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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 5th Dec 2023 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

UKHospitality – worker shortages will worsen under new immigrations plans: UKHospitality has warned that the worker shortages experienced by sector businesses over the last few years will only worsen under new government immigrations plans. Most people wanting to work in the UK will still have to apply for a visa through a points-based system (PBS), but from spring 2024, they will have to have a job offer with a higher salary in order to get a work visa. They will need to earn at least £38,700 – up by a third from the current minimum salary of £26,200 – although this will not apply to some jobs in other sectors. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “These changes will further shrink the talent pool that the entire economy will be recruiting from, and only worsen the shortages hospitality businesses are facing. Around three-quarters of hospitality’s workforce is filled from within the UK, but international talent has always been attracted to work in the UK due to our pedigree for hospitality and developing careers. There were 8,500 hospitality visas issued last year, which helped bring in talented chefs and managers of the future. Around 95% of those would no longer be eligible under these plans, despite being offered competitive salaries. We urgently need to see an immigration system that is fit-for-purpose and reflects both the needs of business and the labour market.” Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, added: “While the hospitality sector continues to work hard to recruit and train staff from the domestic workforce, the government’s changes to the immigration system which will make the recruitment of skilled overseas workers harder and will be a blow for many pub businesses. This will compound the existing shortage of chefs and kitchen staff in hospitality, and hold back sector growth, as the salary increase will make it untenable for many businesses to recruit from overseas alongside the associated costs and complexities that apply alongside this. We support the government’s ambition of expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme, but this must be done at pace. We also need greater flexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy, so that it can be used for a range of training options that will develop recruits from the domestic workforce.” A points system was first adopted in 2008, when it applied to migrants from non-EU countries. It was then overhauled following Brexit, and the current PBS, which covers EU and non-EU migrants, was launched at the end of 2020.
 

Industry News:

Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit 2024 open for bookings: Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit is returning for its sixth edition, and tickets are now on sale. The event is a partnership between Propel and Think Hospitality, aiming to build a community, promote the sharing of ideas, recognise talent and define the future of eating out. Bookings are now open for the two-day conference, as the centrepiece of the January event series, taking place on 23 and 24 January at One Moorgate Place in London. The conference will focus on marcomms strategies, proposition and concept development, the latest market insights, technology and digital developments, diversification of revenue streams and how brands are adapting to the new normal. It is designed for marketing, development and innovation teams, as well as senior executives and investors wanting to better understand the latest marketing, innovation and development opportunities to build market share and grow. Day two speakers include: Jenny Packwood, chief corporate affairs and sustainability officer at KFC UK; Andre Johnstone, chief growth officer at Côte; Hannah Clark, UK head of marketing at Sticks n Sushi; Romy Miller, global brand director at KellyDeli; Sarah McDermott, marketing director at BrewDog Bars; Emma Banks, vice-president of food and beverage strategy at Hilton; Jonathan Doughty, managing director at Viklari Consulting; Fiona Richmond, head of regional food at Scotland Food & Drink; Mikala Kofoed Rasmussen, senior manager at Wonderful Copenhagen; Marta Pogroszewska, managing director at Gail’s Bakery; Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy; Eljesa Saciri, general manager at The Zetter Marylebone; Michael Ingemann, chairman of Think Hospitality; Hilari Voorthuis, global food and beverage manager at Fairmont Hotel & Resorts; Sven Sallaerts, co-founder of Younique Concepts; Marcus Denison-Smith, chief marketing officer at Honest Burgers; Tom Patrick, marketing director at Banana Tree; Libby Andrews, marketing director at Pho Restaurants; Ali Alt Recanati, co-founder and brand and marketing director at Farmer J; Maya Orr, managing director at Connect Management; Rameez Al Aghbar, brand partnerships – quick service restaurants and travel lead at TikTok; Anthony Knight, sales and marketing director at Incipio Group; Lynsey Benton, brand and franchising manager at I am Doner; Myles Doran, former commercial director at Revolution Bars Group and managing director at Hospitality Inc; and Supersonic founder Mark McCulloch. For the full schedule, click hereA one-day ticket for operators is £295 plus VAT while a two-day ticket is £550 plus VAT. Supplier tickets are £500 plus VAT for one day and £945 plus VAT for two. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Jo Charity at Propel on jo.charity@propelinfo.com.
 
Next Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows sector companies’ profit outstripping losses by £1.87bn, up from £1.82bn last month: The next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which will be sent to Premium subscribers on Monday (11 December), shows the profit being made by sector companies is now outstripping losses by £1.87bn. The Blue Book shows the total profit of the 829 companies in the list is £3,826,075,567 and losses are £1,952,918,651. Last month, the Blue Book showed sector companies’ profit outstripping losses by £1.82bn. The Blue Book shows 564 companies in profit and 265 reporting losses. 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 Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage; and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Email kai.kirkman@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.
 
Sector lfl sales increase 3.8% in November, dry-led sites up 9.1% but wet-led down 3.3%: Sector sales were up 3.8% in November compared with the same month last year, according to the latest data from people, productivity and payroll system, S4labour. London saw growth of 5.9% year-on-year, while the rest of the UK witnessed a slightly more modest increase of 3.2%. This overall growth was driven by dry-led sites, with sales surging by 9.1%, compared with a 3.3% decline in wet-led sites. S4labour’s chief growth officer, Richard Hartley, said: “Despite challenging consumer prices, this upward trend is a positive start to the Christmas period. Hopefully, we should see spending considerably up through to the new year, which will help towards offsetting the new wage costs coming into play in April.”
 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a wine and spirits distributor in England that is looking to appoint a managing director of retail. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “You will oversee the retail outlet element of the business, managing a complex P&L, developing the team in stores and fundamentally be commercial driven to succeed. This role will have multiple senior direct reports and requires a managing director who is well versed in premium retail and business growth.” The salary is up to £120,000. For more information, email mark@corecruitment.com.
 

Company News:

Loungers CEO – 45% of sales are between Monday and Thursday, Brightside needs to get to Lounge levels of sales: Nick Collins, chief executive of café bar operator Loungers, has said the business is generating 45% of sales from Monday to Thursday, highlighting its “balanced offer”. Collins was speaking to investors after the business last week 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%. Talking about the group’s food offer and dayparts, Collins said tapas makes up 11% of food sales, which is a big driver of its evening sales, and that like-for-like sales for its iced-coffee were up 50% year-on-year. He added: “Food (59% of sales) in Lounge is growing faster than the drink side, but we certainly see that as an opportunity going forward. In terms of food sales categories, brunch is our largest at 28%, and that is a really important day part, representing almost a third of our sales. Burgers are at 19%. We sell a lot of burgers, but I think that number is coming down a little bit. And if you look at the other mains section, which is at 16%, that’s where some of the more exciting food evolution is – some of the more vegan dishes, some of the Asian dishes that we’ve introduced. Tapas is at 11%. It is easy to forget tapas but it is a really important driver of our evening sales growth. If you look at sales split across days of the week, 45% of sales in Lounge are generated from Monday to Thursday. It is a really, really well-balanced offer. It is very rare to see that – most hospitality providers would be a lot further skewed towards Friday, Saturday and Sunday.” The business currently operates three sites under its roadside dining concept Brightside and will open another two, in Rutland and near Thetford, in its next financial year. Collins said Brightside needs to eventually get sales to Lounge levels (£30,000 a week). He said: “Average weekly sales of £22,500 represents a solid start. We have seen strong representation from people living locally, and we are happy with that because the community market is one we know well. Seasonality is very pronounced. Sales mix is 75% food, 25% drinks, and the best-selling dishes are the breakfast and the burger. We are confident we are delivering a great product and experience. The legacy, more value-driven customer has now largely moved on.”
 
Sky News – Various Eateries to raise £12m for expansion: Various Eateries, the Coppa Club and Noci operator, will this week tap investors for £12m as it seeks to expand amid rivals’ difficulties. Sky News reported Various Eateries has drawn up plans to raise the funds to open a pipeline of new sites during the next couple of years. City sources said that institutional investors had been sounded out about the cash call in recent days, with the fundraising expected to be announced sometime this week. The share sale, which one fund manager said founder Hugh Osmond was likely to back in order to maintain his near-50% stake in the company, will come against a challenging backdrop in the UK casual dining sector. Noci is positioned as a modern Italian pasta restaurant concept that has the potential for national expansion. Last month, Various Eateries said its Noci concept provides a “very compelling near-term rollout opportunity” with focus initially on further openings in the Greater London area. The company opened its third site under the handmade pasta concept last month with a launch in London’s Shoreditch. Meanwhile, the 12-strong Coppa Club operates clubhouse-style spaces addressing shifts in consumer behaviour since the covid crisis. WH Ireland, the investment bank, is working on the Various Eateries capital-raising. Shares in Various Eateries closed on Monday (4 December) at 27.5p, giving the company a market value of £24.5m. The group said trading performance for the year ending 1 October 2023 was in line with expectations, with revenues slightly higher than market expectations at £45.5m (unaudited), up from £40.7m in 2022, largely driven by new site openings. Osmond is best-known for his involvement in the successful expansion of both Punch Taverns and PizzaExpress, which he exited with sizeable windfalls and having opened and absorbed hundreds of new sites.
 
Former Soho House COO behind New York Italian restaurant and bar in London’s Mayfair: Martin Kuczmarski, former chief operating officer at Soho House, is behind a New York Italian restaurant and bar that has opened in London’s Mayfair. The Dover has taken over the space that was Moncks of Mayfair, which closed at the onset of the covid pandemic after less than a year in business. The menu at The Dover includes crispy potato cakes with caviar; lobster ravioli with yellow datterini and basil sauce; and beef arrosto and mash – thinly sliced roasted beef, house mash and red wine sauce, reports Hot Dinners. Kuczmarski was chief operating officer at Soho House for almost 11 years before leaving the business in September 2022.
 
Kew Green Hotels – far higher proportion of job applicants failing to show for interview and/or take up previously accepted roles than in previous years: International hotel management business Kew Green Hotels has said a far higher proportion of job applicants are failing to show for interviews and/or take up previously accepted roles than in previous years. In its accounts for the year ending 31 December 2022, the business said recruitment of new employees had been “challenging” due to rising wage inflation, a highly competitive market and a shortage of skilled workers. “There were noticeable changes in candidate behaviour, with a far higher proportion of job applicants failing to show for interview and/or take up previously accepted roles than in previous years,” it said. “Growth in the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms in promoting job opportunities and changes in the criteria for qualifying for benefits has led to an upturn in overall applications. However, a significant proportion of these are unsuitable, and those that are have a wide choice of opportunities. Staff turnover in our hotels remained high at just over 70%. This was due in no small part to the cost-of-living crisis, which put additional pressures on our employees and the availability of job opportunities and rising pay rates with other employers.” It comes as the group – which manages 33 UK hotels over several brands, as well as overseas locations in Morocco, Brazil, Portugal, Hong Kong and Thailand – reported a slight drop in its pre-tax profit for the period, down from £3,580,325 in 2021 to £3,468,005. There was a slight increase in turnover, from £9,092,980 in 2021 to £9,133,776. It received government grants of £1,255 (2021: £277,657). No dividends were paid (2021: nil). “During the year, management carried out a fair value exercise that resulted in no impairment of investments (2021: no impairment), and a reversal of inter­company impairment in respect of recoverable amounts of £4,697,871 (2021: £3,009,826),” the company added. “The main reason for the profitability was due to the company having reversed a provision in the financial statements to the value of £4,697,871 (2021: £3,009,826). The directors’ strategy is to further develop the Kew Green brand by continuing to improve performance of existing hotels and pursuing expansion, primarily through managed contacts or operating leases, both locally and internationally. There are a number of other properties in the advance stage of negotiation and the group hopes to make future announcements relating to new openings shortly.”
 
Omniplex expands into UK with acquisition of five Empire cinemas in £225m investment, more to follow in 2024: Omniplex Cinema Group, Ireland’s largest cinema company, has expanded into the UK by acquiring five Empire Cinema locations. The move will see Empire’s Birmingham, Ipswich, Sutton, Clydebank, and High Wycombe sites join Omniplex, with each location set to open this week and more to be announced in 2024. Omniplex is making a total investment of £22.5m over 18 months to acquire and then renovate the sites. With the business already operating 38 cinema locations on the island of Ireland, it said this signals its commitment to “establishing a strong presence in the British cinema market,” with its investment set to secure 150 existing jobs. Paul John Anderson, director of the Omniplex Cinema Group said: “We are thrilled to bring Omniplex Cinemas to Great Britain. Our disciplined approach to investing in our businesses and unwavering drive to operate high-quality cinema locations have proved successful over the years on the island of Ireland and has given us the confidence to venture into new territories. This expansion is a testament to our commitment to innovation, quality, and delivering unforgettable moments for our customers.” Birmingham will open tomorrow (Wednesday, 6 December), followed by Ipswich and Sutton on Friday (8 December), and then Clydebank and High Wycombe on Sunday (10 December). Avison Young represented Omniplex Cinema Group.
 
Sir Rocco Forte to sell 49% of luxury hotel chain to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, deal values group at £1.2bn: Sir Rocco Forte has agreed to sell 49% of his family’s luxury hotel chain to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Rocco Forte Hotels, which owns 14 upmarket hotels including Brown’s in London and the Balmoral in Edinburgh, has agreed to sell almost half of the company to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) in a deal that values the hotel group at about £1.2bn. Forte, who founded the hotel group with his sister Olga Polizzi in 1996, said PIF would be an “excellent partner” and help the company expand specifically in the Middle East, reports The Guardian. Rocco and Polizzi will remain as executive chair and deputy chair but their four sisters are understood to be exiting the firm. PIF is chaired by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, which has more than $700bn (£550bn) in assets made via oil wealth. It last week bought a 10% stake in Heathrow airport and two years ago acquired a majority stake in Newcastle United FC. “PIF is an excellent partner for us going forward,” Forte said. “It shares the same vision for the brand and the future strategy of the group, with the same ambition to take a long-term view.” Turqi Al-Nowaiser, the PIF deputy governor and head of international investments, added: “Our investment in Rocco Forte Hotels reflects PIF’s confidence in both the commercial opportunity and strength of the international hospitality and tourism industries that have shown remarkable resilience in recent years.” As well as 14 hotels and resorts, Rocco Forte Hotels own 20 private villas across Europe and plans to open three further hotels in 2024 and 2025.
 
Lancashire McDonald’s franchise owned by chain’s former COO sees turnover increase to record £77m but profit falls due to rising costs: Lancashire McDonald’s franchise H&S Restaurants, which is owned by the chain’s former chief operating officer Nigel Dunnington, has reported turnover increased 6.8% to a record £77,053,809 for the year ending 31 December 2022 compared with £72,125,206 the previous year. Pre-tax profit fell to £1,730,718 from £7,815,686 due to increased costs. In his report accompanying the accounts, Dunnington said: “In common with many other similar businesses and industries, labour and utility costs increased considerably during the year, along with other overheads, resulting in a reduced profit before tax. We believe the trading environment will continue to be challenging but remain optimistic regarding future trading and will continue the company's reinvestment programme. The company has continued to invest in the business and in the development and training of its employees, as well as continued investment in IT and store equipment.” No government grants were received (2021: £280,091). A dividend of £1,000,000 was paid (2021: £700,000). Dunnington served as the brand’s chief operating officer from 1998-2001. Having started out as a trainee manager at its branch in London’s Marble Arch in 1980, he worked his way up to become regional manager for the north of England in 1991. After his spell as chief operating officer, Dunnington also served as McDonald’s vice-president worldwide operations, based in Chicago, from 2001 to 2004, and training and vice-president European operations from 2004 to 2006. He started franchising in 2006 with five McDonald’s branches in Preston and now operates 17 restaurants in the region, employing almost 2,000 people.
 
Barkby Group to refinance its debts: Barkby Group has announced its intention to refinance its existing debt facilities, including £12m provided by Tarncourt Properties, a vehicle controlled by the executive chairman of the company, Charles Dickson, and his family. The facility was revised on 30 December 2022 and interest is paid at a rate of 3.0% over the Bank of England’s prevailing base rate, with an expiry date of 30 June 2024. It said: “Following the announcement of 31 October of the company’s joint venture with Meadow Partners, the board intends to simplify the company's capital structure and is considering a new, sterling denominated, private debt offering, which would be issued on market terms. Certain existing shareholders are likely to participate in the offering. As at 30 November, net cash available to the company, including undrawn facilities, remains at £2m. A further announcement will be made as appropriate.” In September, Barkby Group said it had exited three of its pubs, reducing its portfolio to six operating pubs. It said revenue at the retained sites “remained steady in the period and labour cost percentages improved”. Overall, Barkby Pubs reported an Ebitda loss of £0.7m in the 12-month period to June 2023 (2022: Ebitda profit of £0.4m). It also revealed Workshop Coffee, which was sold on 31 July 2023, made a net loss of £387,000 in the 12-month period to June 2023 (2022: loss of £785,000).
 
Simmons pays out dividends of almost £7m following ‘encouraging year’, company in ‘very strong position’ and actively looking for new shops: Hertfordshire bakers Simmons has paid out dividends of almost £7m following an “encouraging year”, and said it is in a “very strong position” and actively looking for new shops. The business, which operates 42 shops across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, as well as a wholesale business and a mobile sandwich van, paid dividends of £6,900,500 for the year ending 2 April 2023, having paid none in the previous year. It follows a rise in turnover to £27,159,608 from £25,964,989 during the period. Its pre-tax profit fell from £4,519,037 to £2,951,131 as costs rose by £1,661,837. Managing director Rupert Matthews said: “The performance of the company during the year has produced encouraging results. The company achieved a turnover up 4.6% on the previous year. Costs were controlled and monitored. At the year end, the group was in a good position with a strong balance sheet. During the year, we invested more than £2.6m in new bakery equipment, vehicles and the fitting out of our shops. The UK food-to-go market is expected to continue to grow during the current year. We believe that we are in a very strong position to capitalise on this growth and are actively looking for new shops as well as continuing with the rebranding of our existing shops, along with monitoring rising costs across the business in areas such as ingredients and energy costs.” Post year end, the business has confirmed it is looking to open a shop in Kings Langley and is looking for premises in the area.
 
Oxygen to launch new branding and concept at next opening, seeks more sites: Indoor family activity brand Oxygen will unveil a new concept and branding at its next opening, in York. It is using the launch of its £2.3m 20,000 square-foot flagship at the city’s Clifton Moor Centre Retail Park in York to introduce a rebranding under a new Activeplay concept.  Set over a ground floor and mezzanine, Oxygen York will feature parkour bounce zones, inflatable obstacle courses, various climbing challenges, party rooms, and a dedicated sensory baby and toddler park. Parents and families will also benefit from a new quiet lounge and best-in-class F&B offer, while enhanced staff training and the latest check-in and space management technology will ease the experience for visitors and free up the team to interact with customers. The York site forms part of a £10m investment programme to support the brand’s continued national growth, with agents Stärka instructed to secure more new locations around the country as Oxygen Activeplay looks to roll out the concept. Stephen Wilson, managing director at Oxygen Activeplay, said: “Oxygen Activeplay is the next generation concept set to pioneer indoor leisure in the UK. The size and location of the space, combined with the scale of York’s catchment, have provided us with the opportunity to really stretch our concept, introducing new elements and other enhancements that will create a unique experience in the sector and serve as our flagship.  We see this as the beginning of an exciting next chapter for the brand and are now focused on working with other leading landlords to secure more new sites as we rollout Oxygen Activeplay in other key locations around the UK.” Stärka acted for Oxygen while CSP Rental represented the landlord, Clifton Moor Retail III.
 
One of London’s last remaining gentlemen’s clubs moves step closer to admitting women: One of London’s last remaining gentlemen’s clubs has moved a step closer to admitting women after an internal poll revealed that a majority of members are in favour of dropping the men-only rule. The survey was conducted by The Garrick Club in London’s Mayfair, which counts among its members the former supreme court judges Lord Neuberger and Lord Sumption, actors Hugh Bonneville and Stephen Fry, and cabinet minister Michael Gove. It comes after Michael Beloff KC, a senior barrister, earlier this year gave the club revised legal advice that concluded there was no justification for excluding women, reports The Guardian. In the wake of this, a postal vote showed 51% of members were in favour of admitting women, while 44% were opposed. In total, 76% of the club’s membership took part in the ballot, with 4% saying they were still undecided. The club’s chair, Christopher Coker, emailed members with the polling result, saying it been “a most helpful exercise” but did not say how the club’s organising committee proposed to respond to the poll. The Garrick is one of a handful of remaining men-only gentlemen’s clubs, including White’s, the East India Club, the Travellers Club and Boodle’s. If it does begin accepting female members, it will follow the move of Pratt’s, which earlier this year started admitting women after being strictly male-only since it was created in 1857.
 
KFC and Pret franchisee makes loss as costs rocket: K&Z Holdings, a family-run, multi-unit franchise business with 11 KFC and eight Pret outlets, made a loss in the year to 3 March 2023 as costs rocketed. A pre-tax profit of £1,403,231 in 2022 turned into a loss of £423,899 as costs rose by £3,397,984. Turnover increased from £15,166,437 in 2022 to £18,740,220. It received £78,334 in government grants compared with £194,172 in 2022. No dividends were paid (2022: nil). Director Shahaz Nanji said: “The results for the period under review and the financial position at the period end were considered satisfactory by the directors. The group’s objective is to achieve sustainable rates of growth and returns through a combination of organic growth and acquisition of new units. At the year-end, the group had a net current asset of £22,209 (2022: £1,193,933) and net assets of £492,919 (2022: £1,126,266). The development strategy is to continue the implementation of several operational initiatives to drive like-for-like sales and enhance margins.” Nanji took over a previous KFC franchise business in 2006 and rebranded it as K&Z Holdings. The company then became one of the first UK Pret franchisees in 2021 when it took on four stores. It has since doubled the size of that estate, opening its eighth Pret last month, within Milton Keynes railway station.
 
Drink and Food Group adds Somerset pub to portfolio: Drink and Food Group has acquired the lease of a Somerset site for its second pub in the south west of England. The group is now running the Old Inn, with the acquisition part of its two-year expansion plan. Phil Kent, head of operations, said: “This is a fantastic acquisition for us as part of our national growth strategy. The Old Inn is reasonably close to another one of our pubs, The Old Bear Inn in Wiltshire; with both being selected for their rural setting with high-quality food offering.” The Old Inn will fall under the day-to-day running of Kent during the initial opening phase, and he used to run the pub in a previous role. Kent said: “It’s funny how life and business work out but I am so excited to be back running the Old Inn. In our visits since completing the deal, It’ve been back to the pub and bumped into familiar faces among the locals and itt’s great to hear the excitement is shared. What is pleasing is that we were able to retain all available staff as part of the deal, too.” Ashley Govier, director of Drink and Food Group, added: “Our plans are to acquire; we make no secret about that. It’ve been in the hospitality sector with other interests closer to home, so to branch out further into the south west says a lot for our national ambitions. We’re speaking with new premises on the basis of further acquisitions and have seen 15 in the last 12 months alone. We certainly plan to add to the Drink and Food Group family very soon.”
 
Chucs opens fifth site: Italian-inspired restaurant and cafe brand Chucs has opened its fifth site. The company has launched Chucs Mayfair Café in Dover Street. The venue aims to “marry award-winning coffee with a contemporary atmosphere, encapsulating a timeless ambiance reminiscent of 1950s Italy”. The outlet offers freshly baked goods, including croissants, pain au chocolat and pain au raisins, and from next week will also serve sandwiches to take away. Chucs also operates three restaurants in the capital – in Mayfair, Westbourne Grove and Belgravia, plus cafes in Kensington and Chelsea.
 
SA Brain CEO – brewery ‘leaner and more agile’ after coming back from brink of collapse: The head of Welsh brewer and retailer SA Brain has said the business is now leaner and more agile after being brought back from the brink of collapse. Chief executive Jon Bridge told the BBC he has spent the past three years trying to repay loans and turn the business around. Only in recent months has the 141-year-old business managed to be free of millions of pounds of debt under Bridge’s Project Phoenix. But the restructure dramatically reduced the company from 1,600 staff to just 30, while the running of almost all of the 250 Brains pubs was transferred to Marston’s. “It was really challenging for a long period of time,” Bridge said. “Quite simply, the Brains brand had a bit too much debt, and then when the pandemic hit, it was a real challenge. When the pubs closed, it was a real problem.” The company had debts of £76.4m, most of which had accumulated before the pandemic. Bridge worked with a number of banks to restructure and agree repayment of all of the debt, with the chief executive finally feeling confident about the company’s financial health. “We’ve managed to navigate those challenging times,” he added. “I think we’re more agile, we’re leaner than we used to be. It really feels like we turned a corner, and it is about the positivity of the future. I like to be able to move forward rather than looking back.” SA Brain last month appointed former Carlsberg Marston’s managing director Richard Westwood as its new chairman, joining Bridge and non-executive directors Catherine Cooke and John Rhys on a newly formed board.
 
South London supper club concept set to opens in Margate for first site outside capital and fifth overall: South London supper club concept, Louie Louie Group, is set to open in Margate for its first site outside the capital and fifth overall. Operating as a “cafe by day, restaurant by night, with aperitivo and music in between”, Louie on Sea will launch next month in the former Staple bakery unit within the Turner Contemporary art gallery. Opening on Saturday, 20 January, it has partnered with local chef Julian Brown for the venture. Former DJ Chris Greenwood and his wife Lena, co-owners of Louie Louie Group, said: “Continuing our ethos of hosting ticketed supper clubs with up and coming local, national and international chefs, we hope to contribute positively to Margate’s burgeoning food and drink scene. We are really honoured to have been given the opportunity to spread our wings and ethos to Margate inside this wonderful building. Having spent the last year running the cafe at the South London Gallery really gave us the confidence to go national. Alongside our local partner, chef Julian Brown, we look forward to serving the gallery audience and public great value quality produce, sourced locally and sustainably.” Louie Louie Group also operates cafe, wine and cocktail bar Little Louie in Elephant Park; bakery and cafe Saint Louie in The Crypt St Peter’s Church; coffee, cocktails and sandwich bar Low Line Louie in Holyrood Street; and cafe/bar South London Louie in Peckham Road. Its original Louie Louie site, in the Walworth Road, closed in October as it said having to pay 100% rent through covid made it no longer viable. The business was founded in 2017 and uses a supper club/chef residency model across its sites.

Nutritics helps create climate-friendly menus at COP28: Foodservice technology provider Nutritics has been selected by the organisers of the global sustainability congress, COP28, to help reduce the environmental impact of food served, and present to global leaders across the conference, “setting a vision for carbon reduction in the future”. With an estimated 250,000 meals to be served each day, COP28 will offer the first 1.5°C-aligned menu at a COP conference as part of its objective of making the conference carbon-neutral. Nutritics is deploying its technology and teams of scientific experts to work with the COP28 catering team and support 80-plus food and beverage vendors at the event, as well as presenting insights on food sustainability to global leaders at the gathering. Stephen Nolan, chief executive of Nutritics, said: “Playing a major role in training and educating both culinary teams and delegates at COP28 only strengthens our mission to put sustainability at the heart of the food sector.”
 
Los Mochis owners promote Pietro Collina to group beverage director: The Thesleff Group, which operates Baja-Nihon restaurant Los Mochis and cocktail bar Viajante87 in London, has promoted Pietro Collina to group beverage director. Having been bar director at Viajante87 since August, Collina will be expanding his role to the wider collection. Prior to joining Thesleff Group, Collina has worked for businesses such as Eleven Madison Park in New York and NoMad Hotel and also directed the bar programme at London Claridge’s Davies & Brook. His latest role aligns with Thesleff Group’s next venture of Los Mochis London City, which opens in the spring. Its biggest site yet at 14,000 square feet, Collina will be working with the team at the main bar, which will have one of the largest selections of fine and rare tequilas and mezcals in Europe. Collina said: “I am excited to have the opportunity to expand my responsibility and oversee all beverages for Thesleff Group. We aim to create one of the most extensive beverage programmes in London highlighting cocktails, spirits, wine and sake.”
 
Big Mamma makes Italian debut: Big Mamma Group, which recently secured new backing from McWin, has opened its first restaurant in Italy, in Milan. The operator behind London restaurants including Gloria, Ave Mario, Circolo Popolare and Jacuzzi has opened a site under its Gloria concept in Milan. The company, which currently operates 23 restaurants across France, England, Germany and Spain, said: “This is our first foray into Italian soil and the country that inspired it all. Gloria is the ultimate luxurious escape, evoking a sensual holiday in a glamorous, opulent villa from the mid-1960s. Covering two floors with 225 covers, the restaurant features exceptional detailing such as 1.5 metre bespoke chandeliers, made by a local Milanese artist, and striped golden and pure white Siena marble flooring throughout. The menu is filled with authentic Italian recipes with French and European twists, and of course, the very best regional Italian produce sourced from more than 150 artisan suppliers.” Dishes include Girella all Ligure (pasta with shredded rabbit and fresh ricotta) and Saltimbocca alla Romana served with a white wine sauce. There are also cocktails and a wine list focusing on natural and biodynamic varieties.

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