Azzurri Group to open first Pod conversion site: Azzurri Group, which acquired 13 sites of the 22-strong Pod business out of administration earlier this year, is set to open the first to be converted to its Coco di Mama brand. Propel understands the company is on-site at the Pod in More London for what will become its 24th Coco di Mama site in the capital when it reopens early next month. It’s thought Azzurri will look to complete a few more Pod to Coco di Mama conversions before the end of the year. The majority of the Pod estate was sold to Azzurri Group, owner of the ASK Italian, Zizzi and Radio Alice brands, in a pre-pack administration for a total consideration of £1.6m – more than £1m below its original offer that failed to gain shareholder approval. The pre-pack sale of sites came four days after Pod’s shareholders failed to approve a £2.7m sale to Azzurri Group in a deal that was worth 5p a share. Azzurri has subsequently continued to operate the sites it acquired as Pod, with the intention of converting a number to Coco di Mama during the next 12 months. Azzurri Group chief executive Steve Holmes previously told Propel the company would learn what it could from the acquired Pod business while refusing to rule out keeping the healthy eating concept as the group’s fifth brand. Holmes said the company would evaluate the performance of those Pod sites close to its Coco di Mama venues before deciding on Pod’s future, which would continue to be overseen by managing director Alex Young. Azzurri is also keen to learn from Pod’s two delivery hubs. Meanwhile, Coco di Mama has launched the UK’s first vegan bacon roll using a meat alternative made by plant-based food producer THIS. The vegan bacon roll, which costs £2.95 and is also available for delivery, is part of Coco di Mama’s biggest menu change, which features 70 new items.
Costa Coffee agrees deals for 14 out-of-town sites: Costa Coffee, which is owned by Coca-Cola, agreed deals for 14 out-of-town sites in England, Scotland and Wales in the first six months of 2019, the company has revealed. The sites will contribute to the 62 new equity stores that have opened since the start of the year. Costa Coffee will open ten drive-thrus including sites at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol, Speke Boulevard in Liverpool, Hermiston Gait Retail Park in Edinburgh, Tower Retail Park in Poole and Gallagher Retail Park in Caerphilly. The coffee chain has also agreed to take four drive-to sites, including outlets in Salford, Bridgwater and Liskeard, taking leases of between ten and 15 years on each. James Hamilton, acquisition and estates director at Costa UK and Ireland, said: “We have been able to open an impressive number of new equity stores in the first half of the year and are working to maintain this success.” Charlie Greenhalgh, out of town retail director at Savills, which represented Costa Coffee in the deals, added: “We are pleased to support the brand’s ongoing expansion plans in key retail and roadside destinations.”
Thornbridge and Pivovar eye Manchester and Sheffield for joint venture as they confirm Leeds site: Derbyshire-based Thornbridge Brewery and bar operator Pivovar are eyeing sites in Manchester and Sheffield for their Thornbridge & Co joint venture. The announcement came as the companies confirmed they had secured a site in Leeds while their long-awaited Birmingham pub will open in November – The Colmore was due to open as the joint venture’s debut site in October 2018. The first Thornbridge & Co site – The Market Cat in York – opened in December last year. The companies have now confirmed their Leeds site, The Bankers Cat, is due to open in Boar Lane before Christmas. Thornbridge Brewery chief executive Simon Webster said: “Our York site has had great success and we are thrilled to have secured a site in Leeds. We’re also really pleased to be moving ahead with Birmingham as we know how much excitement there was when we first announced we’d open in the city.” Jamie Hawksworth, owner and director of Pivovar, added: “We want to create visually stunning venues where people can relax and indulge in all we have to offer.” As previously reported, the companies plan to open ten Thornbridge & Co pubs nationwide in the next five years.
Clevely brings Chelsea pub back into fold for 13th Hippo Inns site: Hippo Inns, the joint venture between Ei Group and Geronimo Inns founder Rupert Clevely, has acquired its 13th site. The Builders Arms in Chelsea, which was owned by Geronimo Inns, has undergone a substantial refurbishment. The 2,000 square foot, 86-cover pub in Britten Street features quirky decor such as gold pineapple wall lights. In addition to the main bar there’s a 30-cover snug and a terrace. The all-day menu features crispy pig’s head with piccalilli; south coast chilli crab linguine; and Hereford onglet steak with girolles. Drinks include cask ale and a rotating selection of craft beer, spirit mixers and house cocktails as well as an extensive wine list. Clevely said: “It is great to have The Builders Arms back. It’s a pub close to my heart from my previous life. Hippo Inns is a group of community pubs with quality food and drink at its heart and The Builders Arms fits perfectly within our portfolio.”
Benihana appoints Wischhoff as managing director: Benihana, the worldwide Japanese teppanyaki restaurant chain, has appointed Jason Wischhoff as managing director. Wischhoff, who previously worked for hotel companies Dream Group, Accor and Wyndham, replaces Richard Mackay, formerly of Wagamama and Nozomi, who stepped down as Benihana managing director earlier this year. Wischhoff is tasked with accelerating the growth of the Benihana brand through hotels and retail with franchise partners across the globe. Last year Minor International acquired a 75% stake in the company to spearhead the business and oversee its expansion programme. Last week the company closed its only UK site outside London, in Glasgow, less than a year after its launch. It was the first new Benihana restaurant in the UK for more than 20 years.
BrewDog to continue trading in Manchester’s Peter Street until early 2020 after eviction notice, alternative site almost secured: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog plans to continue trading at its site in Peter Street, Manchester, into the early part of 2020 despite receiving an eviction notice. BrewDog has been in Peter Street since 2012 but will have to move to make way for a new hotel. The company said it had been given prior warning the building would be redeveloped but added it was close to securing an alternative city centre location. Retail director James Brown told Propel: “We are fond of our first bar in Manchester and sad to see it go. Our customers can rest assured we plan to continue trading into the early part of 2020. We had been given prior warning the building was due to be developed and worked over the past months to confirm an alternative city centre location, which we will announce in the coming weeks.” News of the eviction was revealed by a member of staff in a message posted on its Equity For Punks forum.
Greene King appoints new digital director: Brewer and retailer Greene King has appointed Candice Lott, formerly of Nando’s, as digital director, Propel has learned. Lott joins the Bury St Edmunds-based company after two years as head of ecommerce and digital at Nando’s. Before that she spent more than two and a half years as head of online marketing at Thomas Cook. Last month CK Asset Holdings, a Hong Kong-based property developer, agreed a cash offer for Greene King that values the pub group at £4.6bn.
Tom Kerridge to open debut Manchester restaurant in November: Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge will open his debut Manchester restaurant in November. Kerridge will launch The Bull & Bear at the Stock Exchange Hotel in Norfolk Street, which will be operated by GG Hospitality – the company co-owned by former Manchester United stars Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs. In addition to The Bull & Bear restaurant, Kerridge and his team will also oversee The Bank, which will offer private dining for 14 people, and The Vault, which will cater for private events for 120 guests. The menu will be influenced by Kerridge’s pub in Marlow, The Coach. The menu will be divided into three stages, with the team recommending four to five plates per person to allow diners to experience a wider selection. Kerridge said: “The Bull & Bear will be a bit of Marlow ‘up north’, which we can’t wait to share with the city of Manchester. The hotel is going to be stunning and it’s a brilliant setting for our first Manchester site.” The Bull & Bear will open on Friday, 15 November.
Staycity reports 2.4% rise in like-for-like sales despite ‘demand for corporate travel softening’: Dublin-based aparthotel operator Staycity Group has reported a 2.4% rise in like-for-like sales for the year to July 2019, despite the “demand for corporate travel softening”. Staycity, which operates almost 3,000 apartments in 12 European cities, has seen occupancy grow 2.2% in the first half of the year to an average of 86.4% across the group, with UK properties seeing a 2.5% increase to 85.8%. Staycity reported a 14% rise in turnover to €68.3m (£61.1m), boosted by a hike in average occupancy from 82% to 84% and a rise in average daily rate from €109 to €110.59. Revpar rose 4.2% year-on-year to €93.21, while group Ebitda increased 12% to €8.1m. The company said it expected an 18% rise in turnover to €81m for 2019 and an 11% boost in Ebitda to €9m. The company’s biggest recruitment drive has seen 200 staff appointed. Staycity co-founder and chief executive Tom Walsh said: “Although we are encouraged by the increase in occupancy for our UK properties, we are already witnessing a softening of demand for corporate travel. More than 65% of our revenues are currently generated in the UK and we believe a hard Brexit will impact GDP and consequently reduce demand for hotel accommodation. Fortunately, we don’t have a large food operation and our team turnover is significantly below the industry average. Therefore a rise in input inflation and any immediate restriction on European migration will have less of an impact on Staycity.”
 
Kitchin Group appoints new managing director: Kitchin Group, led by Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin, has appointed Peter Southcott as managing director. Southcott takes over from founding managing director Ron Kitchin, who becomes group chairman. Southcott will oversee the group’s Edinburgh venues – Michelin-starred The Kitchin, The Scran & Scallie, Castle Terrace Restaurant and Southside Scran – as well as The Bonnie Badger, the restaurant with rooms in Gullane on Scotland’s east coast. He will also manage ongoing group development alongside the Kitchin family. Southcott was introduced to Tom and Michaela Kitchin, of the then rather small restaurant The Kitchin, as their accountant in 2007. Southcott has since played an instrumental part in helping with Kitchin Group’s accounts and shaping its business model.
Mr Ji’s to open permanent site, in Soho: Taiwanese-inspired chicken concept Mr Ji’s is to open a site in London’s Soho. Propel has learned the street food-influenced concept founded by Samuel Haim will launch a grab-and-go format in Old Compton Street later this year. The business previously operated a pop-up in Camden. It’s thought the company hopes to expand the brand further on the back of the Soho opening. Shelley Sandzer is believed to have acted on the Old Compton Street deal.
Selfridges to open ‘world’s first cinema in a department store’: Selfridges is opening what it claims to be the world’s first permanent cinema in a department store, at its flagship site in London’s Oxford Street. The three-screen venue will open in late November operated by Olympic Studios, which already has sites in Barnes and Battersea. Two of the screening rooms will have about 80 seats and the third around 30. They will show a mix of Hollywood releases and independent films. The cinema will have entrances direct from the store as well as from Duke Street and will include a private screening room and underground bar. There will also be a priority membership scheme.
Nando’s trials £5.95 lunch menu: Nando’s is trialling a £5.95 lunchtime menu at about a fifth of its UK sites. The customisable menu features brand favourites and additional vegetarian options, with many items under 600 calories. The menu is being trialled in 88 of the company’s circa 420 UK restaurants until Monday, 2 December. The menu is available from opening time until 3pm, Monday to Thursday, and is also available for takeaway and delivery.
Douglas Jack – M&B shares still a reasonable price given Ebitda growth and debt reduction: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said shares in Mitchell & Butlers (M&B) remain a reasonable price given its Ebitda growth and debt reduction. Issuing an ‘Add’ note on the shares with a target price of 425p ahead of the company’s trading update later this month, Jack said: “Like-for-like sales rose 3.6% over the first 43 weeks having risen 2.8% in the ten weeks to 27 July. Over this last ten-week period, two-year like-for-like sales were up 3.7% (3.6% drink, 3.6% food), with a comparable of 1.2% to face in the fourth quarter. We believe like-for-like growth is being driven by price increases, estate premiumisation and customers trading up, supported by estate investment and the Ignite 2 workstreams to improve product, service and digital marketing. In August, the pub sector remained resilient to a dip in consumer confidence. This largely reflects warmer weather against a backdrop of price-driven demand growth and 2% annual supply reduction. At M&B expansion is minimal, whereas circa 270 conversions/remodels should have completed in the year. Our forecasts assume 2.5% like-for-like sales growth in 2019E and 2.0% thereafter, with margins rising slightly this year and then falling gradually. Although we forecast like-for-like sales to slow from the first half’s 4.1% in the second half, so too should net cost inflation – from £24m in the first half to £13m in the second half. Despite the recent surge in share price, we believe the 7.9 times EV/Ebitda rating (11% equity free cash flow yield) is not strenuous for a leading (85% freehold) national pub estate that’s generating both Ebitda growth and debt reduction. Our target price increase reflects upgrade risk and the recent sector re-rating and equates to 8.2 times 2020E EV/Ebitda based on current forecasts.”
Graffiti Spirits Group unveils next-generation bar that ‘cuts waste by 70%’: Graffiti Spirits Group has unveiled a next-generation bar that aims to cut waste by 70%. The company has launched the bar, which is operated from a centralised “lab”, on the mezzanine level at its Duke Street Market in Liverpool. The lab will produce batches of spirits, bitters and liqueurs to ensure “quicker service and consistency” – in turn cutting waste and improving stock control. Graffiti Spirits Group co-founder John Ennis said: “The Graffiti Spirits Group Lab has been a long time in the making. Other techniques we’re trying out in the lab include sous-vide cooking, carbonation, freeze distilling, filtration and pressurised batching.” Launched in June, Duke Street Market features two bars, six traders and flagship restaurant Pilgrim. Graffiti Spirits Group’s other Liverpool sites include Santa Chupitos, Santa Maluco and its new all-day restaurant, Slim’s.
Signature Living brings two Liverpool aparthotels to market valued at £51m in total: Aparthotels developer and operator Signature Living has brought to market The Shankly and 30 James Street hotels in Liverpool city centre, valued at £51m in total. The group is accepting offers in excess of £35m and £16m respectively. Signature Living announced plans in May to sell its two biggest assets and agent Savills has officially launched the sales process. The Shankly Hotel in Victoria Street features 59 bedrooms all based on legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly. The hotel also includes the Bastion Bar and Restaurant, two event suites, two rooftop terraces and an underground car park. The 30 James Street hotel comprises 63 nautical-themed bedrooms inspired by the building’s historical occupier, White Star Line. Additionally, the hotel includes a rooftop terrace bar and restaurant, events space and spa facilities. Signature Living founder Lawrence Kenwright told The Business Desk: “The profits from the sale of the hotels will allow us to fuel major expansion plans. This is an exciting new era for Signature Living. We’re looking forward to the future – a future that involves new developments across the UK.”
Manchester Gin launches debut restaurant as part of distillery experience:Manchester Gin has launched its debut restaurant and bar as part of the company’s new distillery experience beneath Manchester Central station. Gin-themed restaurant and bar Three Little Words has opened inside one of the grade II-listed railway arches. It is the sister venue to the Spirit of Manchester Distillery, which spans six railway arches in Watson Street with space for masterclasses and gin tastings. Three Little Words offers 70 covers with space for another 40 in a separate cocktail bar. Food and drinks menus are largely gin-based. Seb Heeley, who founded Manchester Gin in 2013 with Jennie Wiggins, said: “We have always been passionate about our customers being part of the Manchester Gin journey and we’re delighted we can now offer the opportunity for visitors to see how our gin is made.” Commercial law firm Kuits secured the licence for the Manchester site.