Pho reports 5.4% increase in full-year like-for-like sales: Vietnamese street food restaurant group Pho saw a 12.8% increase in turnover to £34.4m in the year to the end of February 2019, driven by a 5.4% increase in like-for-like sales, Propel has learned. The Gresham House Ventures-backed, 29-strong group has continued to generate a positive sales performance, with like-for-like sales in the nine months of its current financial year understood to be up 6.5%, driven by strong eat-in numbers and continued growth outside London. It is understood the delivery side of the business also continues to perform “very strongly”. Propel understands the business is close to securing a site in Sheffield, while further openings are believed to be in the pipeline in Edinburgh and the Midlands. Stephen Wall, who founded the business with wife Juliette in 2005, told Propel: “During these challenging times it’s good to report Pho’s proposition remains strong and our customer experience is increasingly appealing to the health-conscious and value-driven generation, in London and increasingly across the UK”. Ebitda in the year to the end of February 2019 was positive but stable, which the company said was the result of a “challenging summer period and investment in the central function”. Wall said: “In the current financial year we expect sales to increase by a similar amount to last year and Ebitda to improve by more than 50% as quality of earnings come back through.” Propel understands the site in Cardiff the company opened recently is already generating sales of £35,000 a week, while its site in Westfield London that reopened is doing “record numbers”.
NewRiver expects further pub acquisition opportunities, explores renting out dark kitchen space: Property company NewRiver, which operates a 660-strong pub business that includes Hawthorn Leisure, expects further acquisition opportunities to arise in the pub sector during the next six months and believes it is “perfectly placed” to take advantage. Hawthorn chief executive Mark Davies told Propel the business had seen a “significant uptick in investor interest” in the sector on the back of CKA Assets’ deal for Greene King and Stonegate Pub Company’s proposed deal for Ei Group. He added this had been reiterated further by the number of suitors attached to the recent package of pubs sold by Marston’s to Admiral Taverns. Davies said: “There is plenty of interest out there, which is good for the sector as a whole. We have a strong track record of acquiring and operating pub assets and I believe that solid foundation puts us in a great position to look at further acquisition opportunities, whether on our own or through joint ventures with investors. There has been a lot of activity in the past six months and I expect that to continue over the coming year. The valuations and multiples paid over the past year is very encouraging as a read through for our business and the sector.” Davies said the company was generating an average 30% return on capital across its pubs being transferred to its operator managed agreement. It currently has 40 sites under the agreement and expects to reach 60 by the end of its financial year, with a short-term target of having about 15% of its entire pub business as operator managed sites. Davies said: “You can see the success Ei Group has had with Craft Union Pub Company so we know the potential for the operated managed estate to grow further.” Davies also said the company would explore renting out some space in its pub estate for local operators to use as dark kitchens. He told Propel: “We are a predominantly wet-led, community pub business and therefore we have some large commercial kitchens in some of our sites that aren’t being used. It makes sense for us to explore the option of renting those spaces out as dark kitchens.” On Thursday (21 November), NewRiver announced its pub business delivered year-on-year growth in the six months to the end of September 2019. Like-for-like Ebitda growth per pub was up 5.5% delivered by scale-based synergies from the Hawthorn Leisure and NewRiver integration.
Dawe steps down as Pret chief customer officer: Barnaby Dawe has stepped down as chief customer officer at Pret A Manger, the JAB Holdings-backed chain. Dawe, former global chief marketing officer at Just Eat, took up the newly created role at Pret in August 2018. In the role he oversaw all global marketing and communications activity and led Pret’s growing e-commerce business. Dawe has previously held senior positions at Sky, The Sun, The Times, Heart and Channel 4 before joining Just Eat in 2015. Pret chief executive Pano Christou said: “Barnaby has made an invaluable contribution over the past year and I’m personally grateful. He’s played an important role in the work we’ve carried out to win back trust with our customers and stakeholders, and he leaves Pret in a much stronger position than when he joined. On behalf of everyone at Pret, I want to wish him all the best for the future.” Pret reorganised its UK management team in the summer, including the appointment of Claire Clough as UK managing director.
Pizza Pilgrims to open Victoria site early next year: Pizza Pilgrims, founded by brothers Thom and James Elliot, is to further strengthen its presence in central London with an opening in Victoria, Propel has learned. The 11-strong company has taken a unit at 32-34 Buckingham Palace Road for an opening in early to mid-January. The company currently operates 11 sites – ten in London and one in Oxford. It opened its latest site earlier this year at Westfield London’s new food court. Thom Elliot said the company raised funds from existing investors earlier this year but would “continue to take a steady approach to expansion”. The company plans to launch a training academy in London next year. The brothers said The Pizza Academy would champion the hospitality industry and provide young people with a range of skills with which to pursue a long-term career. The academy will offer free courses to anyone who wants to build a career in the sector as well as delivering training for Pizza Pilgrims employees.
Natural Kitchen plans Bishopsgate site for tenth London venue: Natural Kitchen, the London-based deli and cafe concept, is hoping to open a tenth site in the capital, in Bishopsgate. The Justin Green-led business is understood to have lined up a site on the ground floor at 100 Bishopsgate. The company opened its latest site, at St Katharine’s Dock last summer. The brand took over the former Tom’s Kitchen site at the scheme.
Mojo bar operator Voodoo Doll reports 59% Ebitda rise in third quarter following brand’s ‘strategic realignment’: Voodoo Doll, the group behind Mojo bars, has reported a 9.48% year-on-year increase in turnover for the third quarter – July to September 2019 – and a 59% leap in Ebitda to 20.59% following “strategic realignment of the direction of the business”. The company, which launched its first Mojo bar in Leeds in 1996 followed by venues in Harrogate, Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool, reported a “steady acceleration in profitability” throughout 2019, with Ebitda increasing 3.35% year-on-year, from 13.24% in 2018 to 16.59%. Director Martin Greenhow said: “I think many in the industry are feeling the pinch this year so it’s great we are bucking the trend. The improvement in results is due to the company’s refocus on guest experience through staff training and development following the strategic realignment of the direction of the business. The recruitment of James Hudson as head of training, business development and HR as part of the implementation of our in-house training facility has been a huge contribution to this increase in turnover.” Greenhow said the group was eyeing further expansion across the north of England during the next five years. Mojo’s offer focuses on “great cocktails, cold beer, friendly service and rock ‘n’ roll from the past six decades”.
Brindisa to launch kitchen concept for sixth London site: Spanish restaurant group Brindisa is to launch a kitchen concept for its sixth London site, at Borough Market Kitchen. Brindisa Kitchen will open at Borough Market’s new communal dining space in January and take diners on a “culinary journey in the footsteps of ancient Spanish pilgrimage La Ruta de la Plata”. Brindisa Kitchen will be walk-in only and feature a marble-topped, horseshoe-shaped bar and seafood counter. The menu will focus on seafood and game alongside bar snacks and Spanish heritage dishes such as river trout with ham, white beans with crab, and mussels with romesco sauce. There will also be cheese from farms dotted along La Ruta de la Plata, with desserts including sweet fritters and be snacks and stove coffee to take away. The drinks list will also be inspired by the trade route, including sherry, Asturian cider and wine from vineyards around León, Zamora and Salamanca. Brindisa founder and co-owner Monika Linton said: “Brindisa Kitchen allows us to get closer to the fascinating variety of the mini lands that line La Ruta de la Plata. I look forward to delving deep into the local culture – their recipes, crops and ingredients, one pot-dishes, family dishes, and seasonal food habits.” Linton and Ratnesh Bagdai founded Brindisa in 1988. The brand’s other restaurants are in Battersea, London Bridge, Shoreditch, Soho (two sites) and South Kensington.
Star Pubs & Bars licensees see quality food and millennials as ‘biggest opportunity in 2020’: Offering quality food and attracting millennials is the biggest opportunity for pubs in 2020, according to a survey of 500 licensees who attended Star Pubs & Bars’ nine regional forums in the autumn. More than one-third of respondents said better food was the key to growth, while one-fifth opted for more millennial customers. Regarding food, backing British products was identified as the most important trend by almost two-fifths (37%) of forum attendees, followed by healthy eating and sustainable menus. Employment issues will be the biggest problem for the pub sector in 2020 according to almost three-fifths (58%) of respondents, with one-third saying staff recruitment and retention are their main headaches and 25% pinpointing rising staff costs. More than four-fifths (83%) of licensees were positive about trade in their pubs, with two-fifths (40%) reporting 2019 had been a “very good year”, with business increasing. Star Pubs & Bars managing director Lawson Mountstevens said: “The forums give licensees a chance to get out of their businesses and meet up with others in the industry. Listening to our licensees’ views and experiences is a central part of our forums and we’ll adapt the support we provide in line with their feedback.”
The Alchemist to launch largest venue to date featuring free week of immersive theatre: The Alchemist, the 17-strong Simon Potts-led bar and restaurant concept, will open its biggest site to date, in London’s Canary Wharf next week. The company will launch the flagship venue on Friday, 29 November. The 6,200 square foot space will offer two terraces and three bars. As well as its all-day dining menu, the 100-cover site will also offer grab-and-go bagels and host free immersive theatre shows during its first week. The event, Theatre Served, will feature magicians, mind-readers and pickpocket artists. The Alchemist, which is backed by private equity firm Palatine, already has a presence in the capital with three sites – Bevis Marks at Liverpool Street, St Martin’s Lane and, most recently, Old Street. The Alchemist will expand its London offering further in early 2020 by opening its first site south of the Thames – in Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms. Potts said: “Canary Wharf is the perfect location for our London flagship site. It will have all the quality and theatre found at The Alchemist but with its own twist tailored to Canary Wharf.” Camille Waxer, managing director – retail and chief administrative officer of Canary Wharf Group, added: “The Alchemist will be in one of our busiest hubs at Canary Wharf with great views of the estate from its two terraces.” Earlier this month Potts told Propel site Ebitda in the company’s core estate was up 1% in the first six months of its financial year.
Fulham Shore to open flagship Real Greek at Tower Bridge next month: Fulham Shore-owned business The Real Greek is to further increase its presence in central London by opening a flagship site at Tower Bridge next month. As revealed by Propel in the summer, the Franco Manca sister brand will open in Bridgemaster’s House, which is part of Tower Bridge, on Saturday, 5 December as the brand’s second opening of the year and 17th site in total. The 120-cover restaurant will overlook the Thames and offer the brand’s signature mezze, flame-grilled meat, souvlaki wraps, salads, Greek wine and beer. The Real Greek director of operations Christos Karatzenis said: “We are so excited to launch our flagship site. Tower Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in London, if not the world, and surrounded by so many tourist and cultural hot spots. Our menus are brilliant for groups of diners, particularly those tired out from a busy day of exploring London, as well as being hugely popular among local office workers.” In the summer Fulham Shore chairman David Page told Propel he was negotiating on 30 sites for Franco Manca and The Real Greek, with the aim to open ten.
Black Bear Burger to open debut bricks and mortar site, in Brixton Village next week: Black Bear Burger, operated by husband and wife Liz and Stew Down, is to launch its first bricks and mortar site, in Brixton Village, south London, next week. The concept, which has been operating at Broadway Market, Boxpark Shoreditch and Kerb, will open in Market Row on Friday, 29 November. The brand’s burgers are made using grass-fed and dry-aged beef sourced from native breeds raised in the south west, while sides will include hand-cut fries, poutine, chicken wings and nuggets. The new site will offer an extended food and drink menu, with chicken and vegan burgers added alongside brisket spring rolls and smoked barbecue specials. Black Bear will also serve alcohol for the first time, with a focus on cocktails, jugs of beer and shots. Inspired by the ski slopes of Whistler, the venue will feature communal seating and “Canadian-style customer service”. The Downs said: “We are incredibly excited to bring Black Bear to Brixton Village. We love the character of the market – especially the fact it’s a welcoming and supportive hub for small and independent businesses like ours.”
London-based Nigerian tapas concept Chuku’s to go from pop-up to permanent:Nigerian tapas concept Chuku’s, which has operated a number of pop-ups around east London, is to open its debut bricks and mortar site in the north of the capital. Siblings Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick will launch a site in Tottenham High Road in February, with warm colours, artwork and music reflecting Nigerian culture and interiors inspired by traditional adobe West African buildings. The 35-cover site will offer dishes such as plantain waffles, suya meatballs and Moi Moi – a savoury vegan tart made from puréed black-eyed beans dressed with spinach, cabbage, and honey and chilli vinaigrette. The new Chuku’s venue will offer a full drinks menu for the first time, focusing on Nigerian beer and cocktails. Ifeyinwa Frederick told Hot Dinners: “We are so excited to finally open our own place and couldn’t be happier we found a site in Tottenham. It’s got a real community feel we love, which suits our home-from-home vibe.”
Chipotle hits seven million rewards members, completes AI voice-ordering system roll-out in US: Chipotle has passed the seven million-member milestone in its rewards scheme. To celebrate, the company has expanded its artificial intelligence (AI) strategy by adding a reordering skill for Amazon Alexa. When ordering from the Mexican brand for pick-up or delivery, customers can order Alexa to “tell Chipotle to reorder my favourite for delivery”. Chipotle’s move corresponds with completion of the roll-out of its own AI voice-ordering system across its US estate. When customers phone a restaurant to order, a female voice makes suggestions when she thinks a customer might have omitted a topping on a bowl or burrito. With each transaction, the bot learns the idiosyncrasies of how people order. The system also provides options to pay ahead and skip queues to go straight to digital pick-up shelves or drive through the “Chipotlane” to collect an order. “It’s human-backed machine learning,” Nicole West, vice-president of digital strategy and product management at Chipotle, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “This is not a labour reduction move, it’s about convenience for our customers.” Last month, Chipotle reported it had shifted its property strategy to drive-thrus. Chief executive Brian Niccol said: “Based on the early success of Chipotlanes, we shifted our real estate strategy to seek more sites that can accommodate a Chipotlane. As a result, of the more than 80 restaurants currently under construction, about half of them will have a Chipotlane, which will result in a total of about 60 Chipotlanes by the end of 2019.”
Wiltons team opens cafe and wine bar at St James’s Street development: Cafe and wine bar Locket’s has opened at the Smithson Plaza development in St James’s Street. The venue has been launched by fledgling company Locket Hambro, which is led by members of St James’s most iconic restaurant, Wiltons, which has been operating since 1742. Wiltons also operates Franco’s restaurant in Jermyn Street, which it opened in 1945. Locket’s offers 60 covers and opens as a cafe from 7.30am for breakfast and lunch before turning into a candle-lit wine bar in the evening offering more than 40 wines by the glass alongside cheese and charcuterie. Dishes on the main menu include burrata with butternut squash and pumpkin seeds, and polenta with mushrooms and parmesan. The venue features floor-to-ceiling windows, a cork bar, mint green leather banquettes for groups of six, and copper, cork and orange resin tables. In the summer the venue will also feature a wine terrace with canopy.
Former Ottolenghi chef launches wine bar and kitchen in Peckham: Helen Hall, a former chef at Yotam Ottolenghi’s Rovi restaurant, has opened a neighbourhood wine bar and kitchen in Peckham, south London. As revealed by Propel earlier this year, Hall has launched Peckham Cellars at the former Meet District restaurant in Queens Road. Peckham Cellars offers wine, cocktails and mostly British and Mediterranean food. Her menu includes dishes such as hake with salsa verde, pistachio crumb sardines, and chocolate and Cointreau tart. Hall has extensive experience in the industry including with Columbo Group, where she was responsible for opening Blues Kitchen sites in Shoreditch and Brixton. She left Columbo Group in 2016 to gain experience as a chef including working in the kitchen for Rovi’s opening. Hall was also part of the team behind Accent, which used to operate from the site where Peckham Cellars is based.
Marston’s and Shipyard sign ‘long-term trade agreement’: Marston’s has reached a long-term “trade agreement” with US brewer Shipyard Brewing Co. The multi-million pound deal extends the relationship between the companies until 2034. The companies have had a partnership for the past 12 years as one of the Maine-based brewers’ founders, Fred Forsley, formerly worked at Marston’s Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire. The new deal will cover new product development plans. Marston’s managing director Richard Westwood said: “Marston’s and Shipyard has been a real success story for the UK brewing industry and is testament to the uniquely close relationship we have developed and trust we’ve built between our businesses.” Forsley added: “Our long-term plans are exciting and we’re both looking long into the future, which allows us to focus on the beer and not contract durations.”
Former Four Seasons chef opens Italian seafood restaurant and wine bar in Bermondsey: Former Four Seasons Hotel chef Moreno Polverini has launched an Italian seafood restaurant and wine bar in Bermondsey, south east London. Baccalà has opened in Bermondsey Street offering seasonal dishes and exclusively Italian wine, reports Hot Dinners. Sommelier Fabio De Nicola, formerly of Hovarda and Oblix, offers a large selection of wine by the glass using a Coravin machine, while wine will also be on offer to take away. The ground-floor restaurant features a chef’s counter, communal tables and a raw bar operating on alternate days, while the basement features a glass floor separating the kitchen from diners and space for larger groups.
Northamptonshire-based bakery opens second cafe: Northamptonshire-based King’s Cliffe Bakery has opened its second cafe. The company launched its debut cafe in the village of King’s Cliffe last month. Now it has opened a second outlet, in Stamford, Lincolnshire, offering the bakery’s own bread and pastry products including paninis and sandwiches. Sales manager David McKensie told the Stamford & Rutland Mercury the company decided to open in Stamford because it “has so many customers there”.