The Restaurant Group to open first Food & Fuel site since acquisition: The Restaurant Group (TRG) will open its first Food & Fuel site since it acquired the 11-strong business last year in a circa £15m deal. The company is transforming its Cafe Rouge site in Strand On The Green, Chiswick, ahead of relaunching it in July as The Steam Packet. The Cafe Rouge venue closed on 17 March having been at the location since 2005. Previously the site was occupied by Dome restaurant and the venue will revert to its former guise in the 1870s as the Steam Packet pub. Food & Fuel also operates The Roebuck in Chiswick High Road. Meanwhile, TRG-owned pub business Brunning & Price will open the Plough & Harrow in the Malvern Hills and The Roe Deer near Kidderminster this summer. At its full-year trading update last week, TRG said its six single-site Brunning & Price acquisitions were trading well and it expects to open at least seven venues in 2019. It added: “We have now refurbished three of the Ribble Valley sites and these are delivering a sales uplift in excess of 30% post-refurbishment. The Food & Fuel sites are trading in line with expectations and plans are in place to further develop these propositions throughout 2019.” The company’s pubs business has a freehold asset base in excess of £90m. AG&G is understood to have acted on the Cafe Rouge deal.
Hall joins Hawksmoor as marketing director: Former Casual Dining Group (CDG) brand and marketing director Georgia Hall has joined Graphite Capital-backed steak restaurant group Hawksmoor as marketing director. Hall, a former head of brand at YO! Sushi and Chelsea Football Club, joins Hawksmoor following a brief stint as brand and marketing director at Social Entertainment Ventures, which operates Bounce and Puttshack. She spent two and a half years at CDG. Hawksmoor operates eight restaurants under its eponymous brand and two under its Foxlow concept, in Balham and Clerkenwell. Earlier this year it disposed of its Foxlow site in Soho to Australian chef Shaun Presland, who is set to make his London debut by opening Japanese restaurant Pacific. Hawksmoor will make its debut in the US later this year, in New York.
Bristol-based Italian restaurant group Aqua goes into administration: Bristol-based Italian restaurant group Aqua has gone into administration, Propel has learned. Simon Ashley Rowe and Rachel Hotham, of Milsted Langdon, have been appointed as joint administrators. As a result of the administration, Aqua has shut its sites in Milton Keynes, Lewes and Worthing. The closures leave the company with four sites in the south west – two in Bristol and one each in Bath and Portishead – which are understood to be trading while the administrators seek a buyer for the business and its assets. When asked by Propel for the reasons Aqua had gone into administration or for further information, Milsted Langdon said it was not prepared to provide further details. Aqua was founded in 1998 by Richard Smithson with a goal to deliver “contemporary Anglo-Italian food to neighbourhoods and encourage diners to pop in at any time to experience tailored services and food”. The company has no connection with Hong Kong-based Aqua Restaurant Group, the David Yeo-founded international restaurant business that operates more than 20 restaurants in London, Hong Kong and Beijing.
YO! Sushi trials new kaiten belt layout as it opens Ashford site: YO! Sushi, the Mayfair Equity Partners-backed group, has opened a site at the Ashford Design Outlet in Kent that trials a new kaiten belt layout and evolved design. The 2,228 square foot site has a simplified design with an increased use of natural materials such as ash and burnt larch to “evoke the Japanese understanding of nature, order and simplicity”. The new-look kaiten belt – the first major change to the format in 20 years – flows through three large communal tables that seat 54 people in total and aims to “put food at the heart of the experience”, allowing greater flexibility in the way groups can be seated. The site also features a sizeable dedicated YO! To Go area. The evolved design and new-look belt follow 18 months of research and development to “best position YO! for the future”. Under the “Say YO! to the Future” programme, the brand has looked at “how it can position itself as the best place to work in the industry, how it can best partner with third parties to drive the accessibility of Japanese food, and how it can continue to excite customers and broaden its customer base”. This period of research and development has entered the test phase as demonstrated by the new-look belt at Ashford, the Tesco and David Lloyd Clubs YO! To Go trials, and the company’s plans to launch a no-belt, full-service restaurant at Westfield White City. Chief executive Richard Hodgson said: “We have spent the past 18 months looking at how we fully capitalise on the opportunity we have to lead the charge in democratising Japanese food and sushi by making it more accessible for more people. To do this we need the ability to deploy different formats and options depending on the site and customer mix. The opening in Ashford, where we are trialling a dramatically different kaiten belt layout that allows us to better seat groups and families together, demonstrates just one element of how we are evolving our offer in the UK to broaden our appeal.” During the past 18 months, the company has moved to diversify its business model by acquiring Bento Sushi, one of the largest sushi brands in North America, and leading wholesaler Taiko to meet growing demand for sushi in restaurants, kiosks and supermarkets.
Abokado becomes first UK grab-and-go chain to offer edible insects: Healthy eating chain Abokado has added crickets to its new spring menu, becoming the UK’s first grab-and-go chain to offer insects on its menu. Whole crickets, supplied by sustainable food brand Eat Grub, are part of the brand’s customisable range of toppings for salads, poke bowls and hotpots. The sweet chilli and lime crunchy roasted crickets will complement new dishes on the menu such as a “nutritious noodles” salad range, “superbox” salads and grazing pots. Abokado managing director Kara Alderin said: “Abokado is all about customisation and offering our customers a variety of options to enhance their meals. Quirky, maybe, but packed with flavour and protein, these little crickets are the way forward in healthy, sustainable snacking. This is a natural step in our innovation. About 15 years ago, when Mark and Lindsay founded Abokado, sushi still wasn’t a mainstream food in the UK. The same goes for kale, quinoa and chia. In a few years, insects will be a normalised food in our diet.” Abokado operates 23 stores in London. Read Mark Wingett’s interview with Abokado co-founder Mark Lilley in the summer edition of Propel Quarterly, which will be available in early June
Crussh launches debut retail range as it strengthens Sainsbury’s partnership:London-based healthy food and juice brand Crussh has launched its debut retail range. The company has introduced a range of products, including vegan and protein-based lines, into 61 Sainsbury’s convenience stores in London following a trial in ten outlets. The roll-out is part of Crussh’s strategy to strengthen its convenience and food-to-go offering and expand into areas outside traditional high-street stores. The retail range, which is exclusive to Sainsbury’s, includes a tuna and bean health pot, spicy chipotle corn and avocado health pot, and avocado and red pepper wrap. Crussh also operates a concessions site it opened at Sainsbury’s Pimlico in June 2017. Crussh chief executive Shane Kavanagh said: “We have worked with Sainsbury’s since 2017 and we’re delighted to be strengthening our relationship by launching our range across convenience stores throughout London. We’re thrilled our customers will now be able to buy our ‘fit food’ in 61 Sainsbury’s stores, giving us a great opportunity to introduce our food to new customers while hopefully adding something new to the Sainsbury’s food to go range.”
Bundobust to open third site, in Liverpool next week: Indian restaurant Bundobust will open its third site, in Liverpool next week. The company will open the 4,000 square foot venue in Bold Street on Friday, 24 May in a premises previously occupied by food-to-go retailer Greggs. The menu will feature Bundobust’s take on authentic Indian street food classics such as bundo chaat, vada pav and okra fries accompanied by local and international craft beer from 12 keg and two cask lines. Co-founder Mark Husak said: “We have been working long and hard to get this Liverpool venue ready to roll and we’re finally there! We’ve already been made to feel very welcome at our sell-out collaboration with our neighbours Maray and the pop-up events we did at The Merchant. We’re really looking forward to making a host of new punters smile when we open in Bold Street.” Bundobust was founded by Mayur Patel, whose vegetarian restaurant Prashad was runner-up in Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant television series in 2010, and Husak, of Bradford bar The Sparrow Bier Cafe. Starting life as a pop-up, Bundobust opened its first permanent site in Mill Hill, Leeds, in July 2014 followed by its second, in Piccadilly, Manchester, in December 2016. A second Manchester site will open in Oxford Road later this year. Last month, Propel revealed Tom Byng, founder and former chief executive of Byron, had invested an undisclosed sum in Bundobust.
Deliveroo expands riders’ business opportunities through academy initiative:Deliveroo has launched Deliveroo Academy, a package of measures designed to provide its riders with free training courses and opportunities to grow their own business. Riders will be offered access to more than 300 free online training courses and the chance to take part in “The Big Pitch”, a Dragons’ Den-style contest with a chance to win investment for their startup. Ten riders will be shortlisted to take part in a one-day workshop before pitching to a panel of investors. Deliveroo is also funding 40 scholarships this year to accredited bachelor-level degree programmes and has extended its online learning offer to include soft skills such as job search strategy and developing a career plan. Deliveroo said its partnership with OpenClassrooms, launched last year, had already seen more than 1,000 UK riders complete online courses. Deliveroo is also helping riders to access apprenticeships at its head office, while the company said it was working with partners to create apprenticeships in restaurants. Deliveroo founder and chief executive Will Shu said: “Riders work with Deliveroo because of the flexibility it gives them to fit work around their lives. We know lots of riders want to create their own startup and it’s exciting to be able to help them along their journey.”
 
Three Michelin-starred chef Quique Dacosta to open first site outside Spain, in Fitzrovia next month: Three Michelin-starred chef Quique Dacosta is to open his first site outside Spain – in Fitzrovia, central London. Arros QD will launch in Eastcastle Street on Friday, 7 June with an entire section of the menu devoted to rice dishes designed to share. His homage to the traditional paella enjoyed in and around Valencia includes rabbit chop, chicken and butter beans cooked over a wood fire. The 140-cover restaurant will be set across two floors totalling 9,000 square feet and feature four distinct areas, including a lounge with bar seating, a paella counter and a chef’s table. The wine list will focus on Mediterranean organic varieties, while cocktails will continue the theme featuring modern takes on classic cocktails from key cities in the region. A further category will focus on seasonal and locally sourced botanicals and fruit. Quique said: “I am excited to bring part of our tradition and gastronomy to one of the most important capitals of the world. Paella is one of the best known dishes around yet also one of the most mistreated. With this project, I am materialising a passion I have been nurturing for decades – to reinstate the rice culture from the eastern coast of Spain to its rightful home.” Dacosta’s eponymous flagship restaurant in Valencia has held three Michelin stars since 2013, while he also operates one Michelin-starred El Poblet in the city and three other venues.
Jet2.com becomes first UK airline to serve Nando’s in-flight: Jet2.com has become the first UK airline to serve Nando’s food on its flights by offering two snack box options. Customers can choose between a Nando’s Box, which couples peri-peri drizzled hummus with salted pitta chips, and Nando’s half-popped corn. Selected boxes will also contain a free Nando’s meal voucher. The snack boxes are part of Jet2.com’s new in-flight menu. Chief executive Steve Heapy said: “The addition of these two fantastic snacking options gives our customers even more choice and means we’re the first UK airline to offer Nando’s products on our in-flight menu.”
Escape Hunt raises £4m through share placing: Escape room operator Escape Hunt has raised £4m to fund the company’s roll-out of sites in the UK. The company, which operates eight sites, raised the funds through a share placing that, subject to shareholder approval, will see 6,666,667 new shares placed at 60p each. Escape Hunt announced plans for the fund-raise on Monday (13 May) as it reported revenue increased to £2.31m in the year ended 31 December 2018, compared with £870,000 the year before.
Starbucks completes issue of $1bn sustainability bond: Starbucks has completed issuance of a $1bn sustainability bond to support ethical coffee sourcing and its Greener Retail initiative. A portion of the funds raised from its third – and largest – sustainability bond to date will support a $20m equity investment to provide financing to coffee communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia in the form of loans to replace trees, buy equipment and improve coffee crop quality and productivity. The bond will also help fund the company’s Greener Retail commitments, including its Greener Stores initiative to design, build and operate 10,000 Greener Stores globally by 2025. Funds will also support investments in greener cups and packaging. Starbucks chief financial officer Patrick Grismer said: “The bond demonstrates Starbucks’ commitment to meaningful, continual progress towards our aspiration of sustainable coffee, served sustainably. It also illustrates a trend towards heavier interest from investors in our socially and environmentally focused projects – in this case supporting coffee farmers and leading in green retail.” The 30-year sustainability bond is part of a larger bond offering of $2bn, with another $1bn bond issued for general corporate purposes. Starbucks was supported by Morgan Stanley on the transaction.
Glasgow-based West becomes first UK brewery to be ‘employee owned’:Glasgow-based West has become the first brewery in the UK to be employee owned, the company has said. Founder Petra Wetzel has established a share incentive plan and placed an initial 10% of the company’s shares into a dedicated trust for staff. Employees who have worked with the business for 12 consecutive months, no matter how many hours, will receive shares worth £3,600 every year – the maximum sum that can be given to employees tax-free. Currently, the brewer has 65 staff eligible for shares. Wetzel said: “West is now worth many millions and I’ve always considered this business to be a team effort rather than me acting as some kind of benevolent dictator. I want to share what we’ve achieved over the past 13 years with the people who have helped make it possible. So everybody who has worked at West for longer than a year will receive shares in the business, which will be held in trust and vested after five years. This is about leaving a legacy for the city of Glasgow because, if I’d sold the business to a larger entity, I’d have no control over what would happen to West going forward, so this is all about ensuring everybody who works at West benefits financially.” West has launched more than 30 draught beers in the past 13 years.
Las Iguanas reduces complimentary meal bill by 25%: Las Iguanas, the Latin American restaurant and bar group owned by Casual Dining Group, has reduced its complimentary meal bill by 25% in two years. Having implemented technology from guest feedback service Feed It Back, Las Iguanas now receives 10,000 pieces of feedback every week which, Las Iguanas said, was giving the company the “insight needed to make informed business decisions” and had allowed the brand to reduce the number of meals fully complimented from 1.2% of gross revenue to 0.9% during the past two years. All its sites now have a four-star or above rating on TripAdvisor, while Las Iguanas has also benefited from an additional 500 database subscribers per month. Lisa Campbell, guest experience manager at Las Iguanas, said: “Ensuring our guests have a fun, enjoyable and outstanding experience at Las Iguanas is our primary focus. The use of Feed It Back’s technology has enabled us to gather high volumes of customer insight so we can innovate and evolve our offer based on what the customer truly demands. The technology has generated a number of tangible commercial benefits, including saving us hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
Douglas Jack – M&B shares undervalued as it continues to make progress: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has argued shares in Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) are undervalued as it continues to make progress. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 325p, Jack said: “M&B’s like-for-like sales rose 4.7% in the first quarter (1.8% for weeks one to seven; 6.9% for weeks eight to 14). The second half of this period benefited from relatively warm, dry weather (versus two weeks of snow in the comparable year) and strong trading over the festive period, with like-for-like sales up 8.5% on Christmas Day. We believe none of the 14 brands traded badly. Food like-for-like sales (up 4.6%) caught up with drink like-for-likes (up 4.8%) in the first quarter. We expect this to have been largely price-driven, reflecting the 2018 trend of average spend rising by 5.9% for food and 4.9% for drink due to pricing and the increasing premiumisation of the estate. We estimate average drink prices were up 2.9% in the first half (using CGA data) but this excludes the impact of trading up. Ignite 2 consists of 43 different work streams to improve product, service and digital marketing as well as reducing costs. We forecast £28m of cost mitigation this year versus slightly more than £60m of cost inflation. With this level of mitigation, we estimate 1.7% price-driven like-for-like sales would hold profits flat. Our full-year forecasts assume like-for-like sales rise 2.0%. In the first quarter, two sites were opened and 114 conversions and remodels were completed, with the company encouraged by the returns being generated. It should complete about 270 remodels and conversions over the full year. With no dividend due to the company wishing to self-finance debt amortisation payments, we forecast net debt/Ebitda falling from 4.0 times to 3.5 times over the next three years. When comparing profit growth, cost control and asset quality terms, it is hard to justify M&B having such a substantial EV/Ebitda discount (6.9 times) to JD Wetherspoon (9.6 times), in our view. M&B outperforms Wetherspoon on all these measures. We expect the key catalysts for the shares to be improved like-for-like sales; further progress with Ignite 2; and reductions in net debt and the pension deficit, benefiting cash flow. For example, the next tri-annual pension review, which must complete by the end of June 2020, could result in a material reduction in the £45m of extra annual pension cash contributions.”
Roberts & Treguer opens seven-storey pub hotel near Brick Lane for third London site: Roberts & Treguer, the company behind pub restaurants The Culpeper in Spitalfields and The Green in Clerkenwell, has opened a third site in London. The Buxton has launched in Osborn Street, off Brick Lane, after the company took over The Archers pub earlier this year. The seven-storey pub and hotel offers 15 rooms and a guest-only rooftop terrace featuring an honesty bar and Swedish hot tub. The ground floor features an open kitchen and bar restaurant with 30 covers plus an original iron staircase that provides access to the bedrooms. The menu offers “regional European dishes focusing on responsible sourcing and seasonality”, Hot Dinners reports. Roberts & Treguer’s other sites also feature rooftop gardens.
Goodbody – expect low single-digit like-for-like growth at Marston’s: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has said he expects low single-digit like-for-like growth at Marston’s. Issuing a ‘Sell’ note on the shares with a target price of 85p ahead of the company’s interim results on Wednesday (15 May), Ruddy said: “The key line items for consideration will be like-for-like growth and margins in its Destination & Premium (D&P) and Taverns businesses, and an update on its de-leveraging plan. Marston’s has run with slightly lower levels of like-for-like growth than peers as a result of its stated strategy to avoid discounting, but profit growth has been broadly similar. We expect these trends to continue in the first half. This will be the first presentation from management since it outlined its plans to reduce debt by £200m between 2020 and 2023 and so we will look for further information on this strategy. For D&P (circa 45% of Ebit), we forecast like-for-like growth of 1% in the first half and Ebit growth of 2% year-on-year. D&P like-for-like growth was 0.5% after the first 16 weeks of the period but we would expect a recovery in the later part of the first half as it laps the heavily snow-impacted period when customers were unable to drive to D&P venues. For Taverns and leased (circa 40% Ebit), we forecast like-for-like growth of 3% in the first half, broadly in line with the picture at the first-quarter stage. In the Brewing business, we forecast volume growth of 3% with profits slightly down year-on-year owing to product mix (increased distribution of Estrella). Marston’s is trading on 8.6 times forward EV/Ebitda, broadly in line with its ten-year average valuation and at a premium to the other pub and restaurant groups in our coverage. Given the high levels of leverage, lowest fixed-charge cover of the pubs and low levels of profit growth potential, we see continued risk to the downside and retain our ‘Sell’ recommendation with a target price of 85p.”
Live&Loud, backed by former Punch boss, closes crowdfunding campaign after raising almost £520,000: Live music specialist Live&Loud has closed its campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube after raising almost £520,000. The company, whose backers include former Punch chief executive Giles Thorley, matches hospitality venues and artists to make booking live gigs easier. Live&Loud was offering 5.78% equity as it initially aimed to raise £500,000 to support its expansion, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £8.1m. It has now closed the fund-raise, with 158 investors pledging £517,310. The pitch stated: “We believe the Live Music Act amendment of 2015 has been game-changing in allowing 121,300 UK premises to host live music without a live music licence. Research shows there’s 44% to 60% growth in sales when a venue hosts live music and 80% of customers stay longer if there is live music, while 70% will spend more. This investment will enable us to scale up our operation by growing our team as well as rolling out our UK-wide marketing campaign.” Live&Loud was founded by music veterans Mick and Ben Newton, while directors include former Sony Music chairman and EMI president Nick Gatfield, and Bond Aviation chief executive Peter Bond, a founder investor in Soho House.
Fattal Group gets go-ahead for £33m Birmingham city centre hotel: Israel-based Fattal Group has been given the go-ahead for a £33m, new-build hotel in Birmingham city centre. The company has been granted permission by the city council for the 14-storey property off Broad Street. A total of 261 bedrooms will be created in the building earmarked for land to the rear of the Jurys Inn hotel. The scheme includes the demolition of a multi-storey car park to make way for the building, which will feature a gym, restaurant, bar and terrace, reports Insider Media. Fattal Group will operate the hotel under its NXY brand. The company owns and operates 165 sites in 17 countries, including Jurys Inn.