Lluch steps down as Wasabi managing director: Frederic Lluch has stepped down as managing director of Wasabi, the sushi and bento chain, with a search for his successor in advanced stages, Propel has learned. Lluch joined the company, in which private equity firm Capdesia acquired a minority stake earlier this year, in March 2016 as operations director and was promoted to managing director in June 2017 where he led the business alongside the company’s founder Dong Hyung Kim. Names previously linked to the business include former Pizza Hut Restaurants deputy managing director Henry Birts and ex-Gourmet Burger Kitchen chief operating officer Keith Bird. The recent investment from Capdesia is being used to support the company’s next phase of growth, including expansion of the UK portfolio, extensive refurbishment programme of existing stores, further expansion of its US presence and development of other commercial opportunities for the brand. Capdesia told Propel in May it saw “amazing potential” for the sushi and bento brand. Capdesia invested in the 60-strong business, with co-investment coming from Sushiro Global Holdings, Japan’s largest publicly listed sushi chain operator, and Regis Group, a leading US and UK asset manager. Ashton Crosby, co-founder and managing director of Capdesia, told Propel the immediate focus would be to make the business “even more robust with new processes implemented”. He said the new investors were convinced there were “significant opportunities for the business, in the UK and overseas”. He said: “With a price point just north of McDonald’s, strong customer loyalty and a healthy product, the potential for expansion is enormous.” At the time, Propel said Capdesia would look to complement the management team and revealed it had already appointed Randeep Bansal, previously head of estates at Pret A Manger, as Wasabi’s property director.
 
Oakman Inns’ sales pass £40m as it reports like-for-likes up 4.8%: Oakman Inns and Restaurants has reported strong sales growth for the 13 weeks to 30 June 2019. Like-for-like sales for the quarter were up 4.8%, while total sales increased 28.8% year-on-year to £10,775,947. Oakman opened one pub, The Polecat in Prestwood, during the quarter and reopened The Beech House in Beaconsfield after a refurbishment and extension that doubled its size. Both sites are “performing ahead of expectation”, the company said, while flagship site The Royal Foresters in Ascot continues to “deliver impressive numbers”, with sales of more than £1m during the quarter. Oakman bolstered its leadership team during the period, appointing Steve Kenee as chief investment officer following Dermot King’s arrival as chief operating officer earlier in the year. Chief executive and founder Peter Borg-Neal said: “We are extremely pleased with this performance in a period where we have been rolling over some tough comparables. Our moving annual sales total has passed the £40m mark and we are in good shape going into our new financial year. We are enjoying real momentum. The energy and ideas our new colleagues bring to the business ensure we continue to evolve and improve. Additionally, several key operational initiatives are beginning to bear fruit. Project Esposito has raised the quality of our Neapolitan pizzas to the highest level and ensures we maintain and grow our reputation in a competitive market place and dominate catchment areas. In April, the AlixPartners Growth Index identified Oakman Inns as the fastest-growing pub company in the UK and third-fastest across the whole sector. That acknowledgement is borne out by our development over the past 18 months, with six new sites supporting superb sales growth across the core estate. Furthermore, we expect to open four sites in the coming 12 months led by the launch of The Lost Boy in Farnham in September.” Oakman Inns and Restaurants operates 23 venues in total.
Ten Entertainment Group eyes former retail sites as it builds pipeline, rolling out escape rooms: Ten Entertainment Group chief executive Duncan Garrood has told Propel the company is looking to take on former retail sites as it strengthens its pipeline. The company’s acquisition strategy has focused on independent bowling operators as it builds its portfolio but now it is seeking sites between 20,000 and 30,000 square feet. Speaking following Ten Entertainment Group’s first-half results, Garrood said: “Landlords are keen to talk to us as they look to the leisure market, which is in a good place, to boost their offer. It’s also giving us another avenue to build our pipeline. We are also looking at split-level sites, which gives us a greater range of properties.” Garrood also revealed he is looking to roll out escape rooms as “widely as possible” following the concept’s success at its Southampton site. The company now has four escape rooms at the venue it operates with partner Houdini. Garrood said: “The escape rooms have been incredibly successful. Not all our estate has space for such an offer but we’ll roll it out as widely as we can.” Garrood said the company had also adapted the technology-based darts game it trialled at its Star City site in Birmingham and it would be tailored for bars rather than separate rooms. He said he was looking to add the offer to some existing sites. The Hyperbowl bowling format trialled at Star City based around an interactive bumper system will be installed at its site in Fountain Park, Edinburgh. Ten Entertainment Group has also started upgrading some of its food offer, starting with nachos, with similar upgrades planned across its product range. Reflecting on its first-half results, Garrood said: “We have had a very good start to the year and what’s pleasing is we’re seeing sustained like-for-like growth – and that gives us confidence in our offer. Bowling has been around for decades so we know it’s a product that has longevity and isn’t a flash in the pan.”
Giggling Squid set for Leicester: Giggling Squid, the 32-strong Thai restaurant brand founded by Andy and Pranee Laurillard that was placed on the market earlier this year, has further strengthened its pipeline by securing a site in Leicester. Propel has learned the company will take over the former Grillstock site in St Martin’s Square that closed last year. Last month, Propel revealed Giggling Squid had exchanged on the Jamie’s Italian site in Cambridge’s Wheeler Street. In the 12 months to April 2019, the group opened eight restaurants including sites in Bishop’s Stortford, Cheltenham, Chichester, Harpenden, Kingston-upon-Thames and Windsor. In April the company opened restaurants in Oxford and Chislehurst, with both sites “trading well and to expectations”. The pipeline for sites into 2019-20 is strong as Giggling Squid looks to open six to ten restaurants a year and embark on a refurbishment programme of its more mature restaurants. Giggling Squid has signed for the former CAU site in Leamington Spa, which is due to open in the autumn subject to planning permission. Propel also understands Giggling Squid is close to securing a site in Weybridge. First-round bids for the BGF-backed Thai chain were submitted last week with CBPE, which acquired Cote for circa £100m in September 2013 before selling it in July 2015 to BC Partners for circa £250m, and LDC believed to be among the bidders. Primary Capital Partners, which previously backed YO! Sushi, has also been linked to the process. It is understood Giggling Squid, which the Laurillards founded in Hove in 2009, is valued at circa £50m. AG&G acted on the Leicester deal.
Wetherspoon pub disposal rate to be 1% per annum for next few years: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has told Propel he expects the company’s pub disposal rate to be about 1% of the estate annually over the next few years. The company put 20 pubs on the market earlier this year but has since removed four from the list – three in Scotland and one in Cornwall. The latter, The Chapel An Gansblydhen in Bodmin, was removed after Martin visited the pub. Speaking following the company’s trading update, Martin said: “The customers had a petition going to keep it and there has been a lot of investment in the town. Recently, sales have picked up so we thought we’d give it another whirl. It demonstrates our flexible approach on disposals. You’ll probably see a few more – 1% of the estate per annum over the next year or two. We’ve got about 900 pubs so you’re looking at nine or ten a year.” Martin said the 6.7% increase in like-for-like sales was being driven by sales of real ale, coffee and pizza. Wetherspoon is spending about £40m to introduce the pizza offer, which Martin said should give the company a “bit of extra growth” over the next five to ten years. Wetherspoon also introduced Kopparberg on draft last month and had seen a “good uplift” in sales. Martin added it would be difficult for the company to maintain like-for-like sales at the current level but it would continue to innovate in a bid to do so. He said the company would look at wages again in the autumn after the company brought forward an increase last year but said it was “too early to decide if it would happen again”. Martin is also keen to maintain the company’s level of investment in pub repairs, investing between 7% and 8% of sales in its sites. On the recent share buyback, Martin said a collection of shares became available and it was an opportunity it “decided to take”. Further buybacks would be “opportunistic”, as would freehold reversions, but have generally looked at 5% to 6% yields on deals. Martin likened the “multi-deal approach a no-deal Brexit would bring” to running a freehouse in the licensed trade. He said: “You can buy from where you like, whereas the mono-deal approach we have with the EU is more like operating a tied house. It can work in some circumstances – but I think most people would choose a freehouse.”
UK’s first gamification stadium to open, in Birmingham: Action Stadium, which combines real sport with gamification, has acquired its debut site, at Star City, Birmingham. The company has taken a 15-year lease on the 39,443 square foot site and will offer family friendly sports and games with added gamification. Players gain points, compete on leader boards and level up via an electronic wristband. Action Stadium managing director Darren Zabinski said: “Star City has a strong range of leisure uses that Action Stadium will complement and we’re confident the significant levels of investment in the scheme will help it realise its full potential.” Star City is refocusing on a family friendly offer having undergone a rebrand earlier this year. In addition to recent deals with Costa Coffee and Domino’s Pizza, bowling operator Ten Entertainment Group recently upsized its site, agreeing a new lease for 25 years, while Vue Cinemas also extended its commitment to the scheme for 25 years following a lease re-gear. A further 20,000 square feet of leisure space is also on the market following Vue’s resizing. The Action Stadium deal was secured by Savills, which acted on behalf of Quadrant Estates.
HMSHost brings Comptoir Libanais to Ashford as part of McArthurGlen deal:HMSHost International, which operates food and beverage concessions, will open a Comptoir Libanais restaurant in Ashford, Kent, after extending its partnership with designer outlet operator McArthurGlen. Comptoir Libanais, which offers Lebanese and eastern Mediterranean cuisine, will launch at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Ashford in October. HMSHost will also launch a Starbucks at Ashford, with the double opening building on the companies’ partnership that includes two recent openings at Cheshire Oaks and eight at Designer Outlet Roermond in the Netherlands. HMSHost International chief executive Walter Seib said: “Outlet shopping locations have shown tremendous growth, especially in the UK, and we are proud to be part of that success. We share a commitment for innovation as well as helping our customers feel good about their food choices.” Michiel Reuvers, group director of foodservice at McArthurGlen Group, added: “McArthurGlen welcomes more than 90 million guests a year and we constantly review our food and beverage offer to reflect evolving consumer habits.” In April, Comptoir Libanais owner Comptoir Group reported group revenue increased 16.1% to £34.3m (2017: £29.6m) in the year to 31 December 2018. The company had 31 restaurants (27 owned and four franchise) trading as at 31 December 2018.
Greene King to sell pub frequented by Lord Nelson, passes Princes Trust partnership milestone: Brewer and retailer Greene King has exchanged contracts to sell The Lord Nelson pub in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, to the Holkham Estate. Burnham Thorpe is the birthplace of Horatio Nelson and the pub is the village focal point. Originally named The Plough, the pub was frequented by Nelson and was renamed in his honour in 1798 following the Battle Of The Nile. The pub is currently closed and the Holkham Estate will reopen it as a “social hub” offering food and drink. Agent Everard Cole was instructed by Greene King to sell the freehold interest of the site. Meanwhile, Greene King has now supported more than 300 young people in the UK since launching its partnership with The Prince’s Trust in 2016. The Get Into Hospitality programme addresses skills and experience gaps that prevent young people from getting into work. The scheme offers 16 to 30-year-olds work experience to help them gain a job. The milestone comes six months after Greene King launched The Stepping Up Report, which sets out five ambitions to encourage greater social mobility, including extension of The Prince’s Trust partnership for a fourth year and increasing the number of people offered a permanent role after completing the Get Into Hospitality programme.
Frankie & Benny’s shakes up menu as customers request return of favourite dishes and tunes: Frankie & Benny’s, which is owned by The Restaurant Group, has shaken up its menu by reinstating customers’ favourite dishes and tunes. Earlier this year the brand surveyed customers to find out what they would like to see return to the menu. In response it has launched its Bring It Back campaign, with some dishes included as part of its summer menu. Returning items include spaghetti Alfredo and vegan nuggets, while Frankie & Benny’s has introduced 26 new dishes and five alcohol-free drinks. Tracks by Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Dean Martin have also returned to the playlist. The Restaurant Group senior brand and partnerships manager Gabriele Barysaite said: “When we ran the survey it came through loud and clear the overall experience owes a lot to music so we couldn’t be more delighted to bring our fans’ favourite dishes and tunes back.”
US egg-in-bun concept Eggslut to open debut UK site, next month: US egg-in-bun concept Eggslut is to open its first site in the UK, in London’s Notting Hill. The West Coast concept will launch on Wednesday, 7 August at the former Pix Pintxos unit in Portobello Road. ITICO F+B will launch the concept in the UK under franchise. In April, Propel reported ITICO F+B planned to open a handful of sites in the UK in the next 12 months. Eggslut offers cage-free eggs in brioche buns and the UK site will feature a unique fast-food version of the concept. Eggslut was founded in Los Angeles in 2011 and currently has five sites in the US – four in California and one in Nevada – plus one in Beirut. ITICO F+B is also rolling out US street food concept The Halal Guys in the UK.
Farmer J brings in former River Cafe chef for new evening concept at King William Street site: City of London-based, all-day market food concept Farmer J has brought in a former River Cafe chef to charge up the evening offer at its King William Street site. By day the venue serves its staple breakfasts and “field trays”. However, from Tuesday, 23 July it will turn into The Fancy Fork in the evening, with Shuli Wimer running the kitchen. Wimer trained at L28 in Tel Aviv and spent five years working at The River Cafe in London. She will serve a menu inspired by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours with sharing dishes such as peppers with a za’atar and oregano crumb. In May, Farmer J opened its debut bar at the King William Street site as it looked to enhance its offer. Farmer J was founded by Jonathan Recanati in 2016 and secured £1.9m of investment capital in February towards its London expansion, which was supported by specialist investor Imbiba, existing shareholders and business angels. Its other sites are in Leadenhall and Canary Wharf.
Dorset-based Cafe Aroma lodges plans for fifth site: Dorset-based Cafe Aroma has lodged plans for its fifth site. Owner Ozan Celik is looking to open an outlet in the Broadstone area of Poole. He has submitted an application to convert a McColl’s shop in Lower Blandford Road that closed in September, reports the Daily Echo. Cafe Aroma’s menu focuses on British and Mediterranean food. A statement accompanying the plan reads: “Cafe Aroma has become an extremely popular chain of food outlets with bistros in Poole, Wimborne, Ringwood and Totton. We believe this change of use would add to the vitality of this shopping area.”
Brothers put Italian restaurant in Hammersmith on the market as they look to open gelateria: Brothers Paolo and Ciro Del Sole have put their modern Italian restaurant in Hammersmith, west London, on the market at an asking price of £110,000 for the leasehold interest. The 30-cover Pizzeria Da Mariano, which is in the high street, underwent a full refurbishment two years ago and includes a wood-fired pizza oven. The brothers are looking to open a gelateria in a different part of the capital. Christie & Co associate director Stewart Harkness, who is handing the sale, said: “The versatility of this site makes it perfect for a new entrant to the market or an existing operator to expand their reach into Hammersmith.”
Easyhotel opens Milton Keynes site: Easyhotel, the owner, developer and operator of super budget branded hotels, has opened a site in Milton Keynes. The company has launched the 124-bedroom site in Silbury Boulevard have previously acquired the lease of part of Norfolk House. It invested circa £8.7m in the project and the hotel sits within its company-owned division.
Nando’s to open third Reading restaurant: Nando’s is to add to its presence in Reading with a third site in the Berkshire town. The company will open the outlet at the Reading Gateway retail park in Imperial Way. Nando’s will join operators including Whitbread-owned Premier Inn and Burger King on the former Worton Grange brewery site. A Nando’s spokesman told Get Reading: “We are excited to be opening another restaurant in Reading later this year.” Nando’s two other restaurants in the town are in Friar Street and The Oracle shopping centre