YO! to launch new fast-casual, covid-safe format: YO!, the Richard Hodgson-led business, is to launch a fast-casual, covid-safe format, next month, which brings a more personalised take to its iconic conveyor belt technology that it hopes to roll out across the majority of its 70-strong estate, Propel has learned. The new format, which is being tested at its Guildford site, see the conveyor belt speeded up, but also allows it to be stopped and started. Unlike previously when consumers just took the food off the belt, they now take a picture of a QR code on their table, order through their phone and the food is freshly prepared. Lights on individual tables are set to red, then when the order is on its way the light goes amber and when it arrives the belt stops and the light goes green. Diners have seven seconds to take their order before the belt starts again, and if it isn’t the order goes around again and they get a second chance. If it isn’t taken this time it goes back to the host who brings it to the table. The new format make interaction minimal. Guildford and another 11 of YO!’s UK sites will be converted to the new model and opened next month. The company will then look to reopen sites with the new format at a rate of three sites a week. Hodgson told Propel: “23 years ago, the belt was unique and there was nothing quite like it. Now we feel it is getting a little tired and there is an opportunity to modernise it, to make it truly fast casual, but in a way that doesn’t drive excess food wastage, and also look at how we can provide a covid-friendly environment, somewhere where people feel safe.” Like many of his peers, Hodgson feels consumers will not want to go out and dine in a restaurant surrounded by visors and Perspex screens. He said: “So first and foremost, we wanted to focus on a great experience but do it in a safe way. The added benefit for us is it also means we can keep costs down, which at the moment is clearly key. We believe it will be profitable with reduced volumes, and once we get the volumes back to pre-covid levels that should obviously increase. I then get excited about opportunities where we don’t operate, and whether we can pick up this model and take it into lots of new locations.”
 
PizzaExpress to launch virtual delivery brand Mac & Wings: PizzaExpress, the Hony Capital-backed chain, will launch its first virtual delivery brand called Mac & Wings early next month, Propel has learned. Having been in the pipeline since the beginning of 2020, the initial test and learn phase of the launch will see the virtual brand made available through the 13 PizzaExpress sites that have already reopened for delivery and click-and-collect, from 2 July, with plans for further roll out, post this initial test phase. The company said Mac & Wings is aimed at a young, urban-based audience and its menu has been developed following extensive customer research. It will include six variations of chicken wings – ranging in heat from the mild lemon and herb to the hot jalapeño – and seven variations of mac ‘n’ cheese including the cajun chicken, spicy Mac ‘Nduja and The Original Mac, with prices beginning from £6.25. PizzaExpress said the concept “has been created in partnership with Deliveroo to cater for the ever-increasing demand for online delivery”. Tom Hatcher, head of delivery and franchise at PizzaExpress, told Propel, which revealed in April the business was working on a virtual delivery brand: “We’re constantly reviewing market trends and consumer insights to ensure we can stay connected with customers in new and innovative ways. The launch of Mac & Wings, our first virtual delivery brand, has been months in the making and comes at a time when consumer demand for restaurant quality food at home is higher than ever. Mac & Wings uses the best quality ingredients to deliver a diverse and eclectic menu that is full of flavour and competitively priced. We will continue to work with our valued partners such as Deliveroo, to ensure we can cater for the ever-changing tastes and needs of consumers.” Mac & Wings will be available out of the PizzaExpress sites in Abbeville Road, Balham, Belsize Park, Camden, Chiswick, Croydon George Street, Dulwich, Ealing, Fulham Road, Greenwich, Notting Hill Gate, Shepherd’s Bush and Wandsworth Trinity Road.
McDonald’s to offer takeaway from another 200 restaurants, reveals more details about breakfast trial: McDonald’s is to offer takeaway from another 200 restaurants from Wednesday (24 June) and has revealed further details about its breakfast trial. The additional openings for takeaway come following a pilot that saw 11 of its restaurants at Roadchef sites reopen offering the service. The company has already reopened more than 1,000 of its outlets for drive-thru and delivery as it scales up its operations. UK and Ireland chief executive Paul Pomroy said: “A month ago, we reopened 15 restaurants for delivery only as we began our return to business. We are putting the safety and well-being of our teams, customers and delivery partner couriers first in all our restaurants. In our takeaway restaurants that includes introducing floor markings, additional Perspex screens and hand sanitising stations for customers. We will restrict numbers inside our restaurants, and additional staff will control the flow of people in and out of the restaurant as we do our best to keep you safe. I am also delighted to confirm we will pilot the return of the McMuffin from Wednesday in 42 restaurants. As with our main menu, we will have a limited menu at breakfast but we’ve kept the classics – hash browns, McMuffins and pancakes all return – but unfortunately, while adhering to social distancing guidelines, we are unable to serve porridge, bagels and our breakfast wrap.” The company said it would share more information about the breakfast pilot and takeaway restaurant locations on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, group chief executive Chris Kempczinski has said the company sees a “big opportunity” in chicken. The company is looking at restarting remodels, reversing declining breakfast sales and rethinking the menu – including a possible launch of a premium chicken product. “We put those plans on the shelf until we had more visibility,” Kempczinski said of the brand’s chicken test. In December and January, the brand tested two new premium sandwiches – the crispy chicken sandwich and the deluxe crispy chicken sandwich, in Houston, Texas and Knoxville, Tennessee. Meanwhile, the company said outside the US it plans to get back to a “normal rhythm” of growth in 2021.
Soho House secures $100m equity injection: Soho House has secured a $100m (£81m) equity injection to shore up its finances after the coronavirus pandemic hampered spending across its global network of upmarket venues. Ron Burkle, the American billionaire who is Soho House’s biggest investor, led a group comprising new and existing shareholders in providing the new money in recent weeks, reports Sky News. Sources said the investment was made at the same $2bn valuation at which the company raised $100m late last year, underlining its backers’ confidence in the future of the business. Many of the group’s sites have reopened as overseas governments have eased lock-down restrictions, with its UK clubs and hotels hoping to resume trading early next month, in line with government guidance. One insider said member retention had improved during the pandemic, with the group offering credits against membership fees to spend on other Soho House products. Last October, it announced a further $100m fund-raising led by Raycliff Capital, an investment firm, with participation from Simon Property Group. An insider said its reopened sites in cities such as Hong Kong and Malibu had performed strongly in recent days, providing evidence of “demand and bounce-back” from coronavirus.
Inn Collection Group braces for 50% drop in trade but hopes staycation demand will provide opportunity: The Inn Collection Group is bracing itself for a 50% drop in trade upon reopening, but hopes the demand for staycations will provide opportunity for the business. The company plans to reopen its sites across the north east and Lake District from 4 July if the government eases lock-down restrictions. Managing director Sean Donkin told the Northumberland Gazette: “Being closed for more than three months will of course have a huge impact on profits and thus we have adapted our business model to reflect this. We are modelling trade running at circa 50% of last year’s performance for the medium term. We must also acknowledge the public are still very cautious about booking. Also, the changes we have made in relation to food and beverage means there is a reduced capacity in our inns, which in turn will affect profits. However, I do believe the effects may also provide opportunity and need not be negative. I would imagine the domestic travel market will be very strong for 18 months or so, but also, as restrictions on foreign visitor are gently eased, then the international market will see positive growth for a number of years.” Changes made include Perspex screens at reception, contactless payments wherever possible and full sanitisation of any areas and equipment after every single use. Food and drink will be order at table. Tables will be set once guests sit down. New, disposable menus will be introduced too. The Alchemy-backed group bolstered its portfolio in March to 14 sites by acquiring Cumbrian coaching inn The Swan in Grasmere. The Inn Collection Group said it continued to seek out new-build and acquisition opportunities to grow across the north of England.
Company behind Sweet Chick’s UK debut site in liquidation: Liquidators at BDO have been appointed to Sweet Chick Market Place, the company set up to launch the US fried chicken and waffle concept’s debut UK site. The move adds to growing speculation Sweet Chick will not be reopening the site, which opened last year in Fitzrovia. Launched into the UK by Sunset Hospitality Group (SHG), the Dubai-based boutique investment and hospitality management company, a second site for the US fried chicken and waffle concept was understood to have also been secured in Birmingham. However, Propel understands the ex-EAT unit in the city’s Bullring scheme, which had been lined up for Sweet Chick, is back on the market. SHG had hired Christine Chung, formerly of Bill’s and Cote brands Jackson & Rye and Limeyard, as operations director for its UK arm. Propel understands Chung left the business in April.
Three Joes begins reopening programme, including new acquisition The Stable:Sourdough pizza concept Three Joes, co-founded by Tim Hall, has begun its reopening programme, starting with two of its eponymous sites and one from its recent acquired The Stable portfolio, Propel has learned. Propel revealed at the start of this month Three Joes had acquired the 13-strong, pizza and cider concept The Stable from Fuller’s, for an undisclosed sum. The transformational deal for the three-strong Three Joes, which Hall owns with ex-Pod food director Emma Blackmore and former Byron operations director Peter Bruton, will see it expand its geographical spread into the south west, Wales and the Midlands. It has now reopened its Three Joes sites in Winchester and Fareham, and The Stable site in Fistral Beach, Newquay, for-click-and-collect. Hall said: “Three Joes Winchester is proving to be quite a hit for takeaway pizzas and drinks with like-for-like revenue growth a looming possibility. We have a Stable site just 75 yards away from Three Joes and are planning to open that soon to drive momentum and relieve queues at Three Joes as more and more people venture out over the coming weeks.” Blackmore said: “We are in the middle of a complex integration process between the two businesses with the acquisition of The Stable having completed just two weeks ago but we opened The Stable at Fistral beach last week with new integrated systems already in place.” Bruton said: “Our focus is to generate revenue where we think the opportunity exists for the group to do so profitably and to plan a staggered reopening process for sites that are likely to present a greater challenge. In parallel we are merging these two companies and teams and it’s the busiest that Tim, Emma and I have been.”
Travelodge landlords approve CVA: Travelodge’s landlords have voted to approve the hotel operator’s proposals to restructure its leases, drawing a line under acrimonious negotiations between the company and its creditors. Travelodge’s company voluntary arrangement (CVA) was approved on Friday (18 June), which will involve it temporarily reducing rents and moving from quarterly to monthly payments on certain leases. The deal will see Travelodge, which runs 584 hotels, pay £230m in rent until the end of 2021, 62% of its usual levels. Travelodge stated: “The successful vote will enable Travelodge to navigate the short-term challenges facing the business as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.” The CVA was voted through after Travelodge made significant concessions. Some landlords will now be able to break lease contracts with the hotel operator when they choose, in effect giving them the upper hand in future negotiations. Travelodge shareholders have also agreed not to take any money out of the company before it returns to paying full rents in 2021. An earlier proposal from Travelodge, which is backed by two New York hedge funds, Golden Tree Asset Management and Avenue Capital, and the investment bank Goldman Sachs, had angered landlords, who claimed it was capitalising on the pandemic to extract concessions. Under the original set of proposals, Travelodge’s shareholders offered to inject £40m cash into the business and to make a further £100m available in additional reserves. In return, the company asked to waive almost £150m in rents. But landlords balked at what they saw as a profitable company shifting a disproportionate amount of the financial burden on to them.
JKS Restaurants transforms Brigadiers into retro Indian off-licence: JKS Restaurants, led by Karam, Jyotin and Sunaina Sethi, has transformed its Brigadiers site in the City into a retro Indian off-licence. The site in Bloomberg Arcade has been converted into the Daru Shop, with everything served through a hatch. It has introduced the Naanza – a pizza/ naan bread hybrid with a tandoor-baked naan base and a weekly rotating selection of toppings – that is available by the slice or whole. Other takeaway dishes include papad and chutneys, Brigadiers’ signature kathi rolls, a Madras mess mix and masala pork scratchings. There is also bottled beer, wine and vending machines of canned cocktails and craft beer. The Daru Shop is open Wednesday to Friday from 1pm to 7pm. Brigadiers has already been offering a delivery and click-and-collect service.
Camile Thai to open Barnes site, like-for-likes up 35% in London this year: Dublin-based healthy food delivery company Camile Thai is to open a site in Barnes, south west London. The company has secured the former Annie’s Restaurant premises in White Hart Lane as it adds to its footprint in the capital. Camile Thai has outlets in Battersea, Bermondsey, Clapham and Tooting with further expansion set to follow later this year. The company said it has seen its like-for-like sales in London grow by more than 35% in 2020. Camile Thai, which has more than 30 locations in London and Ireland. Is seeking new locations for its franchisees in London and surrounding areas. In Ireland, it has launched a cloud kitchen franchise for hotels, bars and restaurants to reopen and is currently assessing strategic partners in the UK for the model.
YouTube star chooses Brighton for first plant-based delivery kitchen, plans expansion across major UK cities: YouTube star Mikey Pearce is to open his first plant-based delivery kitchen, in Brighton. Clean Kitchen Club will open on Thursday (25 June) offering a plant-based burger menu. Pearce plans to grow the business with childhood friend Abe Garman and open delivery-kitchens across major UK cities, including Edinburgh, London and Manchester. Dishes include the Clean Burger – homemade patty, lettuce, tomato, gherkin, vegan cheese, vegan mayo and ketchup; and the Cheat ‘N’ Clean – double homemade patty, homemade mushroom bacon, double vegan cheese, lettuce, tomato, vegan mayo and ketchup. Pearce said: “Our aim is to become the fastest growing plant-based delivery-kitchen brand in the UK. We’ve got our eyes on every major city in the country with Manchester, London and Edinburgh firmly locked in our sight for the first few openings. We also want to have a positive impact on the communities around us. Abe and I are already looking at ways to ensure we make positive changes around us, including a Brighton beach clean day and supporting local charities.”
Berenberg analysts downgrade Domino’s Pizza shares: Analysts at Berenberg have downgraded Domino’s Pizza shares from ‘Hold’ to ‘Sell’, stating the stock was now “too rich”. They expect pressure from competitors more focused on growth and less on returns to continue to mount in the wake of the covid-19 related lock-downs as more restaurants consider providing delivery services as a way to supplement their income while in-store capacity is constrained by social distancing measures. Berenberg also highlighted Domino’s has argued trade since lock-down had been affected by the removal of collection, which typically makes up about 20% of store revenues but when collection reopens, the analysts pointed out restaurants will too. “Come that point, we expect many customers will swap back their Domino’s ‘date nights’ for restaurant meals,” said the analysts. “With earnings growth likely to be negative in 2020 and lacklustre (at best) thereafter, we struggle to justify the size of the stock’s current valuation gap versus most leisure peers.”
Rassam’s Creamery to open fourth site, in Wakefield: Yorkshire-based ice cream parlour Rassam’s Creamery is to open its fourth site, in Wakefield. The company, which operates three outlets in Sheffield, is launching its latest venue at the mixed-use development Merchant Gate. Owner Rassam Alyafai has taken the former Anytime Fitness unit, which spans 5,468 square foot, on a 20-year lease. The parlour is due to be fitted out shortly and is planning to open before the end of the year, depending on the lifting of lock-down restrictions. Rassam’s Creamery was launched in Sheffield in 2012. Merchant Gate has been delivered by The English Cities Fund, a strategic joint venture between urban regeneration innovators, Muse Developments, Legal & General and Homes England, working collaboratively with Wakefield Council and Network Rail.
Frenchie reopens for takeaway and launches at-home service: Parisian restaurant concept Frenchie in London’s Covent Garden has reopened for takeaway and launched an at-home service. The takeaway menu includes classic sandwich baguettes and brioche buns “given the Frenchie treatment” as well as salads and cookies alongside beer, wine and prosecco. Takeaway is available from the Henrietta Street restaurant from Wednesday to Sunday between noon and 7pm. Meanwhile, after its success at its sister sites in Paris, owner Gregory Marchand has brought an at-home service to London. The three-course meal is available for delivery or for collection from the restaurant from Wednesday to Sunday between 5.30pm and 8.30pm. Orders need to be made before 6pm the previous day. Dishes can be eaten as they come, except for the main course and gougères, which are to be reheated in the oven. Frenchie opened in 2016 and is the sister restaurant to Paris’ Michelin-starred Frenchie Rue du Nil and Frenchie To Go.
Westbourne Leisure reports profit boost as turnover passes £20m: West Midlands-based pub, restaurant and hotel operator Westbourne Leisure has reported turnover increased to £20.4m for the year ending 30 September 2019 compared with £18.7m the year before. Pre-tax profit was up to £4.2m, compared with £3.7m the previous year, according to newly filed documents with Companies House. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “During the year the company continued its successful expansion into the hotel sector and is looking to expand its presence in this market still further over the coming years. The directors consider the company’s properties are valued in excess of their book value, but have chosen not to adopt a policy of regular formal revaluations.” The business was established in the 1970s when Pat and Mary Owens bought their first pub.
Whitbread lodges plans for new Premier Inn in York city centre: Whitbread has lodged plans for a new Premier Inn hotel in York city centre. The company has applied to the city council to bulldoze the former Carpetright store in Layerthorpe and build a 188-bedroom hotel with a bar and restaurant in its place, reports The Business Desk. The plans are for a four-storey building, which would also have parking for 43 vehicles as well as electric car charging points and cycle spaces.