Leon to launch Ocado-style home delivery: Leon is to launch an Ocado-style home delivery site as it reinvents itself to survive the coronavirus crisis. Following the government’s order all restaurants must close, Leon will turn its 57 UK sites into shops selling groceries and takeaway meals. Customers will be able to order online or on their phones and either collect in person or order a delivery from UberEats or Deliveroo. The chain’s e-commerce site, which will launch on Wednesday (25 March), will initially sell Leon groceries and ready-meals made by two of the chain’s biggest suppliers. It plans to widen the net to sell food from other restaurants and suppliers, in a bid to become “the Ocado of the restaurant industry”. Mexican restaurant group Wahaca has already held discussions with Leon about joining the venture in the coming weeks. In a further twist, Hammerson, which is landlord of the Brent Cross in north London, last week offered Leon a free site in the shopping centre. Leon has already started converting the 8,000 square foot site, which was occupied by retailer Mothercare before it went bust, into its flagship shop. John Vincent, Leon’s founder and chief executive, has drawn up the radical plans in consultation with government advisers and is adhering to strict social distancing guidelines. He said the moves will save Leon’s 1,500 UK jobs, prevent its 70 suppliers going out of business and help “reignite” the wider industry. Vincent added: “Terrible things are happening. We have to act positively to save jobs and save the supply chain.” Leon has closed seven restaurants in airports since the start of the crisis due to the impact of the travel ban. It is offering 50% discounts to NHS workers and free delivery to hospitals.
Pret A Manger closes all UK stores, staff to now receive 100% of normal pay: Pret A Manger decided to close all UK stores on Saturday afternoon (21 March). In a note to customers, chief executive Pano Christou said: “I want to thank our amazing teams for serving you with so much passion and kindness over recent weeks, including more than 100,000 NHS workers. Pret’s first value is ‘happy teams, happy customers’ and my priority is always to protect our teams as much as we can. For this reason, we will be closing all our UK shops temporarily. We will of course ensure any excess food goes to those who need it most. We look forward to being a part of your daily lives again soon. Until then, stay healthy and look after each other.” The business had originally decided to focus on takeaway only. Meanwhile, following the government’s announcement on Friday (20 March) it will pay 80% of an employees’ wages, up to £2,500, to help businesses forced to close in the coronavirus outbreak, Pret has reversed its previously proposed reduction in hours and all UK staff will receive 100% of their normal pay throughout March and April. A spokeswoman told Propel: “We have made a commitment to protect jobs across Pret and our number one priority is to look after our teams throughout this pandemic. We will keep reviewing the situation as it develops and in light of the continuing cost pressures on the business.”
Admiral Taverns suspends rent: Admiral Taverns has written to its tenants to tell them rent payments have been suspended until the end of April. A letter to tenants stated: “You will now have closed your pub on the instruction of the government. This is clearly a very worrying time, from both a health and a business perspective. I want to reassure you Admiral Taverns is working hard to support you, your family and your business. Therefore: Your rent is now cancelled, effective until Thursday, 30 April. We will keep this end date under review. Admiral Taverns is determined to support you through this period and we look forward to pubs reopening as soon as the virus is under control.”
Itsu, Patisserie Valerie and Starbucks shutter all sites: Itsu, Patisserie Valerie and Starbucks have all announced the temporary closure of their respective UK estates. All three had switched to a delivery and takeout model, but made the decision over the weekend to temporarily close their entire operations due to the current covid-19 crisis and the government’s advice. Itsu founder Julian Metcalfe wrote: “A heart-breaking decision, but the right thing to do to protect our teams, customers and country as we all play our part. The closure of our restaurants also means we will sadly not be able to offer delivery for the time being, as this relies on us making fresh food daily in our kitchens. While we are closed we’ll continue to do everything we can to look after our people who are being wonderful, strong and supporting each other and we are very grateful for the government’s announcement of support on Friday. Our wonderful teams have spent their last day making up boxes of sushi and salad using up all the ingredients they have and delivering it to our NHS heroes. I will drop you a line when we know more about reopening but in the meantime – stay calm, stay distant, stay healthy. We love you and we will all come back strong.”
Paul UK opens ‘bread market’ as supermarket supplies run short: Paul UK, the French bakery and cafe brand, has opened a “bread market” from its central bakery in Acton, west London, to alleviate the pressure on supermarkets as supplies run short. The Bread Market in Brunel Road is open daily from 7am to 7pm. Paul UK is also offering buy one, get one free on all 400g and 800g loaves. Same-day delivery is available via UberEats, although Paul UK is also looking to expand its own service “as soon as possible”. The company is also offering free tea and coffee to UK health professionals, while it continues its policy of donating unsold food to London-based charity The Felix Project. Paul UK has made all its stores takeaway only by closing all seating areas, removing crockery, pausing the use of reusable cups while honouring the 50p discount, and going cashless. Chief executive Mark Hilton said: “It is our top priority to keep serving the community and provide them with what they need during this difficult time. We hope The Bread Market will get fresh bread into the hands of those who need it and our offer of free tea and coffee is a small token of our huge appreciation and gratitude for our wonderful NHS workers.”
Fuller’s suspends all commercial rent ‘for time being’: Fuller’s, the Simon Emeny-led pub group, has suspended all commercial rent for the time being to support its tenants impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. A Fuller’s spokesman said: “It is imperative we help our tenants through these unprecedented times. To that end, we have suspended all commercial rent for the time being and we will review this as the situation progresses. We want to make sure that, when this is all over, our tenants are in a good position to get their pubs back to full strength. To that end, we are working with the British Institute of Innkeeping to ensure they can access any additional relevant government support to help with their cash flow and with other partners to protect their emotional well-being too. In addition, we are communicating right across the estate, on a very regular basis, through our business development managers.”
Brands adopt delivery and takeout models across parts of estates: PizzaExpress, Nando’s, Frankie & Benny’s and Wagamama are among some of the major sector brands that have switched to delivery and takeout models across parts of their estates since the government told restaurants, pubs and bars to shut on Friday (20 March). It is part of ramped up measures by the government to combat the coronavirus outbreak, but businesses can still provide takeout and delivery. Propel understands PizzaExpress has switched 274 of its circa 450 UK sites to delivery and takeaway while temporarily closing the rest. Wagamama said the majority of its sites remain open for takeout and delivery. Chief executive Emma Woods wrote on the company’s website: “To our Wagamama friends and family, the past few days have been incredibly tough here at Wagamama (as it has been for you all). The hardest since we opened in 1992. Wagamama has always been a safe and welcoming space for both our guests and our teams. Our priority is to ensure it stays that way and we’re following government instruction to temporarily close for eat in guests. However, we will continue to nourish the nation as the majority of our sites remain open for takeout and delivery. The safety of our guests and teams is paramount and we’re doing everything we can to take care of our Wagamama family. Our thoughts are with all those affected in this unprecedented time. I’d like to thank you so much for your continued support. This is a hard time for everybody right now and looking after ourselves and each other is the best thing we can do.” Nando’s is also offering delivery and collection from the majority of its sites. At the same time, The Restaurant Group-owned brands Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito are both offering delivery or collection at selected sites, as is the Casual Dining Group-owned Las Iguanas, Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia.
Mildreds launches crowdfunding campaign to support NHS workers: Vegetarian restaurant group Mildreds has launched a crowdfunding campaign to enable it to provide 400 meals each week to four London hospitals. The Sam Anstey-led business has launched the campaign on Go Fund Me, with a target of £5,000. So far it has raised just under £2,200. Anstey said: “Our amazing team here at Mildreds are dedicated to focusing on how we can support our community and more specifically our NHS workers who are on the front line caring for patients with the coronavirus. Mildreds can provide 400 meals each week to four London hospitals. These meals will be nutritionally balanced, full of flavour vegetarian and vegan main meals, and vitamin-packed fresh juices, made by us, in our Dalston restaurant for key worker staff who have neither the time nor the energy to shop and cook between shifts. While we will provide the team, the time, the delivery and the recipes, we need a little help with the food cost to keep this going and have set a goal of £5000. We hope to beat this goal and keep on supporting this critical cause. If you can, please donate as little as £1 and help us make a difference to our absolute heroes in the NHS.” Meanwhile, Josh Katz and Mattia Bianchi, founders of Berber & Q Grill House and Berber & Q Shawarma Bar, will support hospital workers on the front line of the crisis by raising funds to deliver food to them around London. All money raised will be spent on supplies and staff to produce the food.
US restaurant industry calls on Americans to Join #TheGreatAmericanTakeout: A coalition of restaurants in the US – including Panera Bread, Noodles & Company, Veggie Grill, El Torito, Jason’s Deli, The Habit Burger Grill, Lemonade, Modern Market, and Chevys Fresh Mex – is asking Americans to participate in #TheGreatAmericanTakeout on Tuesday (24 March). During #TheGreatAmericanTakeout, people are encouraged to order at least one delivery or pick-up meal to show support for the struggling restaurant community. A statement on the initiative said: “The coronavirus poses an existential threat to a sector of the economy that employs more than 15 million Americans. Because dine-in meals are no longer being served at most restaurants, delivery and pick-up are the only ways to support these struggling businesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, there is little evidence covid-19 can be transmitted through food or packaging.” Russ Bendel, chief executive of The Habit Burger Grill, added: “This is no longer about the survival of individual restaurants. It’s about the future of our industry. And time has run out. Together, we must act to support each other and our communities in unprecedented ways.”
Hotel Chocolat raises £22m in oversubscribed share placing: Hotel Chocolat has raised £22m after its share placing was oversubscribed. The company said the increased demand came from institutional investors as it issued a total of 9.8 million shares at 225p each. Hotel Chocolat had hoped to raise £20m via the issue of 8.9 million shares. The new shares, which represent about 8.5% of the company’s issued share capital, will be admitted to London’s AIM on Tuesday (24 March). As part of the placing, co-founder and chief executive Angus Thirlwell and co-founder and development director Peter Harris subscribed for 888,888 shares each. Non-executive chairman Andrew Gerrie acquired 88,888 shares in the placing. Thirlwell and Harris will hold 29.7% interest each in Hotel Chocolat on admission of the new shares. Gerrie now holds a 0.4% interest. The company said the proceeds from the placing would be used to shore up its resilience and aid its growth plan. Hotel Chocolat said its trading since March had been hurt by the spread of coronavirus, hence the need for the placing.
Boston Tea Party continues to employ and pay entire team: All-day casual dining cafe Boston Tea Party has said it will continue to employ and pay its entire team despite being forced to close all its sites. The company said the decisions reflected its long-term mindset and a deep-rooted belief that “protecting people and profit are not mutually exclusive”. Compromises on pay are being made across the entire business with the biggest “at the top of our tree”. Chief executive and co-owner Sam Roberts said: “Our company purpose is to ‘make things better’ and never has that been more important. Our number-one priority at this moment is to pay our team as much as we can for as long as we can. We will get through this and life will normalise once more. The way we act, the way we behave now, will define us for years to come.”
C&C Group issues profit warning: C&C Group, the branded cider, beer, wine and soft drinks producer, has issued a profit warning following the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The company also revealed it was in talks with tax authorities in the UK and Ireland over payment of alcohol duties. The group said it had drawn down its full revolving credit facility of €210m (£192m) to top up its cash reserves of €137m and was working to ensure further credit was available “should it be required”. It added there had been a “significant” reduction in capital expenditure. C&C said its supply chain and production network remained fully operational and it “remained committed to supporting the trade”. The company stated: “Since our FY20 trading update was issued earlier this month, market conditions have deteriorated and it is now clear covid-19 will have a material impact on group performance in the current financial year (FY21). Given the ongoing uncertainty, we are unable to accurately quantify the expected impact of covid-19 on our financial and trading performance at this stage. However, we expect a material reduction to our prior expectations for FY21. The scale of this reduction will depend on how the situation develops, over what time-frame, and the impact of further measures implemented by the Irish and UK governments.”
Michelin-starred chefs join fight to save jobs and feed communities: Michelin-starred chef Tomos Parry has opened a farm grill and wine shop at his restaurant Brat in Shoreditch, east London, to support staff and suppliers. Parry and his team are serving a daily-changing line-up of dishes to take away alongside produce from key suppliers for customers to buy and cook at home. Brat Farm, Grill & Wine Shop features a market stall-style counter and offer a delivery service. The kitchen team is also baking bread and signature burnt cheesecake to sit alongside house-made sausages and cured ham and cheese. Parry said: “The situation is hugely challenging for the entire hospitality industry and we’re looking for a way to support our suppliers and staff. We value the incredible produce we get and want as many people as possible to have access to restaurant-quality ingredients during these difficult times. Brat Farm, Grill & Wine Shop will allow us to support as many people as we can.” Michelin-starred chef Andrew Wong and protégé Kimberly Hernandez are creating ready meals for elderly and vulnerable members of their community using restaurant-quality produce. Meals will be packaged and delivered free ready to be heated at home. The initiative is being organised through Wong’s local parish church, St Peter’s in Eaton Square, south west London. Chester Race Company will offer free frozen meals to emergency front-line workers from Wednesday (25 March), with a freshly prepared frozen meal handed to NHS or emergency services with ID who visit Chester Racecourse. Chester MP Chris Matheson said: “The races will be badly affected by the pandemic but that hasn’t stopped Chester Race Company from getting stuck in to help. I’m really grateful.” Meanwhile, Honesty Group, the company led by cookery writer Romilla Arber, has converted its coffee shop in Inkpen, West Berkshire, into a general store, selling groceries and household goods. The main objective is to deliver to the elderly and those in isolation.
Domino’s looks to hire 10,000 staff in US to meet delivery demand: Domino’s Pizza said it needs to hire about 10,000 workers to meet demand for pizza delivery as the US turns to takeaways during the coronavirus pandemic. The company said the need at each of its more than 6,100 US locations varied by market. Chief executive Richard Allison said: “While many local, state and federal rules are closing dine-in restaurants, the opportunity to keep feeding our neighbours through delivery and carryout means a small sense of normalcy is still available to everyone. We want to make sure we’re not only feeding people but also providing opportunity to those who are looking for work at this time.” Domino’s has unveiled new contactless delivery policies to keep employees and consumers safe during the outbreak.
Mindful Chef reports 452% increase in new recipe box customers amid coronavirus fears: Healthy recipe box startup Mindful Chef has reported a 452% increase in new recipe box customers in the past week compared with the previous year amid continuing fears over the spread of coronavirus. There has also been a 387% surge in frozen meal sales. Also reflected is a significant increase in customer basket size, with multiple customers spending more than £500 in one order, equating to more than 80 frozen meals.
Barrel and Stone sees sharp increase in inquiries as businesses focus on delivery: Barrel and Stone, the plug-in, high-quality pizza solution, has seen a sharp increase in inquiries as businesses focus on delivery after the industry was ordered to shut down. The company, which now operates in most hospitality sectors, is set to open its 400th site by the end of the year. Site openings are up and the company has been “inundated” with inquiries, managing director Russell Hardiman told Propel. He said: “Due to recent events, companies are being forced to fully embrace delivery as an additional revenue stream and in many cases the only revenue stream. Barrel and Stone is offering a one-week turnaround time with a simplified model and has scrapped its set up fee in order to help new customers who are struggling to keep their businesses alive. We are fully operational with a complete remote service model. We remain well funded and continue to service existing and all new customers. Where delivery aggregators are not an option our click-and-collect app will help businesses service consumers and we are here to advise customers how they can utilise working with a well-respected pizza brand on Deliveroo, Just Eat and UberEats.” Hardiman said the company would be launching its second food brand in May as it seeks “to become a leader in the branded foodservice market.”