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Wed 25th May 2022 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Food and drink sales in Britain’s cities back in growth but footfall ‘some way off’ pre-covid levels: Restaurants, pubs and bars in Britain’s major city centres are achieving solid growth in sales from pre-covid levels, new research from CGA and Wireless Social has showed. The joint “Top Cities” report combines CGA’s sales data with device log-in data from Wi-Fi provider Wireless Social to provide a “vibrancy” ranking of Britain’s ten most populous cities over the four weeks to 7 May 2022. It showed nine of the ten cities recorded higher sales over the four-week period than in the same period in 2019. Bristol tops the list of most vibrant cities, and sales growth was also above 8% in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. In the longer run, Manchester and Liverpool have achieved the highest sales growth since the start of the “Top Cities” research in late 2021. These two cities have picked up where they left off before covid, when CGA research showed hospitality was achieving some of its strongest sales growth and new openings there. However, log-in volumes in all ten cities remain well below 2019 – an indication that sales growth is being driven by higher spend and increased prices rather than by more frequency. The report also showed London’s sales remain short of 2019 levels, though with more commuters and tourists returning, the capital is getting closer to growth. CGA client director Chris Jeffrey said: “We continue to see a release of pent-up demand, especially for late-night dining and drinking, and the steady return of workers to offices has been a welcome boost. However, footfall remains some way off what might be expected at this time of year, and covid issues have been swiftly followed by intense cost pressures on businesses and consumers alike. While the long-term outlook for city-centre hospitality is good, significant challenges lie ahead.” Julian Ross, founder and chief executive of Wireless Social, added: “While it’s great to see sales activity ahead of 2019 in some parts of the country, it is concerning that London has fallen back down these rankings from the growth it experienced last month. The shift to flexible working, with the majority of office workers still spending part of the week at home, has hit the capital hardest.”

Industry News:

St John backs Hospitality Rising, invest today: St John, the restaurant concept from Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, is backing Hospitality Rising, but will you? 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. Gulliver said: “There is not enough that we, as an industry, can do for the next few years that will not be vital to the long term, and robust future of the hospitality industry. To win back all that we have lost and then some more, recent history tells us that we must be the catalyst. To work together both in driving reputations and the delivery of solid and meaningful support from central government, we have much to do. Hospitality Rising is a big, and collective step forward – bravo to those driving it!” 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.

Variety of experiential concepts set to join updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies: A variety of experiential concepts are among the 42 new multi-site companies being added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released on Friday (27 May), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, features Louth-based climbing gym concept Ascend Climbing Gym, which is owned by Darren Thompson, and is opening a second site, in Lincoln. Meanwhile, padel tennis concept Padel4all, which was founded three years ago by Christopher Wilkinson, and currently operates two sites, in Swindon and Southend, will be included. Also featured is Level Up Entertainment, the Middlesbrough-based operator of escape room attraction Project Escape, which has sites in the town’s Dundas Centre and Hexham, and a new 18-hole adventure golf course called Putter Chaos, also in the Dundas Centre. Premium subscribers will also receive a 3,212-word report on the new additions to the database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and 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. It features more than 2,000 companies. Premium subscribers will also receive the next edition of the New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, on Friday, 3 June, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The next edition also includes a 12,000-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated monthly, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Premium subscribers also get exclusive 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 second edition, which was sent on Friday (20 May), features 120 companies, providing insight on the offer, locations, cost and other key details. The second edition provides almost 47,000 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 Mark Wingett.

Just under two fifths of people have cut back on eating out due to cost of living: Just under two fifths (39%) of people say they have cut back on eating out over the past six months due to the rise in the cost of living, according to a new survey by YouGov. A poll of 2,132 adults conducted in May also found that 38% are no longer able to spend as much on takeaways. In terms of alcohol, a quarter of Britons (27%) say they have had to spend less on booze since November, including 7% who have had to cut it out entirely for cost reasons. Aside from the aforementioned 39% of Britons who have had to cut back on eating out, three in ten have also been forced to spend less on day trips (31%) and holidays (30%). This includes 11% who say they’ve had to scrap their holiday plans entirely since November. A further one in five (22%) said they have been forced to curtail spending on trips to the cinema, and 24% now have to spend less on “pursuing their hobbies”. When it comes to staple essential food items, 31% say they’ve been forced to cut back their spending. This is primarily people switching to cheaper alternatives (20%), although 11% say they are spending money on food less frequently now. 

Peel Hunt – Loungers and Marston’s among companies set to prosper as demand shifts to businesses that offer value for money: Peel Hunt leisure analysts Douglas Jack and Ivor Jones have argued with demand shifting to businesses that offer value for money as consumers cut spending, Loungers and Marston’s are among the listed sector companies set to prosper. Of Loungers, they said: “Lounge largely competes against independents, against whom, maintaining a £9-£10 burger price point should help it grow share. Also, its coffee is less expensive than that of the branded chains, and is served in a nicer environment. Adding 25 sites per annum should support margins in a sector where competitors are raising prices.” At Marston’s, Jack and Jones said cost inflation has been offset by circa 8% price increases, but with key entry price points (such as three pints for less than £10) not being broken. They added: “Keeping menus tight (the number of dishes has been cut by 35%) and efficient will be a key method of supporting margins, with food costs rising at 7%. Ten dishes accounted for 80% of food sales before the pandemic.” At Ten Entertainment Group, 65% of customers book online, “which helps labour scheduling”. Jack and Jones said: “Value and better entertainment, games and food are driving footfall. In addition, ongoing opportunities to boost like-for-like sales include digital improvements and investments to the tail of the estate. In comparison, many smaller competitors are underinvested. This was evident in its recent acquisition in Harlow, which Ten Entertainment Group believes could triple in sales under its ownership.” Jack and Jones also said IT stability and marketing have been “transformed” at Domino’s Pizza and new store incentives have been “significantly simplified”. They added: “In the last recession, like-for-like sales were double-digit positive. Growing scale is partially mitigating cost increases, which are passed through to franchisees. For franchisees, the introduction of delivery charges (ranging from 99p to £2.50) has helped to offset this. Papa John’s and Pizza Hut have subsequently followed by adding delivery charges.”
 

Company News:

Knoops aiming for 100 UK restaurants over the next five years and 3,000 worldwide by 2030: Luxury hot chocolate shop Knoops is aiming for 100 UK restaurants over the next five years as it rolls out its rapid expansion plans. Founded in 2013 by Jens Knoop, the company – which offers chocolate drinks ranging from 28% to 100% cocoa in a mix of single origins and blends – has since expanded to seven stores. A new flagship site will open in London’s Covent Garden on Thursday, 2 June, while the immediate pipeline includes sites in Bath, Cambridge and St Albans. The furthest north the company has gone so far is its most recent opening, in Oxford. Chief executive Tori Nunn told Propel: “As we started expanding, it obviously made sense operationally to open in the south, but now we’re scaling up we’ll definitely be moving north. We’re looking all over, and we’re definitely not finished in London, where I would like to open more sites north of the river. We have significant ambitions for the brand and intend to open up to 100 stores in the UK. We’re looking to achieve those numbers within the next five years – we think we should open ten to 15 over the next 12 months at the absolute minimum. We’re still relatively young at seven stores but have a good infrastructure in place to roll out quickly and have grown the central team to meet that growth quickly and scale. No area is to be untouched in the UK and overseas – we believe Knoops has the ability to pass 3,000 stores before 2030.” Although Knoops only had to close its stores for six weeks of the pandemic, one that didn’t survive due to lack of footfall was in Clapham Junction. And while there are no plans to reopen that site, it hasn’t put the company off targeting travel hubs in future. “The location meant it wasn’t the right store for us” said Nunn, who joined the company in 2019. “You can take a lot of learnings, but in the main, it was right by the station, and that lack of commuting made that area change – and we didn’t feel the area was the right fit for our brand. We’re open to everything if we can get the right rental deals as these shops start turning money straight away, so we wouldn’t rule anything out and would definitely look at travel hubs again. We’re not dependent on office workers, but it’s nice to see them back. Oxford has been a real success in testing the student market – we trialled a student discount when we opened in February and found a market.”

EG Group – foodservice represents ‘the biggest opportunity globally’ for business: EG Group, the owner of Leon, has said foodservice “represents the biggest opportunity globally” for the business. It comes as the company reported a strong performance in its foodservice operations in the first quarter, with gross profit increasing 54% year-on-year to $175m and up 20% on a like-for-like basis. The company, which also owns Scarborough-based bakery chain, Cooplands, said the growth in foodservice continues to be supported by the group’s pipeline of openings and investment in EG Group’s existing estate. A total of 26 foodservice outlets were opened in the quarter, bringing the total number of outlets at the group level to more than 1,800. Of the openings, 21 were in the UK and Ireland, including Subway, Greggs, Cinnabon and Sbarro sites. Group Ebitda for the first quarter increased by 2.0% to $270m on a reported basis year-on-year, and 2.1% on a like-for-like basis, primarily driven by continued growth in foodservice, alongside the impact of macro-changes in the wholesale fuel market on EG Group’s fuel operations. Total revenue was up 25.1% to $6,910m. Zuber Issa, co-founder and co-chief executive of EG Group, said: “EG Group performed resiliently in the first three months of the year. Against an uncertain and fast-changing backdrop, the business continued to make good progress against its strategic objectives across the group’s operations. The strong performance in foodservice was supported by UK acquisitions from 2021 that contributed $40m of gross profit across the quarter, while the business continues to benefit from ongoing investment and the rollout of new sites, including our proprietary brands and partnerships with franchise partners. This momentum only serves to underline our belief that foodservice represents the biggest opportunity for EG Group globally. The outlook for the year remains uncertain with household budgets already coming under significant inflationary pressure. However, we remain confident that the geographic diversity of our business and our highly complementary grocery and merchandise, foodservice and fuel operations will continue to underpin our resilience and allow us to outperform the wider market.”

Itsu promotes Agne Kazberaite to COO, to double up in Bristol: Itsu, the healthy Asian food chain, has promoted Agne Kazberaite, who has been with the company for seven years, to chief operating officer, Propel has learned. Kazberaite, who previously spent four and a half years at Harrods, joined Itsu in July 2015 as an operations manager. She also had stints as the brand’s head of operations for regions and London, and for the past three years has been Itsu’s operations director. Kazberaite’s appointment comes as Itsu further adds to its regional openings pipeline after securing a second site in Bristol. The company, which already operates a site in Broadmead in the city, has now secured a unit at the Cribbs Causeway Shopping Centre. The premises comprise of a ground floor unit of circa 2,195 square feet with a mezzanine of 451 square feet. Founder Julian Metcalfe told Propel in March that Hampstead was in the brand’s pipeline of openings, along with sites in Edinburgh, Woking and Bromley, as it commits to circa 25 new openings a year. It also recently opened a franchise site in Chelmsford, with others in Manchester and Aberdeen also in the pipeline.
 
US coffee chain Blank Street secures Shoreditch site: Blank Street Coffee, the fast-growing, New York-based chain which is looking to quickly build a presence in London, has secured a site in Shoreditch, Propel has learned. The company, which earlier this year said it plans to make London its “second-biggest city”, has secured a site at 3 Redchurch Street for an opening later this summer. Earlier this month, Propel revealed that the company had hired Ignacio Llado, formerly of the Singapore-based Flash Coffee, as managing director to oversee its UK expansion. Llado was previously managing director of “tech-enabled coffee chain” Flash Coffee, overseeing its growth from launch to its expansion to circa 250 stores across seven markets in less than two years. The first UK location for Blank is set for Fitzrovia, near University College London. The chain was started in Williamsburg in summer 2020 by Vinay Menda and Issam Freiha and now has 29 sites around New York. The brand plans to have 100 locations in the US city by the end of this year, and also plans to open two-dozen shops in the UK in 2022. Oliver Cohen, of Belcor, acted for the landlord on the Shoreditch deal while Harper Dennis Hobbs represented Blank Street Coffee.

Pickwick Coffee Club begins London expansion: Pickwick Coffee Club, the fledgling, London-based concept, is to open two new sites in the City this summer, Propel has learned. The company, which was founded by Tom O’Mahony and James Nicholls last year, will open its second site next month, on the former EAT unit in Old Broad Street. It will follow this with an opening on the ex-POD site in Lombard Street. The concept, which is “an authentic ‘third wave’ coffee bar where craft and quality meet in every cup”, opened its first site at 110 Fleet Street last summer. The company, which is planning further openings across the capital, said: “The name ‘Pickwick’ is inspired by Charles Dickens’ first novel (The Pickwick Papers), which was set in and around London’s Fleet Street, where our first store opened in the summer of 2021. Everything about Pickwick is rooted in tradition but punctuated by innovation in an effort to underline our credentials as London’s finest coffee house.”

K&Z Holdings takes on first four Pret franchise sites: K&Z Holdings, a family-run, multi-unit franchise business, has taken on its first four Pret A Manger sites as part its franchise agreement with the JAB Holdings-led brand. The Pret sites in Basingstoke, Bournemouth, Guildford and Woking, have now transferred across the K&Z, which is also a KFC franchisee. Last year, Pret said that K&Z had been through a “rigorous interview process to ensure they’re the right cultural and digital fit for Pret”. K&Z Holdings said: “Pret A Manger is iconic, and we are beyond honoured to be a part of the brand. Everyone has truly lived by the core Pret values, and we are eternally grateful for the insight, guidance and support the Pret team have offered us. We are so excited for our long and prosperous journey together! We are surrounded by an exceptional bunch of people – our hardworking and brilliant KFC teams have been pivotal in making K&Z what it is today. And we are delighted to give the warmest welcome to our new Pret teams – you are exceptional, and we feel so very lucky to have you!” Last November, Pret announced that four shops in Oxford would be transferred to another new franchisee in Dallas Holdings. Speaking at the time, Pret chief executive Pano Christou said: “Demand for our freshly prepared food and organic coffee is growing, with some shops busier than they’ve ever been. To meet that demand, we’re establishing new partnerships with franchisees to bring Pret to more people. Our agreements with Dallas Holdings and K&Z Group are a vital part of that ambition and will help kickstart our growth in different parts of the country.”

Edinburgh-based ‘gourmet mash’ concept expands to London for third permanent site: Edinburgh-based “gourmet mash” concept, Makars Gourmet Mash Bar, is set to expand to London for its third permanent site next month. Founder John Stamp, who opened the original Makars at the Mound in Bank Street, Edinburgh, in 2015, has taken an assignment of the lease of the Beso site at 190 Shaftsbury Avenue, Covent Garden. He also operates a second Edinburgh venue and a seasonal site in the Lake District. Specialising in upgraded versions of classic dishes such as bangers and mash, Makars offers nine different types of mashed potato, including crispy smoked bacon and spring onion and Stornoway black pudding. It also has a range of meat options and an extensive plant-based menu, as well as starters such as soup, haggis and scotch eggs. Craft beer, fine wine, whiskies and spirits are available too. The company said: “We have constantly been asked by our guests to open up in London. It is a city we know as Mr Stamp and key staff have lived there for many years. London is the gateway for Asian tourists coming to visit the UK. We want to make sure that Makars London is as (if not more) successful than our Edinburgh venues.” Oliver Serrant, of Stance, acted for Makars and Jonathan Moradoff, of DCL, acted for Beso.

Jamie Robertson appointed group CEO of Roasting Plant Coffee; raises $6m toward US expansion: US coffee shop concept Roasting Plant Coffee has appointed Jamie Robertson as its new group chief executive, as the company looks to expand its presence in London and into Florida, Propel has learned. First developed by US entrepreneur Mike Caswell in 2007, the brand currently operates five sites in London and five in the US. Robertson has been overseeing the brand in the UK, since its launch here in 2019. He will now oversee its continued expansion in London and also its operations in the US, and its push into Florida, off the back of a fundraise, which currently stand at $6m (£4.8m) but could eventually reach $7m. Most of the new funding will be used to launch the brand in Florida, with the business in talks on three sites in the US state. The company has also opened begun opening concessions in new concept sites operated by the circa 160-strong US supermarket chain, Fresh Market. At the same time, the company, which recently opened its fifth site in London, in Mayfair, is in talks on a further two sites in the capital. In August last year, Propel revealed Roasting Plant Coffee had secured £1m of growth capital, including investment from former Marks & Spencer chairman Lord Stuart Rose, to aid its further expansion. 

Digital immersive arts experience to launch in London with F&B offering from Rhubarb, plans global roll out across major cities: Digital immersive arts experience, Frameless, is to open in London this autumn with food experience brand and events caterer Rhubarb appointed to develop the hospitality offering. Covering 30,000 square feet, the attraction will be a multi-genre and multi-artist experience, featuring iconic masterpieces from the likes of Monet, Canaletto, Rembrandt and Klimt. Situated in the newly developed Marble Arch Place in the West End, the experience will be laid out across four differently themed galleries and presented using 4K projection technology. Rhubarb will operate the cafe bar, which will open all day and have a menu that will evolve from breakfast bites through to poké bowls and sandwiches, up until the evening menu of sharing boards and a selection of drinks. Afternoon tea will be art-inspired and have a theatrical element. Frameless is being brought to life by a collaboration of leaders in the technology, arts, architecture and experiential events sectors, including the creative team from FiveCurrents. It holds 15 Olympic credits to its name, including the London 2012 ceremonies. London will be the first Frameless site, with plans to roll out multiple attractions in major cities around the world over the next five years. Richard Relton, chief executive at Frameless, said: “Frameless truly encapsulates art being all around us and it’s exciting to be a part of the ever-evolving, immersive entertainment market that’s growing so rapidly post-pandemic.” PB Jacbose, chief executive of Rhubarb, added: “The cafe bar at Frameless has been designed to be a destination in its own right and will have a menu that is reflective of the immersive environment.”

Foodomnia plans 30 new sites for Burgerism concept: Burgerism, the fast-growing smash burger concept from Foodomnia, plans to open a further 30 sites across the UK over the next three to four years. The company, which is led by co-founder Mark Murphy, believes the total market opportunity for Burgerism, given its “affordable set-up investment level”, could well be over 1,000 units in the UK alone, made up of a blend of delivery kitchens, takeaways (collect and delivery) and a number of flagship bricks-and-mortar locations. The business said that franchise opportunities are being explored alongside multiple company-owned sites. As previously reported by Propel, a funding round to drive growth is set to start in the coming months – and has already reached verbal commitments of over £500,000. Burgerism, which has been nominated by Uber Eats in its prestigious Restaurant of the Year competition, was launched in 2018 in Manchester, when it built the first dark kitchen in the city. Since then, the business has grown to its current three sites – all via company funds – with a fourth due to open later this year. Murphy said “We’re delighted to have been recognised by Uber Eats, particularly given the level of competition we’re up against. We love that our customers have incredibly high expectations of our brand, and I’m especially proud of our team who consistently go above and beyond to serve over 5,000 fans a week from our three sites. This recognition adds further excitement to our mission to be ‘the best off-premise burger in your neighbourhood’, or as someone suggested, to become the Domino’s for burgers. That’s a great target, and while there’s a stack of work to do to get anywhere close to such an iconic brand, we’re certainly up for the challenge!”

Food tech start-up Foodsteps raises $4.1m: Foodsteps, a London-based start-up that has developed a platform to help the food sector reduce its carbon footprint, has raised $4.1m (£3.2m) in a seed funding round led by Octopus Ventures. Foodsteps, which has worked with restaurant brands including PizzaExpress and Wagamama, provides companies with a platform to calculate, label and reduce the environmental footprint of the food industry at every stage of the process. Its database of ingredients contains information on each item’s carbon impact, water use, land use and level of pollution. Client companies upload their own ingredients lists to receive feedback on the environmental impact of food products and advice on how to improve sustainability. Joining Octopus Ventures in the new funding round were Metaplanet, Ascension, and the Conduit EIS Fund. The company said the new funding will go towards hiring as the company looks to double the size of its team over the next 12 months. Foodsteps founder and chief executive Anya Doherty said: “Following calls to reach net zero, the food sector is increasingly putting sustainability at the heart of decision making. But many bigger businesses are still struggling to assess and reduce their environmental impact at scale, which is slowing progress and leading to inaction. We hope our fundraising will accelerate the journey to net-zero, by showing there really is an easy way for companies to slash their emissions and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.”

US burger brand Lucky Buns to host long-term London residency for first opening outside America: Carousel, the restaurant from brothers Ed and Ollie Templeton that hosts rotating chef residencies, has signed up Lucky Burgers for the US brand’s first opening outside of America. Founded in 2016 by Alex McCoy, who is also behind Washington DC-based Thai bar and restaurant Alfie’s and New Orleans style cafe Tchoups Market, Lucky Buns has three restaurants in the American capital and another in Baltimore. On Thursday, 23 June, it will open in the UK for the first time with a long-term residency at Carousel’s No 23 12-seater casual dining space in Charlotte Street. It will be serving up burgers, wings and classic cocktails inspired by the burger cultures from around the world, including the flavours of Australia and south east Asia. The Templeton brothers first met McCoy in 2016 when their former Carousel site in Marylebone – from which they moved in November 2021 – hosted an Alfie’s pop-up. Ed Templeton said: “Alex shares our love of travel, adventure, and spicy food – and he’s a big believer in collaborations. When we were coming up with the concept behind No 23, Lucky Buns was one of the first brands we thought of. Serendipitously, he’d been thinking about a London opening for a while. The planets obviously aligned!” McCoy added: “The Lucky Buns team couldn’t be more stoked to sling double stacks with our buddies at Carousel. It is one of those unique places around the world that truly embrace innovation and artistry within our industry. More than that, they’re just a great group of awesome people who love what they do.”

Wagamama to launch flagship London restaurant next week: Wagamama, The Restaurant Group (TRG)-owned brand, will open its new flagship London restaurant, at Marble Arch, next Monday (30 May). It will have room for 188 internal covers, including a circular bench, and an additional 22 outside. Wagamama regional marketing manager, Sita Dobbs, said: “We’re excited to be opening our newest London flagship restaurant in Marble Arch. This restaurant is a beautiful addition to our growing London estate. Set right beside Hyde Park, we’ll be opening with our most loved Wagamama bowls plus our newest menu, fresh for summer. Our guests will be able to enjoy outside seating at Marble Arch, alongside a new cocktail menu, perfect for those long summer nights by the park.” TRG said in its trading update on Tuesday (24 May) that good progress has been made on Wagamama’s new site expansion plans with at least eight restaurants and three delivery kitchens expected to open in the current financial year. Wagamama operates more than 150 restaurants across the UK.

Loungers confirms Milton Keynes site for Cosy Club, Chester venue to launch next month: Loungers, the cafe bar operator, has confirmed it will open a site in Milton Keynes for its 32-strong Cosy Club brand. Propel revealed in March the Nick Collins-led business had applied to open on the former Jamie’s Italian site in centre:mk. Loungers has now confirmed the restaurant will be based over two floors in the 6,000 square-foot unit in Silbury Arcade and open in the autumn. Before that, it will open its 33rd site, in Chester’s Northgate development, on Tuesday, 28 June. Hux Norman, property and acquisitions manager for Loungers, said: “Every site is carefully selected to maintain exclusivity. Cosy Club is at home in prime city-centre and regionally dominant locations, and centre:mk is a leading force in the south east. We are delighted to add to our ever-growing portfolio of exceptional locations.” Loungers is also believed to be lining up Cosy Club sites in Canterbury and Harrogate. Earlier this month, the company also opened its 165th Lounge, in Uxbridge, west London. The company has further Lounge openings lined up in Newport (Isle of Wight), Egham, Wembley and Fleet, and recently secured a third site in Plymouth.

Highland Coast Hotels acquires historic north coast hotel for sixth site: Highland Coast Hotels has acquired the historic Tongue Hotel, in the northern coast town of Tongue, has been bought by Highland Coast Hotels for its sixth site. Built in the mid-1800s, when it was owned by the Duke of Sutherland, the 19-bedroom hotel is an ex-sporting lodge which was formerly owned by David and Lorraine Hook. The acquisition comes hot on the heels of Highland Coast Hotels’ purchase of the Plockton Inn in Lochalsh, which had been in the ownership of the same family for 25 years, last month. Highland Coast Hotels also owns the Kylesku Hotel and the Newton Lodge in Unapool, the Royal Golf Hotel in Dornoch, and the Royal Marine Hotel in Brora. It said: “The group now has hotels located from east to west, and north to south, in the North Highlands, providing high-quality hospitality right around the region. Having acquired Tongue hotel, HCH has the NC500 route well covered, and the company’s focus will now turn to further raising the quality and range of experiences which its guests can enjoy.” Highland Coast Hotels is owned by a group of shareholder-directors and private equity company Kings Park Capital. There are plans for a full refurbishment of all public areas in the Tongue Hotel, including the Brass Tap Bar. Highland Coast Hotels chairman, David Whiteford said: “We are delighted to be acquiring The Tongue Hotel and building on the work of previous custodians of such an historic and unique hotel. We are grateful for the continued support of the Scottish National Investment Bank which helped make the acquisition possible.”

Essex hotel and spa returns to profit and ‘trading exceptionally’, with demand strong since reopening: Thorpe Hall Leisure, which operates the Lifehouse Hotel & Spa in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, has said trading is “exceptional” at the venue, with demand strong since reopening post-lockdown in May 2021. The company reported turnover of £5.1m for the year ending 30 December 2021 (2020: £3.5m), making a pre-tax profit of £121,000 (2020: £805,000 loss). It also received £603,000 is government support (2020: £844,000). On reopening in May 2021, the last seven months of the year were “extremely busy”, and after deciding to keep 29 of its 89 rooms closed to “ensure guests never felt crowded”, the venue achieved an occupancy rate of 68% (compared with 71% over the same seven months in 2019). The company said: “Trading across 2021 since 17 May was exceptional and well ahead of expectations, and this had continued into the first few months of 2022. The directors believe the company will continue to grow and remain profitable at an operational level across 2022.” It has seen “strong demand” for rooms and treatments, and “very high levels” of diners in the restaurant. Noting that “it is clear the demand for domestic vacations will continue”, the company added the Lifehouse “is in a very good position to take advantage of the changes to the travel and tourist economy”. The company also identified the cost-of-living crisis as a “key risk”, which will “undoubtedly influence levels of discretionary spend available within household budgets” and added it will monitor room rates at competitor hotels “to gain an early indication of weakness in the rates being charged”.

Burhill Group confirms July opening for Swansea Ninja Warrior UK site, eyes further openings: Burhill Group (BGL), owner and operator of 22 golf courses across ten UK golf clubs as well as 14 Adventure Leisure facilities, has confirmed a July opening for its fourth Ninja Warrior UK site, in Swansea. Propel reported in February that BGL was seeking approval to change the use of a 20,000 square-foot vacant retail unit in Parc Tawe. BGL, which launched a third Ninja Warrior site in February, in Milton Keynes, already operates a Bunkers! adventure golf site in Swansea, and there are further plans to develop additional new sites in Wales. Sophie Burke, BGL’s group head of marketing, said: “Ninja Warrior UK is one of the most popular physical prime-time TV game shows ever, and with season six coming back to our screens this summer, we’re thrilled to also be launching our next Ninja Warrior UK adventure park. Swansea holds a special place for us with our Bunkers! site successfully operating there, so we are thrilled to open another venue in Swansea, and indeed Wales.” Andrew Scholey, operations and development director of Ninja Leisure and Adventure Leisure, added: “We look forward to continuing our aggressive growth plans with many more Ninja Warrior UK and leisure venues in the UK in the coming years.”

Hillbrooke Hotels adds Somerset property to portfolio for fifth site: Hillbrooke Hotels has added a fifth property to its portfolio with the acquisition of Holbrook Manor & Spa in Somerset. The property, near Bruton, has 20 bedrooms, a health club, and 15 acres of grounds. More than 80 weddings are booked for the remainder of 2022, and the Hillbrooke team plans to refurbish the property in early 2023, launching it as a full-service hotel with additional secluded cabins. Hillbrooke already operates four boutique hotels based in Lincolnshire and the New Forest, with the latest addition serving to broaden its geographical roots as well as its offering. Managing director Paul Brown said: “After a busy year refurbishing our existing hotels, it’s great to see the business broadening its horizons. Holbrook Manor & Spa is a perfect fit for our approach to hospitality.” The Holbrook Manor & Spa team will remain with the business following the deal.

Norfolk-based brewery launches £1m fundraise to expand production and open immersive taproom: Norfolk-based Duration Brewing is looking to raise up to £1m to expand production and open an immersive taproom. The business, started three years ago, is embarking on the fundraise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube following a 280% increase in sales. The site in West Acre, King’s Lynn, has already been converted from a barn into a state-of-the-art brewery. Soon it will also house a taproom that gives visitors a view of the brewhouse on one side, and the ruins of a tenth century priory on the other. Planning permission is already granted, and the construction of the taproom will realise the founders’ vision of a destination farmhouse brewery that celebrates the relationship between brewing and agriculture. “When we started Duration, we wanted to build something unique and enchanting,” said co-founder and managing director Miranda Hudson, who owns the business with partner Derek Bates. “That meant a world-class brewery with a true connection to its landscape; a place to come and enjoy a farm-to-glass beer as part of your own Norfolk adventure.” The minimum amount needed is £350,000, which will fund the taproom, improve the water treatment plant and continue the brewery’s annual cellar expansion that will see Duration reach an annual capacity up to 5,000 hectolitres by 2025. Reaching a stretch goal of £1m will mean the brewery can also add a laboratory, a new event and workspace, a fourth brewing vessel, upgrade its canning line and enhance its sustainability drive with a rainwater recapture system and a fruit orchard. Duration is offering 15.21% equity in return for the investment.

C&C Group launches complimentary e-learning wine course for on-trade UK customers: C&C Group has launched a complimentary e-learning wine course for its on-trade customers in the UK. Called First Sip, the “fun and interactive” course takes around 20 minutes to complete and is designed for those with little or no wine knowledge. It includes topics such as where wine is made, how to describe wine to guests and how to serve it – supporting C&C’s vision to make wine training more accessible. Julia Bailey, head of wine training at Bibendum, said: “Bibendum pioneered wine training, and this is the first online course we’ve been able to offer as a complimentary e-learning and make accessible to all C&C Group customers. Like most traditional e-learning, it doesn’t take hours to complete and focuses on the essentials of what you absolutely should know to work front of house with wine. We want to be able to offer as much support to our customers as we can, and right now, what we’re hearing is that training on the fundamentals of wine and wine service is what’s needed.”

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