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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 12th Dec 2023 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Parogon in legals on next two sites as it prepares to ‘stretch its geography’ and enter town centres: Staffordshire operator Parogon is in legals on its next two sites as it prepares to “stretch our geography” and enter town centres for the first time, Propel has learned. Parogon’s ten-strong estate has, until now, been confined to neighbourhood locations in Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire. It is now gearing up to branch out of those traditional heartlands, not only into new regions but also new types of location. “We’re really keen to roll out and we’re moving into legals on two sites,” managing director Richard Colclough told Propel. “We’re looking to open two next year, and we will really be stretching our geography. They are both existing restaurant units in town centres and retail parks. We’re looking to expand out – up to an hour and a half away from head office (in Stone, Staffordshire) – which opens up places like Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham to us.” Central to this move will be the decision earlier this year to grow the group’s Willow concept, having previously operated all its sites as separate ones. Although Orange Tree was the first of its concepts to double up, with an opening in Congleton last week, it’s Willow that will be key to the new locations Parogon is aiming for. “Willow allows us to go for smaller units where we can attract footfall for longer periods,” Colclough said. “We would still roll out our other concepts though as we have a good range of offers that suit different locations. Orange Tree sits nicely on the edge of town with good visibility – an urban bar and grill with a higher drink and wet spend.” Colclough said having refinanced earlier this year, the funds are already in place for Parogon’s next phase of expansion, and while there has been little in the way of covers growth this year, the last few months have been “positive” and Christmas sales are 40% ahead of last year. “Sales are up but we’re taking price on the menu,” he said. “Punishing overheads make the bottom line difficult. National minimum wage going up two years in a row is massive, and there’s only one way to recoup that.” Colclough added that he’d like to explore rooms more in the future, saying they would suit the group’s larger gastro destination sites. But having gained planning permission last year to add 13 rooms to The Red House in Lilleshall, he said: “We have not yet started that project.”
 

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 one speakers include: Andreia Harwood, marketing director – EMEA at Wingstop; Sam Bourke, marketing director at Fuller’s; Sarah Collins, head of marketing at the Rick Stein Group; Jessica Wight, marketing director at Bistrot Pierre; François Blouin and Claire Diemer, chief executive and director of qualitative studies respectively at Foodservice Vision; Katy Moses, managing director at insight consultancy KAM; Lina Olea, marketing director at Wireless Social; Jack Jolly, senior marketing manager at Mission Mars and founder of H!JACK; Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford; Amanda Mason, head of marketing at Roadchef; James Coldrey-Mobbs, sales and marketing director at East Coast Concepts; Anthony Pender, co-founder of Our Yummy Collection; Natalie Waldron, of Natalie Waldron Design; Dan Burns, of Natural Selection Design; Matt Preisinger, marketing and brand director at Brewhouse & Kitchen; Thom and James Elliot, co-founders of Pizza Pilgrims; Siobhan Lloyd, marketing manager at 200 Degrees Coffee; Julius Wiesenhütter, founder at GetViola; Megan Burton-Brown, marketing director at Tortilla; Simon Potts, chief executive of the Alchemist; and Natasha Sideris, founder and chief executive of Tashas Group. For the full schedule, click here. A 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.
 
Premium subscribers to receive ten videos on Friday from up-and-coming operators as they explore ‘white space’ opportunity: Premium subscribers will receive ten videos from up-and-coming operators as they explore the “white space” opportunity for their concepts on Friday (15 December), at 9am. The ten operators, who presented this year at our Multi-Club Conference series, show that there is always uncrowded and unexplored areas of the UK food and beverage scene – where innovative operators can chart new territory with a fresh concept. The videos will feature: Verity Foss, co-founder, and Lina Blythe, operations director, of Oowee Vegan; Asad Khan, founder of Snowflake Luxury Gelato; Lisa Buckley, chief executive of Leisure TV Rights, the experiential leisure operator; Laura Mimoun, co-founder of Kaleido Rolls; Shereen Ritchie, chief operating officer of Buns from Home; Yolk founder Nick Philpot; Sanjeev Sanghera, co-founder of Döner Shack; Razak Helalat, founder of Black Rock Restaurant Group; Meriel Armitage, founder of Club Mexicana; and Simon Hooper, international business director at street food cafe franchise Chaiiwala. Premium subscribers also receive access to six databases: the Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; 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. 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.
 
Eat Out to Help Out prevented ‘devastating’ job losses, Sunak tells covid inquiry: The government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme helped protect hospitality workers from “devastating” job losses, prime minister Rishi Sunak has told the covid inquiry. The scheme was introduced when Sunak was chancellor during the pandemic, in the summer of 2020, in a bid to support restaurants struggling with restrictions imposed during the first lockdown. Giving evidence to the inquiry, Sunak said he it had been the “right thing to do to protect” what he said were “millions” of jobs held by “particularly vulnerable people”. He said: “All the data, all the evidence, all the polling, all the input from those companies suggested that unless we did something, many of those jobs would have been at risk with devastating consequences for those people and their families.” Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, is said to have privately referred to the scheme as “eat out to help out the virus”, while Patrick Vallance, who was chief scientific adviser, previously said the scheme was “highly likely” to have fuelled deaths. Questioned by lead counsel Hugo Keith KC, Sunak said such concerns were not raised with him despite there being a one-month gap between it being announced and coming into effect. He said there had been “ample opportunity” for people to raise concerns during that period. Sunak said the scheme was a “micro policy” within the overall reopening plan, with indoor hospitality “already” open again as part of the government’s plan to lift restrictions. He added: “Eat Out to Help Out only operated within that context. And indeed, there were a significant range of other [non-pharmaceutical interventions] that were in place, including social distancing, covid secure guidance, table service, contactless ordering, one-way systems, all of which had been put in place.”
 
HMRC targets takeaways and restaurants in crackdown on electronic till fraud: The Inland Revenue has launched a series of unannounced visits on takeaways and restaurants as part of a crackdown on electronic till fraud. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) undertook visits to 20 locations in St Helens, Edinburgh, London and Stoke as part of the crackdown. The action took place over the past four weeks, with 24 hot food takeaways and restaurants targeted. The visits coincided with the launch of criminal investigations by HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, which is conducting three interviews under caution this month with individuals from St Helens and Stoke. A small minority of takeaways and restaurants in the UK are using Electronic Sales Suppression (ESS) tools, which are software or devices that alter electronic point-of-sale records. They are used to under-report a business’ sales and consequently evade tax. Those involved are being urged to contact HMRC now before their wrongdoing is detected. Since May 2023 the department has received more than 50 voluntary disclosures from businesses about their undeclared sales. Marc Gill, HMRC’s director of individuals and small business compliance, said: “ESS tools give businesses the appearance of trading legitimately, but in reality, they are stealing tax that should be helping fund our vital public services. We have sophisticated ways of detecting this type of fraud and anyone using, supplying, making or promoting ESS can face fines of up to £50,000 or criminal prosecution. We urge those involved to come forward – it could lead to a reduction in financial penalties.”
 
Government ‘brainwashed’ by fast-food lobbyists, ex-official says: The government has refused to release “confidential” lobbying letters from major food and advertising companies that argue it should scrap policies designed to cut child obesity. Prime minister Rishi Sunak delayed plans to ban unhealthy food being advertised on television before 9pm until 2025, raising concerns the policy has been kicked into touch. A request made by The Times for lobbying material from food companies on the policy was rebuffed by the Department for Health and Social Care, which said the material was “confidential”. It comes as analysis published last week found obesity is costing the UK almost £100bn a year, with more than a third of ten to 11-year-olds overweight or obese. Two former Number 10 officials said Downing Street had been assailed by lobbyists from companies opposed to advertising restrictions and limits on buy one, get one free deals for unhealthy food. Both policies have been delayed until 2025 ostensibly on cost-of-living grounds. “They would target everyone they could get hold of in the building with letters, emails and calls,” one former official said of the lobbyists. “You felt like you were constantly having to push back to various people in Number 10, not knowing how to respond to new questions from companies in this deluge of correspondence.” The former official explained lobbyists used influence in other departments to lobby against the advertising ban. Another said food companies drew from the “Big Tobacco” playbook in lobbying the government, using indirect lobbying to create a groundswell of opinion among departments, ministers and the party. “By convincing party politicians that the policy would be a disaster and put their jobs at risk, this undermines the kind of consensus that is needed to drive through bold policy improvements,” the official said. Some companies were memorably aggressive, they said. “One major soft drink company in numerous meetings simply refused to consider focusing its advertising on its diet products voluntarily, on grounds of company policy,” they added.

Whisky exports rise by 13%: Whisky drove a 13% rise in UK drinks exports to £9.4bn in the past year as young professionals reached for “status” brands. The Times reported the total value of drinks exported in the 12 months ending 31 July rose from £8.3bn the year before, according to Hazlewoods business advisers and accountants. Whisky outperformed other drinks, making up two thirds of the total exports at a value of £6.32bn. Gin made up £680m, followed by beer at £486m. Rebecca Copping, a partner at Hazlewoods, attributed the strong demand to the appeal of heritage brands to young professionals. “British heritage brands have successfully placed themselves as a luxury in the international drinks market,” she said. “A large chunk of this success is due to young, wealthy consumers purchasing quality drinks brands that signify status and success.” Whisky is the UK’s biggest food and drink export by value, led by the Scotch industry. The Scotch Whisky Association reported a 3.6% fall in exports during the first half of 2023, compared with last year when the industry posted record exports as markets grew and restocked after the pandemic. However, the association measures the industry performance over the calendar year while Hazlewoods’ figure includes whisky from the whole of the UK. Countries within the EU bought £1.72bn worth of whisky, £300m of gin and £278m of beer. France, Germany, Spain and Poland were among the top ten export markets by volume. Countries outside the EU bought £4.6bn of whisky and £380m of gin but only £208m of beer. America remains the biggest export market for British whisky by value, with sales reaching £1.09bn. Exports to India and Singapore increased sharply last year, buying whisky worth £244m and £401m respectively.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a group operating quick service franchise restaurants throughout the UK, hotels, and a residential/commercial property company that is seeking a group financial controller. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “The business is turning over in excess of £100m per annum. Some of the duties will include managing, coaching and training a team of junior accounts assistants and ensuring correct procedures being adhered to and keeping the team motivated; ensuring timely and accurate production of management accounts and annual budgets and reporting to the board of directors; ensuring Ebitda targets are met; and managing the day-to-day interface with the company’s bankers and meeting covenant reporting requirements.” The salary is up to £85,000 and the position is based in London. For more information, email oliwia@corecruitment.com.
 

Company News:

Rosa’s to replace Bone Daddies in Richmond: Rosa’s Thai, the TriSpan-backed business, has added to its 2024 openings pipeline after securing a site in London’s Richmond. The Gavin Adair-led, 38-strong company will take on the Bone Daddies site in Hill Street. Bone Daddies managing director Steve Hill told Propel: “We just finished evaluating our current estate and a good opportunity presented itself. We were not looking to sell but received a good offer from Rosa’s, and as the site sits outside our current vision for our brand, the timing felt right to sell. We took the site in covid with a very low capex, which performed well with a strong return on investment and was well received in the area. However, it now feels right for the brand to realign the estate with our future growth plans. We are still very much a small group, and we feel the need to be nimble and always keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in being able to maximise on the opportunities that arise for us.” Bone Daddies Group – which comprises the eponymous ramen restaurants Shack-Fuyu and Flesh & Buns – opened its latest site, in London’s Leicester Square, in October. The site, the group’s eighth, is split across two floors and offers 80 covers in total. Rosa’s opened its latest restaurant last week, in Westfield London. It is currently on site in Guildford for an opening in January and has an opening in Cheltenham scheduled for the end of the first half of 2024. Rosa’s also has openings lined up in Bristol and Reading. Thomas Rose, of P-Three, acts for Rosa’s.

Cooplands sees losses grow to £10m following circa 40 site closures, Hull bakery also shuts with view to future cost savings: South Yorkshire-based bakery and cafe chain Cooplands reported a £12m drop in turnover in the nine months from 1 April 2022 to 31 December 2022, and its pre-tax loss grew to £10m as it shut circa 40 sites in the period. It also shut its bakery in Hull, at an impairment cost of £1.9m, with a view to future cost savings. The change in accounting period follows the company’s takeover by the Issa brothers’ EG Group in October 2021. At the end of its last reporting period, for the year to 31 March 2022, the company said it had a portfolio of nearly 200 retail outlets. At the end of the latest reporting period, it had nearly 160. Turnover was £56,151,503 for the eight-month period versus £68,112,442 in the prior year while its pre-tax loss grew from £770,726 to £10,045,352. The company received no government grants compared with £82,083 in the previous reporting period but was paid £133,695 in research and development expenditure credits. No dividends were paid (year to 31 March 2022: nil). Director Zuber Issa said the company experienced a challenging period, with increases in the cost of raw materials having a significant impact on margins. He added: “Following the decision in 2021 to pay above minimum rate for wages, the company continues to feel the pressure of increased labour costs across its estate. In 2022, the company took the decision to close its Hull bakery and to absorb its production into the remaining bakery facilities. The expected benefit of this will be reductions in overhead costs and greater synergies through production. The closure of this bakery was completed in July 2023. As part of this process, a fair value assessment of the assets at site was performed, the outcome of which was an impairment of £1.9m. This has been reflected within our exceptional items in 2022. The company continues to look to leverage the strengths of the parent group, EG Group Holdings, in order to diversify its brand into the petrol forecourt and convenience store channels.”

Karak Chaii set to open ten new stores by next summer: Birmingham Indian street food concept Karak Chaii is set to open ten new stores by next summer. The franchise company, founded by husband-and-wife team Sughir and Sara Javed just before covid, currently has 16 sites, with locations in Reading, Coventry and Tooting among those in its pipeline. Strategic advisor Paolo Peretti, a former retail managing director for Patisserie Valerie, said: “We have ambitious plans for 2024 and the year will start with a bang as we have five shops currently in build with another five at various stages of the legal process, so by the middle of 2024 we will be closing in on 30 stores. To support this growth, we are looking for an experienced area manager who is based in the Midlands. The successful candidate will need the have worked in a similar business, have a good knowledge of delivery platforms, some experience of local store marketing and a good eye for detail.”

Wells & Co adds two pubs to French estate: Bedford brewer and retailer Wells & Co has added two more pubs to its French estate, the House of Parliament and HMS Victory in Bordeaux. The acquisitions brings the total of Wells & Co’s pubs in France to 18, including five more in Bordeaux, four in Toulouse, and one each in Lille, Paris, La Rochelle, Lyon, Montpellier and Reims. Both of the newly acquired pubs have been trading for more than two decades in their own right and Wells & Co said they have built strong reputations and loyal customer bases. Wells & Co has been operating in France since 1995 and said it sees “more opportunity to expand and unite pints, pubs and people across the nation”. Shirley Couchman, chief operating officer at Wells and Co, added: “The acquisition of these pubs marks our first purchase in France since 2019. These sites represent our intent to continue developing and growing our French estate in the coming years, while we simultaneously look at opportunities in our heartland in the UK, where we have 190 pubs. We look forward to seeing the success of the two pubs over the coming months.” Earlier this year, the business said it is targeting £15m Ebitda in five years after reporting sales income from continuing operations increased by 81% to £55.2m in the period to 2 October 2022. Operating profit before exceptional costs was £3.3m compared with a loss of £1.6m the previous year.

Crieff Hydro refinances overdraft facility after profit drops, paid £1.18m for safari experience business: Crieff Hydro, the eight-strong Scottish hotel operator led by Stephen Leckie, refinanced its overdraft facility after profits fell in the year to 28 February 2023. A pre-tax profit of £3,122,956 in 2022 dropped to £418,657 as some £3m was spent on capital expenditure, while turnover rose from £28,653,594 to £36,459,896. It also used some of the £5m it previously borrowed through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to help acquire a Perthshire safari experience in June 2022, for which the purchase price has been revealed as £1.18m. “During the 2021 financial year the company secured a CBILS facility in the form, of a temporary overdraft of £5m, which was subsequently extended to April 2023,” the business said in its accounts for the period. “Cost reductions, successful trading and cash flow management resulted in no requirement to use this facility during the pandemic period. The facility was then partially utilised to purchase the share capital of Highland Adventure Safaris. Ahead of the expiry of the £5m facility, the directors reviewed ongoing requirements and the facility was superseded (post year-end) by a £2m overdraft facility in May 2023. This in addition to longstanding existing overdraft facilities of £1.1m.” Of the 2023 turnover, £31,056,699 came from accommodation and restaurants (2022: £24,827,105), £2,321,741 from sports facilities (2022: £1,731,611) and £2,508,965 from other operating centres (2022: £1,557,155). It received £19,107 in government grants compared with £1,322,454 in 2022 and no dividend was paid (2022: nil). Leckie said: “FY23 revenue was up 11 % on FY20 – the first real benchmark we have had for three years. The costs of maintenance, utilities and insurance alone rose nearly £2m, the end result being a drop in underlying Ebitda against pre-covid levels from £3.8m to £3.6m. The challenging climate of FY23 is set to continue. Further increases in overheads are anticipated in utilities and business rates, while a tight labour market and other inflationary factors create a continued focus on cost management. Revenue remains resilient with a post covid rebound in demand continuing both domestically and internationally, creating opportunities for growth despite economic uncertainties.” Crieff Hydro owns six hotels as well as the 1881 Gin School & Distillery and the Highland Adventure Safari. Subsidiary company Freedom Hotels (Management) operates management and marketing agreements for a further three hotels, while Peebles Hydro operates the Peel Cafe at Glentress Forest under a management contract with Forest Enterprise.

Vaulkhard Group ‘going back to our core values’ after ‘very odd’ 2023: North east leisure firm Vaulkhard Group is “going back to our core values” after a “very odd” 2023 where some of its sites experienced record takings, but challenges hit the industry. Family-run Vaulkhard Group has 16 sites across the region, including the Bridge Tavern in Newcastle, Keel Tavern in Sunderland, Blake’s, and Beehive. Earlier this year, the company acquired two sites with the help of a £4.5m funding package from HSBC UK. Founder Ollie Vaulkhard told Insider Media: “The miserable summer hurt our venues, and outdoor areas and the late-night venues continue to be a challenge as consumers change their habits. However, some sites have had record takings, with lots of them well up on last year.” In spite of this, surging utility, wet and dry goods, staff, insurance and finance costs have “made it very hard to see the increased takings have any effect on the bottom line”. Vaulkhard said: “I hope and suspect that it's a matter of hanging on and in time balance will return and the numbers will make sense again. I believe that with focus we can take little steps forward and develop our team, with the goal being the satisfaction of our guests. If we have learnt anything from the past three years, it’s that the consumer wants hospitality. But it has to be good and focused, and I think that's what 2024 will require – focus.” Moving into the new year, Vaulkhard Group will continue to “tweak and develop” its estate, and a number of changes are expected from January. “We will go back to our basics, our vision and play into long term sustainability,” said Vaulkhard. “I believe that 2024 will see a number of opportunities appear and some may well be worth pursuing.”

Randy Garutti to step down as Shake Shack CEO: US better burger brand Shake Shack has announced that Randy Garutti, the company’s chief executive, will retire next year upon the selection of his successor, after more than two decades with the business. It said Garutti, who played a significant role in the growth of the brand into an international business, including its launch in the UK in 2013, will continue to lead the company as its chief executive through that time. Once his successor is appointed, the company intends to retain Garutti as an advisor through to the end of 2024 to ensure a proper transition. An external search has been launched to identify Garutti’s successor. Garutti said: “It has been my honour to lead the talented Shake Shack team from our humble beginnings as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in New York City to the public company we are today. Together, we have achieved more than anyone dreamed, delighting communities across 18 countries, 33 states and more than 500 Shacks, while targeting to surpass $1bn in revenue this year. I am most proud of the growth opportunities we created for our team members at every level and our shared commitment to uplift and take care of each other, our guests, our communities, our suppliers, and our shareholders.” Shake Shack operates 16 sites in London and one each in Cardiff and Oxford, the latter opening earlier this month.
 
Caprinos Pizza lines up first Edinburgh site: Pizza franchise Caprinos Pizza, which recently opened its first international site, has lined up its first opening in Edinburgh as it closes in on 100 UK locations. The business, co-founded by Khalil Rehman and Gul Mawaz in Didcot, Oxfordshire, in 2014, plans to open a site in the Scottish capital’s Home Street. Caprinos currently operates three sites in Scotland, in and around Glasgow. In October, the brand made its international debut with an opening in the DHA Lahore development in Pakistan. Caprinos now has more than 90 UK locations following recent openings in Newcastle, Colchester, Melksham and London’s Canary Wharf.
 
Admiral Taverns opens 200th site under Proper Pubs division: Proper Pubs, the community-wet led operator division of Admiral Taverns, has opened its 200th pub. The Chrystal Bell, in Gallowgate, Glasgow, has officially opened, following a £220,000 investment. Proper Pubs, which launched in August 2021, operates across England, Scotland, and Wales. Admiral said the division has gone from “strength-to-strength this year”, investing more than £10m to support its local communities, opening 32 pubs, with 17 coming in the last two months alone. Last month, Chris Jowsey, chief executive of Admiral Taverns, told Propel that the 1,500-strong business was converting one site a week to Proper Pubs, which he thinks will eventually make up 20% of the group’s overall estate. He said: “We’ve been very disciplined about where we apply the Proper Pubs model. We’re investing about £250,000 every time we convert a pub to Proper Pubs, but the returns on that are really strong. I’ve always been clear I thought Proper Pubs would make up probably about 20% of our entire estate in the long term, and I haven’t changed that view. We’re converting roughly one a week at the moment. I still think that the overall estate will be 80% tenanted by the time we finish that growth. That probably means we’ll have around 300 Proper Pubs in our estate.” Mark Brooke, director – Proper Pubs, added: “This poignant milestone marks a very proud moment for our team. We have experienced continuous growth in 2023, which is testament to the hard work from everyone, including all our dedicated operators. The team is constantly raising money for local charities and organising amazing events. This isn’t only one of our core values, but is central in all our plans, and underpins our ambition to be the number one community pub operator in the UK.”
 
Former Jongleurs boss Marios Lourides jailed for ten years: Marios Lourides, the former boss of the Jongleurs comedy club chain, has been jailed for ten years after a retrial found him guilty of multimillion-pound fraud. The Chortle reported the accountant had used the comedy club chain to help launder the money from the dubious scheme, which could have conned investors out of up to £30m. He and co-defendant Mark Ablitt had originally been found guilty of the same offence in 2018, when he was also sentenced to ten years. However, the conviction was later quashed by the Court of Appeal due to a mistake made by the original trial judge. A retrial was ordered. Ablitt pleaded guilty but Lourdes maintained his innocence, resulting in a 13-week hearing at Kingston Crown Court that ended with the same sentence. Clients were told their money would be invested in a Singaporean bank with a high interest rate, but zero risk to the investors. Lourides promoted the scheme in the UK and Ablitt dealt with the Far East side. In fact, the money went on wages, business costs and into Lourides’ own pocket. A Met police investigation identified 18 victims who between them invested around £10m – but officers suspect that the total money lost will be closer to £30m. Lourides has been the director of 43 companies over the years and became finance director of Jongleurs after its ownership changed in 2009. The comedy club chain was founded by Maria Kempinska in 1983, from a venue in Battersea, South London. By 2000 it had expanded to a nationwide empire that she and business partner John Davy sold to pubs operator Regent Inns in a multimillion-pound deal. They regained control of the brand in 2009, after the collapse of Regent, with them each owning a third of the new company, alongside Lourides. He resigned from a suite of companies connected with Jongleurs in December 2014, the month after his financial firm Sears Morgan went into administration. Within a year, Jongleurs had called in administrators too. 
 
South African small plates concept set to launch in UK: South African small plates concept Riverine Rabbit is set to launch in the UK, at 1,464 Pershore Road in Stirchley, in the southern outskirts of Birmingham. The restaurant was originally opened in her native Cape Town by chef Ash Valenzuela-Heeger and her sister, Mandy, where it carved out a reputation for serving innovative dishes such as crab muffin and honey cured beef. It closed at the start of 2020 when Valenzuela-Heeger moved to Birmingham with wife Erin, since when she worked at the Michelin-starred Carter’s of Moseley before launching Riverine Rabbit as a pop-up in the city. It is now preparing to open as a bricks and mortar venue, with bookings now open and available from Friday, 5 January, with the restaurant potentially opening before then. Co-owner Erin, a research fellow at University Birmingham by day, will join her wife at the restaurant by night to take up the role as front of house manager. Riverine Rabbit, named after a creature native to the Karoo Desert, will combine South African roots and flavours with seasonal British produce, and will endeavour to support sustainable farming practices. The menu will be made up of up to 16 small plates with a focus on wild game and seafood, plus a substantial vegetarian offering. Guests can order as many or as few dishes as they prefer, and on Mondays, an affordable prix fixe menu of four courses for £30 will be available. The duo said: “It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, to say we’re keen to open our doors is an understatement. We’ve worked hard to create an informal space for our guests to enjoy our ethos and food. There’s no pressure or restrictions, we want our guests to order as many or as few dishes as they fancy, and to just come along and enjoy The Rabbit.”
 
BrewDog selling tickets for discounted drinks on New Year’s Eve: Brewer and retailer BrewDog is selling tickets for discounted drinks this New Year’s Eve. With the advance purchase of a BrewDog New Year’s ticket, guests can enjoy reductions on many of its drinks all night long, from 7pm. Tickets range from £15-£20 and are available in BrewDog bars up and down the country. The discounts include Lost Lager for £1.95 a pint and Wingman for £2.25 a pint, plus Punk IPA, Hazy Jane, Elvis Juice and Dead Pony Club for £2.95 a pint. House wine and rum (plus mixer) will sell for £2.95, with glasses of prosecco and Wonderland cocktails from £3.95. BrewDog chief executive James Watt said: “New Year’s Eve is always a fun time of year, and while it’s always nice to look ahead to the future, sometimes going back in time has it’s perks too. With reductions of well over 50% on some of our best beer, wine and prosecco – we hope we can give everyone a New Year’s celebration to remember.” The promotion is not available in BrewDog Waterloo or Doghouse Edinburgh, while tickets are subject to availability. Tickets bought online will be exchanged for a wristband on arrival at the bar, and while walk-ins are welcome on the night, they must buy a wristband to access the lower drink prices.
 
South Indian restaurant concept to open in Cirencester for fourth site: South Indian restaurant concept Dosa Park is to open its fourth site, in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. The Cirencester restaurant will take over the site of Spanish/European restaurant Tierra and Mar, and aims to open in January. The Dosa Park menu features a range of south Indian dishes, including dosas, idlis, vadas, biryani and curry. Co-owner Omer Rahim told Insider Media: “This is a very different concept to the current Asian cuisine in Cirencester and offers an authenticity to this style of cooking. There are options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dosa is a popular dish from this part of the world. It can be served with a variety of fillings and accompaniments, such as potato filling, coconut chutney, sambar and other flavourful curry. We look forward to sharing our food.” Dosa Park’s Cirencester restaurant will join its two sites in Oxford and one in Kidlington.
 
New Lebanese restaurant to open in London’s Mayfair: Toum, a new Lebanese rotisserie concept, is to open in London’s Mayfair. Opening in Maddox Street, Toum, which is the brainchild of Tarek Farah, will offer a “taste of authentic Lebanese cuisine with a modern twist”. It will offer a range of Lebanese dishes, from “tender rotisserie chicken to flavourful mezzes, all prepared with the freshest ingredients”. The restaurant will open in early 2024. Zack Azulay, of Restaurant Property, who acted on the deal, said: “We’re thrilled to have facilitated Toum's opening in Maddox Street. Working with Tarek was an absolute pleasure. After a long time searching, we secured the perfect location for his newest concept.”
 
German hotel operator set to re-enter UK market: German hotel operator Meininger is set to re-enter the UK market after agreeing a deal to transform a former office building in the Haymarket area of Edinburgh. Property development company S Harrison acquired Osborne House in 2018 and plans to turn it into a hotel with 157 bedrooms, plus a bar and lounge area on the ground floor, with work set to start in the new year. It has now brought on board Meininger, which since opening its first hotel in Berlin in 1999 has grown to 36 venues across Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Poland, Denmark, Belgium and Switzerland. It previously operated hotels in London, Liverpool and Manchester. Ajit Menon, chief executive at Meininger Hotels, said: “We are excited to bring the proven and successful Meininger hybrid hotel concept to Edinburgh, re-entering the UK and further expanding our presence in Europe. We believe that Edinburgh resonates with the Meininger culture, making the city a perfect fit for our brand.” Ann Scott, managing director at S Harrison, added: “We’re very pleased to agree this deal and look forward to seeing our vision for Osborne House begin to take shape. Meininger has established an enviable reputation for offering modern, well-designed hybrid hotels in key cities throughout Europe that appeal to all types of guests.”
 
Pho to launch food and wellness pop-up: Vietnamese street food restaurant group Pho is launching a two-day food and wellness pop-up experience in London, dedicated to curing hangovers across the capital on what is said to be one the busiest weeks for Christmas parties in the UK. The “Pho-fix” will run today (Tuesday, 12 December) and tomorrow (Wednesday, 13 December) at 15 Bateman Street, in Soho, where Pho will serve up “complimentary bowls of its hangover-blasting phở alongside freshly squeezed juice”. Visitors will also be able to enjoy a complimentary hydrating IV on a first come first serve basis and will also be able to grab free skincare products throughout the day. Libby Andrews, marketing director of Pho, said: “For 20 years, our customers and staff have raved about our soups as their go-to hangover cure. The Pho Fix pop-up aligns our brand with the need for mouth-watering, life-saving food the day after those Christmas celebrations, rather than a set menu of turkey and trimmings the night before. During the Christmas party season – and especially this week, the most hungover time of year – there is no better way to replenish and refuel.”

Salt Yard co-founder’s Portuguese concept moves to new home: Salt Yard co-founder Simon Mullins’ Portuguese concept, Volto do Mar, has moved to a new home. Mullins launched Volto do Mar with wife Isabel Almedia Da Dilva in Tavistock Street, in London’s Covent Garden, in October 2019. The concept, which showcases food from the trade routes of the Portuguese-speaking world, has now made the short journey to Chelsea, where it has opened in Draycott Avenue, the original restaurant having closed earlier this year. The 40 covers include banquette seating as well as bar dining, and there’s a private dining room for groups of up to 12 and a terrace for al fresco dining in warmer weather, reports Hardens. Mullins co-founded Salt Yard in 2005 before it was acquired by Urban Pubs and Bars in 2018. Urban has since the opened further Salt Yard sites in Westfield White City and in Borough Market.

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