Whitbread to bring Bar + Block to Northern Ireland as brand hits double figures:Whitbread is to bring its Bar + Block steakhouse brand to Northern Ireland as part of a double opening in April. The launch in Belfast on Wednesday, 24 April and another in Bristol the day before will see the brand hit double figures, with an 11th site scheduled to open in Reading later this year. The all-day, casual dining concept places an emphasis on high-quality steaks at affordable prices. The Belfast and Bristol sites will feature contemporary interiors by Harrison Design, including the brand’s trademark open kitchen and copper feature bar as well as decorative finishing touches such as the Bar + Block neon cow. Whitbread Restaurants chief marketing officer Nathalie Pomroy said: “We are delighted to open our first site in Northern Ireland and celebrate Bar + Block venues reaching double digits. This is a great milestone for the brand and we look forward to further growth throughout the year.”
Stonegate begins Be At One conversions: Stonegate Pub Company is to start expansion of its Be At One brand by converting three former Novus sites in central London in the next month. The company, which acquired the then 33-strong Be At One business last July for circa £50m, will open new Be At One sites at the former Babble City site in Old Broad Street this week, followed by openings at the former Gem bar in Beak Street (8 March) and the ex-Fifty 9 site in Berkeley Square on 22 March. Stonegate previously stated it had identified an “exciting expansion plan for the brand” that would be rolled out during the next 18 months. Earlier this month, the company reported like-for-likes sales increased 4.7% for the 53 weeks ending 30 September 2018. Total revenue was up 11.0% to £774.4m, while strong conversion of sales growth saw adjusted Ebitda up 11.0% to £114.9m. The company said this was driven by continued investment in the estate, integration of the Be At One business, and capitalising on the trading opportunity presented by the Fifa World Cup. The group acquired 42 sites in the period, including the 33-site Be At One business and four sites from Novus in July. A further 11 leases from Novus were assigned following 30 September.
Signature Pubs continues to eye expansion opportunities as it launches £4m immersive Edinburgh site: Signature Pubs owner Nic Wood has told Propel the company will continue to look at expansion opportunities – but on a site-by-site basis rather than a group acquisition. Last year, the Edinburgh-based company acquired the seven-strong Speratus Group – owned by Wood’s brother Gareth – for an undisclosed sum. Since then, Wood has been busy strengthening the head office team to support the now 24-strong group as well as opening new sites including Cold Town House, which launched this week in a former church in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket having been in the pipeline for three-and-a-half years. Signature Pubs has invested £4m in the immersive venue, which features a brewery offering “inventive” brews from the Cold Town Beer brand it launched last year as well as a bar, restaurant and rooftop terrace. It also offers live entertainment, screened sport, an open fire pit and photo booth. A similar project is lined up for later in the year with Signature Pubs recently securing a licence to open in a former bank in the Morningside district. The building will be transformed as part of a £4m-plus project, including an extension to the rear of the property with a downstairs banking hall used for private dining. The ground floor will feature a bar and restaurant, with the venue expected to open towards the end of 2019. Wood said: “These two projects are keeping us busy as well as the refurbishment of some of our existing estate but if we get the right opportunities, we’ll certainly look to keep growing. That would be on a site-by-site basis rather than a group acquisition, I feel. Until five years ago we were solely Edinburgh-based because that was where I was brought up and knew the market. We took the decision to go into Aberdeen and Dundee because we had an area manager who knew those markets. You need to really know that town or area before you jump in. That’s why at the moment I’m happy operating in the places where we are.” Wood said current trading was “not bad at all”, with the Six Nations rugby tournament helping boost February revenues. He added: “Edinburgh offers that year-round appeal, particularly for tourists, which certainly helps.”
Pasta and grappa concept Morso launches £250,000 crowdfunding campaign to open two sites: Pasta and grappa concept Morso has launched a £250,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to open two sites in 2019. The concept is the brainchild of former Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s chef Paolo Vernett who, along with Vanessa Vaz, Barak Peled and Barry McCaughley, has created a concept that combines fresh pasta and small Italian bites with grappa-based cocktails. Morso is offering 11.90% equity in exchange for investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £1.89m. The company said its debut site in St John’s Wood, north London, had achieved positive site Ebitda after six months of trading (19 January; £2,432). Last year Morso appointed former Intertain chief operating officer Simon Kaye as non-executive director to support its growth plans. The pitch states: “Specialising in fresh pasta and grappa-based cocktails, we launched a series of pop-up diners in 2017 and, after a phenomenal response, opened our first Morso restaurant in June 2018. The UK’s 90bn-a-year eat-out market is swiftly changing. Legacy operators are wavering as consumers turn to the fresh, artisanal, ethical and local. As a result, the increased demand is now spread over fewer savvy operators, creating ideal market conditions for developing Morso into an independent group. Led by a team of industry veterans with almost 100 years of experience between them, our track record sets us apart from our counterparts. Morso is demonstrating excellent employee retention rates and customer reviews, strong profit margins, and three times increase on weekly sales from opening in June 2018 to £11,538 at the end of January 2019. We believe every neighbourhood deserves a Morso – and we wouldn’t want to keep them waiting. We plan to open two sites in 2019 and continue to grow.”
Rockfish bids for Sidmouth site: Rockfish Group, the sustainable fish and chip brand led by Mitch Tonks, has confirmed it is one of three bidders for Drill Hall in Sidmouth, Devon. The company’s bid has been recommended for selection and will be debated by East Devon District Council’s cabinet on Wednesday, 6 March. Rockfish hopes to add to its portfolio of restaurants in Exmouth, Dartmouth, Brixham, Plymouth and Torquay, with a site launching in Exeter in March. A Rockfish spokesman told the Sidmouth Herald: “We have submitted an offer for Drill Hall. It’s a wonderful building in the heart of town. We’ve been looking in Sidmouth as we think it would be a great place for Rockfish and add something to the great mix already there.” Cllr Stuart Hughes added: “Rockfish is an excellent set up and will be a draw for lots of people and encourage more visitors to Sidmouth. The Exmouth site is fabulous and it uses sustainably caught fish, local where possible, and with the Bagwells local fishmongers they won’t need to look too far. If it is sympathetically renovating Drill Hall, it also gives an opportunity for the fishing heritage of Sidmouth to play a role.” Last month, Rockfish appointed Dave Strauss as restaurant director. Strauss, former managing director of Burger & Lobster and London steak restaurant group Goodman, will oversee Rockfish’s expansion. The company has identified a number of locations along the south coast. Strauss will join the company next month and work with operations director Mat Prowse, helping with the Exeter launch and subsequent openings, including one in Poole, Dorset. Rockfish recently received investment from Gresham House Ventures while its board includes Hawksmoor Group co-founder and chief executive Will Beckett, Henry Dimbleby (ex-Leon and London Union), Steve Leadbeater (former Findus and Two Sisters chief financial officer) and John Barnes (ex-La Tasca and Harry Ramsden). Restaurant critic Giles Coren is also an investor.
Benito’s Hat founder launches Texas venture: Ben Fordham, the founder of Benito’s Hat, is to launch a new restaurant and bar venture in Texas. Fordham, who remains a non-executive director of Benito’s, is co-owner and food manager of the Front Page Restaurant and Bar, which is set to open next month in the Springdale General complex at East Austin, Texas. The food offer will focus on New York-style sandwiches. Fordham and Felipe Fuentes Cruz founded Benito’s Hat in London in 2008. Fordham stepped back from the business at the end of 2017 to fulfil a long promise to his Texan wife to move to the States.
Bakkavor to launch gaming hall concept: Bakkavor, the international manufacturer of fresh prepared food, is to convert its former PizzaStorm site in Wandsworth, south west London, into a new gaming hall concept called Rebound. The company will open the venue in Garrett Lane in the next few weeks, with pizza again predominantly on the menu. The company closed the site last year. PizzaStorm, on which Kevin Todd, former managing director of Mitchells & Butlers and current non-executive director of the Big Easy, advised, launched in Nottingham as Inferno Pizza in 2015. This site has since been rebranded as PizzaStorm. Umbrella vehicle BV Restaurant Group also operates a site under the PizzaStorm name, in Eldon Square, Newcastle.
Pizza Hut joins forces with FedEx to ‘revolutionise’ delivery through robots: Pizza Hut has announced a collaboration with FedEx to explore the use of the FedEx SameDay Bot. Pizza Hut said the new autonomous delivery device is aimed at “revolutionising local delivery”. The FedEx SameDay Bot is equipped with technology that allows it to navigate unpaved surfaces, curbs and even steps to deliver an “extraordinary door-to-door delivery experience”. Testing of the FedEx delivery bot is slated to begin as soon as this summer in select markets. Nicolas Burquier, Pizza Hut US chief customer and operations officer, said: “Our success is built around the best-in-class experiences we provide our customers. As we look to advance our business and continue providing experiences our customers deserve, exploring technology solutions that allow our team members to do what they do on an even greater scale is critical to our success.”
Albion and East Group to launch fourth London site, in Hoxton in April: Albion and East Group, which is supported by The Imbiba Partnership, is to open its fourth London site, in Hoxton in April. Serata Hall will open just off Old Street, close to the roundabout, on Wednesday, 3 April featuring a bar, restaurant and working space. The ground floor will host a main drinking and dining space, with plenty of events and co-working space throughout. As a first for Albion and East, Serata Hall will feature an on-site bakery with offerings such as pistachio croissants, bombolonis (Italian doughnuts with jam or Nutella), banana caramel bread, and raspberry and rose muffins, Hot Dinners reports. The rest of the menu will have an Italian-American focus, with pizzas including the Vegan Viking (cashew cheese, pistachio pesto, red chillies, rocket and mint), spicy ragu tagliatelle, and beetroot frittata. The drinks list will feature cocktails, craft beer and wine on tap. Albion and East launched Martello Hall in Hackney in 2016, followed by Canova Hall in Brixton in May 2017. Cattivo opened next to sister site Canova Hall in October last year.
Rosa’s Thai Cafe launches first site outside London, in Liverpool: Thai restaurant group Rosa’s Thai Cafe has opened its first site outside London, in Liverpool. The venue at Albert Docks is the brand’s 16th site in total. Housed in a grade I-listed former warehouse, the 88-cover restaurant is split over two floors, with a dedicated Liverpool menu to launch later this year. The interiors retain original brickwork and huge arches alongside an open kitchen and a mezzanine that hosts events and private dining. Rosa’s Thai Café co-founder Saiphin Moore said: “As one of the first cities to open trade links with Asia, we couldn’t think of a better place to open our first restaurant outside London – especially in a location with such enviable views across the historic Royal Albert Docks.” Rosa’s Thai Cafe managing director Gavin Adair previously told Propel the Liverpool launch would act as a “bulkhead for a cluster of restaurants in the north west”. Last month, the company said it was aiming to open up to eight sites a year as it looks to grow outside its London heartland. Rosa’s Thai Cafe was founded in 2006 by Alex and Saiphin Moore, who remain involved in the business after TriSpan acquired a majority stake in the company in June last year.
SSP Group takes Burger King to mainland Greece as it explores other opportunities: SSP Group, the UK-based transport hub foodservice specialist, has opened the first Burger King in mainland Greece, at Athens International airport – and is exploring other opportunities. The 526 square metre unit in the central observation deck gives the airport’s 24.1 million passengers per year a new foodservice option. Mark Angela, chief commercial officer of SSP Group and chief executive of SSP EEME, said: “We are delighted to bring Burger King to mainland Greece for the first time. We’ve been working closely with Athens International airport to get the brand exactly right for passengers. It’s great to build on our relationship with the brand and we’re now looking at further opportunities.” George Eleftherakos, chief development officer of Athens International airport, added: “Hosting the first outlet of this highly recognised brand in Athens is a particularly important development.” David Shear, president of Burger King in EMEA, said: “This opening illustrates our commitment to serving more guests around the world.”
M&B appoints independent non-executive directors: Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has appointed two new independent non-executive directors. Jane Moriarty has joined the board with immediate effect and also serves on the audit, remuneration and nomination committees. Meanwhile, Susan Murray will join the board on Friday, 8 March. She will also join the audit, remuneration and nomination committees and, at the same time, will be identified by the board as senior independent director. Moriarty, who is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland, is currently a director of NG Bailey Group, Quarto Group and Martin’s Properties Holdings and was previously a senior advisory partner with KPMG. Murray has served on the boards of Compass Group, Pernod Ricard, Imperial Brands and Ei Group and is a former council member of the Advertising Standards Authority. She is currently a non-executive director of Hays, Grafton Group and Boparan Holdings. In her executive career Murray was director of international marketing of Grand Metropolitan’s IDV business, worldwide president and chief executive of Smirnoff’s vodka business and subsequently chief executive of Littlewoods, among other roles. M&B chairman Bob Ivell said: “At our annual general meeting I reported we were well advanced in the process of identifying and appointing two new independent non-executive directors and I am pleased those discussions have now been concluded with the appointment of two excellent people who bring a wealth of further experience and expertise to our board. I am delighted to welcome Jane and Susan and we look forward to working with them to continue to drive the performance of the business.”
Experienced operators take over Emily Watkins’ Cotswolds gastro-pub: Experienced operators Matt and Katie Beamish have taken over as tenants of the Kingham Plough, the Costwolds gastro-pub made famous by chef patron and Great British Menu winner Emily Watkins. The venue near Chipping Norton includes a 75-cover bar and restaurant and six bedrooms. Having worked with Raymond Blanc, Jamie Oliver and Fergus Henderson in hotels across the country, the husband-and-wife team had been searching for a foodie pub in the Cotswolds for several years. Matt Beamish said: “We took our time to find the right one – and this is it. We aren’t planning to change a great deal about it other than bringing our personalities and energy to freshen it up a little.” Peter Brunt, director of the hotels agency at Colliers International, which brokered the deal, added: “Kingham Plough is not just a wonderful example of a Cotswolds country pub, it is a highly successful business. Little more than a low-volume wet pub when it was acquired by our clients, it has been transformed into a profitable and busy gastro-pub. Having advised Emily Watkins and her husband Miles Lampson for more than a decade in relation to property issues at The Plough, I will miss them both. However, I am delighted to have found such a perfect tenant for them and look forward to seeing Matt build on the substantial legacy he has been left by these exceptional operators.”
Empire secures site at Hemel Hempstead shopping centre, more dining options planned at complex: Empire Cinemas has secured a site in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, as part of £15m plans for The Marlowes shopping centre that will also see more dining options introduced. The company has agreed a deal with Capital & Regional for the nine-screen cinema, which will have 924 seats. Empire has signed a 25-year lease without break. The rent has been agreed at £15 per square foot with index-linked annual uplifts. Capital & Regional has already secured planning permission to add an extension above the centre for the cinema, with construction work expected to start later this year. The cinema is due to open in early 2021. Capital & Regional will invest more than £15m in the centre in the next two years including a family zone with soft play area, which will open in the second quarter of this year, and more dining options. Chief executive Lawrence Hutchings said: “The Empire Cinema and the express and casual dining options we will create are an important step forward in our repositioning of Hemel, consistent with our community centre strategy. Empire is committed to creating a world-class experience, which reflects needs identified in our research with local focus groups, where a town centre cinema and evening destination was the most requested addition.”
Five Guys eyes Peterborough: Better burger brand Five Guys has submitted plans to open a site in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. The company is advertising for staff to work at a site in Church Street that was formerly occupied by Prezzo’s Tex Mex brand Chimichanga. A building control notice to refit the building, which overlooks St John’s Square in the city centre, has been submitted to Peterborough City Council’s planning department, Peterborough Today reports. Earlier this month, Propel learned Five Guys had secured a further four sites for its UK pipeline as it targets 11 openings in the country this year. The company, which secured a £100m banking facility from Goldman Sachs last summer to support expansion plans in the UK and Europe, has lined up sites in Braintree, Bromley, Cambridge’s Market Street and at the Drake Circus leisure scheme in Plymouth. It is also set to open a flagship site in Barcelona, which would be the group’s 14th in Spain. The company, which operates circa 80 sites in the UK, has also appointed Paul Hamilton as head of brand for Europe.
Heineken launches 0.0 on draught via Blade system: Heineken has launched its alcohol-free beer, 0.0, on draught. Heineken 0.0 will be made available on the Blade system following a trial at 60 Star Pubs & Bars sites between September and December last year, which resulted in an average rise of 20 pints sold per week compared with bottles. The Blade system allows outlets to serve draught beer without requiring a cellar and traditional equipment. Heineken head of Blade Otto Esser said: “The ability to serve draught beer without requiring a cellar or lines has been a revolutionary step for the beer and cider category and one we are proud to lead. Building on Blade’s success, we are excited to extend its range of beers to include Heineken 0.0. With the trend for moderation on the rise, there couldn’t be a better time to launch.” Blade will now be installed across 3,000 outlets nationwide this month.
Micro-brewer Brew Monster hits crowdfunding target to expand portfolio: South Wales-based micro-brewer Brew Monster has hit the target on its £50,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to “grow its team, increase capacity and open more venues”. The company is offering 4.54% equity in return for investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £1.1m. So far, 137 investors have pledged £52,370 with 24 days remaining and the campaign is “overfunding”. The pitch states: “Established in 2017, we primarily serve South Wales, including Cardiff, Newport and Swansea, but have increasingly gained traction nationally, with customers springing up in all the major cities across the UK. In the 16 months since we started brewing, we have grown our group quarterly turnover to more than £70,000 in the last quarter (October to December 2018) generating Ebitda of minus £13,950 in the same period. Due to increasing demand for our products resulting from new customer listings and our own venues, we recently upgraded our brewhouse to a capacity of 3,000HL per annum and, with our experienced brew team, we plan to continue our growth in 2019. We recently opened a cask-focused micro-pub in Barry in partnership with the manager. The micro-pub has achieved cumulative profitability since opening (net profit of £893, August 2018 to January 2019). We also recently opened a taproom above the brewery, which has achieved cumulative profitability (net profit of £1,330, October 2018 to January 2019). Investment will allow us to appoint a full-time sales manager, increase brewing capacity and open additional venues.”