Subway appoints Nigel Doughty to oversee UK and Ireland business: Global sandwich franchise Subway has appointed Nigel Doughty, the former managing director of Paul UK, to oversee its circa 2,500-strong UK and Ireland business, Propel has learned. Doughty replaces Colin Hughes, formerly of Pret A Manger and EAT, as the brand’s country director for the UK and Ireland. Doughty joins Subway after more than ten years with the Middle East-based Alshaya Group, where he was vice-president of its food retail division – premium casual brands. Prior to that, he spent four years as managing director of Paul UK. He has also had stints at Maison Blanc and Costa Coffee. Hughes, who also served as a non-executive director at Barburrito for two years, had led Subway in UK and Ireland since the summer of 2018. Pre-covid, the business has been rolling out its new-look Fresh Forward store format across its UK and Ireland estate.
JD Wetherspoon – Guardian article stating company ‘looking to buy smaller pubs on the cheap’ is ‘completely untrue’: JD Wetherspoon has said statements by The Guardian that said the company was looking to “buy smaller pubs on the cheap amid the covid crisis” and “is targeting pubs in central London” are “completely untrue”. Wetherspoon stated: “Wetherspoon operates pubs that are three or four times larger than average and rarely ‘targets’ existing pubs. Wetherspoon’s press release on 19 January said the company was ‘considering … a number of properties in central London, the freehold reversion of pubs of which it is the tenant, and properties adjacent to successful pubs’. All the company’s pubs in central London had other uses before Wetherspoon’s occupation – for example, the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the former Marquee Club and the former ballroom of the Great Eastern Hotel.” Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “The downfall of the master spy Karla in John Le Carré’s epic novel was precipitated by creating a fictitious ‘legend for a girl’. The Guardian should avoid legends and stick to the truth, lest it suffers the same fate as Karla.”
Dishoom secured £8m of additional funding to get through crisis: Indian restaurant group Dishoom secured £8m of additional funding to get through the crisis, including £5m under the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme. In accounts for the year to the end of 2019, the company said £4m of this had been drawn down to the signed date of the accounts with the remaining £1m expected to have been drawn down last October. The group also secured a £3m loan from its shareholders, £1.5m of which had been drawn down to date, with the remainder available to be drawn down over the next 12 months, if required. The company said it had also secured a waiver of covenants from its lenders through to September 2021. The group, which saw turnover in 2019 pass the £50m-mark for the first time – up 17.7% to £52.92m – continued to support its charity partners during lockdown and has provided 15,000 free meals to NHS key workers during the pandemic. Last October, the company, which operates five restaurants in London and one each in Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, promoted long-term operations director Brian Trollip to managing director. Earlier this month, the company launched a delivery kitchen service in Cambridge – its second outside London. The company has retained all jobs since the start of the pandemic and even created an additional 50 roles with its six delivery kitchens in London and one in Brighton.
Megan’s appoints Gill Clements as new finance director: London-based cafe and deli concept Megan’s has appointed Gill Clements, formerly of Byron, as its new finance director, Propel has learned. Clements stepped down as Byron’s finance director earlier this year after almost three years with the better burger brand, just under half of which was as its finance director. She has been replaced, initially on an interim basis, by Gavin Cox, who has a “wealth of experience within food manufacturing businesses”. It is also understood Megan’s has applied to take over the former Le Pain Quotidien site at 214 Chiswick High Road. Megan’s appointed Sarah Hills as its new managing director last October. Hills, who was previously managing director of Bill’s and The Restaurant Group-owned Wagamama, joined Megan’s as it was preparing to open its tenth site, in Surbiton.
Sarah Willingham – market conditions over next three to five years will be ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to recapitalise fundamentally great businesses and help them grow: Sarah Willingham, chief executive of bar company Nightcap, has said market conditions over the next three to five years will be “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to recapitalise fundamentally great businesses where debts have skyrocketed due to covid and help them grow. Over the past few months, Nightcap, which has floated on AIM, has raised £6m to help battered hospitality businesses survive and expand after the crisis. Its first acquisition was bar group The London Cocktail Club (LCC), which Willingham had already invested in alongside chef Raymond Blanc, with plans to grow the ten-strong business to 40 sites. Now Willingham has a “wish-list” of other small and mid-size bar chains she would like to buy and help expand. She told the Mail on Sunday: “I’m expecting a possible acquisition will be part of a private equity company restructuring for one of their portfolio companies. If private equity firms are carrying heavily indebted businesses that need restructuring and they don’t want to expose themselves further by putting more money in, then we are a good solution for that. We can come in with equity to help fundamentally sound businesses restructure.” Willingham said in contrast to the historical model of private equity firms buying pubs and restaurants by loading them up with debt, the new financing model will be about injecting equity to reduce debt and restructure balance sheets. Willingham said the shift of power from landlords to tenants meant LCC was being offered a pipeline of premium sites it could never have afforded pre-covid. Citing one example, Willingham said a vacant site in Kensington, west London, has scrapped its usual £150,000 premium, knocked 30% off the rent and thrown in a year rent-free. But having renegotiated all the rents for LCC she said some landlords have been “diabolical”. She added: “I’m thinking ‘I’m opening loads of sites over the next five years but I’m never going to sign another lease with you’.”
Escape Hunt to acquire French master franchise partner, raising £1.4m through share placing: Escape room operator Escape Hunt has agreed a deal to acquire its French master franchise partner, BGP Escape, and to raise £1.4m through a share placing. Of the funds raised, about £330,000 will be used as consideration for the acquisition and associated costs; £150,000 to fund potential additional investment in the French and Belgian business; and the balance to continue the UK roll-out of owner-operated sites. Escape Hunt said the deal for BGP Escape was expected to close within the coming weeks, subject to completion of due diligence, finalisation of contracts and compliance with local law requirements. In connection with the acquisition, Escape Hunt announced a placing of 8,036,904 new ordinary shares of 1.25p each at 17.5 pence per share to raise approximately £1.4m before expenses. The placing price represents a discount of 4% to the five-day average closing middle market price of the company’s shares between 15 January and 21 January. The acquisition values BGP Escape at about one time its average unaudited Ebitda for 2018 and 2019 after all franchise fees paid to Escape Hunt and will take the total number of owner-operated sites to 17. In 2019, BGP Escape had combined turnover from the Paris and Brussels sites of €1.0m (2018: €1.4m), received total royalties from sub-franchisees of €346,000 (2018: €415,000); generated Ebitda after royalty payments to Escape Hunt of €263,000 (2018: €397,000); and made profit after tax of €125,000 (2018: €195,000). Escape Hunt chief executive Richard Harpham said: “Prior to covid, the French/Belgian territory was a very strong performer for Escape Hunt and we are confident demand will return to previous levels once the current restrictions are lifted. We are excited about the prospects for the region and are delighted to be the owner of the business for the next stage in its journey.”
Milestone Group to open food hall in Liverpool: Sheffield-based The Milestone Group is to open a food hall in Liverpool’s Metquarter, with the scheme set to create more than 130 jobs. The food hall will be branded as the General Post Office and open in the late spring. Serving as a nod to the former use of the building as Liverpool’s head post office, it will be located at the Victoria Street entrance, adjoining Everyman. The venue will offer a variety of cuisines under one roof, championing independent regional operators and offering support and incubation for the “best this emerging food scene has to offer”. Confirmed tenants include Patty B’s Burgers, Thai 25, Dirty Herb Vegan Chicken and Bubble Tea. Matt Bigland, founder and director at The Milestone Group, said: “General Post Office will be a hub for Liverpool’s emerging food hall scene. With a mix of design and culinary excellence, it will showcase the best in up-and-coming food and drink talent in the heart of Liverpool city centre.” The opening of General Post Office will complete the remixing of the Metquarter and bring it back to a “significantly let position”. Alex Hyams, asset manager for Queensberry, said: “We’re delighted to be bringing Milestone Group as experienced food hall operators to Liverpool. General Post Office will be the largest food hall in the city centre and adds to the dynamic blend of uses that make up our offering at Metquarter.” The Milestone Group operates four sites in Sheffield including craft beer and pizza restaurant Craft & Dough and The Milestone gastro-pub.
Zelman-backed Novators Hospitality opens sushi restaurant in Notting Hill:Novators Hospitality – which is backed by Misha Zelman and led by Tim Mills, former operations director at Pho and head of operations at Paul UK – has opened a new sushi restaurant in London’s Notting Hill. The company has launched Sumi in the former Andina site in Westbourne Grove, as first revealed by Propel in November. The restaurant is currently offering a click and collect service. The main event is the Sumi Box (£45), which comprises of a variety of salmon and tuna along with scallops, sea bream and eel. There’s also a sashimi box (£35) and a vegan box (£25) while an omakase meal is available in the evening. Sammy Weinbaum, at CDG Leisure, acted on the deal. Novators Hospitality is also behind Endo at Rotunda in White City, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2019.
Secret Cinema defends immersive Dirty Dancing event proposals: Secret Cinema has defended proposals for an immersive Dirty Dancing event in east London, saying it will invest in local businesses after residents claimed it would be “hijacking” vital green space this summer. The company, one of the biggest cinema experience brands in the world, was given a licence by Waltham Forest Council to use Low Hall sports ground in Walthamstow for three months, despite more than 100 complaints, reports the Evening Standard. Residents and campaigners said the event, which could run from mid-July to mid-September and is billed as a mix of “steamy dancing and dangerously catchy songs”, will bring noise pollution, a risk of covid-19 transmissions and stop locals from using the playing fields for most of the summer. At a meeting, residents said the event would make the sports ground unusable for local children, while others complained about the show leaving “no positive legacy” and described it as “hijacking and damaging public land”. The Secret Cinema chief executive, Max Alexander, said the company always engaged with local communities, and planned to give 1,500 free tickets to residents and invite local schools to use the site in the daytime.