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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 26th Jul 2023 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Hospitality loses one in 18 sites in latest 12 months as costs crisis bites: Britain has lost around one in 18 of its licensed premises in the last 12 months – that’s 5,736 pubs, hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes – the new Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA by NIQ and AlixPartners reveals. It showed 5% of pubs, restaurants, hotels and cafes have closed in just one year, and means since the start of covid, the market has seen nearly 15,000 venues close. Many of the businesses lost, and still being lost, are independent. In the three months to June 2023, Britain’s number of licensed premises dipped 1.1%. The drop represents 1,139 net closures in the second quarter – equivalent to 12.5 per day. Smaller businesses have borne the brunt of closures, and the independent segment has shed 7% of outlets in the last 12 months – in sharp contrast to fractional growth of 0.1% in the managed hospitality sector. However, the monitor also reveals signs for cautious optimism. Net closures across the first half of 2023 (1,895) were less than half the number seen in the second half of 2022 (3,841), and some units vacated recently have been repurposed by other operators including emerging groups. The casual dining segment is now 5.6% smaller than 12 months ago, but food-led pubs (down 2.9%), high street pubs (down 3.1%) and community pubs (down 4.1%) have all recorded notably fewer closures than the sector as a whole. Britain’s city centres are meanwhile showing growing resilience, with a 4.2% net fall in licensed premises in the 12 months to June 2023 – a better figure than the drops of 5.9% and 5.4% in large and small towns respectively. Karl Chessell, CGA by NIQ’s business unit director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “It’s been another tough quarter for hospitality, with soaring energy, food and labour costs squeezing businesses’ margins and inflation and interest rate rises sapping consumer confidence. Against that backdrop, managed groups have been impressively resilient in many segments and areas, and there are welcome signs that city centres in particular are back to their pre-covid vibrancy. More venue closures are sadly inevitable while costs remain so high, but the outlook for well-resourced, distinctive and customer-focused groups remains good.” Graeme Smith, AlixPartners’ managing director, added: “While every business lost is a tragedy, many more are managing to navigate their way through. We are all waiting for this margin-compression cycle to turn, and when that switch comes, the market will, from an investment and lending perspective, right itself quickly. Investors will return, with businesses that have delivered stability and are able to demonstrate growth, top of the agenda.”

Industry News:

Pizza Pilgrims to speak at Propel Talent & Training Conference, open for bookings: Leanne Gunson, head of learning and development at Pizza Pilgrims, will be among the speakers at the Propel Talent & Training Conference. The all-day conference takes place on Tuesday, 3 October at One Moorgate Place in London and is open for bookings. Gunson will discuss the company’s academy, how it is helping the business recruit and train new staff, and inspire its existing employees using outside influences. The conference will showcase examples of outstanding people culture among companies within the sector and how the industry is attracting talent. For the full speaker schedule, click here. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for operators and £395 plus VAT for suppliers and can be booked by emailing
Two days to go before release of updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, 17 businesses being added: A total of 17 new multi-site companies, operating 52 sites, have been added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released on Friday (28 July), at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, includes regional café operators, growing restaurant brands, and expanding experiential concepts. Premium subscribers will also receive a 1,300-word report on the new additions to the database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. The database now features 2,883 companies. Premium subscribers will also receive the next edition of the New Openings Database on Friday, 4 August, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The next edition also includes a 4,000-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to three other databases: the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage; the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database. Propel will next month launch the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database – the first time that profiles of 100 of the top food and beverage franchisees have been available in one place in the UK. The go-to database, which features many of the big franchise operators running Costa Coffee, McDonald’s and Domino’s sites, brings together a wealth of information on an increasingly important part of the market, and the first edition will feature more than 32,000 words of content. The sixth major database exclusive to Premium subscribers, it will be sent out bi-monthly, including new entries and updates to existing entries. The companies, listed in alphabetical order, will have their most recent results reported as well as broader information around the company’s background, site numbers and board make-up. 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 to upgrade your subscription. Premium subscribers are also being given exclusive access to the recording and slides to Propel Multi-Club Conferences. They 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.

Managed group sales rose 6.7% in June for ninth successive month of year-on-year growth: Britain’s managed restaurant, pub and bar groups overcame widespread challenges to record a ninth successive month of year-on-year sales growth in June, the new Coffer CGA Business Tracker shows. The Tracker, produced by CGA by NIQ in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM UK, reveals total like-for-like sales increased by 6.7% in June. The hot weather brought consumers out to drink in pubs, especially those with beer gardens and terraces, and sales in this segment were up by 10.8% on June 2022. However, some of this growth came at the expense of restaurants, where sales finished 3.2% ahead year-on-year. The bars segment completed a difficult first half of 2023 with an 8.4% drop in sales. Combined sales growth remains just below the level of inflation, though the gap between the two has closed over the first half of this year. Growth was even across the country in June, the Tracker indicates, with managed groups’ like-for-like sales growth within the M25 at 8.1% as London continued its post-covid recovery, just ahead of 6.7% beyond the M25. Karl Chessell, director of hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA by NIQ, said: “These numbers highlight the impressive resilience of managed hospitality groups, despite rising costs for businesses and consumers. More interest rate rises may dampen consumers’ confidence and cost pressures remain for operators, but the long-term outlook for the sector remains good.” Mark Sheehan, managing director at Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: “The warm weather in June saw strong growth, especially in pubs. Hospitality sales continue to show growth and following the better-than-expected slowdown in inflation strong signs that the worst of cost increases are behind us. We may be moving towards a period where we may see real growth.” Saxon Moseley, partner in RSM UK’s leisure and hospitality, added: “While restaurant like for likes remained stubbornly below inflation, the fact they continue to grow in the face of rising mortgage costs is a testament to the resilience of the sector and consumer appetite for eating out. With food price inflation falling for the fourth consecutive month, operators will be hopeful that margins begin to improve as we head into the summer holiday season.”
Two thirds of hospitality businesses think sector receives less support than other industries: More than two thirds (62%) of hospitality businesses think the sector receives less support than other industries, new research from virtual restaurant brand company Peckwater Brands has found. The independent survey of 250 senior sector managers also found 40% would welcome an extension of the energy bill relief, while 36% would like to see the return of “Eat Out to Help Out” or a similar initiative. In order to cut costs, 48% have renegotiated with or changed their supplier in the past year, with a further 44% planning on doing so in the next year. Many are also re-evaluating their business strategy, with 26% switching to a takeaway-only model, while 32% are planning to do so. Furthermore, 28% said employment incentive programmes would make a positive difference, with 21% wanting additional visa opportunities for foreign workers. Sam Martin, chief executive of Peckwater Brands, said: “Signs that food price inflation is starting to fall may be welcome among business owners, but our research still shows they believe external support is the key to returning to their rightful pre-pandemic status.”
Herefordshire better burger brand to appear in new BBC Hidden World of Hospitality series with Tom Kerridge: Herefordshire better burger brand Beefy Boys is set to appear in a new BBC Hidden World of Hospitality series with chef Tom Kerridge. The episode featuring the business, which was founded in 2011 and has sites in Hereford, Shrewsbury and Cheltenham, is scheduled to air at 8pm on Thursday, 3 August, on BBC Two. It will show them winning the title of “best burger” at the UK’s biggest BBQ competition, Grillstock, and “burger of the year” at the 2023 National Burger Awards, as well as representing the UK at The World’s Best Burger Competition in Las Vegas. Co-founder Anthony Murphy said: “It’s been a tough few years for the hospitality industry, and we have had to adapt our business along the way to tackle the constant challenges that restaurant owners face. We are so thrilled to be part of this new BBC series, and to share The Beefy Boys’ journey so far.” The series, hosted by Gloucester-born chef Kerridge, highlights the industry’s dedicated professionals and the risks they undertake to push their businesses forward, over eight episodes. The first episode airs tomorrow (Thursday, 27 July).
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a community of individuals that is looking for a head of commercial sales. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “The goal is to convene a collaborative community that scales and accelerates solutions to the world’s greatest challenges and provide its community with a physical home where creativity and innovation can flourish. This role will lead membership acquisition, events, outbound corporate partnerships, and communications and have accountability for the revenue P&L. The ideal candidate will have a sales background (mastering data and funnels is essential) and have grown into a commercial leader that understands the detail, creativity and drive to deliver a £10m budget across the core revenue lines at a controlled cost of acquisition.” The salary is up to £80,000 and the position is based in London. For more information, email

Company News:

Christie & Co – we are seeing tenanted pub companies come back into the market: Stephen Owens, managing director of Pubs & Restaurants at sector property advisor Christie & Co, has told Propel that the buyer profile in the pub market has changed from being premium managed operators last year to tenanted and independent business now. Owens said: “I think the interesting thing is how the market has changed over a relatively short period from last year, when it was the premium managed operators, to now, when the focus is on the tenanted and the more independent operators, who are principally looking at the tenanted and leased model. If we go back to the beginning of last year, the buyers, certainly for quite a lot of the stuff we were selling, were the likes of RedCat, Greene King, Oakman Inns, those premium managed operators. What we’ve found this year is that the buyer is probably more likely to be an independent, experienced operator, somebody who is wanting to get back into the market or add to their existing portfolio. So, if you look at the 61-strong Marston’s portfolio we brought to market this spring, we’ve got a number of new buyers, existing operators, but they’re not the corporates. They are generally people who are cash buyers. But equally, we’re also seeing the tenanted pub companies coming back into the market. The likes of Valiant Pub Company, Punch Pubs, Trust Inns and Red Oak Taverns are all acquisitive. So, I think the market, although not fundamentally changed, has a different buyer profile this year than there was last year. There has definitely been a switch from managed buyers to tenanted buyers. And equally, what our stats are showing is the corporate market has probably been replaced by the independent market. Why are the tenanted pub companies back in the market? Because they see that some of the cost headwinds are going to ease. In the near future, they’re promising that the tenant is more stable, income is more predictable and they’ve probably just perceived that now is the right time to dip their toe back in the market. One of the more permanent effects of covid is people staying in their local communities, and that’s also given the tenanted pub companies confidence to come back into the market. The managed operators are just trying to trade through this period, they’re not necessarily focused on expanding. Their focus is probably more on some of the levers they can pull operationally to deal with costs rather than necessarily going out and saying let’s add a few more pubs to what we’ve got.” Owens said the property firm was also seeing more properties come to market. He said: “Last year, the big challenge for us was we just didn’t have the quality stock. Now, I’m not saying that the tide has changed, but we’re getting more instructions. We’re not seeing anything like we were at the levels post the global financial crisis, when we were selling probably 400 or 500 pubs a year. But we’re generally seeing more people come to market, not a lot of distress, but people actually thinking now’s a good time to sell. I think once we get to a situation where people feel that interest rate rises have sort of hit their peak, it will give them even more confidence.”

Big Smoke Pub Co sites acquired via pre-pack administration: The five original pubs sites operated by independent Surrey-based Big Smoke Pub Co have been acquired via a pre-pack administration. All 108 staff have been transferred to the new entity and trade continues under the existing management team led by Rich Craig and James Morgan, without disruption at its sites. The pubs involved are the Antelope in Surbiton, The Albion Tavern in Kingston-upon-Thames, The Flint Gate in Walton-on-Thames, The Lord Raglan in Wokingham and The Hole in the Wall in Chichester. Glyn Mummery and Julie Humphrey, of advisory firm FRP, were appointed administrators on 6 July as the business recovers from the covid trading period. Upon appointment, the business and assets were sold. The process did not involve the pubs Big Smoke operates in partnership with Punch Pubs. 

BrewDog to open first bar in mainland Europe transport hub: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog is to open its first bar in a transport hub in mainland Europe. The company has partnered with SSP Group, the operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide, to open the venue at Amsterdam Centraal station. Opening in the autumn, it will feature a unique menu crafted for the region, including the “Dutch Haystack” breakfast with regional pork sausages, smoked streaky bacon, hash browns and forest mushrooms, while local craft beer will be among the beer offering. In May, BrewDog partnered with SSP to bring the brand to various travel locations, with the first set to open at Gatwick airport later this summer. James Watt, chief executive of BrewDog, said: “Amsterdam has always had a vibrant craft beer scene, and so we’re excited to be expanding our partnership with SSP to open a fantastic new bar within the city’s historic Centraal station – which will be the first travel location bar of its kind in mainland Europe. We’re looking forward to welcoming travellers to Amsterdam when we open later in the year.” Peter Hoekstra, managing director SSP Nederland BV, added: “We are delighted to be bringing such a fun, innovative and exciting brand to Amsterdam Centraal. We’ve worked closely with the BrewDog team to create a tailored Dutch offer that our rail customers are sure to love.” 

Hush Collection sells Westfield London Cabana site to Rosa’s Thai: The Hush Collection, which is led by Jamie Barber and Ed Standring, has sold its Cabana site in Westfield London to Rosa’s Thai, which is backed by TriSpan, as it looks to focus the brand on wet-led and entertainment-driven locations, Propel has learned. The business said the sale of the Westfield London site will bring it closer to its goal of “re-focussing and re-positioning the Hush Collection restaurant group”. Standring, chief executive of the Hush Collection, said: “We are very clear about the future direction of both the Cabana and Hache Brasserie brands; Hache performs best in larger sites in neighbourhood locations with its modern all-day menu, and Cabana absolutely hums in wet-led event environments like the O2 Arena and Westfield Stratford. Westfield London has always been the outlier, with a skew towards day time trade and no obvious ‘follow on’ entertainment. Westfield have been a great partner for us, and we look forward to continue to work with them in Westfield Stratford and on other future opportunities.” Cabana’s second Middle Eastern restaurant opens in Saudi Arabia in September, and the group is targeting a further eight international Cabana restaurants in the next three years. It now operates three Cabana sites in London, plus a site in Riyadh. The 36-strong Rosa’s Thai will open its latest site in Oxford next month and will also open in Guildford later this year, as well as making its Scottish debut, in Glasgow. It has also lined up a site in Reading and is in talks on sites in Bristol and Edinburgh, as it looks to open eight sites in 2023.

France-based, high-end karaoke concept Bam to make UK debut: Bam Karaoke Box, the France-based, high-end karaoke concept, is set to make its debut in the UK next year, Propel has learned. The business, which was founded in France in 2014 by Arnaud Studer, is understood to have secured a site in London’s Victoria Street for an expected opening next March. The new venue is set to be 10,000 square feet and will encompass 22 karaoke boxes, a 100-cover restaurant and 50-capacity terrace. The business currently operates eight sites across France and Spain, including five in Paris and two in Madrid. It is thought that it will look to open further sites in the UK. Since 2014, the company said that more than 1.1 million customers have “already sung with us.

Flat Iron seeks payout over covid-19 interruption: Flat Iron, the Piper-backed affordable steak concept, has become the latest sector operator to bring legal proceedings against its insurer in pursuit of a business interruption payout for disruption it suffered due to covid. restrictions. The 13-strong business, which this week made its regional debut in Cambridge, has issued proceedings against QIC Europe, which was also named as the defendant in a case brought by Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca earlier this summer. Website Law360 reported Oaxaca, which trades as Wahaca, said in a High Court claim on 24 May, that its insurer, QIC Europe, has refused to provide cover for the losses that came after then-prime minister Boris Johnson ordered businesses to close doors in 2020. The restaurant chain said the government orders, which forced it to shut its 29 locations across the UK, warranted indemnity from the Malta-based insurer. QIC Europe has fought back against the legal suit brough by Oaxaca, arguing that its policy does not cover losses incurred during the nationwide pandemic lockdowns. Flat Iron recently added to its openings pipeline by securing the ex-Byron site in Leed’s Lands Lane, with an opening planned before the end of this year. It will also open in Manchester’s Deansgate at the start of next year.
Blind Tiger Inns adds two new sites to take estate to 20, volumes in growth as company seeks further opportunities: Blind Tiger Inns, the north west operator, has acquired leases on two new pubs as it seeks further growth opportunities. The new sites with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars bring Blind Tiger’s estate to 20 venues and will create 22 jobs. The Argyll & Sutherland in Eastham and the Towneley Arms Hotel in Longridge will undergo joint refurbishments totalling £340,000 before opening under Blind Tiger’s management. Both wet-led venues will have a spacious bar, a lounge area and a dedicated sports zone, as well as café-style seating at the front and rear, and will offer a range of drinks. Blind Tiger managing director Chris Tulloch said he remains positive about the outlook for pubs, despite the cost-of-living crisis and challenges of inflation and high energy prices. “We’ve made no cut backs and have continued to give our customers the great experience they know and love when they come to our pubs,” he said. “We’ve revisited our wine and gin menus, revamped gardens and kept up our maintenance programme, so our pubs look as good as ever. As a result, our volumes are in growth, albeit increased costs have dented profits. We’re confident we’ll emerge from this tough period as a strong business and will recoup our profit margins as energy prices settle down.” Tulloch said his company remains “open to taking on new sites if they’re the right opportunities”, adding: “Any expansion will be driven by leased pubs. We like the flexibility of leasing and the stable overhead of rents that are fixed for five years compared with the risks and uncertainty of property ownership.”
Inda Pubs adds eighth site to London estate: West London pub operator Inda Pubs has opened its eighth site in the capital. The business, which was founded in 2012 by James Corbett, has opened The Chamberlayne in Kensal Rise. The group’s other pubs include The Hillgate, Notting Hill Gate; The Mitre, Fulham; The Selkirk in Tooting; and The Wilton Arms in Belgravia. Two years ago, the company secured a £3.5m funding package from alternative finance provider ThinCats, which allowed it to purchase the freehold of The Island in Kensal Rise.
True North Brew Co puts three pubs on market: Sheffield operator True North Brew Co has put three Yorkshire pubs on the market. It has instructed agent Fleurets to sell two freehold opportunities – The Milton Arms in Elsecar, Barnsley; and The Norfolk Arms in Grenoside, Sheffield – alongside the leasehold of The York in Broomhill, Sheffield. Simon Hall, director at Fleurets, said: “These three sites offer something for everybody. The Norfolk Arms is a one-acre site on a very busy main road with little competition from corporate operators in the area, and with planning for a 200-cover pub restaurant with parking for 40 cars and large garden for 150, this is a significant development opportunity. The other two pubs are in good locations, heavily invested and in superb condition.” In its accounts for the year ending 27 March 2022, True North reported The Norfolk Arms made a loss of £50,000 in closure costs while empty during the year, mainly in rents and rates. The company reported group turnover rose from £3,712,341 in 2021 to £13,134,667, which was also up on the last pre-pandemic figure of £12,590,333, while its pre-tax loss narrowed from £1,313,111 in 2021 to £411,868 (2020: loss of £548,610). The company said post year-end, it had been undertaking a divestment project of loss-making sites and subsequently, in October 2022, sold The Blue Stoops pub in Dronfield to Chilled Pubs. This left True North with 13 pubs as well as a brewery and gin distillery, retail store and online shop.
Trust Inns adds Hampshire pub to portfolio: Pub company Trust Inns, which is owned by the family interests of the late Trevor Hemmings, has added a Hampshire country pub to its portfolio. It has acquired the Fox Inn, in the village of North Waltham, in a deal brokered by Christie & Co as previous owners Rob and Izzie MacKenzie, who ran the pub for more than 20 years, are looking to retire. The 55-cover pub offers wine pairing meals among its food and drink menus, while the building was recently listed as an Asset of Community Value. A spokesman for Trust Inns said: “Trust Inns is delighted with the acquisition of the Fox Inn, which fits neatly within our diversely located and segmented portfolio across the UK. As an independently owned company, we will continue to buy quality inns and pubs. We wish Robb and Izzie a long and enjoyable retirement from the Fox and will continue to nurture their legacy for a successful future for the site.” Trust Inns own more than 350 leased and tenanted pubs across the UK. It returned to profit in the year ending 31 March 2022, with a pre-tax profit of £5,606,000 compared with a loss of £9,101,000 the previous year, off turnover of £37,928,000 (2021: £15,381,000).
Glasgow operator opens Indian-inspired restaurant and cocktail bar for seventh site: Glasgow operator The R Group has opened an Indian-inspired restaurant and cocktail bar for its seventh site in the region. Brothers Rahul and Pravesh “Bubbles” Randev have launched The Marigold Cafe at 144 Park Road, on the site of its own former venue, The Richmond. The menu combines authentic Indian cooking, spices and methods with a fusion of international influences, with a brunch menu featuring the loaded breakfast naan (a “full Scottish” breakfast packed inside a freshly baked naan bread topped with chilli jam), chai spiced croissant or waffles with pistachio yogurt, cardamom and fresh fruit. In the evening, the offering will switch to the likes of prawn biryani bon bons, “Marigold Fried Chicken” and Bombay hasselback potatoes, alongside spice infused cocktails. Rahul Randev said: “We have always had a desire to open a stylish cocktail and wine bar in the west end that also offers exceptional plates of food in beautiful surroundings. We think by marrying all of these elements together, we have created something quite special with The Marigold Cafe.” The R Group also operates The Crescent bar in Finnieston; The Grove bistro, bar and bakery in Lenzie; Garvie & Co restaurant, bar and bakery in Milngavie; Rasoi Indian restaurant and deli in Lenzie; events venue The Eagle Lodge in Bishopbriggs and Oregano restaurant in Bishopbriggs.
Acai Berry opens two new London sites: Brazilian superfood concept Acai Berry has further strengthened its presence in London with two new openings. The ten-strong business, which was founded by Marcus Carmo and Renato Damiano, has opened in Orchard Place in St James’s and in Canary Wharf. Earlier this month, the business opened a site in Kensington. The concept focuses on acai – a staple in Brazilian and US daily diets – in bowls and as snacks or smoothies. It also offers protein balls, brownies and organic coffee. The concept began as a stall in Brick Lane and has grown to permanent sites in locations including Argyll Street, Carnaby Street and Chelsea. Taylor Gershon, of CBA Leisure, acts for Acai Berry.
Admiral Taverns invests more than £10m across estate: Admiral Taverns, the Proprium-backed business, has invested more than £10m into upgrading its community pubs throughout the first half of 2023. The group, which owns almost 1,500 pubs in England, Scotland and Wales, has invested the funds into 138 pubs across both its leased and tenanted estate and its wet-led operator division, Proper Pubs. The programme is a core part of Admiral’s strategy to “ensure every pub can thrive and make a positive difference within their communities across the UK”. Investments range from interior and external refurbishments through to upgrading licensee accommodation and making essential structural repairs. Chief executive Chris Jowsey said: “At Admiral, we strongly believe in creating long-term, sustainable pubs that sit at the heart of their communities and support all aspects of local life. Pubs are the cornerstone of British life and have been bringing people together for centuries so it’s essential we continue to facilitate such an important part of community life.” For Proper Pubs, 2023 has seen a record number of openings. These include the Strawberry Gardens in Manchester, which received an investment of almost £248,000, as well as the Gamull in Preston, which opened following a £360,000 capex investment.  
Fitness First restructure forecasts return to Ebitda profitability in 2023-24: Fitness First, the gym operator led by former Wigan Athletic FC owner Dave Whelan, has said its restructuring plan, which was approved last month, will see a forecast return to Ebitda profitability in 2023-24. “Forecasts reflecting the projected benefits of the restructuring plan indicate a return to Ebitda profitability in 2023-24,” the company said, in its accounts for the year ending 31 March 2022. The plan was launched despite the company selling three gyms to The Gym Group for £5.5m in March 2022, which helped with an early part-repayment of its Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) debt. A further £2.5m was injected by the shareholders of the parent company, Maddox Holdings, in August 2022, and this was followed, in January 2023, with another injection of £6.3m, which was used to settle in full the remaining CLBILS debt. Director Andrew Riley said the company was “significantly affected by the covid-19 pandemic” and “the residual effects are still impacting gym membership and revenue streams”. He said gyms in residential areas performed “quite well”, with members returning in “reasonable numbers”, but those in business areas have “fared less favourably”. Membership numbers at reopening were below half of the total pre-pandemic, and the rebuild of the membership base has been “slower than anticipated due to the shift away from office working” as the majority of its gyms are city centre-based within close proximity to offices. “The period ending 31 March 2023 saw a continuation of the slow recovery, with membership numbers only improving from September 2022 onwards following an increase in office occupation levels,” Riley said. “However, it became increasingly clear the company needed to restructure both its debts and gym portfolio to allow it to trade profitably in the future.” It comes as the company narrowed its pre-tax losses in the year ending 31 March 2022, from £26,250,000 in 2021 to £8,818,000 (2019: profit of £5,680,000). Turnover was up from £9,745,000 in 2021 to £27,282,000 (2019: £56,962,000). Adjusted Ebitda losses narrowed from £10,125,000 in 2021 to £4,441,000 (2019: profit of £15,616,000). Fitness club membership increased by 21.9% (2021 decreased by 52.0%) and number of gyms at year-end was 40 (2021: 43). No dividends were paid (2021: nil). The company received £993,000 in government grants (2021: £6,188,000).
Zanna Hospitality Group opens new Manchester bar with 300-seat terrace: North west operator Zanna Hospitality Group has opened a new bar in Manchester with a 300-seat terrace facing out on to Stevenson Square, in the city’s Northern Quarter. Public is open daily from midday and until 3am on weekends, featuring a roster of DJs playing each weekend and a late-night basement and events space opening later in the year. The bar offers a selection of cocktails, lager and wine on tap or from the bottle, alongside small bites such as burgers, noodles and sandos. Zanna, which was founded by Sax Arshad, already operates five venues in Manchester, including Evelyn’s and The Daisy. It is also behind Les Deux Pizza Bar in Alderley Edge, Sienna Kitchen and Bar in Sheffield and Cafe Clo in Leicester. Last summer, it also opened four concepts at the new Flannels department store in Liverpool, including an Italian restaurant, a rooftop brasserie, a bar and a pan-Asian restaurant.
London Pakistan-inspired cafe concept looking to recruit franchisees for northern expansion: London Pakistan-inspired cafe concept Naan Staap has said it is looking to recruit franchisees as it prepares to expand into the north. Founded in 2018 by Zohaib Shahnawaz, the concept – which offers freshly baked stuffed naan, cakes, cookies and chai – has five sites in the capital, including its first franchise site, which opened in Gants Hill last year. The company said: “Naan Staap is now recruiting across major cities. New areas have been released across major cities and we are now looking to recruit franchisees in Bradford, Leeds, Leicester, Greater Manchester and Liverpool. Serving a range of unique stuff naan bread – whether you like chicken, lamb or vegetarian, Naan Staap have got you covered. We even stuff naan bread with Nutella and chocolates!” In December, the brand said it had signed for 20-plus new stores and territories which are set to open over the next three to five years.
Panda Mami to open in former Cosmo premises in Nottingham for fourth site: World buffet restaurant company Panda Mami is to open its fourth site, in Nottingham. The company will launch in the former Cosmo premises at 29a Milton Street, reports The Business Desk. Panda Mami has restaurants in Chester, Manchester and York. The concept aims to “provide a casual dining experience like no other, offering a balanced choice of delicious food, giving guests added value at a fixed price, all within luxurious surroundings”. Cosmo closed its Nottingham venue last November after seven years.
West Sussex hotel operator reports revenue exceeds pre-covid levels: Historic Sussex Hotels, which operates three hotels in West Sussex, has reported turnover increased to £14,882,793 for the year ending 27 November 2022 compared with £10,614,945 the year before. Revenue also exceeded the £13,131,993 reported for the year ending 27 November 2019 – the last full year before the covid pandemic. Pre-tax profit was down slightly to £2,811,119 from £2,844,484 the previous year (2019: profit of £1,372,912). The company received government grants of £18,000 (2021: £833,903). Dividends of £373,000 were paid (2021: £234,500). The group operates The Spread Eagle Hotel in Midhurst, Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield and Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa in Climping.
Pret franchisee opens third site with brand: Pret A Manger franchisee Exultant Group has opened a third site with the brand. The group, led by Mizan Syed, joined the likes of Chesterford Group and Dallas Holdings in signing up to be a Pret UK franchisee in January, and is responsible for operating sites in Yorkshire. It came after Pret divested its Sheffield Meadowhall site over to Exultant Group, and in February, it added a second site when it opened a Pret on the first floor of the Merrion Centre in Leeds’ Arena Quarter. It has now opened a third Pret site, in the unit formerly occupied by Tiffin Coffee Grande, which sits on the corner of Charles Street and Market Street in Bradford. Founded in 2014, Exultant Group’s portfolio includes circa 26 Pizza Hut Delivery restaurants and several Anytime Fitness sites. Meanwhile, Tiffin Sandwiches – which operated Tiffin Coffee Grande and Tiffin Coffee Shop in the city’s Wool Exchange – has said it will also close the latter site and merge both its branches into a new location, in the former NatWest Bank in Hustlergate. Owner Steve Dunn told the Telegraph & Argus: “We were planning this anyway, but the interest from Pret in that unit accelerated things. It is great news when businesses like that want to invest in the city.”
Popeyes launches wedding catering service: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, the US fried chicken quick-service brand, is offering its wedding catering service to couples across the UK. The new catering service is taking bookings until the end of 2024, with enquiries made via the Popeyes website. Under the terms of the service, the wedding location must be within a 30-minute drive of a Popeyes UK restaurant or delivery kitchen. An order is limited to a maximum of 150 chicken sandwiches and 150 hot wings. To mark the launch, Popeyes is even offering one lucky couple the opportunity to win their wedding catered for free. They will also receive a year's supply of chicken sandwiches. The brand operates 25 sites in the UK – 17 restaurants and eight delivery kitchens. Last month, Propel reported that the US fried chicken quick-service brand is planning a move into franchising in the UK. Propel understands Popeyes has begun the search for a head of franchise, who will be “key in driving the exponential growth of Popeyes UK”.

Northern Ireland hotel group exceeds pre-covid levels of profit and turnover: Northern Ireland-based The McKeever Hotel Group exceeded pre-covid levels of profit and turnover in the year ending 30 September 2022. Its pre-tax profit rose from £748,347 in 2021 to £1,928,867. This compares with £418,355 in the last full year before covid, ending 30 September 2019. Turnover was up from £5,429,070 in 2021 to £13,567,633 (2019: £11,326,608). The company received £496,480 in government grants compared with £2,559,399 in 2021. Dividends of £70,000 were paid. The group, which operates five hotels, is led by father-and-son team Eugene and Eddie McKeever. In November 2022, Eddie followed his father in being named president of the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation and said he hopes to focus on improving the industry’s image as a career choice. “We do have a skills shortage and problems with how the industry is viewed in terms of unsocial hours and low pay,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “Both have completely changed. The message that we want to get out is that it is a career of choice, and it is a safe industry. Not one hotel here closed its doors permanently as a result of the pandemic. It is a safe career option that can take you around the world. Very few staff come in and stay at entry-level jobs, we talk to staff about what direction they want to go in. The opportunities are there for those who want them, and it is a career that will give you skills for life.” Eugene, meanwhile, started working in what was then Corr’s Corner Bar in Newtownabbey at the age of 12, and seven years after he left, returned to buy it and has transformed it into one of Northern Ireland’s foremost family hotels, Corr’s Corner Hotel. His wife, Catherine, is managing director of the group, while eldest daughter, Bridgene Keely, is director of marketing.
Sinking Miller & Carter restaurant located on converted paddle steamer set to be raised: A sinking Miller & Carter restaurant located on a converted paddle steamer in Essex is set to be raised. The restaurant, at Lakeside shopping centre in West Thurrock, started dipping into the water just two days before Christmas in 2022 before stopping on Christmas Eve. It started sinking due to “structural issues” and an assessment would take place in the new year, the Basildon Echo reported at the time. A spokesman for the shopping centre has now confirmed a contractor has been appointed and the restaurant is set to be raised. “We can confirm that a contractor has been appointed to start the operation to raise the Miller & Carter restaurant,” they said. “Once able to do so, it will be able to report on its findings and assessments, which will enable us to make an informed decision.” No one was injured during the initial sinking incident, but a large operation was undertaken to safely evacuate everyone onboard. Miller & Carter is operated by Mitchells & Butlers, which is also behind the Harvester and All Bar One chains.

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