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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 12th Sep 2022 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Murdoch – the digital transformation is allowing us to get back on to the high street and establish new markets: Alasdair Murdoch, chief executive of Burger King UK, has said embracing digital has allowed the brand to “get back on to the high street and establish new markets”. Research conducted before the pandemic showed Burger King that it had almost 100% brand awareness in the UK, but also delivered the “sobering news” that it had become “irrelevant” in many consumers’ eyes. Identifying that it needed to reach more people through opening more locations and offering better delivery options, it started the process, in 2019, of “connecting a very fragmented group of old digital platforms into one ecosystem”, which allowed the company to “start understanding customer needs and beginning to get hold of them in a different way”. Not only did this fortunate timing allow Burger King to thrive during covid – it was the first major QSR to reopen its restaurants – but has allowed it to since start a new programme of growth. “Burger King is very under-penetrated in many cities, particularly in London, and we couldn’t get at those consumers in any way, and the way we did get to them really was through delivery,” Murdoch told the recent Propel Multi-Club Conference. “It drove new customers to us. We were slightly being driven towards older white males, but we’re now appealing to more women and younger people. We wanted to move the brand back towards being a more youthful and vibrant brand. We were seen as a tired, old, irrelevant brand, but we’ve remodelled a lot and improved that kind of perception, which will also allow us to unlock a load of growth. I said about opening 50 sites a year, which we are, but we think there’s a lot more opportunity out there, with clear headroom for site growth. What we’re doing from a digital point of view – we’re able to go into towns now where we wouldn’t have gone before because they were all over-rented and we had slightly big and old legacy restaurants.” Murdoch gave Exeter as a good example of a place where Burger King was paying very large rent and couldn’t afford to remodel, saying: “We don’t want those kinds of restaurants any more at that level of rent, but there’s a big opportunity to increase our presence on the high street.” Examples of the direction the company is heading in include recent openings in Norwich, where a 1,000 square-foot restaurant is trading “really well”, and Milton Keynes, where a closed restaurant bought back off a franchisee and remodelled is trading “two or three times better”. Murdoch said: “The digital transformation is really allowing us to get back onto the high street and establish new markets. The small restaurant in Norwich – we can get those economics to work for us really well and it gives us another angle to grow. It will allow us, with time, now we’re getting that penetration, to go back and fill up central London. Milton Keynes, due to reinvesting and due to our abilities from a digital sales point of view, is doing so much better – we’re going back to a lot of restaurants now and putting kiosks in where there aren’t kiosks, and we’re building a lot of drive-thrus.” See Company News to read about Burger King investing $400m in revitalising its US business. 

Industry News:

Big Fang Collective founders to speak at final Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2022, three free places per company for operators: Big Fang Collective founders Kip Piper and Daniel Bolger will be among the speakers at the final Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2022, which takes place on Thursday, 10 November, at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London, and is open for bookings. The all-day conference will focus on “new ways of working”. Piper and Bolger talk about taking their Golf Fang brand national, and how they continue to make sure the Imbiba-backed business remains cutting edge. Operators can book up to three free places per company by emailing

Only a third of companies in next edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book have profit margin of more than 5%: Only a third of the 619 companies in the next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book have a profit margin of more than 5%. Premium subscribers will receive the latest edition of the Blue Book on Friday (16 September), at midday. Another 22 companies have been added, while accounts have been updated for 42 businesses. The Blue Book shows the effects of the pandemic, with total losses of £5.4bn being reported by 326 companies. However, a further 293 sector companies are still reporting total profits of £1.5bn. The 619 UK pub, restaurant, cafe and hotel operators featured have a collective turnover of £31.3bn. 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 Multi-Site Operators Database, produced in association with Virgate, and the New Openings Database, which are also updated each month. Premium subscribers also have access to the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which will be updated every two months. 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 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; plus regular video content and exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett.

Uber Eats partnering with autonomous vehicle company Nuro for deliveries in the US: Uber Eats has announced a multi-year partnership to use Nuro’s autonomous, electric vehicles for food deliveries in the US. Consumers will be able to order meals and goods delivered by Nuro’s zero-occupant autonomous delivery vehicles, which run on public roads and are built specifically to carry food and other goods. The partnership will kick off this autumn with deliveries in Houston, Texas and Mountain View, California. Uber and Nuro said they plan to expand the service to the greater Bay Area later this year. Noah Zych, global head of Autonomous Mobility and Delivery at Uber, said: “Nuro and Uber share a vision in which technology can make everyday life just a little bit easier. Nuro’s distinctive autonomous vehicles are a great match for the Uber platform, and this partnership will bring a compelling combination of innovation alongside the convenience, affordability and reliability our customers and merchants have come to expect.” The announcement comes over a year after pizza chain Domino’s partnered with Nuro for “quick service” autonomous delivery vehicles, launching a pilot operation in Houston for customers who order online on certain days and in certain parts of the city, and four months after Uber launched another pilot with Motional and Serve Robotics for autonomous vehicles and sidewalk delivery machines in Los Angeles.

Celebration of former Amber Taverns MD’s life to take place later this month: A celebration of the life of former Amber Taverns managing director, Bryan Wardman, will take place later this month. Wardman passed away suddenly, but peacefully, at home on Friday, 19 August, aged 68. Known for his huge enthusiasm, unique sense of humour and storytelling ability, Wardman was well known to all in the industry for his focus and determination to succeed. His lifelong passions, which continued into his retirement in North Berwick, Scotland, included golf, gardening, music, writing poetry, cooking, pork pie-making, bird watching, wine tasting, travel and eating out. All are welcome to the celebration of his life, which will take place at 2pm, on 22 September, at Morton Hall Crematorium in Howdenhall Road, Edinburgh. All are welcome afterwards to Charwood restaurant in Buckstone Terrace, Edinburgh, too. Dress code (optional) is bright colours for ladies, and Bryan’s favourite blue and white checked shirts for gentlemen. The family have asked for no flowers, but instead for private donations to be made to the RSPB.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a foodservice company that is looking for a venue director. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “It is seeking a real foodie operator with a background in contract catering and ideally stadia, conference space or venue. You will be responsible for a strategically important contract. Your experience will have given you a sound understanding of finances and an ability to take a step back to understand the bigger picture. A savvy operator who can appreciate what it takes to be in a client facing role will suit this position.” The salary for the position is up to £80,000 and based in Scotland. For more information, email

Company News:

Urban – big and small businesses should be treated the same when it comes to support: Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), the All Bar One and Harvester owner, has said that the government needs to treat all businesses, “big and small alike” the same when it comes to helping them through the current cost-of-living crisis. He told Propel: “In terms of support, my concern is that all the rhetoric in the last 18 months has been about supporting small businesses, which riles me every time I hear them say it, because actually, big companies like M&B are a collection of 1,600 small businesses, none of which are really any different to the independents, we have to heat them all! If you think about the last year, business rates got capped for big companies, grants were capped for big companies, and then we’ve had calories going on to menus for big companies but not for small companies. At times, it feels like unfair competition, and my fear is that they’ll come along and do something for small companies once again. Don’t think I’m not sympathetic to small companies as I am. If I were running my own tenancy business, I would be feeling very stressed right now. I would have seen my profit disappear through no fault of my own. I would now have a loss-making business with little prospect of that changing until utilities and food costs change. If someone offered me a loan, that would not really be any good because I would know I would have to pay it back down the line, and so the future would be looking very bleak. So, I am concerned for small businesses too, but I simply want everyone, big and small alike, to be treated the same.” Urban believes the only way the government can realistically help is with VAT, preferably cutting it to 10% for a period of time, and a further business rate holiday for six months. He added: “It only needs to be done in six months chunks, because I don’t think anybody's able to second guess what’s going to happen to commodity costs, just as long as they resolve to review it periodically and see us through. Otherwise, all the help they have given this industry in the last two years will have counted for nothing. Big companies are not immune to the cost-of-living crisis. We will all have banking arrangements with covenants that need to be met, so if this was to last another year, and there is no support forthcoming, then everyone would almost be back to square one. That should be avoided at all costs.”
Pho appoints Joss Mostert as new marketing director: Vietnamese street food restaurant group Pho has appointed Joss Mostert, formerly of the Big Table Group and Wagamama, as its new marketing director, Propel has learned. Mostert joins the TriSpan-backed, 36-strong business from the Big Table Group, where she has spent the past two and a half years as marketing director for its Bella Italia brand. Previous to that, she was head of marketing at Boparan Restaurant Group and head of brand at Wagamama. She also spent six years in senior brand roles at Yum! Mostert replaces Libby Andrews, who joined Turtle Bay, the Caribbean restaurant brand backed by Piper, earlier this summer as its new marketing director. At the same time, Pho, which recently opened on the ex-Solita site in Low Petersgate, York, has appointed Colin Williams, formerly of Honest Burgers, as its new head of property. Williams joins Pho after over three years at Honest, where he was head of property and head of maintenance. Prior to that, he spent time as property and estates manager at Gaucho. The Patrick Marrinan-led Pho, which earlier this year opened in Royal William Yard in Plymouth, has further openings lined up in London’s Borough and Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf. The latter is believed to be a smaller site for the business and will focus more on grab and go and delivery. It is also believed to have lined up a further site in the north that is close to completion and is in advanced talks on a site on the south coast.
Wing Shack Co secures Notting Hill site: Wings-based concept Wing Shack Co has secured a site in London’s Notting Hill. Propel understands Wing Shack, which was founded by Joshua Jarvis and business partner Nurudeen Shiro in 2018, has secured the ex-Patty & Bun site at 14 Pembridge Road for an opening later this year. Earlier this year, the company secured the former Melati restaurant site in Great Windmill Street for a further opening. In April, Wing Shack launched its third site and biggest yet when it opened a 90-cover site on the restaurant terrace at The Glades Shopping Centre in Bromley. This added to its restaurants in Holloway, north London, and Loughton, Essex, which have operated alongside several pop-ups in sites such as Brixton Village, Selfridges and Soho House. Taylor Gershon of CBA Leisure acted for Wing Shack, while David Kornbluth and Thandwie Shephard of CDG Leisure acted for Patty & Bun on the Notting Hill deal.

Escape Hunt and Boom Battle Bars operator reports ‘encouraging’ trading despite difficult economic conditions: XP Factory, operator of the Escape Hunt and Boom Battle Bar brands, has reported trading since the end of June has been “encouraging” despite the current macro-economic backdrop. The company's unaudited results for the six months to 30 June 2022 are expected to show group revenue in excess of £8m, compared with £1.2m in the same period in 2021, which was prior to the acquisition of the now 18-strong Boom Battle Bars. XP Factory stated: “The UK Escape Hunt owner-operated estate generated unaudited turnover in the eight weeks to 28 August 2022 of approximately £1.4m, an increase of 16% compared with the same eight-week period in 2021. Performance in the group's Boom Battle Bar estate has also been developing positively. The owner-operated sites delivered unaudited turnover in excess of £1m for the eight weeks to 28 August 2022. The Boom franchise estate provides the company with an increasingly consistent weekly royalty.” XP Factory said a further five owner-operated Boom Battle Bar sites are currently in build – in Edinburgh, London (Oxford Street), Plymouth, Leeds and Birmingham. Three further franchise sites are also in build – in Bournemouth, Chelmsford and Southampton, with contracts exchanged on a further site. Several other sites are in the final phase of legal negotiations. Escape Hunt sites are in build in Bournemouth, London (Oxford Street) and Edinburgh, the latter two co-located with the Boom venues. These additions will take the Escape Hunt network to 23 owner-operated sites. XP Factory has also acquired the Boom Battle Bar in Cardiff for an enterprise value of £2.15m. Boom Cardiff, which is in the Brewery Quarter, has been operating as a franchise site since September 2020 prior to the acquisition last November of Boom Battle Bars by XP Factory. In the 12 months ended 30 June 2022, the venue delivered unaudited turnover of £3.82m, adjusted Ebitda of £438,000 and profit before tax of £201,000. Richard Harpham, chief executive of XP Factory, said: “We continue to see growing and attractive operating metrics at our Boom sites while Escape Hunt has become a consistently high margin business.”

Burger King to invest $400m in revitalising its US business: Burger King has announced it is to invest $400m (£344.8m) in marketing, remodels and upgraded technology over the next two years, part of a broad-scale effort to revitalise its US business called “Reclaim the Flame”. The burger chain, which has fallen behind its top competitors in the US in recent years, said it would invest $150m in advertising and digital investments. The company is also planning to invest $250m in restaurant technology, kitchen equipment, building enhancements, remodels and relocations. The business said Burger King franchisees representing more than 93% of all of its US-based restaurants have endorsed the plan and agreed to co-invest in increased advertising firepower over the coming years. Tom Curtis, president of Burger King North America, said: “I’m very proud and thankful that our franchisees have stepped up once again to invest in our performance together, reflecting the genuine partnership and mutual respect we have built between the franchisor and franchisees. Ultimately, the success of this Reclaim the Flame plan comes down to execution at the restaurant level, and we are so fortunate to have franchisees who love this brand and are working closely with us to focus on the right priorities.” Jose Cil, chief executive of the brand’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, added: “Over the past year, Tom has built a talented leadership team that has worked collaboratively with Burger King franchisees to develop a multi-year plan to drive the performance of the system. We believe now is the time to make a significant investment to accelerate the work given the quality of the team, focus of the plan, commitment of our franchisees and the opportunity that clearly exists for our iconic brand to Reclaim the Flame and be the first choice for a high-quality meal, an exceptional experience and a great value.”

Cineworld sees shares jump as it gets go-ahead to access $785m of financial aid: Cineworld shares jumped on Friday (9 September) after a US bankruptcy court gave the cinema chain access to up to $785m of an approximately $1.94bn debtor-in-possession financing facility as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. The company announced last Wednesday (7 September) it had filed for Chapter 11 in the US. The group said the filing involved businesses in the US, UK and Jersey and the Chapter 11 restructuring process was expected to significantly reduce debt and strengthen the balance sheet and liquidity position. Cineworld said the “first day” relief, along with its available cash reserves and cash provided by operations, is expected to provide sufficient liquidity for the group to meet its ongoing obligations. This includes post-petition obligations to vendors and suppliers, as well as employee wages, salaries and benefits programmes. The remainder of the debtor-in-possession facility will become available upon court approval on a final basis. Chief executive Mooky Greidinger said: "The approval of our requested ‘first day’ relief is a positive step forward for the group and our restructuring efforts. As we position Cineworld for long-term growth, through this Chapter 11 process and beyond, we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing our guests with the most memorable moviegoing experiences and maintaining our long-standing relationships with our business partners.” The share price went up 15% immediately following the announcement, but by the end of the day had dropped back down and finished up 2.12% at 4.23p.

Clean Kitchen Club finishes £2.1m fundraise with almost £2.4m: Clean Kitchen Club, the fledgling plant-based, fast-food concept, has finished its £2.1m fundraise on Seedrs with almost £2.4m. The company, founded by Mickey Pearce and Verity Bowditch, closed the campaign with £2,380,271 from 598 investors. It offered 16.55% of equity in the business, which had a £12m pre-money valuation. Investors in the crowdfunding round include British property entrepreneur Harry Hyman, and CleanCo founder and chief executive Spencer Matthews. It also received an anonymous investment of just under £400,000 and an investment of circa £250,000 from MSE Advisors. Propel also revealed in July that Steve Easterbrook, the ex-chief executive of McDonald’s, PizzaExpress and Wagamama, had invested in the company. Clean Kitchen Club currently has six sites in London, with plans to open two more this year, including one at the Battersea Power Station development. The company, which opened in Soho in July, plans to have 40-plus sites operating by the end of 2024, and hopes to start expanding outside the capital next year, with Manchester, Brighton, Leeds, Bristol and Birmingham among its target locations. It is projecting total sales of just over £13m for the year to the end of March 2023 and plans to launch a retail offering early next year.
Brayford Hotels returns to profit as it builds back from pandemic: Brayford Hotels – which operates sites in Hull, Grimsby and Lincoln – has reported turnover increased to £10,139,847 for the year ending 31 December 2021, compared with £5,465,026 the previous year. However, the figure was still below the £13,174,072 reported in 2019 – the last year before the pandemic. The business reported a pre-tax profit of £1,616,253, compared with a loss of 462,835 the year before (2019: Pre-tax profit of £572,675). No dividend was paid (2020: zero). In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “Quick and decisive actions taken by the directors to protect the business and position it for recovery, enabled the business to react and rebuild its occupancy once restrictions had been lifted with trading performance moving back towards pre-pandemic levels. The group continues to invest in its hotel facilities to ensure they are maintained to a high standard.”

Tortilla to open in Leicester later this month: Tortilla, the UK’s largest fast-casual Mexican restaurant brand, will open a new restaurant in Leicester later this month. Located at 11 Eastgates, it will be Tortilla’s 55th UK restaurant when it opens its doors on Friday, 30 September. Seating up to 67 people across two floors, with both inside and outside tables, the new restaurant will create 25-30 jobs. Tortilla last month rebranded three former Chilango sites to its own brand following its acquisition of the burrito chain earlier this year. It also opened a new restaurant in Lincoln and has a site in Coventry lined up for a further opening.

Charlie Bigham’s reports demand continues to grow post-covid as turnover passes £100m, expects to make further price increases: Food producer Charlie Bigham’s has reported demand for its products has continued to grow in a post-covid environment as it reported turnover passed the £100m mark. The company said it was facing “significant” food ingredient and energy inflation that will “ultimately need to be passed on to our customers”. The business has also extended its revolving credit facility by £4m to allow it to complete its capacity investments in its London and Quarry kitchens. Turnover increased to £104,443,193 for the year ending 31 August 2021, compared with £80,809,558 the year before. The figure was also above pre-pandemic levels, with turnover of £70,080,850 in 2019. Pre-tax profit was up to £8,136,064 from £5,523,090 the previous year (2019: £1,287,157). In his report accompanying the accounts, chief executive Patrick Cairns stated: “Bigham's growth accelerated significantly in the year ending August 2021. This growth was partly driven by additional consumers trying our products during lockdown as well as increased distribution into our major customers. Successful new product launches, including Smoked Haddock Gratin, and increased levels of advertising also contributed to growth. The on-going lockdowns to control the spread of covid-19 virus caused some operational disruption, but overall, we increased what was already a positive momentum behind the brand as consumers look for high quality dining alternatives at home. To protect our strong relationships with our customers and consumers, we have been mindful in not immediately passing on all costs in higher pricing. While we have made significant effort to contain cost and find efficiencies in the operation, the price increases we have made are likely to impact margin in the medium term, with further increases likely.” In the final quarter of 2021, Charlie Bingham’s acquired By Ruby, a branded manufacturer of high quality frozen prepared food, which will continue to be managed as a separate business within the group.

South east vegetarian Indian restaurant concept set to expand to six sites: Crispy Doha, a four-strong vegetarian Indian restaurant concept located in the south east, is set to expand to six sites. The company currently, which was founded in 2000 and uses the authentic South Indian ‘Chettinad’ style of cooking, currently operates sites in Hounslow, Greenford, Reading and Watford. It is now set to open further sites in Station Road, Harrow, north west London, and in Wood Green, north London.

Urban Burger to open in Barnsley for fifth site: South Yorkshire burger concept Urban Burger is to open its fifth site, at The Glass Works in Barnsley. Urban Burger, led by Mehmet Kent, operates two restaurants in Doncaster and one each in Halifax and Rotherham. The concept offers a range of burgers as well as sides such as hand-cut fries, mozzarella sticks and onion rings and drinks. Urban Burger will be joined by dessert concept Dolly’s Desserts, which is doubling up in the town. Fronting The Glass Works public square, its new two-floor outlet will be in addition to its kiosk in Market Kitchen. Dolly’s Desserts owner, Janine Davies, said: “We have chosen to continue our expansion at home in Barnsley, as we feel The Glass Works development is the perfect fit for our concept and how we want to portray our business moving forwards. We have designed a space that will not only be a vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, mirroring our social media presence for the best customer experience, but will provide the production spaces we need to bake our goods on site giving us the opportunity to sell online, supply our own outlets and possibly supply other local business.” Both Urban Burger and Dolly’s Desserts will open the new sites in the autumn.

Operator sought for Bradford’s new street market food hall: Bradford Council is seeking an operating partner to manage its new food hall, due to open in the autumn of 2023. The venue is part of the multi-million-pound Darley Street Market scheme in the city centre, which is currently under construction. The multi-level market and food hall, as well as an outdoor square for concerts and events, is part of an ongoing regeneration of the city centre. Located on the upper level of the market, the food hall will have a wide variety of dine-in and takeaway food from local street and restaurant traders. There will be 11 food kiosks offering a selection of world foods, two bars, a stage and seating for around 500 customers – both indoors and on a balcony overlooking the market square. The council’s foodservice consultancy, Coverpoint, is now inviting operators to formally tender. Coverpoint director Richard Moulds said: “The operator will have the expertise to manage the food hall and work with local independent operators to run the kiosks. They will also have the passion and vision to create a vibrant and community-focused venue that helps further secure Bradford’s place on the culinary map of Yorkshire and the UK. The operator could have a background in restaurants, breweries, street food collectives or even contract catering, or be a local business entrepreneur.”

Mediterranean restaurant concept Nammos to make UK debut: Mediterranean restaurant concept Nammos is heading to the UK. The concept, which started in Mykonos and has expanded to Cannes and Dubai, is coming to London. The restaurant will open next year at 13-17 Montpelier Street in Knightsbridge, just across from Harrods, reports Hot Dinners. The grade II-listed building will house an “an elegant and more refined version of its original concept”. The menu will offer an “authentic taste of the Mediterranean”. 

Kokoro lodges plans for Colchester site: Sushi and bento brand Kokoro has lodged plans for a site in Colchester. The company has submitted plans to Colchester Council to open in an empty listed building in High Street, next to Superdrug, reports Essex Live. Kokoro operates 55 sites and opened its latest in Staines, Surrey, earlier this month. The business also has further openings lined up in Hastings and Portsmouth.

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