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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 18th Dec 2023 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

10,000 hospitality businesses ‘hang in the balance’ without rates support: New analysis shows that thousands of Scottish hospitality businesses will be left unsupported, if rates relief isn’t included in the Scottish Budget. The Fraser of Allander Institute has concluded that around 10,000 hospitality businesses would stand to benefit if the Scottish government heeded the calls from UKHospitality Scotland and introduced a business rates relief scheme, replicating support in England. Those 10,000 businesses are ineligible for the small business bonus scheme, which would mean they would be left unsupported through one of the most challenging economic periods in years if the Scottish government chooses not to act. UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson said: “The Scottish government has a golden £230m opportunity to show its support for one of Scotland’s most important sectors – hospitality, leisure and tourism – by introducing a business rates relief scheme. These figures clearly show what is at stake and the fate of almost 10,000 businesses hang in the balance, as they await tomorrow’s Budget. If rates relief is introduced, they have some degree of certainty and can fulfil plans to invest in and grow their businesses, delivering economic growth and creating even more jobs. If the Scottish government chooses not to act, those businesses will have no support whatsoever. Some will be closer to closing for good and others will remain fighting for survival and unable to invest. This significantly impacts on our sector’s ability to deliver economic growth for Scotland and create more jobs. That would be a tragedy, particularly when the Scottish government would have had two opportunities to act on delivering a reciprocal business rates relief scheme. UKHospitality Scotland, alongside the entire hospitality sector, has made these calls loud and clear – it’s time the Scottish government now acted.” UKHospitality Scotland is also calling for the poundage rate to be frozen in the Budget, preventing a further £20m cost increase for the sector.

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 £395 plus VAT for one day and £700 plus VAT for two. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Jo Charity at Propel on jo.charity@propelinfo.com.

Premium subscribers to receive next UK Food & Beverage Franchisee Database on Wednesday: The next edition of the UK Food & Beverage Franchisee Database will be sent to Premium subscribers on Wednesday (20 December), featuring ten new entries and updates to existing entries. The database is updated every two months and the latest version features 120 businesses and almost 50,000 words of content. Among the new entries are McDonald’s franchisees Craigton Foods, which operates ten restaurants across Aberdeen, Elgin, Fort William, Fraserburgh, Inverness and Peterhead, and Incito Group Holdings, which operates eight restaurants in Gloucestershire. Also added is Moonglow Trading, which this month secured a seven-figure funding package in December 2023 to open up to four new coffee shops through a franchise agreement with Black Sheep Coffee. 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 Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; and the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage. 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.

Marks – while I have been through eight business cycles, this one just feels deeper and longer: Peter Marks, chairman of Rekom UK, the UK’s largest nightclub operator, has said this business cycle “feels deeper and longer”. Marks was talking to The Times after Rekom UK, which has 36 clubs and 12 late-night bars throughout the UK, revealed earlier this week that people were spending, on average, £73.19 per person on a night out this year, 2.1% lower than in the autumn of last year. He said: “While I have been through eight business cycles, this one just feels deeper and longer.” Marks estimated that the national living wage increase to £11.44 an hour would cost Rekom UK between £1.5m and £2m. Marks said that Rekom UK had also honed in on big student events, clustered its venues in bigger cities and trimmed down on lower-earning dates and locations in smaller towns. He added that the group was gradually reducing its number of nightclubs and had decided to sell seven non-core businesses that were not making a profit this year. Instead Rekom UK has chosen to focus on its party-bar brands such as Heidi’s Bar and Proud Mary’s, which can welcome a wider range of consumers throughout their longer opening hours. Rekom UK has also made redundancies at its headquarters and slowed its refurbishment plan and new-builds to cut costs. “It’s never dull,” Marks said, “But it is hard. It’s as hard as I’ve remembered it.” 

NTIA welcomes plans to reform spiking laws: Plans to modernise spiking laws will be set out in the coming days, the government has said. Ministers have come under pressure to make needle and drink spiking a specific offence, with campaigners and opposition parties calling for tougher action to protect women. While full details are not yet clear, the Home Office has said it will amend the Criminal Justice Bill and update the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 to make clear that spiking is illegal. The Home Office said the changes would form part of a wider package of measures to protect women and tackle spiking. The move was welcomed by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA, said: “We welcome the Home Office's commitment to modernise spiking laws, a cause that our association has ardently advocated for over the past few years. The proposed amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill and updates to the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 align with the evidence presented by our organisation in the Home Affairs select committee on spiking. This legislative move is a testament to the collective efforts of our association, parliamentarians, the industry, and key stakeholders who have tirelessly collaborated to challenge the prevalence of this heinous crime. The acknowledgement by the home secretary, James Cleverly, of the gravity of spiking as an offence is a significant milestone. The planned statutory guidance under Section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 and the commitment to providing an unequivocal definition of spiking reflects a comprehensive approach to addressing this pressing issue. Our association remains dedicated to working alongside the government and law enforcement agencies to ensure the effective implementation of these vital measures. The proactive stance taken by the Home Office is a positive step towards creating a safer environment within nightlife establishments and broader society, and we are optimistic about the positive impact these legislative changes will have on the overall safety and well-being of patrons during the festive season and beyond.”

UK consumer confidence rises at start of festive shopping season: UK consumer confidence edged higher in December as households looked forward to lower inflation and a slightly improved economy in 2024. The market research firm GfK said its measure of sentiment increased two points to minus 22, the highest level since January 2022. The negative reading still means household confidence is decidedly shaky. The increased optimism was seen across all of GfK’s measures, including respondents’ personal financial situation, the general economic situation, major purchases and savings. GfK’s client strategy director Joe Staton said: “Despite the severe cost-of-living crisis still impacting most households, this slow but persistent movement towards positive territory for the personal finance measure looking ahead is an encouraging sign for the year to come. The nation's confidence is still firmly in negative territory, [but] optimism for our personal finances for the next 12 months shows a notable recovery from the depressed [level] reported this time last year.”

Britons eschewing eating out and coffee shops for home comforts, says Curry’s boss: Cash-strapped Britons are avoiding expensive trips to the hairdresser and coffee shops to save money, which has boosted demand for hair care technology and coffee machines, the boss of electricals retailer Curry’s has said. With the UK in the second year of a cost-of-living crisis, Curry’s chief executive Alex Baldock said that while consumers were spending cautiously, they were treating themselves in the home. “Two thirds of customers say that they're not going out for expensive hairdresser appointments and they're getting salon-level care at home, which is good for health and beauty hair care technology,” he said. “Lots of customers are saying that the £3.75 flat white is not something they're up for this year and they want their coffee at home, which is good for bean-to-cup coffee machines.” Baldock said that with fewer people choosing to eat out, “the air fryer phenomenon still shows no sign of dying out”. He also noted healthy demand for gaming consoles, with a bigger chunk of UK consumers' entertainment budget being spent at home. Baldock said UK consumer confidence was “pretty bumpy”, with only half of the effect of interest rate rises felt so far and the housing market depressed. But on the other hand, he said climbing real wages and high levels of employment had supported demand.

City of London to see host of new and restored pubs opening over next few years: The City of London will welcome several new and restored pubs into operation over the next few years, as workers and visitors are enticed back into the Square Mile. Re-working existing pubs within development schemes is a key part of the City of London Corporation's initiative to entice people to an area that was more synonymous with workers than tourists. It said it is doing this in particular by negotiating with developers to provide new pubs in more prominent locations, with more trading floorspace, external areas, improved accessibility and striking architectural statements, which it says will “catch the eye”. The pubs will include The Still and Star, Aldgate, which will be moved to a new, prominent location near the former Aldgate City gate; the Salisbury Arms, Salisbury Square, where developers are re-purposing the listed building on site as a new triple aspect and multi-storey pub, in a prominent location on the corner of a re-imagined Salisbury Square; St Brides Tavern, Blackfriars – the pub will be “strikingly designed” and feature a prominent, multi aspect longer frontage, with expansive trading floors and a new public route; the White Swan, Fetter Lane, which will be relocated on a prominent double aspect corner location and designed in a bold blue faience; and the King’s Arms, 55 Old Broad Street/London Wall, which will be re-imagined as a prominent new focal point, featuring a larger external terrace. Chairman of the City of London Corporation planning and transport committee, Shravan Joshi, said: “The pub has always been a vital asset in the City and it continues to play an important role in making the Square Mile an attractive place to work, develop and invest. Protection of existing pubs, particularly those which are assets of community value and those of heritage and historic significance, is a key priority. The City Corporation’s planning team is focusing on creating an environment where pubs can flourish. Through planning policy and approving developments that provide that much needed cultural and visitor infrastructure, we will make the Square Mile a seven-day-a-week visitor destination, for everyone.”

Company News:

Big Table Group CEO – Bella Italia continues to deliver and has some of the highest value for money scores of all its competitor set: Alan Morgan, chief executive of the Big Table Group, has told Propel that the company’s circa 70-strong Bella Italia brand continues to deliver and that it has “some of the highest value for money scores of all its competitor set”. Morgan said: “Bella Italia is not the sexiest business in the market, but the brand is growing and it's quite attractive, particularly in the current marketplace. One reason it’s growing is that Bella Italia has some of the highest value for money scores of all its competitor set so customers know Bella Italia is great value for money. Some people have an expectation that Bella Italia is slightly lower end than its direct competitors, which plays to our advantage when people are thinking about wanting to spend less. There will always be a place for a broad range across the casual dining market, because you won’t always use pubs or fine dining as your food and drink experience, since they're less likely to be in places where there are cinemas, or in retail parks and shopping centres. Some casual dining operators need to accept that their restaurant might not always be the guest’s reason for being there, the location might be. And therefore, you need to have a brand that can cater for the people that come to the location. On the other hand, Las Iguanas, which is not in many of those types of location, is all about the brand experience. If you want some more interesting food and a great night-out experience, go to Las Iguanas. Bella Italia is unashamedly great value, consistent pizza and pasta. Everything goes full cycle and eventually it always comes back to value for money. This coffee I've just bought is £4.90. In our quiet periods, Bella does a main course pasta for £5, almost the same price as the coffee where we are sat talking.” It is Morgan’s intention to grow Bella Italia and Las Iguanas, but which grows first, or faster, is “based on the opportunities of the sites”. He said: “I'm not going to say ‘I'm going to get to 20 of these this year’ because I'm totally relying on the right sites at the right prices becoming available. If the market moves and if you only have one brand, you are entirely held hostage to the market. I am only interested in growing where I am certain these are going to be long-term sites with the right market.”

Wingers signs 30-store development deal: Buttermilk fried chicken restaurant concept Wingers has signed a 30-store development deal for west London and the Thames Valley. It has brought on board five “experienced quick service restaurant (QSR) investors” who will “grow the brand within the agreed territory in line with a long-term development agreement”. There are currently six Wingers restaurants open in the Midlands, with seven more set to open in the first half of next year with other franchise partners. Wingers expects to more than double the size of its estate by the end of 2024, with potential locations for the new partners to include the likes of Windsor, Maidenhead, Chiswick, Ealing, Slough and Watford. Tajinder Choongh, who is one of the five investors involved in the development deal, already operates franchises for Subway, Thai Express and Project D, as well as Wingers’ Hednesford restaurant. “I’ve worked in the food industry for my entire career and have been waiting for the right business to take to the next level,” he said. “Wingers landed in my lap at the right time and offered the perfect opportunity. We will now work to develop a large territory that stretches from Watford to Wembley and into the Thames Valley. I got along with the founders really well from day one, and a year in with the Hednesford Wingers, I’m now so passionate about this brand and excited for the future.” Wingers was set up during the pandemic by brothers Amran and Dylan Sunner and their dad Bill and launched as a franchise in the autumn of 2023. Amran Sunner added: “It’s been an amazing year! We’ve successfully opened new restaurants and taken new franchisees under our wing. Now the west London and Thames Valley development deal sees our expansion take flight in and around the capital. We are excited to be working closely with our existing franchisee TJ and the other experienced QSR investors to grow the brand.”

Dubai-based investor becomes Revolution Bars Group’s largest shareholder: A Dubai-based investor has become the largest shareholder in Revolution Bars Group, the operator of the Revolution, Revolución de Cuba and Peach Pubs brands. Propel understands that Eldose Babu has taken his shareholding in the Rob Pitcher-led business from just over 7% to more than 12% in the past few weeks, to become the company’s biggest shareholder. Babu came to attention in October when he acquired a 3.2% stake in Saga, becoming one of the top three shareholders in the British holiday group. In October, Pitcher told Propel that Revolution Bars Group was focused on operating prudently over the next 12-18 months while the cost-of-living crisis “hopefully abates”. It came after the group said in its preliminary results that the late-night hospitality industry was facing “very challenging” times as the business swung to a yearly loss and revealed a drop in sales, although it has seen an improvement in more recent trading. Revolution Bars Group features in the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book. Its turnover of £152.6m for the year ending 1 July 2023 is the 66th highest in the database. The Blue Book ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. 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.

SA Brain – The strategic goal of securing the long-term sustainable future of the business is in sight: Welsh brewer and retailer SA Brain has said that its strategic goal of securing the long-term sustainable future of the business is in sight. The business 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. 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. In its accounts for the year to 26 March 2023, the business said that turnover stood at £9,369,000 (2022: £14,739,00), while it posted a pre-tax loss of £22,261,000 (2022: (£1,089,000)) For the year, it had net assets of £7,594,000 (2022: £31,951,000), net current assets of £7,381,000 (2022: liabilities £40,610,000) and external bank debt of £3,087,000 (2022: £76,387,000), of which £2,000,000 has been paid at the end of June 2023 and £1,087,000 had been paid on 29 September 2023. Since the year end, the company said it had reached an agreement with its banking partner to secure a new overdraft facility. At the same time, some final freehold properties have been sold and contracts have been exchanged for the sale of an investment property to support the company with working capital into the medium term. It said: “The directors are mindful of a number of key focus arrears that will positively impact the growth of the business into the future. The pension buy in and buy out process is due to be concluded within the next 18 months. This will secure full member benefits and remove any future pension obligations for the company/group. The company continues to positively engage with its remaining landlords to discuss the most commercial options for all parties into the future. New product development will play a critical role in the growth of the brewery, with appropriate market research, it will evolve its offer to target a new generation of consumers through social media marketing, complementing the heritage of the brand, but building for the future. This will be supported by an online shop and the continuance of the company delivering directly to customers wherever possible.” The company had debts of £76.4m, most of which had accumulated before the pandemic.

Urban Pubs & Bars hires Andre Johnstone as new sales & marketing director: Urban Pubs & Bars, the London pub operator founded by Malc Heap and Nick Pring and backed by Davidson Kempner and Global Mutual, has hired Andre Johnstone, formerly of Côte, Wagamama and Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), as its new sales and marketing director, Propel has learned. Johnstone, who will report into Urban Pubs & Bars managing director Chris Hill, spent three years at Côte as its chief growth officer. Prior to that he spent more than five years at Wagamama as its marketing director. He also worked at M&B helping to develop and grow a number of brands including Castle, Nicholson's and All Bar One. Johnstone said: “I'm delighted to be joining Malc, Nick, Chris and the team at Urban Pubs & Bars, and it's great to be back working in pubs and bars again. This is a business that has some of the best sites in London; it has huge potential, great founders, and hugely supportive investors.” Hill added: “I am delighted to welcome Andre to the Urban Pubs & Bars business. This is a business that has excellent sites, great people and huge ambitions and we can't wait to take it to the next level.” Urban Pubs & Bars operates 42 pubs, bars and restaurants across London including premium tapas restaurant business Salt Yard Group. In October, Urban Pubs & Bars made its transport hub debut, with the opening of The Victory in the ex-Sports Bar & Grill site plus an adjoining unit, on the first floor in Waterloo station’s concourse. 

Pieminister takes on new franchisee as it looks to expand in the north: Pie and mash restaurant operator Pieminister has taken on a new franchisee as it looks to expand in the north, Propel has learned. Black 29 Holdings, based in West Lancashire, operates within the healthcare, leisure, retail and real estate industries as well as hospitality. “I’m very pleased to announce that we have signed an agreement with Pieminister to open our first shop in northern England,” a Black 29 Holdings spokesman said. “These are exciting times for our small but growing organisation as we expand into the hospitality sector. We very much look forward to helping the guys at Pieminister expand their brand and bring their amazing pies to the lucky people of the north.” Pieminister currently has 15 restaurants, including two in Manchester and one each in Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Stoke. Propel understands the new franchisee is currently searching for a suitable location for its debut Pieminister store, and is hoping for a spring opening. Pieminister opened its first two franchise sites this year – in Bath and Derby – and also rebranded its Nottingham site as Long Row Social, with an extended offering, full alcohol licence and amended opening hours.

Coyote Ugly set to open in Bristol for seventh UK site, two more to follow in 2024: Coyote Ugly is set to open in Bristol for its seventh UK site, with two more to follow in 2024, Propel has learned. Coyote Ugly will open at Bristol Waterfront in February, joining its two London locations and further sites in Cardiff, Birmingham, Swansea and Liverpool. It will be a first new UK site for the US brand, which inspired the film of the same name, since it opened under the Zedwell Hotel in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue in August. “We are thrilled to announce the official opening of our seventh UK site, right at the vibrant Bristol Waterfront – mark your calendars for February 2024,” said Raymond Boreham, new openings manager for Coyote Ugly in the UK. “Coyote Ugly Saloon continues to expand, bringing our unique blend of high-energy entertainment, top-quality drinks, and an unforgettable experience. The Bristol Waterfront, known for its dynamic and lively atmosphere, is the perfect location for our latest venture. We can’t wait to become a part of Bristol’s thriving community and bring our distinct Coyote Ugly vibe to the city.” The UK franchise for Coyote Ugly is held by Steve Lewis, owner of Breaking Brands Management, who told Propel in January he is aiming for six more UK bars by 2026, as he prepares to take the brand to Europe and the Middle East. “Breaking Brands Management is so excited that Bristol will become our seventh UK site,” Lewis told Propel. “Bristol has always been key to our expansion as the second largest city in the south of England. We aim to launch in the week of 12 February, with more sites in both England and Scotland in the planning phase, along with new partnership sites opening this year in Asia. There’s two more planned for 2024 but they are still under heads of terms so we cannot divulge locations apart from both being in England and a new south east Asia location. Trading has been improving since covid with pre-bookings being a key driver as customers habits change to planning nights out in advance.”

Cote appoints Dom South as new marketing director: Côte, the French brasserie chain backed by the Partners Group, has appointed Dom South, formerly of Zizzi and Greene King, as its new marketing director, Propel has learned. South joins the Jane Holbrook-chaired business after a year and a half as marketing director at the Azzurri Group-owned Zizzi. Previous to that he spent almost nine years as marketing director at Greene King. He has also had stints at PepsiCo and United Biscuits. In September, the circa 80-strong Cote appointed Ashley Hamilton, formerly of Liberation Group, Greene King and Wagamama, as its new managing director. In May, Côte said it was “excited” by its recent progress after seeing sustained improvements in guest satisfaction, operational controls and labour turnover. It came as the business reported turnover of £144.9m for the year ending September 2022 (2021: £72.7m), with adjusted Ebitda of £3.6m (2021: £0.3m).

The Breakfast Club to open third site in London’s Soho: All-day dining concept The Breakfast Club is to open a third site in London’s Soho, Propel has learned. The 15-strong company already operates two sites in Soho, at D’Arblay Street and in Berwick Street. Propel understands that The Breakfast Club is set to take on the ex-Patty & Bun site in Old Compton Street, which closed earlier this year as part of the burger brand’s company voluntary arrangement process. It will give The Breakfast Club, which opened its first Soho site 18 years ago, circa 120 covers across all three sites. Last week, Propel revealed that The Breakfast Club is to make its train station debut next year, at London’s St Pancras station, in partnership with SSP Group, the operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide. Earlier this year, The Breakfast Club partnered with SSP Group to launch its debut travel hub site, at Gatwick airport. The Breakfast Group most recently launched a new site in London’s Covent Garden. The business opened an 894 square foot “caf” at 55 Neal Street in Seven Dials. Rob Meadows, of DCL, acted on the Old Compton Street deal. 

Inception Group’s Mrs Fogg’s to become Mr Fogg’s City Tavern: Inception Group, the London hospitality group, has announced that its Mrs Fogg's Dockside Drinkery and Distillery in Liverpool Street is due to undergo an extensive refurbishment that will see it transformed into Mr Fogg’s City Tavern in January. Situated in Broadgate Circle, the company said that Mr Fogg's City Tavern imagines “an eccentric space where Victorian traders in the Square Mile would have convened after a long day in the city”. Building works start at the end of December and the new Mr Fogg's incarnation will open on Thursday, 18 January. The business said that following customer feedback it has been clear there is “a real demand for more of a tavern-like experience”. The transformation from Mrs Fogg's to Mr Fogg's City Tavern will include a revamp of the outdoor terrace area and all internal sections of the building. A new saloon bar space will be created alongside a classic Victorian tavern packed with all the traditional artefacts from the period. While the original Mr Fogg's Tavern in Covent Garden houses The Gin Parlour on the first floor and Mr Fogg's Hat Tavern houses The Gin Club on the lower ground floor, Mr Fogg's City Tavern will be launching an “entirely new and exciting” concept in the lower ground space in the early spring of 2024. On the transition of the venue, Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of Inception Group, said: “Our Mr Fogg's Tavern model has been a huge success and is a simple formula for our customers to understand. We create accessible eclectic Victorian-inspired taverns on the ground floor, serving pub classics alongside a high-quality cocktail offer and then we produce a more premium Mr Fogg's ‘discovery’ concept housed elsewhere within the site. We are currently putting the finishing touches to a really exciting idea for the lower ground floor space of Mr Fogg's City Tavern that we can't wait to announce soon.”

Wagamama opens first site in Texas: Wagamama, The Restaurant Group (TRG)-owned brand, has continued its expansion in the US, with its first opening in Texas. The business has opened its eighth site in the US, in Harry Hines Boulevard, in Dallas. It has also lined up a further opening in Clarendon, Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington DC. In 2020, experienced US hospitality operators Robert Cornog and Richard Flaherty partnered with investment firm Conversion Venture Capital to acquire 80% of Wagamama's US operations, with TRG holding the remaining 20% as a joint venture. The brand originally entered the US in 2007. This summer, Thomas Heier, Wagamama chief executive, told Propel: “When we entered the joint venture at the end of 2019/early 2020, we did our own piece of work to look at where the Wagamama model would be most commercially viable. We opened in Atlanta at the back end of last year, in Tampa in February this year. Tampa has probably been the most impressive one, seeing how that’s performed. Tampa has been phenomenal. When you look at Tampa, we are on the edge of the stadium, there’s a cruise terminal. It's one of the fastest growing US cities, and there's a lot of investment going into it. Having been on the ground and looked at the upcoming sites in Dallas and in Clarendon, we also feel very confident about those two, and then we are obviously working on a future pipeline. We are very positive about Florida, now we've seen Tampa, we're confident Atlanta is a market we want to be in but I would probably say next steps are probably looking more kind of trying to build that rather than look at lots of other places it’s about trying to consolidate in the ones we are already in, such as greater Florida and greater Boston.”

Multi-brand franchisee opens landmark 50th Starbucks site: Multi-brand franchisee KBeverage has opened its landmark 50th Starbucks site. It has opened in the former Woolworths store on the corner of New Road and High Street in Gravesend, Kent. It follows KBeverage’s acquisition of the nine-strong GK Coffee Group portfolio in July, at which point director Alok Yadav said he was targeting 100 Starbucks stores by 2026. “As we open the doors to our 50th Starbucks store, emotions run high,” the business said. “This moment isn’t just about a new location; it’s a testament to our collective passion and relentless dedication. From the modest count of 28 stores last year to this significant milestone, it's been a journey fuelled by the unwavering commitment of our team. Beyond the numbers, this 50th store embodies the countless connections nurtured in every cup served. It’s a celebration of creating spaces where conversations flourish, friendships bloom, and a sense of belonging thrives. Here’s to the 50th store and the countless emotional connections yet to be brewed!” KBeverage was founded in 2015 by Alok Yadav, who arrived in the UK from India in 2007 speaking little or no English, but taught himself by reading pizza menus at the Domino’s where he had a cleaning job. Yadav went on to build portfolios with both Pizza Hut, which he has since sold, and Starbucks before returning to Domino’s in June 2023 to open his first franchise store with the company he had started out with, in the Norfolk village of Swaffham. In October 2023, Propel revealed that Yadav had set up a new company, KChicken, to oversee a new venture after signing up as a franchisee of US brand Slim Chickens. Meanwhile, the UK’s largest Starbucks franchisee, 23.5 Degrees, has added two more sites to its estate. The business, which in June opened its 100th Starbucks site, has added a drive-thru near the Travelodge just off London Road in Buckingham, and a store just off Stirling Road in York, near the Clifton Moor retail park.

Liberation Group promotes Alice Bowyer to director of food, creates sales and commercial director role: Brewer and retailer Liberation Group has promoted Alice Bowyer to director of food, and moved Fred Vanderplank into a newly created sales and commercial director role. Bowyer joined Liberation in 2016, and in that time, the business said she has completely transformed the reputation of its food offering and elevated it to best in class. In his new role, Vanderplank, who has been with Liberation for six years, will combine his current responsibility for the group's overall drinks contracts with leading Butcombe's drinks sales team. Following the substantial growth of Butcombe's free trade sales over the last five years and to support the continued ambition to drive further sales and relationships, Ollie Fleming, who has been with the business for 12 years, has also been appointed head of free trade in the UK. Jayson Perfect, group managing director, pubs and inns, Liberation Group, said: “We have achieved a lot over the last five years and all three of these individuals have been integral to this success. We have strong ambitions and plans to continue to grow our business and we're looking forward to a successful new year with these three helping us to bring our exciting plans and ambitions to fruition.”

Crêpeaffaire to open Crepe & Roll site in Gravity Max Wandsworth: Crepe concept Crêpeaffaire is set to launch a site under its Crepe & Roll format in the Gravity Max venue in London’s Wandsworth. The launch will be in cooperation with Reef Technology. Allen Kerslake, Crêpeaffaire’s chief executive, said: “We are excited about our Crepe & Roll partnership with Reef/Gravity Max; it’s taking entertainment for the taste buds to a whole different level!” Maya Geschwind, Reef’s director of partnerships UK and EU, added: “We are delighted to partner with Crêpeaffaire, leveraging our technology to support the expansion of their new and exciting food concept.” Last week, Propel reported that Crêpeaffaire is set to launch its first drive-thru site, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Daniel Spinath founded Crepeaffaire in 2005, since then it has expanded to 14 UK sites as well as 15 in the Middle East and one in the Netherlands. It also launched its smaller footprint Crepe & Roll concept, which originally operated as a food truck in London’s Old Spitalfields Market, in 2022.

Croeso Pubs acquires former Knife & Fork site: Cardiff operator Croeso Pubs is set to further increase its presence in the Welsh capital after acquiring a pub previously operated by gastropub operator Knife & Fork Food. The six-strong Croeso Pubs, which is led by Craig Davies and Simon Little, has secured the leasehold interest of The Discovery in Roath. Earlier this year, Croeso Pubs secured its sixth site after adding the former Marston’s Brains pub The Dock, in Cardiff Bay, to its portfolio. Originally opened as Terra Nova, the bar underwent a £1.25m refurbishment in 2016 and was renamed as The Dock. Now it is run by the team, which already operates The Philharmonic, Brewhouse, Retro, Blue Bell and Daffodil in Cardiff. This spring, Propel revealed that Knife and Fork Food, which operated a collection of gastropubs based in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, had placed its six leasehold sites on the market. The business, which is led by Sharon Noakes, Sean Murphy and Serge Luceau, appointed EJ Hales to market the sites, which were available as a whole group or individually. It is thought that out of the six sites, The Conway and 29 Park Place, both in Cardiff, remain available.

Swedish-influenced cafe concept Fika to make London debut: Fika, the Swedish-influenced café concept, is to make its debut in London, with an opening in Dalston. The three-strong business, which is led by brother and sister Teodora Naneva and Ivo Nanev, has secured a site in Dalston Lane. The company took over Fika in Mill Street, Oakham, Rutland, in 2020. It opened a second site at the former Carphone Warehouse premises in High Street, Stamford, in October 2021. Last autumn, it launched a third site in Stamford, Lincolnshire, at the Woolfox country club. Fika serves coffee, a range of brunch dishes and lunch. Restaurant Property acted on the Dalston Lane deal. 

Everyman makes double acquisition: Everyman, the independent, premium cinema group, has purchased two Tivoli cinemas ¬– in Bath and Cheltenham. Everyman said it will take over operation of the venues with immediate effect. The cinemas were formerly owned and operated by Empire. Alex Scrimgeour, chief executive of Everyman, said: “We are delighted to announce the acquisition of these cinemas in the historic city of Bath and the vibrant town of Cheltenham. We pride ourselves on providing an elevated cinema experience, making these venues a terrific addition to the Everyman portfolio. We look forward to welcoming the local community to our newest locations in this exciting new chapter for the business.”

BrewDog moves forward plans to open first Scottish train station bar: Brewer and retailer BrewDog has moved forward with plans to open its first bar within a Scottish train station. Co-founder James Watt said in September that BrewDog was “on track to open Dubai, Denver and an Edinburgh Waverley location” early in 2024. It has now submitted plans to open a new premises at the railway hub, one of the largest stations in Scotland, which would have covers for around 70 guests, reports the Scottish Sun. It will be a fourth Edinburgh site for the business, including one in the city’s airport. BrewDog already has a flagship bar at London’s Waterloo station – its biggest in the UK – and is planning a second site there. It also opened a site at Gatwick airport earlier this month, its first in partnership with SSP, the operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide.

Roadside site in Stoke home to Costa, TGI Friday’s, Nando’s and Wagamama sells for £5.3m: A roadside site in Stoke that is home to a Costa drive-thru, TGI Friday’s, Nando’s and The Restaurant Group-owned Wagamama has sold for just under £5.3m. Barkby Group has acquired the site as part of £150m joint venture (JV) with Meadow Partners. The JV has paid £5.28m for the site, which Meadow itself had acquired in September 2023. Meadow will own and fund 97% of the JV while Barkby will own and fund 3%. Therefore, Barkby has made an initial equity contribution of £167,625 to the JV to fund the acquisition. The site features lettable space of 15,489 square feet over four units on an average rent of £18.87 per square foot. representing a net initial yield of 7.95%. The units are leased to Costa, TGI Friday’s, Nando’s and Wagamama, providing circa £408,000 of net operating income, with a weighted average unexpired lease term of 11.6 years and 9.4 years including lease breaks, while 10% of the total projected net operating income will be indexed to Retail Price Index uplifts. It comes after Barkby Group refinanced its existing debt facilities earlier this month. Earlier this year, the group disposed of its coffee operation, Workshop Coffee, and exited three of its previously nine-strong pub portfolio.

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