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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 8th Aug 2023 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

EL&N seeking investment partner, plans to operate 200-plus units globally: Cafe and lifestyle brand EL&N, the 32-strong London-based business, is seeking an investment partner to aid its ambition to grow to 200-plus sites globally over the next five years, Propel has learned. The business, which made its debut in Asia earlier this month, said it is exploring the potential to raise capital “through divestment of equity” in its holding group. It said: “We are seeking an investment partner to provide growth capital to assist in the capitalisation of additional equity store rollouts, as well as exploring vertical investment opportunities. Focusing on a combination of franchising and corporate store rollouts, the ambition of capturing the leading position of the world’s number one lifestyle cafe is achievable.” The business, which was founded by Alexandra Miller in 2017, expects to grow organically throughout 2023-24 by investing in its existing product range, and by developing new products and opening new sites. It said: “The EL&N brand growth strategy is to expand via a combination of corporate store models within the UK and selected cities in Europe and a franchising model internationally.” The group expansion strategy is to operate 200-plus units globally over the next five years. The company, which operates sites in the UK, Italy, France and the Middle East, opened its debut site in Malaysia, in the Pavilion Mall, Kuala Lumpur. In the spring, the business signed a franchise partnership agreement to launch in India. It agreed a franchise deal with Reliance Brands to open sites in the country, which will become its eighth market globally. In February, EL&N, which operates ten sites in London, signed a deal with Lagardère Travel Retail to launch franchise sites in travel locations. The company said 2022 was a year of “great achievements for EL&N” during which “we delivered record sales and profits, significant strategic progress and celebrated the milestone of becoming a truly global company”. It said despite the difficult trading environment, it reported turnover of £22,438,548 for the year ending 30 June 2022 (2021: £8,441,971) and pre-tax profit of £4,538,953 (2021: £1,256,508). The company said: “The business has shown itself to be extraordinarily well positioned through and post pandemic, with its focus on international expansion mitigating the contraction of business revenue in the UK operations. The business development strategies implemented by the directors and management in 2022 resulted in EL&N ascending from a UK-based equity store operation to a genuine global brand, with operations across multiple geographic markets.” EL&N will feature in the next Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage, which will be sent to Premium subscribers next Friday (18 August). It will be the first database where full profiles of 720 of the UK's top food and beverage operators are available in one place. 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. 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:

Kenny Blair to speak at Propel Talent & Training Conference, open for bookings: Kenny Blair, managing director of Scottish independent restaurant and bar operator Buzzworks Holdings, 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. Blair will talk about creating recruitment initiatives, including a cash referral scheme to attract new talent, its use of TikTok to find new employees, and how they are helping the business find and retain staff. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com.
 
Next Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows sector companies’ profit outstripping losses by £1.33bn, up from £511m last month: The next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (11 August), shows the profit being made by sector companies is now outstripping losses by £1.33bn. The Blue Book shows the total profit of the 745 companies in the list is £3,472,828,806 and losses are £2,143,259,667. Last month, the Blue Book showed sector companies’ profit outstripping losses by £511m. The Blue Book is updated each month and ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. Premium subscribers also receive access to five other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; and the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage. This month, Propel will 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 will be released on Wednesday, 16 August and 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 jo.charity@propelinfo.com 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.
  
More than a third of independent nightclubs lost in last three years, many more may close in 2023: More than a third of independent UK nightclubs have been lost in the last 12 months, and many more may close for good this year, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has warned. It said the latest data shows a 35% decline in the independent nightclub sector since June 2020, with more than 100 closures in the last 12 months alone. This reflects a worrying trend for the UK nightclub industry as a whole, which has seen a 31% loss of clubs between June 2020 and June 2023, with a 12% decline in the past year, the NTIA said. An escalation of operational costs including rent, utilities, labour and maintenance have added to those economic uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, it added. The trade body is urging governments to consider tailored financial relief, regulatory flexibility and other supportive measures that can help mitigate these pressures. NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said: “The recent figures from CGA Neilson are extremely alarming, and if taken back to 2019, show an even more dramatic picture for these businesses, with losses nearer 40% These businesses are facing some critical challenges, with many not knowing whether they will survive over the coming months. Without further support we may lose many more of these businesses before the end of the year.”
 
UK businesses urge PM to reverse rise in visa fee for skilled workers: Prime minister Rishi Sunak is facing calls to rethink a planned increase in visa fees for migrant workers, with business groups arguing that raising the levies will harm the UK’s competitiveness and hamper efforts to plug labour shortages. Sunak announced in July he would significantly increase the fees for migrants, including workers and students, in a move that he said would help fund public sector pay rises. In a letter to the prime minister, seen by the Financial Times, John Dickie, chief executive of lobby group BusinessLDN, urged Sunak “to reassess this measure and consider the impact of the proposed changes on [the] UK’s businesses and the economy”. British businesses have struggled to recruit staff in a tight labour market and Dickie said UK work visas were already among the most expensive in the world. Under the government’s plan, the cost of a skilled worker visa for more than three years would rise from £1,235 to £1,480. The annual immigration health surcharge – a mandatory levy to fund NHS access for migrants, which has been frozen since 2020 – would increase 66% to £1,035. Combined with other expenses such as the immigration skills charge, “the total cost to bring in one skilled worker is nearly £10,000”, according to the letter from BusinessLDN, previously known as London First. BusinessLDN represents about 175 companies, including some of the UK’s largest employers. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said last month the fee increases were needed to help fund public sector pay rises of between 5% and 7%, and £1.4bn would be raised over two years by increasing visa fees and the annual NHS “surcharge”. The Home Office said the higher visa charge would be introduced in the autumn while the higher health surcharge would come into force at the end of this year or in early 2024. 
 
Gloomy companies hiring fewer new staff: The gloomy economic outlook is leading to businesses hiring fewer employees as tightness in labour markets begins to unwind, according to a new report. Permanent staff appointments in July declined at the fastest pace in more than three years “as concerns over the outlook made companies hesitant to commit to new staff”, according to the latest UK jobs report by KPMG and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation. Staff availability rose steeply as a result of the slowdown in recruitment and amid reports of redundancies. The survey data found the steepest upturn in total labour supply, excluding the pandemic period, since October 2009, reports The Times. Separate data also showed hiring intentions and business confidence fell across both the services and manufacturing sectors in July. The business trends report by BDO said its employment index “fell for the first time in six months as businesses reduced vacancies while battling higher interest rates, weak global demand and supply difficulties”. The number of vacancies fell by 85,000 in the second quarter. The hiring slowdown had come as businesses reported being more pessimistic than before, BDO said, with its optimism index falling in July for the first time in four months.
 
Number of people working from transport hubs surges over past year: The number of people working from airports and railway stations has surged as employees capitalise on flexible working patterns to work on the go, reports The Telegraph. Footfall at offices in transport hubs has jumped 83% in the last year, according to new data from workspace provider IWG. Birmingham airport saw the biggest increase in footfall as attendance trebled, according to the data, which is measured through Wi-Fi log-ins. Footfall more than doubled at London Paddington station and Gatwick airport, while London’s Liverpool Street station and Farnborough airport in Hampshire also experienced sharp growth. The rise in working from transport hubs was also highlighted in Pret A Manger’s annual results last month, with transactions in its stores at London airports enjoying their largest increase since April 2021, while regional stations also enjoyed healthy growth. Mark Dixon, founder and chief executive of IWG, said: “It’s clear that people are looking to seize the opportunity to work in places that are most convenient to them and their lifestyles. In their daily lives, employees are choosing locations to work from that minimise their daily commutes and more and more people are embracing the idea of combining work with travel.”
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a luxury country estate, event spaces, restaurant, and golf course that is seeking a head of sales. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “You will be responsible for finding new business to add to the company’s expanding customer portfolio and identify strategies to grow the business. Some of the main responsibilities will include developing strategic account plans, working closely with local organisations, managing the sales team and attending networking events.” The salary is up to £60,000 and the position is based in Hertfordshire. For more information, email ed@corecruitment.com.
 

Company News:

The Light reports record Ebitda and return to profit as strategy to diversify into leisure ‘proves extremely well timed’: Cinema operator The Light has reported record Ebitda and a return to profit as it said its strategy to diversify into leisure “has proved to be extremely well timed”. Turnover increased to £32,981,408 for the year ending 31 July 2022 compared with £6,849,280 the year before. Ebitda was up to a record £6.4m from a loss of £0.2m the previous year. The business, which operates 13 sites, made a pre-tax profit of £1,088,365 compared with a loss of £5,974,045 the year before. The company said: “Certain older sites are experiencing a more challenging recovery post-covid, coupled with inflationary cost pressures”. Therefore, the full value of the fixed assets at Cambridge, Bolton and New Brighton have been fully impaired at a total of £1.7m. In their report accompanying the accounts, the director stated: “The business reached 70% of 2019 admission levels and the effects of the lower trading were more than offset by government initiatives, the support from our landlords as well as licencing income received in the period. The data continues to show that audiences are coming back to cinema and the average revenue from each movie in FY22 is slightly higher than in FY19. The biggest challenge the business faces is the significant reduction in the number of releases, partly due to the production gaps from the pandemic, streaming and lower investment in the sector. The strategy of the company to diversify into leisure has proved to be extremely well timed and the new entertainment model of Meet+Watch+Play is demonstrating plenty of promise. We added a premium bowling offering to our Stockport site in June 2022, which was our second venue to incorporate a leisure offering after Sittingbourne. We also expanded our food and beverage offering across a number of our sites. In June 2022, we opened our Banbury site, which includes our broadest leisure offering to date, with bowling, mini-golf and adventure climbing on site. Trading has been positive across all three leisure sites and we continue to evaluate and evolve the proposition. Our Redhill site, opened in June 2023, further strengthens our leisure offering and diversification of revenue streams.” The business received government grants of £995,578 (2021: £4,305,907). No dividend was paid (2021: nil).
 
Cornish Bakery to open five new sites in next four months with more in legals, new Truro store ‘trading beyond expectations’: Growing independent chain The Cornish Bakery will open five new sites in the next four months, with more in legals, Propel has learned. The business, which has circa 54 UK stores, is currently building five new locations, with sites in Canterbury and Norwich to open in September. These will be followed by Harrogate and Cheltenham in October, and Salisbury in November. Further sites at Gunwharf Quays (Portsmouth), Gloucester Quays, Bath, York, Newquay and Clark’s Village in Street have also reopened following refurbishments. It comes as the company reports it latest opening, in Truro, has surpassed all expectations in its first couple of months of trading. The company’s first Cornwall-based bakery for several years has also amassed a net promoter score of 71.1%. Founder Steve Grocutt said: “Truro has been incredible. We have found the right location in Cornwall’s capital city, and trading here has already far exceeded our wildest expectations. Alongside positive comments on the bakery’s look and feel, we’re gaining glowing five-star reviews and consistent NPS scores. We’re now well into the process for our upcoming openings in some of UK’s most prominent market towns and cities including Canterbury, Salisbury, Harrogate, Norwich and Cheltenham. Bakery is most definitely the new coffee shop, and we’re continuing to bring our unique experience, and our top-flight customer service, to places and spaces all over the country.” In February, Grocutt told Propel the brand plans to open 15-plus new shops a year. It came after the business reported record profits and sales across tourist locations and strong recovery for its high street stores for the year ending 30 May 2022, reporting an Ebitda profit of £4.2m and a pre-tax profit of £3.1m.  
 
Chestnut Group expands west with acquisition of Cambridgeshire pub and second wine shop: East Anglian pub company Chestnut Group has expanded west with the acquisition of The Old Bridge pub with rooms in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, and a second wine shop. The inn, which has been owned and run by John and Julia Hoskins since 1994, sits on the banks of The River Great Ouse and offers 24 boutique bedrooms. The deal also includes Old Bridge Wines, a retail wine shop run by John Hoskins, which follows Chestnut's recent acquisition of regional wine merchant Peter Graham Wines (PGW). “It’s a real honour to be buying The Old Bridge, a place with a strong reputation that has set standards for hospitality over the last five decades,” said Philip Turner, founder and managing director of Chestnut. “Thanks to the hard work, love and attention John and Julia have put into The Old Bridge we don’t plan on changing a winning formula. The team and the ambience of the building already have a strong ‘Chestnut’ feel, so we know our values and approach are consistent. As always, over time, we will bring in new investment, ideas and energy to grow the business in line with our Chestnut ambitions. In the meantime, the obvious passion and expertise of The Old Bridge team will ensure a seamless transition. We can also accelerate our plans to develop a retail offering across the region, starting with Chestnut’s fast-growing database.” John Hoskins added: “I cannot imagine an organisation better suited to maintain the spirit and success of The Old Bridge than Chestnut. Meeting Philip and his team has reassured me that they are the right people to whom we should pass on this much-loved institution, which we have been privileged to run for so long.” Knight Frank acted for the sellers. The group, founded in 2012 by Turner, operates 17 sites across Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Norfolk. Earlier this year, the business reported its first profit since first posting full accounts in 2018, for the year ending 31 March 2022. It made a pre-tax profit of £23,457 compared with a loss of £579,433 in 2021 and a loss of £1,482,124 in 2020. Turnover more than doubled from £7,035,189 in 2021 to £18,856,991.
 
Big Smoke Pub Co sites were sold out of administration for £80,000: The five original pubs sites operated by independent Surrey-based Big Smoke Pub Co were sold for £80,000 via a pre-pack administration, new documents have revealed. A statement of administrator’s proposal report by Glyn Mummery and Julie Humphrey, of FRP Advisory, showed the offer for the company’s business and assets was received from Esher ABC (EABC) on 9 June. It included the transfer of all 108 employees to the new entity, led by Rich Craig and James Morgan, and for novation of the secured £1.3m loan from Brookmead Trust to the new owners. It was one of 35 expressions of interest received, but none of the others were followed up by an offer by the deadline set, and the sale was completed on 7 July. The report said all five sites managed to achieve a minimum of £790,000 turnover in the year to 31 March 2023, with the two largest pubs turning over in excess of £1.8m each. The company achieved turnover of £1.6m for FY21 and £7.1m for FY22, while draft management accounts for FY23 to 29 January indicate turnover of £6.3m. “Covid and the government lockdown was a challenging period but the company managed to trade through this period, with the support of a bounce back loan and other loans from financial institutions,” the report said. “However, 2022 was very challenging with the increase in supplier costs, energy bills, rents, wages and covid loan repayments. A restructuring package was considered but that failed to happen. Efforts have been made to drive down costs by re-engineering menus and sourcing supplies at a better price, however, the increased costs of business and covid loan repayments means the company has experienced difficulty in meeting the rising costs and ongoing debt repayments. The principal lender to the company of £1.3m, Brookmead Trust, who hold a fixed and floating charge dated 23 May 2018, raised their concerns with the financial position of the company, eventually leading to the directors seeking advice.” Unsecured creditors were owed £852,000 and are unlikely to receive a dividend. Big Smoke was founded in December 2013 by Morgan, with Craig joining as a director in January 2014, and the company opened its first pub, The Antelope in Surbiton, that same year. This was followed over the next five to six years by 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.
 
Zip World appoints new CEO: Adventure tourism operator Zip World has promoted Andrew Hudson to chief executive. Hudson takes over from Adrian Jones, former US president of theme park operator Merlin Entertainments, who made the decision to step down last month after only six months in the role. Hudson joined Zip World in 2018 with responsibility for its commercial activity, including growing the number of sites to seven and helping complete a hotel acquisition. He also led the project team that secured matched allocated funding of £6.2m from the Welsh and UK government-backed North Wales Growth Deal that will see Zip World build a new cable car attraction and electric bus network. Hudson said he is now planning to build on the company’s success by expanding its portfolio of sites across the UK and overseas. Zip World’s founder Sean Taylor said: “This appointment marks a new era for Zip World and I’m excited for the company’s future. We have experienced huge growth since the opening of our first site in 2013, and Andrew’s contribution, loyalty and dedication to the business have been transformative.”
 
Harts Group FY turnover nears £15m: Harts Group – the London-based restaurant company that owns Barrafina, Quo Vadis, Casa Pastor and Parrillan – has reported turnover climbed to £14,987,128 in the year ending 31 July 2022 (2021: £8,196,588) aided by the opening of Barrafina Borough Yards. Its pre-tax profit stood at £435,184 (2021: £678,087). Harts Group opened the fifth site for its Barrafina concept, in Borough Yards last summer, and the company said the performance of the site had so far been “good”. Gross profit margin was 76.4% against 77.8% the year before.
 
Danieli Group set to open first Midlands Stack site following £12m investment: North east operator Danieli Group is set to open the first site in the Midlands for its Stack container leisure venue concept following a £12m investment. It has successfully completed on a site that has been empty for a number of years in Northampton’s Market Walk shopping centre. The group will invest £8m in the site, with a further £4.2m coming from West Northamptonshire Council’s Towns Fund. The new Stack venue will be home to independent street food outlets, bars, a dedicated space for interactive games and a main stage for live music and entertainment. Stack chief executive Neill Winch said: “The proven success of our mixed-use development model in other cities has been nothing short of remarkable. Stack has captivated visitors and generated substantial footfall. We believe this winning formula will resonate with the people of Northampton and offer them an unparalleled experience.” Last month, Danieli Group entered into a joint venture through Stack with Premier League side Newcastle United for a new fan zone at Strawberry Place in the city. Stack was recently given the go-ahead for schemes in Carlisle, Middlesbrough, Durham and Bishop Auckland, with a further site in Lincoln under construction and plans lodged for a venue in Whitley Bay.
 
The Coffee House set to open 16th site: North west independent coffee shop The Coffee House is set to open its 16th site in the region. The new store will open in Telegraph Way in Kirkby, on the outskirts of Liverpool, later this month. It will be the company’s second location in the Merseyside district of Knowsley, having opened in Huyton Village Centre in 2019. The Coffee House was founded in 2011 in Lymm, Cheshire, by brothers Chris and Stephen Shelmerdine, and also operates a production facility in Warrington. Chris Shelmerdine said: “Refurbishments in the store are nearing completion and is expected to be open by mid-August. We will be forever thankful for the reception from the local community of Huyton, and we can’t wait to become part of the community in Kirkby. This will be the second project we have delivered in partnership with Knowsley Council, and we are grateful to the team for its continued commitment and support that has allowed us to reach this stage.”
 
Chickpea Group appoints James Underhill as new FD: Chickpea Group, the hospitality business founded in 2019 by siblings Ethan and Jordan Davids, along with their friend Tommy Tullis, has appointed James Underhill as its new finance director. Underhill previously spent more than a year and a half as an associate in RSM UK’s corporate finance team. Previous to that he spent almost four years at Smith & Williamson as an audit senior. Last week, Chickpea Group confirmed it had lined up its sixth pub with rooms. The business acquired the Silver Plough in Pitton, on the outskirts of Salisbury. with a reopening scheduled for late August. In May, Chickpea Group co-founder Ethan Davids told Propel the business was exploring expansion outside of its Wiltshire heartland as “trading is strong and people are buying into what we're trying to do”. On the appointment of Underhill, he said: “Seems like a milestone for our group in some ways, and I'm looking forward to him putting his mark on the business. There's plenty in the pipeline.” The business is also looking at a couple of sites to potentially add to his Great Boozers vehicle, which currently operates two pubs, in Bath and Salisbury. However, it is unlikely to expand Nole, the two-site pizza concept that started as a lockdown project.
 
Sides opens in Boxpark Croydon for fourth bricks-and-mortar site as it plans ten UK openings this year: YouTube collective The Sidemen has opened the fourth bricks-and-mortar site for its fried chicken brand Sides, at Boxpark Croydon. It marks Sides’ second opening of 2023 and is part of its growth plans of ten physical restaurants across the UK this year. Sides’ ambitious long-term goals include 200 locations over the next decade. The Boxpark Croydon site adds to its restaurants in Boxpark Wembley, Gravity Wandsworth and Market Place Harrow. Robin Mehta, chief executive of Sides, said: “Sides is always growing and we have some exciting developments coming up in 2023 as we look to ramp up and develop our restaurant portfolio to 200 locations over the next decade and expand our reach in the UK.” Sides is a part of Virtual Hero Group, a subsidiary of German Doner Kebab and Island Poke owner Hero Brands.
 
West Midlands multiple operator acquires third pub lease, fourth to follow: West Midlands multiple operator, pub@group, has acquired the lease of its third Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars site with a fourth to follow in the next 12 months. Run by Craig Dedicoat, pub@group is undertaking a joint £120,000 revamp of The Hare & Hounds in Halesowen with Star Pubs & Bars to bring it up-to-date and in line with the standard of its other pubs, The Railway in Lye and New Inn in Stourbridge. All are “family and dog friendly community locals with a focus on sport, live entertainment and street-style casual food”. Dedicoat said: “We create quality community pubs but with a difference. Rather than fish and chips or pie and mash, all our pubs offer premium quality street food. Each pub has a speciality – The Railway at Lye has beefburgers from The Hangry Moose; at The New Inn rotating street food stalls in the garden; and at The Hare & Hounds it will be chicken-based street food from The Hangry Moose. Rather than just a Sunday lunch, we put on a DJ and karaoke from 2.30pm to 7.30pm. It’s proved popular with customers so we will be doing it at the Hare & Hounds too.” Thomas Timmons, Star Pubs & Bars business development manager, said: “Craig has proven record in the area of turning around pubs and delivering what customers want.” 
 
Sandbox VR opens largest global venue and first UK site outside of London, in Birmingham: Immersive social experience concept Sandbox VR has opened its largest global venue and first UK site outside of London. The 13,000 square-foot space has opened at Hammerson’s Bullring & Grand Central in Birmingham city centre, featuring seven exclusively designed interactive worlds. These include “Seekers of the Shard: Dragonfire” and “Squid Game”, where 3D precision full-body trackers, custom hardware and haptic feedback suits are used to enhance guests’ touch, vibration and motion senses. There is also a dedicated area that can be hired for private events, while a robotic bartender can serve up to 80 drinks per hour. Jake Wilmot-Sitwell, co-founder and chief executive at Sandbox VR UK & Ireland, said: “Birmingham is a hotbed of innovation and creativity, and we could not wish for a better location to launch our largest site and first location outside of London. This site is our biggest investment yet and we are delighted to have introduced a new community to Sandbox VR.” Since launching in Hong Kong in 2017, the concept has grown to more than 30 locations in five countries around the world and made its UK debut last summer, in The Post Building in London’s Museum Street. In January, VR Entertainment Group, which is leading the company’s UK roll-out, said it plans to open 30 venues in the next six years, with two intended to open in 2023 and five in 2024. 
 
Big Table Group lines up Henley opening for Banana Tree: The Big Table Group, the operator of Las Iguanas and Bella Italia, has lined up a further Café Rouge conversion to its fast-casual pan-Asian brand, Banana Tree, in Henley-on-Thames. Propel understands the Alan Morgan-led, Epiris-backed business, which acquired the then nine-strong Banana Tree business in September last year, has submitted a planning application to convert the Café Rouge in the town’s Hart Street. Propel revealed last month that Big Table Group paid a total consideration of £8.6m for the Banana Tree business, which was satisfied by the payment of £5.5m in cash on completion, as well as “directly attributable costs” of £300,000. Further consideration of £2.8m is payable subject to the achievement of certain performance targets of the acquired business 12 to 36 months post-acquisition. Propel understands of the £5.5m already paid towards the deal, it includes £2.5m of cash in the Banana Tree business that Big Table Group had to acquire. The company has so far converted Café Rouge sites in Covent Garden, The O2, Haywards Heath and Reigate to the Banana Tree brand. Propel understands a further conversion of the Café Rouge in Windsor to a Banana Tree is also being lined up.
 
Arc inspirations celebrates its ‘unsung heroes’: Arc Inspirations, the Martin Wolstencroft-led business, has celebrated 26 of its “unsung heroes” through the company’s annual Nobody Does It Better Awards. Among the winners were operations manager Jason Lake, who was given the Lifetime Achievement award after working his way up from a part-time bartender at BOX almost 20 years ago. The awards took place at the company’s first ever “Arc in the Park” festival for more than 1,000 team members, which saw the company close all of its sites for one day. Wolstencroft said: “Our success is truly down to the incredible hard work and dedication of our people.” Arc Inspirations operates 19 premium bars across its Banyan Bar & Kitchen, BOX and Manahatta brands, with an ambition to open 50 sites by 2030.
 
Emilia’s Crafted Pasta secures fourth site: London-based Italian restaurant concept Emilia’s Crafted Pasta has secured its fourth site in the capital, in Baker Street. The business, which was launched by Andrew Macleod in St Katharine Docks in November 2016, has taken space at the former Abbey House – the former headquarters of Abbey National Building Society, built in the 1920s – for an opening this autumn. The company also operates sites in Aldgate and Canary Wharf. Emilia’s Baker Street will seat 85 seats in total (55 internally and 30 outside). Macleod said: “I’m excited we’re expanding into the heart of central London, following on from our successes in east London, the City and Canary Wharf and to be what will be the first four-site pasta restaurant group in the UK. We have chosen a more measured approach to growth. We expand both horizontally and vertically, entering new markets each year and growing within existing markets. We carefully select local partners who have a small ownership stake, enabling us to effectively manage our cash flow and invest in each country separately.”
 
Fazenda opens first London restaurant and biggest yet: Premium casual South American operator Fazenda, which operates five regional sites across the UK, has opened its first London restaurant and biggest yet. Spanning across two floors in the 100 Bishopsgate Tower, the 170-cover restaurant features a standalone bar with alfresco tables and three private dining rooms. Offering traditional cuisine from the Pampas in Argentina and southern Brazil, served in authentic Rodizio style (grilled meat carved at the table), the restaurant also sees the launch of Fazenda’s new à la carte menu. Main dishes include Pasta de Beterraba (beetroot tortellini, orange and feta cheese), Moqueca de Mar (cod, Carabinero prawn, mussels, tomato and coconut) and Truta (Scottish trout, piquillo peppers, onion and creme fraiche). The Rodizio menu features a selection of 12 premium grilled meats, including Picanha (beef rump), Chuletas de Cordero (lamb cutlets), Barriga de Porco (pork belly) and Sobrecoxa de Frango (chicken thighs). In May, Fazenda reported 37% year-on-year revenue growth in FY23, with sales passing £20m for the first-time in the 13 years it has been trading.
 
Freehold of north London pub let to Fuller’s goes on market for £1.5m: The freehold of a north London pub with Fuller’s as a secure tenant has been brought to market for £1.5m. The Crown is an 80-cover managed house located on the corner of Cloudesley Road and Cloudesley Square in Islington. The property is currently owned by the Islington-based Cloudesley Charity, which benefits local causes. The property, which is being marketed by agent Fleurets, also features two self-contained flats, with two double bedrooms each. Delyth Richards, chair of the Cloudesley Charity, said: “We are selling the pub to release more funds to distribute as much-needed grants across Islington. With an outside terrace and great food, as well as substantial accommodation above the pub, this grade II-listed building offers a comprehensive investment opportunity with Fuller’s as a secure tenant.” Elysia Wilson-Gunn, senior associate at Fleurets, added: “We are instructed to seek offers of £1.5m for our client’s freehold interest. A purchase at this level reflects a net initial yield of 5.03% assuming standard purchaser’s costs.”

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