Austin Whelan takes on fifth Star site for third Whelans venue, two more pubs with company to follow: Multiple operator Austin Whelan has taken on his fifth site with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars – and is taking on another two south London pubs with the company this year. Whelan has acquired the lease of Acorn 20 in Kingston, which together with the two other sites will take his pub portfolio to eight. Whelan is investing £500,000 with Star Pubs & Bars to transform Acorn 20 into the third site for his top-end Irish pub brand Whelans, joining its Neasden and Uxbridge venues. Propel has learned one of the two new sites will also be a Whelans. Work began on the Kingston site on Monday (11 June) and will take five weeks to complete. The site had been closed for 18 months prior to the investment. Whelans will have an emerald green exterior with black and gold signage and a courtyard garden with seating for 30 people. As at the other Whelans pubs, the interior will resemble a traditional Irish street scene with shopfront cabinets as a backdrop plus colourful tiles and wood panelling. There will be plenty of snugs with an open area for live entertainment as well as ten television screens showing sport. Whelan said: “I have put my name to the Whelans brand and it is important to me Whelans represents the very best in Irish hospitality and is valued by the communities it serves. I want Whelans bars to stand the test of time and ultimately be run by my children, not disappear after ten years. Both the Whelans we opened last year are trading above target, proof the concept in the right place is a winner.” Star Pubs & Bars regional operations director Dugald Macer added: “Austin is a very experienced pub operator with high standards and a clear vision. It’s great he is giving Acorn 20 a new direction and is supporting local talent through the entertainment Whelans will offer.”

SSP strengthens roadside dining presence with Welcome Break partnership: UK transport hub foodservice specialist SSP Group has granted a franchise to motorway services operator Welcome Break for Upper Crust. The new concession has been enhanced for the motorway forecourt market with the addition of pasties and sausage rolls from SSP’s Pasty Shop range. The first unit opened at Oxford Services in April and Welcome Break is set to open further Upper Crust stores at Warwick North and Warwick South Services this month and a Pasty Shop in Telford. “We are delighted to have begun this partnership with Welcome Break, one of the largest independent motorway service operators in the country,” said Sukh Tiwana, SSP Group commercial. “This new partnership will help us achieve a stronger presence in roadside dining alongside our established presence in rail and air and we look forward to securing further opportunities for our Upper Crust brand.” Welcome Break chief executive Robbie Bell added: “Welcome Break’s mission is to be famous for giving people on the move what they want, when they want it, in a passionate and profitable way, which is supported by SSP’s knowledge and understanding of the travelling public.” Welcome Break has partnered with SSP as part of a new investment plan that will see major refurbishment of forecourts across its service stations nationwide.

Rhubarb appoints Warren Geraghty as culinary director: Food experience brand and events caterer Rhubarb has appointed Warren Geraghty as culinary director. Formerly group executive chef of Galvin Restaurants and director of Galvin Pub Co, Geraghty will lead culinary teams across Rhubarb’s entire portfolio, with responsibility for chefs, menu development recruitment, induction and training. He will also oversee the launch of Vivi at London’s Centre Point tower next month and Rhubarb’s first international restaurant, which is scheduled to open at Hudson Yards, New York, next year. Managing director PB Jacobse said: “With Rhubarb continuing to grow and our first international opening under way, Warren’s impressive career achievements and hospitality experience made him the obvious choice for the role.” Geraghty added: “This is a fantastic role and I am delighted to be joining at such an incredibly exciting time. There is some real talent within the kitchen team at Rhubarb and I look forward to nurturing and developing this further.” Geraghty has more than 20 years’ catering experience including roles at Michelin-starred restaurants such as L’Escargot, Pied A Terre and Chez Nico. He was also a judge in the final of Hell’s Kitchen USA series 5 and is author of West: The Cookbook.

Bar Soba eyes new Leeds venue as Roxy Ballroom opens in former site: Scotland-based cocktail and pan-Asian street food concept Bar Soba, which is backed by the British Growth Fund (BGF), has submitted plans for a new site in Leeds. Bar Soba suddenly closed its Merrion Street site in March and has been looking to relocate. The company has now submitted plans to open a bar in Greek Street that was formerly occupied by restaurant Bem Brasil. The restaurant occupied two levels of the four-storey property, with apartments above, Insider Media reports. Bar Soba’s Merrion Street site was taken over by Jones Bar Group, which opened a second site in Leeds for its Roxy Ball Room brand on Friday (8 June) following a £400,000 refurbishment. The downstairs area has been transformed to feature ten beer-pong battle stations, while upstairs offers a second bar, three shuffleboards, three table tennis tables, three American pool tables and an arcade basketball game. Bar Soba received a £3m investment from the BGF in 2016 for expansion. It operates three sites in Glasgow and one each in Edinburgh and Derby.

Urban axe-throwing operator Whistle Punks starts search for flagship London site and fourth UK venue: Urban axe-throwing operator Whistle Punks is seeking a flagship venue in London as part of its ongoing expansion in the UK. The concept sees groups take part in tournaments in which they attempt to hit bull’s-eyes to rack up the highest score while being guided by throwing coaches and socialising between rounds. Agent Savills, which is leading the search, said the site must be between 3,500 and 6,000 square feet, in Zone 1 or 2 with excellent transport links, have a minimum ceiling height of four metres, and planning consent for D2 (leisure) or potential for change of use. Carlene Hughes, associate director in the Savills leisure team, said: “Urban axe-throwing is the latest competitive socialising trend to come to the UK following huge success in the US and Canada, with Whistle Punks at the forefront. We are pleased to be supporting its expansion.” Whistle Punks currently has three UK sites – in Vauxhall, Birmingham and Manchester.

Michelin-starred chef Mark Poynton leaving Alimentum to launch new venture: Mark Poynton, chef-patron of Michelin-starred restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge, is leaving to open a new restaurant in the city centre later this year. Poynton said: “I have been with Alimentum for nearly a decade and feel it’s time for a new perspective. I leave Alimentum in the capable hands of head chef Samira Effa and wish her and the entire team at Alimentum the best for the future. There is an opportunity to take the best of what I have learned over the past ten years, and try to create something that is really fresh. I want to address some of the challenges in our industry, while delivering an exceptional, affordable experience for my customers. Meanwhile, I am going to take a very open approach to developing my new business.” Poynton joined Alimentum in 2009 as head chef and within a year of arriving the restaurant gained three AA rosettes. With Poynton as chef-patron, Alimentum was awarded its first Michelin star in 2012.

Absurd Bird flies into Scotland: Absurd Bird, the Southern US-inspired chicken restaurant brand from Splendid Restaurants, part of the Splendid Hospitality Group, is to make its debut in Scotland. The company will open a venue in Glasgow’s Nelson Mandela Place in a former American Apparel store, Glasgow Live reports. Absurd Bird offers food and drink inspired by the southern US states, with a brand identity built around the story of two “unruly birds” that have escaped London and fled “deeper south”. The Glasgow site will be the sixth Absurd Bird in total, with its launch in Spitalfields, east London, being followed by branches in Soho, Bath, Exeter and Leeds. In April, Splendid Restaurants scrapped plans to bring Absurd Bird to Newcastle.

Drinks group Pure Wild Spirits launches £500,000 fund-raise on Seedrs after Growthdeck campaign ends: Drinks group Pure Wild Spirits has launched a £500,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Seedrs to accelerate growth of its Freya brand in the on-trade after its campaign on rival platform Growthdeck was ended. The company, founded by David Wallwork, is offering 14.28% equity in return for the investment. Pure Wild Spirits launched the UK’s first birch sap spirit, Freya, in 2016, releasing a second flavour last November. The group owns the rights to all aspects of its products including branding, recipe, and bottle designs, and said it has opportunities to add new lines to its range. Birch sap has been listed as a new spirits category and Wallwork said Freya was showing signs of “disrupting” the market with strong traction in premium bars in London, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its recent launch into Italy and New York. The Seedrs pitch said the funds raised would provide working capital and accelerated growth in the UK on-premise sector; enhance sales resources and contact with influential bars and bar groups; launch Freya into more mainstream UK retailers; support a continuing programme of PR, social media and marketing activity; drive its launch in New York and to launch effectively in Italy; and progress innovation programmes towards further growth. A Growthdeck spokeswoman told Propel: “While we saw good interest from our investor base it did not achieve the traction we anticipated in terms of investment. We continue to believe the Freya product has real potential and wish Pure Wild Spirits well in its efforts to secure funding from other sources.”

Farmer J to launch second City of London site: All-day market food concept Farmer J, which launched in Leadenhall in May 2016, is to open a second site in the City of London. The new venue will open in King William Street in August offering the brand’s signature “field trays”, which consist of a main course, grains or leaves, two sides and one of three sauces. Breakfast options will include salt beef hash browns and shakshuka alongside bagels, sourdough pastries and muffins from Fortitude Bakery plus speciality coffee, fresh juice and smoothies. Lunch will be cooked daily from scratch, with 90% of food made on-site. Field tray mains will include spiced rose harissa chicken and charred tofu steak with white miso, aubergine and ginger dressing. Evening dishes will include lamb shawarma alongside beer and kombucha on tap and cocktails. The decor will feature lime-washed brick and polished concrete walls offset by greenery, brass fittings and dark green leather and velvet seating. Farmer J founder Jonathan Recanati said: “It’s time for Farmer J to plough the next field so we’re looking forward to opening our new home at King William Street. Our ethos will remain the same – respecting our fantastic produce and cooking real food with sustainable, seasonal ingredients.”

Chef Khalid Dahbi to launch Moorish concept in Covent Garden this month:Chef Khalid Dahbi is to launch Moorish concept Beso in Covent Garden at the end of June. The restaurant will open in Shaftesbury Avenue at the site vacated last month by Barworks Group concept The Diner. Beso will draw influence from Marrakech, Spain and Turkey to create a Moorish-Mediterranean concept using locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant will centre around a “Majorell table” and “firebar”, with the basement transformed into a cocktail bar and wine cellar. Beso’s menu will feature sharing plates including plancha Cornish squid alongside freshly baked bread with bakoula, and vegetarian tapas dishes. Dahbi said: “Beso will be a restaurant where people can drop in for breakfast and a herbal tea or stop by for a relaxed lunch and bring a group of friends for a feast in the evenings.” The chef has more than 20 years of culinary experience. His CV includes Michelin-starred Paris restaurants, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, Bibendum, and his own restaurant in Verbier, Switzerland. He is chef director of luxury members’ service Quintessentially Group and owner of KD Luxury, which sources caviar, truffles and smoked salmon. For Beso he has partnered with Turkish entrepreneur Eyup Saglik.

Dan Doherty to launch Marylebone venture after acquiring Golden Age pub: Dan Doherty, former executive chef of renowned London restaurant Duck and Waffle, is to launch his own venture in Marylebone after acquiring The Royal Oak pub in York Street from Golden Age Pubs. Doherty and business partner Andy Ward will install a new kitchen and wine list ahead of the pub reopening on Tuesday, 19 June. However, it will close in the autumn for work to begin on renovating the downstairs space and turning the upstairs into a dining room. Doherty told the Evening Standard: “It will be very humble and rustic downstairs and less so upstairs. Down the line, we’d love to do incredible Sunday roasts. I’m craving to be able to go in and cook the food I want to cook and share that with people.” Golden Age Pubs, led by Patrick Marling, also operates The Prince in Stoke Newington. Marling said: “Selling The Royal Oak will allow us to focus on The Prince, which is a modern community pub in a strong residential neighbourhood. We will look at similar pubs in London for future expansion.” Chris Bickle, licensed leisure director at Savills, which brokered the deal, added: “Operator demand for free-of-tie pubs in affluent central London locations such as Marylebone remains strong. In particular, those offering residential accommodation on the upper floors are increasingly hard to come by.” Two weeks ago, food experience brand and events caterer Rhubarb appointed Doherty as chef partner of an all-day dining destination that is due to open in New York next March.

QFM Group to open Taco Bell site in Manchester city centre: Sheffield-based food franchisee QFM Group is to open a Taco Bell site in Manchester city centre. The company, which also operates Costa Coffee and KFC outlets, is opening the Mexican restaurant in Deansgate on Friday, 29 June. QFM group franchisee Arjun Patel told The Business Desk: “Following the successful opening in Liverpool in March, we are incredibly excited to be bringing Taco Bell to the heart of Manchester city centre and driving the Live Mas spirit in the north east.” Taco Bell UK and Europe marketing manager Ellen Gault added: “We’ve seen so much love for Taco Bell throughout the UK, especially in the north. We are excited to announce even later opening hours until 4am every day – and to welcome more people in Manchester through our doors to experience our delicious Mexican-inspired food.” Taco Bell currently has 25 sites in the UK, including its other Manchester restaurant at the Arndale Centre. Last month, Taco Bell said it planned to open 20 restaurants in England in 2018 following the appointment of Jorge Torres as general manager for the region.

Leicester-based escape rooms company to open second site this week, plans three more by end of 2019: Leicester-based escape rooms company Spirits Bar is opening a second site in the city with plans for three more in the UK by 2019. The venue will feature a cocktail bar and escape rooms under one roof. Escape Asylum will provide four escape games, including King Richard, Phobia and Narcos-themed rooms. Co-owner Dan Walford told The Business Desk: “We opened the first escape room in Leicester two years ago and after the success of our first Escape Asylum, we were keen to introduce further sites and expand our offering. We are pleased to be investing further into this stunning and up-and-coming city. Leicester has a very creative and historic background and we hope Spirits Bar and Escape Asylum will complement that.”

London-based micro-brewer extends crowdfunding stretch goal to £300,000: London-based micro-brewer The Park Brewery has extended the stretch target in its fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to £300,000. The company will use funds raised to relocate, build a taproom and increase production five-fold. The company, which hit its initial £175,000 target last week, is offering 10.45% equity in return for investment and set an initial stretch target of £250,000. So far, 350 investors have pledged £277,000 and the campaign is “overfunding” with 11 days remaining. The Park Brewery stated: “We’ve been back over the figures and, after careful consideration, we’ve decided on one last push to £300,000. The kit we originally budgeted for was basic and very manual. This extra money will provide us with a more automated system, which will ease that pressure physically and make The Park Brewery a better place to work and speed production to keep up with sales. We will be able to recruit a sales person sooner so we can focus more on growing the company. We can ramp up our marketing and PR spend to speed sales and get out to more pubs and outlets.” The company was founded in autumn 2014 by husband-and-wife team Josh and Frankie Kearns with an initial £5,000 set-up producing just 200 litres a brew. Struggling to keep up with demand, the Kearns injected £30,000 and expanded capacity mid-2015 to 600 litres, brewing three times a week to keep up with sales. The brewery is once more at full capacity.

Estabulo Rodizio Bar and Grill opens fifth site, in Harrogate: Yorkshire-based Brazilian restaurant Estabulo Rodizio Bar and Grill has opened its fifth site, in Harrogate. The company has launched the venue in the Everyman cinema and restaurant complex in Albert Street in a building that replaced the demolished Sunwin House. The concept specialises in cuts of meat that are skewered and cooked over an open flame. Customers pay a fixed price and use a two-sided disc to control the pace of their meal. The green side indicates to the waiter to serve more meat, while the red side indicates a pause. The restaurant also offers a salad bar, hot buffet, bread, cured meat and a cheese selection, reports the Harrogate Advertiser. Estabulo Rodizio Bar and Grill, which was launched in 2016, has two sites in Leeds and one each in Beverley and Wakefield.

Levy Leisure signs three-year deal with Merlin to launch ‘tea with the Queen’ offering at Madame Tussauds: Caterer Levy Leisure UK has signed a three-year commercial partnership with Merlin Entertainments at Madame Tussauds London. The companies have created an “immersive foodie guest experience” called Royal Tea, which will offer Madame Tussauds customers an opportunity to take afternoon tea alongside a life-like waxwork of the Queen. The deal is the first time Merlin Entertainments has contracted out retail catering in any of its 20 UK sites. Levy Leisure UK managing director Jon Davies said: “The new concept at Madame Tussauds London offers guests a really fun and interactive experience. Our business thrives on developing and implementing new catering and retail concepts, which we hope will be well received at this iconic venue.” Merlin Entertainments commercial director Martyn Brett-Lee added: “It’s important we create an immersive space that transports customers from Baker Street into the world of celebrity. Working with Levy, we’ve created a dining delight in Royal Tea that brings our incredible figure of the Queen to life and offers guests an unmissable experience.”

Burger King to introduce compostable straws across UK estate: Burger King is to roll out compostable straws in its UK restaurants this year as it works to make all company packaging recyclable, biodegradable or compostable by 2025. The new straws will be in all its 500 UK restaurants by September in a move that will cut the brand’s plastic use by 29 tonnes a year, reducing its total annual plastic output by 36%. Burger King chief financial officer Tim Doubleday told edie.net: “We are firmly committed to making a real difference and increasing the recyclability of the materials we use, as well as helping our customers to dispose of packaging more responsibly.” Burger King will also run trials in 70 restaurants next month in which customers will only be given straws and cup lids on request, while customers will be given information in-store on why they should decrease their plastic output. Doubleday will also join the environmental leadership team at charity Business In The Community (BITC) in a bid to drive sector-wide change and ensure Burger King sets ambitious environmental targets. BITC environment director Gudrun Cartwright said: “As we begin to see more large-scale businesses like Burger King act on plastic waste, momentum will build and we will start to reverse the tide.’’

Mossburn Distillers takes Tweedbank space: Edinburgh-based Mossburn Distillers has taken the largest unit at Tweedbank Industrial Estate in Galashiels, Scotland. The company, owned by Marussia Beverages, has taken the 14,817 square foot unit on a four-year lease at a rent of £3.75 per square foot in a deal brokered by agents Ryden and Galbraiths. Mossburn launched a distillery on Skye last year and plans another in Jedburgh in the Borders that would include a 200-seat restaurant and visitors’ centre. The agents also let units at the industrial estate, which is owned by Catalyst Capital, to CETA Precision Engineering and Mhor Sweets, leaving only one unit unoccupied.

Zonal wins supreme champions category at Family Business of the Year awards: Hospitality management solutions company Zonal has won the Supreme Champions category at the Family Business of the Year awards. The company also picked up the Scottish Family Business of the Year award at a ceremony at The May Fair Hotel in London. Zonal chief executive Stuart McLean said: “I attribute our success to the fantastic team of people who make the wider Zonal family. My father, Ralph McLean, who founded Zonal almost 40 years ago, would be incredibly proud of our achievements.” Paul Andrews, founder and managing director of Family Business United, which runs the awards, added: “Zonal is a fantastic family firm and is highly deserving of all the plaudits that winning this award brings. What began as a simple EPOS solution to a problem of theft in a family run hotel almost 40 years ago has grown into a great business employing more 540 people while managing to retain its family culture and heritage. The family is central to the way the business operates and family values permeate the whole organisation.”