Chris Hill – NWTC’s record position on Sunday Times list is validation of staff initiatives: New World Trading Company (NWTC) chief executive Chris Hill has told Propel its record-breaking position on the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list is a validation of how it has approached staff engagement “from the start”. The company placed seventh, moving up from its first appearance on the list – tenth – last year. The annual awards rely solely on the opinions and views of staff in the workplace to generate the top 100. Hill told Propel: “We are over the moon to be the highest placed food and beverage operator since the list began. We’re really proud of the results and it’s the biggest validation from our teams of how we set out from the start.” NWTC operates 20 venues across seven brands and employs 1,100 staff. The Sunday Times invited all NWTC staff to rate the company, its management and working environments. This feedback was then analysed to determine a place on the list. To be placed on the Sunday Times list, 40% of staff have to respond. Hill said: “That means about 500 staff must have responded, and most of them positively for us to have been placed seventh.” Key attributes highlighted by employees were the introduction of free food for staff on shifts, enhanced paternity and maternity benefits, and an employee initiative called Tribes in which staff are encouraged to engage with other departments to earn more rewards. Hill said: “These are all amazing tools and part of the overall mosaic of being a great place to work.” NWTC will launch new concept The Florist in Bristol on Monday (26 February).

Cut + Grind founder – we’re confident enough in burger sector and our products to expand the business: Cut + Grind founder Paschalis Loucaides has told Propel he has every confidence in his product and is eyeing expansion despite recent travails in the sector. The well-publicised troubles of Bryon and Handmade Burger Co has failed to dent Loucaides’ confidence after Cut + Grind’s debut site in King’s Cross, London, won the national burger of the year category at the National Burger Awards 2018. Loucaides said: “To win this national award within six months of opening is incredible and confirmation the method we use is a winning one. We have learnt so much in the few months since opening in October. Burgers are a tough business, ingredient costs are high, energy costs are high, there is a lot of regulatory focus and customer price expectations are low. However, controlled expansion with a clear plan and the right investors works. After all, it is a food that can be cooked in six to seven minutes, eaten quickly and enjoyed on many occasions. We have seen data that shows customers are increasing their instances of eating premium burgers so we are confident in the future for our corner of the restaurant sector. Trading is growing month-on-month and I’m pleased with the growth we are achieving. Most importantly, customers are coming back again and again. Luckily for us we are in King’s Cross, which will change dramatically for the better in the next two years. We are looking for the site we need to continue our business plan.”

KFC’s cheeky apology for chicken shortage: KFC has issued a cheeky apology to its customers for running out of chicken. The company took out a full-page advertisement in the Sun and Metro newspapers showing an empty bucket of chicken with crumbs spilling out. Instead of having a KFC logo on the side, the letters were switched around to read “FCK”. The wording in the advert saw KFC apologise for “teething problems” surrounding a new contract with delivery company DHL. The advert read: “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed.” The company also thanked its staff and franchise partners for “working tirelessly to improve the situation”. KFC stated: “It’s been a hell of a week but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”

Greene King seeking offers for Loch Fyne: Brewer and retailer Greene King is seeking offers for its 34-strong Loch Fyne business, according to The Sunday Times. The business was bought for £68m in 2007 and it is the second time Greene King has tried to sell it – it explored a sale two years ago.

Hamish Stoddart – our ‘Make Life Peachy’ motto is the real deal: Peach Pub Company co-founder Hamish Stoddart has told Propel the company’s motto, “Make Life Peachy”, is the “real deal”. Speaking after Peach, which operates 19 pubs and a boutique hotel, was ranked 43rd in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work For, Stoddart said: “We’re a proper pub business with a people culture and we say what we believe and do it. We do exactly what it says on the tin. Our motto ‘Make Life Peachy’ is real. We want to make our guests’ lives better when they come in and the same goes for our staff.” Earlier this month, Peach appointed BDO to help assist its funding options, which could include a sale of part or all of the business that Stoddart founded with Lee Cash and Jo Eames in 2002. Stoddart said there had been no movement so far but the aim was to “raise enough equity to allow our shareholders to realise some of their share value and allow Peach to be able to access equity and/or debt to grow the business”. Regarding the company’s debut events space, which launched earlier this month next to its High Field gastro-pub in Edgbaston, Stoddart said: “It sits well with our other offerings.” The Studio is free to hire – subject to a minimum spend – and offers a range of food and drink. Guests booking the venue can also stay at The High Field Town House, the 12-bedroom boutique hotel next to the pub. Stoddart said: “The bookings will be at £5,000 per week within the next two years. It’s not a huge space but we’re filling up with weddings, corporate events. It’s adding a late-night element. We’ll also do open-mic nights and other events later too, and we’re thinking about putting a 40-cover pizza concept in downstairs.” The company will open its 19th site, The Bear & Ragged Staff, in the village of Cumnor in Oxfordshire on Thursday, 8 March. The pub, leased from Greene King, will offer 150 covers and nine bedrooms following a £250,000 investment. Stoddart said: It’s a medieval building and one of our most beautiful venues. It’s a proper, old-school village pub.” Regarding trading, he added: “It’s been a bit up and down – Christmas was great and New Year not so good. It’s been bouncing – but we’ve been decent since the second week.”

Handmade Burger Co moves Hull location: Handmade Burger Co, the company that was bought out of administration by new owners last year with the closure of nine sites, is opening in Paragon Street in Hull city centre after deciding to close its current site in a city shopping centre. The company is closing its restaurant in St Stephen’s Shopping centre, a short distance from the new restaurant location. The new restaurant is at a former Yates’s Wine Lodge. In response to a question about the circumstances of the business in Hull, Handmade Burger Co tweeted: “We went into administration last year but now we’ve switched owners and are bouncing back. We’re moving our current Hull branch to this snazzy new location – you should go see the team and ask for the special discounts and promos they’re giving out.” Jim Harris, centre manager of St Stephen’s, confirmed the restaurant would soon close but believes the relocation is taking place for “positive” reasons. He said: “It’s a positive thing really. The new owners have shown they are interested in Hull so that is very positive. They were interested in moving further into the city centre and have taken the chance to go that way. The original owners have changed, they have now made this choice and we wish them well. We will now look for a new or similar food outlet to move in. We are very positive. As much as we are brand St Stephen’s, we are brand Hull and want to see positive news in the city. High-street conditions are currently challenging but one of the legacies from City of Culture is we are enjoying this positivity from businesses, and here the company has shown it still really wants to stay in the city.”

Northern Monk Brew Co to launch £500,000 crowdfunding campaign: Northern Monk Brew Co is looking to raise more than £500,000 through a crowdfunding campaign as it plans to triple capacity, install a new packaging line, and fast-track plans for additional taprooms. The Leeds-based company began life in a parent’s cellar in 2013 with just £5,000. In 2014, the company renovated The Old Flax store and, with three full-time staff members and three brewing vessels, began making beer in its new home. The business now has 30 staff, sells its beer to 22 countries (including the US, New Zealand and Japan), effectively doubled turnover each year for the past three years, and is set to brew more than three million pints in 2018. With the investment, eight 10,000-litre fermentation vessels will be purchased and a packaging line improving quality, efficiency and speed will be introduced. Northern Monk said if more than the £500,000 target was raised, a second taproom would also be opened, with London or Manchester the preferred location. Russ Bisset, owner of Northern Monk Brew Co, said: “In 2013 we set out to make some of the best beer in the world with just £5,000. In 2014, we launched our own brewery. In the four years since, we’ve been rated one of the worlds top 100 breweries, we’ve sold beer to 22 countries across the world and we’re hoping for turnover of £4m by the end of this financial year. It’s been a wild four years. This is your chance to join us for the rest of it.”

Stonegate to reopen Walton-on-Thames riverside pub on Thursday: Stonegate Pub Company will reopen The Anglers riverside pub in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on Thursday (1 March) following a £400,000 investment. The 19th century Manor Road pub, which Stonegate acquired last summer, will combine “glamorous and cosy”, with two distinct floors featuring 20 British gins on one and a rustic bar offering ten real ale and craft beer brews on the other. In total, 70 covers have been added alongside riverside seating and an open fire. A new menu will offer favourites such as guest ale-battered cod and chips, and chicken and brie pie, alongside more unusual dishes such as pear and pecorino pasta. Manager Mark Slowe said: “We’re definitely making the most of The Anglers’ position on the river. The restoration has created a countrified summer and winter pub offering a seriously relaxing experience.” Meanwhile, Stonegate has reopened The Rose in Bedford High Street following a £360,000 refurbishment. The pub features an urban, industrialised design including reclaimed wood, neon lighting, rustic copper, and beach huts. Craft beer, cocktails, a new menu and high-tech sports viewing have also been added.

Whiting & Hammond launches takeaway service: Family-owned pub group Whiting & Hammond has launched a takeaway service offering dishes from its daily menus and a drinks selection available for collection. Initially being trialled at The Farm in Eastbourne and The Kings Head in Sevenoaks, the company said it was looking to roll out the concept across its estate in time for spring. Whiting & Hammond said it had paid attention to packaging to ensure the quality of pub classics such as fish and chips and shoulder of lamb were of the same quality customers would expect if eating on-site. Owner Brian Whiting said: “We’ve been listening to our customers who have repeatedly asked when we’d be doing takeaway. As a business we are also constantly assessing consumer trends and a desire for accessible dining and quality food on the go is becoming more and more apparent.” Whiting & Hammond already operates a smokehouse within The Little Brown Jug in Tonbridge, and a barbecue shack and pizza oven at The Rose and Crown in Orpington. The company operates eight sites in south east England.

Ahi Poké to open Bloomberg Arcade restaurant next week for fourth London site: Hawaiian poké specialist Ahi Poké is to open a restaurant in Bloomberg Arcade in the City next week for its fourth London site. Having discovered poké while travelling through California, Ahi Poké founders Gabriel Cohen-Elia, David Bellaiche and Jeremy Coste, a Michelin-trained chef, have freshened the traditional Hawaiian fish dish, adding Asian and Middle Eastern flavours. The venue will launch on Wednesday, 7 March with Coste’s menu centring on sustainably sourced fish and vegetables from New Covent Garden Market. Signature bowls will be accompanied by options for customers to create their own poké. Coste said: “We became obsessed with poké as soon as we tried it – there were these bowls bursting with vibrancy and goodness that transport you straight to the palm trees and translucent blue waters of the Pacific.” Ahi Poké will join other restaurants in Bloomberg Arcade including JKS Restaurants’ new concept Brigadiers, Tokyo-style noodle cafe Koya, Bleecker Burger, restaurant, bar and coffee roasting concept Caravan, better pizza brand Homeslice, and wine bar, restaurant and wine shop Vinoteca. Ahi Poké made its debut in Fitzrovia in June 2016, opening in Victoria Nova in July 2017 and Old Spitalfields Market in January this year.

TGI Friday’s to open Bracknell site next week: TGI Friday’s will open its latest site, in Bracknell, Berkshire, next week. The restaurant will launch at the new £240m The Lexicon development on Monday, 5 March creating 85 jobs. The 190-cover venue will be set across two floors and feature an open-plan kitchen. TGI Friday’s UK property director David Carroll told Get Reading: “Bracknell has always been a location where we wanted to open a Friday’s and The Lexicon is the perfect spot.” Earlier this month, TGI Friday’s chief executive Karen Forrester contacted Propel to quash “nonsense” regional news stories suggesting site closures and financial distress after news emerged owner Electra Private Equity was considering options including retaining the business and adding other brands – as well as a sale. Forrester told Propel: “There is a lot of bad news in the industry at the moment and I think we have to take a stance and stress this is a very good, sound business. We intend to open more great Friday’s restaurants across the UK in 2018 and beyond, with a further six new stores planned this year alone.”

Ivy Collection to open Cambridge brasserie next month: The Ivy Collection is to open a brasserie in Cambridge next month. The company will open the venue in Trinity Street on Wednesday, 14 March with space for 159 guests in the main restaurant, bar and terrace and a private dining room for up to 16 people, reports the Cambridge News. The Ivy Collection has recently opened brasseries in Cheltenham, York and King’s Cross, with further launches lined up this year in Birmingham, Brighton, Dublin, Guildford, Leeds and Winchester.

Signature Living to open rooftop bar and restaurant at Bootle aparthotel: Aparthotel developer and operator Signature Living is to open a rooftop bar and restaurant at its Daniel House site in Bootle, Merseyside. The company will launch 14 Bar & Grill this summer on the 14th floor of the property in Trinity Road, offering panoramic views. A spokesman told the Liverpool Echo: “Daniel House is eagerly awaiting the opening of 14 Bar & Grill. The rooftop restaurant offers unique panoramic views of Liverpool and beyond and will serve an eclectic menu of hand-made dishes, cocktails and drinks.” 14 Bar & Grill will also specialise in pizza made in its own oven. Daniel House, which was redeveloped by Signature Living last year, features luxury apartments and facilities such as an on-site gym.

New Silk Road-inspired restaurant concept Osh to launch across three-storey Knightsbridge townhouse: New Silk Road-inspired restaurant concept Osh is to launch across a three-storey Knightsbridge townhouse. Osh, named after the second-largest city in Kyrgyzstan, which was once one of the largest markets along the Silk Road, will offer plov – an Uzbek comfort food. The venue will open in Beauchamp Place on Thursday, 8 March at a site formerly occupied by Japanese restaurant Nozumi. Osh will feature a restaurant and bar on the first two floors with a private cocktail lounge on the top floor. Dishes will include an aromatic lamb plov, traditional Uzbek lagman soup, Tashkent salads, and chicken and tomato shashlik kebabs, Hot Dinners reports.

BrewDog launches free ‘beer visa’: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has launched a “beer visa” for customers to use across its estate. Each BrewDog bar will offer a personalised stamp customers can collect in their free “passport” to win prizes. BrewDog has set five challenges – HomeDog (visit all Aberdeen and Ellon bars), Big Smoke (visit all London bars), Flying Scotsman (visit all Scottish bars), Mad Dogs And Englishmen (visit all English bars), and This Is 40 (visit any 40 BrewDog bars). Rewards will be redeemable in bars or online and the “biometric” visa comes with a swipe card that links to BrewDog’s website. The company stated on its blog: “Now we have around 50 bars, from Edinburgh to São Paulo, we figured it was time to make that journeying official. So we are introducing the BrewDog Intergalactic Beer Visa!”

Nando’s lodges plans for eighth Glasgow site: Nando’s has lodged plans for its eighth site in Glasgow. The company has applied to the city council to open the restaurant in Vinicombe Street on the site of the Botanic Gardens car dealership. The building is owned by Arnold Clark, which previously revealed plans to convert the property into three restaurants and a gym, reports the Glasgowist. At the time, Arnold Clark head of communications Lee Ann Edison said: “This investment will involve a mix of premium restaurants run by national and local operators, as well as car parking, a gym and community space.” Nando’s other restaurants in Glasgow include Sauchiehall Street, Springfield Quay and the Silverburn Shopping Centre. Meanwhile, Nando’s has been given the go-ahead to open a second site in Exeter. The company has been granted permission by the city council for the new-build restaurant at Alphington Park in Marsh Barton Road as part of phase two of a food court development that opened two years ago. Nando’s said the new restaurant would create 40 jobs and complement the city centre branch in Princesshay, reports Exeter Live.

Serani Hotels acquires 17th century Oxfordshire hotel for second site: Serani Hotels has acquired The Mercure Banbury Whately Hall Hotel in Oxfordshire for its second site. The company, which is led by Rajiv Nathwani and Ravi Ruparelia, will operate the 17th century hotel under the Mercure brand. The three-star venue in Banbury features 69 rooms, six meeting rooms and can hold events for up to 180 guests. Nathwani told Insider Media: “Whately Hall presents a fantastic opportunity for Serani Hotels to bring this popular and well-known hotel back up to the four-star standard. The iconic building is in a wonderful location and is an ideal addition to our growing portfolio.” Alex Campbell, director at agents Christie & Co, which brokered the deal, added: “The hotel attracted an acute level of interest and we received a number of offers from a variety of international investors.” In December, Serani Hotels acquired its first site – The Derbyshire Hotel in the Peak District – from US-based Starwood Capital for more than £10m. The company was founded in May and is planning further acquisitions in 2018.

Bath-based tapas restaurant doubles up: Bath-based Spanish restaurant Ole Tapas has doubled up in the city. The company has opened a new venue in Saw Close on the site of the former Gascoyne Place restaurant. The menu includes Spanish tapas with cured meat, fish and cheese featuring heavily. There are also vegetarian tapas dishes such as freshly baked beetroot with goat’s cheese, and thyme and grilled oyster mushrooms with garlic olive oil. The company’s other Ole Tapas restaurant is in John Street, reports the Bath Chronicle.

Steampunk-themed dessert parlour to open in Brentwood with other sites to follow: A steampunk-themed dessert parlour is set to open in Brentwood, Essex, with other sites to follow. Carters Dessert Lounge has submitted plans to open in the town centre at a former post office building featuring milkshake and cocktail bars and offering American-style pancakes, waffles, chimney cakes (Hungarian-style bread), and gelato. The decor would take inspiration from science fiction genre steampunk and be the first of four sites, the company behind the concept told Essex Live. A planning statement read: “This Steampunk dream will be an enchanting eatery, a fantastic feast for the eyes and stomach. It would aim to be one of the top ‘destination restaurants’ in Essex, providing a huge boost to Brentwood and the local economy.” Michelin-starred chef Albert Roux submitted plans to open a restaurant in the post office building in 2014, but the move failed to come to fruition.