Loungers looking at 40 sites as it continues to build pipeline for 2018 and beyond: Loungers chief executive Nick Collins has told Propel the company is currently looking at about 40 sites as it continues to build its pipeline for 2018 and beyond. Collins said he also believed there would be further opportunities for the Lion Capital-backed group, which operates the Lounges and Cosy Club brands, as other operators looked to dispose of sites. The company, which currently operates 114 venues, is looking to add 25 further outlets this year as its roll-out intentions remain unchanged. A further seven or eight openings are scheduled for the final quarter of its financial year, including a Cosy Club in Lincoln and Lounge sites in Solihull, Ormskirk and recently acquired sites from Wildwood and Prezzo in Abingdon and Moseley respectively. Collins said: “We are in various stages of negotiations on about 40 sites that will take us into 2019. Of course, some of them will fall by the wayside because we have always been very strict with our rent parameters. On the property side, it’s important to be fleet of foot and I think further opportunities are likely to arise with a number of operators looking to sell sites.” The company saw like-for-like sales for the four weeks to 31 December 2017 increase 4.8%. Total December sales, including new openings, were 28% higher than the previous year. Collins said: “The Cosy Clubs in particular traded fantastically in what is a very important period of trade for them. The Lounges again delivered strong growth and this continues to be volume-led with prices held. We are excited about what we can achieve in 2018 in terms of expanding into new locations, improving the experiences for our customers and building on the fantastic employee culture within the business.” Meanwhile, finance director Chris Guy is to leave the business for “personal reasons” and a search is under way for his successor ahead of his departure in March.

Westons reports turnover passes £60m mark as operating profit increases: Cider-maker Westons has reported turnover increased to £61,358,974 for the year ending 31 March 2017, compared with £59,069,341 the previous year. UK turnover was up to £59,179,901, compared with £56,991,457 the year before. Sales from Europe rose to £1,619,414 compared with £1,459,715 the prior year, while rest of the world revenue was down to £559,659 compared with £618,169 the previous year. Operating profit was up to £4,057,184 compared with £3,763,689 the year before, while pre-tax profit was down to £2,518,599 from £2,763,473 in 2016, according to accounts filed at Companies House. A report by the directors accompanying the accounts stated: “The cider market continues to prove challenging but with a positive outlook as overall cider volumes show a marginal recovery on the year, mainly driven by the on-trade. The off-trade showed slight volume declines but value increased as the cider market premiumised and continued its gradual move away from value cider products. Over the financial year, we increased our market share from 5.5% to 5.9%, in a year where overall sales for cider declined. In profit terms, we achieved an operating profit of 6.8% of turnover compared with the previous year’s 6.4%. This improvement was achieved by careful management of product margins and more effective deployment of our resources against a continuing backdrop of intense competitive pressures.” In November 2016 Westons acquired Global Winery, which is now being integrated into its existing operations. Westons can trace its roots to 1878 and sells its cider to more than 40 countries.

Lussmanns on the hunt for two new sites: Lussmanns Fish & Grill, the independent brasserie group backed by investor Luke Johnson, is on the hunt for two new sites. The company, which operates five venues, is targeting locations in Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, including Amersham, Beaconsfield, Bedford, Bushey, Epping, Gerrards Cross, Radlett, Thame, Watford, Welwyn Garden City and Woburn. Sites need to be leasehold, a minimum of 1,000 square feet and able to accommodate 50-plus covers. Existing restaurants are preferred in “buildings that have character or are unusual and close to the town centre”. Lussmanns, which launched in 2004, currently has sites in Harpenden, Hertford, Hitchin, St Albans and Tring, which is its most recent venue after launching in July last year.

Rarebreed Dining reports December like-for-likes up 31%, third site to open in Reading: Fledgling pub company Rarebreed Dining has reported like-for-like sales increased 31.52% in December 2017 across its two sites – The Plough Inn in Cobham, Surrey, and The Shurlock Inn in Shurlock Row, Berkshire. The company also revealed it would open a third site, in Reading, later this year that will be its largest venue so far. Rarebreed Dining managing director Jordan Hallows told Propel: “This impressive growth has been down to investing in the strength of our management team and training at The Plough Inn along with the extension and relaunch of The Shurlock Inn. The morale, cohesion and culture of the Rarebreed Dining team, our “Breeders”, has been a major focus and has created a positive place to work and a positive experience for our guests. We are targeting 100% like-for-like growth in the final quarter of this year due to the impending opening of our biggest site yet, The Corn Stores in central Reading. It is a grade II-listed, four-storey former corn store that we will develop into a bar, restaurant and members’ club serving the best British ingredients with a focus on gin, cocktails and steak basted in seasoned Wagyu fat, cooked over charcoal.” Havisham Group, a privately owned investment fund founded by David Brownlow, invested £6m of committed equity capital and institutional leverage in Rarebreed Dining in August 2016 to fund its acquisition of The Shurlock Inn and further expansion.

Club Mexicana founder to open London’s first all-vegan pub: The founder of Mexican-inspired vegan street food restaurant Club Mexicana is opening London’s first all-vegan pub. Meriel Armitage has teamed up with Luke McLaughlin and Sherri-Lee Estabrook to launch The Spread Eagle in Homerton on Thursday (11 January). The menu includes “scallops” made from king oyster mushrooms and poached in garlic oil; and beer-battered “tofish” and chip burritos, where the seafood is tofu wrapped in seaweed, wrapped in beer batter. The venue will also offer vegan beer. Armitage said vegan food was about exploding the myths around it. She told the Evening Standard: “Supermarkets aren’t buying into veganism because of a sense of moral duty, they’re buying into it because the demand is there. I never thought we’d reach this tipping point in my lifetime.” We’re not a gastro-pub – we’ll have DJs, an art club, quiz nights, and parties until late on Friday and Saturday.” Club Mexicana has sites in Camden and Shoreditch with another new location in the capital “coming soon”, according to its website.

Santa Maria to open third London pizzeria, in Fitzrovia next month: Neapolitan pizza concept Santa Maria is to open its third London site, in Fitzrovia next month. Pasquale Chionchio and Angelo Ambrosio launched the concept in Ealing in 2010, with a second site opening in Chelsea in 2016. The 40-cover venue in Fitzrovia will open in New Cavendish Street on Thursday, 1 February offering an increased number of vegan dishes and chef collaborations. The decor will feature art deco pinks, greens, yellows and blues inspired by 1960s Italian coffee bars in London. Chionchio said: “From the dough and the temperature of our hand-made oven to the order we place our ingredients on the dough and the way we stretch it, you name it, we’ve thought about it!” Ambrosio added: “We’re so excited about opening in central London. It’s a huge move for us but we’re quietly confident.” Last year, Chionchio and Ambrosio told Propel they had turned down approaches from private equity firms. Ambrosio said: “It’s not for us at this stage. We are extremely passionate about what we do and our independence is very important.” The duo also took on their first pub in May, The Red Lion in Ealing, which is owned by Fuller’s and is next to the Santa Maria restaurant. Ambrosio and Chionchio also operate Sacro Cuore pizzerias in Kensal Rise and Crouch End.

Papas Fish & Chips to open Hull city centre restaurant for fifth site: Papas Fish & Chips, which opened the “world’s largest fish and chip shop” on Cleethorpes Pier last May, is to launch a restaurant in Hull city centre for its fifth site in total. The 150-cover venue is set to open in Princes Dock Street in March at a venue formerly occupied by Charterhouse Recruitment. The opening will create 50 jobs. Dino Papas, who owns the company with father Sid and brother George, told the Hull Daily Mail: “There is so much going on in the city centre and we are glad to be adding to it. It’s a really great spot in front of the water. It’s going to be smaller than our other restaurants but this will be more of a cafe tea room.” The other Papas Fish & Chip sites are in Bilton, Scarborough and Willerby. The Papas family opened their first restaurant in Margate, Kent, in 1966 before moving the operation to the north east.

JD Wetherspoon refused licence for new Belfast pub: JD Wetherspoon has been refused a licence in its bid to open a new pub in the centre of Belfast. The company was seeking a licence for the venue at a former JJB Sports store in Royal Avenue but a judge refused its application amid opposition from six independent bars already trading in the neighbouring streets. As part of the application the company was expected to use a licence from another of its outlets outside Belfast. However, Belfast County Court heard evidence that alterations made to those premises to increase the drinking facilities had invalidated a renewal of its licence. On that basis, Her Honour Judge Crawford refused the application, reports the Irish Times.

Food Roots opens second concept restaurant, Via Emilia: London-based Food Roots has opened its second concept restaurant – Via Emilia. Owner Christian Pero, who operates In Parma in Fitzrovia, has launched the venue in Hoxton Square having acquired the site from Red Dog Saloon last summer. Via Emilia takes its name from the Roman road that runs through Emilia Romagna, the Italian region that is the birthplace of homemade egg pasta. Via Emilia offers diners eight signature pasta dishes from each Emilian city the road connects. All are authentically named in the local dialect and hand-made from traditional family recipes. A small selection of shared-plate starters mainly consist of charcuterie and cheese platters, sliced fresh to order. A succinct wine list exclusively from the region complements the food. The 40-cover restaurant offers views into the kitchen via an open bar surrounded by bar stools. Pero’s ambition is to create “unique restaurants that still offer an authentic and regional Italian dining experience” by using ingredients carefully sourced from the very best “roots”, meaning only small and sustainable suppliers are used.

Thai Leisure Group launches management academy: Thai Leisure Group, which operates restaurant brands Thaikhun and Chaophraya, has launched a dedicated apprenticeship programme aimed at formalising training for its business managers. The company has joined forces with HIT Training to establish the course, which has been named Suksaa, after the Thai word for learning. Initially supporting managers from across England and Scotland, apprentices will undertake a Level 4 hospitality manager apprenticeship, gaining insight into wider group operations and equipping them with business, people and customer relations skills. Each apprentice will be mentored by a member of the group’s senior leadership team and will attend workshops at Thai Leisure Group restaurants across the UK, plus a final session in Bangkok. The Suksaa course will be a key initiative for Thai Leisure Group’s strategic investment in training for 2018, which will also see staff benefit from improved e-learning, on-site trainers and ongoing product knowledge sessions. James Hacon, group brand strategy director at Thai Leisure Group, said: “We are immensely proud that currently more than 80% of our business managers have been recruited internally and we are dedicated to providing them with the bespoke training they need to grow as individuals and step up within the business. We’re delighted to be working with HIT Training and it will also be helping us to roll out chef and front-of-house training programmes soon.” HIT Training managing director Jill Whittaker added: “By working closely with Thai Leisure Group, we have crafted a training programme that not only provides apprentices with the core industry skills and confidence they need to deliver on these responsibilities but also an in-depth understanding of the group’s ethos and values.”

Stonegate lodges plans to convert Newbury pub to Walkabout brand: Stonegate Pub Company has lodged plans to convert a site in Newbury, Berkshire, to its Walkabout brand. The company acquired The Diamond Tap in Cheap Street from JD Wetherspoon last year. Having reopened the pub in September while it considered “how best to secure the pub’s long-term future”, Stonegate has now submitted plans to West Berkshire Council to turn it into a Walkabout, reports Newbury Today. At the time of the purchase, chief executive Simon Longbottom said: “We have a strong track record in buying and investing in pubs – and the teams within them – enhancing the offer and enabling them to thrive under our ownership.” Stonegate operates more than 690 pubs split into two divisions – Branded (Slug and Lettuce, Yates’s, Walkabout, Common Room and Venues) and Traditional (Proper Pubs, Town Pub & Kitchen, and Classic Inns).

Simon Rogan brings Roganic back to Marylebone for permanent spot: Chef entrepreneur Simon Rogan has brought his Roganic restaurant back to Marylebone, London, this time as a permanent site. Rogan has returned to the same road, Blandford Street, where he launched Roganic as a pop-up in 2011. Some of the original Roganic team members have also returned, including head chef Oliver Marlow and general manager James Foster. A spokesman told Hot Dinners the menu was a renaissance of the original pop-up and would deliver an “informed dining experience, serving innovative dishes that draw on Simon’s trademark visionary and pioneering cooking”. In October, Rogan opened a standalone site in London for his Aulis fine dining concept after launching the experimental kitchen at Claridge’s in Mayfair in 2016. Rogan also operates two restaurants in Cartmel, Cumbria, including two Michelin-starred L’Enclume, which lost its number one spot in the Good Food Guide in 2017 to Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant in Cornwall after four years at the top.

South west-based hotel chain enters administration: South west-based hotel operators Richardson Hotels and Fowey Hotel, both part of the Richardson Group, have entered administration. Mark Boughey and Matthew Wild, of RSM, have been appointed joint administrators. The companies operate five hotels in total on the south Devon and Cornwall coasts – The Grand Hotel in Torquay, The Royal Beacon Hotel in Exmouth, The Falmouth Hotel in Falmouth, The Fowey Hotel in Fowey, and The Metropole Hotel in Padstow. Boughey said: “We appreciate there will be a significant degree of concern and uncertainty for staff, guests and suppliers as a result of the companies entering administration. I am pleased to confirm we will continue to trade all five hotels while we assess how best to proceed and will endeavour to update all stakeholders as soon as we can. All the hotels offer enviable locations, architecture and facilities so their rooms are in high demand from existing and new customers. While things are at an early stage, we are hopeful a long-term future for all the hotels can be secured.”

D&D London bans plastic straws as part of new sustainability and health initiative: Restaurant operator D&D London has become the latest hospitality company to ban plastic straws in a move to curb plastic waste that has been blamed for the death of thousands of sea birds, marine mammals and turtles. Last year, the company’s staff gave customers almost 1.9 million straws, of which only 44,000 (2.3%) were made from eco-friendly materials. As part of its new Mindful City sustainability and health initiative, D&D London plans to halve the number of straws it uses, with none made from plastic. The Mindful City campaign will also include an optional £1 on restaurant bills until 13 February, which will be doubled by the government and donated to WaterAid, and feature a series of events aimed at increasing awareness of wellbeing. D&D London chief executive Des Gunewardena said: “As restaurateurs, sustainability and caring for the environment generally have been central to how we run our business.” Other hospitality companies to ban plastic straws from their estate include The Alchemist, All Our Bars, Be At One, Laine Pub Company, Liberation Group, Oakman Inns and Restaurants, Redcomb Pubs and JD Wetherspoon.

Marston’s submits plans to build hotel behind Diss pub: Marston’s has submitted plans to build a hotel behind its Thatcher’s Needle pub in Diss, Norfolk. The company has applied to South Norfolk Council to build a hotel and five retail units in Park Road. The hotel would feature 27 en-suite bedrooms across two floors. In total, 153 car parking spaces would be created along with 20 cycle spaces, an increase from the current 71 spaces. Councillor Keith Kiddie told the Eastern Daily Press: “Diss itself may not be a tourist destination but it is the ideal place to stream off, with a number of walking routes. However, in and around Diss there isn’t much accommodation. To my knowledge, there isn’t another hotel until Thetford or Norwich. People want to explore Diss but they have little choice in where to go.” Marston’s plans to build a 60-bedroom hotel and restaurant on the site in 2011 were approved but later abandoned. The company then built The Thatcher’s Needle, which opened in October 2013.

New coffee house concept 39 Steps to launch in Soho this month: New concept 39 Steps Coffee Haus is to launch in Soho this month. The 25-cover venue in D’Arblay Street will roast and grind coffee on-site, with experts able to tell consumers the name of the farmer who grew the beans, which way the slope faced and how long the beans ripened for. Head roaster Jens Rettig buys beans from independent growers in India, Brazil, Mexico and El Salvador. The venue will also offer hand brews, cold brews, nitro brews, coffee smoothies and coffee milkshakes alongside cold-pressed juices. The all-day menu will feature homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and freshly made cakes and desserts.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park gets go-ahead for £50m expansion featuring new restaurants and hotel: Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster has been given the go-ahead for its £50m expansion plans, which includes new restaurants and a hotel. The scheme, which has been approved by Doncaster Council, will see 150 acres of neighbouring land transformed. It will allow the development of new reserves and the introduction of new species to continue the park’s conservation and welfare work. There will be a range of supporting facilities created, including restaurants and a destination hotel as well as a visitors’ hub. Chief executive John Minion told The Business Desk: “Come summer 2019, we will employ a further 300 members of staff. We are very excited about this next stage of our life and this is a game changer for Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster and the surrounding area.” The park was founded 80 years ago and currently employs 300 people. In that time it has contributed about £12.2m to the local economy, with visitor numbers rising steadily to a record 761,000 last year