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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 1st Jun 2023 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Chopstix exploring further airport openings after making concept debut, starts conversion of Chozen Noodle sites: Fast growing quick service restaurant brand Chopstix has told Propel it is exploring further airport openings after making its concept debut. Chopstix opened its first airport location on Monday, airside at Luton airport, which is another equity site for the expanding franchise brand. “It’s early days yet, but we’re very happy with the early results,” franchise director Aaron Saxton-Moore told Propel. “There’s nothing concrete yet, but we’re in exploratory talks with other regional airports in the UK. It helps facilitate talks with international franchise partners too as the first thing they ask is do you have any airport sites.” It has also started work on converting the equity sites of Chozen Noodle, the rival brand it acquired in March, to Chopstix locations. The former Chozen site at Beaconsfield services, Buckinghamshire, has shut for four weeks to be converted, which will be followed by the one in Cobham, Surrey, later in the year. The rest of Chozen’s 29-strong estate are franchise sites, and no pressure will be put on them to convert to Chopstix. It comes as the business this week celebrated the opening of its 100th Chopstix branded site, at Butlin’s Bognor Regis resort over the bank holiday weekend. The group opened its 100th site overall in December, although this included its Yangtze sites and was also before the Chozen acquisition. The Chopstix site is part of Butlin’s Bognor Regis’ brand-new £3m Skyline Eats development, which will also include a new Subways and Butlin’s own ice cream dessert parlour, Scoop. Further Chopstix sites are set to follow at Butlin’s resorts in Minehead and Skegness. Before that, it will be opening two new Haven-based sites in the coming weeks – at Haggerston Castle, Northumberland, and Presthaven Sands, Prestatyn. Sam Elia co-Founder of Chopstix, said: “It’s astounding that we’ve reached 100 sites. When Menashe (Sadik) and I opened our first Chopstix on Oxford Street in 2002, we had no idea how this brand would evolve. The speed at which the business has grown over the last few years demonstrates the versatility and nationwide popularity of the brand and is a testament to the hard work undertaken by the Chopstix team to fine-tune our operational processes to make this such a scalable business through both equity sites and with great franchise partners such as Butlin’s.” Chopstix also opened this week in the former Thorntons Cafe site at 16 New George Street in Plymouth, which has been empty since 2020. Saxton-Moore said the business remains on course to open 20-25 new franchise stores this year, with 10-15 equity stores on top of that. Chopstix features in Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book and UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database – two of five databases exclusive to Premium subscribers. The Blue Book is updated each month and ranks 709 companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. Chopstix’s turnover of £48m is the 135th highest in the database. The UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database is an exhaustive guide to the companies offering a food and beverage franchise in the UK. 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.
 

Industry News:

Sponsored message – We Are Beer festivals’ trade accreditation opens, buyers responsible for 63% of UK’s craft beer volume visited a festival last year: This summer, We Are Beer hosts 30,000 drinkers and industry folk at the London, Manchester and Bristol craft beer festivals. Co-founder Greg Wells said: “They are the biggest and boldest showcases of the British beer industry, where category driving buyers meet category defining breweries. Our festivals are not only fun for drinkers but fundamental to licensed trade buyers. Last year, more than 2,800 buyers who control 62% of all craft beer bought in the UK visited one of our festivals.” This year’s sees the introduction of Craft Buyers Club in collaboration with craft beer procurement business, The Beer Company. Buyers with a £1m-plus yearly purchasing capacity will enjoy a VIP green room, personalised recommendations, tasting programmes, sample boxes and meeting rooms. Other outlets will still enjoy free or discounted trade access to the main festival alongside brewers’ lounge spaces in London and Manchester. Wells added: “Despite the challenges of the cost-of-living crisis etc, craft beer is strong and bouncing back. Craft beer continues to grow and in value terms is now up 7% on pre-pandemic numbers as opposed to total beer, which is down 0.1%.” Trade accreditations can be made here. If you have a sponsored message you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com.
 
Record number of 450-plus booked for Propel Multi-Club Conference featuring all-female line-up of leaders, waiting list in place for operators: A record number of more than 450 people have booked to attend 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. There is now a waiting list in place for operators who wish to attend. Speakers will include Debbie Hewitt, who talks about her career in business. She was appointed chairwoman of the Football Association in June 2021 and is the first woman to hold the post, having previously being chairwoman of The Restaurant Group. Charlene Lyons, chief executive of Black Sheep Brewery, will discuss her role as chief executive, the challenges she’s faced and her guiding principles for being an inspirational leader. Helen Charlesworth, managing director of Stonegate Pub Company, will talk about how she motivates and inspires people to do their best. Rebecca Mascarenhas, co-owner of Michelin-starred Elystan Street in Chelsea and Kitchen W8 in Kensington, with chef Phil Howard, will discuss her career to date, which spans more than three decades. Anna Watkins, managing director at Barrafina Group, will talk about her career having made the switch from advertising to hospitality less than a year ago. There will also be five panel sessions. A chief executive panel featureing Alison Wright, chief executive of Fitzbillies; Sarah Weir, managing director of Albion & East, and Emma Banks, vice-president food and beverage strategy and development EMEA at Hilton, will discuss what it takes to lead successfully in a rapidly changing world. A membership leaders’ panel with Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, chair of the London Tourism Board and chair of ACC Liverpool; Emma McClarkin, chief executive of British Beer & Pub Association and chair of the Worldwide Brewing Alliance; and Katariina Reissaar, chair of the Institute of Hospitality’s Youth Council, will discuss how their organisations help women progress and grow within their different sectors. A people panel hosted by Clare Willetts, founder and chief executive of Not Only Pink and Blue, will feature Amanda Smyth, head of people of Scoffs Group; Gabi Clipp, head of people of Urban Pubs and Bars; and Karen Bosher, independent board and business advisor, discussing the importance of people. A finance and investment panel discussing how women can progress in finance and investment in the sector will include Lizzie Ryan-Podbury, partner at Imbiba; Vic Stewart, chief financial officer at The Alchemist and co-founder of the Six Percent Club; Linda Nguyenova, investor at BGF; and Claire Catlin, chief financial officer at Moto Hospitality. A founders panel will include Alice Williams, founder of Luminary Bakery; Sarah Brading, founder of Flat Earth Pizzas; and Zoe Paskin, co-founder/managing director of Paskin; to talk about how they established their businesses, their learnings and their advice to others. Operators can email paul.charity@propelinfo.com to be added to the waiting list.
 
One day to go before the next edition of The New Openings Database release, to show details on 121 new sites, 5,600-word report included: The next edition of The New Openings Database will show the details of 121 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches for Premium subscribers when it is published tomorrow (Friday, 2 June), at midday, including which company has opened a site or its plans to open one in the future. It will have details on what type of site it is and its location, and there will also be a website link to the businesses. The database is published on a monthly basis, with the next edition featuring growing restaurant and café brands, niche cuisine and expanding experiential concepts. Premium subscribers will also receive a 5,600-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to four other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; and the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage. 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 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.
 
Hospitality sales grew 6.6% year-on-year in last 12 weeks, customers spending more money in unbranded pubs and bars: Hospitality sales grew 6.6% year-on-year in the last 12 weeks, according to analysis from HDI, the provider of card spending insight and pricing data to the UK hospitality sector. Fast food and takeaway and coffee and sandwich outlets were the best performing sectors in the 12 weeks ending 16 May 2023. Pubs and bars slightly outperformed branded pub restaurants, while casual dining saw the lowest levels of year-on-year growth, according to analysis of HDI’s panel of 10.2 million unique customers. Mark Bentley, business development director at HDI, said: “It’s encouraging to see hospitality sales continuing to grow. However, even though there’s talk in the press about inflationary pressures easing, we’re still seeing headline year-on-year inflation of 11.4% on food and 7.6% on drinks from our tracking of more than 165,000 like-for-like site/item combinations in pubs and bars. That’s an extra £1.16 added to the average cost of a main course and an extra 26p added to the average cost of a drink.” HDI’s panel tracks more than 160,000 individually identifiable hospitality venues across 350 different brands and formats, with the customer spend analysis providing insight into how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting hospitality. Bentley added: “Headline growth continues to lag behind inflation, with household incomes continuing to be under significant pressure. In the last four weeks, we’re seeing UK hospitality customers spending more money in unbranded pubs and bars, which will have been boosted by the bank holidays, while fast food and takeaways are also stealing share of wallet.”
 
UKHospitality – chef vacancies need urgent attention: UKHospitality has urged the migration advisory committee (MAC) to add chefs to the shortage occupation list, in order to alleviate persistent shortages. Responding to the MAC’s call for evidence, UKHospitality highlighted the sector had shortages ranging from 10% for head chefs and up to 21% for production chefs. The trade body also requested hospitality supervisors, which includes housekeepers and receptionists, and sommeliers are reclassified in order for them to be eligible for the skilled visa route. Some 20% of members have vacancies for hospitality supervisors and there are estimated to be up to 600 vacancies for sommeliers. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “While the sector continues to invest significantly in growing its own talent, there needs to be changes to our immigration system to enable businesses to fill essential skills gaps. The shortage occupation list is a critical part of that, and adding chefs to the list is a simple move that can have enormous benefits. In our evidence submitted to the MAC, we highlighted how a quarter of members told us they would restrict their trading hours if this level of chef vacancies continued. It’s not just chefs – critical roles like supervisors, executive housekeepers and multi-lingual receptionists are all in high demand from the sector but they are just unable to be filled. A reclassification of these important roles to make them eligible for the skilled visa route would provide a massive boost.”

Great opportunity for F&B and leisure operators to provide ‘unique offline experiences’: There is a great opportunity for food and beverage (F&B) and leisure operators to provides “unique offline experiences” as spend in the UK’s towns, cities and retail destinations increasingly comes from within “the 15-minute community”. Research from consumer and location specialist CACI and real estate agency and consultancy P-THREE showed more than 75% of revenue comes from the local population for eight out of 13 asset types, yet 52% of locations are over-spaced for retail. Comparison goods spend online are expected to exceed offline by 2030, showing a clear need for retail-led destinations to evolve, and F&B and leisure operators are well-placed to take advantage. The report said: “Unique offline experiences are experiences that cannot be replicated in-home. Beyond the event itself, great F&B and leisure provision provides customers with halo benefits that contribute to an enlivened place: leisure users spend 52% more on retail and catering over the course of a year at a shopping location than a non-leisure user and travel 8% further to visit. Similarly, F&B users spend 38% more compared to non-catering users.” Justin Taylor, co-founder of P-THREE, said: “Many of the projects we work on arise from the need to unravel the oversupply of underperforming retail space in towns, cities and centres that have lost their identity, purpose and connection with their communities.”

London’s small, independent restaurant operators invited to apply for share of £70,000 grant: London’s small, independent restaurant operators are being invited to apply for a share of £70,000 grant pot. The American Express-supported programme, run by the International Downtown Association (IDA) Foundation in partnership with the Association of Town & City Management (ATCM), is now in its second year and also runs in Mexico City, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto. In London, six eligible restaurants will receive £11,500 each to help them make critical improvements that boost their business. Restaurant owners can apply for a grant here, with 7 July the deadline for applications. Ojay McDonald, ATCM chief executive, said: “This scheme provides a golden opportunity for innovation from those business owners with great ideas on how to evolve but who lack the capital to be able to invest. This programme can help turn potential that exists with our small food businesses and convert that into reality.”
 
The Drinks Sustainability Awards opens for entries: Foodservice and sustainability-focused firm Footprint and C&C Group have opened entries for The Drinks Sustainability Awards. Now in its fifth year, the awards are the “barometer for sustainability and responsible business practice for the on-trade drinks sector”. The awards are open to drinks businesses, suppliers and stakeholders of all sizes operating in the on-trade such as brands, manufacturers, supply chain companies, distributors and operators. Entries are judged by a panel of specialists in sustainability. The deadline for entries is Friday, 30 June. Winners will be announced at the Drinks Sustainability Awards dinner on Thursday, 5 October at The Royal Institute British Architects in Portland Place, London. For further information and details about how to enter, click here.
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with an established hospitality group that is seeking a senior HR business partner. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “You will be accountable for the development, co-ordination and execution of the people and culture strategy for the business; responsible for all elements of the people operation, including resourcing, employee relations, talent and learning; and championing people innovation. You will also deputise for the HR director.” The salary is up to £70,000 plus benefits and the position is based in Birmingham. For more information, email abbie@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

Pret makes Italian debut, plans up to 40 openings in coming years: Pret A Manger has made its debut in Italy. The company has signed an exclusive agreement with Chef Express, the company that manages all the catering activities of the Cremonini Group, with the first site having opened in Terminal 2 of the Milan Malpensa airport. The agreement should lead to a total of about 40 openings in the coming years. Three more openings are planned by the end of the year, including a second shop at Milan Malpensa airport and two in the Grandi Stazioni Retail circuit. The new partnership marks another step in Pret’s ambitious growth plan to double the size of its business by expanding into new countries and regions around the world. Italy becomes the eighth country Pret has launched in since it announced plans to expand into five new markets by the end of 2023. Pret now has nearly 70 shops across Europe – including in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland – and also recently announced plans to open shops across Portugal and Spain. Pano Christou, chief executive of Pret, said: “We know Pret has a huge fanbase in Europe, so I’m delighted to be bringing our freshly made food and organic coffee to even more people across the continent. Launching in Italy is a big moment for us and something I’ve been personally looking forward to. We’re excited to be working with Chef Express to help us introduce the Pret experience to people in Milan first, then across the country.” Cristian Biasoni, chief executive of Chef Express, added: “Our family approach and values, combined with almost 40 years of history and the valuable expertise developed in all channels, are the basis of our success in the catering sector in Italy. This new agreement adds to our partnerships with McDonald’s and Wagamama.”
 
Kokoro sees full-year sales hit by lack of consumer confidence: Sushi and bento brand Kokoro has said inflationary pressures have forced the business to shelve its expansion plans as full-year sales were impacted by the fall in consumer confidence. Turnover fell to £9,326,680 for the year ending 31 August 2022 compared with £10,703,279 the year before. Pre-tax profit dropped to £565,004 from £1,112,919 the previous year. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “Despite high expectations of buoyant economic activities in the aftermath of the covid lockdown, the fear of recession coupled with the energy crisis triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war dealt a heavy blow to sales during the year. The gross profit has gone down to £4.8m (51%) from £5.67m (53%), a major feat given the government’s temporary support to reduce VAT to 5% was ended amidst several external disruptions to the business environment. The UK government has officially declared the end of covid restrictions during this time, but the recovery of consumer confidence is still slow. While food delivery sales started to decline gradually, overall in-store sales remained sluggish. Unlike the expectations, the business operations were never a business as usual. The company found it especially hard to attract and retain employees. As a result, the business started bringing more talents from abroad, utilising the skilled worker visa sponsorship programme to ensure its competitiveness and reliable ongoing operations.” No dividend was paid (2021: £400,000). The business, which was founded in 2010 by Ray-Kyu Park, operates 68 sites in the UK.
 
KFC to roll out youth employability programme across UK: KFC is rolling out its youth employability programme across the UK to help some 6,000 young people who have faced barriers to employment land their first job. The “Hatch” initiative, developed and delivered with youth charity UK Youth, was piloted in Manchester last year and is now being rolled out across four new regions – the south east, West Midlands, London and central Scotland. Working with UK Youth to identify young people most in need, the programme offers participants one-to-one training, support and practical work experience, with an interview at KFC on graduation. The rollout of the programme comes as new research from KFC and UK Youth revealed two thirds (64%) of young people said the cost-of-living crisis has increased barriers to finding employment, as two in five employers said they are less likely to hire a young person now, given the current economic climate. Nonetheless, 86% of employers believe they have a responsibility to help young people into the workforce and 87% said they want to do more to help them develop their skills. Nearly half (48%) of 16 to 18-year-olds feel anxious about their employment, training and education prospects, while one in four (24%) said they do not feel confident about the future, with this figure rising to 29% when asked how they feel about finding a job in the next five years. Meg Farren, general manager, KFC UK & Ireland, said: “There are buckets of talent across the UK, but all too often young people are cut out of accessing opportunities. That needs to change. That’s why we’re excited to be bringing our employability programme Hatch across the UK, to invest in the next generation and help unlock the potential of those who’ve faced barriers to employment.” Since piloting Hatch in Manchester last year, 80 young people have successfully graduated from the programme, with more than 50% finding full time employment as a result. By 2024, KFC is aiming to have upskilled 1,100 young people, ensuring they’re ready for future work, training or education through the Hatch programme.
 
Pizza Union in negotiations on a ‘few’ new sites, cost pressures hit profits: Pizza Union, the London operator that has six restaurants in the capital, has said it is in negotiations on a “few” sites but has seen cost pressures hit profits. It reported sales increased 43% to £8,035,395 for the year ending 3 January 2023 compared with £5,609,563 the previous year. The company, which was founded by Babak Hashemi, one of the founders of Coffee Republic, made a pre-tax loss of £368,087 compared with a profit of £105,338 the previous year as a result of the “challenging cost environment” and the gradual removal of the various government pandemic support. Adjusted Ebitda (excluding covid-related government grants, impairment losses and pre-opening costs) was up to £371,977 compared with £275,770 the year before. The business opened a new site in January 2022. In his report accompanying the accounts, Hashemi said: “Throughout the year we experienced improved sales trends as the pandemic faded and the gradual return to the office took momentum – albeit more towards a 3.5 days per week as compared to the full five days pre-pandemic. During the year we focused on managing our cost of goods in the challenging inflationary environment that materially increased all food and drinks costs, staffing efficiencies given the tight labour market and increased pay rates, and other cost controls especially given the material increase in utility costs. The company continues to selectively search for new sites in central London, and while we are negotiating on a few potential sites, none are in the legal stage of completion at this time [16 May 2023].” The business received government grants of £36,428 (2022: £286,337). No dividend was paid (2022: £200,065).
 
San Carlo lining up new overseas territories: Italian restaurant chain San Carlo has said it is lining up new overseas territories, as it unveiled the opening of its refurbished Liverpool site. The company established its first restaurant in Temple Street, Birmingham, in 1992 and has since opened sites across the UK including in Manchester, Bristol and Leeds. Marcello Distefano told Insider Media the last two years has been spent “reimagining the future of San Carlo” and added that its Liverpool site – which has just reopened after a £3.5m makeover – “represents our vision for the future”. As part of that vision, the company has acquired a base in Alderley Edge for a new restaurant that will open in a few weeks. The venue has undergone a “significant” investment, said Distefano, who added: “It’s a natural fit for us as many local residents are already customers of ours.” Globally, San Carlo operates restaurants in locations including Bangkok, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Distefano said: “We’re opening new territories, with Miami, Dubai and Vietnam coming soon. We already have a number of venues across the Middle East, and we expect further growth here.”
 
Provenance Inns and Hotels sees turnover increase to £7.5m as it builds back from pandemic, staffing levels impact trading: Yorkshire operator Provenance Inns and Hotels has reported turnover increased 38% to £7,561,911 for the year ending 28 August compared with £5,483,844 the previous year as the business builds back from the pandemic. The company, which operates eight sites across the region, saw pre-tax losses rise to £1,479,198 from £89,055 the year before as government support “significantly reduced”. In his report accompanying the accounts, Chris Blundell, who founded the business in 2014, said: “The sites were able to open seven days a week for the full year. Staff availability, however, meant the smaller inns and hotel were only able to operate on a five day per week basis. The sales increase resulted in a gross profit year on year growth of 33%. This percentage increase is also reflected in the increased cost of base ingredients and staff. Administrative expenses increased by 29% against last year, highlighting increases in the costs of operations such as business rates, which were reduced to zero in the previous year. Key to controlling overheads were the energy contracts, which saw no increase in price. The operating loss increased ten-fold as government support significantly reduced and the business remained in recovery in the year.” The business received government grants of £41,721 (2021: £839,123). No dividend was paid (2021: nil).
 
Wagamama to open restaurant at Merry Hill shopping centre: Wagamama, The Restaurant Group-owned brand, is opening a new restaurant at the Merry Hill shopping centre in the West Midlands. The venue, on the Upper Mall, will launch on Monday, 26 June. The 4,000 square-foot restaurant will have 140 covers and create 60 jobs, bringing Wagamama’s total number of UK restaurants to 158. The venue will serve the brand’s new summer menu that includes koyo bowls and the vegan “chicken” kare lomen, with 50% of the dishes being plant-based. JLL and Time Retail Partners represented Merry Hill.
 
Crispin co-founder to open new restaurant concept in Shoreditch this summer: Dominic Hamdy, co-founder of Spitalfields all-day restaurant Crispin and Soho natural wine bar Bar Crispin, will this summer launch a new restaurant concept in Shoreditch. Bistro Freddie will be located at 74 Luke Street, in the space previously occupied by Oklava – the Turkish restaurant from Great British Menu chef Selin Kiazim and Laura Christie which closed in January. The new 45-cover restaurant comprises 33 seats for banquette and table dining and a further 12 at the kitchen counter, with some outdoor dining spaces during summer months. It will have a classic bistro feel and retain the same ethos as Crispin and Bar Crispin, focusing on small and predominantly independent producers and growers. Hamdy said: “This project has been a long-time coming and I am thrilled to bring it to fruition. This is a project close to my heart. My dad, Freddie, taught me hospitality is to have a warm plate and a glass of something for anyone who walked through our front door. I want to emulate this generosity through deeply delicious menus and the warmest welcome in an impressive yet familiar space.” The food will be overseen by Danish head chef Anna Sogaard, who joins from Manchester restaurant Erst. Dishes will include grilled pork loin, leek soubise and trotter broth; fried skate wing, curry sauce and capers; and a made-for-sharing rabbit, bacon and apple cider pie. There will also be a French wine list will be curated by the Crispin Group’s head of wine, Alexandra Price. Etai Page, of Stonebrook London, acted on the Shoreditch deal.
 
Danieli Group submits plans for Stack site in Whitley Bay: North east operator Danieli Group has submitted plans to bring its Stack container leisure venue concept to Whitley Bay. The company has applied to North Tyneside Council to convert the former Empress Ballroom premises. Plans by current owner Mark Holmes to transform it into a leisure and community venue were delayed by covid, and now, although planning permission for a leisure venue is in place, Danieli Group has applied for a variation of the plans to create Stack Whitley Bay. This includes plans to build an external roof terrace, which has been submitted along with the premises licence application. The venue would also feature a stage for live entertainment and street food and drink outlets. Neill Winch, chief executive of Danieli Group, said: “Not only will it bring a new dimension to the existing leisure offering but, subject to planning and licensing, it will bring an underutilised building – and much-loved heritage asset – back into use. We are delighted to hopefully be able to continue to build Stack’s strong presence in the north east with this new and exciting venture.” Stack was recently given the go-ahead for schemes in Carlisle, Middlesbrough, Durham and Bishop Auckland, with a further site in Lincoln currently under construction. The original Stack in Newcastle is also moving to a new permanent home in the city centre, which is currently also being built and is due to reopen in the summer of 2024.
 
Prime Leisure Group signs for fourth Ninja Warrior site as adventure park concept prepares for Essex debut: Prime Leisure Group has signed for its fourth Ninja Warrior UK site, as the adventure park concept prepares to make its Essex debut. The group, which also operates Ninja Warrior parks in Watford, Chatham and Guildford, has taken a 15-year lease for a 25,000 square-foot unit at The Meadows Retail Park in Chelmsford. Tim Morrison, Prime Leisure Group co-founder, said: “Choosing the right location for our Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Parks is vitally important, and we are confident that The Meadows provides the perfect base for our Essex based guests. The combination of city centre location with its easy accessibility to transport links and the proximity of complimentary leisure and lifestyle offerings, gives us a fantastic base for our new venue.” The signing follows a programme of £3m improvement works at The Meadows by landlords Schroders Capital, including a 24,750 square-foot former Argos unit becoming home to a PureGym, TGI Fridays and Cosy Club. Tom Woolven, asset manager for Schroders Capital, added: “We are delighted that Ninja Warrior UK has selected The Meadows as its first location in Essex.” The Chelmsford site will become the 18th Ninja Warrior UK adventure park in total.
 
Lionhearth Group set to more than double estate size over next six months: Lionhearth Group, the new pub venture backed by property developer Sir Tony Gallagher and businessman Chris Palmer, is set to more than double the size of its estate over the next six months. The Cotswolds-based group, which is behind The Chequers in Churchill and The Swan in Ascott-under-Wychwood, will launch two new pubs in 2023, alongside a handful of new rooms and self-catering cottages. The Black Horse in Salford, currently the Salford Inn, will reopen in the summer following investment including a new one-bedroom cottage for overnight stays. Also opening this summer is The Chapel, which will see three bedrooms added to the inventory at The Swan, and which includes a garden terrace. Following this, opening in the autumn will be the grade II-listed The Cock Inn in Combe, along with four refurbished two-bedroom cottages in Kingham. “Our pubs are the heart of our communities,” said managing director Scott Macdonald. “We are committed to securing these precious spaces over the long term and will continue to invest in the region to create warm, welcoming venues.”
 
The Apartment Group adds County Durham wedding venue to portfolio: North East leisure operator The Apartment Group has expanded its portfolio with the acquisition of a “landmark” County Durham property. The company has bought the grade-II listed Lartington Hall near Barnard Castle for an undisclosed sum and is now set to invest about £1m in upgrading the facilities at the 17th century property. About 30 jobs are being created at the venue, which was previously in private ownership with John and Shona Harper-Wilkes, and had been closed for the last two years following the impact of the pandemic. It’s the second wedding venue to be acquired by The Apartment Group this year, following the purchase of the Croft Hotel in Croft-on-Tees in January, and the company is continuing to work on further similar acquisitions, with plans in place for future expansion into Yorkshire and along the M62 corridor. The Lartington Hall acquisition has been completed with the support of a financial package from NatWest. The property includes 12 luxury double bedrooms, as well as a grand ballroom, ornamental gardens and a private chapel. The Apartment Group also owns Runa Hall, on the eastern side of Barnard Castle, which opened last year, while its other wedding venues around the north east include Newton Hall near Alnwick, Le Petit Chateau in Northumberland and the grade II-listed Whitworth Hall in County Durham.
 
Farm Girl team begins Roll Baby rollout with Notting Hill launch: Roll Baby, the rice paper rolls concept from the team behind London’s Farm Girl, has begun its rollout with the opening of its second site. The outlet has launched in Portobello Road in Notting Hill. It joins the inaugural site in South Kensington and marks the start of its expansion. Founded by Rose and Anthony Hood, Roll Baby first launched for delivery in July 2021. The group closed a fundraising round on crowdfunding platform Seedrs in November 2022, which will assist in financing Roll Baby’s aim to increase its portfolio to 25 locations by 2027. Rose Hood said: “Launching Roll Baby was such a passion project for me. During my time studying in Melbourne, summer rolls were available all over town, and we would eat them all the time. I am delighted to be able to expand our London portfolio; Notting Hill has always held a special place in our hearts – not only do we live in the area, but we have enjoyed great success with our original Farm Girl there.” Roll baby sites are also due to open at the Westfield shopping centre in White City and the Paddington Square development in the next few months.
 
Sushi Moka opens second site: New independent Japanese restaurant Sushi Moka has opened its second site, in Wandsworth’s Ram Quarter. The brand has opened in a 795 square-foot unit in Bubbling Well Square, at the heart of the development, on a 15-year lease. Sushi Moka, founded by Christine Chen, also operates a restaurant at 139-151 Marylebone Road in London. Taotao Song, chief executive of Ram Quarter landlords Greenland (UK), said: “There has been a lot of discussion about occupancy rates in the hospitality and leisure sectors, but this latest opening show that there are still plenty of opportunities for the right sites with the right offer. Sushi Moka complements the dynamic, independent brands that we already have in place to bolster our distinctive occupier mix.”
 
Street food concept Mexican Seoul to open debut site: Street food concept Mexican Seoul is to open its debut site. Founded by Ashley Chipchase in 2020, Mexican Seoul made its debut at Brick Lane market and has since operated at street food markets in London and festivals across the UK. Now Chipchase is opening a 60-cover taco bar in Bow Wharf, east London. Mexican Seoul “blends the sweet and savoury flavours of Korean barbecue with the fiery zest of Mexican cuisine”. The menu will include Elote-style corn ribs, topped with pecorino cheese, miso and doenjang mayo and Korean chilli flakes; and tuna tostadas with sashimi grade tuna, guacamole, topped with oi muchim and fried leeks. Korean-style tacos will also feature, including spicy pork belly topped with Korean slaw, lime crema, fried onions and homemade salsa verde. The drinks menu will feature the Kimchi Bloody Mary and the Soju Martini. Chipchase said: “The last couple of years have been a crazy journey, it has not always been easy but what’s made it worthwhile has been building a community of customers who love our food. This taco bar is a home for them.” 

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