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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 24th Oct 2022 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Pitcher – we feel there's a rich vein for growth with Peach, we’re building a more solid platform to hedge against structural changes in the way people use hospitality: Rob Pitcher, chief executive of Revolution Bars Group (RBG), has told Propel the company feels “there's a rich vein for growth here, especially in leasehold sites” for new acquisition, Peach Pubs. RBG acquired the 21-strong gastropub business for £16.5m last week, giving it a third avenue for growth alongside its Revolution and Revolución de Cuba brands. Pitcher told Propel: “We feel there's a rich vein for future growth here, especially in leasehold sites, which is what we will be looking for rather than freeholds. Flexible working is not going anywhere. Town and city centres are struggling on a Friday, and that's not going to change for some time. Whereas Peach is in commuter towns and has benefited from that flexible home working. We are now basically building a more solid platform where we are hedging against structural changes in the way people use hospitality and that is partly driven through the new flexible ways of working and people are in these locations on a Friday where they used to be in a town or city centre.” Pitcher said the business is “going to take a few months to digest” the deal. He added: “It would be prudent of us to sort of slow down other expansion while we add a third to the size of our estate.” Pitcher admitted in terms of possible acquisitions, the “obvious thing to do was more of the same, or more of similar, which would have been another high street bar business”. He said: “The reality is the executive team is made up of people who come from pub backgrounds, largely, and food-led pubs at that. So, I guess that allowed us the flexibility to say well, actually, nothing needed to be excluded from things that we would look at. What drew us to Peach was we were aware of the sites and we knew from a sales mix point of view (food makes up 53% of sales), they weren't so ‘destinational’ food and there was still some town centre synergy to them. What made us think more broadly than just another bar group was the fact we had the skills within the company that we felt we could add value to a wider sort of gastropub group.”

Industry News:

Four days to go before release of updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, 30 businesses being added: A total of 30 new multi-site companies, operating 190 sites, have been added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released on Friday (28 October), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, includes regional restaurant and hotel operators, growing bakery brands, and expanding franchise operators. Premium subscribers will also receive a 2,200-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. The database now features 2,677 companies. Premium subscribers will also receive the next edition of the New Openings Database on Friday, 4 November, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The next edition also includes an 8,000-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, and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database. 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.

Neame – we need a period of sustained, stable, serious and competent government: Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Kent brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame, has said the only way businesses and the country are going to get back on their feet is if we have “a period of sustained, stable, serious and competent government.” Talking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Neame said: “What we desperately want now is a serious, competent, long-term thinking, grown up government that can be focused on a pro-business agenda to sort out the issues we've got in this country.” He added we need to look “beyond soundbites, gimmicks, and all of the sort of shallow half-baked ideas that we've had in the last few years as we look to the future to try and rebuild our country”. He said: “We have a situation at the moment where the UK is seen as largely ‘un-investable’ from foreign investors, from banks, etc. We need to make sure the financial services sector is extremely strong. We need long-term plans for all of our different sectors. We need to sort out issues that are barriers to frictionless trade like the Northern Ireland protocol. We've got a sort of car crash coming around the corner with fingerprint technology coming into Dover in the new year, and we need to sort out a positive immigration policy to ensure the chronic skills shortages can be dealt with in this country.” He said Shepherd Neame was “doing our best to meet the cost-of-living crisis”. He added: “We're looking at paid benefits reviews, we're trying to make working for us as attractive as possible. And I would say right now our staff retention is as good as it's ever been. But you know, there are huge inflationary pressures coming down the track. So, I think anybody that's running a business needs to articulate a long-term vision, a reason for staying with us, a reason for joining us. Like many businesses, we're desperate to kickstart our investment programme post the pandemic. We do need specific help in our sector to get back on our feet. But that's probably been lost now because of the extra high costs supporting the government is now going to occur because of the issues of the mini-Budget.”

Tim Martin – Rishi Sunak best choice for PM if UK is to stand a chance of placating the bond market: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has argued Rishi Sunak is the best choice to be prime minister – as he has the best chance of placating the bond market. Martin said: “The mere revelation on Friday (21 October) that big-spender Boris Johnson was back in the ring, to take another swing, was enough to cause the pound to fall and interest rates to rise. Political leaders throughout the world , including our own, need to borrow money, on a grand scale, to keep the show on the road. Since the twitchy bond markets feel they’ve been taken for granted for a long time, common sense and the ability to create a sensible economic plan must be the main criteria for a new leader. As for Rishi, for many voters he was a partner in crime to the Boris borrowing binge, so the markets will have some doubts. However, Rishi’s reasonable defence is Boris was the financial éminence grise, issuing profligate spending orders galore, whereas he, merely the finance director, needed to square the circle by raising taxes to astronomical levels – in spite of his better instincts. The other main contender, Penny Mordaunt, comes with a couple of dodgy references and, perhaps for business readers, a lack of evidence of commercial success on civvy street. For obscure reasons, many people blame this undoubtedly chaotic state of affairs on Brexit. What you are really seeing in the UK is democracy in action – egotism, irrationality, feckless candidates, false promises and financial recklessness. So let’s be thankful for the chaotic but democratic UK. You may think the present contenders for prime minister offer an unpalatable choice. That may indeed be true – welcome to the real world. Finally, which leadership candidate, on balance, stands the best chance of placating Mr Bond? He may not impress you much, but it just has to be Rishi.”

Study finds Brits now more likely to book city breaks over rural getaways as London launches eight-year tourism plan: Brits are increasingly likely to book city breaks over rural getaways, a new study has found, as London launches its eight-year plan for tourism. The research, commissioned by London & Partners, which runs Visit London, found nearly six in ten Brits are feeling more confident about booking a city break again following the pandemic. It also revealed Brits were now more likely to book a city break than a coastal or rural getaway, with 41% saying they offer more sights, more choice in restaurants and cafes, and easier transport options. More than half of those surveyed also said they like the idea of a staycation in London as it puts money back into the UK economy. The study coincides with the launch of London’s new 2030 Tourism Vision, which outlines the city’s plans to transform its tourism and hospitality industry over the next eight years. It proposes a number of measures, including extending opening hours across the city to support increasing capacity, and calling on government support to improve infrastructure. Rose Wangen-Jones, managing director marketing, destination and commercial at London & Partners, said: “So much has changed since our last Tourism Vision in 2017 that we knew it was essential to create a new framework to support one of London’s most vital industries. Sustainability, inclusivity and resilience, all of which are increasingly important to visitors and the industry, are all at the heart of our shared vision as we work to make London a brilliant experience for all.”

Hotel franchising on the rise across Europe, driven by consolidation and acquisition of chains: Hotel franchising is on the rise across Europe, driven by the consolidation and acquisition of chains, a new study has found. Global hotel consultancy HVS said chains often rely on franchises to achieve their desired growth, prompting a growing interest in hotel franchising across the continent. “Large brands have been major instigators in negotiating with industry associations and local governments to provide support to their franchisees, and this has persuaded many independent hoteliers to consider franchising, or existing franchisors to switch brands,” said report co-author and HVS associate, Charles Carpentier. “Brands have been trying to cut operating expenses and have found the shift to franchising more cost-effective compared with the support required for managed hotels. Going forward, it’s likely branded operators will continue to restructure, with franchising playing a key role.” The report also highlights hybrid arrangements such as “manchising”, whereby hotel owners engage an operating company for an initial period, after which it transfers to a franchise, and short-term/flexible franchise contracts, used for hotels that don’t yet meet brand requirements. “As soft brands are often suitable for existing hotels that already have a strong name locally or a history behind them, this provides some comfort to the owner the agreement is fair and they are not paying franchise fees on bookings they may have received regardless of their branding,” said report co-author and fellow HSV associate, Stephen Collins. “These two emerging operating models could attract independent hoteliers on their way to branding their properties, which should strengthen hotel franchising as a result.”

Sector trade bodies call for urgent reform to ‘broken’ business recycling system: Sector trade bodies have written to the government to highlight the desperate need for reform of the packaging recovery note (PRN) system. In the letter to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Trudy Harrison, the group – which includes the British Beer & Pub Association and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association – noted reform to the system needed to be brought forward and “should deliver greater transparency and reduce volatility and the complete imbalance between PRN buyers (who have no choice but to buy) and PRN sellers (who are under no obligation to sell)”. A PRN is documented proof that packaging material has been recovered or recycled by an accredited recycling company. Businesses are obligated to recover and recycle a proportion of their packaging handled in full each year, but recent sudden price hikes have made the process unmanageable for businesses, many of whom are worried they will not be able to meet their recycling targets as a result, the trade bodies said. The letter calls on the minister to reform the system and investigate potential market manipulation by PRN suppliers. 

Company News:

Gail’s to hit 100-site mark with East Sheen opening this week, variety of formats allowing business to take advantage of different property opportunities: Fast-growing bakery brand Gail’s will open its 100th site on Thursday (27 October), in East Sheen, Propel has learned. The opening of the 50-cover outlet sees Gail’s continuing its growth in the capital following on from Kensington Arcade and Bermondsey Street. Gail’s has also been growing outside London, having launched in Fleet in Hampshire this month, while openings are planned in Gerrards Cross and East Dulwich. The Kensington Arcade site has a takeaway focus and Tom Molnar, co-founder and chief executive of Gail’s, told Propel the business’ variety of formats allows it to take advantage of different property opportunities to support its expansion. “It’s a small space so it doesn’t have any seats – like our South Kensington site,” he added. “It also doesn’t have any display cabinets – all the products are kept on the trollies. We are first and foremost a bakery so it’s about the kitchen and then if we have space for seating then we will add it in.” Molnar said while the smaller sites did save on energy costs, which he said have gone up by five times, as well as labour, the business would continue opening in larger, high street spaces, such as East Sheen. “We are always experimenting with new formats as it allows us to take advantage of different real estate opportunities that present themselves,” added Molnar. “Our rent as a percentage of turnover is only low single digits – the food and our people is where we spend the vast majority of our money. That flexibility of format means we can open near transport hubs or on the high street for example – depending on what suits a particular neighbourhood. East Sheen will be a more traditional high street site, and we’re looking forward to welcome customers to our 100th store.” 

Franco Manca saving equivalent cost of one new store build a year through energy scheme, accelerating international expansion: Franco Manca international development director Phineas Page has said the brand is saving the equivalent of one new store build a year through an energy scheme, and is accelerating its international expansion. While rising costs have forced the Fulham Shore-owned business to put its best-selling marguerite pizza up 10%, from £5.95 to £6.45, the company is starting to save costs through a new system that monitors energy usage at each of its sites, breaking it down by appliance, supplied through Caput Energy, which is working with several UK hospitality brands. “Someone left a door heater on overnight at our South Kensington site, which cost us £25, which is like someone taking home a case of wine,” Page told the Restaurant & Takeaway Innovator Expo 2022. “Fulham Shore’s energy was £2.7m last year, and next year it's projected to be £6.4m, which is like five new restaurants, or 150 new jobs, so if we cut 10-15% like we're doing with this, that's a whole new restaurant we can build.” While next year's pipeline will see 15 new stores added to the brand's circa 70 UK estate, it is also set to break into “three or four” new international territories in 2023, including Spain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It will then turn its attention to “key markets” like Germany, France, Switzerland and the US. “We're talking to people from all over, including someone from Kurdistan,” said Page. “There's some great property up for grabs at the moment, but you shouldn't ever grow a business more than 50% of your current capacity. We wouldn't dream of doing 30 pizzerias a year, we've done 18 this year and it's been challenging.” Page added staff turnover is at its lowest level ever following a 20% pay rise in April, and its chefs are engaging in product development through a quarterly competition where they present new pizzas ideas, and get a small percentage of the sales from those that make the menu. A halloumi pizza introduced as a seasonal item this summer has been added to the permanent menu after selling “four times more than we thought it was going to” and become its “number two behind marguerite”. 

Lucky Voice sets out plans to double size of estate over next two years: Lucky Voice, the social entertainment brand, has said it plans for a major programme of growth and investment, which will see the five-strong brand double the size of its estate in the next two years. The business currently has venues in Soho, Islington and Holborn in London, as well as Brighton and Dubai. By the end of 2024, the company aims to grow to ten owner-operated venues, including a “significantly expanded presence” in London and new sites in Manchester and Birmingham, along with further franchise development in the Middle East and north Africa. In this financial year, Lucky Voice said it will also “invest significantly” to improve its existing estate, with more than £500,000 earmarked to refurbish venues and upgrade software and technology, including the development and launch of a new loyalty app that allows customers to access special offers and upcoming event details. The company said its expansion plans come off the back of record results, with the business outperforming “all expectations when reopening post-lockdown in May 2021, confounding restrictions by returning to 2019 levels of trade within weeks, and has continued to go from strength to strength since”. The business said its 2021-22 financial year has been its most successful ever with revenue up 22%, and Ebitda up 57% on 2019, while it “reached record levels of trade” in recent months, with revenue from its venues between March and May 2022 44% up on budget and 54% up on the same period in 2019. The company has kickstarted its investment programme, with a £300,000 spend on its original site in Poland Street in Soho. Charlie Elek, managing director at Lucky Voice, said: “We’ve been delivering phenomenal nights out since 2005, and we’re sounding better than ever in 2022. Our mission is to combine karaoke with great service, technology and food and drink, and we’re constantly thinking about how to give people their favourite night out.”

Boston Tea Party seeing sales weakening in middle of the week, especially in traditional high street locations: Sam Roberts, chief executive of all-day dining casual cafe brand Boston Tea Party, has told Propel the 25-strong business is seeing weekends getting stronger, but sales weakening in the middle of the week, especially in traditional high street locations. Roberts said the group’s current trading is “broadly flat with last year on a like-for-like basis”. He told Propel: “We're seeing a little softening in our delivery business, in line with the wider market. Typically, our core neighbourhood-based cafes and city centre locations in university towns/cities are trading strongly. We're seeing a softer performance in pure city centre and high street pitches. Weekends (including Friday and Monday now) are getting stronger, so our core weekend brunch proposition remains very healthy. But we are seeing sales weakening in the middle of the week, especially in those traditional high street locations. Unlike many operators, we're not experiencing a particularly tight labour market, our ability to both retain and find talent has never been stronger. But, like many operators, we're seeing stubbornly high food inflation, which is most acute in our ethical (free range meats etc) supply chain. Utilities, even after government support, are circa four times their 2019 levels, which is a huge challenge for us and the sector as a whole. With no immediate sign of these headwinds subsiding and high levels of economic uncertainty, we've decided to focus our investments on the team (launching our first leadership and development programme) and refurbishment of the existing estate as opposed to further expansion at least in the short term.” Roberts spoke after the business reported turnover of £13,308,975 in the year ending 20 October 2021, down from £14,607,932 the previous year due to covid-related lockdown measures. It reported a pre-tax loss of £513,530, against a pre-tax profit of £409,804 the previous year.

Julian Metcalfe – restaurant prices ‘only just beginning to go up’, plans to float Itsu in four-and-a-half years: Julian Metcalfe, founder of Itsu, has said he believes prices in restaurants “are only just beginning to go up” and it will be crunch time for businesses soon. “Restaurant prices are going through the roof,” Metcalfe told The Telegraph. “Who is going to buy a panna cotta for 25 quid? Nobody.” But he believes diners deserting pubs and restaurants “will come to Itsu,” where prices will be a third because “we’re much leaner”. And Metcalfe sees it as an opportunity to advance an ambitious expansion masterplan. It will begin in a few weeks’ time in Paris, when the first of 50 new Itsus will open. Metcalfe believes unlike Pret, which he co-founded, Itsu’s Asian-inspired fast food has global appeal, and with relentless automation, menu refinement and cost-control, it can deliver quality meals at a price to rival chains like McDonald’s – which has about 40,000 outlets and is worth $184bn. “If we crack it [Itsu’s potential] is unlimited,” he said. “We’re nearly there with something that can trade next to the American giants. We will get to 400 [stores in Britain].” He wants to float the company in “four-and-a-half years”. In terms of sales, Itsu is now about where it was before the pandemic – but 15% busier from Tuesday to Thursday and 20% down on Mondays and Fridays. Metcalfe said he also wants to make more of the menu plant-based – looking to get it to 50% from 40% today. Metcalfe also believes there are three obvious fixes the UK government can do to help the industry – reduce VAT to 10%, introduce business rates for the first two years of a tenancy and two-year visas. Taken together, the three measures would have high streets “up and running again in six months, vibrant and exciting”, he said.

Artfarm plans to take Groucho Club international: Artfarm, the independent hospitality business run by the former Fortnum & Mason chief executive Ewan Venters, plans to take the Groucho Club international. Artfarm, which is owned by Manuela and Iwan Wirth, co-owners of the Hauser & Wirth art gallery business, bought the London private members’ club in a deal estimated at £40m in August. Venters told The Times: “We have an international footprint and understand many markets. We understand Asia, the west and east coasts of America, we understand central Europe. We have a good network, a good awareness of the cultural communities of the world. Groucho is about being a place for the culturally curious to be together. Contrary to Groucho Marx’s comment, the genesis of the club was about like-minded people wanting to be together to meet up, have a drink together, break bread together. Why wouldn’t that go elsewhere in the world? In time it will.” For now Venters’ priority is “knowing London better and making some changes to the way the club looks, feels and operates”. To begin with, that involves “upgrading the plumbing, sorting out the water pressure and doing a review of the lighting”, but he also hinted at changes to the membership. “I think a change of ownership is an opportunity to review what the membership makes up,” he said. “If the community is not contributing, then why be a member?” But he recoils at any suggestion he could have a new Soho House on his hands. “Soho House is one thing, the Groucho quite another,” said Venters. “If behind that question is: could it be in more locations around the world, then yes. Do I think it’s a handful of locations rather than 20 or 30? Absolutely. I don’t think the Groucho is going to appear in the same number of locations as the likes of Soho House. They’re two completely different brands.”

Zizzi opens first London restaurant in five years: Azzurri Group-owned Zizzi has opened its first London restaurant in five years. The brand has opened the site in Cabot Place, Canary Wharf, and the launch follows recent openings in Leicester and Lancaster. The 96-cover restaurant has created 40 jobs. Nando Laccetti, general manager of Zizzi Canary Wharf ,said: “It is a fantastic location to have another Zizzi restaurant in the city.”

Loungers appoints Kate Lister as marketing director: Cafe bar operator Loungers has appointed Kate Lister as its new marketing director, Propel understands. Lister joins the Nick Collins-led business from Ole & Steen where she spent more than two and a half years as its marketing director. Previous to that she had a short stint as marketing director at Chilango. She also spent more than three and a half years at Byron. Earlier this month, Loungers, which owns the Lounge and Cosy Club brands, said it continued to “significantly outperform the market” and is on track to open 30 sites in its current financial year. Since the start of the financial year, the business has opened 12 new sites, comprising nine Lounges and three Cosy Clubs, taking its portfolio to 207 sites. The company – which opened its latest site, the Francisco Lounge, in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, last week – expects to open a further 18 sites in its current financial year. 

Owner of Soho’s Robata restaurant to launch Japanese sake concept: Sonny Huang, who is behind West End sushi restaurant Robata, is to launch a Japanese sake concept. Huang will open Edo Izakaya at 154 Old Street, with the 1,894 square-foot restaurant set to launch in December. Named after the informal bars popular in Japan, Edo Izakaya will have capacity for 80 covers, including a chef’s table and lounge bar area, and provide an extensive sake menu. Traditional-style and new-style sushi rolls, hand rolls and nigiris will be at the forefront of the restaurant’s offering, along with snacks such as fried squid and chicken karaage. Japanese spirits and cocktails will also accompany the specialist menu. Huang said: “Following the success of Robata in Soho, we are excited to launch our next concept in a new part of London. We are looking forward to delivering a distinctive and original Japanese restaurant in a prime city fringe location.” Edo Izakaya’s debut marks the final restaurant to launch within JP Morgan’s Old Street units, formerly owned by GPE, which has been fully leased by Shelley Sandzer. Shelley Sandzer and BGP acted for JP Morgan. Edo Izakaya dealt direct.

Lola’s Cupcakes profits pass £1m mark for first time: Lola’s Cupcakes has reported its profits passed the £1m mark for the first time in the year ending 31 December 2021. Pre-tax profits were £1,328,206 compared with £956,638 in 2020 and £567,717 in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. Revenue was up 27% to £19,135,041 from £15,050,700, while Ebitda for the year was £2,561,2543, up from £1,752,785 in 2020. It received £401,187 from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (2020: £1,031,413) and £74,290 in small business grants (2020: £252,000). No dividends were paid (2020: £100,000). Online sales and delivery grew by 30% to £9.6m, offsetting losses made when stores were shut through various lockdowns. The company said: “Despite the impact of the pandemic on retail businesses, we benefited from our strong online platform and product ranges, and the business remained profitable and cash generative. The business has seen growth in its mailed business, principally brownies, and continuing our success with ‘mailed’ cupcakes, we are currently looking at extending this to offering mailed cakes. We also continue to trial new ‘by post’ offerings to extend our geographic coverage beyond our traditional south east market. The company ended the year with £780,598 (2020: £544,001) of cash, reduced its long-term loans by £773,967 and has access to an overdraft facility of £350,000 to give the business sufficient flexibility and headroom, as we return the business to a more normal footing.”

Healthy bowl concept Atis to open in Canary Wharf: Healthy bowl concept Atis is set to open a fourth site in London, in Canary Wharf. The business – which was launched by husband-and-wife team Phil Honer and Eleanor Warder, with operations director, Connor Arnette, in Shoreditch in 2019 – is set to open a site in Canada Place next month. The business currently operates sites in Old Street in Shoreditch, Eccleston Yards in Belgravia, and Pembridge Road in Notting Hill. The concept’s build-your-own bowls options include roasted umami aubergine, grilled mushrooms, roasted squash and hot toppings, including blackened chicken thighs and pesto salmon. House bowls include Azteca, which contains chopped romaine, baby spinach, charred corn, crumbled feta, avocado and other ingredients, doused in lime coriander dressing and the Miso Hungry, with shredded kale, wild rice, edamame, charred lemon broccoli, crispy shallots with a miso lime and ginger dressing. 

Tortilla to open second Kent restaurant next month: Tortilla, the UK’s largest fast-casual Mexican restaurant brand, will next month open its second restaurant in Kent, and 58th overall. The venue, at 38 High Street in Canterbury, will open on Wednesday, 30 November, seating up to 30 people and creating 20 jobs. The brand’s other Kent site is at the Bluewater shopping centre in Greenhithe. Earlier this month, Tortilla chief executive Richard Morris told Propel it was working hard with its supply chain to mitigate cost pressures and avoid putting prices up, in order to remain a value brand. He also said the business has begun trialling its Chilango brand alongside Tortilla at its cloud kitchen in Wood Green, north London.

Lester Hotels Group suffers drop in profits following strategy to refurbish existing estate, develops new brand concept and secure sites for it: Lester Hotels Group, which operates the Ramada Resort Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel & Spa and Nant Ddu Lodge & Spa in Wales, suffered a drop in profits last year following a strategy to refurbish its existing estate, develop a new brand concept and secure sites for it. The group, which also leases out the Ramada Finchley Hotel to OYO and provides hotel management and consultancy services, made a pre-tax loss of £154,485 for the year ending 30 September 2021, compared with a £5,170,490 profit in 2020. In 2019, the last year before covid, the group, led by Simon Lester, made a loss of £874,664. Turnover was down from £5,774,619 in 2019 and £4,164,561 in 2020 to £3,688,710. It received £1,331,369 in government grants compared with £889,201 in 2020. As in 2020, the directors recommended no dividend be paid. The company said: “The directors acknowledge the decline in results, which is a result of its strategies to refurbish some of its estate to secure future growth in occupancy and rate, and to maintain its head office structure while developing a new brand concept and securing sites for the brand development. The group’s last four months of the year (since the restrictions were lifted) saw significant trading improvements, trading was 13% above pre-covid trading (discounting the hotel that is now leased).”

Pizza Hut secures unit at Manchester’s Arndale: Pizza Hut has secured one of the last remaining available units at Manchester Arndale shopping centre. The brand will be opening a new express takeaway outlet within the complex’s food court. Propel revealed earlier this month Pizza Hut UK & Europe had strengthened its management team with the appointments of Kate Vacovec as chief financial officer and Pippa Prain as chief brand officer. This followed Neil Manhas’ move from chief financial officer to become vice-president of finance at Taco Bell.

Birmingham coffee concept Damascena opens fifth site: Independent coffee house concept Damascena has opened its fifth Birmingham site. The coffee house, delicatessen and bakery takes up more than 3,000 square-foot of space on the ground floor of SevenCapital's Lyndon House development in Edgbaston. Lyndon House will also form Damascena's new headquarters. Anas Zein Al-Abdeen, managing director of Damascena, said: “The Edgbaston venue is a bold move in the current climate but one we are excited about, particularly given its prime location.”

Nightcap opens 17th The Cocktail Club site and 11th in London: Bar operator Nightcap has opened its 17th The Cocktail Club, and 11th in the capital, in Canary Wharf. Located at 9 Cabot Square, The Cocktail Club Canary Wharf has a capacity of 100 and a large terrace. It offers “happy hour’” two-for-one deals every day from 4pm-7pm as well as themed party packages, cocktail masterclasses, private room and venue hire and weekly “bottomless brunches”. JJ Goodman, co-founder of The Cocktail Club, said, “We are excited to have launched our latest site in Canary Wharf. This is our 11th site in London, and it feels great to bring our mantra, ‘welcome to the party’, to the heart of the financial district.” Earlier this month, Nightcap opened its biggest The Cocktail Club to date, set across two floors in Birmingham’s Temple Street, and with a capacity for 450.

Whisky distiller Glenmorangie acquires Southern Hebrides hotel: Whisky distiller The Glenmorangie Company has acquired The Islay Hotel, on the Isle of Islay in the Southern Hebrides, for an undisclosed price. Glenmorangie, which was sold to French conglomerate LVMH in 2005, will operate the hotel following the retirement of previous owner, Roland Worthington-Eyre, who reopened it 11 years ago following a complete renovation. Situated on the island’s “Whisky Trail” and within walking distance of the Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries, it has its own restaurant and whisky bar with a vast collection of whiskies. Worthington-Eyre said: “The dream was to rebuild the Islay Hotel, which had been closed for 20 years, and I am really happy that was achieved. However, now it’s time for me to retire. I would like to thank all those who were involved in rebuilding, financing and running the hotel since it reopened in 2011, without whose dedication and loyalty it would not be the successful hotel it is today. I am delighted LVMH want to take the Islay Hotel on the next stage of its journey.” 

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