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Wed 15th Mar 2023 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Quick service US burger brand Carl’s Jr steps up plans to enter UK market: Quick service US burger brand Carl’s Jr has stepped up its plans to enter the UK market, and is seeking franchise partners to aid its launch and roll out here. With the support of Christie & Co, Carl's Jr is looking to partner with “ambitious hospitality entrepreneurs/investment groups” that can open at least 20 restaurants in their respective region, in the next few years, “ideally with extensive restaurant experience and the financial capability”. It follows Carl’s Jr’s expansion across Europe, where the brand now has more than 80 sites across the region serving its Californian-inspired burgers, chicken sandwiches and milkshakes. In the last six years, Carl’s Jr has doubled its growth, taking its international footprint to 1,000-plus sites in 40 countries, including mainland Europe, and the company said it sees the UK as the next step. With the aid of Christie & Co, Carl's Jr, which was founded in 1941, said it was looking for franchise partners with the capability to invest in high traffic locations in and around major towns and cities in the UK. It said it is focused primarily in developing stand-alone restaurants from 150 square metres and up. However, it also has a range of flexible formats to also open in high streets and shopping centres. Tim Lowther, general manager for Carl’s Jr in Europe, who is based in Manchester, said: “We are confident Carl's Jr has all the ingredients for success. This is a brand that will bring value into the market as it’s offering a unique proposal focused on great quality burgers and a memorable experience. With more than 80 years’ experience, the company is a renowned name in restaurant franchising. We have a tremendous team on the ground in Europe that has a good understanding of the UK market, and we are excited to be bringing this brand to the UK.” Simon Chaplin, senior director – pubs, restaurants and franchise at Christie & Co, added: “Our extensive network of contacts, not only throughout the world of hospitality, but entrepreneurs and investors from other sectors, will enable us to attract high calibre franchisees who can match the ambitions of Carl’s Jr.” CKE Restaurants, which owns Carl’s Jr, has been looking at launching the brand in the UK since the turn of the past decade. In October 2021, Carl’s Jr signalled its intentions to launch in the UK by joining the British Franchise Association. 

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Ignite launches new CRM services: Susie Clark, former head of sales and marketing at Gusto Italian, has joined Ignite, the marketing agency known for its branding, digital and design services, as head of CRM to enhance the agency’s CRM offering. The additional services aim to help brands get to grips with their data, gain a better understanding of their customers and create strategies to maximise customer lifetime value. Clark said: “Having faced the challenges first-hand, I know that hospitality marketing teams often struggle with a lack of time and resources to really get stuck into what the data says about their customers and take action from it. We want to help more people see the value of their data and CRM.” Ignite celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Chief executive Paul West said: “CRM has been part of our services for a while but our offering is significantly enhanced with Susie on board. Her expertise will not only drive significant results for our clients but will also enhance all of Ignite’s existing services through additional data insights.” Ignite is offering a free CRM audit for businesses in the hospitality industry until the end of March. Email to book yours today. To find out more about Ignite's CRM services, click here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email

Latest Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage to feature 654 companies, released on Friday: The latest Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage will feature 654 companies when it is released to Premium subscribers on Friday (17 March). This month’s edition includes 42 updated entries and more than 170,000 words of content. The companies, listed in alphabetical order, 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, merges 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 Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; 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 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 are also to be given exclusive access to the recording and slides to Propel Multi-Club Conferences. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett.

Ofgem writes to chancellor promising action against energy firms demanding massive prices hikes: Energy regulator Ofgem has written to chancellor Jeremy Hunt promising action against energy firms demanding massive prices hikes. Operators from across the sector earlier this week called on the government to take action against energy firms, as some businesses came up against 500-600% price increases. It came after UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls earlier this month wrote to energy secretary Grant Shapps, calling on him to overhaul Ofgem’s powers. In a letter to the chancellor on Tuesday (14 March), Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearly said it has been “very concerned” about reports about the “behaviour of some suppliers”. He said Ofgem opened compliance reviews and a broader non-domestic market review towards the end of last year and have completed the first stage of its analysis. He added: “We will progress compliance and enforcement actions against existing rules. Where our non-domestic review shows further regulatory protection for customers is needed, we will action changes to our rules, or signal to government where legislation or other government action may be needed that is beyond our powers to resolve. We may also make a market investigation reference to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) if we have reasonable grounds to suspect features restrict, prevent or distort competition; we will be briefing the CMA on our initial findings. We will publish our full report and consult on suggested actions in summer. Actions that don’t need licence changes can begin to be implemented from this summer and any licence changes will follow our statutory process and be concluded by the end of the year. We have an intensive programme of work to support business customers. We will continue to engage as we all work towards securing better outcomes for business customers.” Night Time Industries Association chief executive Michael Kill said: “Businesses across the night-time economy have been struggling to cover the cost of operating, while energy firms have been profiteering at the cost of vulnerable businesses. This letter from Ofgem outlines our ongoing concerns with regard to the conduct of these energy firms. These companies can’t be allowed to get away with this, and must be held accountable by the government and regulator.”

NTIA – night-time economy has lost more than £13bn, 4,000 businesses and 33,000 jobs since pandemic: The UK’s night-time economy has lost more than 4,000 businesses and in excess of 33,000 jobs since the pandemic, according to the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). It has also lost more than £10m in gross domestic product and in excess of £3m in gross value added (the measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area, industry or sector of an economy). And the sector’s recovery could take years, if not decades, without support in the chancellor’s spring Budget, the trade body has warned. The NTIA’s night-time economy report has highlighted 65% of night-time businesses are unsure if they will survive the next 12 months without further government support. Ahead of today’s (Wednesday, 15 March) Budget, the NTIA is asking chancellor Jeremy Hunt to reduce the VAT rate to 10% for the hospitality, late-night economy and events sector for the next 12 months; lower the business rates multiplier in recognition of the role the sectors play within communities; and restructure the energy relief scheme to deliver fair and reasonable rates to businesses across the sector, with consideration given to independent and cultural businesses. NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said: “It is heart-breaking to hear of so many businesses being lost, and the potential to lose so many more. The government has failed these businesses and the wider cultural sector. It does not value the UK night-time culture economy in the same way its European counterparts do and is focused on taxation and regulatory control. The rest of Europe is working with the sectors to support through investment and growth and are seeing the benefits of this support ahead of the UK.” Charlie Phillips, founder of three-strong London neighbourhood restaurant Morty & Bob’s, said more than just the three months energy support for businesses predicted for the Budget will be needed. He added: “The super deduction and the rise in corporation tax coinciding is a big blow for low profit making companies like small businesses, who are potentially relying on more funding, and yet are being penalised for the profit they make.” British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “If the chancellor fails to act on alcohol duty, tax on beer will rise to the highest it has ever been. This will leave businesses with no other option but to hike the price of a pint at the bar. Pricing people out of their local will not only be an economic disaster, but a social and cultural one too.”

UKHospitality calls for government support to help sector drive growth and tackle ‘stubbornly high’ job vacancy levels: UKHospitality has called for government support to help the sector drive growth and tackle the UK’s “stubbornly high” job vacancy levels. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed that in the three months to January, the unemployment rate remained near record lows at 3.7%, despite the difficult economic climate, while the employment rate was 0.1 percentage point higher than the previous three-month period at 75.7%. The ONS also revealed a 51,000 drop in the number of job vacancies to 1.12 million, while the redundancy rate edged higher, saying the fall in vacancies “reflects uncertainty across industries, as survey respondents continue to cite economic pressures as a factor in holding back on recruitment”. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The ongoing job creation by hospitality demonstrates our sector’s ability to be a real driver of growth and career opportunities, despite venues still being held back by significant vacancies. It’s encouraging there’s a slight fall in vacancies but they remain stubbornly high, still 56% higher than pre-pandemic levels. These persistent shortages continue to force venues to reduce trading hours and days, impacting their growth potential. To fully harness what hospitality can offer to the nation and economy, we need to see government action at the Budget to tackle these ongoing vacancies. Commitments to reform the Apprenticeship Levy and make changes to the immigration system to make it easier to recruit would be a clear message that the government backs hospitality to power economic recovery.”

Leisure first sector to show net unit growth since 2016, driven by ‘race for space’ between fast food operators, with focus on drive-thru: Last year saw leisure become the first sector to show net unit growth since 2016, driven by a “race for space” between fast food operators, with a focus on drive-thru locations. The Local Data Company’s FY2022 retail and leisure trends analysis said leisure (up 904 net units) saw more openings than closures, marking the first time since 2016 that any classification had grown overall. “The growth in leisure was driven by a race for space between fast food takeaway operators, with a focus on drive-thru locations as the fastest-growing channel among larger brands,” it said. “Takeaway food shops were impacted by the less-than-optimal rate of recovery of office worker footfall, along with transport strikes hampering trade at their travel hub locations. Fast food takeaway was the fastest-growing subcategory across Britain in 2022, with a net increase of 445 units. Although this represents a decrease from the 2021 figure of 504 net units, this is the first time this subcategory has held the top spot. Some of the fastest-growing brands in this space were German Doner Kebab, Burger King, Tortilla, Leon, Five Guys and Pepe’s Piri Piri.” The only leisure category to feature in the ten fastest-declining categories in 2022 was pubs, while restaurants saw the second most significant slowdown in the fourth quarter. Overall, the leisure sector saw a 0.5% decrease in vacancy rates, landing at 10.5% for the year. Across the top 650 town centres in the UK, the number of leisure units rose by 2.1%. in 2022, compared with minus 1.3% for retail. “Many landlords have sought food halls, cafes, restaurant concepts and entertainment venues to reoccupy former retail units, a trend consistent across both small-format and large-format stores,” the report said. “A key growth area has been the drive-thru market, mainly within the cafes and fast-food category, which saw a net increase of 52 drive-thru units in 2022.” LDC expects fewer administrations and mass store closures in 2023, followed by “more significant improvements to follow” in 2024 as the economy recovers.

COREcruitment interviews Temper owner Sam Lee de Lagonell: In the latest of its interview series, Sonny Dickinson, operations lead and head of UK retail and quick service restaurants at COREcruitment, is joined by Sam Lee de Lagonell, managing director and owner of Temper Restaurants, a collection of smokehouses in London. She talks about her professional journey, a recap on 2022, what she thinks will be the biggest challenge for 2023, positive learnings, Temper’s plan for this year, her suggestions for smaller business or other industry leaders, and her thoughts around people and culture as well as changes within Temper's operations. To watch the interview, click here.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a restaurant business that is looking for a head of digital marketing. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “Ultimately, this role will run the marketing in ways that promote higher profitability and competitiveness. You will craft strategies for all marketing teams, including digital, advertising, communications and creative; prepare and manage monthly, quarterly and annual budgets for the marketing department; and set, monitor and report on team goals. Responsibilities will also include developing plans to help establish the business’ brand, allocating resources to different projects and setting short-term and long-term department goals.” The salary is up to £65,000 and the position is based in London. For more information, email

Company News:

Everards begins succession planning ahead of Stephen Gould stepping down as MD: Leicestershire brewer and retailer Everards has begun succession planning as managing director Stephen Gould plans to step down by March 2025. Gould will remain on the board as a non-executive director helping to guide the business. Chairman Julian Everard said: “This move will enable Stephen to fulfil a long-standing desire to spend more time with his lovely family and explore non-executive and advisory opportunities both within the hospitality industry and outside. His continued contribution to Everards through his role on the board and support to myself and our future managing director will be invaluable. The main reason for sharing the news well in advance is that soon we will start the process to look for our next managing director. This could take a number of months. Meanwhile, life goes on but I wanted to ensure that we were sharing the news with you before this process begins. Once we have appointed someone, which is likely to be early next year, Stephen will work alongside the successful applicant by leading together as joint managing directors, with Stephen easing away from the role once the new person has settled in. All in all, a plan for what I hope will be a smooth succession and continuity. In fact, we have some form in this area! When Nick Lloyd (Stephen’s predecessor as managing director) expressed a wish for early retirement in order to facilitate Stephen’s promotion to managing director, the transition was seamlessly achieved and Nick became a non-executive director late in 2005. Once Stephen becomes a non-executive director, Nick will retire after a remarkable 41 years’ service. We are incredibly fortunate to have both a long planning time, a co-operative handover opportunity and retain Stephen’s wisdom through his role as a non-executive.”

Sam Shutt appointed group CEO of Soho Coffee Co parent company: BTC Hospitality, the parent company of Soho Coffee Co and Euphorium Bakery, has appointed Sam Shutt, formerly of Debenhams and Philpotts, as its new chief executive, to oversee its “next stage of development, strategic leadership and growth”, Propel has learned. Shutt was most recently overseeing the launch and expansion of the German concept Extrawurst in the UK. Prior to that he was Debenhams head of retail hospitality operations, partnerships and business development, and Philpotts managing director. He also spent more than eight years at SSP. Shutt said: “We have some great brands, great product and great people in our business. While we all have challenges ahead in hospitality, I remain excited and confident about our growth plan for the UK and our international franchise markets.” In January, Penny Manuel stepped down as managing director of Soho Coffee Co, to move to the position of advisor to the UK group board, supporting the company’s next phase of growth. Manuel acquired the company with her business partner, Chris Copner, in 2006 and grew it from a four-store business based in the south west of England to a portfolio of more than 40 directly owned and franchised stores, with an international footprint and turnover of £36m. BTC Hospitality also operates five cafe sites under the Euphorium Bakery brand in central and north London. Soho Coffee Co features in the Propel UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which is an exhaustive guide to the companies offering a food and beverage franchise in the UK and is available exclusively to Premium subscribers. The database is updated every two months and the latest edition features 185 companies. 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.

Hollywood Bowl aims to grow Canadian estate more than four-fold and secures tenth site in the country: Chief financial officer Laurence Keen has told Propel that Hollywood Bowl aims to grow its Canadian estate more than four-fold and has exchanged on a tenth site in the country. The UK’s largest ten-pin bowling operator took its first steps in the international market last May when it bought five-strong Canadian-based bowling business Teaquinn Holdings for £10.6m, adding another site shortly afterwards. Last month, it further grew its Canadian portfolio with the acquisition of three bowling centres in Calgary for £7.5m. Keen told Propel. “Those three sites also increased the Ebitda of our Canada business by about 65%. Owning just nine sites out there would be a distraction though – our target is to capture about 20% of the market in Canada, and we initially targeted opening ten sites over the first five years. It’s important we prove the concept in Canada both through acquiring new sites, refurbishing the core estate – which has been a big success for us in the UK, getting returns of 40% on our invested capital in the first 12 months – and also opening up greenfield sites where there isn’t any bowling at the moment. We’ve just exchanged on a former nightclub that will be fitted out and converted and probably open around January 2024. For now, we will stick just with Canada as there’s a lot of opportunity there to keep us busy. We did look at a lot of markets but have always been careful that if we do something, we do it properly. Who knows what opportunities other countries could hold in the future, and if we prove we can do well in one international market, we may be able to do it in others as well.” In terms of its “slow and steady” UK expansion, Keen said Hollywood Bowl expects to be on-site in Merry Hill, Birmingham, by May. Around the same time, it hopes to open a joint bowling and mini-golf site, over two floors at Colchester’s Northern Gateway scheme. This would see 20 lanes of bowling on the ground floor, plus two Puttstars courses and six more bowling lanes on the first floor. There will also be Puttstars courses added to two existing bowling centres, one of which is in Leeds. Of its most recent openings, Keen said Peterborough Puttstars and Liverpool Speke Hollywood Bowl have both “traded very well”, while its conversion of former AMF sites into Hollywood Bowls is now complete – all of which are also trading well, proving the rebrand investment worthwhile . Keen said the company aims to do “seven to ten refurbishments a year”, spending between £450,000 to £550,000 on each of them and targeting a return on investment of 33% in the first 12 months post-revamp.

Leon to close Harrogate drive-thru: Natural fast food brand Leon is set to close its drive-thru site near Harrogate, less than a year after its opening. Local publication Stray Ferret reported the site, which opened in Wetherby Road at the end of June last year, will close on Sunday, 2 April. The EG Group-owned brand opened its first drive-thru in November 2021, in Gildersome, Leeds. Further drive-thru sites were previously mooted for Coopers Lane, Knowsley Industrial Park in Kirkby, and at the Discovery Park in Sandwich, Kent. EG Group acquired Leon in a circa £100m deal in 2021.

The Depot founder to open independent bar and kitchen in Cardiff: Nick Saunders, founder and managing director of Cardiff independent warehouse events venue The Depot, is to open a new bar and kitchen in the city. Outpost will offer dining and drinks from breakfast until 5pm and a “small plates” menu every Thursday to Saturday evening. The 85-cover venue will open this summer in the new Laundry Quarter development in Pontcanna. Saunders is also behind The Depot’s spin-off, live events arm Depot Live and is also the co-founder of Par 59, the mini-golf bar and restaurant concept backed by Gareth Bale with two venues – one in Cardiff city centre, and a recently opened sister venue in Bristol. However, Outpost will be his first foray into the world of running a restaurant. He said: “My partner Hannah lived in New York for a while and we used to hang out in Williamsburg and Brooklyn a lot; we loved the bars and restaurants in the area, so we want to create something with a similar vibe on our doorstep, here in Cardiff.” Outpost will take inspiration from this time spent in New York and also have a private dining room seating up to 16 covers. Meanwhile, The Depot is investing £500,000 into moving to new, larger premises, featuring a speakeasy bar and street food kitchens. The Depot will relocate to a 30,000 square-foot site in Curran Road, increasing its total capacity from 1,600 to 2,500. The new site will include three permanent street-food kitchens based inside 20-foot shipping containers, and the return of its speakeasy style bar. Works on the new site will begin this month, with the team planning to be operating from the venue by June. 

Richard Caring hit by legal action over leaking air conditioning: Serial sector investor Richard Caring has been hit with legal action over claims that leaking air conditioning units at his restaurants meant customers were forced to dine in sweltering temperatures. The Telegraph reported that Caring-backed Caprice Holdings has been accused of unfair dismissal by a former employee who claims he was sacked after blowing the whistle on the company for failing to fix leaking units. Diners at The Ivy Collection’s Brighton site endured faulty air conditioning during the hot summer months of 2021, court documents seen by The Telegraph claim. The case, which has been brought by the company’s former head of engineering, Ryan McCabe, alleged broken air conditioning systems were left unrepaired for months at The Ivy in Brighton and weeks at the Chelsea site, in King’s Road. While customers visiting the company's Chelsea Garden restaurant were spared because units were being topped up with fresh refrigerant, McCabe said bosses were reluctant to close the site over fear of losing trade. Following an examination of the Chelsea restaurant on 7 September 2021, McCabe urged bosses to close the restaurant after finding four leaks. However, McCabe claimed he received pushback from the company. Caring said: “We have no choice but to go to the tribunal, which I believe we will win.” McCabe worked for Caprice Holdings from August to December 2021, when he was dismissed. The engineer also claims he raised concerns about materials such as cardboard boxes, serviettes and other front of house items being stored in rooms where high voltage equipment was present. During a probation meeting with bosses on 14 December, he claims he was told his dismissal was because of poor performance and slow progress, as well as “negative feedback from colleagues”. The case will go before an employment tribunal today (Wednesday, 15 March). 

Merlin Entertainments starts work on new £35m holiday village for 150 guests at Legoland Windsor, plus new attractions: Merlin Entertainments has started work on a new £35m holiday village for 150 guests at Legoland Windsor, as well as launching several new attractions. The resort, which reopens for its 2023 season on Friday (17 March), is aiming to launch the woodland themed holiday village in the spring of 2024. The ten-acre site, which is designed around the resort’s woodland area and lake, will also host nature trails, a family entertainment space, an on-site restaurant, brick building activities and story time areas. Helen Bull, divisional director for Legoland Windsor, said: “Breaking ground on Legoland Woodland Village is a significant milestone in the history of one of the UK’s much loved family entertainment theme parks. Our vision to create the first Lego themed woodland village demonstrates how Legoland Windsor will continue to meet the growing needs of our guests and will be a major economic boost for the local area, providing high quality and sustainable tourism for the future.” The village’s operational energy will be fossil fuel-free once complete, making it Merlin’s first operationally carbon-neutral accommodation. The resort will also this year open a new Ferrari-themed “build and race” attraction, as previously reported, and adventure golf.

Gail’s confirms March opening for second northern site: Fast-growing bakery brand Gail’s has confirmed it will open its second site in the north of England later this month. As previously reported, the brand, which made its debut in the region last month with an opening in Wilmslow, Cheshire, has taken a unit in Shaw Road, Altrincham. It will now open on Monday, 27 March, offering artisan sourdough bread, pastries, sandwiches, and cakes alongside its specialty house blend coffee. The Bain Capital-backed business also has a third northern site in the pipeline, in the former White Stuff unit in Manchester’s King Street. The brand has grown to more than 100 sites since being founded in the 1990s by Yael (Gail) Mejia. Dominic Agace, chief executive of Winkworth estate agents, told the Daily Mail earlier this week that having a Gail’s “marks an area as a prime property market”, as it becomes ever more associated with gentrification. Gail’s chief executive Tom Molnar also told the newspaper that people are constantly asking the brand to move into their locality, but that new site locations are decided initially through a “postcode algorithm”.

Sussex multi-site gym owners open new fitness concept in Brighton: Sussex multi-site gym owners Sol Gilbert and Alan McGuinness have opened a new fitness concept near Brighton. Gilbert and McGuinness founded Underground Gym – which has sites in Brighton, Newhaven and Tunbridge Wells – in 2014. They have now teamed up again for Coached, aimed at those who want to improve their health and fitness but may not feel comfortable in a traditional gym. The first Coached site has now opened at 48 Wellington Road in Portslade. McGuiness said: “We realise there are a lot of people out there that want to commit to a healthier life but are concerned about judgemental looks in gyms, or that it may be too difficult. When we talk about getting you into shape, we’re not just talking about the body – we’re talking mindset, attitude and emotional fitness, too.”

Döner Shack confirms late March opening for flagship London site: Döner Shack, the Berlin fast casual kebab concept, has confirmed its flagship London store, in Baker Street, will open later this month. Founder Sanjeev Sanghera told Propel in December that the 2,500 square-foot site, which will be set over two floors, had been hit by delays. It will now open on Monday, 27 March, offering 35 seats for dining in as well as takeaway, delivery and click-and-collect options. Sanghera also said the “innovation store” would feature robotic kebab cutters, a travelator to transport food to customers and cameras showing guests their food being prepared in the kitchen. “Baker Street is our first innovation restaurant, and we’re so excited to bring a new culinary sensation to London,” he said. “I believe we have created a truly exceptional place of fun and creativity. The energy of the surrounding area matches our brand’s ethos perfectly, and we can’t wait to give people the chance to experience our flavourful and convenient food and drink that fits perfectly in this location.” Baker Street will be Döner Shack’s fifth location, and its 2023 pipeline includes an additional four or five openings in the capital, as well as a focus on the West Midlands. It is also set to take its first steps into the US and European markets this year, with Sanghera targeting a US debut location “in the coming months” after attending last month’s International Franchise Convention in Las Vegas. 

Walsall brewery bought out of liquidation: An award-winning Walsall brewery that went into voluntary liquidation earlier this month following “crippling” energy costs has been bought by a brewing group. Backyard Brewhouse, which was started in 2008 by Austen Morgan and Mike Bates, entered liquidation on 2 March, with all staff having been made redundant. Nottingham-based 52 Degrees Brewing has now bought its assets, brand, beers and recipes. “The hangover from covid combined with crippling energy costs and a broader financial crisis have contributed to an unsustainable situation,” Morgan told The Star & Express. 52 Degrees director Simon Baldwin said the same Backyard beer will still be brewed in the same location by the same brewer. “From a beer perspective, it’s business as usual for our customers,” he added. “These are tough times for any small business. The utilities here have increased in price by four times in just one year, and that is difficult to pass on entirely because our customers have the same pressures. We’re confident that with a new business model, a new cost base and our beer going into kegs as well as casks, cans and bottles, we’ll be able to thrive in a very competitive area. Backyard have a huge following in the region and we’re happy to be able to continue that.” 52 Degrees also includes Warwickshire Beer Company and Grasshopper Brewery.

Interactive burger bar offering games and rude waiters set to go on UK pop-up tour after making Welsh debut: Interactive burger bar Karen’s Diner, which offer guests games and rude waiters, is set to go on a UK pop-up tour after making its Welsh debut. The brand, which has ten sites in Australia and late last year made its US debut in St Louis, also has locations in Indonesia and New Zealand. It already has UK sites in Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and on the Isle of Man, and last month made its Welsh debut with a site in Newport. It will embark on a UK pop-up tour, Karen’s Diner on Tour, which will begin in Huddersfield this weekend (March 17-18) before taking in scores of other towns and cities across the rest of 2023. Ryan Blackburn, managing director of Karen’s On Tour, said: “Once you’re in a Karen’s you’ll not be thinking about strikes, Brexit or electricity costs, you’ll just be wanting to survive. Customers would need to expect plenty of sass, great food and a sprinkle of bad attitude, so don’t expect special treatment as it’s all about Karen, and she won't be taking any nonsense.”

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