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Tue 17th Jan 2023 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Oakman looks to raise £5.3m from shareholders, still outperforming market: Oakman Group, the award-winning pub-restaurant operator, has approached its current shareholder base to raise £5.3m to help with its next stage of growth, as it reported record Christmas trading. The business, which runs 40 rural and suburban pubs, had been working with DC Advisory on a possible refinancing, but that has now been postponed. Peter Borg-Neal, executive chairman, told Propel: “We have very supportive shareholders, and we are confident that the share placement will be a success. We will consider our next steps once our fund raise completes. We will look to raise further funds in the spring/early summer but have not decided either quantum or methodology. Certainly, we don’t want to increase debt dramatically – but we do want to reorganise it, reduce its cost and simplify our corporate structure. We will look at the option of raising more equity – but are unlikely to want to sell a majority stake.” Borg-Neal said many of the group’s shareholders have been invested since 2007 and “it is only right that we give them a liquidity option as soon as possible”. He said: “Nothing can be ruled in or out at this stage. However, I am clear that an IPO is an option I find attractive. It would give shareholders a chance to either hold, sell, reduce or increase their holdings. Personally, I would like to continue to grow the business for the foreseeable future – an ambition I share with Dermot King (chief executive). An IPO would give everybody flexibility. Clearly the market is not ripe for an IPO in our sector in the very near future, but I believe the opportunity may well be there by Q4 of this year. However, there is no rush, and 2024 might become a better option. Clearly, my first responsibility is to deliver shareholder value, and personal ambitions are secondary. Therefore, I could never rule out a sale if the right buyer was to come along – but there is no way we would sell this business cheaply. It is the finest collection of assets ever assembled in our sector (if you measure by average sales and profit per pub) and we have a rich mix of freeholds and high-quality leases.” For the 26 weeks to 1 January 2023, Oakman’s total sales were up 41.5% versus 2019, with like-for-like sales up 9.8%. Total sales versus 2021 were up 10.4% and up 1.1% on a like-for-like basis. In December, total sales versus 2019 were up 34.3%, with like-for-likes up 6.5%, while like-for-like sales versus 2021 were up 10.4% and ahead by 17.5% (VAT adjusted). Borg-Neal said: “We're pleased to have outperformed the market over the first half of our financial year and are confident of further progress in H2. Christmas trading saw new records set, and January has started more strongly than we expected. Our core Oakman Inns brand has now grown to 28 sites, and the average sales per site for the year to date exceeds £42,000 net of VAT. We are extremely happy with the positioning of the business and have a pipeline of five new Oakman Inn sites we intend to develop in the next 18 months.” 
 

Industry News:

Propel’s The Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage to feature full profiles of more than 650 companies, launching on Friday: Propel’s The Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage will feature the full profiles of more than 650 of the UK’s top food and beverage operators. It is the fifth major database exclusive to Premium subscribers and will be launched on Friday (20 January). The companies, listed in alphabetical order, will have their most recent results reported as well as broader information around Ebitda, plans and trading style available. The database, which will be updated monthly, has taken 16 months to pull together, merging Companies House information, interviews and other public information to provide an easy to reference and exhaustive guide to the sector. Premium subscribers also receive access to four other databases: the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; the Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database. Premium subscribers are also to be given exclusive access to the recording and slides to Propel Multi-Club Conferences. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. Subscribers also receive access to Propel's library of 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.

Oakman Group to speak at Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit 2023, open for bookings: Kelly Beard, head of marketing at Oakman Group, will speak at the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit 2023. The event is a partnership between Propel and Think Hospitality, aiming to build a community, promote the sharing of ideas, recognise talent and define the future of eating out. Bookings are now open for the two-day conference as the centrepiece of the January event series, taking place next Tuesday and Wednesday (24 and 25 January) at One Moorgate Place in London. Beard will discuss how the business is balancing efficiencies with customer experience in delivering effective technologies. More than 50 industry and agency leaders will take to the stage over two days representing brands including McDonald’s UK, Burger King UK, Cornish Bakery, Gail’s Bakery, The Alchemist, Caprice Holdings, Coco di Mama, Searcy’s, Press Up Hospitality Group, Vapiano, Popeyes UK, Inception Group, New World Trading Company, 200 Degrees, Chestnut Group, Peggy Porschen Cakes, Krispy Kreme, KellyDeli, Red Engine, East Coast Concepts, The Cocktail Club, Tattu Restaurants, Hilton, Elior, MJMK, Lollipop, Chotto Matte, Ping Pong, Nobu, Gusto Italian, BrewDog, Kaleido, Darjeeling Express and Flat Earth Pizzas. For the full speaker schedule for day one click here and for day two click here. Day one themes will be consumer and sector trends, start-ups, concepts and creativity and digital evolution, while day two focuses on purpose and responsible business, strategies for growth and communication and culture. Tickets for operators for the two days are £600 plus VAT and £350 plus VAT for one day. Tickets for suppliers are £950 plus VAT for the two days and £525 plus VAT for one day. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Jo Charity at Propel on jo.charity@propelinfo.com

Yapster acquired by Sona with backing from Google’s Gradient Ventures: Yapster, the mobile messaging app used by hospitality companies to communicate with frontline employees, has been acquired by employee app Sona for an undisclosed sum. The deal is expected to accelerate the expansion of Sona’s frontline operating system across the frontline economy. Founded in 2015, Yapster includes BrewDog, Caffe Nero, CH&CO, East Coast Concepts, Krispy Kreme, Nobu, Tenpin, Wasabi and Welcome Break among its clients. Yapster co-founder chief executive Rob Liddiard said, “All companies are under pressure to accomplish more with less right now, which means doing everything possible to get the most out of employees. Sona, with its backing from Google’s AI fund Gradient Ventures, is the only technology supplier I’ve seen in my seven years running Yapster that appears truly capable of delivering the consumer-grade design and AI power customers are now crying out for in order to solve their productivity puzzles.” Steffen Wulff Petersen, co-founder chief executive of Sona, added, “Yapster and its team are widely respected across the hospitality sector, and we see extraordinary potential to accelerate Sona’s mission with this acquisition of their expertise. Employees today expect company software to be as powerful and easy to use as their favourite personal apps – and that’s precisely the level of customer experience Sona was founded on and funded to deliver.”

Stenning – ‘retail-tainment’ centres, roadside dining and franchised concepts all playing a part in sector’s ‘changing landscape’: Sector analyst and FutureFoodservice founder Simon Stenning has said growth in segments such as “retail-tainment centres”, roadside dining and franchised concepts are all playing an increasing role in the changing landscape of the UK’s hospitality sector. In his new report – the “Changing Landscape of the UK Hospitality/Foodservice Market”, Stenning forecasts growth in the following segments, which have emerged recently, or by some longer-term developments, including: drive-thru’s continuing to expand, meeting consumer demands for convenience, speed and value; and the growth of the experiential, competitive socialising sector – consumers remain content to pay for experiences that deliver something different to the norm. Stenning also believes growth will come from the continued movement from independent to branded, especially to franchised concepts in sectors such as fast food; dessert cafes and juice/bubble tea brands expanding from a small base, as consumers seek small treats that are different to the norm, and as alcohol consumption declines; indoor street food market halls expanding into brownfield spaces; “retail-tainment centres” re-imagining what retail delivers, and develops into exciting, leisure-based activity and entertainment centres, supported by similarly themed food and drink concepts; and roadside dining and EV charging hubs, providing a longer and more comfortable rest while on the road, enhancing the food and drink offer to suit modern tastes and demands. The report, which was released this week, said despite economic headwinds it forecasts 2.3% growth for the UK hospitality and foodservice market in 2023. Stenning said: “Growth over the long term might only be in small percentages, and be hard fought to come by, and yet there are some segments and concepts that will see significant growth as they develop in this changing landscape.”

Licensees give pub companies thumbs up for support as they build back from pandemic: Licensees across 17 leading pub companies and family brewers have given a thumbs up to the support they have received from their pub companies as they begin to move forward post-pandemic. Research consultancy KAM spoke to 1,600 licensees as part of The Licensee Index, the annual operator sentiment tracker for the UK leased and tenanted pub sector. KAM surveyed licensee satisfaction across 52 different measures including recruitment, training, ordering and delivery, product and promotional support, landlord services and communication. Despite the incredibly challenging few years, the average satisfaction ratings have increased across 49 out of the 52 criteria measured compared with pre-pandemic. The programme also captures net promoter scores (NPS) across each of the 19 pub companies, asking whether the licensee would recommend their pub company to other potential publicans. These scores have also significantly increased since 2021 from an average of +2 to +16. NPS is particularly strong among the family brewers. The leased and tenanted pub sector is feeling more optimistic. In 2020 the levels of optimism for the 12 months ahead hit its lowest among licensees since the programme began (5.6 out of ten) but optimism levels are now higher than 2019 levels (7.4 out of ten). But licensees still obviously have a number of clear concerns with two of the biggest issues facing these businesses being cost inflation and the tax burden, according to the research. Employment costs and access to finance is also rising fast on their list of concerns. Katy Moses, founder and managing director at KAM, said: “Despite much optimism, it’s clear pubs are still very much in the eye of the storm. As licensees rebuild and develop their businesses over the next 12 months plus, they will increasingly lean on their pub companies.”

London social enterprise cafe set to relocate after securing new site: Fair Shot Café, a London cafe providing on-the-job training for young people with learning disabilities, is set to relocate after securing a new site. Founder and chief executive Bianca Tavell launched the first Fair Shot Cafe, in Mayfair’s South Moulton Street, in December 2021 after raising £300,000 in private funding. It will next month move to a new site at The Yards, Covent Garden, becoming the first not-for-profit café in the West End. It will occupy a 2,224 square-foot unit at 3 Slingsby Place. Fair Shot enrolls 12 young adults with a learning disability into its hospitality training programme each year. Trainees spend four days a week at the cafe and one day a week at a partner college to carry out the educational side of the course. Fair Shot Café The Yards will offer seasonal all-day dining options, with a particular focus on fresh brunch dishes including vegan and gluten free options. Tavella said: “We believe every single person deserves a fair shot, and opening at The Yards is a huge step forward in helping to achieve this. Fair Shot Café The Yards will unlock a whole new set of opportunities for our trainees and our business, and we’re excited to open come February.” CBRE acted for landlords Longmartin Properties.

The O2 Academy Brixton has licence suspended for three months: The O2 Academy Brixton has had its licence suspended for three months after a fatal crowd crush at the venue last month left two people dead and one in critical condition. Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson died in hospital after the incident during a gig by the Afrobeats singer Asake on 15 December, during which several people appeared to enter without tickets. The decision on Monday by Lambeth’s licensing subcommittee was made after a request by the Metropolitan police, who are investigating the incident. Pre-empting the suspension, the owner of the venue, Academy Music Group (AMG), announced on Saturday that the doors would stay shut for three months during the police investigations. The licence had previously been suspended pending Monday’s meeting. AMG has been asked to clarify arrangements for ticket holders at events due to take place at the venue over the next three months. It said it had “reflected deeply” on the incident and would stay closed regardless of whether its licence remained suspended. “O2 Academy Brixton recognises the gravity of the events which occurred on the night of 15 December 2022 and expresses its sincere condolences to the families of those who died during the tragic incident and its genuine concerns for anyone affected by it,” it said. “The licence holder, Academy Music Group (AMG), is committed to understanding what happened and cooperating with the various investigations that are under way, including providing full cooperation to the police in the conduct of their inquiries.” 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a luxury members’ club in London that is looking for a head of sales and membership to join its senior leadership team. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “You will be responsible for driving revenue for the club through membership, table bookings, and a particular focus on private hire and events. The business is looking for a proactive and experienced individual, with a strong background in luxury hospitality and a fantastic network, who can really hit the ground running.” The salary is up to £70,000 and the position is based in London. For more information, email marlene@corecruitment.com
 

Company News: 

Crepeaffaire founder targets 300 sites by 2028, aims to make it ‘a global business’: Daniel Spinath, founder of Crepe concept Crepeaffaire, is targeting 300 sites over the next five years as he aims to make it “a global business”. Spinath founded Crepeaffaire in 2005, since when it has expanded to 14 UK sites as well a 15 in the Middle East and one in the Netherlands. It also last year launched its smaller footprint Crepe & Roll concept, which originally operated as a food truck in London’s Old Spitalfields Market. “I would say at least 300 units,” Spinath told the Apicbase How to Build and Franchise a Strong Brand podcast, when asked his five-year growth target. “That’s not just the UK, that will be international as well. We’re growing our brand internationally and looking for sites further afield. We believe there’s great growth opportunities for Crepeaffaire both outside and inside the UK. There is enormous opportunity out there as well for our new concept, I would say we should be a global business with Crepe & Rolls.” Spinath believes there is now an understanding in the UK that crepes are not just sweet treats but can be savoury meals for all dayparts. However, the concept can be easily adapted for other cultures where eating habits are different. “The Middle East, where we’re now growing dramatically, obviously there’s a completely different eating culture,” he said. “It is a sweet tooth culture, and whereas we are also in a savoury game, the product is still much seen as a dessert approach, so about 90% of that business is sweet. In the UK, which is our home market, the situation is dramatically different, and this has really more to do with consumer behaviour depending on where we are. In a shopping mall, for instance, the general consumer would gravitate towards the more classic lunchtime concepts for their lunch and see crepes as a sweet treat, and therefore it’s skewed more towards sweet. In other sites, whether it’s more of an office destination or with more residents, where there is a different type of dwell time and shopping pattern, it’s savoury. We’ve come to the point where, on certain sites where we started out with 80% sweet, that is now more or less split 50-50. That’s extremely important because we really want to be perceived as an all-day meal and snack solution. We’re looking currently at entering the US, whereby it’s not just about different eating habits but also about different patterns of consumption. People will drive to a place to have a breakfast, for instance.”

Joule’s seeing trade ‘holding up’ but 2023 set to be more challenging than pandemic: Steve Nuttall, managing director of Shropshire brewer and retailer Joule’s, has told Propel trading is “holding up” but believes 2023 will be more challenging than the pandemic as the sector struggles to absorb the hike in utility costs. He said: “This combined with a pathological blindness of reality that local authorities believe these businesses can fund business rates is incredulous to all of us in the sector. The consumer is not able to fund price increases to get anywhere close to the price rise required to meet the increases we face. We also need urgent help from the regulators combating opportunistic energy companies some of whom are behaving extremely badly and taking advantage of small business owners. We will invest in energy saving measures across the estate, but the speed and scale of the increases in fixed costs for small local pubs especially will inevitably lead to closures. We will not be immune to that. We predict 2023 will be extremely hard, and more challenging that the pandemic.” Nuttall, who said Christmas had been “solid” with a return to pre-pandemic levels, added Joule’s was in a good position in that “we are a freehold business and established”. The business held prices on its core craft beer for the third year in a row while cask ale increased 3% – the first rise in two years “allowing margin improvement of our own brewed beer for our franchisees”. Nuttall spoke as the business reported turnover increased to £6,851,149 for the year ending 31 March 2022 compared with £1,707,686 the previous year. Revenue was slightly above the £6,647,829 reported for the year ending 31 March 2020 when the final month of trading was impacted by the pandemic. The business made a pre-tax profit of £1,103,116 compared with a loss of £1,050,446 the year before (2020: profit of £1,112,746). One pub was acquired since the year end taking the total to 44, but no further sites are in the pipeline. The group received £81,388 through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (2021: £467,035) and £28,347 in other grants (2021: £92,444). No dividend was paid (2021: £40,000). 

The Vurger Co looking at new growth opportunities: Vegan fast-food concept The Vurger Co has confirmed it is looking for new growth opportunities to capitalise on the “strong following it has built up over the past seven years of trading”. Propel revealed earlier this month that the company had appointed advisors to help review its options, which could include a sale of the four-strong business. The company, which was founded in 2016 by Rachel Hugh and Neil Potts, is working with advisors at FRP on its funding options going forward. A spokesperson for FRP told Propel: “The business is not in administration and is currently looking for new growth opportunities to capitalise on the strong following it has built up over the past seven years of trading. FRP Corporate Finance is supporting the business to identify suitable investment options to drive this growth.” Last year, the company was backed by former Manchester United and England footballer Chris Smalling in its latest investment round. Smalling invested through his venture capitalist consultancy ForGood, adding to his portfolio of plant-friendly investments. The Vurger Co said the funding, including Smalling’s investment, would enable it to expand both in the UK and abroad.

Greggs to open first London airport site: Food-to-go operator Greggs is to open its first site at a London airport, at Gatwick. The site will open in South Terminal arrivals later this summer and will be the first new food and beverage outlet to open at Gatwick in 2023. Pam McCarthy, director of retail at Gatwick, said: “Greggs will be a fantastic addition to the South Terminal at Gatwick, providing arriving passengers with a great taste of Britain, or a warm ‘welcome home’. Situated immediately opposite the arrivals gates, the store will also be ideally located for those using the newly refurbished Gatwick airport train station to grab a coffee or quick breakfast on their way to work, and for those awaiting the return of loved ones from a trip abroad.” Gillian Long, Greggs' retail operations director, added: “We’re excited to be opening a shop at Gatwick airport’s South Terminal, bringing local jobs to the area as well as providing customers with a modern, convenient new place to experience their favourite Greggs food.”

Burger & Sauce planning ten more sites in 2023 as it opens Leicester restaurant: Burger franchise concept Burger & Sauce has opened a site in Leicester and is planning ten more outlets in 2023. The restaurant, in London Road, is being run by new franchisee Amandeep Singh, a former self-employed builder, and he is eyeing further expansion once the Leicester outlet is established. Burger & Sauce franchise director Anthony Round said: “We’ve been blown away by the number of burgers sold during Leicester’s first weekend of trading. We have ten more restaurant launches planned for this year, so this is a fabulous start to 2023! Since start-up, Burger & Sauce’s popularity has grown beyond our expectations. We are seeing incredible demand in all of our restaurants for eat-in, takeaway and delivery.” The Leicester site is the ninth to open since Burger & Sauce launched in 2020. Last year, the company said it was targeting a UK estate of 300-plus stores.

Thunderbird Fried Chicken appoints new FD, in talks with a number of potential franchisees: Thunderbird Fried Chicken, the wings and fried chicken concept backed by TriSpan, has appointed Chris Nunn, formerly of Tortilla and La Tasca, as its new finance director. Nunn joins the Paul Gilchrist-led business after more than six and a half years at Tortilla, including nearly two years as the brand’s head of finance. Previous to that, he spent nearly five years as financial controller at La Tasca. At the same time, Thunderbird, which operates six bricks-and-mortar sites in London, and five concessions in partnership with Parkdean Resorts, has appointed Steve Hardy, formerly of Fego UK, The Gentleman Baristas and Bill’s Restaurants, as its new head operations. Gilchrist told Propel both Nunn and Hardy had “joined us to help support the next period of growth for Thunderbird”. Gilchrist said that the company had a couple of sites in the pipeline and were in discussions with several potential franchise partners. It is thought Thunderbird has spent the past two years preparing itself to go out to talk to prospective franchisees. The business, which was founded by Matt Harris, has been backed by private equity firm TriSpan since January 2019. Gilchrist confirmed that the business was not looking to do anymore dark kitchens and had brought a stop to its joint venture with Jurys Inn, which had seen the brand operate a delivery service out of the hotel chain’s site in Milton Keynes. He said: “We are not looking to do any more dark kitchens or work with hotels as the model just doesn’t really financially stack up.”

US brand 800 Degrees Pizza confirms launch for debut UK site next week, two further sites to follow: US brand 800 Degrees Pizza has confirmed it will launch its debut UK site next week, with two further sites to follow. Propel reported last month that 800 Degrees, which has 35 locations worldwide, would be opening its first UK site as part of the new Reef Food Hall at Gravity Southside in Wandsworth. The venue, which will also be a first in Europe for the California-based brand, will now open on Tuesday, 24 January. This will be followed by two further UK sites in the next three months, as 800 Degrees ramps up its expansion plans. At Gravity Southside, guests will be able to order pizzas via a QR code, or for delivery via Deliveroo. Pizzas include the Butter Chicken, with tikka sauce, red onions and chillies; the Doppio, with crispy pepperoni and spicy salami; and the Build Your Own option, featuring a vast selection of premium toppings. Tommy Lee, chief executive of 800 Degrees Pizza, said: “We are so pumped for this entrance into the UK, which will be a pivotal milestone for our brand. We see 800 Degrees Pizza as a lifestyle choice, and we just hope Londoners love it as much as we do.” Kenneth Rourke, president of Reef Kitchens, said: “We couldn’t be more excited to bring one of the States’ most popular gourmet pizza brands to the UK for the very first time. From their signature pizza offerings to mouth-watering oven baked wings, guests will love the flavours and premium ingredients 800 Degrees delivers through the innovative convenience of Reef Food Hall.” Harvey Jenkinson, co-founder and chief executive at Gravity, added: “We are excited to welcome 800 Degrees to Gravity Wandsworth and believe they are a brilliant business to complement our current food offering. Gravity strives to push the boundaries of leisure entertainment within the UK, breathing life back into the high street replacing traditional shopping with fun and entertainment, and is always on the lookout for brands that will help to build our offering.”

Michelin starred chef and global restaurateur Akira Back plans Soho opening: Akira Back, the Michelin starred chef and global restaurateur, is planning to bring his ABSteak concept to central London. Propel understands that the Korean-American chef, who operates 24 restaurants across the globe, is in talks to open a site on the ground floor of the Film House site in Soho’s Wardour Street. It is thought the chef is working on the new project with Restaurants Inc, the development vehicle founded by sector investors Krishan Katyal and Dominic Ford. Last year, through Bowl Life Ltd, a subsidiary of Restaurants Inc, Katyal and Ford launched the debut franchise for Shoryu Ramen in Kensington High Street. Back is set to make his European debut with a restaurant at the new Mandarin Oriental Mayfair hotel, which is scheduled to open in Hanover Square this spring. The chef made his name at the Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge in Las Vegas, where his signature dish is tuna pizza, and also runs the acclaimed modern Korean restaurant Dosa in Seoul, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2018. ABSteak is described as “a unique upscale dining experience in a modern Korean steakhouse where cooking and eating take centre stage together”.

Catering equipment supplier Nisbets eyes £500m-plus sale: The founder of the Nisbets catering equipment business is plotting a £500m-plus sale that would catapult his family into the ranks of Britain’s super-rich. Sky News reports that Andrew Nisbet, whose business has become a multinational distributor to the food-service sector, has instructed Goldman Sachs to sound out prospective buyers. Any deal would be likely to value Nisbets at well in excess of £500m, with sales in 2021 of £420m showing a 34% increase on the previous year, according to insiders. A formal auction process is unlikely to get under way until much later in the year, and an alternative outcome such as a partial sale remains a possibility. A stock market listing is not thought to be a focal point of Goldman’s mandate. Nisbet founded the company in 1983 and his family owns 100% of its equity. If an outright sale does take place, it would deliver one of the biggest instant paydays to a British entrepreneur for years. Nisbets says it has supplied more than 35,000 catering products to restaurants, hotels, bars and the broader hospitality industry during its four decades in existence.

Hub Box to launch chef apprentice scheme: Hub Box, the south west-based burger and barbecue concept led by Richard Boon, is to launch a chef apprentice scheme. Due to launch on 24 February, the pilot scheme will be rolled out in all four of the 12-strong group’s Cornwall-based restaurants – in Falmouth, Truro, St Ives and Pentewan near St Austell – with one apprentice in each. If successful, 
Hub Box intends to extend the programme to the rest of its estate. The scheme will offer apprentices the opportunity to study for their Level 2 chef qualifications and has been created in collaboration with St Austell Brewery and the Rick Stein Group. The 12-month course will see the apprentices trained, coached and mentored in Hub Box kitchens while attending Truro College every other Friday during term time. At the end of the scheme, each apprentice will be required to undertake a three-month end assessment to complete the programme and achieve their qualification. Boon said: “None of our success would be possible without the hard work, passion and commitment of our talented team, and it’s important for us to also work hard on attracting and retaining great people through the creation of ongoing learning and development opportunities. Hospitality is a great industry to work in, and our apprentice scheme gives our chefs a chance to gain qualifications which will open doors for them in the future, hopefully in-house as we expand Hub Box, and for their careers in the wider industry.”

Freespirit Pub Co set to open sixth site: Freespirit Pub Co, the Midlands-based pub company led by former British Institute of Innkeeping licensee of the year Mark Higgs, is set to open its sixth site. Propel understands that the business is set to open The House at Leamington Spa in The Parade, in the Warwickshire town. The company said: “We are super excited to introduce this unique site in the heart of Leamington Spa. A very new style of site and offering for Freespirit, but will have all our hallmarks of great service, tasty locally sourced menu, great drinks and, of course, a good dollop of our Freespirit hospitality.” Freespirit also operates The Sun Inn at Hook Norton, The Red Lion in Hellidon (near Daventry), The Castle at Edgehill near Banbury, The Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire, and The Bell Inn at Ladbroke.

Bagel Factory opens debut site in the Midlands, lines up first airport site: Grab-and-go concept Bagel Factory, which is owned by Cremonini Group, one of the largest European food operators, has opened its first site in the Midlands and lined up its debut UK airport opening as part of a target to more than double its estate by 2025. The business, which was acquired by the Cremonini Group in summer 2012 in a deal believed to be worth in the region of £2m, opened its 22nd UK site on the first floor of New Street Station in Birmingham. At the same time, Propel understands that the company will open its first airport site at London Luton, located close to the terminal of the new DART light railway, which will connect the airport’s parkway station to its terminal building. The site is expected to open later this spring. Antonio Ghirarduzzi, Bagel Factory director, said: “We’re so excited to open our first Birmingham store! Bagel Factory is having a fantastic year, with new sites opening across the country, and we can’t wait to share our creations in a whole new city and create new job opportunities for the local community.”

Neat Burger signs delivery deal with UberEats: Lewis Hamilton-backed plant-based concept Neat Burger has signed a delivery deal with Uber Eats which will see eight of its stores launch on the platform’s app. Delivery via UberEats is available from Neat Burger’s Soho, Oxford Circus, Camden, Finsbury Park, Victoria, Liverpool Street, Canary Wharf and Westfield Stratford locations. Neat Burger’s new menu includes sides such as Buffalo Cauli, Mac n Cheeze and Nasty Nachos, while this month also sees the launch of its limited-edition Chick’n & Waffles, a plant-based take on the classic American brunch dish featuring a toasted Belgian waffle and fried Chick’n nuggets, topped with bacon bits and served with maple syrup. Stasi Nychas, co-founder of Neat Burger, said: “We are thrilled to bring Neat Burger to even more customers through our partnership with UberEats. Our goal has always been to make our delicious, sustainable and ethical plant-based food accessible to as many people as possible, and this collaboration allows us to do just that.” Matthew Price, general manager at UberEats, added: “We’re delighted to be kicking off 2023 by welcoming award-winning sustainable restaurant Neat Burger onto the UberEats platform. Customers can now have one of Neat Burger’s plant-based dishes delivered to their door, further strengthening the vegan selection on UberEats.” 

Rare Restaurants confirms March opening for Gaucho’s north east debut: Rare Restaurants, the Martin Williams-led operator, has confirmed a March opening for Gaucho’s north east debut. Propel reported in January 2022 that the company planned to open on a former Virgin Money site on the corner of Market Street and Pilgrim Street. The site will now open in March, reports Hardens, offering 140 covers as well as two private dining rooms – one seating up to six diners and the other seating up to 12. Williams said: “We are delighted to be bringing the Gaucho experience to the north east. With Newcastle having such a rich historic culture and a diverse food scene, we feel the Gaucho brand and ethos will sit perfectly here.” Propel reported earlier this month that Rare Restaurants, which opened its latest Gaucho in December, in Liverpool, and also has a Cardiff site lined up, is taking over the former Wahlburgers site at 8-9 James Street in London’s Covent Garden.

Little Houses Group lines up second site: Little Houses Group, the nursery, soft play and cafe concept from Incipio Group co-founder Charlie Gardiner, which recently received backing from serial sector investor Imbiba, has lined up a second site in London. Propel understands that the business will open Jesse’s House and Parsons House Nursery on Heathman’s Road, near Parsons Green tube station, later this spring. Last November, Gardiner, who founded Incipio in 2016, opened Jaego’s House in Kensal Rise as the first venue for his new vehicle, The Little Houses Group. Branded as a club for all the family, it features a jungle gym, crèche, child-minding service and kids’ cinema for children, plus a co-working office, gym, treatment room and library for adults. The 20,000 square-foot also features a restaurant and waterside cafe, seating 85 inside and 24 on a canalside terrace. Earlier this week, Imbiba completed the first close at circa £70m of its new £90m fund and made its first investment from the fund into Little Houses Group. With ambitious plans to scale the business and multiple new venues planned in the coming years, Imbiba will provide capital and support for the management team to expand the business.

Wendy’s confirms debut UK drive-thru site and Blank Table as new franchisee: Wendy’s, the third-largest quick service restaurant chain in the US, has confirmed it will open its debut UK drive thru site next week (23 January) in Cambridgeshire. The new site at Brampton Hut, located on the A1/A14 intersection, will be operated by Blank Table, the brand’s second UK franchisee. Propel revealed last year that Blank Table had signed up to become a franchisee of Wendy’s in the UK, with agreement to open sites under the brand across the East of England. It plans to open more Wendy’s restaurants in the southeast area this year, including locations in Wisbech and Cambridge. Paul Hilder, senior vice president and managing director, Wendy’s Restaurants of UK and Canada, said: “We are incredibly excited to welcome Blank Table to the Wendy's family. Our relationship with this team will be instrumental in helping us continue to quickly expand and scale our brand presence across the country.” Carl Morris, managing director of Blank Table, added: “Wendy’s has been focused on quality and exceptional hospitality since day one, a real differentiator in the industry and a commitment that we value at our organisation. We’re thrilled to open the first Wendy’s restaurant with a drive-thru in the UK, giving the British community more access to Wendy’s fresh, high-quality food.” Wendy’s is also thought to have lined up further drive-thru sites at the Northern Gateway scheme in Colchester, and on Derby’s Normanton Road.

Hammerson plans to convert former Birmingham department store into offices with restaurant, bar, food hall and gym: Shopping centre owner Hammerson has submitted plans to convert a former department store in Birmingham into offices with a restaurant, bar, food hall and gym. The 200,000 square-foot venue at Grand Central, called Drum, will have a workspace for up to 2,000 people and include a 40,000 square-foot hospitality hub. Harry Badham, chief development and asset repositioning officer at Hammerson, said: “This project is the next step in Hammerson’s vision to transform our Birmingham estate. These proposals will create a new world-class restaurant and leisure hub at this key national interchange and gateway to the UK’s fastest growing city.” Subject to achieving planning consent, work will begin later this year, with the potential for completion in 2025. Bruce Gillingham Pollard represent Hammerson for hospitality and leisure lettings within Drum.

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