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Tue 24th Jan 2023 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Connell – pre-booked corporate spend increasingly driving competitive socialising market at the expense of some city centre pubs: Darrel Connell, managing partner at Imbiba, has said post-covid that competitive socialising is becoming a “pub replacement piece” and investors are increasingly attracted to the higher margin profile of businesses in that sector. Connell told Propel: “These competitive social businesses are trading very well and they are, in most cases, very high margin. It is like the old nightclub model. Also, what we’re seeing is if you walk around some parts of the City now, or Canary Wharf, certain pubs that used to be really busy are less busy because what’s happening is people pre covid that used to go to the office as normal, and you would say ‘who fancies a drink tonight after work’ and you would pop into the local pub. But now what’s happening, because of erratic working patterns, with certain people in on certain days, the office social is now more pre-planned and pre-booked, with an activity, which lends itself perfectly to competitive socialising.” Last week, Imbiba – which backs the likes of NQ64, Farmer J, Big Fang Collective and Vagabond Wines – completed the first close at circa £70m of its new £90m fund. It has made its first investment out of that into Little Houses Group, the nursery, soft play and cafe concept from Incipio Group co-founder Charlie Gardiner, and Connell said in terms of looking at further opportunities, “our job is to see everything”. He said: “There needs to be a roll out play. It could be a nursery business, a bowling alley, a cinema, a restaurant, a bar, it could be competitive socialising. We’d like to do more freehold stuff, such as freehold pubs, but valuations in that space are very difficult.”

Industry News: 

Host of hotel operators to join updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies: A host of hotel operators are among the 51 new multi-site companies being added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released on Friday (27 January), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, features Lester Hotels Group, which operates the Ramada Resort Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel & Spa and Nant Ddu Lodge & Spa in Wales. Also added this month is Exclusive Hotels and Venues, which has a six-strong estate of luxury hotels across the south of England. In addition, Strathmore Hotels, a privately-owned and family run group of eight hotels across Scotland will be featured. Meanwhile, Latona Leisure, which has a portfolio of four hotels in Somerset, Wiltshire and Avon, is included. Premium subscribers will also receive a 3,200-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 2,769 companies. Premium subscribers will also receive the next edition of the New Openings Database on Friday, 3 February, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The next edition also includes a 12,000-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to three other databases – the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, and the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage, which was sent to Premium subscribers for the first time this week. 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.
Lord – we will see a hailstorm of damage over withheld energy support to businesses: Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, has called for an urgent inquiry into the withholding of energy support to the hospitality industry. Lord, who will meet with MPs next week to discuss the issue, believes the next quarter will be too difficult for some. He said: “Pubs, bars and restaurants have been most damaged by the economic turbulence of the past three years, and support is now being pulled from under businesses that are only just beginning to recover. I’m hearing from pubs where monthly energy bills are exceeding rent payments, and others who have temporarily shut sites during the colder winter months to save on gas and electricity costs. We also have evidence of energy providers who have either not yet applied any government support payments to business accounts, or have not applied the full amounts owed, and we are urgently pressing Ofgem and the government to investigate.” Lord’s comments come after EDF revealed it is failing to pass on emergency government help with bills to about 2,000 small businesses. EDF said “systems issues” meant certain businesses had not received the correct state-funded discount. Lord said: “From the end of March, we will see a hailstorm of damage inflicted on businesses, from the removal of energy support to rises in income tax thresholds, which will further affect consumer spending. Unfortunately, we will see many businesses close down as a result of these extra pressures. We are moving from one financial crisis to another, and the Treasury urgently needs to put forward a long-term financial plan, which will not only secure economic growth and stabilise the industries currently in peril, but instil confidence in business owners across the UK.”
UKHospitality – extended licensing hours for King’s coronation would be a much-needed boost: UKHospitality has said extending licensing hours for the King’s coronation would provide a much-needed boost for the sector. The government launched a public consultation on whether to relax licensing hours across England and Wales to mark the coronation on 6 May 2023. UKHospitality has given its backing to the proposal, which would see licensing hours extended from 11pm to 1am between Friday 5 May and Sunday 7 May. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The King’s coronation will be a spectacle celebrated by millions and hospitality will no doubt be at the centre of a historic moment for the country. I’m pleased the government is proposing to extend licensing hours and UKHospitality is fully behind the plans. Not only will it benefit customers, but it also means businesses will be able to trade for longer, increase footfall and generate additional sales. At a time when the sector has been ravaged by the cost of doing business crisis, as well as recruitment challenges and strike disruption, this extension would provide a much-needed boost and aid hospitality’s recovery.”
Fox – we sometimes feel like we’re just a cash cow: David Fox, founder of the Tampopo chain that employs 140 staff across five sites, has said the hospitality industry sometimes feels “like just a cash cow” to the government. Speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme, Fox said: “One of the frustrations with hospitality as a huge employer in the UK is that we do sometimes feel like just a cash cow. It’s been a frustration of mine that in Germany I think restaurants pay 7.2% in VAT, in Italy 10% VAT and France 5.5% VAT, whereas we pay a whopping 20% VAT. So that is for me the single biggest kind of disincentive to grow and our ability to make the kind of returns that allow us to then invest in green technology. We’re not a high margin, cash rich sector really, and the tax regime is in my view quite punitive in terms of our sector.” When asked whether he agreed with John Allan, chairman of Tesco, that some food suppliers may be using inflation as an excuse to increase prices further than necessary, Fox said: “It’s hard to know. I think most hospitality businesses compared with retail are smaller businesses, so our leverage, our ability to be brutal in negotiations I suppose, is less in this case. All I know is from my end, I’ve seen a 20% increase in food and drink costs, and there are lots of legitimate reasons given for that. The shortage of specific products is deeply frustrating and that leads us not to be able to negotiate as well as we could in terms of getting food and drink, and what’s clear in our sector, we’re not able to pass that on to the consumer. I think most good restaurants make 10p in the pound and a lot make a lot less and I'm currently making about 3, 3.5p in the pound, which is not really a place where most businesses would want to be.”
Toggle launches ticketing tool for hospitality businesses: Toggle, the hospitality gift card platform, has launched a new ticketing tool that allows venues to sell tickets direct to consumers for zero commission. The tool has been specifically designed for sector businesses, “helping operators drive revenue both from small, regular events such as live music and large one-off events such as charity fundraisers”. Operators can set the number of tickets they want to sell, along with the price, and customers can then purchase direct from the venue’s website, “easing the burden on staff and reducing administration”. It operates using a flat rate scheme and is available to existing Toggle customers for a small, additional monthly cost, based on the number of venues they operate. Dan Brookman, chief executive of Toggle, said: “We are all about making revenue generation as easy as possible for our customers, and our new Toggle Tickets tool gives them a simple and stress-free way to boost sales through events without paying hefty ticket retailer costs. We understand a large number of consumers are looking for more than just a beer or a pizza when they go out, they are craving experiences, so by encouraging our customers to host events, we hope to get more people through their doors, which means more money in their tills. It’s as simple as that.”
2023 Michelin star revelation ceremony returns to in-person event: The 2023 Michelin star revelation ceremony for Great Britain and Ireland 2023 will return to an in-person event when it takes place at the Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire, on Monday, 27 March. For the past two years, the awards have been announced digitally due to the covid-19 pandemic. Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guides, said: “After two years without being able to organise a physical event in Great Britain and Ireland, we are thrilled to be back with what should be a warm, exciting and friendly gathering. The team is on hand and busy organising a celebration to fully reflect the talent, commitment and resilience of the British and Irish gastronomic scenes – a celebration all the more welcome in the current challenging economic climate.” In addition to the Michelin stars and Michelin green stars, other special awards covering a variety of categories will be announced. The presentation will also be broadcast live on the Michelin Guide YouTube channel.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a small restaurant and events group that is keen to appoint an industry experienced chair/non-executive director to guide, mentor and advise and lead board discussions as a non-executive chair. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “The business has had consistent growth and is now turning over circa £10m. The chief executive and chief financial officer have ambitious plans for growth and are looking to double turnover within two years. The business model is predicated on collaborative working with the best up-and-coming artisans and food business to create a vibrant and dynamic experience, so industry know-how, marketing and relationship growth skills are key.” The salary would be a negotiable day rate, with a commitment of two days a month. For more information, email

Company News: 

200 Degrees December like-for-like sales up 25% despite train strikes, expansion to focus on northern and Midlands heartlands: Stephen Fern, the new managing director of 200 Degrees Coffee, has told Propel that December like-for-like sales were up 25%, despite the impact of the train strikes on footfall. Fern, who joined the 18-strong business as financial director in 2019 and was officially promoted to his new role last week, said: “In December we were 25% up like-for-like on last year. We felt the impact of the rail strikes as two of our shops are next to the train stations, and we usually see a drop of 30% when there’s a rail strike – so to still be 25% up on last year is fantastic. We’ve grown in all areas of the business over the past 12 months, particularly online and wholesale. The shops have always performed well and we’re now starting to see other pillars of the business (online, wholesale and barista schools) increasing their revenue, which means we can diversify our offering further. For example, we’re looking to double our e-commerce operation over the next year and wholesale by circa 35%.” 200 Degrees currently run seven barista schools, and Fern said the aim going forward is to have them in 30% of the shops. In terms of this area of growth, co-founder Rob Darby said last year it will aim for five new store openings a year. “We are always on the lookout for new sites, and along with that we will be focusing on the other three pillars of the business,” Fern said. “We’re in a fantastic position where if five opportunities come along next year, we would pursue them. We have the financial agility to react to opportunities as they come. We’re in conversations about the next shop, which we hope to finalise in the second quarter of this year, and then we have another few shops lined up for the 2024 calendar year. We’ll continue to focus on the areas where we are – the north west, Yorkshire, the Midlands – as there’s plenty of opportunity in the hubs we have now, where we have brand recognition. We’ll stick to those areas for now rather than spreading ourselves too thinly. Again, if the right opportunity came up, we’d always consider it.” The company, which is backed by Foresight, has applied to open on the former Patisserie Valerie site in Chester’s Bridge Street. 
Chestnut Group sees December like-for-likes up 23%, reports first full-year profit: East Anglian pub company Chestnut Group saw like-for-like sales increase 23% in December on a VAT adjusted basis compared with the previous year with total sales up 38%. Total group turnover for the nine months to 31 December 2022 was £17.2m and the company said it was on target to deliver £21.2m in the full year to March 2023. This represents 18% growth year-on-year, a 115% increase on the year to March 2020, and 330% increase on the year to March 2019. Philip Turner, founder and chief executive, told Propel: “Despite the obvious challenges facing the sector, we and our shareholders believe the strength of our brand combining a destination focused freehold portfolio with 200 bedrooms is a resilient platform to build further growth from.” It comes as the business reported its first profit since first posting full accounts in 2018, as its turnover more than doubled for the year ending 31 March 2022. It made a pre-tax profit of £23,457 compared with a loss of £579,433 in 2021 and a loss of £1,482,124 in 2020. Turnover more than doubled from £7,035,189 in 2021 to £18,856,991 and far exceeded the last full year before the pandemic, ending 31 March 2020, which was £10,292,117. Adjusted group Ebitda also rose from £1,333,395 in 2021 to £2,325,681. It received £747,396 in government grants compared with £3,076,423 in 2021. The company secured a new loan from Metro Bank of £3m in May 2022. It received £1.5m in July 2022 in relation to an advanced share subscription scheme, with an additional £2m to follow this month ahead of a wider capital raise as it adds additional capacity to The Packhorse Inn in Moulton, The Globe in Wells-Next-The-Sea and The Weeping Willow in Bury St Edmunds. The company is hoping an insurance claim for a fire at The Three Blackbirds in Newmarket dating to 2018 will be resolved early in 2023 after a final proposed claim for circa £1.4m was submitted to insurers in March 2022. The combined investments made in the period increases the group capacity to 166 rooms and 1,487 covers versus 138 rooms and 1,095 covers in 2021. Since the year end, the company has acquired The Wiveton Bell in north Norfolk. In keeping with the group’s strategic positioning as a destination food business, the proportion of food revenues stayed at 53% on a 168% increase in revenues.
Red Lion Holdings secures £11m of new funding, remains acquisitive: Red Lion Holdings (RLH), the pub investment group led by sector entrepreneurs Jason Myers and David Ramsey, has secured £11m of new funding, which will be used to refinance its existing banking facilities and provide flexible capital to support the next stage of its business plan. Boutique real estate lender Mera Investment Management has provided the co-loan with Ortus Secured Finance to Red Lion, which owns the seven-strong Red Mist Leisure and the four-strong Grosvenor Inns businesses. Myers told Propel the new funding sees the removal of Downing as a backer to the business and it “remains acquisitive”. He said: “Trading is buoyant, we’re performing above expectations, but we are still cautious because it is a tough market. We have funds to do stuff in terms of new sites but we’re not under pressure to do anything. We remain acquisitive, and I think this allows us to probably do that if we want, but we’re not running around trying to buy loads of stuff right now.” Mera IM said the new loan is secured against a five-pub portfolio. Red Lion Holdings completed the buyout of Red Mist Leisure last summer. It acquired a majority stake in the business from the original founders, led by Mark Robson and Mark Williams, at the start of 2021. Robson and Williams set up new company New Dawn Pubs last year, with four of their former pubs – The Red Lion in Odiham, The Royal Exchange in Lindford, The Rose & Crown in Upper Farringdon in Hampshire and The Castle Inn, Farnham in Surrey. They have since opened the Gomshall Mill, near Guildford.
Ossett Brewery and Salt Brewing Co secure new shareholder investment and bank funding after profits pass pre-pandemic levels, plans extensive retail expansion: Yorkshire brewer and retailer Ossett Brewing Group has secured new private shareholder investment and bank funding after its profits passed pre-pandemic levels. Ossett Brewery Pub Company was founded by Jamie Lawson in 2003. In its accounts for the year ending 31 March 2022, the group stated post year-end, it received the cash injections from shareholders and secured a new loan facility with HSBC in December 2022. The board said it is “extremely pleased with sales against a backdrop of wider economic challenges for the industry” and expects them to continue growing in FY2023. Turnover grew from £7,071,447 in 2021 to £19,742,116 and exceeded pre-pandemic levels, with £17,226,450 reported for the year ending 31 March 2020. Group Ebitda increased from £62,584 in 2021 to £1,964,584. Lawson said the additional funds secured will help the group continue to grow both the brewing and retail sides of the business. He said Ossett continues to look at both freehold and leasehold opportunities, and extensive refurbishment works have started on the historic Bingley Arms in Leeds, with a relaunch planned for May. Lawson also founded craft brewing company Salt, the new company being incubated in 2018 as a way of moving into craft keg brewing while still brewing traditional cask ale at Ossett. The Salt team sits separately to Ossett and has production sites in both Yorkshire and London. Salt production volumes are growing at a rapid pace and it has national distribution with Tesco, Asda and Morrisons in the off-trade, as well as an exclusive distribution deal in the on-trade and through its managed chain of Taps in the north and London. In November, Lawson told Propel he is planning up to five new openings in 2023 for his nine-strong Salt Tap estate, followed by the same number annually for the next five years.
Six by Nico team to launch new bakery concept Valaria: The team behind the Six by Nico restaurant brand is to launch a new bakery concept called Valaria next month, in Glasgow’s West End, Propel has learned. The new concept, which will open on a former Vodafone shop unit in Byres Road, will offer “delicious cake, pastry and bakery products such as Petit Gateaux, Laminated Pastries and many, many more”. Last month, the company behind Six by Nico, which is led by Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone, announced it was set to open four new sites in the UK under its core brand, as well as new bar and bakery ventures, and an international launch, on the back of a “robust financial performance”. The group, which currently serves more than 10,000 diners per week across 13 sites in the UK and Ireland, recorded turnover of £30.8m for the year to June 2022, versus £18.1m for the prior 15-month period to June 2021. Last year, the business also agreed an £11.5m funding facility with ThinCats to support its “ambitious expansion strategy”.
Fat Hippo plans Chester opening: Better burger brand Fat Hippo is planning an opening in Chester. The Michael Phillips-led Fat Hippo, which made its London debut in October, is in talks to take on the ex-Dough Dough site in Chester’s Northgate Street. Propel revealed last month the 16-strong business was in talks on a site in Bath’s Saw Close, for an opening this year. The company, which was founded in 2010 by Phillips, is also set to open its second restaurant in London this year, on the former Las Banderas site in Wardour Street. The business is also eyeing an opening in the Jackson’s Corner development in Reading’s King Street, as part of plans to open six sites across the UK in the next 12 months.
Portland owners eye new Fitzrovia opening: Woodhead Restaurant Group, the London business led by Will Lander and Daniel Morgenthau, is eyeing a further opening in central London. Propel understands the business, which owns and runs the Clipstone, Portland and The Quality Chop House sites, has applied to take on a unit at 64 Goodge Street, under new business Fitzroy Hospitality. Woodhead, which also owns a wine bar and a shop in the capital, opened Portland in Great Portland Street at the start of 2015, and secured a Michelin star in September of the same year. In August 2020, the business closed its Emilia at Bonhams restaurant in Mayfair, after just 15 months of operation. The unit at 64 Goodge Street is being marketed by DCL. 
Lucky Saint secures first pub: Alcohol-free beer brand Lucky Saint, founded by Luke Boase, has secured its first pub, in London’s Marylebone. The company, which earlier this month secured £10m of new investment, will reopen The Masons Arms in Devonshire Street in early March. The site will also double as the company’s new head office. Boase said: “It was an idea spawned over two years ago, as I searched Rightmove for cheap office space. What if we could rent the upper floors of a pub as an office? What if we rented a pub, and had an office upstairs? What if we opened a pub called The Lucky Saint and built a brand home? From humble beginnings, the idea had gained momentum. But frankly, finding a site to fit the bill, let alone getting hold of it, was a tall order. We knew a little of The Masons Arms, lying vacant since before the pandemic. And then a thing happened. Greg James, of BBC Radio fame, put a story on Instagram in spring 2022 showing his favourite pub, The Masons, in full sunny glory. And then another showing its current state, squatters in residence, with a request that someone bring it back to life. Emotion kicked in. The rest is history. We will be serving the very best alcohol-free and alcoholic drinks, and for food, we are reimagining a pub classic.” AG&G acted on the Masons Arms deal.
Star Pubs & Bars rolls outs smart meters to one third of sites: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars is installing gas and electricity smart meters at a third of its sites to help reduce their energy consumption. The programme means all pubs buying energy through its Star Energy scheme will have the meters by the end of April. A total of 765 pubs will receive the meters. From trials in its Just Add Talent managed operator pubs, the company said it expects licensees to be able to cut their energy use by at least 10%. All licensees participating in Star’s energy scheme will receive bespoke recommendations on how to best cut their energy usage, taking into account the type of pub they run and the style of their building. Mark MacDonald, head of pub services, said: “We’re committed to doing all we can support to licensees in reducing their overheads. With energy bills at record levels, the minimum 10% saving is substantial for licensees.”
Incipio Group brings in former Young’s operations manager, several new sites to open in 2023: Incipio Group, operator of venues including Pergola on the Wharf, The Prince and Lost in Brixton, has appointed former Young’s operations manager Cormac Rawson as operations director as it gears up for several new openings in 2023. At Young’s, Rawson oversaw the running of 16 sites including The Ship in Wandsworth, The Dog & Fox in Wimbledon and The Windmill in Clapham. He joins the eight-strong Incipio Group at a pivotal time as the company begins a new phase of expansion. Incipio Group chief executive, Ed Devenport, said: “Cormac is an exceptional hospitality professional and a respected and proven operator. As well as being passionate about the sector and its people, he brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the group at an exciting time in our development as we enter our next phase of growth. He joins a talented group of directors in finance director Tom Brand, people director Josie Adams and sales and marketing director Anthony Knight, and we’re delighted to have him as a part of our senior leadership team.” Incipio Group opened The Palm House in Victoria’s Nova scheme in September, followed by The Libertine, located in The Royal Exchange in the City, in October.
Las Iguanas announces biggest ever employee trip for 2023: Las Iguanas, the Big Table Group-owned brand, is bringing back its Race to Rio tour, one of the hospitality sector’s longest-established employee incentive trips. Returning after a three-year covid-induced hiatus, the 2023 trip will be the company’s biggest yet, with more than 20 team members travelling to Rio de Janeiro in the spring. Places on the trip have been secured through a series of incentives running over recent months, including mystery diner scores, along with VIP seats awarded to the general manager of the year and the two runners up at last autumn’s Big Table Group conference. The final places will be decided shortly. In the meantime, Race to Rio ‘24 will kick off in January with opportunities to grab a seat on that flight throughout 2023. First established in 2008, this will be the 13th Race to Rio tour. Alan Morgan, chief executive of Big Table Group, said: “Las Iguanas is a genuinely fun and exciting place to work. Our Race to Rio trips have had an amazing impact on so many people throughout our business over the years, and I’m thrilled more team members than ever will have the opportunity to enjoy this trip of a lifetime this year.”
JD Wetherspoon certificated as top employer: JD Wetherspoon has been certificated as a top employer in the UK for 2023. It is the 18th time the pub company has been certificated by independent organisation the Top Employers Institute. The certification is based on independent research that shows Wetherspoon has “outstanding people practices and offers excellent working conditions”. It also includes talent acquisition, learning, well-being, and diversity and inclusion. Wetherspoon people director, Tom Ball, said: “We are proud to be considered among the best employers in the UK, particularly as the recognition comes from an independent organisation, which researches numerous companies. The company employs more than 41,000 staff across its pubs in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as well as at its head office. Wetherspoon is committed to offering employees the best opportunities to succeed and grow within the company, including studying for qualifications and apprenticeships. This is evident in the number of staff progressing to more senior positions at Wetherspoon.”

Papa John’s reopens in South Shields as franchisee acquires 13th site: Papa John’s has opened once more South Shields after multi-unit franchisee Nazim Vadiwala acquired his 13th site. Vadiwala, whose other stores include Edinburgh, Perth, Clydebank, Greenock, Consett and Whitley Bay, has given the store at 323 Prince Edward Road a full refurbishment. “I’m from Newcastle, so I was keen when the opportunity came about to refresh and reopen Papa John’s in South Shields,” he said. “It’s a strong community.” Following recent launches in Consett and Greenock, South Shields is Vadiwala’s third new Papa John’s store opening in as many months. He added: “Previously, I was a franchisee for a rival pizza firm, but there were no opportunities like there are with Papa John’s. Being able to expand and offer more jobs to the communities we work in has been a dream come true.”
Liverpool operator opens third venue in city: Liverpool operator St Hospitality – the group behind Castle Street Townhouse and Seel St Venue – has opened a third site in the city. The group has acquired The Royal Institution, which opened in Colquitt Street in 1814 as an organisation promoting literature, science and art, and transformed it into a cocktail bar housing three themed rooms – The Reading Room, The Habitat Room and The Exhibition Room. The three rooms, which are all available for private hire separately or for the full venue, are connected by a grand entrance hall. A bar at the heart of the venue offers a selection of classic and signature cocktails as well as a detailed wine list, beer and spirits. The venue is also offering cocktail masterclasses. It follows the opening last November of the 250-capacity Seel St Venue, which also offers classic cocktails and cocktail masterclasses. The Castle Townhouse opened in Castle Street in 2016.

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