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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 19th May 2023 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Côte ‘excited’ about recent progress, appoints new CFO: Côte, the French brasserie chain backed by the Partners Group, has said it is “excited” by its recent progress after seeing sustained improvements in guest satisfaction, operational controls, and labour turnover, Propel has learned. It comes as the 84-strong business reported turnover of £144.9m for year-ended September 2022 (2021: £72.7m), with adjusted Ebitda of £3.6m (2021: £0.3m). The company, which has an undrawn £10m credit facility, said like-for-like turnover during the year was flat versus 2019 reflecting the Omicron impact on Christmas trading and the “impact of cost inflation being borne by guests”. The company said during the year it embarked on “major investment” to contemporise the brand and enhance the core estate. There were 12 refurbishments completed in the period, along with a development kitchen facility. It said further refurbishments will be completed in 2023. The company said good progress has also been made stabilising and organising the business with “quality restaurant leadership”, while “sustained improvements” were achieved with guest satisfaction, operational controls, and labour turnover. The company said that it had signed a new energy contract for FY24, which will save £8m annually compared with the current rate. Côte said it is also progressing sustainability goals throughout the business, including ingredients provenance and credentials, waste and energy management. It said distribution redesign had reduced mileage by 750,000 miles per annum. The business has also appointed Laura Woods, formerly of Wagamama, as its new chief financial officer. Woods joins the company as James Sherrington leaves to join Daylesford Organics as its new chief financial officer, after nearly two and a half years with Cote. In January, Propel revealed Cote had appointed Sarah Hills, who was previously managing director of Bill’s, Wagamama, and most recently Megan’s, as its new chief operating officer. Cote executive chair Jane Holbrook said: “2021-22 was a challenging year with a macroenvironment impacted by both covid and the knock-on effects of the Ukraine war. We’ve built our foundations for growth and are very well supported by Partners Group. We are excited about our recent progress and have embarked on a brand renaissance supported by a brilliant team. We’d like to thank James who leaves us with our very best wishes after two years to pursue a long-planned lifestyle change for him and his family. We welcome Laura as our new chief financial officer and Sarah who has joined us as chief operating officer.”

Industry News:

Social Media for Profit Masterclass with all-new content open for bookings: The Social Media for Profit Masterclass with all-new content is open for bookings. The event takes place on the afternoon of Thursday, 20 July at One Moorgate Place in London. Mark McCulloch, who has more than 20 years’ brand, marketing digital and social media experience that includes senior positions at Pret A Manger and YO!, will host the social media boot camp that will provide insights into how to build sales and brands using social media. McCulloch will be joined by Alison Battisby, founder and director of social media consultancy Avocado Social. With ten years of social media experience, Battisby is a Facebook-accredited trainer and will bring the latest algorithm-busting insights. She will show the best way to use Instagram with the latest Reels video trends, content tactics and best practices with plenty of inspirational examples. Battisby will also take you through the top strategies on content gathering, creation and management and how best to engage staff to support your social media efforts. McCulloch will give an overview of the power of social media in hospitality in 2023, including channels, content, and a look at what brands are nailing social media. He will also look at how to untap the potential of LinkedIn. Meanwhile, TikTok consultant and expert Vic Bahnam will guide you through how to embark on using the fast-paced video app to achieve your goals. Whether it’s maximum exposure, recruiting young staff or creating a highly engaged fanbase, there will be plenty of tips and tricks to learn. Tickets are £345 plus VAT for operators and £395 plus VAT for suppliers. To book a place, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com.

Latest Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage to be released today: The latest Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage will feature 31 updated entries and 13 new companies when it is released to Premium subscribers today (Friday, 19 May). This month’s edition includes 678 companies and more than 178,000 words of content. The companies, listed in alphabetical order, will have their most recent results reported as well as broader information around Ebitda, plans and trading style available. The database 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 £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 jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. 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.

Britvic – soft drinks in foodservice and licensed premises up 4.6% year-on-year, biggest growth in fast food and QSR: Britvic saw its soft drinks sales in foodservice and licensed premises grow 4.6% year-on-year in 2022, according to its Soft Drinks Review 2023. They “surged” to hit £7.4bn in the year, which was close to £100m ahead of pre-pandemic levels, in 2019. Fast food and quick service restaurants saw the biggest growth in the foodservice category, with soft drink sales up £1.3bn in 2022. This represented an increase of 16.7% year-on-year and 44% versus 2019. Managing director Paul Graham said sales percentages had seen a “movement back towards hospitality as markets opened up” post-covid. He added Britvic is working on introducing more flavoured water dispense taps into hospitality venues, as well as premium mixers, and sees “a big opportunity here”. Graham added even before the soft drinks industry levy “sugar tax” was introduced, “we were already seeing a growth trend towards lower and no-sugar products, and it has accelerated that trend”. Total sugar content has gone down 16% since levy introduced, he said. The review, meanwhile, said with one in three adults saying they now rarely or never drink alcohol, there are “huge opportunities” for licensed venues to re-evaluate their approach to soft drinks and alcohol-free options. Britvic estimates by adapting their offering, operators can yield a sales boost worth £170m by encouraging 10% of consumers to trade up from tap water to a soft drink. “As consumers curb their alcohol consumption, particularly millennials and Generation Z, soft drinks are well and truly in the limelight,” said Dino Labbate, GB commercial director for hospitality at Britvic. “Soft drinks have obviously always been crucial to the licensed sector, accounting for 27% of volume and 17% of value during last year. But this year our review really highlights the size of the prize available to operators. We’re expecting low and no-alcohol on-trade volumes to grow by 48% to 117 million litres by 2027, with higher average prices pushing value sales up by 69% to £432m.”

UKHospitality Scotland – new approach needed to business rates: A lack of action to address an “outdated and costly” business rates system is holding businesses back, UKHospitality Scotland has said. Responding to the ministerial statement on non-domestic rates, UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson said: “The current system of business rates is holding our businesses back, with the punitive rates they pay preventing investment. It’s clear a new approach is needed if we are to achieve the aim of a business rates system that supports and encourages long-term investment. We’re hearing from hospitality businesses that their rateable values have increased by up to 50%, which makes the report from the chief statistician that rateable values are decreasing, surprising. Instead, increased business rates are reducing the ability of businesses to invest, stifling economic growth and the creation of new jobs. Additionally, businesses are spending thousands of pounds and precious hours on appeals, in an effort to reduce poorly calculated bills. The divergence in business rates north and south of the border sees our members pay higher rates here in Scotland than comparable businesses in England. The news the Scottish government will not deliver on its manifesto commitment to reduce the Higher Property Rate, bringing it into line with England, is a further illustration of the extra costs hospitality businesses face here. The New Deal for Business Group and details of a sub-group to look at non-domestic rates is welcome news. There is much to do to improve the system.”

Nightclub and restaurants owner Brian Stein passes away: Brian Stein, a close friend of the late Queen Elizabeth who became Guards Polo Club chairman, has died at the age of 80. The Daily Mail reported the former nightclub owner, who owned London establishments Maxwell’s Restaurant and Bar, Café de Paris, PJ’s Bar and Grill and the Palm Court Brasserie, leaves behind his girlfriend Platina Tong and three children; Dan, Emily and Alice. Stein was born in South Africa in 1943 and moved to Israel where he served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army before moving to London to start his hospitality empire. Stein's interest in polo developed later in life, when he took a lesson while in his 40s and realised he rather enjoyed the sport. In 1987, he became a member of the Guards Polo Club and three decades later in 2018 he was elected its chairman.

Company News:

Jack & Alice to return to expansion trail: Jack & Alice, the all-day dining and wine bar concept from Mark and Vanessa Hall, is to return to the expansion trail, with an opening in Surrey, Propel has learned. The company said The Botanist site in Town Hall Buildings, The Borough, Farnham, has been secured for an opening this summer with further expansion planned in the near future. Founded in 2015 with a pop-up in Fitzrovia, Mark Hall opened the first site in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, later the same year, quickly being recognised with several industry awards. The Halls have partnered with Tony Gualtieri, former managing director of Cubitt House, previously at Green King and Mitchell & Butlers, who joins Jack & Alice as co-owner and director. It is understood additional funding has been secured from a number of sector-focused individuals to aid the expansion of the business. Mark Hall said: “Jack & Alice is a brand built to tell stories. Our inspiration was our grandparents, who we named the brand after, the communities we are in, the experiences we create, and the family spirit of our engaged and fun-loving team. Jack & Alice is authentic, with a passion for great products simply delivered. Our offer is strongly suited to the transforming high streets in affluent commuter villages in the south east.” Mark Hall was previously group operations director at Splendid Restaurants and retail director for Mitchell & Butlers, while Vanessa Hall, who was previously chief executive at YO! and Vapiano SE, is currently a non-executive director of Rare Restaurants, the Gaucho brand owner. AG&G acted on the Farnham deal.

M&B not ruling out exploring further JVs, Vintage Inns conversions to drive Ego expansion: Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), the All Bar One, Toby Carvery and Harvester operator, has told Propel the company hasn’t ruled out exploring similar joint ventured deals such as the one it did with Ego. Propel revealed last month that M&B had agreed to acquire the remaining 60% stake in the James Horler-led Ego Restaurants. It entered a joint venture with Ego’s parent company, 3Sixty Restaurants, in August 2018. Urban told Propel: “If a package of freehold businesses came to the market, we would of course look at it, but I suspect it will be well subscribed and we would never overpay. I think if we saw something that was six, seven or eight-strong and we felt was good, and we think we could scale it then that would be a bigger interest to us. We would typically say we're only interested in freehold property, I think for the right leasehold business, if we thought there was a lot of upside to be had by acquiring and scaling it then we would look at that. But there’s nothing in train at the moment. We've got a lot to do with our own existing business.” Under the joint venture with Ego, the Mediterranean-themed business has doubled in size from 13 to 26 sites. M&B foresees scope for circa 20 to 30 conversions using the Ego format over the next three to five years. Its next Ego opening will be a conversion of a Vintage Inns site – The Wyke Lion, near Bradford, which is due to open in August this year. Urban said: “I think it's fairly evident we’ve bought the size of the Harvester estate down as we've expanded Miller & Carter and there's probably a way to go yet. Harvester will always have a place. It’s got a good offer and a core following, but I think some of its sites, the demographics have moved on and would be better served with different offers. It is the same with Vintage Inns, which is 180-190 strong, and I’ve said before I have a self-imposed limit, where I believe that any brand over 150-strong it is quite difficult for one person to really touch every business. By definition, I think there's opportunity around Vintage that may drive the expansion of Ego. Some of the most successful Ego sites were previously Vintage Inns, so that's an interesting conversion opportunity.”

Simon Foster steps down as Crussh CEO: Simon Foster has stepped down as chief executive of Crussh, the food-to-go and juice bar brand, which was rescued from administration at the start of the year, Propel has learned. Foster, formerly group managing director of Yorica, joined Crussh as its chief executive in summer 2020. In January, the majority of the business was saved as part of a pre-pack administration deal. Propel revealed before Christmas that the 11-strong business had appointed advisors at FRP to carry out an accelerated sales process. More than 160 jobs were saved following the sale, with eight sites transferring over to the new owners. At the time, the business said it would continue to be led by Foster. Propel subsequently revealed the new owners of the business included Jason Collins, the founder of Apogee, the UK office digital solutions provider; and Bob and Rohini Finch, founders of venture capital firm Talis Capital. Propel understands long-time Crussh operations director Nick Nathan, and Helen Harrison, brand director, have also left Crussh since the rescue deal. Harrison is currently interim brand and marketing director at Pure.

I am Doner signs first forecourt franchise deal: I am Doner, the award-winning better kebab brand backed by Think Hospitality, has signed its first forecourt franchise deal, Propel has learned. The deal, facilitated by Seeds Consulting, will see Four Crosses Filling Station, a multi-site fuel station operator in the south east of England, operate the first I am Doner on a roadside forecourt. The site will open in Windsor, Berkshire, this summer. I am Döner chairman James Hacon said: “We are thrilled to sign this latest franchise deal and look forward to working together with Lawrence Wells and the team at Four Crosses. This deal perfectly aligns to our strategic vision of proving the flexibility of our brand not only on high street and in neighbourhoods locations, but into roadside locations, travel hubs, universities and other concession environments. Our franchise-first expansion plans are rapidly building pace with unprecedented interest in both the UK and overseas, but we like to keep our powder dry when it comes to our growth ambitions, focusing on delivering positive outcomes for our partners, proving our model through our actions, not big headlines numbers.” Wells added: “I have been on the hunt for a food brand to go on my forecourt and when I came across I am Döner I knew it was a great fit with nothing like it in the area – I can’t wait to showcase the brand later this summer.” Seeds Consulting founder Matteo Frigeri said: “We are seeing a lot of traction with the I am Döner's franchise programme, very few brands out there can claim to offer a quick-service concept with such moderate capex requirements and intrinsically lean operation, supported by the latest technology. Here we demonstrate how the brand can flex to seize opportunities also in non-traditional sites.” I am Doner was started in 2016 by chef Paul Baron and also has three company-owned UK stores – in Headingley, Harrogate and Leeds city centre. It opened its first UK franchise site, in Bootle, Liverpool, at the end of last year in partnership with Optimum Group, the company that operates 27 franchise Costa Coffee and Kaspa’s locations in Merseyside. In 2021, I am Doner made its international debut, with an opening at Dubai’s Silicon Oasis.

Greene King begins cashless trial across small number of pubs: Greene King, the Nick Mackenzie-led brewer and retailer, has begun a trial of going cashless across a small number of its pubs. The sites taking part in the trial comprise a number under the group’s Chef & Brewer brand, including The Hutt in Ravenshead, the Ferry Inn in Wilford, the Wheatsheaf Inn in Burton Joyce, and the Travellers Rest, in Mapperley Plains. A spokesperson for Greene King told Propel: “We’re undertaking a trial in a small number of our pubs where card payments make up more than 90% of all transactions. This is a trial and we have not made a business decision to permanently go cashless in this small number of pubs, or any other of our pubs, at this stage.”

Fazenda reports 37% year-on-year growth as revenue surpasses £20m for first time: Premium casual South American operator Fazenda, which operate five regional sites across the UK, has report 37% year-on-year revenue growth in FY23. Sales surpassed £20m for the first-time in the 13 years the company has been trading, despite the closure of its Chester site in 2021 as a result of covid-19. Despite the group’s success in exceeding its forecast annual targets, persistent increases in inflation and stark additional costs incurred as a result of living wage increases has meant Ebitda has halved compared with pre-pandemic figures. Co-founder Tomás Maunier said: “It's been a record year for us in terms of sales, particularly in the second half of the financial year after what was a testing summer. What we need to see now is these record figures reflected in the bottom line, which right now is massively affected with food prices soaring by more than 20% and ever-increasing energy costs.” Chief executive Terence Langley added: “While profitability has been severely affected by inflation, we continue to see our net promoter score surpass industry averages with a group-wide average rating of 75 out of a total of 16,000 responses. We're in a strong position ahead of our London opening in Bishopsgate this summer and believe our enhanced offering will not only take the brand to another level, but will translate into another record year in regards to sales.”

Diversity Leisure to expand Chaakoo concept to Edinburgh: Scottish hospitality group Diversity Leisure is to expand its Indian small plate dining concept Chaakoo Bombay Café to Edinburgh. Propel understands the Paul Sloan-led business has secured the former Byron site in the Scottish capital’s Lothian Road, for the concept, with an opening planned for next month. The business already operates two sites under the concept in Glasgow, in the city centre and the West End. It also operates two sites under Mediterranean-inspired concept in Topolabamba in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Founded in 2006, Diversity Leisure operates a diverse range of hotels, pubs and restaurants across Scotland, including the Cuan Mor Gastro Pub and Brewery, Greek tapas bar and restaurant Mezzidakia in Glasgow, The Taynuilt Inn, and The Garrison Hotel in Fort William.

Grace Land Group acquires former London Fields Brewery: Grace Land, the London group backed by the founders of Barworks, has acquired the former London Fields Brewery in Hackney, from Carlsberg Marston's Brewing Company (CMBC). Grace Land, which was founded by Anselm Chatwin and Andreas Akerlund, plans to relaunch the site as Saint Monday, a brewery and taproom. Grace Land currently operates six London pubs, the Bethnal Green Tavern, The Kings Arms, Red Hand, The Axe, The Earl of Essex and the Black Heart. Chatwin said Grace Land has been looking for a home for this new project for a few years and he was “very excited” to add the newly named Saint Monday to the group. He believes the addition will enhance the company's “adventure in beer”. CMBC put London Fields Brewery up for sale for circa £2m in March last year. Located in Warburton Street, the brewery included a taproom licensed until midnight and featured a state-of-the-art 15-hectolitre Kasper Schulz modern brew kit, installed during a £2m investment programme in 2019. Opened in 2011 as the first commercial brewery to launch in Hackney in more than a century, it had a 3,000-hectolitre on-site capacity. CMBC announced in December 2021 that it was proposing to close and sell the brewery, which it acquired in 2017 in a deal worth circa £4m. Gerald Eve LLP advised CMBC on the sale.

Michelin-starred Brazilian chef set to open restaurant in London: Brazilian Michelin-starred chef Alberto Landgraf will open a London restaurant inspired by the flavours of his home country next week. Alberto Landgraf, chef patron of Oteque in Rio de Janeiro, will launch Bossa at 4 Vere Street on Wednesday (24 May). The 60-cover restaurant will have an open plan kitchen and a ten-seater dining counter allowing guests to watch the chefs at work. There will also be a ten-seater private dining room. The menu will offer a selection of small and large sharing plates, which will include dishes such as skewered duck hearts with farofa. The drinks list will include a selection of South American wine. Landgraf worked with Tom Aikens and Gordon Ramsay in the early 2000s before returning to Brazil in 2006 to first open Epice in São Paolo, which won a Michelin star, before launching Oteque, which was awarded one Michelin star soon after opening, followed by another a year later.

Stonegate launches innovative new sports venue Clubhouse 5: Stonegate Group, the David McDowall-led, TDR Capital-backed business, has launched an innovative new sports venue Clubhouse 5 near London’s Leicester Square. As previously revealed by Propel, the company has converted its Slug & Lettuce site in Lisle Street to the concept. Spread across two floors inspired by sporting nostalgia, and adorned with sport artwork, retro football shirts and memorabilia, Clubhouse 5 offers each fan the “best seat in the house, with 4k UHD screens and SKY Q technology”. The company said premium food and drink is on offer, with the menu consisting of burgers, wings, loaded fries and sweet bao buns, a range of beer and six premium cocktails on-tap available. Talking to Propel last week, McDowall said: “The business is pretty good at sport. I've been really impressed with that. So, Clubhouse 5 is about saying is there a premium opportunity. We think there's maybe something there but it is a case of one thing at a time.” Meanwhile, Be At One will mark its 25th anniversary this month with a bus tour around London, Birmingham and Manchester between 26-28 May, offering complimentary cocktails and live DJs. 

Richard Grainger steps down as chairman of Liberation Group: Channel Islands and West Country brewer and retailer Liberation Group has announced Richard Grainger will step down as its chairman later this summer after seven years in the role. During this period, the Jonathan Lawson-led group said Grainger has overseen “significant growth of the business”, across its pubs and drinks divisions, both organically and via acquisitions and most recently via the merger with Cirrus Inns. The company said communication on Grainger’s successor will follow in due course. Grainger said: “We have successfully come through the challenges posed by the pandemic as a fitter, stronger and larger business and placed ourselves in the best position possible to be one of the winners in this sector. The time now feels right to bring in a new chair to work with the team and Caledonia on maximising the potential of this fantastic business.” Tom Leader, head of the company’s backer Caledonia Private Capital, added: “We look forward to the next few years with significant optimism and Richard's work has ensured that his successor starts in a very positive position.” At the start of this month, Liberation reported like-for-like sales in its managed estate were up 4.7% year-on-year for the 12 weeks to 22 April 2023.

Competitive socialising concept Spinners set for rollout: Spinners, the competitive socialising concept, which opened its first site in Reading in 2021, has lined up two new openings in Plymouth and Solihull. The business, which was founded by Jamie Bylett, plans to open in The Barcode scheme in Plymouth in September, with an opening in the Touchwood scheme in Solihull to follow before the end of year. It is also thought to have openings in Northampton and Colchester lined up. Spinners describes itself as an entertainment complex serving pizza and beer alongside mini-golf, electric clay shooting, ten-pin bowling and darts. 

Sky News – TRG wins backing from another of its biggest investors: The Restaurant Group (TRG), the owner of Wagamama, has won support from another of its biggest investors as a fight with the activist hedge fund Oasis intensifies ahead of Monday’s (23 May) annual meeting. Sky News reported Royal London Asset Management (RLAM), which owns just under 5% of TRG, will vote in favour of its board on all resolutions including directors' re-election and remuneration. Its backing adds to that of Columbia Threadneedle Investments, which holds a 19% stake and said earlier this month that it would back Ken Hanna, chairman, and Andy Hornby, chief executive. Oasis has called for a strategic shake-up of the group, which also owns pubs and concessions businesses, and chains such as Frankie & Benny's. City sources said Oasis, which owns 12.3% of TRG, would oppose the re-election of Hanna, Hornby, the company's pay committee chair and both its remuneration policy and remuneration report. The fight comes after TRG rejected Oasis's demand for a board seat. In a statement issued to Sky News, Richard Marwood, a senior fund manager at RLAM, said: "We are supportive of the management. Some of the views out there, that there is value to be crystallised by changing the structure of the group, are not lost on the management team. It is not intransigent and is working hard, both operationally and strategically, to create value for shareholders.” Shares in TRG were trading on Thursday (18 May) at around 49.65p, giving the company a market value of roughly £370m. A spokesperson for TRG declined to comment. Glass Lewis and ISS, the proxy advisers, have recommended TRG shareholders vote with Oasis, while the Investment Association's voting advisory service has backed Hanna over Hornby's pay.

EG Group opens Cinnabon flagship site in London: Roadside and forecourt operator EG Group has opened a flagship store in London for US bakery brand Cinnabon. The site has opened on the lower ground floor at Westfield Stratford. The menu includes soft serve, sundaes, waffle cones and milkshakes. EG Group now operates 22 Cinnabon stores in the UK. EG Group, which also owns Leon, signed a deal in late-2020 to roll out 150 sites under the US bakery brand across the UK over the next five years. 

Imbiba secures B-Corp status, adds Loungers and Stonegate CEOs to advisory board: Serial sector investor Imbiba, which backs the likes of Pizza Pilgrims, Farmer J, NQ64 and Vagabond, has become a certified B-Corp. Certified B-Corps are companies verified as meeting the high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. Simon Wheeler, chief financial officer at Imbiba, which also backs Clays, Big Fang Collective and Darwin & Wallace, said: “We are proud to join the B-Corp movement and we have spent more than 18 months of diligence and hard work to ensure our entire commercial and social structure can support an inclusive and equitable regenerative economy. We are on a journey, and we have a long way to go, but we believe developing and implementing this strategy takes us on the right path and allows us to focus on driving change where – and how – it is needed.” Propel has learned Imbiba has also refreshed its advisory board. Nick Collins, chief executive of Loungers, David McDowall, chief executive of Stonegate Group, Tim Clay, chief executive of Asahi UK, and Robert Cook, former chief executive of Hostmore, Virgin Active and Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, have joined Dame Karen Jones and Richard Tallboy, group chief information officer of Cote Restaurants, on the investor’s advisory board.

Blend Family to open new Sheffield food hall this autumn: Blend Family, previously known as The Milestone Group, will open its new food hall in Sheffield this autumn. It will operate Cambridge Street Collective, which forms part of the Heart of the City development programme. Cambridge Street Collective, which is under construction on the corner between Cambridge Street and Wellington Street in the city centre, will span 27,000 square foot over three floors, encompassing 24 kitchens, cookery school, bakery, and a mix of traditional, Asian and rooftop bars. Blend Family founder Matt Bigland said: “Sheffield is hugely multicultural and everyone gets along, but when it comes to food, the city still plays it safe. We want to bridge the gap and allow a varied mix of people to come in, without fear, to try new things. There’s going to be loads of choice and even some theatre.” Blend Family also runs Cutlery Works in Sheffield’s Kelham Island, which at 15,000 square foot features 14 vendors over two floors, and GPO Food Market in Liverpool.

Staycity to open Stratford aparthotel following £40m investment: Aparthotel operator Staycity Group, through its associated development arm, has acquired a 0.06 hectare site in Stratford, east London, for the development of a Staycity Aparthotel property due to open in the second half of 2026. The project, representing an investment of £40m for purchase, planning and construction, will be made up of 240 studio and one-bedroom apartments with facilities to include workstations, a gym, café, bar, lounge, guest laundry and shop. The deal is the first unconditional site acquisition for Dublin-based Staycity, which will look to forward fund the investment once planning consent is secured, taking an operating lease back. Staycity purchased a long leasehold of the land from a private vendor, represented by Savills. The freehold of the site is owned by shopping centre owner and developer Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. “We have long admired Stratford and seen it steadily improve since its Olympic reinvigoration,” said Neil Short, Staycity Group’s development director – London. “The location is fantastic with excellent links by train and tube. We look forward to playing a part in Stratford’s outstanding growth story.”

Native Places launches new brand The Apartment Collection: UK lifestyle aparthotel operator Native Places has launched a new brand – The Apartment Collection, which it describes as “a curated selection of design-led, fully equipped apartments in London neighbourhoods”. The Apartment Collection has initially launched with 187 apartments at 11 properties across prime London neighbourhoods including Marylebone, Regent's Park and Waterloo. The business said it had an “ambitious growth plan” for the new brand, and aims to have an additional four properties by 2025. Providing self-contained, fully furnished apartments for corporate travellers and long-stay guests, the company said The Apartment Collection aims to offer a “comfortable and convenient living environment for those who require more than just a hotel room but who also value flexibility and independence in centralised locations”. Properties on average are 450 square feet for studios, 600 square feet for one-bedroom apartments and 750 square feet for two-bedroom apartments. Native Places managing director Olivia Immesi said: "We are committed to providing interesting places to stay in the heart of lively local communities for those who require freedom and flexibility.”

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