Itsu opens ‘Store of the Future’ concept, ‘we will lead and many will follow’ says Metcalfe: Itsu, the healthy Asian food chain, created by Pret A Manger co-founder Julian Metcalfe, has opened its first site under its “Store of the Future” concept using the latest robot technology, which it believes sets a template for high street and fast food dining to spark a post-covid recovery. As revealed by Propel last month, the first site under the new concept has opened in London’s Great Portland Street, and the company said there are more to follow across the UK. It said the new store design was completely reimagined in secret during lock-down, specifically for today’s post-covid world. “Leaner and healthier than any Itsu store before it”, the store is the brainchild of Metcalfe and was designed to limit touchpoints in part thanks to the use of sushi robots and digital ordering technology. Unlike any other Itsu, the Great Portland Street store is completely digital. There is a single customer collection point and no front-of-house fridge so multi handling is reduced. The new order-and-pay screens use the latest technology with card only payments, and enable customers’ orders to be placed in under 40 seconds, and allow diners to customise their favourite Itsu hot dishes. The company said further developments to future-proof its on-site kitchen include new maki and nigiri sushi robots from Japan, designed to “guarantee consistency, productivity, and perfect results every time”. Traditionally, sushi chefs mould nigiri by hand, but Itsu said its “advanced robot technology removes unnecessary handling, decreases food wastage and increases speed time for production, as one Nigiri robot can make 4,800 pieces in an hour”. At the same time, the company said its latest and healthiest menu “heroes the anti-fried food solution now being promoted by the government to combat obesity and help the nation become more resilient to the risks of covid-19”. It includes more than 70% of dishes under 500 calories, with more than a third of the menu now plant-based. Metcalfe said: “I’ll put in whatever it takes to continue Itsu’s success despite the obstacles posed by covid. Little expense has been spared on this store of the future – it’s top-class stuff that would not look out of place in Kyoto. It’s far more than a business, it’s an absolute crusade. Not since the 1950s has fast food caught up with changing tastes and nutrition needs. It’s a start. We will lead and many will follow.” Earlier this month, the company told Propel it was looking to, and investing in the future, after its company voluntary arrangement was approved.
Oakman Inns secures £2.75m CBILS: Oakman Inns, which manages 28 pubs and restaurants across the Midlands and Home Counties, secured £2.75m as part of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) during lockdown. The company secured the additional finance from Santander UK. Oakman’s chief investment officer Steven Kenee said: “While the enforced closure was incredibly tough for all our team, we are delighted to have secured the funding from Santander. When combined with the ongoing support from our shareholders, the recent government initiatives and an excellent start to trade, it has put the business in a very strong position from which to both weather any future shocks and, importantly, to continue to grow. I would like to thank both Paul Ray at Browne Jacobson and Paul O’Reilly at Santander for their collaborative approach during the closure period.” Paul O’Reilly, portfolio management at Santander UK, said: “The hospitality sector, more than most, has felt the damaging economic effects of covid-19. We are delighted to support Oakman Inns & Restaurants with this much-needed cash flow facility to ensure the business remains on a strong financial footing and can continue to grow.”
PizzaExpress reopens redesigned Bankside site with dedicated cocktail and espresso bar: PizzaExpress has relaunched its site in London’s Bankside following an extensive refurbishment, under its new-look design. The site becomes the brand’s second to include a dedicated cocktail and espresso bar, after the group’s restaurant in Langham Place, Oxford Circus. The Zoe Bowley-led company said the renovation took five months to complete and is the latest in several new-look restaurants opening across London for the business, alongside The Strand and Abbey Road. The open kitchen now takes centre stage at the heart of the Bankside restaurant, which originally opened in 2003, with a choice of different dining experiences offering across two floors and a terrace for up to 167 diners. In addition, a dedicated bar and lounge area has been developed to offer an alternative space for occasions outside of mealtime. Bowley, managing director at PizzaExpress, said: “The refurbishment of our Bankside pizzeria is one of our biggest yet, and we’re absolutely thrilled with the final look. With such a great destination on our doorstep, our design team has maximised the space so that we can best serve customers whether they’re visiting to enjoy their menu favourites, or a more relaxed visit for a drink with a friend. Feedback from customers and the team has been wonderful so far, so we’re looking forward to welcoming more customers back.”
Island Poké using Little Yellow Door site for dark kitchen in Notting Hill: Island Poké, the London-based, White Rabbit Fund-backed business, has teamed up with Little Yellow Door to launch a dark kitchen from its site in Notting Hill. The James Porter-founded business offers click and collect and delivery on Wednesdays to Sundays out of the site in All Saints Road. It is the second dark kitchen site for Island Poké, which currently has seven of its eight stand-alone sites back open. It also operates a dark kitchen site with Jacuna in Battersea. The company also plans to further expand its delivery reach across London, with other dark kitchens in more residential areas such as Camden, which is thought to be in the pipeline.
Bettys & Taylors ‘fares well’ during covid-19, registers record-high full-year turnover figures: Family-owned Bettys & Taylors Group has said it has “fared well” during the coronavirus pandemic as it reported turnover growth of 9% – up to £227.4m – for the year ending 31 October 2019. Operating profit was also up by £4.6m to £15.8m. The Harrogate business comprises six tea rooms, a cookery school, tea and coffee merchant Taylors of Harrogate and an online operation. Director Clare Morrow said in the company’s signed statement the business has invested £13.4m in plant, machinery and IT systems in the latest financial year. She added Bettys & Taylors has fared well during covid-19 because, as an “essential business”, demand has remained high despite the closure of its face-to-face businesses. Morrow added: “We have made many changes at our factory and distribution warehouse as we adapt to government advice. These changes have enabled us to maintain an uninterrupted supply of our products to supermarkets and, through the plans we put in pace, we will ensure this continues.” Profit before tax was £13.9m, up from £10.6m the previous year. The company had 1,598 employees at the end of its financial year – a rise of 136 from 2018. It also stated its eco-friendly outlook and said its long-term Trees for Life campaign has helped plant three million trees while it has also signed up to UK Plastics Pact to eliminate unnecessary plastic use and increase recycled and reusable plastics.
Star Pubs & Bars sees return to record-high pub application numbers: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars has registered a return to record-high applications to run its pubs – signalling a boost to post-lock-down confidence in leased and tenanted (L&T) sector. The numbers of people applying to run Star Pubs & Bars sites have reached the highs of 2019 levels. Even during lock-down, the company was receiving around 30 applications a week. It is also claimed the quality of applicant is higher too with a greater proportion being experienced in the licensed trade. Additionally, confidence in the market has been compounded by the fact that of the 29 L&T pubs where Star Pubs & Bars had joint refurbishments under way pre lock-down or planned for later in the year, all but one operator has chosen to proceed. Star Pubs & Bars recruitment manager Hance McPherson said: “Our estate is primarily suburban community locals and drive-to destination pubs, which is where operators see the opportunities. People are working from home more and travelling less on public transport, and so are opting to stay local. This is great news for pubs in these locations, which are premiumising their offers, and for the refurbishment projects we are undertaking as they meet this demand and so are encouraging licensees to invest. Applicants are mindful of the immediate challenges that pubs face but have confidence in the long term. During lock-down, they were able to research the market thoroughly and put together well-thought-through business plans. The result is pent-up demand from quality applicants.” Michael Thomas, managing director of The Rosecare Pub Company, which recently opened The Beacon Hotel in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, added: “Knowing that The Beacon would be the type of pub that would flourish post-pandemic gave me the confidence to proceed with my investment in the refurbishment with Star Pubs & Bars. The Beacon has proved very popular with the community since reopening as it provides great quality on the doorstep, which is what people want.” Since lock-down, Star Pubs & Bars has invested £25m supporting its 2,300 leased and tenanted pubs.
Deliveroo for Business launches a new ‘special events’ range: Deliveroo for Business, the corporate arm of Deliveroo, has unveiled an exclusive special events range, in collaboration with leading partners including Patty & Bun, Pizza Pilgrims and Owen Brothers. The company said the launch of the new range follows a 10% surge of orders in corporate home delivery since February, as businesses seek new ways to “provide food perks to their employees while they work from home”. A recent poll by Deliveroo for Business showed 27% of its clients who took part in the survey will not return to the office for at least three months, and 51% will stagger a reduced workforce. It also found that 32% of respondents have started returning to the office, and 29% are planning to do so this month. Juan Diego Farah, global head of Deliveroo for Business, said: “We are delighted to announce a new ‘special events’ range with leading restaurant partners. The new range is in response to corporate demand and will ensure that we play our role to help businesses support their employees as they continue to work from home. Deliveroo for Business has seen huge growth during the covid-19 pandemic and we are focused on working with as many businesses as possible to ensure they can help their staff feel valued and boost morale, especially as many traditional office events have been cancelled.”
Mindful Chef reports 424% year-on-year sales increase: Healthy recipe box service Mindful Chef has reported sales are up 424% year-on-year so far in September. The company said in the first week of the month, sales of its frozen ready meals tripled and sales of its new “speedy” range of recipes also spiked as the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme ended and children returned to school. Mindful Chef added 69% of new customers cited they had joined for health reasons, as well as the “quality of ingredients” and the “convenience of the service”. Co-founder Giles Humphries said: “While the importance of a healthy diet is widely recognised, it is clear a huge proportion of us have re-evaluated our health and lifestyle during lock-down and we are now actively prioritising this and making positive steps forward.”
Young’s makes directorate change: Pub operator Young’s has announced information resources director Torquil Sligo-Young is retiring as an executive director on Wednesday, 30 September 2020, and will become a non-executive director. He will also be joining the company’s audit and remuneration committees. Chairman Stephen Goodyear said: “I am delighted Torquil has agreed to remain on the board as a non-executive director and continue as chairman of the trustee company that manages our final salary pension scheme. He will also remain as chairman of the long-established charitable trust set up by one of the founders of the business and, importantly, will continue to liaise with members of the Young’s family who, as major shareholders, are so supportive.”
Suburban Green restaurant and bar signs for second site in north west: North west-based restaurant and bar operator Suburban Green has taken its second site, promising to bring a “premium hospitality experience”. Suburban Green, which was launched in 2017 by Martin Lowe and Cal Gregg-Williams, has signed on a venue in Beech Road, Chorlton, Greater Manchester, to join its sibling in Wilmslow, Cheshire. The new space is a 10,420 square foot property, taken a 15-year lease through international real estate adviser Savills. Suburban Green co-founder Martin Lowe said: “Acquiring what we feel is one of the most prominent properties on Beech Road, this site is exactly the location we want to continue the growth of Suburban Green. Our mission is to deliver a premium hospitality experience to our customers on their doorstep.” Savills Manchester licensed leisure and hotels director Tom Cunningham added: “In spite of the challenges brought about by covid-19, Chorlton remains a sought-after location for bar and restaurant operators with its high-quality offering and affluent residential neighbourhood. Beech Road is the perfect location for Suburban Green’s second site, complementing its existing restaurant in Wilmslow, and will add further to the high calibre of independent operators already in the area.” The original site in Wilmslow is a small plates restaurant, cocktail and wine bar.