JD Wetherspoon commits its largest investment ever into a pub and hotel, at more than €33m: JD Wetherspoon has made its largest ever investment, in excess of €33m (£29.9m), to buy and develop a new pub and hotel in Dublin. The site – Keavan’s Port – is in Camden Street Upper and Lower will have 89 en-suite bedrooms and employ 200 full-time and part-time staff. The investment of €6m to purchase the property and €27.4m to redevelop it is “the single largest investment” made by Wetherspoon in its 41-year history. Although there is no official opening date for the pub and hotel, if a licence is granted then the company is aiming to open the pub on 15 January 2021. The pub will be managed by Fillip Mordak, who has worked for Wetherspoon since 2007 and has managed two of its sites in Ireland – The Forty Foot in Dun Laoghaire and The Silver Penny in Dublin. Wetherspoon has developed a series of eight Georgian townhouses (seven of which are protected), a chapel and added a substantial modern extension featuring a 12-metre-high glazed atrium. The pub covers 9,000 square foot of customer space over two floors, plus a 3,800 square foot garden across two enclosed courtyards. There will also be accessible bedrooms designed for guests with disabilities, including wet-room facilities. Wetherspoon chief executive John Hutson said: “We are delighted to have completed the development of Keavan’s Port. We believe the pub and hotel will be a great asset to Dublin and will hopefully act as a catalyst for other businesses to invest in the city.”
Baton Berisha made chief executive of Richard Caring-owned hospitality portfolio: Serial sector investor Richard Caring has appointed Baton Berisha as chief executive of The Ivy Collection, Bill’s Restaurants, Caprice Restaurants and The Birley Group. In early 2020, Bill’s reshuffled its management team with executive chairman David Campbell and managing director Sarah Hills stepping down from the business. Berisha, already managing director of The Ivy Collection, took on management of Bill’s with immediate effect. He was also made managing director of Caprice Holdings earlier this summer. Caring said Berisha’s move to chief executive across his hospitality businesses was part of the “continued natural evolution of the structure of the company”. Caring said: “Baton is an experienced operator who has been with the company since 2014. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for his integral role in the development and progression of The Ivy Collection, Caprice Restaurants and Bill’s Restaurants. I look forward to continuing to work with him as we take these next steps together into 2021.”
Neat Burger opens third dine-in site, six more in pipeline: Neat Burger, the Lewis Hamilton-backed, plant-based concept, has opened its third dine-in site, in Soho. It has taken over the Old Compton Street site that was formerly a Herman Ze German restaurant. Neat Burger has also won Deliveroo’s Best Vegan award. The vegan specialist plans to open in six new locations across London and is targeting global expansion too. The brand, which is backed by Hamilton, The Cream Group, and Unicef ambassador and early backer of Beyond Meat, Tommaso Chiabra, was launched in September 2019 with the opening of its first dine-in outlet just off Regent Street in London, followed by its Camden Market dine-in location earlier this year. It also operates Deliveroo Edition sites in Battersea and Whitechapel.
Wagamama opens latest delivery kitchen in Balham, plans more for 2021:Wagamama, The Restaurant Group-owned brand, has opened its latest delivery kitchen in London’s Balham. The company opened its fifth stand-alone delivery kitchen last week in the Zennor Trade Park, Balham. It follows openings in Peckham, Hackney, Bow and Leeds. The Emma Woods-led Wagamama chain said, earlier this year, it planned to open three to five delivery kitchens in the UK this year. The company said it would focus on areas not covered by its restaurants – such as Peckham – and towns and cities with demand opportunities – such as Leeds – for further rollout of the concept. Propel understands the company plans to open more sites under the format in 2021 but as yet has not secured any further locations.
Wingstop appoints Lisa Paton as vice-president EMEA: Lisa Paton, formerly of Pizza Hut UK & Europe and BrewDog, has been appointed vice-president EMEA of US chicken brand Wingstop. Paton stepped down as international group director at BrewDog earlier this summer. She joined the Scottish brewer and retailer in 2018 as its retail director, Europe, to oversee its growing bars division on the continent. Paton had spent the previous two years working from Pizza Hut’s St Albans base and, prior to that, had spent just over four years in various European roles at parent company, Yum! Brands. Last month, Propel revealed that Lemon Pepper Holdings, which is rolling out Wingstop across the UK, had secured its fourth bricks and mortar site, after acquiring a former Byron in South Kensington. Lemon Pepper Holdings opened Wingstop’s debut UK site in Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End in 2018. It also operates sites in Dalston and Bluewater and delivery units in Battersea, Vauxhall, Wandsworth, Birmingham, Croydon and Kentish Town.
The Restaurant Group launches Bone Jam delivery brand: The Restaurant Group (TRG), the Andy Hornby-led company, has added a further virtual delivery brand to its portfolio, called Bone Jam, Propel has learned. Launched through selected Chiquito sites, and available through Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, Bone Jam offers US comfort food or “BBQ, chicken and wings”. Meal deals include Bones ’n’ Fries – “five pork back ribs smothered in your favourite sauce and one portion of fries” for £9.49; and bundles including the Bone Jammin’ Banquet – “ten chicken wings, ten pork back ribs (both smothered in your favourite sauce), two portions of fries and one side of your choice” for £24.99. Last month, Propel revealed TRG had added the dessert-focused, virtual brand Puddo to its portfolio. Available out of the group’s Frankie & Benny’s sites and through Deliveroo and UberEats, Puddo features waffles, doughnuts, cookie dough, cakes, ice creams and cheesecakes. A month before that, Propel revealed that the Wagamama operator had launched pan-Asian concept Bao Now, which offers “steamed buns and a range of tasty fillings”, through its Concessions site at the Hilton Hotel in More London.
GSG Hospitality to launch new concept at Liverpool landmark as part of £3m transformation: Independent restaurant and bar business GSG Hospitality is to open a new concept at The Plaza in Liverpool. The concept, which will be revealed in 2021, will include a coffee shop and destination restaurant alongside a pop-up retail space and cocktail bar. GSG Hospitality, which was previously Graffiti Spirits Group, will operate the venue on the ground floor as part of Bruntwood Works’ £3m transformation of the landmark, which will also include customer lounge and co-working suites along with a wellness studio to host fitness classes. Matthew Farrell, co-founder and director of GSG Hospitality, said: “We are excited to work in partnership with Bruntwood Works in bringing a new experience to the iconic Plaza building. The new concept will be a multifaceted offering that will be a welcome addition to the commercial district and also for Bruntwood Works’ customers and the wider community.” Bruntwood Works chief executive Ciara Keeling said: “The Plaza will become one of the most innovative buildings in the north west, provide a first-class hospitality experience with an exciting new food and drink operator and create a more fitting home for forward-thinking, ambitious businesses across Liverpool.” The Plaza is home to a range of digital, technology and professional services businesses, includes serviced offices and larger leased spaces.
Castlegate Investments owner secures £2.5m CBILS finance to safeguard pub and hotel sites: Castlegate Investments, led by James Thomson OBE, which operates Prestonfield House Hotel and The Witchery, has secured £2.5m from the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS) to safeguard its pub and hotel sites. Thomson, who founded The Witchery in 1978 and purchased Prestonfield House Hotel in 2003, reopened the doors on his Edinburgh sites in November under level three restrictions following their temporary closure in October. However, Castlegate Investments site The Tower Restaurant has been forced to close permanently. The company, which has seen its wedding and events arm severely reduced by lockdown measures, is committed to retaining its remaining employees thanks to its loan from Royal Bank of Scotland. Thomson said: “I began my business by taking out three loans, allowing me to establish The Witchery and purchase the freehold of the property. The company wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of banks. The hospitality sector supports a whole ecosystem of jobs, from taxi drivers to farmers, to joiners, gardeners, lawyers, accountants, cheese-makers and breweries. It’s vital that we do our utmost to keep things running, and this funding allows us to do that. I’m hopeful we can see a return to normality soon now that we have several vaccines in production.”
Hollywood Bowl launches ‘more identifiable balls’ to make lanes covid-safe, eyes 30 venues for Puttstars concept: Hollywood Bowl Group, the UK’s largest ten-pin bowling operator, has revealed it is launching more identifiable bowling balls in latest efforts to make lanes covid-secure. The company, which has about 40% of its estate still closed under tier three restrictions, saw pre-tax profit for the year ending 30 September fall to £1.2m, compared with £27.6m the previous year. Like-for-like sales in the period grew 0.4% while revenue was down 38.8% to £79.5m, compared with £129.9m the year before. Only about 10% of Hollywood Bowl revenues – from food and soft drinks – are eligible for the VAT cut offered by government during the pandemic. Chief executive Steve Burns said: “We have still managed to deliver a profit after tax for the year of £1.4m and adjusted Ebitda of £14m, opened four new centres during the course of the past financial year, three of which we opened during the midst of the pandemic, and we finished the year with a very strong cash position of £20.8m, with net debt of just £8.7m. One of the big issues we faced at the beginning was the non-sharing of equipment. Ball return is for two lanes… so we had to make it really, really easy to ensure customers could identify which ball was theirs, so that there was no sharing of equipment between separate family bubbles. So we bought a whole new set of balls for every centre. They are bowling balls that look like footballs so they are easy to see which is yours.” Hollywood Bowl launched mini-golf concept Puttstars in March in a bid to “leverage our indoor leisure expertise” because mini-golf “shares loads of comparisons with bowling and multiple levers for growth”. The company is now hoping to open 30 venues around the UK “over a slow and steady period”. Hollywood Bowl said it “is uniquely positioned” and “resilient in a recession, well capitalised and ready to take full advantage of the opportunities that may present themselves after the pandemic”.
Tim Hortons set to make Yorkshire debut, in Sheffield: Canadian quick service restaurant brand Tim Hortons is set to open its first Yorkshire restaurant, in Sheffield. SK Group, which is leading the rollout of Tim Hortons in the UK, has been given the go-ahead by the city council to convert the former The Restaurant Group-owned Frankie & Benny’s restaurant at Drakehouse retail park, which closed in March, and install a drive-thru lane. A Tim Hortons spokesman told The Star it was unable to confirm an opening date and planning permission is still required for a change of signage outside the restaurant. Tim Hortons operates 27 sites in the UK and, in October, revealed ambitions of opening “in every major city and town in the UK by 2022”, creating more than 2,000 jobs.
Escape Hunt exchanges contracts on site in Kingston: Escape room operator Escape Hunt has exchanged contracts on a site in Kingston, Surrey. The company expects to complete the deal in early January, with the venue – its 15th owner-operated site, set to open in the first quarter of 2021. Escape Hunt said modular games rooms for Kingston have already been produced and are currently in transit. Meanwhile, the company’s 13th owner-operated site – and 14th it total – will launch at Intu Watford on Sunday, 27 December. The company stated: “The site at Watford represents a milestone as the games rooms have been constructed using our next generation designs, which are fully modular. This modular design will enable the rooms to be moved and re-installed within the company’s estate at a later stage much more effectively and cost efficiently, and also provides another delivery option to the franchise network.” Chief executive Richard Harpham said: “Despite tier two and tier three restrictions placing a significant strain on our industry at the moment, we remain encouraged by the performance of our estate when open, and are delighted with the progress being made with our digital propositions underpinning our ‘Escape Hunt for Business’ product strategy. Both aspects provide cautious optimism for our future prospects once restrictions are fully lifted, and it is exciting to be able to bolster our UK estate with a number of fabulous new sites that may not have been attainable 12 months ago.”
Goodbody – focus will be on current trading and balance sheet at SSP with most of full-year headline figures already known: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has said the focus will be on current trading, the balance sheet and outlook at UK-based travel hub foodservice company SSP Group when full-year results are issued on Thursday (17 December) given most of the headline figures are already known. Ruddy said: “We’re be looking for how sales rates are tracking versus the 24% rate in September. In November, more severe lockdowns in Europe, in particular, will have impacted trading, particularly in rail. An update on what percentage of the estate is currently open will also be important. Other areas include the working capital position and whether there any significant deferred payments due; at what level is the drop through on lost sales running (previously lower end of 25% to 30% range); how liquidity has evolved since year-end; an update on covenants and facilities; any thoughts from management on funding and management thoughts on how competition looks in the recovery phase. We forecast sales down 61% in the first half of the 2021 financial year October to March. The continued severe disruption in air and rail travel indicates our expectations for the first half are high. SSP trades on 11 times FY22 EV/Ebitda, a small premium to its five-year pre-covid averages. Our FY22 forecasted revenue remains 12% below prior peak, with margin 230 basis points lower.”
Chi to open fifth site, at Rushden Lakes: Asian street food concept Chi is to open its fifth site, at Rushden Lakes in Northamptonshire. The company will launch the restaurant at the complex on Wednesday (16 December), reports the Northamptonshire Telegraph. Chi offers Asian-inspired dishes such as bao buns and banh-mi with fillings such as Japanese fried chicken, braised pork, king prawns and panko sweet potato. It also sells noodle bowls and rice dishes, soups and Asian sides including gyozas, spring rolls and Vietnamese “dirty fries”, as well as desserts such as sweet fried baos and bubble waffles. Chi’s other sites are in Basingstoke, Cambridge, Norwich and Watford.
Davenports adds Stratford-upon-Avon pub to portfolio: West Midlands brewer and retailer Davenports has added a pub in Stratford-upon-Avon to its portfolio. The company has taken on the lease of the Lamplighter, which will be renamed The Coach House. The 475-year-old Rother Street pub is closed for an extensive refurbishment but is expected to reopen in January. It will be Davenport’s first managed pub in the town since The Old Tramway in Shipston Road in the early 1970s, reports the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald. Davenports was founded in 1829 and acquired the original Dare’s Southend Brewery in Balsall Heath in 1962.
Greggs opens two new sites at St Pancras International: Food-to-go operator Greggs has opened two new sites at London’s St Pancras International station. The openings, which have created a total of 23 jobs, will provide takeaway and click-and-collect services. “We’re pleased to welcome Greggs to St Pancras International,” Greggs had previously announced plans to open 20 new shops across the UK during the final quarter of 2020. Greggs retail and people director Roisin Currie said: “We’re delighted to be able to invest in St Pancras International, bringing new jobs to the area and providing new and existing customers with a modern and convenient new shop.”
The Little Cheesemonger opens second site in Prestatyn: Independent cheese shop owner Gemma Williams has opened a second site of The Little Cheesemonger, in Prestatyn. The success of her first store in nearby Rhuddlan, in north Wales, inspired Williams to open the new, larger shop. The Little Cheesemonger sells a range of Welsh, British and European artisan cheese not found in the supermarkets. Williams said: “My cheese world is completely unpretentious. I’m not interested in marketing or packaging, only its origin. I’m only interested in knowing the maker and how they treat their produce and cattle.” Wine expert Chris Kewin from James Fearon Wines will provide matching wines and there are events planned for next year such as wine demonstrations and “lots of other foodie-related activities”.
Demand for Scotch eggs increases tenfold at Brakes: Foodservice provider Brakes has seen a tenfold increase in demand for Scotch eggs after the pub food favourite was described as a “substantial meal”. Hospitality venues operating under tier two restrictions can only serve alcohol if accompanied by a “substantial meal”. After initially contradicting environment secretary George Eustice, who said the item “probably would count”, Michael Gove backtracked last week on calling a couple of Scotch eggs a “starter”, to say it is “definitely” a substantial meal. A spokesman for Brakes, which works with 50,000 UK outlets, told the Evening Standard: “Sales were highest as we exited lockdown, as operators were looking at options for serving meals with food. Because of the publicity surrounding Scotch eggs, we saw particularly huge growth in sales in this area.” Brakes had “plenty of stock on hand” because it had “stocked up on key lines across the business” in order to help venues “make the most of a shortened Christmas in what’s been a really difficult year for hospitality”.
Signature Living to open two hotels before end of year: Aparthotel operator and developer Signature Living Group has announced it will open two hotels before the end of the year. The first will be Rainhill Hall country house just outside St Helens and the second is slated to open in Liverpool town centre. Grade II-listed Rainhill Hall has opened as a weddings and events venue, and has created 70 jobs. Signature Living purchased the site, which is set in 18 acres of woodland, in 2017 and has added 14 rooms on the lower ground floor and a function room and spa. The upper ground floor has ten rooms with function rooms, restaurant and dining facilities, bar and a reception area. The first floor now has 19 bedrooms, including the bridal suite for wedding events and the second floor has four further bedrooms. Signature Living co-owner and founder Lawrence Kenwright said: “The fact we are opening Rainhill Hall after such a difficult year is a testament to our entire staff. They have worked with me day and night to keep our business alive, to bring forward schemes and to be able to continue to deliver amazing experiences for our customers under the strictest of social distancing measures.”