Established sector operators ramp up virtual brands roll-out: The Restaurant Group (TRG) and Casual Dining Group (CDG) have both made significant inroads into the virtual delivery sector, including the launch of a couple of brands. At the same time, PizzaExpress has launched a dedicated PizzaExpress Vegan delivery option out of a number of its sites across the country. CDG has already rolled out virtual brand Blazing Bird across about 40 of its Las Iguanas sites and has quietly launched a further brand – Bang Bang Burritos – out of a similar number of restaurants. The James Spragg-led company also operates virtual brands Stack & Grill and Chef & Rooster out of some of its Cafe Rouge sites, and Mac N Shack out of some of its Bella Italia restaurants. At the same time TRG, which launched virtual brands Burger Burger and Kick Ass Burrito last year through its Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito concepts respectively, has added a further two virtual brands to its portfolio. Through Chiquito it now offers the Cornstar Tacos virtual brand in circa 40 sites, while the new Birdbox brand, which focuses on chicken and burgers, is available through Frankie & Benny’s.
Wasabi ‘trading strongly’ so far in 2019: Sushi and bento chain Wasabi has seen “strong” trading so far in 2019 as it puts in place plans for further expansion. The company, which has just completed the sale of a minority stake to private equity firm Capdesia Group, said it was “investing strongly in all areas” of the business. It comes as Wasabi published its accounts for the year ending 31 December 2017 at Companies House. The business opened seven stores in 2017, introduced a new central kitchen to improve efficiency across the company, and trialled a partnership with Marks & Spencer. As a result, turnover grew 8.1% to £106,071,204 compared with £98,091,595 the previous year, with gross profit up to £36,400,719 from £35,023,667. The company posted an operating loss of £7,031,264 after an operating profit of £1,439,644 the previous year. Ebitda showed a loss of £1,163,353, down from a profit in 2016 of £5,173,414. Frederic Lluch, managing director of Kimchee and Wasabi UK and US, said: “This is a time of great innovation for our business and we are investing strongly in all areas. We’ve become one of the UK’s more popular high-street food choices thanks to our fantastic teams, both in our new development kitchen and in each of our 51 branches here. Our Stateside offering is also proving popular, with plans to expand on our existing portfolio of five restaurants. As well as Wasabi, our Kimchee restaurants are doing very well and we are constantly looking towards more opportunities for our business. We are a strong brand with a bright future.” Wasabi has also expanded into the ready meal market as part of an exclusive arrangement with Sainsbury’s. Earlier this week, Ashton Crosby, co-founder and managing director of Capdesia, told Propel it sees “amazing potential” for Wasabi in the UK and internationally.
By Chloe to replace Byron near Oxford Circus: By Chloe, the plant-based fast casual concept, has secured a further site in central London. The US concept, which launched in the UK in February 2018, has secured the Byron unit in Langham Place, near Oxford Circus, for an opening next month. It will have 72 covers internally plus a ten-cover terrace. The concept also has an opening lined up in the Icon Outlet at the O2 complex for July. This site will feature its own games zone, with a pinball machine and retro arcade games, as well as a further 36 seats in the interior mall. Co-founder Samantha Wasser said: “We are so excited to grow our brand in London and have been delighted at the demand we’ve received to continue expanding. We couldn’t think of a more perfect location for our third By Chloe location than the iconic Oxford Circus neighbourhood.”
 
Seagrass Hospitality Group to open restaurant at O2: Australian hospitality group Seagrass is to launch its Butcher and the Farmer concept in the UK later this year. Propel understands the business, which already operates Ribs & Burgers in Teddington, south west London, has lined up a site in the O2 Arena for the new concept. Butcher and the Farmer is described as a full-service, casual dining, “farm to table” concept that offers the “best produce the seasons have to offer from the land, sea and garden”. Dishes are created to showcase the “produce and meat with recipes that let the ingredients speak for themselves”. Seagrass currently operates one site under the brand, in New South Wales, Australia. The group, which has circa 30 sites in Australia across six brands, opened its Ribs & Burgers concept in Teddington in September 2016. All Seagrass restaurants are company-owned rather than operated under franchise.
Electric Star adds Hackney Wick pub to portfolio for seventh site: Pub operator Electric Star, founded by Rob Star, has added a Hackney Wick pub to its portfolio for its seventh site. The company has acquired The Lord Napier in White Post Lane. The pub closed in 1995 and has since become iconic for its illegal raves and graffiti-covered outside. Street artists have contributed to the walls on which graffiti changes every few months. Electric Star has secured a licence from Tower Hamlets Council to reopen the pub. Star told the East London Advertiser: “The pub is in quite a state of disrepair – I used to go to squat parties there in the early 2000s. We’ll be getting it fully refurbished but I know what an iconic building it has become and we respect what it means to the community. We are working with local artists and still want to see the exterior change every six months to a year as it does now.”
SSP Group tees up new bar and restaurant concept at Glasgow Prestwick airport:UK-based transport hub foodservice specialist SSP Group has expanded its food and beverage offer at Glasgow Prestwick airport by opening bar and kitchen Par + Eagle. Paying homage to Prestwick’s rich golfing heritage, Par + Eagle, which is in the departure lounge, offers an all-day menu with a range of pub classics and house specials. There is also a range of draught beer, wine and cocktails. SSP UK and Ireland chief executive Simon Smith said: “We are delighted to have opened our Par + Eagle concept at Glasgow Prestwick airport. It’s the perfect place to unwind and enjoy hearty, wholesome food in a friendly and relaxed environment.” Zoe Kilpatrick, commercial director at Glasgow Prestwick airport, added: “This significant investment from SSP has created a modern environment for our passengers to enjoy the high-quality menu and service the Par + Eagle offers.”
McDonald’s gives US franchisees option to shrink all-day breakfast offer:McDonald’s is giving its US franchisees the option to shrink its all-day breakfast menu offer. Almost three years after offering the entire breakfast menu all day at restaurants across the US, McDonald’s will let franchisees decide which breakfast foods to serve all day. Local operators will make the decision based on the popularity of breakfast foods sold at different times of the day. Menu changes at some local restaurants could begin as early as July, reports Nation’s Restaurant News. McDonald’s, which recently trimmed its late-night menu, said the flexibility would improve speed of service and reduce the complexity of its menu for employees. “Giving local restaurants the ability to select the items they serve for their all-day breakfast menus means an even better, faster experience for customers, day and night,” the company said. McDonald’s also suggested some operators could opt to sell the full breakfast menu until 2pm, then switch to popular breakfast foods only for the rest of the day. Ultimately, decisions will be made “based on what’s best” for local restaurants and their customers, McDonald’s said.
Nottingham-based operator to open third site in the city: Nottingham-based operator Kevin Wright is to open his third site in the city, on Wednesday, 22 May. Wright will launch Kings Walk Kitchen on the corner of Forman Street at a site that was formerly occupied by Le Petit Four, which closed in July 2018. Kings Walk Kitchen will offer brunch and lunch options as well as baguettes, salads and cakes, reports Nottinghamshire Live. Wright also runs Hartleys Coffee & Sandwich Bar in Carlton Street and The Kitchen in Pelham Street.
Papa John’s founder sells $6m of shares to ‘test the water’: Papa John’s founder and former chief executive John Schnatter has sold about $6m of shares in the company to “test the water”. Having stepped down from the board in March following a settlement with Papa John’s, Schnatter has sold 114,061 shares – 1.1% of the total 9.9 million shares he owns – according to an SEC filing. Schnatter still owns more than 30% of the company’s total shares. The move comes only one week after Schnatter enlisted the help of financial advisors to help sell all or part of his 31% majority stake in the company. John Gordon, analyst at Pacific Management Consulting Group, told Nation Restaurant’s News the sale likely represented a small fraction of what Schnatter might try to sell down the line. He said: “I believe the small stock sale by John is an attempt to test how much the market would react if he eventually dumps his shares. He has a duty not to harm the company – and his own share value. So, just a little check.”
Merlin becomes first leisure company to join global initiative to promote disability inclusion in business: Merlin Entertainments has joined a global initiative to promote disability inclusion in business – becoming the first company in the leisure sector to sign up to the campaign. Merlin has become a member of The Valuable 500 – a global initiative aimed at raising awareness and unlocking the business, social and economic value of people living with disabilities across the world. Merlin chief executive Nick Varney said: “Our core purpose and driving passion is to provide magical and memorable days out for everyone, including the many guests with disabilities who visit our attractions. At Merlin we continue to make accessibility and inclusion one of our key priorities and are proud of the steps we have taken to date to create welcoming environments for both attraction visitors and our employees with disabilities. By joining The Valuable 500, we want to encourage our business partners and other industry leaders to get involved and discover how different thinking and innovation can drive change to the benefit of their organisations and everyone associated with them.” The Valuable 500 founder Caroline Casey added: “The leisure sector is a core element within the global economy, with responsibility for creating happy memories worldwide, and is a crucial industry to spread the message of inclusion. We are delighted to welcome Merlin Entertainments to The Valuable 500 cohort as it becomes the first business from this sector to join the initiative and raise its voice on this vital issue.”
Clip ’n Climb to open site at Intu Metrocentre: Indoor climbing brand Clip ’n Climb is to open a site at the Intu Metrocentre in Gateshead. The company will launch a 3,700 square foot venue this summer that will feature 26 colourful climbing walls to cater for a range of ages and abilities. There will also be an augmented climbing wall that projects graphics on to the wall and uses motion-tracking sensors to create interactive games for one or two players. Clip ’n Climb operator Namco UK, which already runs Intu Metrocentre’s Funscape entertainment centre, is also launching the first in a chain of Angry Birds adventure golf courses at the complex this autumn in partnership with game developer Rovio. Namco commercial director Philip Millward said: “Intu Metrocentre’s high footfall, wide range of top-performing retail brands, and complementary leisure offer makes it the perfect location to launch the latest Clip ’n Climb. The centre’s Funscape is one of our most successful venues.” Intu regional managing director Kate Grant added: “Clip ’n Climb will join Intu Metrocentre’s popular line-up of aspirational brands and high-street names and drive up the centre’s appeal.”
TRG looks to convert Frankie & Benny’s site in Bolton to Wagamama: The Restaurant Group (TRG) is looking to convert one of its Frankie & Benny’s restaurants in Bolton into a Wagamama. TRG has applied to Bolton Council to replace the fascia signs outside Frankie and Benny’s at Middlebrook Retail Park with Wagamama signage. The Wagamama restaurant is currently scheduled to open in the autumn, reports The Bolton News. TRG, which acquired Wagamama last year for £559m, also has a Frankie & Benny’s restaurant at The Valley leisure park in Bolton. At the time of the deal, TRG said it would continue to roll out Wagamama in the UK, accelerated via conversions of some of its existing sites.
Inn Collection joins water bottle refill campaign: The Inn Collection Group, which is backed by Alchemy Partners, has joined the Refill campaign. Refill aims to slash the number of plastic bottles that end up in the world’s oceans each year, which totals millions. The company has registered each of its inns as refill stations, where people can replenish their water bottles for free rather than buying a new one. Operations manager Paul Brown said: “The plastic crisis is a global issue but we can all take matters into our own hands to make a difference in our own communities to tackle plastic pollution. Each of our inns is on or close to the coast and waterways so this is a cause close to our hearts.” Charlotte Hawkins, north east regional co-ordinator for Refill, added: “It is a really simple concept with a really big potential result. It’s great to see larger companies get involved with the campaign.”
Shake Shack opens second UK regional site, in Essex: US better burger concept Shake Shack has opened its second regional UK site, in the Lakeside shopping complex in Essex. The Danny Meyer-founded business has opened its tenth UK shack on level three of the centre. The venue features bespoke artwork by illustrator Kate Prior and menu items specific to Lakeside. Since launching in New York in 2004, Shake Shack has expanded to more than 210 sites in the US and more than 70 international locations. The brand operates eight restaurants in London and one in Cardiff. Earlier this month, Shake Shack reported like-for-like sales increased 3.6% in its first quarter to 29 March 2019. Total sales increased 33.8% to $132.6m, while adjusted Ebitda grew 10.4% to $17.8m. Chief executive Randy Garutti said Shake Shack had a pipeline of 36 to 40 company-operated shacks and 16 to 18 licensed sites, with international growth focused on Asia, China, Singapore, the Philippines and Mexico. The brand’s offer includes 100% Aberdeen Angus burgers, griddled flat-top hotdogs, frozen custard, crispy crinkle-cut fries, beer and wine.
Douglas Jack – Hollywood Bowl is ‘attractive investment story’: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has called Hollywood Bowl an “attractive investment story”. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 275p ahead of the company’s interim results next week, Jack said: “Like-for-like sales were up across all products in the first half assisted by ongoing product improvement (with minimal price changes the headline price per bowling game is still less than £6.25), refurbishments (cash returns still exceed 33%), as well as constrained market supply growth. During the first half there were two major refurbishments (High Wycombe and Sheffield), one rebrand (Wigan) and two new openings (Watford and Lakeside, both opened within budget and are trading in line). The company is guiding towards having five major refurbishments in the second half. No sites are expected to open in the second half. There is plenty of innovation to support medium-term growth including interactive scoring, which should be in 16 centres in September and fully rolled out by September 2021. Third-generation ‘dynamic pricing’ is to come soon. It should encourage some customers to move bookings from peak to shoulder periods when there is excess demand in peak periods. Pins On Strings is generating positive customer feedback, increasing games per stop. It is also reducing technical support costs. Ten centres should have Pins On Strings by the end of this financial year. Hyperbowl is in six VIP lanes at Lakeside Hollywood Bowl. Hyperbowl games are typically quicker than standard games once the guests understand how to play it. It has potential but is still under trial. We expect to at least hold our full-year forecasts, which are slightly below consensus (2019E profit before tax £25.7m; consensus £26.3m). We assume 3.0% like-for-like sales growth over the full year (each extra 1% of like-for-like sales equates to a 4% upgrade), yet the company has very soft weather-related comparables (of 1.8%) to look forward to in the second half. Hollywood Bowl is an attractive investment story, in our view. This has been the case since the company’s initial public offering. Since then, the demand for experiential leisure and competitive socialising has only strengthened. Also, the need to maintain a low labour cost ratio (Hollywood Bowl’s is sub-19% of sales) has also grown in prominence over this time.”
Creams closes Liverpool site: Dessert parlour operator Creams has shut its site in Liverpool. The company opened the outlet at Chancery House in Paradise Street in December 2017 and is part of a franchise that has more than 35 branches across the country. However the venue, which served ice creams, waffles, crepes, sundaes and milkshakes, has closed due to the “current economic climate and Brexit”. A spokesman told the Liverpool Echo that while the venue was “closed indefinitely”, the team was currently in discussion with the landlord to try to negotiate costs.
Paul Ainsworth reopens Cornish pub: Restaurateur Paul Ainsworth has reopened The Mariners gastro-pub in Rock, Cornwall. The Mariners lies across the Camel Estuary from Padstow, which is home to Ainsworth and wife Emma’s four other businesses – Michelin-starred restaurant No.6, Rojano’s In The Square, boutique hotel Padstow Townhouse, and Mahé cookery school and chef’s table, which they will open this month. The 130-cover Mariners, which is owned by Cornwall-based Sharp’s Brewery, has reopened with a new all-day menu and interiors. Dishes include battered Cornish haddock with triple-cooked chips; Cornish rarebit on toast; and Goan chicken curry with braised rice, kachumba and homemade naan bread. Drinks include a range of Sharp’s beer, a short wine list, and a selection of soft drinks and spirits. Ainsworth has taken over running The Mariners after the departure of Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw in February following five years at the venue. Ainsworth said: “I plan to keep this Cornish jewel a destination for the community and holidaymakers alike.”