-the-art kitchen equipment we need to serve our pizza. It has also enabled us to repurpose some of the pub’s space into a deli and bakery, so we can maximise alternative revenue streams for the pub business.” Wayne Shurvinton, managing director for Greene King Pub Partners, added: “Claude’s record and success speaks for itself and its great to be working with him. It is great to see entrepreneurs from outside the UK like Claude choosing the British pub – and Greene King Pub Partners – to expand their hospitality businesses abroad.” 
 
Fife Arms owners to relaunch The Audley in Mayfair this autumn: Iwan and Manuela Wirth, the Swiss owners of the Fife Arms in Scotland and Somerset’s Roth Bar & Grill, will relaunch The Audley in Mayfair this autumn. Propel revealed in 2020 that the Wirths’ hospitality company, Artfarm, had taken on the lease for the grade II-listed, five-storey building and planned to transform it with the addition of a restaurant and rooms, as well as the restoration of many of its original historic features. Built in 1888, The Audley, which was designed by Thomas Verity, the man who designed the exterior of the pavilion at Lord’s Cricket Ground, will offer its guests three distinct experiences. The Audley Public House, a traditional community pub, will sit at street level, while the first floor will become Mount St Restaurant. The top three floors will then house four separate spaces for private hire. Art will be at the heart of the project, with The Audley acting as a showcase for several important works alongside specially commissioned pieces created by Hauser & Wirth’s roster of global artists. The food will be overseen by British chef Jamie Shears, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay, Chris Galvin, Jason Atherton and was most recently executive chef at Cut London, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant at 45 Park Lane. Artfarm was founded by the Wirths in 2014, opening the Roth Bar & Grill that same year and The Fife Arms in 2018. Other Artfarm properties include Manuela restaurant in Los Angeles and Durslade Farmhouse and Durslade Farm Shop in Somerset.
 
Barworks to open new bar The Starman in London’s West End: London bar group Barworks is to add its estate in the capital, with the opening of a new venue in Heddon Street. The company, which last year sold 13 of its 19 sites to Urban Pubs & Bars, will open The Starman. According to landlord the Crown Estate, it will become the first bar offer to open in the street when it launches later this summer in the former Tank & Paddle site. It will join the likes of Casa do Frango, Sabor, Aussie brunch spot Ziggy Green and Sarap in Heddon Street. As revealed by Propel earlier this year, Casa do Frango, the Portuguese piri-piri chicken concept from hospitality group MJMK, will open its first central London location this summer, totalling 5,000 square foot, when it launches on the former Ice Bar site. Leanne Catterall, customer partnership director for London and regional at The Crown Estate, said: “Heddon Street has quickly become a haven for dining in the heart of the capital, helping to foster some fantastic restaurants – from the Michelin star Sabor, through to up-and-coming pop-ups. Through our consolidated ownership in the West End, we have a unique opportunity that’s enabled us to build on the foodie neighbourhood, and we’re continuing to invest, to incubate emerging new restaurants, and evolve the surroundings to create a perfect spot for alfresco dining.”
 
Fat Hippo secures debut London site: Better burger brand Fat Hippo will make its debut in London later this year, after securing a site in Shoreditch. The company will open what will be its 14th site, at 5-9 Great Eastern Street. Michael Phillips, the company’s managing director, who founded Fat Hippo in Newcastle in 2010, said: “There’s a great burger scene here and we’re thrilled to now be part of it. Our London debut has been a long time coming and we’re delighted our flagship site in the city will be based in the iconic Great Eastern Street.” Last month, Phillips told Propel the company planned to open six sites this year and the same number in 2023, as it gets in a position for an opening every two months. The company has already lined up openings in Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff for this year, with a site in Edinburgh slated for 2023, with several other sites also in negotiations. Phillips said the company had a facility in place to fund its expansion plans, which would target both city centre locations and suburban areas. The company recently secured the former Fillet of Soul site in Birmingham’s Bennetts Hill for an opening later this year. It made its Scottish debut last July with a concession site in the newly launched Lane7 site in Edinburgh’s St James Quarter and has secured a standalone opening in the Scottish capital, in George Street. As previously revealed by Propel, the business is also set to open in St Vincent Street, Glasgow, at the end of spring, and will make its Welsh debut later this year with an opening on the ex-Bub’s Bar and Kitchen site in Cardiff’s Church Street. The company currently operates three concessions sites, but Phillips said the upcoming openings would be standalone restaurants rather than further concessions. Fat Hippo Shoreditch will offer its signature beef and boneless buttermilk chicken burgers. A wide range of vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options will also be available, as well as a kids’ menu. Jake Bernstone, of Stonebrook London, and Oliver Cohen of Belcor, acted on the Shoreditch deal.
 
Moët to open first permanent bar in Europe with Harrods launch: Moët is to open its first permanent bar in Europe, at Harrods in London. The Moët & Chandon Champagne Bar, which will be on the ground floor, will be the largest champagne bar the store has seen. The bar – which will launch on Tuesday, 28 June – will seat 34 people. The drinks list will include all wine that Moët & Chandon offers, ranging from by-the-glass to by-the-magnum. There will be food pairings by the Harrods in-store chefs including seafood dishes and pastries.
 
Sheffield-based brewery to cease trading as pandemic takes toll: Sheffield-based Kelham Island Brewery is set to cease trading after being badly hit by the pandemic. Kelham Island Brewery was built in 1990 in the beer garden of the Fat Cat pub. In a statement, the brewery said: “It is with deep sadness that we are having to announce that we have brewed our final batch of Pale Rider and the brewery will shortly be closing. We would like to thank everybody who supported us over the last 32 years, especially our staff and customers. It is our intention that all creditors will be repaid in full and this includes any customers that have vouchers they do not wish to redeem at the shop.” Begbies Traynor has been appointed to put Kelham Island Brewery into liquidation and is expecting to do so in the next fortnight once the remaining stock has been sold. The firm said Kelham Island Brewery had been badly impacted by covid and sales haven't sufficiently recovered to generate positive cash flow.
 
German boutique hotel group Amano opens debut UK site: German boutique hotel group Amano has opened its first UK hotel. The hotel, based in Russell Street in London’s Covent Garden, features a restaurant, bar and a skybar with views across the capital. Mikey Lucombe, formerly of The Mandrake, is running the bar side of things at the hotel, which includes a basement bar that aims to bring Berlin vibes to London. On the seventh floor is a skybar complete with roof terrace. In the autumn, Israeli chef Ronen Dovrat Bloch will open the hotel's restaurant that will serve a sharing dish menu in a space with DJs playing at the weekend. 
 
Doncaster leisure scheme sells for £9m: A Doncaster cinema and restaurant scheme has been acquired by Clearbell UK Strategic Trust (CST), a trust advised by Clearbell Capital. The trust has bought 39,603 square feet at Doncaster Leisure Park from an institutional investor for £9m, representing a net initial yield of 8%. The site comprises a Vue cinema and two restaurant units let to Nando's and PizzaExpress. With the acquisition, CST said it aims to take advantage of rebounding leisure and hospitality footfall following the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Rob Cole, investment manager at Clearbell Capital, said: "UK property continues to bounce back strongly following the pandemic. Occupier demand for leisure in strategic locations is growing, while yields remain attractive with relatively few leisure opportunities trading.” Clearbell was advised by BGP/Mcgregor Wyn and DTRE while the vendors were represented by Savills and ADS Real Estate.
 
Itsu to replace wild yellowfin tuna with sustainably farmed jumbo sushi prawns: Itsu, the healthy Asian food chain, will replace wild yellowfin tuna with sustainably farmed jumbo sushi prawns. It follows a report by The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) that showed despite having had a stock recovery plan in place for five years, yellowfin tuna is still overfished. Itsu founder Julian Metcalfe said: “We’re constantly striving to do better; better for our customers and better for the planet. We have a duty to stay restless and make more sustainable choices. Moving from overfished yellowfin tuna to sustainably farmed prawns is a significant step in the right direction.” The sea change will see jumbo prawn nigiri served in Itsu’s health and happiness and Itsu classic boxes. The farmed jumbo sushi prawns will replace wild yellowfin tuna in from Wednesday, 18 May.
 
Riding House Cafe team confirms June opening for Bloomsbury site: House Cafe Company, the Adam White-led, London-based business, will open its third site in the capital next month. Riding House Bloomsbury will open on Wednesday, 8 June. It follows Riding House Café, which opened in Fitzrovia in 2011, and Rail House Café, which opened in Victoria in 2017 – before which White launched Garrison and Village East in Bermondsey. Riding House Bloomsbury will see “an evolution” of the team’s contemporary all-day menus, led by chef partner Henry Omereye, and a “members club-like atmosphere” in a “modern brasserie” setting. The breakfast and all-day dining menus will include healthier options and bowls and skewers alongside more “decadent” dishes. Omereye will be joined by head chef Gerald Mirey, who is rejoining the Riding House team having previously held the same role at The Garrison. New dishes exclusive to the site will feature Caribbean, Nigerian and Japanese influences such as Earl Grey cured trout with citrus kosho and sour cream, and flat iron steak with comté yakitori with goma dare. Former The Ned barman Harry Hughes will oversee a drinks offering including new in-house cocktails making their debut at Bloomsbury, such as the Piña Picante, with tequila, pineapple skins, chilli, citrus and agave, and Caribbean Storm, which blends Guatemalan and Jamaican rum with fresh watermelon and ginger beer. The 6,000 square-foot site will be located in The Brunswick Centre, with space for 165 covers indoors and another 60 on the terrace. It will feature an open kitchen, concrete booths and a private dining room for 14. White said: “We had such an enjoyable experience seeing the impact that the Garrison and Village East had on Bermondsey, then Riding House Café on Fitzrovia, that our focus has become solely on opening a restaurant that can make a difference. London has so many restaurants now, it becomes difficult to open one that is actually needed and enjoys a close relationship with its guests. We hope Riding House Bloomsbury fills that gap in Bloomsbury in the same way that Riding House Café did so long ago, with our goal to be a members’ club without membership.”
 
BaxterStorey secures three-year F&B contract with exam body: Contract catering company BaxterStorey has been awarded a three-year contract with AQA Education in Milton Keynes. The partnership will see BaxterStorey incorporate a cafe for both employees and visitors. AQA is an independent body that sets and marks more than half of the GCSE and A-Level exams taken in the UK every year. The contract includes an artisan coffee bar and in-house grab and go service, offering fresh paninis, salads, and sandwiches. The offer will be flexible enough to accommodate seasonal increases in headcount, as AQA peaks with as many as 500 additional exam markers over the summer period. To streamline service during peak times, BaxterStorey will be offering handheld street food selections and fast-tracked boxed hot pots. BaxterStorey regional managing director, Peter Kent, said: “The design of the space centres on creating shared experiences and promoting collaboration, and we’re excited to be bringing our expertise and innovation to the staff and visitors at AQA.”
 
Grounded Kitchen opens seventh site, in Oxford: Midlands-based Korean-inspired restaurant Grounded Kitchen has opened its seventh site, in Oxford. The venue in London Road in Headington has been launched by franchisee Bal Dhillon. The franchise offers dishes including nourish bowls that can be customised and Korean bao. Ralph Llanwarne, Grounded Kitchen franchise director, told the Oxford Mail: “We’re excited about opening our first store in Oxford. We pride ourselves on delivering meals so tasty that people forget that our basic focus is on a healthy balance.” Grounded Kitchen opened its first restaurant in Leicester in 2017 and operates two sites in the city. It also has restaurants in Birmingham, Market Harborough, Loughborough and West Bridgford.
 
Chicken wing restaurant concept submits plans for fifth site, in Southend: Chicken wing restaurant concept Dynamite Wings is set to open its fifth site, in Southend. Dynamite Wings offers chicken wings with a choice of 13 sweet and spicy sauces, according to its website, alongside milkshakes and doughnuts. The concept currently operates sites in Ealing, Enfield, Milton Keynes and Romford and describes itself as the “UK’s newest and most innovative chicken chain”. Now the business has submitted plans to open a site in Southend. Dynamite Wings has applied to the city council to take over the former Doner restaurant at 99 High Street, reports Essex Live.
 
Gloucestershire-based Fat Toni’s Pizzeria to open first sit-down restaurant: Gloucestershire-based Fat Toni’s Pizzeria is set to open its first sit-down restaurant. The company is launching the 108-seater Italian restaurant next to Vue Cinema in Five Valleys Shopping Centre in Stroud – with work beginning on the venue this month. It will serve sourdough pizza, cooked fresh in house, as well as a range of wine. Darren Orsi, co-owner of Fat Toni’s Pizzeria, which already has a takeaway in the Stroud shopping centre, told So Glos: “We want to give our customers a dining experience that matches our food, and to do that we need a contemporary Italian restaurant.” Since joining Five Valleys in 2019, Fat Toni’s – which also has takeaways in Quedgeley, Cheltenham and Bishop’s Cleeve – said its business had gone from strength-to-strength and it had now signed a 15-year-long lease at the centre for the restaurant.
 
The Coffee Cart Company to open third Hereford cafe: Hereford-based The Coffee Cart Company is to open its third cafe in the city. The company is launching the venue on the Rotherwas industrial estate on Thursday (12 May) in the Shell Store premises. Created from a derelict wartime munitions factory, the Herefordshire Council-owned “business incubation and networking centre” opened in summer 2021 following a £7.3m refurbishment. The council described the 130-square-metre cafe as “at the heart of” the building, reports the Hereford Times. The Coffee Cart Company already has cafes in High Town and the Old Market Shopping Centre, as well as providing pop-up coffee bars at events.
 
Manchester-based operator to open Blockbuster video store-inspired bar: Manchester-based operator Stewart Dean is to open a bar inspired by video rental chain Blockbuster. Dean, who owns South African restaurant and bar Chakalaka in Oldham Street, is launching Blockbuster NQ in the same road. The walls of the venue – which opens on Friday, 27 May – will be covered in video cassettes while vintage TVs scattered across the premises will play cult films. The cocktail list will include the PG & T, a gin ‘n’ tonic with a pomegranate twist; the VHS’presso martini and the Alcopop-corn cocktail, a creamy and sweet popcorn-inspired drink. Guests will also be able to try out classic popcorn with modern twists on flavour such as “roast chicken” and “beef burger”. Dean told Secret Manchester: “I wanted to make somewhere special that people get excited by. I was a huge fan of video stores and my favourite bars are those that immerse you in a secret or provide a bit of an escape. I thought what better homage to an iconic part of our history than to create a parody of Blockbuster, one where you can drink, and the only returns here are for another hit of fun and nostalgia.”
 
Edinburgh-based pub operators to open bottle shop: Edinburgh-based pub operators Toby Saltonstall and Roisin Therese are to open a bottle shop in the city. The couple, who own The Dreadnought pub in Leith, have bought The Wee Leith Shop in Leith Walk, which has been shut since the 1990s. They plan to turn it into a takeaway shop that will showcase beer from local breweries. Therese said despite business having been tough over the past two years due to covid, buying the quirky unit was an opportunity that was “too good to pass up”. She told the Edinburgh Evening News: “I can barely believe I actually have keys and have this amazing opportunity to give this one of a kind building a new lease of life. I'm also slightly terrified but bursting with ideas and enthusiasm and looking forward to putting the same level of love and pride into it as we do at The Dreadnought.”

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