Story of the Day:
Urban Pubs & Bars returns to profit as like-for-likes up 12% on pre-pandemic levels, forecasts revenue to rise to £60m by end of FY24:
London operator Urban Pubs & Bars returned to profit in the year ending 1 May 2022 as it forecast sales rising to £60m by the end of FY24. The company added current like-for-like sales are up 13% compared with last year and 12% compared with 2019. During the period, it doubled its estate with the addition of 13 sites from Barworks and three new openings, taking it to 32 at the year-end. The company now operates 40 sites. Looking ahead, the group has forecast sales of £60m in the year to 30 April 2024, driven by investing in new sites and refurbishing existing ones. Group Ebitda is forecast to rise at a more modest rate due to absorbing higher costs like food, energy and employee wages. Despite these cost pressures, co-founder Malcolm Heap said the business was “well placed to ride the storm” following a “transformational year” in which the business entered into a partnership with Davidson Kempner and Global Mutual to accelerate expansion. He said the partnership “provides the business with additional capital to develop and invest in the existing business, while also looking to expand the portfolio through investment in new sites.” Heap added: “The investors remain supportive and retain the ambition to further grow the portfolio of pubs. And with the balance sheet remaining in a healthy position and the ability to draw on funds from the revolving credit facility or the investors, we have an active pipeline of sites we continue to review.” It comes as the business reported turnover rose from £10,026,375 in 2021 to £32,623,215. This compares with £19,245,983 in the last full year before the pandemic, ending 28 April 2019. It was broken down as £25,811,072 in bar sales (2021: £6,174,841) and £6,812,143 in kitchen sales (2021: £3,720,302). The company reported a pre-tax profit of £3,928,855 compared with a loss of £1,567 in 2021 (2019: profit of £1,280,386). It received £203,702 in government grants (2021: £4,207,506). During the year, the company refinanced its revolving credit facility with Barclays to £6m, and later further to £9.75m, expiring in October 2024. At the reporting date, the balance drawn on the facility was £5.15m, leaving £4.6m of headroom. Urban Pubs and Bars features in the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book. Its turnover of £32,623,215 for the year to 1 May 2022 is the 199th highest in the database. Its pre-tax profit of £3,928,855 is the 143rd highest in the database. The Blue Book ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to upgrade your subscription
People panel to feature at Propel Multi-Club Conference featuring all-female line-up of leaders:
A people panel will feature at the second Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2023, which takes place on Thursday, 29 June, at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s Kensington. The all-day conference, which is organised in conjunction with Ann Elliott, will feature an all-female line-up of sector leaders on learning lessons from the pandemic and moving forward. The panel will be hosted by Clare Willetts, founder and chief executive of Not Only Pink and Blue, and include Amanda Smyth, head of people of Scoffs Group; Gabi Clipp, head of people of Urban Pubs & Bars; and Karen Bosher, independent board and business advisor. More than 300 people have already booked a place. Multi-site operators can book up to three free places each by emailing email@example.com
Latest edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows 67% of companies in profit, up from 66% last month:
The Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, to be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (12 May) shows 67% of the 723 largest sector companies are now in profit. The Blue Book shows 483 companies in profit and 240 reporting losses. This is an improvement from last month, when 66% of companies were reporting a profit. The Blue Book is updated each month and ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. Premium subscribers also receive access to four other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database
, produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database
; the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage
; 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 £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to upgrade your subscription
. 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.
City Pub Group chief – strong Sunday stopped Coronation weekend being a washout: City Pub Group executive chairman Clive Watson has said a strong Sunday stopped the Coronation weekend being a washout for his pubs. The group, which operates 43 pubs across the UK, said that after an “anaemic” Saturday, Sunday sales had been “really, really strong”. Extended pub opening hours had been expected to provide a £104m boost to the sector, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. “Saturday was a washout – the weather was awful and that was reflected in very anaemic sales,” Watson told the BBC. “But Sunday was really, really strong. Despite street parties, we were 82% up on this time last year. It’s a bit of a relief.” He also said the first bank holiday in May had been the chain’s “best weekend we’d ever had", with £800,000 turnover. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said it was a weekend of two halves, with visitors focused on London and the Coronation itself for the first half, whereas the second was about communities and a “more normal bank holiday”. She said: “We’ve seen higher levels of footfall than we would normally expect at this time of year as a result of Coronation activities. In total, it could be worth an additional £350m worth of sales.” Businesses in London fared best, she said, with hotel occupancy in the centre of the capital running at 95% on the Friday and Saturday nights. However, she added that having three bank holidays in May would be testing for most household finances in the current climate. “There is a finite amount of spending money that people have, so while you’ll get an uplift on one or maybe two of them, it’s unlikely you’ll get it sustained across the whole of the month,” she added.
Minister rejects calls for intervention over soaring UK food costs: The UK government has rejected the case for restraining price increases on essential food items despite surging inflation and calls for an inquiry into supermarket “profiteering”. The FT reports that Mark Spencer, minister for food, farming and fisheries, has ruled out asking retailers and producers to stop raising prices only weeks after food inflation hit its highest level in more than 45 years. Spencer said it was “not for the government to set retail prices, nor comment on day-to-day commercial decisions by companies”, in response to a parliamentary question on Thursday. However, government officials would continue to work with companies to ensure groceries were affordable, he added. His remarks stand in contrast to actions taken by France, which reached an agreement with food retailers in March to set the “lowest possible price” on certain products for three months. Supermarkets have now agreed to extend these efforts, said Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister. UK supermarkets, meanwhile, have been accused by some MPs and trade unions of “profiteering” and failing to rein in soaring prices. The cost of food surged 19.2% in the year to March with sharp rises across almost all categories. Prime minister Rishi Sunak is due to hold a meeting at Number 10 this month with supermarket bosses, trade bodies and farmers to discuss a range of issues, including high inflation. A government spokesperson said the meeting would bring together government and representatives from across the food supply chain to set up co-operation and promote all elements of the farming and food industries. “The event will look at how we can champion UK food and drink both at home and abroad by boosting confidence, helping more businesses to invest in domestic production and supporting the long-term resilience and sustainability of the UK food sector,” they said.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a foodservice business in London that is looking for an operations director. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “The role is based out of London but has an impact on multiple sites globally and incorporates the execution and operational roll out of an innovative food programme. You will be able to deal with the complexity of designing and operationally delivering a global food offering with varying trends and demands. A firm understanding of current food trends is required. Projects, new openings, and existing contract improvement will all fall into the remit of this role.” The salary is up to £90,000. For more information, email email@example.com
The Vurger Co acquired through pre-pack administration: Vegan fast-food concept The Vurger Co has been acquired via a pre-pack administration process by a new company set up by its founders. Propel revealed last week that Jo Watts and Andrew McTear, of McTear Williams & Wood, and Chris Newell, of Quantuma Advisory, had been appointed joint administrators of The Vurger Co at the end of April. The company’s sites in Shoreditch, Brighton and Manchester continue to trade, but it’s site in Canary Wharf has closed. In January, Propel revealed that The Vurger Co had appointed advisors to help review its options. The company, which was founded in 2016 by Rachel Hugh and Neil Potts, was working with advisors at FRP on its funding options going forward. Hugh and Potts have acquired the business through new vehicle The Vurger Co Holdings. In an update, Hugh and Potts said the three years since the pandemic had been “unimaginably difficult” for the business amid price hikes, VAT, business rates rises and the aftermath of Brexit. They wrote: “The pandemic forced us to move from developing and growing our brand to simply firefighting to keep our doors open and our teams employed. It’s been physically and mentally exhausting, but we’re still fighting. Surviving as a small independent restaurant brand is tough. This marks a new era for the business, with a restructured model and a new menu with exciting new items in the works. It seems like every day there is bad news about another hospitality business struggling, and so we really do implore everybody to support your favourite small businesses wherever you possibly can. We are proud and relieved to have found a solution that enables the business to go forward positively, and we are fully committed to navigating the business through these trying times and into more settled and prosperous times ahead.”
Anger over TRG CEO’s pay mounts: The activist investor seeking an overhaul at The Restaurant Group (TRG) has won the backing of an influential shareholder advisory group in protesting at chief executive Andy Hornby’s pay package. Oasis Management Company, the Hong Kong-based hedge fund that owns more than 12% of the Wagamama owner’s shares, claims Hornby’s pay package is “disproportionate” and “unpalatable” in light of the company’s poor performance. The Times reports that Glass Lewis, the proxy advisory firm, has now declared it has “serious reservations” about TRG’s remuneration report and policy, and recommended that shareholders vote against both at its annual meeting on 23 May. Hornby has led TRG since 2019 and received a total pay package of £792,000 last year, including a £125,000 annual bonus for achieving targets related to energy consumption, customer satisfaction and employee turnover. Glass Lewis questioned TRG’s decision to pay this bonus “despite the company not meeting any of its financial targets, and in the context of the company’s statutory loss of £68.5m for 2022”. It said its concerns were “exacerbated by the misalignment between the wider stakeholder experience and executive pay”, given that the company was yet to resume paying cash dividends. “We find this decision to be at odds with good corporate governance practices and raises concerns about the committee’s judgment,” it said. Hornby’s basic salary was increased by 2.5% to £674,450 from April this year. He is also the recipient of a restricted share plan (RSP), which awards shares worth up to 100% of salary on a time-vesting basis and is not directly linked to performance. Glass Lewis said TRG had first introduced the RSP against the backdrop of the covid-19 pandemic, which caused such upheaval as to make it difficult to set performance targets. It said it had “severe reservations” about the remuneration policy because of the lack of rationale for maintaining the RSP since. TRG has previously responded to criticism by saying it has “performed strongly compared with the casual dining sector in recent years” and is consulting with shareholders on pay policy.
The Alchemist opens debut international site: Bar and restaurant concept The Alchemist has made its international debut with an opening in Germany. The business, which had been backed by Palatine Private Equity since spring 2015, when it was acquired via a £13m management buyout, opened a site in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, as part of the redevelopment project of The Playce over the weekend (6 May). The 5,887 square-foot space features 212 covers internally and a further 50 external covers. It will be joined at the scheme later this summer by the first international site from Big Easy Restaurants. It is understood that The Alchemist, which has also begun exploring opportunities in the US and the UAE, hopes success in Berlin will lead to further openings in Germany. Chief executive Simon Potts told Propel: “We’ve known for a long time really that we are a city brand and we need a certain baseline of city dwelling, domestic and leisure tourism, local residents, office workers, shoppers and people going into plays to make The Alchemist work. We need that to happen because we’re half a bar and half a restaurant and generally operating out of some fairly big spaces. We need that to happen with a certain amount of density, although we still feel we’ve got plenty of UK runway. We are 23 sites and two or three counting at the moment, and we can maybe not quite double that, but get not far off it. But at some point, we’re going to run out of spaces to grow the business in the UK credibly and engagingly.” Potts said a projected conduced with a group of graduates from the Manchester Business School looked at where the company might get some “key consumer market matchups, and that Germany “scored really highly.” The international opening comes as the business launches a brand-new cocktail menu designed to “inject more fun into late-night drinking”, with the addition of a cocktail originally designed to poison enemies and ‘Cosmic Oyster’ shots complete with caviar.
Pubcos and Kaye family among Prezzo creditors: The Kaye family and a pair of pub companies are amongst the creditors Prezzo, the Cain International-backed Italian dining group, has written to setting out a restructuring plan – which if not implemented, could see the restaurant chain enter administration and cease trading immediately. Last week, Propel revealed that the business had written to its creditors, including landlords, setting out a restructuring plan. In the letter seen by Propel, the 143-strong company, which last month announced the closure of 46 sites, said it suffered a significant funding shortfall during April 2023 “in an aggregate amount in excess of £4m”. The business, which is working with FRP Advisory on its options, said the aggregate amount of the sums owed by Prezzo Trading under the loss-making site leases as “at the effective date is anticipated to be £32,193,907”. It also said that the approximate value of the amounts outstanding in relation to secured loan notes “at the effective date” was £22,640,516. In total, the business is facing liabilities of close to £70m. The group’s creditors, including landlords, will be able to vote at a hearing on Monday, 22 May. These include the Kaye family, who own a number of freeholds in the Prezzo estate, including several the company has now closed. Propel understands at least five sites, including those in Chichester, Wimborne and Glasgow, are owned by companies that feature Adam, Sam, Philip or Jonathan Kaye as a director. The latter founded the Prezzo business in 2000, growing it to circa 250 sites. His cousins, Sam and Adam Kaye, founded the Ask and Zizzi concepts along with their father, Philip. At the same time, the landlord for the now closed Prezzo in Egham is Wellington Pub Company, while McMullens is the landlord of the ex-Prezzo in Brentwood. In May 2021, the English High Court approved a restructuring plan for the entities in the Virgin Active Group, the international health club operator. It was the first time the restructuring plan process was used to compromise landlord claims, in addition to other liabilities. Prezzo will seek approval to go down the same path.
Greggs opens first airport site in partnership with SSP: Food-to-go operator Greggs has opened its first airport site in partnership with UK-based transport hub foodservice specialist SSP Group. The outlet at Cardiff airport is on the first floor before the security check point. Greggs commercial director, Malcolm Copland, said: “We are delighted to open another shop with SSP. We know high quality food-on-the-go and convenience go hand in hand, and this shop at Cardiff airport gives us the opportunity to bring our range of products to more customers.” Kari Daniels, chief executive of SSP UK & Ireland, added: “Our partnership with Greggs gives guests the opportunity to engage with a true British food and beverage institution during their travels, with both familiar favourites and an ever-evolving menu of new treats. This, our first unit with the brand in an airport environment, is a welcome next step in our partnership, and we’re confident that international guests at the airport will fully embrace the offer.”
Malaysian steak house chain team makes UK debut: The team behind Malaysian steak house chain Me’nate Steak Hub has made its UK debut. The group, which operates 13 restaurants in the south east Asian country, has opened Meet Bros at 29-31 Craven Road in London’s Paddington. Meet Bros is fully halal and serves no alcohol, with guests invited to choose cuts of meat from its basement storeroom, which are then prepared with Asian marinades. An official opening ceremony will take place on Friday (12 May), with Queen Azizah of Malaysia, who is in London for King Charles’s coronation, cutting the ribbon. Group founder Mustaffa Othman will be comfortable in royal company, having spent two years cooking for the late Queen and Princess Diana, and now styles himself “The Palace Butcher”, reports Hardens.
Team behind Haz launch new Mediterranean concept: The team behind Haz, the six-strong chain of Mediterranean restaurants in London, has launched a new Mediterranean concept in the capital. Olea Social has opened its debut site in a 7,000 square-foot site at 10 Upper St Martin’s Lane in The Yards, Covent Garden. Small plates such as grilled confit artichoke with crispy polenta and octopus poached in red wine with zucchini blossom salad will be paired with regional wines and exclusive cocktails. Olea Social director Zafer Cicek, who is also the owner and co-founder of Haz, said: “We are delighted to have launched Olea Social at The Yards, bringing a fresh perspective on authentic Mediterranean cuisine to a bustling and unique environment. The success of Haz has fuelled our passion to open another restaurant which brings friends and loved ones together, breathing new life into the Mediterranean food scene.”
Manchester airport plans extended F&B offering including food market and champagne bar: Manchester airport has unveiled plans for almost 30 new eateries and retail units in its remodelled and upgraded Terminal Two. The extended departure lounge, part of the airport’s £1.3bn transformation programme, will feature a food market alongside a high street-style shopping area with a champagne bar and premium brands, cafes and a brasserie. Each outlet within The Avenue shopping zone will open on to airfield views. Richard Jackson, retail director at Manchester Airport, said: “We already have a great range of food and drink options in Terminal Two, with local brands that create a strong sense of place, but we’re looking to build on that with all-new offerings, including a champagne bar and a market hall style food court.” The plans were revealed as the airport begins the tendering process for more than two dozen new units this month, with a view to announcing the successful applicants by next April. The expanded retail and restaurant offering forms part of the transformation programme’s second phase. Work is expected to be completed by 2025. The first phase of the project saw several north west operators taking up residence in Terminal Two, including burger and shake concept Archie’s, Italian restaurant group San Carlo, coffee concept Pot Kettle Black and brewer and retailer Joseph Holt. They were joined by national brands such as Coca-Cola-owned Costa Coffee, Pret A Manger and The Restaurant Group-owned Wagamama.
Torquay Leisure Hotels returns to profit and secures refinancing, set to repay CBILS loan and reduce debts: Torquay Leisure Hotels (TLH), which operates four hotels within a single resort in Devon, has secured a refinancing that will allow it to repay its borrowings under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and reduce its debts. With the group’s bank facilities having been due for renewal in July 2023, its directors have secured a replacement facility that will “provide sufficient funds for the group to repay its CBILS loan and reduce the balance owed on its loan notes”. It comes as the group reported a return to profit in the year ending 30 April 2022, turning a pre-tax loss of £832,408 in 2021 into a profit of £3,014,104. This compares with a profit of £1,312,889 in the last full year before the pandemic, ending 30 April 2019. Turnover grew significantly from £4,722,716 in 2021 to £15,354,250 and exceeded the 2019 figure of £13,765,773. The company received £120,829 in Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme payments (2021: £2,154,309) and £96,000 in other government grants (2021: £105,699) as well as £250,000 in insurance income (2021: nil). Following a dividend to the parent company of £800,000, net assets improved to pre-pandemic levels of £9,215,704 compared with £7,687,913 in 2021. Director Ian Piercy, in his statement accompanying the accounts, said: “The impact of the VAT reduction for hospitality following the covid-19 pandemic had a positive impact on revenues. The company had a strong summer following the pandemic, taking full advantage of the ‘staycation’ boom. A strong recovery has provided a solid foundation and positive cash balance to enable TLH to survive the expected downturn in the economy and anticipated impact on the hospitality trade.” Piercy added profit and cash flow forecasts show cash headroom of £1.7m “at the lowest point in the next 12 months”, and the business could “sustain a decline of 20% in its turnover… and still remain in a positive cash position throughout the coming year”.
Fat Hippo to open second London site next month with Soho launch: Better burger brand Fat Hippo has confirmed it will open its next site in London’s Soho next month. As revealed by Propel last year, Fat Hippo is opening on the former Las Banderas site in Wardour Street. It will be the second London site and 17th in total for the business, which was founded in 2010 by Michael Phillips. It made its debut in the capital last autumn with an opening in Shoreditch and will add to that with the Soho site, which will launch on Friday, 9 June. It will have more than 100 covers. Phillips said: “Since our successful opening in Shoreditch, we have been focused on looking for other locations in the city and Soho was top of our list, it has an amazing neighbourhood feel to it.” Fat Hippo said it has “exciting plans to continue growing, with further sites being established over the next year, including restaurants in Cambridge and Edinburgh”. The company, which previously said it planned to open six sites across the UK this year, has also been linked to openings in Chester, Bath and Reading. Jake Bernstone, of Stonebrook London, acted on behalf of Fat Hippo on the Soho site.
Leeds halal noodle and dumpling concept set to expand to Manchester: Leeds halal noodle and dumpling concept Mr Su’s is set to expand to Manchester. The restaurant, founded in 2019 and located at 24 Blenheim Terrace in Leeds, is preparing to open a second site, at the Circle Square site on Manchester’s Oxford Road. Opening later this month, the restaurant has taken a 2,800 square-foot space underneath Vita Student’s Medlock building. Having signed a ten-year deal, it will create ten new jobs. Matloob Khan, co-owner of Mr Su’s, said: “In the heart of Manchester, Circle Square is the perfect location for our second restaurant. The vibrant development attracts large volumes of footfall thanks its central position on the Oxford Road corridor and has its own captive market thanks to its bustling resident and professional community.”
Scottish operator whose father opened first Italian restaurant in Glasgow steps back after 50 years in sector and sells business to employee: A Scottish operator whose father opened the first Italian restaurant in Glasgow has stepped back after 50 years in the sector and sold his business to an employee. Marco Giannasi sold the Battlefield Rest in Langside, which he founded in 1994, as a going concern to long-serving staff member Alex Matheson and wife Jen Doherty in December. The “secret sale” was not made public at the time but has now been announced, reports The Herald. Marco and wife Yellena continue to own the historic building and are now the landlords of the business, which employs 22 people, and he continues to work at the restaurant for four half-days each week. He said: “Before lockdown, I was contemplating making the next move, to detach myself from the pressure of work and to consider more the reality of life. I offered the opportunity for any member of staff to come forward and said if you are interested in taking the business, this is the opportunity. Otherwise, the next step was to go public and to get a completely new operator to take over, and that would have been much more traumatic for ourselves and the staff.” Marco, who had previously been studying architecture in Lucca, Italy, first become involved in the Glasgow hospitality sector in 1973 following the death of his father, Luigi, who had run L’ariosto in Mitchell Street. Luigi had opened the first Italian restaurant in Glasgow, Canasta in Parliamentary Road, in the late 1950s. Marco continued to run L’ariosto with his mother, Leda, for about eight years before deciding to sell the restaurant. He went on to restore the Pirn Inn in Balfron and ran it for seven years before opening Toscana in Milngavie, and then Battlefield Rest in 1994.
Balvenie launches sector student scholarship: Balvenie, a collection of single malt whiskies crafted by David Stewart, has partnered with Westminster Kingsway College for a student scholarship programme. It will see third year students at the college offered three simultaneous month-long placements at The Balvenie Distillery, in Speyside, Scotland, across three different sector disciplines – chef, pastry chef and front of house. The students will learn about all aspects of whisky making, and as a paid placement, will work alongside distillery staff on a day-to-day basis. Caroline Hands, senior brand manager for The Balvenie, said: “After a tumultuous last few years, we understand and see first-hand how hard it has been to recruit people into hospitality roles. The Balvenie strongly believes in preserving and celebrating the role of craftspeople, and we are hopeful that initiatives like this scholarship will help foster passion among the next generation of young talent.” Jose Souto, senior chef lecturer at Westminster College, added: “There’s a number of shared values between Westminster Kingsway and The Balvenie, notably championing the importance of developing your craft. The Balvenie placement will give successful applicants a unique edge as they start their career.” Candidate interviews will take place throughout June and July, with the three successful applicants travelling to the distillery in September. The scholarship will culminate in a VIP dinner, which the students will be responsible for the execution of.
Bluewater plans to convert ten shops into leisure facilities, restaurants and bars: Bluewater shopping centre in Kent has put forward plans to convert ten shops into leisure facilities, restaurants and bars. The proposals, which have been submitted to Dartford Borough Council, will see the conversion of ten units in the Upper Mall level of the Rose Gallery and the Winter Garden, to the east side of the centre. Bluewater bosses hope the move could attract a wide range of businesses including Nintendo World and Ninja Warrior, plus escape rooms, soft play, a trampoline park and bowling alley, reports Kent Live. The plans read: “Bluewater needs to evolve and ensure that it is meeting the needs of its customers. If Bluewater is to compete with other regional destinations, it needs to diversify and respond directly to the demand for more experiences, with greater emphasis given to leisure and entertainment.” If approved, the move will create up to 120 additional jobs. A spokesperson for Bluewater added: "We are always looking at how we can add new and exciting additions to the line-up at Bluewater. We hope to be able to share more details about future plans for the centre very soon.” Bluewater is already home to a cinema and Hangloose Adventure Centre.