Casual Dining Group appoints advisers to help cut rents: Casual Dining Group has called in advisers as it looks to negotiate cutting rents at a handful of sites with landlords. The company said it faced a “tough operating environment” and needed to reduce costs further. Casual Dining Group, which has nearly 300 restaurants under brands such as Las Iguanas and Bella Italia, is working with Alvarez & Marsal. Propel understands Casual Dining Group has performed particularly strongly over the past quarter, and there is no prospect of the business entering into a company voluntary arrangement, as it did in 2014. However, it is looking at cutting high rents being paid at a handful of sites to protect the core business and brands, and to ensure it is well positioned for the future. A spokesman said: “Like many other businesses we are facing a tough operating environment, and are focused on reducing costs where possible. A small number of our sites are loss-making due to high rents and rates, and we are taking action to ensure the core business is in good shape for future growth. Talking to landlords is commonplace and good business practice.”
Luke Johnson relinquishes Patisserie Holdings salary, steps down from various company roles: Patisserie Holdings chairman Luke Johnson has relinquished his salary and resigned from a string of other jobs as part of his efforts to revive the troubled company’s fortunes. Johnson has told the board he will not take a penny of his £60,000 salary for the rest of his time at the business, which has been rocked by a £40m black hole in its accounts. He came under fire from corporate governance watchdogs earlier this year for having too many jobs. But Johnson has stepped down from swimming googles maker Zoggs, West End entertainment business AKA Group, theatre company Generation of Z and Beak street Films, reports The Mail on Sunday. The resignations came after Johnson faced a barrage of criticism after the black hole was discovered in the accounts of Patisserie Holdings last month. The company said it had discovered “significant, and potentially fraudulent, accounting irregularities”. It later revealed it had net debt of about £9.8m, having previously reported a net cash position of £29m. Finance boss Chris Marsh, who has since resigned, was arrested by police and released on bail without charge. The Serious Fraud Office said it has “opened a criminal investigation into an individual”, without identifying them. The shares were worth £4.29 before they were suspended from trading on the stock market. Mark Brumby, chief executive at investment firm Langton Capital, said the shares could be worth as little as 60p when they resume trading. It is not clear when the suspension will be lifted. Last week, shareholders approved a £15.8m rescue deal for the company although Johnson, who loaned the company £20m to save it, was given a hard time by investors.
Molson Coors UK sees profits drop £15m despite turnover rise as on-trade volumes fall 2.3%: Molson Coors’ UK business has seen profits drop almost £15m despite an increase in turnover as on-trade volumes fell 2.3%. The company, whose brands include Carling, Coors Light, Cobra and Doom Bar, saw turnover rise 5.5% to £1.42bn for the year ending 31 December 2017, compared with £1.35bn the previous year. Pre-tax profit fell to £56.8m, compared with £71.3m the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Molson Coors said the decline was a result of a “combination of margin reduction from pricing pressure and increased costs of goods due to commodity inflation”. During the year the company incurred exceptional costs of £7m, up from £5.6m, relating to the restructuring of its operations. This was primarily down to the company taking the decision to close its Burton South brewery in December 2017. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “The UK beer market in 2017 increased 0.7% in total volume, with on-premise declining 2.3% and off-premise increasing 3.5%. During 2017 we continued to invest behind our first choice for consumers and customers agenda, which resulted in the company taking volume share in both on and off-premise channels. Industry pricing continues to be the biggest challenge causing margin pressure in the UK beer business in both the on-trade and off-trade. The company is managing pricing by channel, in the context of local competition, while staying focused on the core strategy of building strong brands for the long-term and focusing on our strategy of first choice for consumer and customer.” At the start of this year, Molson Coors acquired Suffolk-based cider-maker Aspall for an undisclosed sum.
Urban Pub and Bars secures 16th site for City debut: Urban Pubs and Bars, led by Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap, has secured its 16th site – and first in the City of London. It will invest £1m in a 6,000 square foot venue in Watling Street that most recently traded as Mingo’s Argentinian steakhouse. The site is sub-let from Marston’s, which traded its Pitcher & Piano brand there for a number of years. Pring told Propel: “It is our first site in the City of London. We will invest £1m to create a premium bar with a quality food offer to match the outstanding bars already operating in the City.” Work on the new site is expected to take ten weeks with an opening scheduled for February. Urban Pubs and Bars has seen double-digit sales growth across the estate for four consecutive years. The company has also had the lease for its 12,000 square foot Bat and Ball venue at Westfield Stratford extended for two further years. The site was originally supposed to open for one year but the latest lease extension will mean it will have been operating for five. Urban Pubs is investing circa £70,000 on evolving the offer, which will include the addition of a karaoke room.
Wasabi seeks cash injection: London-based sushi and bento business Wasabi is looking to find a new investor. Dung Hyun Kim, a former market trader who founded Wasabi in 2003, has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to seek a cash injection. Wasabi, which has about 50 sites, mostly in London, said it was looking for a “minority equity partner” to help refurbish its eateries and fund expansion in America, reports The Sunday Times. However, the move comes just eight months after the business secured a £30m credit facility from HSBC and negotiated with landlords to pay its rent bills monthly rather than quarterly. Wasabi’s profit sank from £2m to £769,598 in 2016, the latest available figure. It blamed the drop on soaring salmon prices. An industry source said the profits had taken a further hit since then. PwC said it had been asked to run a “competitive process” for an “injection of capital to support [Wasabi’s] next phase of growth”.
The Healy Group opens fifth site with Ei Group, in Hampton: Family-run multi-site operator The Healy Group has opened its fifth site in partnership with Ei Group. The Healy Group, founded by Marion and Don Healy, has relaunched The Hampton Ale House in Hampton, south west London, taking its total number of sites to 23 with two more coming on board shortly. The property has undergone a significant transformation after suffering severe fire damage last year. The £150,000 refurbishment includes a new bar and kitchen, as well as a separate area for functions. In addition to the refurbishment, the pub has been repositioned with a new food and drink offer, including stone-baked pizza and traditional Sunday roast. The drink offer primarily focuses on ale. Marion Healy said: “When the opportunity came up to revive this much-loved community pub it was a no-brainer for us. We run a number of Ei Publican Partnership pubs and look forward to growing the partnership further in the future.” Ei Publican Partnerships regional manager Mark Lewis said: “Marion and her team are not only an asset to the community but an asset to our estate. They have a tremendous track record of running excellent pubs and I have no doubt this site will be a success.” The Healy Group’s sites are located across south east England, including four others with Ei Group – The Royal Oak and The Woodcutters, both in Bracknell, Berkshire, The Fat Cow in Denham, Buckinghamshire, and The Old Ford in North Camp, Hampshire.
Remarkable Pubs secures 16th site: Remarkable Pubs, the privately owned east London-focused pub company, has secured its 16th site. The company’s latest deal comes six months after it acquired the freehold interest of the Boleyn Tavern in Barking Road. Managing director Elton Mouna said: “I am delighted to announce we have exchanged contracts on another impressive freehold London pub. The off-market deal will complete in December bringing our collection of quality, predominately freehold, London pubs to 16. Recruitment for a top-notch pub management team is under way.”
KFC UK boss – company’s distribution problems still not over, chicken crisis a ‘watershed’ moment for business: KFC UK & Ireland managing director Paul MacKenzie has said the company’s distribution crisis that led to 700 restaurants being closed earlier this year were still not over but described it as a “watershed” moment for the business. MacKenzie, who took over from Martin Shuker in March last year after he was promoted to run the western European business, said it “pains her” ten months on there are enduring issues, but the company is making progress on fixing the problems. She hoped there would be no supply issues in the event of a no-deal Brexit – some of KFC’s chicken comes from as far afield as Thailand. She told The Times: “You can imagine, after the year I had, the supply chain is my main concern. You are stronger than you think and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. On a normal day if I had ten stores closed something major would be up and here I was closing up to 700 stores. Now if I come to work and the stores are open, that is a good day. [The chicken crisis] has had an impact on performance and 2018’s [full-year] figures will be behind 2017, but not as monumentally as one might have thought. I am really pleased with how we have come back from it. It has been a watershed moment for us to be bolder, more courageous and ambitious.” MacKenzie said often people who criticise KFC as unhealthy haven’t been in a branch “since the early 1980s” and are not aware of its healthier range. “You can’t pick up a package sandwich for less than 500 calories and a KFC fillet burger comes in at 475 calories,” she added. She eats at KFC at least two or three times a week. Last week, KFC owner Yum! Brands reported the British division saw sales rise by 1% in the third quarter compared with the previous year but are 4% down year-to-date. The company aims to have 1,000 UK outlets by 2020, with plans for a further 500.
Ponti’s narrows losses as it reports turnover drop: London-based Ponti’s Italian Kitchen has reported turnover fell to £2,469,520 for the year ending 31 January 2018, compared with £3,484,392 the previous year. Pre-tax losses narrowed to £177,620 compared with a loss of £267,882 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Ponti’s operates two sites – in Oxford Circus, London, and at Fox Valley in north Sheffield. In September, it shelved plans to open a site in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, to concentrate on its existing operations. The number of employees during the period fell to 52 from 71 the previous year.
JD Wetherspoon bosses face AGM revolt: JD Wetherspoon shareholders are being urged by City advisory firms to reject several motions at the company’s annual general meeting next week. Investor adviser Pirc has said Tim Martin should not be re-elected as chairman because, as founder and a 32% shareholder, he is not “independent” enough for the job. Glass Lewis is against Wetherspoon’s pay scheme, under which its finance boss Ben Whitley has been given an 11% pay rise to £192,000. Both bodies have told investors to vote against non-executive director Sir Richard Beckett because, after nine years, they consider he has served enough time on the board, reports The Mail on Sunday. Martin took a pre-emptive swipe at advisory firms in Wetherspoon’s annual report in September. He hit out at corporate governance guidelines which he says discourage lengthy executive and board tenures at companies. He said: “Wetherspoon has a significant competitive edge in governance, since all of our directors, bar one, were in situ at the time of the last financial crisis… [The] ‘institutionalising’ of inexperience seems wrong.”
Alan Yau – selling Wagamama was like saying goodbye to a child:Wagamama founder Alan Yau has said selling the business was like “saying goodbye to a child” while his Chinese noodle bar concept Cha Cha Moon “hasn’t worked out”. He told The Sunday Times: “Wagamama was born in 1992 when my Japanese lodger introduced me to ramen noodles. It was my lightbulb moment because I finally had my anchor product – a soup base of noodles and a topping. I sold my stake in Wagamama in 1997 after bringing in a private equity firm to help fund its global expansion. It was like seeing your baby brought up by strangers with different values. Also, Cha Cha Moon that I launched in 2008 hasn’t worked out.” Yau’s other ventures include the £40m Chinese restaurant Park Chinois and Chinese gastro-pub Duck and Rice.
Dodo eyes fourth site: Oxford-based operator Dodo Pub Co is set to acquire its fourth site. The company has confirmed it is in negotiations to take over at The Somerset in the village of Marston. It is understood to be in the final stages of agreeing a deal for the site in Marston Road, which has been closed since 2014. Marston residents have campaigned tirelessly to save the building – the last pub in the area. Co-organiser of the Save Our Somerset campaign Wendy Twist told the Oxford Mail: “We know the owner has agreed to lease the building to a pub company and keep it as a pub. Dodo is in negotiations. Nothing is 100% confirmed – we’re not counting our chickens yet – but it’s obviously very hopeful.” If a contract is agreed, the pub could open again early in the new year. The format is set to follow in the footsteps of Dodo’s other sites with a menu of wood-fired pizza, small bites, salads and burgers as well as breakfast and brunch. Dodo Pub Company operates The Rickety Press and The Rusty Bicycle in Oxford as well as The Bottle Of Sauce in Cheltenham.
Inflata Nation to expand overseas: Southport-based inflatable theme park company Inflata Nation is expanding overseas. The company, which grew out of trampoline arena operator Jump Nation, currently operates three of its own inflatable theme parks and opened its first franchise earlier this year. Owners Matt and Michelle Ball are keen to grow further and will open their debut international site in the first half of 2019. Michelle Ball told Insider Media: “Our first franchise site is already open in Birmingham and three more franchise locations are in development, with several others in the early stages. One of the new sites will be our first international franchise with plans to expand into further international markets next year. We are spinning quite a few plates at the moment and will be hitting the new year with a lot of new locations coming online.” Matt Ball added: “Our model has proved successful and we’re aiming to roll it out even further over the next 12 months. We believe Inflata Nation offers not only a unique experience for our customers but is also perfectly suited to an ambitious expansion strategy and is an attractive franchise opportunity.” The theme parks offer a range of attractions such as drop slides, climbing walls, assault course races attached to bungee cords, human Hungry Hippos games, ball pools and Total Wipeout-style courses.
City District Group to open fifth Fazenda, in Birmingham this month: City District Group is to open a fifth venue for its Brazilian rodizio restaurant brand Fazenda, in Birmingham this month. Founders Robert Melman and Tomas Maunier will open the 200-cover, 10,000 square foot venue on Friday, 16 November within 55 Colmore Row. The restaurant will cater for lunch and dinner in its main dining spaces and feature a 50-seater bar. There will also be two private dining rooms and an exclusive 60-capacity dining and events space. The restaurant will offer continuous tableside service with 15 choices of meat, while there will be a gourmet sides bar featuring feijoada – a traditional Brazilian stew – alongside salad, cured meat and sushi. The restaurant will also feature a dedicated wine room offering more than 100 blends. City District Group’s other Fazenda restaurants are in Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, while it operates sister brand Picanha in Chester. In July, the company launched Tast Cuina Catalana in Manchester in partnership with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Michelin-starred chef Paco Perez.
Indoor mini-golf concept fails in £150,000 crowdfunding bid: Indoor mini-golf concept Pixel City Golf has failed in its bid to raise £150,000 on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to open the first of five multi-activity sites outside London by 2022. The company was offering 13.04% equity in return for the investment, with funds being used to open a first venue plus “marketing to drive awareness”. However, Crowdcube has announced the campaign did not reach its funding target by the closing date. Pixel City Golf said it was aiming to take advantage of the fast-growing competitive socialising industry, expected to be worth £129bn this year. The team has 25 years of experience in complementary industries and businesses. The pitch stated: “We believe the UK is lacking indoor entertainment venues that offer the customer something different – fun for all age groups and with pricing aimed at capturing the majority, not the minority. Pixel City Golf aims to open a multi-activity indoor entertainment and leisure venue designed for all age groups and private hire, offering a 36-hole indoor mini-golf experience.”
Former Novikov head chef launches fish-inspired street food bar restaurant in Tooting: Carmelo Carnevale, who has previously worked as head chef of restaurant group Novikov’s now closed Trattoria Semplice, has launched a fish-inspired street food bar restaurant in Tooting, south London. Carnevale has opened FishBite in Broadway Market in Tooting High Street. The menu features a range of paninis stuffed with fillings such as tuna, salmon tartar and chargrilled octopus. There is also a variety of salads, fish kebabs, fritto misto and arancini. The drinks list is exclusively Italian with wines from Sicily, Puglia and Tuscany as well as Italian spritz, reports Hot Dinners. Carnevale also worked in the original Harry’s Bar in Venice and more recently at Osteria Romana in Knightsbridge.
Signature Brew launches debut taproom: Signature Brew, the “music-inspired” brewing operation known for its collaborative beers with musicians, has launched its debut taproom. The brewer used a £100,000 invoice finance facility from NatWest to support the opening of Signature Brew Taproom & Venue in Haggerston, east London. Tom Bott, who co-founded the brewery seven years ago with business partner Sam McGregor, told BDaily: “When we started out in 2011 our long-term goal was to change the face of beer in music venues. We’ve achieved this by bringing great beer and great music together time and again. It was only right our next step for growth was to launch our debut taproom, which has fresh beer and live music at its heart.” NatWest business growth enabler Daniel Copsey added: “Signature Brew has a unique business model and the fact it has tripled the size of its business over the past three years is testament to the quality of its products and determination of Tom and Sam.” Signature Brew is currently running a £400,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to open further taprooms and treble capacity. The company is offering 4.26% equity in return for the investment, giving a pre-money valuation of £9m. So far, 247 investors have pledged £257,920 with ten days of the campaign remaining.
Intu unveils £1m revamp of Nottingham shopping centre’s dining area: Intu has unveiled its design for the £1m revamp of the Clocktower dining area at the Victoria Centre in Nottingham. The investment was revealed in August along with plans to introduce six new food outlets including noodle bar Chopstix and a second city site for healthy eating cafe concept Clean Cut Kitchen. Victoria Centre general manager Nigel Wheatley told The Business Desk: “This is a big change and one our customers have asked for. We’ve taken comments and insights on board and I’m confident they will love the new look as much as we do when work is complete in November. With Clocktower dining, we’re aiming to create a comfortable and relaxed space where shoppers can unwind. With even more seating available, the option of grabbing a quick snack or having a more leisurely lunch, as well as a greater mix of price points, the new Clocktower dining area will be the perfect space for friends and family.”
Siren Craft Brew reports record month: Independent brewer Siren Craft Brew, which is currently aiming to raise £750,000 on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, has reported a record month. Founder Darron Anley said: “We have surpassed every company record. We posted more than £460,000 in a single month. October was 23% up on our previous best month this year. We achieved 54% growth year-on-year from October 2017. With only two months to go this year, our forecast of £3.6m turnover for 2018 is not only within reach, I am confident we will surpass it.” Siren Craft Brew is aiming to raise the £750,000 to “accelerate its next stage of growth”, including launching its beer in cans, expanding capacity and improving efficiency. It is offering 6.38% equity in return for investment, which gives it a pre-money valuation of £11m. So far, 625 investors have pledged £490,430 with 19 days of the campaign remaining.