Shepherd Neame boss – sector corporate activity sparks more opportunity not sales talk: Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Kent brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame, has told Propel he believes recent corporate activity in the sector will lead to even more opportunities for the business. Ei Group and Greene King have both been bought in multibillion-pound deals in recent months, while Fuller’s sold its beer business to Asahi earlier this year. Speaking following Shepherd Neame’s full-year results, Neame said he had “no intention” of going down the same path and, while he admitted he had been “surprised” by the level of activity, he believes it will prove advantageous to his business in a “number of ways”. He said: “I think it makes our position in the market more distinct, unique and will lead to more opportunities for our beer and pubs businesses. Consumers are looking for independent, community-focused businesses that are authentic and run by people they can associate with. That’s why our model works and will continue to work. We see continued growth in all three areas of the business – beer, pubs and accommodation – and we only see those opportunities getting bigger as a result of those deals. We’re planning for the long-term and, if anything, will pursue that plan with more vigour.” Neame said the company’s growth strategy was focused on single-site rather than group acquisitions but added it would look at such opportunities “if they arose”. He said: “I don’t think we will be doing a huge amount of buying in the short-term but The Horse & Groom near Dartford, which we bought earlier this year, is a great example of those individual pubs we’re looking for – it’s a substantial site in a growth area. We’re trying to do a similar thing when it comes to new-builds such as the Ebbsfleet Garden City site.” Neame said drinks, in particular the growing trend for premiumisation, had been the main growth driver in its managed pubs in terms of revenue and average spend. He added: “People will pay more for a premium product and we’ve seen good sales in full-flavoured and one-off beers as well as fruit-flavoured cider and cocktails. Food sales have been stronger, with 1.9% like-for-like growth. It’s not knocking out the lights but we’re seeing growth. On the accommodation side, room rate has gone up, which has reflected the quality of our rooms and the work we’re putting in.” Neame said the company was continuing to improve its range of products to capitalise further on the premiumisation trend. He added: “I think we’ve become more agile and flexible in the past year or so and the types of partnerships we’re forming shows that.” Reflecting on the full-year results in which turnover was down 6.9% to £145.8m, Neame said: “The refinancing will benefit us in the long term even if there’s a short-term pain on profits. The new financial year has started well and we’re looking forward to further growth.”
 
Bancone secures former Foxlow site in Soho: Bancone, the all-day fresh pasta concept led by Will Ellner and backed by David Ramsey, will open a second site in the heart of London’s Soho in December. Bancone has secured the former Foxlow site in Lower James Street. The concept launched in William IV Street in Covent Garden in June 2018. The new 4,000 square foot restaurant will provide several “banconi” (counters) for about 90 diners and a sizeable basement with a cocktail bar and private dining for 16 people, with the whole space available to hire for private functions. Ellner said: “It is every restaurateur’s dream to open a restaurant in one of the buzziest areas of London. Our location is next to Golden Square, home to many exciting businesses, and we are a stone’s throw from new, high-end developments in and around Piccadilly Circus. We can’t wait to bring our beautiful pasta to new audiences.” Davis Coffer Lyons acted on the Lower James Street deal.
 
McDonald’s partners with Alexa to drive job applications: McDonald’s is working with voice technology device Alexa as it looks to drive job applications. Alexa can now assist with the first step of a McDonald’s restaurant job application, which is available as part of the recently launched Made At McDonald’s global hiring campaign. The world’s first voice-initiated application process, the McDonald’s Apply Thru is available on Alexa and Google Assistant devices in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Spain and is expected to roll out to other countries in the coming months. After opening McDonald’s Apply Thru, users only need to answer a few basic questions to start their application before receiving a text message with a link to continue the process. “We must continue to innovate and think of creative and ground-breaking ways to meet job-seekers on devices they are already using,” McDonald’s executive vice-president and chief people officer David Fairhurst said. “Alexa has many of the qualities we look for on our teams – friendly, responsive and fun.” Alexa vice-president Steve Rabuchin added: “We are thrilled to see McDonald’s utilise voice to create a simpler job application process.”
Camerons to launch HUB concept for smaller Head of Steam sites: Camerons Brewery is to launch a “hub” concept for the smaller, wet-only venues in its Head of Steam estate to differentiate between its larger sites that offer food, experiential gaming and functions. The first HUB will be The Head of Steam in Mill Hill, Leeds, which will undergo a refurbishment to feature new estate-wide branding after Camerons updated The Head of Steam logo for the first time since its launch in 1995. Camerons Brewery chief executive Chris Soley said: “We still see a big opportunity for the smaller sites, which focus solely on providing great drinks as part of our acquisition plan. We wanted consumers to recognise this with the HUB bars. These will still carry The Head of Steam name and offer the same selection of beer, cider, spirits, cocktails and wine. The ideal venue to demonstrate this is our Mill Hill site in Leeds, which is the model we will use for all HUB expansions. Its location, near a major transport hub, Leeds train station, makes it ideal.” The latest Head of Steam, a non-Hub pub that will be the brand’s 16th site, will open in Park Row, Leeds, on Friday (27 September). The site will feature a canning machine for customers to take keg beer away and a dedicated games area with retro arcade and console games, 14ft shuffleboards, electronic darts and pinball. Soley said: “We are currently looking at a number of other venues for both The Head of Steam and HUB brands.”
London-based startup TopDish launches restaurant dining app: London-based startup TopDish International has launched a free dining app that rates individual dishes rather than the restaurant. Available to download on iOS and Android, TopDish already includes more than 87,000 ratings and comments on dishes from more than 3,700 restaurants. Diners can see the highest-rated dish in the restaurant they are eating at and how it compares with the venue’s other dishes. The app only includes restaurants with more than 300 verified dish ratings. Restaurants can offer deals on their best dishes and ratings can be collected via small survey computers within TopDish and QR codes. TopDish provides data reports for restaurants giving insights into what diners think of each dish. TopDish forecasts it will have more than 250,000 users in London within four months and “millions across the UK next year”. Founder Gareth Hughes said: “Diners can now order based on thousands of genuine opinions from fellow foodies, not just the name of a dish. We have global ambitions for TopDish and while starting up in the UK our policy is not to charge for the app or participating restaurants. We see TopDish as being a valued partner to all restaurants while being the trusted dining wingman in customers’ pockets.”
Cubitt House opens The Beau Brummell in Piccadilly for sixth London site:London gastro-pub operator Cubitt House has opened its sixth site in the capital, in Piccadilly. The Beau Brummell is in St James’s Market and features a terrace and two floors of seating and dining. The pub has opened at the former Veneta site that was operated by Salt Yard Group. The pub is named after George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, a Regency icon known as the arbiter of men’s fashion. The pub features bespoke leather banquettes, glass chandeliers, statement artwork, a mezzanine dining room and a large terrace in the centre of St James’ Market. The menu by executive chef Leigh Hartnett celebrates British produce, while the venue offers 100 wines by the bottle, sparkling wine by the glass, cocktails, British spirits, ale and nitro cold brew on tap. Cubitt House managing director Tony Gualtieri said: “The pub offers an extensive focus on wine including a special range from the best British producers.” Cubitt House, whose sites include The Alfred Tennyson and The Thomas Cubitt, secured funds from private investors in 2015. The consortium of investors acquired a majority stake in the business and provided funding to facilitate expansion.
Healthy fast food franchise Salad Box to open second UK site, in Birmingham:Healthy fast food franchise Salad Box is to open its second UK site, in Birmingham. The venue will launch in Great Charles Street Queensway next month offering salads, wraps, soup, desserts and juice alongside coffee provided by Nottingham-based 200 Degrees. Founded in Romania in 2012, Salad Box opened 12 restaurants in its home country in its first year and has grown to become the third-largest fast food chain in Romania after McDonald’s and KFC. Salad Box now has more than 70 outlets in 12 countries including its other UK site, in Brick Lane, east London. Tara Johal will operate the Birmingham franchise, with the 1,000 square foot grab-and-go site in Lombard House also featuring nine seats for dine-in customers. Johal told The Business Desk: “Salad Box is the future of fast food and there’s a massive gap in the market in Birmingham for what we offer. We’re a young, energetic city and the people who work here have been crying out for somewhere selling convenient, healthy lunchtime options to match their active lifestyles.”
Antic launches restaurant and bar concept Pineapple: Antic, the Downing-backed London pub operator led by Antony Thomas, has launched its all-day restaurant and bar concept Pineapple in London’s Elephant and Castle. The venue has opened in the shadow of Draper House and offers coffee, freshly baked bread and light lunches to grab and go during the day. In the evening, Pineapple offers globally inspired small plates, creative cocktails, craft beer and regular DJs. Antic operates more than 40 pubs in London, with at least two more sites in the pipeline.
 
Six by Nico to open second Glasgow site, next month: Six by Nico, the restaurant concept led by Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone, will open its second Glasgow site, next month. It will be the fifth site in total for the concept and comes as its Finnieston venue operates at 98% capacity Tuesday to Thursday and at full capacity on weekends. Planning is under way at the brand’s development kitchen in Nithsdale Road, known as Supper Club, and the new Six by Nico Southside will add a further 30 covers per service when it opens on Friday, 4 October. The move will bring availability across both Glasgow sites in line with restaurant capacities at its Six by Nico sites in Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast. Simeone, who launched the concept in 2017, told the Glasgowist: “With a new Six by Nico in Glasgow’s Southside and a growing customer base in the city, we can meet and deliver consumer expectations.” The concept is based on a revolving culinary hub as Simeone and his team “reinvent the wheel” every six weeks by serving a new six-course tasting menu, each one with a different theme. The Southside restaurant will launch with a New York-themed menu. It will open from midday on Friday, Saturday and Sundays only while the site continues to serve as the Six by Nico development kitchen during the rest of the week. Propel revealed earlier this week that Simeone is eyeing a site in Liverpool for the concept. The chef also operates 111 by Nico in Glasgow’s West End and The Hebridean in the city’s Great Western Road.
Salt Yard co-founder to launch Portuguese concept in Covent Garden: Salt Yard co-founder Simon Mullins is to launch new project Volta do Mar with his wife Isabel Almeida Da Silva in Covent Garden in early November. The restaurant will open in a double-fronted Georgian town house in Tavistock Street showcasing regional Portuguese dishes and recipes formed through the country’s trading history. George Tannock, who has worked at The Dorchester, The Fat Duck, Zuma and most recently Sexy Fish, will oversee the kitchen. His menu will include piri-piri marinades made with chillies from Angola and Mozambique, Brazilian-style smoked ham, and Goan dishes such as Iberico pork vindalho. The cocktail list will focus on wine from Portugal and Brazil. Volta do Mar, which loosely translates as “return from the sea”, will also operate as a traditional Portuguese pastelaria with an in-house bakery. The first-floor wooden-panelled Georgian dining room has been designed with an “eccentric merchant’s house in mind”, while the ground floor will feature a wooden bar. Mullins founded Salt Yard in 2005, while Almeida Da Silva previously held front-of-house roles at Marco Pierre White’s Mirabelle and The Delaunay.
Crussh launches 70% vegetarian autumn menu, tackles plastic: London-based healthy food and juice brand Crussh has launched an autumn menu that is 70% vegetarian, while it has also introduced new sustainability measures. The revamped breakfast menu includes new hot wraps, an apple cider vinegar booster shot and Black Lemonade coldpress juice made with activated coconut charcoal, while a beets and greens health pot has been added to the lunchtime menu. The company’s moves to cut plastic include introducing Canned LifeWater, rolling out compostable cutlery and offering all sourdough toasties in a biodegradable paper bag. Crussh head of food James Kidman said: “We have seen a large number of our customers move towards a flexitarian lifestyle and our vegetarian options are more popular than ever. Similarly, healthy protein options continue to be popular, especially at breakfast.” In July, Crussh opened its first healthcare site, in Birmingham Children’s Hospital, its first venue outside the capital. The move follows last year’s franchise deal between Crussh and Sodexo, which will see Crussh open outlets across all Sodexo businesses, ranging from workplace catering to universities, hospitals and government locations in the UK and Ireland.
Deliveroo promotes Winn to chief technology officer as it expands US tech team:Deliveroo has promoted vice-president of engineering Dan Winn to chief technology officer as the company looks to grow its tech team in New York and access US talent unable to move to the UK. The US East Coast tech team was formed after Deliveroo’s acquisition of Maple in 2017 and the company is looking to boost staff numbers to 50. Deliveroo is also looking to hire hundreds of engineers in the UK following its acquisition of Edinburgh-based software design and development firm Cultivate. The moves will create a round-the-clock engineering function to support Deliveroo operations. Hires will include product managers and designers, with the team leading projects such as the technology that powers Deliveroo Editions, which launched in 2017 and has grown to more than 200 kitchens globally. Deliveroo said it would also continue to grow its London-based engineering team, “creating more high-skilled jobs and building on London’s growing reputation as a tech hub”. Winn, who joined Deliveroo in October 2018, will be responsible for engineering, data science, design and user research. He was previously director of engineering at Google in San Francisco and before that led engineering and operations for Amazon and also worked for Microsoft. Other recent senior hires at Deliveroo include Vaughn Washington as director of engineering, Brian Deen as engineering adviser, Stuart Frisby as director of design, and Stephen Goldstein as vice-president of strategic restaurant partnerships. Winn said: “Deliveroo is building a world-class tech team in the UK, attracting some of the best talent from around the world to our offices in London, Edinburgh and now New York.”
Former Itsu managing director joins Eventuality Group board: Former Itsu managing director David Haimes and Big Cat Group founder Nick Morgan have been appointed non-executive directors of events and drinks company Eventuality Group. Before joining Itsu, the healthy Asian food chain created by Pret A Manger co-founder Julian Metcalfe, Haimes was managing director (operations) of The Deltic Group’s Luminar segment and was also managing director/development director of Yum! Restaurants International for more than eight years. He is currently a non-executive director at Prezzo and runs BE Performance Coaching, which he founded in October 2018. Morgan is chief executive of events companies The Fair and We Are Placemaking. Tom Bronock, Nick Ford and Casey Small founded Eventuality Group in 2009. The Oxford-based company operates The Cocktail Service, which offers bar services for more than 600 events a year, and Bar Nation, which operates bars at festivals and public events. Bronock said: “These are the first two external appointments to our board. David will be a group adviser and Nick will advise Bar Nation. We are excited to start working with both directors as they bring a wealth of experience into the fold and help us achieve our ambitious growth plans.”
Holiday park operator Verdant Leisure completes refinancing: Verdant Leisure, which operates nine holiday parks across the north east and Scotland, has completed a refinancing of its banking facilities in a move that will help fund further acquisitions. Verdant Leisure’s portfolio features 3,000 pitches comprising privately owned lodges and holiday homes, holiday lettings and touring facilities. Since Manchester-based Palatine led a secondary buyout in April 2016, it has acquired five sites and significantly increased its hire fleet. The business has now completed a co-terminus ground rent and refinancing with Aberdeen Standard Investments and LGT Private Debt, which sees the repayment of banking facilities with Yorkshire Bank and Tosca Debt Capital. The move has also allowed Palatine to return significant sums to its investors. Verdant Leisure chief executive Graham Hodgson told Insider Media: “The business has enjoyed strong growth over the past three years and this restructuring exercise will enable us to continue our buy-and-build strategy in the medium term.” Palatine and Verdant Leisure were advised by Clearwater, CBRE, Gateley, Burness Paull, KPMG and Colliers.
Ei Publican Partnerships creates new digital guides to boost sales: Ei Group’s leased and tenanted division Ei Publican Partnerships has created a new range of guides on its digital hub to help licensees boost sales. The “Driving Your Sales” section features enhanced business-building content, on-trade market insights and trends, and marketing campaign resources, while other new and refreshed guides include “How To PR Your Pub”, which offers advice on how to make the most of key trading occasions across the year. Ei Publican Partnerships managing director Nick Light said: “We have invested heavily in our digital infrastructure and processes to produce user-friendly, accessible content that will support our publicans commercially and further enhance retail standards.”
Hostel operator Safestay reports like-for-likes up 4% in first half with F&B sales increasing 31%: London-headquartered hostel operator Safestay has reported like-for-like sales increased 4% for the six months to 30 June 2019, while food and beverage sales were up 31%. Total revenue was up 24.1% to £8.1m, compared with £6.5m the previous year, and the board now expects full-year revenue to exceed £17.3m following “positive trading conditions” in the summer. Adjusted Ebitda in the period rose to £1.4m, compared with £1.3m the year before and is expected to be in the region of £3.8m for the full year. Average bed rate increased 6% to £19.50, compared with £18.40 the previous year. The freehold, 161-bedroom Pisa hostel was acquired for £3m in June and has “traded strongly”. A restaurant has opened at the Barcelona Passeig de Gracia hostel, while the 73-bedroom extension of its Elephant & Castle hostel in London has been completed with a full renovation of the bar. The site has now been revalued at £26.8m – an increase of £10.8m over the last valuation in 2017, which equates to a net asset value increase of 16.7p per share. Earlier this week the company announced an agreement to acquire a 50% stake in a site in Venice, which will be converted into a 660-bedroom hostel – its biggest to date – and will be operated by Safestay on completion in 2021. The company also acquired a freehold site in Glasgow for £3.15m this month operating as a 52-bedroom hotel with the potential to be converted into a 200-bedroom hostel. Chairman Larry Lipman said: “2019 has been good for trading to date. Alongside this our platform is now established and we can add to our portfolio without materially adding to our structure or central costs so our economies of scale will increasingly come into play as we move to our 2020 target of operating 20 hostels.” Safestay currently has 16 hostels with about 4,000 beds across nine European and four UK cities.
Halewood to open rum distillery and bar next month at former Jamie’s Italian in Bristol: Halewood Wine and Spirits is set to open a rum distillery and bar in Bristol. The Bristol And Bath Rum Distillery will open next month in the former Jamie’s Italian in Park Street, which closed in March 2018. The 7,500 square foot venue will span four floors with table service on the second floor. It will house a 500-litre still producing Dead Man’s Fingers Spiced Rum and offer 150 varieties of rum from 50 countries. It will also house a rum school in which groups of up to 40 people can enjoy rum-tasting and cocktail masterclasses, while the bar will open daily with food on offer throughout the day. The official launch party will take place on Tuesday, 8 October. General manager Chris Hotson told Bristol Live: “The city has a rich rum heritage and we’re looking forward to adding to that story.”
Farmer J launches fourth site: London-based food market concept Farmer J has opened its fourth site in the capital, in Broadgate. As reported by Propel in July, the Imbiba-backed concept snapped up Unit 11 at 1 Finsbury Avenue, which offers a large terrace with “tons of seats” and umbrellas and heaters. Farmer J offers speciality coffee, breakfast and protein bowls, wraps and rolls. Its lunch and dinner menus focus on the brand’s “Fieldtrays”, where customers choose a main, a grain, two sides and a sauce. Farmer J is led by Jonathan Recanati 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, Monument and Canary Wharf. Recanati founded Farmer J in 2016 and is joined by creative chef Nick Sandler, former development chef at Pret A Manger; marketing director Ali Recanati; and Kevin Todd, non-executive director and former group managing director of Mitchells & Butlers.
Liverpool-based Hope Street Hotel reports turnover and profit boost as expansion takes shape: Liverpool-based operator Hope Street Hotel has reported turnover increased 3.7% to £4,855,775 for the year ending 31 December 2018, compared with £4,686,271 the previous year. Operating profit was up to £1,236,839 compared with £997,602 the year before, while pre-tax profit rose to £1,093,525 compared with £860,304 the previous year, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Hope Street Hotel comprises boutique four-star Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter and the Michelin-listed London Carriage Works restaurant next door. It is expanding the hotel to add rooms, swimming pool and spa, cinema, members’ lounge and conferencing facilities, with the work set to complete next year. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “Revenue from the hotel room sales have increased 7.75% year-on-year, while food and beverage sales have remained broadly in line. Average occupancy rates have increased on previous years, with 82.8% occupancy for 2018 compared with 79.1 % in 2017. This growth and consistency is very promising, with development work taking place on the hotel that will significantly increase capacity. The business continues to generate cash surpluses from trading, which is enabling the company to self-finance the expansion work. More than £1m of cash was still available at the year end, which has allowed the business to continue with the hotel expansion works without any effect on day-to-day finances. Once the expansion works are complete in 2020, the additional revenue streams will ensure the cash reserves used for the development are quickly replenished.” The company is due to open sister site School Lane Hotel at Liverpool ONE early next year in a joint venture with YPG Developments.
Japanese restaurant and bar concept launches in Sheffield city centre: Japanese restaurant and bar concept Tsuki has launched in Sheffield city centre. The venue in West Street spans two levels and blends Japanese culture, custom, techniques, food and drink, and technology. The restaurant features touchscreen ordering, a DJ booth and private dining rooms. Tsuki director Monika Rowczenio told Insider Media: “We are proud to bring Japanese-trained chefs as part of the Sheffield team with the food and drink crafted to offer the best of tradition and modern, blending what we feel is the perfect balance for this authentic Japanese experience.”
Axcel Hospitality acquires Bath hotel for £4.1m: Croydon-based Axcel Hospitality has acquired the four-star Henrietta House hotel in Bath for £4.1m. The hotel offers 21 en-suite bedrooms, a lounge bar and two dining rooms. The property was sold by Savills on behalf of a private investor. Axcel Hospitality director Oushan Deeljore told Insider Media: “It is a good addition to our portfolio. Axcel is constantly looking at positioning itself in key markets in the UK and Henrietta House in Bath delivers just that.” James Greenslade, of Savills, added: “Bath’s fundamentals as a tourist hot spot and student city means there’s strong demand for rooms and, with a tight development pipeline, this shows no sign of abating.” Axcel Hospitality currently has 230 rooms trading with further approval for 319. Its website states: “The next few years will prove to be some of the most exciting in our history. We look forward to increasing our scale and efficiency with our dedicated in-house team and external professional advisers.”