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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 1st Jul 2022 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Almost half of businesses considering insolvency as they struggle with unaffordable rent and increased costs: Almost half (46%) of businesses are considering insolvency as they struggle to trade profitably post-covid with unaffordable rent and increased costs, according to new research. The survey by Cedar Dean of 200 UK businesses, ranging from independent traders to large corporations, representing more than 10,000 locations, found that, as of June, a quarter of independent operators still have covid rent arrears and are considering arbitration. Almost 80% of tenants asked had to increase their debt, taking out additional loans against their businesses, during the pandemic. Only half of UK commercial tenants received a rent concession (reduction or free period) from their landlord during covid lockdowns, and 54% claimed their current commercial rent is simply unaffordable. As the moratorium has ended, almost a quarter of businesses are now considering the arbitration route, as landlords are becoming more pro-active about recouping money lost due to missed payments during the pandemic. Essex operator Jason Khan, who runs Rollerworld in Colchester, has had a break clause served on his lease with one years’ notice to leave. Khan said his landlord told him he will have to pay double the current rent and sacrifice a portion of the car park if he wants to stay. “It is absolutely abhorrent that commercial landlords are able to circumvent the law as it was intended just for personal gains,” Khan said. “We are very viable as is, but nobody can survive this greed.” Martin Whelan the owner of Whelan’s Pubs, which operates eight pubs in London, added: “Everyone is feeling the pinch, and this is having a knock-on effect. If the punter doesn’t have the pound, they can’t spend it. To keep going, we need to bargain for a 30% of profits being wiped out.” Cedar Dean chief executive David Abramson said: “Businesses now face more uncertainty as the threat of recession lingers. The cost of living is on the rise, staffing shortages and increased business rates are causing an additional stress – not to mention the increase in materials like fish, oil, fuel, etc. UK businesses need additional support to stay solvent – they need fairer rents and flexible landlords who are willing to support their tenants with sustainable leases, and who understand the amount of pressure tenants are now facing – 45% of businesses are currently considering insolvency/liquidation, and we haven’t even seen the worst of the recession yet. What will that figure be in six months? Now is the time to take action, it really is the quick or the dead.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – GigRealm shows live music is on the rise: Hospitality live music company GigRealm has recorded a 385% increase in the number of events taking place since the start of the year. It said this uptake has largely come from operators looking to diversify and focus on more experience-led offerings to entice customers through their doors – a move that mirrors consumer demand, with more customers looking for experiences that cannot be replicated at home. Tom Brady, co-founder of GigRealm, said: “74% of customers have reported going drinking just to see live music, which provides operators with a real point of difference and a way to both retain and attract new customers.” Emma McClarkin OBE, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association and GigRealm board member, added: “It’s vital hospitality venues are able to drive footfall and get people through their doors. GigRealm makes it easy for venues to book their own live music with zero hassle, helping the sector to flourish.” To help operators take advantage of this offering and bounce back this summer, GigRealm is offering 12-month free trials. To request more information, click here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email

Updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies released today at midday, 50 business being added: A total of 50 new multi-site companies, operating 323 sites, have been added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released today (Friday, 1 July), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, includes growing experiential concepts, regional restaurant and pub operators and expanding hotel brands. Premium subscribers will also receive a 4,500-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, 8 July, 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 19,000-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 have also been given 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 featured 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 to upgrade your subscription. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett. In this week’s Propel Premium, Sarah Weir, founder and managing director of Albion & East, the Imbiba-backed, London-based bar business, talks about creating a great drinks-focused business; David Roberts, head of leisure at CMS Mckenna UK, discusses how business can bridge the valuation delta; while Mark Wingett looks at this week’s people moves and the furore at Comptoir Group.

Panel on future of food delivery to be held at Propel Multi-Club Conference and summer party, two free places each for operators: A panel on the future of delivery will be held at the Propel Multi-Club Conference and summer party, which takes place on Wednesday, 31 August, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Oxford Belfry, and is open for bookings. The all-day conference will focus on “prospering in a post-pandemic world” and will be followed in the evening by the summer party with a barbecue, live band and more. Fleet Street managing director Mark Stretton will host the panel, which will feature Just Eat’s head of strategic accounts Kirsten Bohlke; Rosa’s Thai chief executive Gavin Adair; Fireaway Pizza founder Mario Aleppo; and Nathan Wall, chief operating officer at Tiny Cloud Kitchens. Operators can claim up to two free places each by emailing A room can also be booked for the evening for £120.

Farrell – sector needs its own government minister, VAT rises will force people to cut corners with food quality: GSG Hospitality founder Matt Farrell has added his voice to calls for a government minister dedicated to the hospitality sector. Farrell told Propel a government that ushered through a return to a VAT rate of 20% for hospitality doesn’t truly understand the sector or what it does for the country’s economic well-being. He also said it will force businesses to cut corners food-wise, which goes against every government initiative to combat obesity and encourage healthier eating. “There’s going to be a lot of changes in the industry,” he said. “Since we changed VAT back to 20%, it’s brought a lot of problems for places already struggling, and I think the fact they put it up from a level which was almost unsustainable before covid is going to cause a lot of issues. I don’t agree with it because if you look at France or Germany, they all have hospitality rates which make sure independent and creative businesses have the opportunity to survive. Here, it feels the government’s approach favours larger and corporate brands. The other point is, if you want to promote a culture of healthy eating in this country, especially for the younger generation, you need to make it accessible. Some people have put prices up, some may cut corners and buy in lower quality products just so they can survive. This is not something I or many others agree with, but sometimes these businesses feel they have no choice as they have to keep a roof over their heads. I think the rise in VAT is a real mistake, but nobody seems to listen. UKHospitality does a lot of good work pushing that forward, but having a dedicated minister to help bridge that gap – I think that would be massive, because I don’t think the government has a grip on the reality of what it could be.” Farrell – whose group operates the Bold Street Coffee, Slims, Salt Dog Slims, 81, El Bandito, Duke Street Food & Drink Market, Santa Chupitos and Peppercat Sports concepts in the north west, added: “You look at hospitality and what it brings into the country as a whole, it’s huge, and it needs to be looked into. We’re already seeing the high street struggle, and nobody wants to see restaurants constantly opening and shutting, you need some sort of stability. If you want to promote this culture of healthy eating and people having access to quality produce, you need to listen. If they’d kept VAT where it was or even lowered it to 7.5%, I think it would be a thriving industry. People are just too worried about going into bricks and mortar sites because of the overheads. That, for me, is a massive problem that needs addressing for the future of hospitality and the industry as a whole.”

Blackwell – strength of experiential concept offerings grows footfall without price increases: Experiential leisure concepts are thriving as the strength of the offering allows footfall to grow without passing costs on to the customer. That is the belief of Graham Blackwell, chief executive of Ten Entertainment Group, which operates 47 ten-pin bowling centres across the UK. Writing exclusively in Propel’s Friday Opinion, Blackwell said in some parts of the experiential leisure market – particularly tenpin bowling – revenues have recovered to well above 2019 levels. His own company has seen like-for-like sales growth of over 30% since 17 May 2021, which Blackwell says is driven by footfall and not price hikes. “Instead of businesses trying to recoup covid losses by increasing prices, the key to maintaining and growing the customer base is to work at keeping your product affordable,” he said. “Since we reopened, the average customer spend per visit is broadly the same, but we didn’t raise the price of an evening of entertainment with us. Like everybody else, inflation is impacting all areas of the business, but the key is to have a clear focus on how to deal with it. It isn’t always the answer to make your customer pay more and get less.” He added: “During the hard times, we worked at the model, fine tuning it to be able to react to cost pressures without passing everything on to the customer. This enabled us to prosper before covid and take advantage of the ever-strengthening trend of competitive socialising and experiential leisure. It is working again now in the post-covid world as we focus on giving our customers great value for money experiences. We trust that the strength of the proposition is enough for the increased footfall to do the work in offsetting the cost pressures.” Blackwell will share more of his thoughts in this week’s Friday Opinion, which will be published today (Friday, 1 July) at 11am.

Almost half of hospitality businesses ‘expect to hike prices’ as energy costs surge: Almost half of businesses in the hospitality and food sectors look set to hike prices in July due to higher energy costs and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed a raft of industries have been impacted by factors including rising energy, labour and raw material costs, which are set to affect the price of goods they offer and turnover rates. Three in ten businesses said they expect to raise prices, with 42% citing energy prices as the main reason. Hospitality and food businesses look set to face the biggest impact, with almost half (46%) in these sectors expected to increase prices in July. A quarter of businesses in these sectors also predict that their turnover will decrease in the same month. The figures also mentioned that in May, 21.8% of businesses in the hospitality sector reported a decrease.

BBPA calls for permanent tax relief to encourage investment: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has called on the government should introduce a permanent tax relief to encourage more investment by businesses. Responding to Downing Street’s consultation on capital allowances, which closes today (Friday, 1 July), the BBPA supported calls by other leading trade bodies to introduce a permanent 100% deduction for investment in capital allowance. It follows data released earlier this week by the BBPA revealing only 28% of hospitality businesses are currently considering any sort of investment due to the challenging economic climate. The tax relief would replace the current super deduction and introduce a system of full expensing, allowing businesses to immediately deduct qualifying investments from their taxes rather than spreading the deduction over time. In addition, the BBPA said any adjustment to capital allowance tax should sit alongside a review to planning processes, with long application and approval processes currently acting as a major blocker to pub companies investing in their estates. Emma McClarkin, BBPA chief executive, said: “Our pubs and breweries need to feel confident to spend their money, especially after the past two years, and a permanent deduction would go some way to providing assurance and allow them to make investments to upgrade their venues, take on new properties and ultimately grow their businesses.”

Generation Z ‘driving sector recovery’: New data from guest experience platform SevenRooms claims hospitality’s recovery is being driven by Generation Z guests. Using a sample of more than 2,000 people aged 16 and over, SevenRooms found the weekly spend for 16-24-year-olds in restaurants, pubs and bars is 68% more than the average consumer – spending an average of £68 a week (the average being £40.38). Experiential sites have proved popular with the age group, with 71% having visited a themed restaurant or bar concept compared with 25% of over-45s. The research also found that one in eight people are cutting back on new clothes and takeaways in favour of restaurant visits, and one in nine are sacrificing holidays to do the same, but one in seven would rather stay at home unless a restaurant experience is outstanding. Danilo Mangano, managing director international at SevenRooms, said: “Visits to restaurants and bars are still a priority for UK consumers, and those willing to go the extra mile are sure to capitalise on appetites for special and memorable experiences.”

Company News:

Papa John’s UK appoints new managing director: Papa John’s UK has appointed Rob Payne as its new managing director, Propel has learned. Payne has joined the business from The Haulfryn Group, a family-owned UK park owner and operator of high-quality, luxury holiday and residential park homes, where he was group commercial director. Prior to his arrival, Gavin Lilley had been looking after UK operations following the departure of James Oakley as general manager of the UK and Ireland. A Papa John’s spokeswoman told Propel: “Rob has extensive knowledge and understanding of the franchise sector and of consumers, having served as chief executive of Best Western Hotels GB for three years. Rob also has broader experience in leisure, hospitality, and e-commerce, among other related sectors.” Papa John’s has more than 500 UK sites.

Black Sheep Coffee secures first US sites: Speciality coffee shop operator Black Sheep Coffee has secured its first sites in the US, Propel has learned. Propel revealed in April that Black Sheep plans to open 15 sites in the US in its initial launch phase in the country and had selected Texas as its entry point. Black Sheep has now secured two sites in Austin and two in Dallas, with the first outlet expected to open at the end of October or start of November. Last October, Propel revealed Black Sheep, which operates more than 50 sites in the UK, had received funding from basketball player Kristaps Porzingi, who plays in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks, as it plotted a move into North America.

Sessions Market secures Islington site: Sessions Market, the food hall concept backed by Imbiba and led by former Deliveroo managing director Dan Warne, has secured the former Rodizio Rico site in Upper Street, Islington, Propel has learned. The company, which operates a successful chef-led food hall on Brighton’s seafront, earlier this year raised $10m (£7.4m) to fuel its expansion plans – with an aim of partnering with 15 more chefs and opening 500 more kitchens within the next 12 months. Warne told Propel: “It’s a really difficult time for the hospitality industry right now, with food founders struggling as a result of financial barriers and the ongoing challenges from the pandemic. The landscape for the food industry has fundamentally changed, and is not keeping up with what people want, so at Sessions we’re establishing the architecture for food businesses of the future, that aligns with the wants and needs of the present-day consumer. Our vision is to make next-gen chefs and their creations more accessible. The model we’ve developed is moving the dial on what the future of restaurants looks like, to get the industry back on its feet and encourage sustainability. We are in a period of growth at Sessions and will have more announcements coming in the following months, which we hope will shake up the hospitality industry.” Warne set up Sessions in 2019 with former Soho House chief financial officer Ian Banks, opening its Brighton venue later that year. The business works with more than 13 brands and over 50 kitchens nationwide, where customers can order from the businesses it has partnered with. Following its $10m fundraise, Sessions appointed former BrewDog director James Anderson as commercial director to lead its host kitchen roll-out.

Blackrose begins acquisition programme with Newcastle pub deal: Blackrose, the circa 40-strong pub company backed by real estate investment company Aprirose, has acquired a new site in Newcastle, Propel has learned. The Lochside, located in the district of Benton, will stay closed for six weeks to complete a full refurbishment. Once reopen, the pub will offer food and live sport as well as introducing pop-up street food vendors and live entertainment. Blackrose managing director Daren Knipe said “The Lochside joining Blackrose is a great step forward for the business and the beginning of the pipeline for our acquisition programme. This is the first of many acquisitions for Blackrose, and we are excited to invest in the local community as well as the hospitality sector after a difficult two years. This pub has always been a target for us, and it’s well overdue an investment that will be a welcome addition to all in the local community again.” Blackrose has continued to invest in its existing estate into 2022, carrying out five capex developments. The Lochside became its sixth this year, with further plans to deliver a further six throughout the year.

Real Eating Company promotes Gillan to MD: Real Eating Company, the independent cafe and coffee concept led by Helena Hudson, has promoted Brian Gillan to managing director, Propel has learned. Gillan, formerly of Wagamama, Honest Burgers and Nando’s, joined the nine-strong Real Eating Company as operations director earlier this year. Hudson told Propel: “We’ve tripled in size over the last two years, and the business needs more than just me now to drive it forward, particularly as we see real potential for growth. Brian is an extremely experienced operator. He’s already made a huge positive impact on our people and our operations. These areas will be Brian’s focus, with me, as founder, continuing to look after growth, new sites, finance and brand.”

Mercato Metropolitano appoints former Time Out CEO as non-executive chairman: Community food market Mercato Metropolitano has appointed former Time Out Group chief executive Julio Bruno as non-executive chairman. Bruno has a wealth of global experience in the hospitality, media, travel, digital and e-commerce sectors, which Mercato Metropolitano said were “very relevant” for the international expansion of the brand. Bruno has led multinational companies such as Time Out Group, where, as chief executive, he marshalled its initial public offering in 2016. During his tenure, he led the international expansion of the Time Out Market food halls to many cities, ranging from New York to Dubai, before leaving the business last year. Prior to that, he held executive positions at TripAdvisor, Travelport, Regus, Energizer and Diageo. Mercato Metropolitano operates five sites in London and is soon adding to these with openings in Ilford and at the Elephant Park development. The company is also working on a number of international locations including Milan, Berlin, Lisbon and Paris, as well as sites in the US and Japan. Andrea Rasca, founder of Mercato Metropolitano said: “Julio has unique knowledge and experience of the hospitality and entertainment sectors, and a proven track record internationally with great companies. Few people understand this space the way he does, having opened many successful food halls internationally, as well as managing global companies with strong brands. I am delighted to welcome Julio as our chairman and investor at a time where we are expanding our offering both in London and internationally, where his expertise and strategic vision will help us grow and become the global benchmark.” Bruno added: “This concept has significant potential around the world, and I look forward to building on the already great work done by Andrea and the team.”

Sustainability-focused restaurant group passes £250,000 crowdfunding target: Canteen Collective, a four-strong restaurant group heavily focused on sustainability, has passed its £250,000 crowdfunding target with over a week left. Canteen Collective, founded in 2019 by former British Army operational commander Tom Grant, launched the campaign last week to fund the opening of a fifth site and explore sustainable event catering. It has now raised just over the target amount, from 75 investors, offered 7.81% equity, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £2.95m. Almost £200,000 was raised pre-launch, and the company has indicated around half of that could be spent while the pitch is live. The company, which operates three London sites – in Ealing, Putney and Notting Hill – and one in Sevenoaks, Kent – reported £1.5m in revenue for the year ending March 2022 (Ebitda -£199,000). This represents 60% compound annual growth rate since 2020, despite the effects of lockdowns.

Greene King appoints franchise operations director: Brewer and retailer Greene King has promoted Penny Baldwin to the new position of franchise operations director. Baldwin will begin her new role on Monday, 15 August, where she will be responsible for the continued rollout of Greene King Pub Partners’ Hive Pubs franchise brand. A Greene King employee since 2010, Baldwin has held the position of head of commercial for Greene King’s Metropolitan Pub Company for the past two years. Prior to this, she held various roles in the Metropolitan Pub Company and Loch Fyne Restaurants for Greene King, including head of marketing and head of commercial and operations manager. To date, Greene King has opened 12 Hive Pub franchise sites, with considerably more set in the pipeline for the rest of 2022. The Hive Pub franchise agreement gives licensees a ready to trade pub for just £5,000 ingoing cost, with a minimum guaranteed income of £20,000 plus additional income based on performance such as share of turnover. Wayne Shurvinton, managing director for Greene King Pub Partners, said: “Developing our pub franchise model, including Hive Pubs, is a major strategic priority for us, and I am excited to see the brand’s continued growth under Penny’s leadership.” Baldwin added: “Hive Pubs is only in its infancy, and I cannot wait to get started delivering its continued expansion as we head into the second half of 2022 and beyond.”

First Restaurant Group set to continue expansion of Pub & Rooms portfolio with Hampstead opening: London-based First Restaurant Group (FGR), a growing collection of pubs with boutique rooms and restaurants, is set to continue the expansion of its Pubs & Rooms portfolio with an opening in Hampstead. The group has taken on the former Rosslyn Arms at 48 Rosslyn Hill, near Hampstead Heath, and will reopen it as the Oak & Poppy in August. The new venue will sit alongside The Hayden in Notting Hill, The Grafton Arms in Fitzrovia and The One Tun in Farringdon in the group’s Pubs & Rooms estate. FRG also operates canal-side restaurants The Waterway and The Summerhouse in Maida Vale. The site was most recently occupied by Cafe Hampstead, which closed in 2019, but FRG owner Mitch Tillman, who used to drink there when it was a pub, is excited to bring it back to its former glory. “We are thrilled to be opening our next venture in Hampstead, an area we feel would benefit enormously from an excellent all-day offering for locals, for any occasion,” he said. “The new site will continue First Restaurant Group’s commitment to offering high-quality dishes where there is something for everyone, delivered with excellent service in an inviting setting in which all are welcome.” Dishes on the all-day menu will include soy and lime glazed salmon with egg noodles, and pak choy with shiitake mushrooms and sesame seeds, alongside “creative” cocktails and a select wine list. 

The Little Door & Co opens Soho site: Kam Dehdashti and Jamie Hazeel, who operate The Little Doorhouse party-style bar and restaurant concepts, have opened their fourth site, in Soho. The Little Scarlet Door – complete with kitchen, lounge, shower, laundry room and lounge spaces – has opened on Greek Street, offering “kitchen discos, late night cocktails and the ultimate flat party”. Set across two floors in the newly redeveloped Ilona Rose House, Scarlet follows in the footsteps of The Little Yellow Door in Notting Hill, The Little Blue Door in Fulham and The Little Orange Door in Clapham. There will be an alfresco terrace and a “secret vault” for up to 15 guests, inspired by Andy Warhol’s factory in New York, while resident DJs will be play from Wednesdays to Saturdays. A range of cocktails will be on offer alongside snacks like toasties and the house special popcorn – baked feta with truffle honey. As well as the vault, the whole lower ground floor is also available for hire for up to 130 guests.

Cardiff ramen concept confirms August opening for first permanent site: Cardiff ramen concept Matsudai Ramen has confirmed an early August opening for its first permanent site. Founder James Chant will throw open the doors to the 70-cover Matsudai Ramen at the Bank on Saturday, 6 August, following a five-month refurbishment of the former NatWest bank site in Grangetown. Since starting out in late 2019, Matsudai Ramen’s pop-up events have taken over kitchens in London, Manchester and Bristol, while during the pandemic, it branched out into DIY ramen kits, which will remain a core part of its offering. Available ramen styles will change with the seasons, and side dishes will include Chant’s signature karaage (a Japanese method of deep frying) chicken and mushrooms. He said: “It’s mind-boggling to me that we’re about to open a restaurant – Wales’ first ramen shop – and in my home town of Cardiff, no less. The feedback from the local community in Grangetown has been overwhelmingly warm – we feel truly welcomed. I’m very proud of what we’ve done to the space over the last few months and can’t wait to get it open now.”

Scottish independent brand confirms summer opening for first site outside Ayrshire: Kitchen 77, the Scottish independent brand owned by Chris Steele, has confirmed its first site outside Ayrshire will open this summer. Stailinn Scottish Kitchen is the latest venture from the team behind Ayrshire venues Drunken Coo Steakhouse, Hollybush Inn, Arthur Street Kitchen and Stage Door Cafe. As reported by Propel in November, it has secured a site in Glasgow’s Silverburn shopping centre. The team posted on its Facebook page: “When you dream of opening a new restaurant, that dream has to be opening in the busiest shopping mall in Scotland, and one of the busiest in the UK. We are delighted to announce Stailinn Scottish Kitchen. Coming to Silverburn later this summer.” The restaurant will have a balcony bar and a seated area and will also offer delivery through Just Eat.

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