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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 29th Nov 2023 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Collins – we’re relatively confident about returning to volume growth in the coming months: Nick Collins, chief executive of café bar operator Loungers, has said the business is “relatively confident about returning to volume growth in the coming months”. It comes as Loungers reported revenue growth of 22.3% to £149.6m for the 24 weeks ended 1 October 2023, reflecting like-for-like sales growth of 7.7% and the addition of a net 32 new sites. Collins told Propel that the business had seen real consistency of performance across its brands (Lounge, Cosy Club and Brightside) and across different parts of the country, and that there was “no hint of any change in consumer behaviour”. He said: “Historically, pre-covid, Loungers’ growth has been more dominated by volume than price. Right now, it’s 6% or 7% of price and volumes are pretty flat. If you look at that performance in the context of how others are doing, we think it is pretty good. We talk a lot about how we represent great value for money and how we continue to evolve and improve. So, as we look at the short to medium term, we’re optimistic and relatively confident about returning to volume growth in the coming months.” Collins said it was the company’s impression that it hadn’t been as aggressive as others when taking some price, and said the business was still confident it could have 600 Lounges and 65 Cosy Clubs in time. He said: “As we open more sites, as the business grows and those new sites perform well in locations which might be smaller or pushing demographics, that gives so much confidence about the potential scale of the business. It is likely that in the next 12-18 months, we will be properly pursuing sites in Scotland. I think the opportunity is there for having an estate north of 50 sites in Scotland.” When Collins joins Loungers 12 years ago, its rent to revenue ratio was sub 6%. He said: “What we’ve seen in the last 18-24 months is this has clicked gradually down from 5.6% to 4.4%. And that’s not a function of rents getting necessarily cheaper. That’s because we’re generating higher levels of sales right across the estate, through both mature sites and new sites.” The business will open sites under its roadside dining concept Brightside, in Rutland and near Thetford, in its next financial year, taking that estate to five sites. Collins said: “We recognise that we need to go on that journey. We need to see that average level of sales increase and the awareness of Brightside improve. It’s not going to happen overnight. We need to give people a reason to stop, so that’s what we’re working on.” On taking part in market consolidation, Collins added: “There is so much opportunity in front of us with our existing three brands. I think the consistency and performance comes because we’re really focused on the job in hand, opening 34 sites a year, etc. That said, we’re an ambitious and very proud management team, and we’re excited about the influence that we can have on the hospitality sector going forward. I would never say never.”
 

Industry News:

Premium subscribers to receive next New Openings Database and videos from Propel Multi-Club Conference on Friday: Premium subscribers will receive the next The New Openings Database on Friday (1 December), at midday. The database features a selection of bakeries, including former fashion journalist Charlotte O’Kelly, who will open Astrid Bakery in London’s Muswell Hill. London bagel concept B Bagel is set to open its fourth store, in Camden, before doubling its estate over the next six months, while Aux Merveilleux de Fred, the French patisserie concept, has opened its fifth site in the UK, in Kensington Arcade, London. The database will show the details of 142 site openings, 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 and Premium subscribers will also receive an 8,500-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to five 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; the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage; and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database. Premium subscribers will also receive all the videos from this month’s Propel Multi-Club Conference on Friday. They will be sent 12 videos at 9am. Premium subscribers receive all the videos from Propel conferences each year – around 100 in total. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Mark Wingett.
 
Exclusive – hospitality tech companies me&u and Mr Yum complete merger and unveil rebrand: Australian-founded tech scale-ups me&u and Mr Yum have completed their merger, Propel has learned. Propel revealed in September that the companies were set to join forces in an all-stock merger, “to become the world’s number one mobile ordering, payments and marketing platform for the hospitality industry”. The process has now completed, with the combined company, which said it processes more than $2bn in dining transactions per year, to be led by Mr Yum co-founder, Kim Teo, as chief executive. The merged business will operate under the me&u name, with a “fresh visual identity that pays homage to the best of both brands”. It said the deal ends a four-year rivalry between the companies, both founded in 2018, which started in Australia and continued across the US and UK in the past two years. “It makes a lot of sense from a business point of view to stop butting heads and start working together,” Kim said. “But it makes even more sense from a customer perspective, because we have the opportunity to build a best-of-the-best product that venues and their guests love.” The two companies officially started talks at the start of the year, but the seed for the merger was planted in 2022 when Stevan Premutico, me&u’s founder, and Mr Yum co-founder, Adrian Osman, met for a few beers in the US. “It was a bit like a first date – I walked out of that thinking he’s a good guy and we are fighting the same fight,” Premutico said. “At the end of a couple of beers I picked up the bill – so he owes me a round – I wrote a little note on the back of a receipt that said: ‘Let’s make this industry better’.” The new business said the 6,000-plus food brands already working with Mr Yum and me&u will now get an integrated platform, more support coverage and more “innovation firepower”. The combined business has a UK customer base that includes Arc Inspirations, Arcade, Boxpark, City Pub Company, Hollywood Bowl, MeatLiquor, New World Trading Company, Shake Shack and Vagabond.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a foodservice company that is looking for a head of production. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “You will have experience in running central production units/production kitchens and experience of building and developing the strategy along with the physical operation. The role will suit a strong operator that doesn’t come from a regimented background and who can bring innovation to the role. You will demonstrate a hands-on approach as you will be leading the team, to achieve the best possible results. Experience developing and delivering a strategy for food production is a must for this role.” The salary as a guide is between £70,000 to £100,000. For more information, email dan@corecruitment.com.
 

Company News: 

McDowall – we needed to step back to see the right way to run the business: David McDowall, chief executive of Stonegate Group, the UK’s largest pub operator, has said the circa 4,500-strong business needed to step back to see the right way to run it in the “most guest-focused, efficient, effective way possible”. Talking at the Propel Multi-Club Conference this month, McDowall, who joined the business at the start of February, said: “One of the things that was clear to me when I joined was this is a group of people who really love pubs and the sector. On the other hand, I was a little surprised at how complex we make things sometimes, and that felt like a bit of an opportunity. Naturally, when you’ve bought 12 or 13 different things together and become one large thing, then it’s useful, at some point, to step back and see what’s the right way to run this in the most guest focused, efficient, effective way possible. We’re doing quite a bit of that at the moment. I think what we are now successfully doing is really focusing our time, energy, resources and investment in the things that matter. Fundamentally, I do think this is a really, really simple business. Our goal, day in and day out, is to make sure that across 4,500 pubs around the country, tens of thousands of customers all feel a little bit better when they leave our sites. And I think sometimes it’s natural, as a business scales up, that you lose sight of that very simple and simplistic vision. One of the most difficult challenges for any business as it scales is taking that scale and resource and finding a way that doesn’t make you become cumbersome or slow or ineffective. It’s about using your scale and resources to drive pace and agility. That’s a really difficult thing, but I think we are starting to do that. We are a privately owned organisation and therefore we aren’t tied to a quarterly reporting cycle. That allows us to have that agility in our thinking and our strategy. Where I’ve thrown the biggest chunk of my time and energy is supporting the team to really clarify what our 12 to 24 months strategy actually is. We broke that down into five very simple pillars, and then worked with the team on building the key initiatives that just laddered up to that. That’s been the most effective piece of work we’ve done because it’s given everyone real clarity on what’s important. We’re now nine-ten months down the line and starting to see the impact of some of the work that people were doing.” McDowall will provide further insight in his video from the Propel Multi-Club Conference. Premium subscribers will receive access to all 12 videos from the conference on Friday (1 December) at 9am. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. 
 
KFC franchisee opens brand’s first UK ‘little drive-thru’: KFC franchisee Gastronomy Restaurants has opened the brand’s first box concept “little drive-thru” in the UK. The small-scale restaurant has opened at the Beacon Business Park in Weston Road, Stafford, creating 35 jobs. The new model was designed, constructed and deployed by manufacturer Modular 500 under instruction from the site’s developer, Espleys. Ian Gill, property director for Gastronomy Foods, said: “Stafford number two and the UK’s first little drive-thru has opened. A long time coming and culmination of a lot of hard work from many people in the Gastronomy Restaurants team and KFC UK & Ireland. A fantastic asset perfectly designed to plug the gap in smaller trade zones and for tight sites. We remain keen for further new restaurants of all formats.” Acky Khan, chairman and chief executive of Gastronomy Restaurants, added: “We’re delighted to be able to open our second restaurant in Stafford, a town we love, providing the area with more of their favourite fried chicken. It’s been particularly exciting to innovate with our new little drive-thru design, which we hope you’ll love.” Gastronomy Restaurants is part of Gastronomy Foods UK, which is based in Shrewsbury and operates more than 40 KFC franchises across Wales, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It was founded by Khan and Subash Thamboo, who had previously worked in the KFC business in and around London since the 1980s, acquiring an initial seven restaurants in Shropshire. The company made a pre-tax loss of £2,473,546 in the year to 24 December 2022 compared with a profit of £5,121,142 in 2021. Turnover also fell from £70,699,996 in 2021 to £69,354,559, due to VAT rate changes, price increases and food and labour pressures. Gastronomy Foods features in the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database, the next edition of which will be sent to Premium subscribers in December. The database, which is sent bi-monthly, is the first time that profiles of the top food and beverage franchisees have been available in one place in the UK, and currently features 110 businesses. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription.
 
Carl Traill to step down as MD of Miss Millie’s Fried Chicken: Carl Traill has announced he is to stand down as managing director of south west-based operator Miss Millie’s Fried Chicken after five years in the role to “pursue new challenges”. Traill, the former director of operations at Burger King UK, joined the business at the start of 2019 and will step down on 22 December. Under his leadership, the business, which is backed by HBM Investments, has grown to 16 sites, launched a franchise offer and partnered with MFG, the UK’s largest independent forecourt operator. Traill, who was previously consultant chief executive at Burger King franchisee Millcliffe and CPL Foods, said: “Since joining Miss Millie’s, the last five years have been full of challenges, achievements and milestones, which I am hugely proud to have led the brand through. We have doubled the number of stores to 16, with a strong pipeline for new openings in 2024/25. We have rebranded, remodelled, developed new operations and training systems and launched a new menu, as well as secured a first-class supply chain to facilitate the brand’s future growth plans. I have no doubt that the company will continue to expand and take its awesome chicken to even more people across the country. My thanks and gratitude go to the owners James Harris, Amir Mashkoor and Jonathan Barton for their guidance, support, friendship and trust in me with the leadership of this amazing company. I would also like to thank the franchisees for working with us as we developed and grew the brand. And so it’s on to pastures new, where I am looking forward to getting my teeth into some exciting opportunities in the new year.”

Doughnut Time begins expansion in Germany: Doughnut Time, which made its debut in Germany earlier this year, has secured its second site in the country. Following the launch of its first pilot store and bakery in June this year, Doughnut Time is expanding its presence in Berlin by acquiring the former Unilever/Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream store in the Rosenthaler Platz district. The new site is scheduled to open in January 2024. Doughnut Time said it plans to open further retail stores in the city next year. In addition, Doughnut Time, which currently operates 13 stores in the UK, has increased its coffee focus in Germany. The company has entered a partnership with Bonanza Coffee, also based in Berlin, to enhance Doughnut Time’s beverage offerings.

Istanbul-based burger concept partners with Alan Yau to launch in the UK: Zula, the Istanbul-based burger concept, has partnered with Wagamama founder Alan Yau to launch in the UK. The concept, which is the brainchild of Üryan Doğmuş and Cihan Kıpçak, is set to launch its first site in the UK next spring after securing a site near Marble Arch. It has acquired a site on Old Quebec Street, just off Oxford Street. Founded in 2017, Zula Burgers has since expanded from one stall at Harbiye to five outlets in Istanbul. The business said that an average of 70,000 people visit Zula every month. It plans to open further sites in the capital. The business has partnered with both Yau – the founder of Hakkasan, Busaba Eathai and Yauatcha – and Reha Arslan, of Yamabahce, to bring its plans to launch in the UK to fruition. Yau launched Yamabahçe, the concept centred around Turkish flatbread, in Marylebone, in 2018. Samuel Nassimi acted on behalf of Zula, while George Griffiths of Kenningham Retail acted for the landlord of The Portman Estate.

Kricket secures new funding ahead of further expansion: Indian restaurant group Kricket has secured new funding ahead of opening a fourth London site and further UK expansion. The business, which was founded by Rik Campbell and Will Bowlby in 2015 as a pop-up in a shipping container at Pop Brixton, is due to launch a new site in Canary Wharf next spring, having secured a new round of funding from existing backer White Rabbit Projects (WRP), alongside additional funds from the founders. Opening in Canary Wharf’s North Dock, the new Kricket restaurant will have 85 covers and be open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. The adjoining Soma will mirror the “minimalist award-winning concept” of the group’s cocktail bar in Soho, with room for up to 50 guests and a license to open late. It comes as the business, which employs over 120 people, generated sales of £7.3m in 2022. As of 30 September 2023, it said that like-for-like sales are up 17% on the prior year. The business opened its permanent site in Soho in 2016 after receiving an initial injection of funding from WRP. This was quickly followed by the relocation of the Brixton pop-up to its current home on Atlantic Road (2017) and the launch of a new site in West London’s regenerated BBC Television Centre in White City (2018). During the coronavirus pandemic, the group introduced the brand’s first delivery-only concept (2021), which continues to deliver over 2,000 orders a week via an exclusive partnership with Deliveroo. Even more recently, in September 2021, it launched its debut cocktail bar, Soma, next door to Kricket Soho. 
 
Time Out Market developing new formats as it looks to expand reach: Time Out Market has revealed it is developing new formats as it looks to reach new parts of the market. The business currently operates seven markets globally – in Lisbon, New York, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Dubai and Cape Town – the latter of which opened this month and was the company’s first site in Africa. There are also eight sites in development that are due to open between 2024 and 2027 – Porto, Barcelona, Bahrain, Vancouver, Abu Dhabi, Osaka, Prague and Riyadh – while several new sites are also in negotiations. Once all current signed markets are open, the portfolio will more than double in size, spanning a total of 600,000 square feet with more than 250 kitchens. The company stated: “Time Out Market offers a variety of models to work with real estate developers and landlords, from owned and operated to management agreements. The sites currently open and in development are Time Out Market flagships. However, to meet continued demand and explore more site opportunities, the company is developing wider flexibility in formats to best match the markets proposition to the locality and reach new segments. These include The Edit by Time Out Market – suitable as a neighbourhood food hall, for example, in up-and-coming neighbourhoods, and a travel hub model – The Hall by Time Out Market – suitable for the fast environment of airports and train stations.” Sandy Hayek, chief executive of Time Out Market, said: “Time Out Market is more than a food hall – it is a food and cultural market that offers a curation of the best of the city, from award-winning chefs and up-and-coming culinary talents to local artists. This is something that resonates with consumers, concessions and real estate partners.”
 
Ottolenghi reports record turnover, makes offer for new site: London restaurant and deli operator Ottolenghi has reported turnover increased to a record £27,793,486 for the year ending 31 March 2023 compared with £21,052,086 the previous year. Pre-tax profit was down to £769,671 from £5,893,334 the previous year, which included £3,600,000 generated by the company selling intellectual property in the form of internally generated brands to its parent company. In October, the business secured a site in Hampstead for its eighth outlet and the accounts revealed it has made an offer on another site. In his report accompanying the accounts, Ottolenghi chief executive Emilio Foa said: “We saw the sites ramp back up to full trading following the impact of covid-19. The current economic climate has however led to various challenges to overcome, including double-digit food cost inflation forcing us to review pricing on certain products. Despite the cost-of-living crisis lowering disposable incomes, our core customer base remains relatively resilient to this and while we continue to provide a distinctive, innovative product at the highest quality standards, we are able to protect our gross margins. Although energy inflation impacted the industry significantly, we remained under a three-year fixed contract, therefore keeping our costs low. The most material impact to our Ebitda margins during the year came from wage costs. Most of our sites were able to fill vacancies left by post covid-19 recruitment challenges and so staff headcount increased. High inflation put pressure on wages and we have reviewed our pay structure to be even more competitive in the labour market. We also placed a greater focus on training, establishing a dedicated learning and development team. Central wage costs also increased, as we added a few roles to support and deliver our growth plans. Turnover grew due to strong trading across all existing sites and the full year effect of our FY22 openings in Marylebone and Chelsea and closure in Belgravia. During the year, we repaid our £3.7m borrowings under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme with OakNorth Bank and finalised a £2,000,000 revolving credit facility with HSBC that remains undrawn, reducing our interest rate costs across the year going into FY24.” The business did not receive any government grants (2022: £422,428). No dividend was paid (2022: nil).
 
Remarkable Pubs adds ex-Antic site to estate: Remarkable Pubs, the London operator, has added to its estate in the capital after acquiring a former Antic Pubs site in Leyton. The 15-strong Remarkable has taken on the former Leyton Technical pub, which was operated by Antic until late last year. Remarkable is to reopen the pub as the Leyton Engineer early next year. In the spring, the company reported turnover of £6,480,353 for the year ending 30 June 2022, up from £2,989,443 in 2021 and exceeding the £6,128,812 reported in the last full year before the pandemic, ending 30 June 2019. It also returned to profit in the period, reporting a pre-tax profit of £466,432 compared with a loss of £365,215 in 2021 (2019: profit of £987,349). No dividends were paid. Michael Penfold, of AG&G, acted on behalf of the landlord on the Leyton deal.
 
Ego begins building 2024 pipeline with Mere Green site: The Mitchells & Butlers (M&B)-owned Ego brand has begun building its openings pipeline for next year, with a site near Mere Green, in the West Midlands. The James Horler-led business is to invest circa £800,000 in refurbishing The Fox and Dogs. The site – currently an Ember Inn – is set to become Ego at the Fox and Dogs when it reopens in March. The pub, which will comprise 160-covers, will be the group’s 30th site in total, which includes 24 pubs and six restaurants. Over the past few months, the business has opened sites in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester; The Wyke Lion, near Bradford; and the Flying Fox in Woburn, near Milton Keynes. In the summer, Horler told Propel he believed there was potential to have more than 80 sites across the UK. Horler said: “Over the next 12 months, growth will be within our current geography, and I want to focus on developing our people ready for a greater speed of expansion. And then the following year, we will push on, and that will bring us into the south east, the south coast and then potentially into Scotland.” He said the business had “pretty much agreed” on five further sites to take the business through until September 2024, all of which will be conversions.
 
Gong Cha appoints Justin Goes as UK & Ireland development director: Gong Cha, the fast-growing bubble tea brand headquartered in the UK, has further strengthened its management team with the appointment of Justin Goes as its UK & Ireland development director. For nearly two decades, Goes worked at Subway and held several senior European roles including regional director Europe, where he helped grow Subway stores from 150 to more than 5,000. After Subway, he co-founded The Foodservice Experts, an industry consultancy that specialises in strategic development and chain management within the franchise industry. In his new role, Goes will work closely alongside global chief executive Paul Reynish to drive the Gong Cha brand forward in the UK and Ireland. Globally, Gong Cha operates more than 2,000 stores in 23 countries, including 225 in the US and 13 in the UK. In line with its ambitious international expansion strategy, which is targeting 10,000 stores globally by 2032, Gong Cha is aiming to rapidly grow its UK store estate with new multi-site franchises over the coming years. Reynish said: “Justin is a highly-skilled, highly experienced operator who has exactly what we need to significantly scale up in the UK – one of our most strategically important markets. We look forward to working with him in the years ahead.” Goes added: “While still in its infancy, demand for bubble tea in the UK is growing rapidly. I believe Gong Cha with its premium brand, high-quality and authentic product, and strong operational model on flexible footprints has significant potential to lead the UK’s bubble tea market for decades to come.” Earlier this month, the company appointed Marc Dench as its new global chief financial officer.
 
Cinema operator Merlin says ‘at least 2025’ before admissions return to pre-covid levels: Cinema operator Merlin, which operates sites in coastal resorts and rural locations across the UK, has said it will be “at least 2025” before admissions return to pre-covid levels. Turnover increased to £8,082,557 for the year ending 30 March 2023 compared with £6,804,212 the year before, Revenue remained below the £9,935,934 reported for the year ending 31 March 2020, when the final few weeks of trading were affected by the pandemic. Pre-tax profit was down to £296,713 from £811,328 the previous year (2020: profit of £895,249). In April 2022, Merlin relocated its Torquay cinema to the former BHS site in the Devon town and added a Hollywood Pizza bar and restaurant – its largest yet – in April 2023, which also has a high street entrance. In October 2023, the business opened a cinema in Redcar, North Yorkshire, for its 17th venue. Merlin said it was slowly rebuilding membership of its loyalty programme. Currently, there are 37,000 people on the scheme which gives members a saving of at least £2.50 on every visit, as well as offering a 10% discount in its bars and restaurants. Before lockdown, it had around 70,000 members. Merlin has two loans under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, where at the year end, £520,000 and £358,333 was owed respectively. These are due to be repaid by 14 June 2026 and 15 October 2026 respectively. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “This has been another tough, challenging period with significantly increased operating costs. Business levels continue to be erratic, depending on the film product available from the distributors. However, audiences have this year returned in large numbers for popular product, proving that when the films are strong, they will come back to the experience of the big screen. In spite of a reasonably strong line up of films for the coming year, it is likely it will be at least 2025 before we again see the level of admissions that we were achieving in 2019-2020.” The business did not receive any government grants (2022: £1,210,544). Dividends of £36,000 were paid (2022: £36,000).
 
Fast-growing Kent bakery Cheran’s lines up two more openings: Fast-growing Kent bakery Cheran’s has lined up two more sites, including its first outside the county, in Greenwich. The company is currently overfunding on its £225,000 fundraising campaign on crowdfunding platform Seedrs, launched last month to help it open more stores. Having been founded in 2022 by Cheran Friedman, it has five stores in the county and is gearing up to launch a sixth, in Tunbridge Wells. Now the business has revealed two more sites are in the pipeline. In an update to investors, the business stated: “We begin work on our Tunbridge Wells shop on Monday (4 December) ready for a February launch and already have another site lined up in Kent before we move on to Greenwich! World domination one town at a time!” Last week, Cheran’s said it is in master franchisor talks with a national restaurant chain and had appointed Pret’s director for property and acquisitions, Lucy Winzer, as its advisor and strategist. Cheran’s fundraise currently sits at almost £267,000 from more than 120 investors, with eight days of the campaign left. The business is offering investors 7.38% equity, giving it a pre-money valuation of £3m.
 
‘Subdued market’ sees profit drop at Pure Leisure: Holiday park operator Pure Leisure has reported a “subdued market” saw its profit drop as the volume of holiday home sales fell in the UK, although owner numbers remained strong. Pure Leisure, which is owned by John Morphet, who founded the business in 2004, operates around 15 holiday lodge and caravan parks in the UK, as well as Tydd St Giles Golf and Leisure Estate in Cambridgeshire and Bridlington Links Golf and Leisure Estate in West Yorkshire, alongside the 750-acre Westmoreland estate in Barbados. In February 2023, Pure Leisure acquired Lakesway Holiday Home and Lodge Park, near Kendal in Cumbria, for £11m. For the year ended 31 January 2023, turnover decreased from £66,491,000 to £50,587,000, while pre-tax profit fell to £34,987,000 from £76,723,000 the year before. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors noted following the sale of Billing Aquadrome and Congehoe Mill in the previous financial year, together with a slowdown in consumer spending, the volume of UK holiday home sales fell. The decline, however, was forecast, but owner numbers were “buoyant”. During the period, Pure Leisure acquired the Mains of Taymouth and Balloch Park sites, while Docker holiday park was sold. Another company holding, as well as an undeveloped site with planning permission, were also disposed of. Real estate volumes overseas have increased in the current financial year, the business said, with a mixture of whole property and apartment sales. “The fractional ownership offering on the resort continues to prove to be attractive to buyers looking at entering the overseas property market,” it added. No dividend was paid (2022: nil).
 
Greene King to invest almost £5m in improving energy efficiency in managed pub estate: Brewer and retailer Greene King is investing almost £5m in an initiative to install energy-saving technology in 600 of its managed pubs by the end of 2023, with further sites planned to benefit in 2024. The company said the voltage optimisation technology installed at each pub will help to regulate the incoming power supply by reducing the voltage provided to the optimum level, reducing the pub’s energy use and cutting the associated costs and carbon. Initial trials in 2023 saw a “healthy” reduction in electricity usage at each pub, meaning the investment is expected to pay for itself within a relatively short timeframe. The initial phase is focusing on higher-energy-using sites, which includes Greene King’s whole Farmhouse Inns estate of 70 pubs. These are typically larger sites with a carvery, open throughout the day from breakfast, with large ovens for slow-cooking as well as busy kitchens. Assad Malic, Greene King’s chief communications and sustainability officer, said: “To reduce our impact on the environment, it’s crucial that we look at ways of reducing the energy we are using and be vigilant for ways we can cut wastage at scale. At the moment, historic buildings are constrained by planning laws that restrict the work that can be done to decarbonise them. Pragmatic discussions need to be had with the government about ways to decarbonise these buildings in a way that respects their history, but equally, allows them to transition to net zero.”
 
Corus Hotels makes £5.9m profit on disposal after selling Lake District hotel: Corus Hotels made a £5.9m profit on disposal after selling The Belsfield Hotel in Windermere, in the Lake District, at the end of last year. The company reported a £5,899,000 profit on disposal of discontinued operations in its accounts for the year ending 30 June 2023, during which it sold the hotel. It now operates Corus Hyde Park in London, Burnham Beeches Hotel in Buckinghamshire and St James’ Hotel in Grimsby. The company reported a pre-tax profit of £1,714,000 on continued operations for the year, up from £1,285,000 in 2022. Turnover fell to £15,524,000 from £17,538,000 following the disposal. No dividends were paid (2022: £2,321,000). The group reported a decrease in the average room rate of 18%, from £137.59 to £113.12, but an increase in occupancy by 13%, compared with 44% in 2022. Room yield was up at £69.32 for the year compared with £44.74 last year. The group said it expects to continue improving average rooms rate in the coming year, as well as an increase in occupancy. In July, the group sold all of its shareholding in firefighting protection equipment business Flamepro to Cesuco Trading for £1,750,000. Corus Hotels also operates two hotels in Malaysia. Its hotels are owned by London Vista Hotels, which is part of Malayan United Industries.
 
Boss Pizza founder sells award-winning restaurant with ‘largest takeaway kitchen in UK’: Ajmal Mushtaq, founder of franchise pizza concept Boss Pizza, has sold his award-winning Indian restaurant in Scotland, which he claims has the “largest takeaway kitchen in the UK”. Mushtaq, whose family have been operating in the region since the early 1970s, said the kitchen at Mushtaqs in Almada Street, Hamilton, measures 20 by 12 metres and serves up thousands of meals a week. He told Propel earlier this year that he was selling the restaurant and takeaway to focus on Boss Pizza, which he started as a lockdown project and that has since spread to three sites in Scotland and two in England, with plans for up to 100 more over the next two to three years. It has now been sold to an unnamed buyer, in a sale handled by Christie & Co. Mushtaq said: “I was delighted that Mushtaqs sold within a matter of days of being on the market. This is a good indicator of both the strength of the brand and the huge potential opportunities the kitchen has to offer. After 50 years, it’s end of an era for the Mushtaq family, but not for proper Indian food. Mushtaqs has been sold to mark the start of a new chapter for this business, but Mushtaqs will continue serving proper Indian food. The full team remain, and recipes remain the same. Naturally it is a little sad to let go of such an integral part of my life, but also very excited at the prospect dedicating my full time to my new project, which is to grow Boss Pizza into a national brand.” Mohammed Mushtaq, Ajmal’s father, added: “I started in Larkhall in 1973 and it was delighted at how the locals took to Indian food at a time when there were only four Indian restaurants in the whole of Scotland.” Propel revealed earlier this month that having expanded his Boss Pizza concept to England with two London openings this year, Ajmal Mushtaq is targeting Manchester and Birmingham next. 
 
Europe’s first nerf family entertainment centre fully launches: Manchester leisure group Rocafella Leisure has fully launched Europe’s first Nerfentertainment centre. Following a soft launch period, the 35,000 square-foot space at Trafford Palazzo is now open in full, seven days a week, offering four zones of Nerf-themed leisure, each boasting bespoke gameplay tailored for both children and adults. The food and drink offer is provided by Archie’s, another Manchester brand, serving handmade smashed burgers, waffles and milkshakes. Chris Hayes, Rocafella Leisure’s chief executive, said: “The UK hasn’t seen anything like this before, and Trafford Palazzo demonstrated a likened approach to launching debut leisure concepts, so we are delighted to be introducing the first-ever NERF AX here. We have worked exhaustively with our partners Hasbro to curate a first-class venue that will provide amazing experiences and memories for every guest.” HH Retail and Creative Leisure acted for landlords Peel. 

Leeds brewery acquires first pub: Leeds brewer Horsforth Brewery has acquired its first pub. The business, which was founded by Mark Costello in 2017, has acquired The Black Bull in Town Street with the team behind Tavern, which recently reopened on the same road, and Eden Bar & Kitchen in the town. Costello told the Yorkshire Evening Post the pub’s legacy is what made it an attractive opportunity for his independent business, which he began as a part-time project, to grow. He added: “It used to be a good night out and it kind of lost its way a little bit, especially post-covid. It’s in a prime location and it’s probably one of the oldest pubs in Horsforth too.” Under the direction of Horsforth Brewery, The Black Bull is now a “sport-led pub” called The Bull. It is not the first partnership between the two businesses now running The Bull, having also opened live music site Venue on Town Street earlier this year. Horsforth Brewery also has a taproom at its brewery site in New Road Side.

Former Maria G’s executive chef to open Pimlico restaurant: Former Maria G’s executive chef Aaron Potter is set to open a new restaurant in London’s Pimlico. Potter, who was also previously head chef at Michelin-starred Elystan Street in Chelsea, will open Wildflowers at Unit 2 in the new Newson’s Yard development, at 57 Pimlico Road, early next year. Wildflowers is billed as a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, wine bar and deli with a restaurant and terrace downstairs and an extensive bar space upstairs, as well as a private dining room. Potter is currently running a pop-up supper club in the capital called Modern European, reports Hot Dinners.

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