Chipotle puts trust in cheese to counter shares slump: Chipotle Mexican Grill, which saw its share value fall this month after closing a restaurant in Virginia due to a suspected norovirus outbreak, has said it hopes the roll-out of a new cheese sauce (queso) will lift sales. The norovirus outbreak in Sterling was blamed on managers failing to follow protocols Chipotle established in the wake of a series of foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015. Chipotle said it was looking to queso, which it has been testing at the “Next” test kitchen it opened in New York last month, to arrest the sales slump. The company is expanding the test to more than 350 locations in California and Colorado in August, with hopes of a US-wide roll-out by September. The company is also planning a new advertising campaign. Chipotle chief financial officer Jack Hartung told Nation’s Restaurant News: “Queso is the single most-requested item from our guests. Our hope is the impact (of the norovirus incident) will fade and the marketing and buzz around the queso expanded test will change the narrative and encourage our guests to quickly return to their previous visit frequencies.” Chipotle is also testing a handful of other items in New York, including a bunuelos dessert with a chipotle-chocolate dipping sauce, some new salad mixes, a new-recipe frozen margarita, and an avocado-citrus dressing. However, the queso is the item that appears to be sparking consumer interest. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said queso could be rolled-out quickly. He said: “We do believe in the case of the queso it is something that could be quickly expanded from an operations standpoint.” The company said it also planned to raise prices to absorb the cost of food and labour inflation.

Kensington restaurant saved in pre-pack administration: Administrators from Wilson Field have arranged a rescue deal for London restaurant L’Etranger. The South Kensington restaurant was established in 2002 in Gloucester Road near the Royal Albert Hall and London’s Museum Quarter. It had been trading as L’Etranger Restaurant since 2010, benefiting from its prime location for visitors and theatre-goers. It serves Japanese-influenced French cuisine as well as maki and sashimi. It has been awarded a number of accolades, including an AA Rosette for Best Wine List in the UK in 2013. The company sustained a significant loss following the sale of a second restaurant in 2014. It suffered mounting cash flow issues resulting in HMRC arrears and the threat of a winding up petition. Kelly Burton and Lisa Hogg, of Sheffield’s Wilson Field, were appointed joint administrators on 10 July to South Kensington-based L’Etranger Restaurant. In a pre-pack administration deal, Keane Hart, a company owned and managed by the existing management team led by director Ibi Issolah, acquired the business out of administration for an undisclosed sum.

Simon French issues ‘Buy’ recommendation on Just Eat shares: Cenkos Leisure analyst Simon French has issued a ‘Buy’ note on Just Eat shares. He said: “Just Eat has announced first-half results broadly in line with expectations reporting 38% growth in Ebitda to £73.6m from revenue up 44% to £246.6m, ahead of management’s expectations. UK Ebitda increased 27.2% and Australia/New Zealand 141% on a constant currency basis to £73.4m and £6.5m respectively. Established markets saw a narrowing of Ebitda to £4.7m due to the inclusion of losses from Skip The Dishes in Canada, although revenue from this business was ahead of expectations. Developing markets saw order growth of 53% and revenue up 65% in constant currency and a halving of the Ebitda loss to £3.6m. The group has increased its FY revenue guidance by circa 4% to £500m to £515m, but left Ebitda guidance of £157m to £163m unchanged as it seeks to reinvest incremental revenue in profitable growth initiatives. The stock trades on a 2017E price earnings ratio of 41.5 times (falling to 33.3 times in 2018E) but this excludes the likely earnings contribution from the Hungry House acquisition due to close in the fourth quarter of 2017, subject to CMA clearance. While clearly very expensive, highly visible UK-centric growth opportunity stocks are hard to find in this market.”

KFC advert prompts more than 250 complaints: KFC’s “The Whole Chicken” advertisement, which features a confident hen strutting her stuff to X Gon’ Give It To Ya by DMX, is facing the possibility of an investigation following more than 250 complaints about the TV and poster campaign to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA told Marketing Week the complaints focused on a number of aspects of the campaign, including the depiction of chickens as “offensive and distressing” to vegetarians, vegans and children and “misleading” because the advert features healthy, older-looking chickens that “misrepresent the age, quality and living conditions of KFC chickens”. Some also questioned whether the “whole chicken” aspect was misleading, either because all parts of the chicken weren’t used or because additional ingredients were added. A further category of complaints centred on the song, with some calling it “offensive” either because it appears a swear word has been omitted or the lyrics allude to guns and therefore condone weapons and violence. The ad, which launched ten days ago, is the first by KFC since it switched its ad agency from BBH to Mother. At the time, the brand’s chief marketing officer Meg Farren said the campaign represented a “step-change” for KFC.

Douglas Jack – Mitchells & Butlers’ challenges will become greater: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has argued the challenges Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) face will increase. He said: “M&B’s third-quarter update is in line with like-for-like sales up 2.0% after 43 weeks, with the hot summer weather benefiting the wet-led pubs and bars more than the pub restaurants. We are holding our 2017E like-for-like sales assumption at 2.0% and our profit before tax forecasts. Before becoming too bullish, we would review how the company trades against tougher comps (1.8% in the fourth quarter versus -1.3% in quarters one to three) and without the benefit of such favourable weather. We are holding our 2017E forecast, which anticipates 2.0% price-led like-for-like sales growth (worth £40m) and £15m of cost mitigation almost offsetting £55m to £60m of cost increases. An equal offset in profit terms would equate to a 30 basis points margin decline due to the turnover growth, but our forecast, which is broadly in line with consensus, anticipates Ebit falling from £318m to £311m, and margins falling by 65 basis points. In 2018E, M&B expects its costs to grow by circa £60m (including digital investment), of which we estimate £10m to £15m could be offset by procurement and labour-scheduling cost savings. With this level of mitigation, we estimate 2.5% to 3.5% like-for-like sales (subject to price/volume mix) would hold profits flat. However, due to the consumer outlook, we are forecasting 2.0% price/spend-driven like-for-like sales. We expect like-for-like sales growth to remain price/spend-driven aided by trading up as M&B repositions its estate, with premium brands growing from 41% of the estate in 2016 to 47% in 2019E. The pension triannual review has been successfully completed, with the cash contributions remaining at £46m per annum. The agreed pension deficit is £451m, which compares with £572m in 2013, although since 2013, £181m has been paid into the pension so £451m really compares with £391m, reflecting the decline in bond yields. We believe the scope to mitigate costs will start to wane in 2019E. If cost pressures do not ease by then (and there are no signs they will), M&B may have to return to making acquisitions in 2019E to drive profits through synergies (the margin difference between the largest and smallest managed pub companies is circa 800 basis points).”

Ivy Collection acquires Harrogate site: The Ivy Collection has acquired the Harrogate location where it plans to open one of its Brasserie restaurants this autumn. Planning permission for the site has been secured. The upmarket restaurant group has bought 7-9 Parliament Street in Harrogate town centre from a private investor. Partner and commercial property solicitor Lynne Webster, of LCF Barber Titleys, led the deal. Planning permission for the new restaurant was granted on 9 June and the restaurant is due to open in autumn 2017. The Ivy is currently carrying out a full refurbishment of the historic building to include a garden roof terrace and parking.

Escape Hunt reports positive first half: Escape Hunt has reported a positive first half to its financial year at its AGM. Chairman Richard Rose said: “We are delighted to have come to the market as Escape Hunt earlier this year. The key metric by which we judge our franchisee business is the share of revenue we receive from our franchisees and I am pleased to report the result in the first six months of 2017 is exactly in line with our expectations. We have been pleased with the sites we have been able to find across the UK, of which six are now in the legal documentation phase. These are all in high-quality locations and meet our overall parameters. The first site is on track to open in November. We are also pleased that nothing we have witnessed in the market place has given us any cause to doubt our assumptions and expectations for this market. Our predominant near-term strategy remains to roll-out owner-operated sites in our target markets of the UK and certain EU territories, while continuing to grow the Escape Hunt franchise globally.”

Athens-inspired grill restaurant Suvlaki starts expansion with second London site: Athens-inspired grill restaurant Suvlaki has started expansion by opening its second London site, this time in Brick Lane. The kitchen is led by executive chef Alfred Prasad, who was the youngest Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star, retaining it during his 12 years at Tamarind in Mayfair. New grilled dishes at the Brick Lane site include wild boar sausages with smoked aubergine, and spicy king prawns with dill and rose aioli. Mezze plates to share feature eel smoked with olive and citrus wood, and traditional Greek ham siglino smoked with sage. A short wine list features Greek producers only, alongside Greek craft beer. Suvlaki co-founder Irene Margariti told the Evening Standard: “Having always been a melting pot of different cultures, Brick Lane seemed a fitting location for our new home with its urban buzz and cosmopolitan vibe – everything I love about the dining culture at home in Athens.” The first Suvlaki restaurant opened in Soho two years ago.

VQ opens 24-hour bar restaurant in Aldgate for fourth London site: London-based cafe and diner VQ has opened a 24-hour bar restaurant in Aldgate. The venue, VQ’s fourth in the capital, is on the ground floor of the Dorsett City Hotel and features a 60-cover restaurant with seating for a further 60 outside and a 30-cover bar. The decor features wood panelling, leather banquettes and booths to make guests feel at home, whatever the hour. The all-day menu features small dishes such as halloumi fries with tzatziki and Merguez sausages with harissa and aioli dips, alongside pasta, burgers, salads and classic mains and desserts such as beer-battered haddock and apple crumble and custard. It also offers a 24-hour breakfast menu, with dishes including eggs benedict and buttermilk pancakes. A VQ spokesman said its three other London restaurants, in Bloomsbury, Chelsea and Notting Hill, serve more than 35,000 customers a month, while the latest opening is a “push for the brand as it aims to reinvigorate the capital’s night-time offering and become a leading all-day dining player”. Dorsett City, which is next to Aldgate tube station, features 267 rooms and suites, a rooftop bar and 1,600 square metres of meeting space. In May, VQ told Propel it plans to open ten late-night or 24-hour venues in the next three years.

Cafe and cycling concept Dynamo to start expansion with second London site, in Balham: Dynamo Cycle Café and Restaurant, the Antipodean-style all-day cafe, restaurant and cycling shop, has secured its second site in London through agents Davis Coffer Lyons. Dynamo has taken on the ground floor and basement of a site in Ritherdon Road in Balham that formerly housed a French cafe. Davis Coffer Lyons said it assigned the leasehold interest, which has eight years remaining, at a passing rent of £41,300 per annum. A premium was paid for the 2,227 square foot site, which also features outdoor seating. Dynamo, which opened its debut site in Putney last year, will offer breakfast, brunch, wood­fired pizza, wine and beer. Like Putney, the new venue will feature a clubroom that will be a hub for cyclists starting, finishing or taking a break from their rides. The clubhouse will also feature a workshop and sell bike parts. The concept is the brainchild of Tim Molema, head of food at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and Matt Utber, founder of design agency The Plank, who combined their joint passions for cycling and food. Rob Meadows, director of agency and leasing at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “Dynamo’s cycle­geared cafe is a really exciting and popular concept that has established the brand during the past year throughout London’s cycling community but with a food quality that also attracts non-cyclists. They are well positioned to expand and, like Putney, the new site in Balham appealed due to its proximity to a popular cycling circuit around London.”

Mezze Restaurants to open Gloucestershire venue with Ei Publican Partnerships for fourth site: Mezze Restaurants, the West Country operator led by Alex Tryfonos, is to open a venue in an Ei Group-owned pub in Dursley, Gloucestershire. The Kings Head will close on Saturday (29 July) to reopen as a Mediterranean restaurant under EI’s Publican Partnerships scheme. Improvements to accessibility will be made during the next few weeks ahead of a planned opening in September. Tryfonos told the Gazette: “We’ve been looking at Dursley for a number of years and particularly The Kings Head, which we think is ideal. Our philosophy and belief is that communities are more welcoming of a traditional pub than a new-build unit. We want to keep some of the traditional pub and will create two sections, one with a pub feel and the other more a restaurant. However, we plan to take things a bit more upmarket.” All Mezze’s restaurants are in former pubs, consisting of long-term leases in the Bristol area – The Ship & Castle in Congresbury, the Green Dragon in Downend, and The White Lion in Thornbury. In March, Tryfonos instructed agent Davis Coffer Lyons to approach the market looking for investment but told Propel he would look to sell the group if the right suitor could not be found to roll-out the concept.

Fever Bars to open Exeter nightclub in September: Fever Bars, led by managing director Mark Shorting, is opening a nightclub in Exeter. The company will launch one of its twin-themed venues, Fever & Boutique, in Mary Arches Street on Thursday, 7 September at the site of former nightclub Rococo, which closed on Christmas Eve. Fever Bars director Duncan Squires told Devon Live: “We love bringing new venues to new towns and Exeter is somewhere we have always wanted to be. We are really excited about the opening and the unit is perfect. Our headquarters are in Cheltenham, which is the heart of Fever Bars, and Exeter feels just like that. It feels likes home.” The company currently operates 33 Fever & Boutique clubs across the UK, which feature two rooms catering for different tastes in music – one a retro-chic discotheque for pop and party, while the boutique room pumps out house and R&B music. However, Squires said the Exeter club would be different. He said: “The new club will look completely different. There will be three zones including two rooms with two different DJs, so there will be something for everyone. We will have a smoking terrace on the roof we’re calling The Lost Garden.”

Bradford Brewery acquires city centre ale house for debut standalone site: Bradford Brewery is to reopen city centre pub Exchange Ale House, which has lain empty for four years, for a first permanent site outside its brewery tap. The company has taken on a lease from Trust Inns for the Bradford bar, which is below the grade I-listed Wool Exchange in Market Street. The pub has undergone extensive refurbishment, with the vaulted ceiling and flagstone floor retained. The bar will allow Bradford Brewery to showcase its Made Of Bradford merchandise alongside a selection of its keg and cask ales and a hot food offer. Exchange Ale House bar Manager Berry Jagoda Lapaj said: “The aim is to complement the other successful venues around us while endeavouring to be a bit different, so we can draw more people to this corner of town. We’ll offer coffee and breakfast with the morning papers and a warm welcome to everyone, not just beer drinkers.” Last month, Bradford Brewery announced it had doubled sales following a “refocus” as the company ramps up to reach “the next level”. As well as the new bar, the company is looking to offer a more extensive programme of events at its brewery tap site as it looks to “develop other revenue streams”. The restructure is being led by new managing director Phillip Ogg and financial director Mark Lister.

New concept Fancy Crab launches in Marylebone: A new all-day restaurant concept that focuses on the red king crab has opened in Marylebone. Fancy Crab, which sources its wild crabs from the “cold, open waters of the North Pacific”, has launched in Wigmore Street. The 150-cover restaurant features crab claw illustrations on the walls alongside green-velvet booths. Red king crab dishes include crab on ice with dipping sauce and pickles, and baked crab leg thermidor, while the “fancy crab” menu includes Singapore chilli crab. Larger groups can order a whole king crab to share. The “land and ocean” menu includes dishes cooked in a charcoal Bertha oven, including chargrilled octopus leg, grilled bream with crab butter, and beef burger with fries and coleslaw. Desserts include roasted pineapple with coconut ice cream and chilli, and king crab cheesecake with berry compote.

Manzes to shut Islington pie and mash shop after more than 100 years, new site coming to Essex: The owner of pie and mash brand Manzes has blamed business rates for the forthcoming closure of its site at Chapel Market in Islington. The shop dates to the 18th century but Luigi Manze took the site over in 1902 to open a pie and mash shop, which was in the Manze family until 1985. The site is expected to serve its final plate of pie, mash and liquor at Christmas. However Manzes’ current owner, Tim Nicholls, told the Islington Gazette he is opening another site, in Braintree, Essex, this weekend. The other Manzes pie and mash shops are in Walthamstow, east London, and Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

Marston’s bids to build budget hotel on Welsh border: Marston’s has submitted plans to build a 26-bedroom budget hotel on the border between Shropshire and Wales. The company has applied to build the hotel on land next to its Poachers pub and restaurant in Chirk Bank, creating ten jobs. It would be the third hotel within a mile radius and would face competition from the Lord Moreton and Lion Quays. The plans are part of Marston’s nationwide development programme to provide overnight accommodation next to select sites across its estate. The plans include 30 extra car parking spaces and alterations to the Poachers’ beer garden and play area. Breakfast would be served for hotel guests in the Poachers before the restaurant opened to the public at midday, the Shropshire Star reports. A decision on the proposal is expected in September.

Ben’s Canteen and BrewDog launch burger collaboration: Neighbourhood concept Ben’s Canteen has teamed up with Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog to launch a series of burger collaborations. The burgers will combine Ben’s Canteen food and BrewDog beer with the first collaboration available from Monday (31 July) and throughout August at both Ben’s Canteen sites – in Earlsfield and Battersea – and at BrewDog bars in Camden, Clerkenwell, Shepherd’s Bush, Shoreditch and Soho. The companies said future collaborations would include a fried-chicken burger and a vegan option. BrewDog operations director James Brown said: “We were looking into innovative ways to infuse our beers in food and wanted to partner with a restaurant famed for its burgers and which shares our brand values.”

City Pub Company opens sixth Cambridge site: Independent pub operator City Pub Company has opened its sixth site in Cambridge following an extensive refurbishment that has added hotel rooms and a private events space. The Waterman in Chesterton Road now offers craft beer, an “eclectic” range of wines and spirits, and “fresh flavour-driven food”. The pub also features eight hotel rooms, a courtyard and a “potting shed” venue available for hire, the Cambridge News reports. New managers Ollie Trezise and Stefan Melnecsuk are also overseeing the opening of No.30, a neighbouring 30-cover cafe offering coffee, cooked breakfast and pastries. They plan an array of in-house events at The Waterman, including a pop-up cocktail club and open-mic nights. Sporting events will be screened on an HD projector. City Pub Company operates more than 30 pubs. Its other Cambridge sites are The Petersfield, The Punt Yard, The Mill, The Old Bicycle Shop and Cambridge Brew House.

Former Gordon Ramsay chef to operate Durham pub restaurant: Former Gordon Ramsay chef Paul Bussey is to operate a new pub restaurant that will open in County Durham next month. The King’s Arms in Great Stainton, near Newton Aycliffe, has been acquired by multi-site operator John Wade, who also owns The County restaurant and The Telegraph pub in Aycliffe Village. The King’s Arms had been closed for almost a year but has undergone a major refurbishment. Bussey joins from his position as head chef at Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough. He also worked at London’s The Connaught under Angela Hartnett, The Great British Menu’s Mark Broadbent, and at Ramsay’s restaurant at the Hilton Dubai. He has signed an initial five-year lease for the King’s Arms. He told Chronicle Live: “People used to travel from all over the north east to come here. I want to get it back to that. People will come out for good food at decent prices and really good service.”