Marston’s boss – finding good people has got tougher, Pitcher & Piano off the market: Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay told Propel it has become tougher to find and retain chefs and general managers. The company is increasing investment in training in the coming year to strengthen its pipeline of internal general managers. Speaking following the company’s full-year trading update, Findlay said: “Cost pressure has remained pretty relentless for a number of years. One area were it has got tougher is in relation to people – the sector has a real challenge in finding good labour. We are operating in an environment where we pretty much have full employment – people have got choices.” Findlay told Propel the company has been working to ensure continuity of supply ahead of Brexit, with a focus on identifying alternative suppliers in the event of problems. Meanwhile, Findlay reported he was seeing strong market demand for assets the company was lining up for sale, with sales proceeds expected to be £70m rather than the £40m previously targeted. However, Findlay indicated he didn’t expect to sell Pitcher & Piano, which has been on the market and operates circa 20 sites in England and Wales. Reflecting on Marston’s results, Goodbody leisure analyst Rachel Fox said: “The group now expects 2020 profit before tax to be at a similar level to 2019 (£101m) given increased disposal activity, additional pub investment and higher interest charges. This results in a circa 9% downgrade to our 2020 forecasts. Despite the acceleration in disposals the downgrade to forecasts means our FY20 leverage forecasts remain broadly unchanged (net debt/Ebitda circa six times). Trading on 9.5 times EV/Ebitda, with limited profit growth and high leverage, we view Marston’s as expensive relative to other pub groups in our coverage and continue to see better opportunities elsewhere in the sector. We reiterate our ‘Sell’ recommendation.” Findlay will talk to Propel insights editor Mark Wingett about the company’s approach to recruitment and retention at this year’s People and Training Conference. The event, organised by the British Institute of Innkeeping in association with Propel, will take place on Tuesday, 26 November at Bafta Piccadilly and is open for bookings. Other speakers include Charlotte Kemp, head of people and culture at Mission Mars, who will reveal how the company is placing team engagement at the centre of the company’s culture; Jo Fleet, managing director of Flat Iron, who will talk about the company’s approach to giving its staff a fair deal; and Katy Moses, managing director of KAM Media, who will present the findings of exclusive research on how businesses are incentivising their staff in innovative ways. Tickets are £65 plus VAT for operators who are BII members and BIIAB members and £200 plus VAT for operators who are non-BII members. Supplier tickets are £95 plus VAT for BII members and BIIAB members and £245 plus VAT for all other organisations. To book, email
Black Sheep Coffee paid £2.4m for Taylor St Baristas sites: London-based speciality coffee shop operator Black Sheep Coffee paid £2.4m to acquire eight Taylor St Baristas cafes earlier this summer, Propel has learned. The company, which earlier this year raised £13m in a new funding round, has since begun converting the London sites to its own brand. The acquisition of the sites was funded from existing cash reserves. Black Sheep Coffee posted losses of £5.34m in 2018, widening from £2.82m in 2017, on the back of continued expansion and refurbishment of its head office. Turnover for the year to 30 December was £6.86m, up from £3.37m in 2017. At the end of the year, the group had net assets of £5.3m and 25 sites. In its Companies House filing, the business stated: “The group remains focused on growing the business through greenfield site openings, mergers and acquisitions, and development of a global franchise business.” The company currently operates 29 sites in London, three in Manchester and one in Manila in the Philippines. Its next rebranded Taylor St Barista site will open soon in Brook’s Mews, Mayfair. Propel understands the company is looking to ramp up its regional presence in the UK during the next 12 months, with an opening in Oxford in the pipeline. In August, Coffeesmiths Collective, the Toby Smith-led business that runs various coffee chains including the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs and Filmore & Union, acquired the Taylor St Baristas operations in the UK and the US. In the UK this includes Taylor St Baristas’ roastery business and customer base along with the Taylor St brand. The Taylor St Baristas site in New York will also remain under the Coffeesmiths Collective umbrella.
Karen Jones reveals insights into Prezzo turnaround strategy: Prezzo executive chairman Karen Jones has said turning around a big company is not dissimilar to starting your own business from scratch. Speaking at the Women’s Entrepreneur Conference organised by Propel and Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott, Jones revealed her methods for starting and turning around hospitality businesses. She told delegates: “Firstly, you must be able to sum up your business in one sentence. It’s difficult but important because if you’re not exactly clear what you are and what you want to do, you’re never going to get that across to your customer. If that’s your strategic ‘what’, you then have to define your ‘how’ – the values on which your company will operate. It’s an invaluable management tool because it focuses on building a culture that, if led properly, will give you a competitive advantage. You know that culture has caught fire when those values enter the company vernacular and get talked about all the time. That means they need to be short and simple. When I got to Prezzo, the brand definitely needed some direction. Everything aligns behind the ‘what’ and ‘how’ – the strategic pillars, the people, the plans and, most crucially, the energy. If you’re not intensely aligned you lose power and building and turning around businesses takes positive energy every second of every day of the week.” Talking about the secret to turning a business around, she said: “Having had the privilege of building two businesses from scratch – Pelican and Café Rouge – it is no less fascinating sorting out a big company. The defining jobs aren’t that different – sort the strategy, have a clear goal, find the right people, build a culture, execute brilliantly, don’t forget hospitality is at the heart of what you do, and look after your people and customers. Social media and online gives us so much access to customers’ reactions. If we don’t listen forensically all the time and do something better with that feedback, we’re fools.” Last week Prezzo reported solid like-for-like growth from April 2019, while the company hopes to have 50% of its 185-strong estate revamped by the end of this year and to return to like-for-like growth in its current financial year. Prezzo’s company voluntary arrangement was completed in May 2018, leading to the closure of 109 sites and exit from the group’s Chimichanga, Caffe Uno, Cleaver and MEXIco brands. Jones said: “Our turnaround plan is at an early stage but I’m delighted with the initial results and the positive feedback from our customers and teams.”
Fenton stands down from overseeing Itsu’s US plans: Ben Fenton has stood down as senior vice-president of Itsu’s fledgling US operation after leading the launch of the healthy Asian food chain in the States, Propel has learned. Fenton had been with the Julian Metcalfe-founded brand for almost eight years and was previously its head of people operations. He has spent the past two years leading Itsu’s entry into the US market, which included the opening of its first site in Manhattan in June 2018. Propel understands Itsu has hired Laura Simpson, senior director of New York-based, Australian-inspired cafe and coffee shop chain Bluestone Lane, to oversee its US operation. Bluestone Lane, which launched in 2013, has more than 30 sites in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California and Washington DC. Itsu recently returned to the expansion trail with an opening in London’s Hoxton. The company, which had pulled back from openings in the past year, opened at 161 City Road for its 76th site overall. The company recently reported like-for-like sales up 7.2% in the first half of 2019, with the UK business “well on the way” to reaching break-even net profit by the end of the year.
Crosstown Doughnuts founder – ‘loads of room’ to grow in London but immediate focus is driving online sales: Crosstown Doughnuts founder JP Then has told Propel he believes there’s “loads of room” in London for the omni-channel retail and bakery brand to grow but he is focusing attention on driving revenues in-house, particularly through digital channels. The company operates 11 sites and two food trucks, while it also has a presence at nine markets in the capital. Following a period of rapid growth, Then has decided to focus in the short term on growing corporate events and online sales, which is driving 20% of the business’ revenue. He believes the move will also help boost brand awareness as it grows its audience through online channels. Then said: “We have been continually growing in the five-and-a-half years we’ve been going. We still think there’s loads of room to grow in London but, with the current macro-economic conditions and political uncertainty, we’re pausing with further expansion for the rest of the year and looking to drive revenue growth through existing channels.” Part of that drive is looking to grow digital sales using on-demand ordering technology Slerp, which Then launched in the summer following three years’ development. Slerp offers a “viable” direct-to-consumer solution for on-demand pick-up and delivery. The technology integrates with a retailer’s website, enabling the business to retain complete control of its brand, customer experience and customer data. Then said: “We have more than 50 brands signed up and a significant pipeline of companies coming on. We’re now looking to roll it out into the retail sector as I think it could be a real boost to retail operators that are suffering and a tangible solution to digitalise their analogue retail stores.”
Six by Nico plans London debut: Six by Nico, the restaurant concept led by Scottish-Italian chef Nico Simeone, plans to continue its recent run of openings with a launch in London. Propel understands the company, which will open its sixth eponymous site next month in Liverpool, is in advanced talks on a site in Fitzrovia for its debut restaurant in the capital. The Liverpool launch, at the former La Vina site, will mark a fourth opening for the business this year, following openings in Belfast, Manchester and Glasgow. As at Simeone’s other Six by Nico sites, the restaurant will serve a six-course tasting menu for £29 per person that changes every six weeks and is themed around different places, memories and ideas. Simeone said: “We are very excited to bring an unforgettable culinary experience to Liverpool. It was the obvious choice when looking for our next site thanks to its thriving food and drink scene. Since we opened in Manchester earlier this year we have had an overwhelming amount of support, with guests travelling from all over the north west to try each of our menus. We couldn’t be more delighted to bring a new offering and dining experience to the people of Liverpool next month.” The 90-cover Liverpool restaurant will feature a dedicated wine and spirits bar. The sale of the La Vina site leaves Casual Dining Group with a single site under the concept, in Deansgate, Manchester.
The Botanist and Mowgli sign for sites at new Preston shopping centre restaurant quarter: Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group New World Trading Company will open a site for its The Botanist brand at St George’s Shopping Centre in Preston. It will be joined by Indian street food concept Mowgli, which is backed by Foresight Group, in a new restaurant quarter at the complex. Both brands have agreed deals with landlord InfraRed Capital Partners through its asset manager Sovereign Centros. Work is under way on the 28,000 square foot restaurant quarter, which will create five units fronting Friargate ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet. The New World Trading Company has signed a 15-year lease on 10,000 square feet to anchor the scheme, adding to its 19 The Botanist sites across the UK. Meanwhile Mowgli, which was founded by Nisha Katona and operates ten sites, has signed a 15-year lease on 3,400 square feet and will open alongside The Botanist in autumn 2020, when the restaurant quarter is completed. Tom Powell, of Metis Real Estate, advised Sovereign Centros.
Maxwell’s launches loyalty app as it unveils new group identity: London restaurant and bar operator Maxwell’s has unveiled a new group identity that will see all nine of its brands come together under the Maxwell’s Group umbrella for the first time. As part of the rebrand, Maxwell’s Group is rolling out a loyalty and payment app to enable cross-brand promotion. Maxwell’s Group operations director Jim Robertson said: “We are committed to delivering exemplary hospitality, great-quality food and memorable experiences across all our sites and believe the new identity will only cement this further with our customers.” Maxwell’s Bar & Grill was the first restaurant in the group to open in the early 1970s and the company has grown to include a variety of venues in central London including in Covent Garden, Soho and Kensington.
Mr Meng Chongqing Gourmet makes UK debut: Chinese restaurant concept Mr Meng Chongqing Gourmet has made its UK debut, in Soho. The noodle house concept was founded by Meng Fei, host of Chinese dating show If You Are The One, in Nanjing in 2014. The company has now opened at the former NY Fold site in Charing Cross Road. Fei also operates two sites in Australia, in Sydney and Melbourne. China’s Chongqing region is known for its extremely spicy noodle dishes. DMR Property acted on the Charing Cross Road deal.
Gino D’Acampo to launch My Restaurant in Birmingham this month: Chef Gino D’Acampo will open a site for his My Restaurant brand, in Birmingham this month. The 165-cover restaurant will open at a former Allied Irish Bank branch in Temple Row on Thursday, 31 October. It will feature an eat-at cocktail bar, deli bar, private dining and open kitchen. The opening will mark the completion of the first of a two-phase programme, with the second phase including a rooftop bar and restaurant. D’Acampo said: “I want to open restaurants in the coolest cities in the UK so I’m excited to be opening in such a great location in Birmingham. It took me years to find the perfect site. People here love to dress up and go out.” D’Acampo made his move into restaurants in December 2015 when he teamed up with friend and business partner Steven Walker, founder of Individual Restaurants Company. Earlier this month Propel revealed the two Gino D’Acampo My Restaurant sites in London had closed as the company looked to focus on regional openings for the brand in “major UK cities and affluent towns and suburbs”.
Gordon Ramsay launches steak-inspired restaurant in Maze Grill space: Chef Gordon Ramsay has opened a new steak-inspired restaurant in part of his former Maze restaurant in Mayfair. The original Maze in Grosvenor Square was split into Maze and Maze Grill. Earlier this year Ramsay launched Asian-inspired restaurant Lucky Cat in place of Maze. Now he has transformed Maze Grill into Gordon Ramsay Bar & Grill, reports Hot Dinners. Its star attraction is the minimum 35-day aged steaks, including large cuts such as T-bone, tomahawk and cote de boeuf. The menu also includes a truffle shuffle burger, sloppy Joe brisket, classic beef Wellington and Josper-roasted octopus. The venue also features the “Butcher’s Block experience”, which uses Maze Grill’s kitchen table set-up.
Disappearing Dining Club takes on Kentish Town pub: Dinner dance events company Disappearing Dining Club (DDC) has evolved by taking on a north London pub. The company, founded by Stuart Langley and chef Fred Bolin, has launched The Dartmouth Arms in Kentish Town. DDC said it had “reinvented” the saved-from-closure Victorian corner pub by creating a space “every Londoner wishes they had at the end of their street”. DDC, which established its dinner dance events in 2010, also operates Coffee House in Shoreditch and Town House in Spitalfields. The Dartmouth Arms offers a menu featuring a DDC twist on pub classics and an a la carte version for guests wanting more of a restaurant experience. Bolin’s dishes include a take on fish and chips featuring monkfish cheeks, wedges and béarnaise sauce. There are also 18 draught beer lines serving craft beer, real ale and cider, while wine is available on tap. Langley said: “The Dartmouth Arms is a reflection of our evolution as DDC and of Fred and I as people. Our ‘DDC Clubhouse’ concept allows us to use great food, drink and music to reconnect the pub to the community and bring people together who enjoy the DDC way of doing things. It’s a reflection of everything that’s important to us.”
Partridge Pub Company takes on Hampshire village freehouse for third site:Oxfordshire-based Partridge Pub Company, run by Jeremy Morey and Anthony Murray, has opened its third site. The company has relaunched The Red Lion in the Hampshire village of Overton. Morey and Murray have taken over the management of the freehouse from Shannon and Caroline Wells. Partridge Pub Company operates Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn in Banbury and The Castle in Oxford, which are both owned by Hook Norton Brewery. Morey and Murray have been in business together since 2010 but have returned to their roots in Hampshire. Murray told the Basingstoke Gazette: “We wanted to expand a bit more and thought we might as well expand down the A34.”
Nottingham-based wine bar operator to open craft beer-inspired venue for second site: The team behind Another? Wine Bar in Nottingham is to open a craft beer-inspired venue in the city. It will launch The Tap House in a former Paul Smith shop in Byard Lane after agreeing a deal through agent FHP Property. The 1,055 square foot, ground-floor site will be transformed into a 60-seater venue. Similar to the team’s wine bar in Trinity Square, The Tap House will feature self-serve drink technology but specialise in craft beer. The Tap House will also offer Detroit-style deep-pan pizza available whole or by the slice to take away. Oliver Marshall, of FHP Property, said: “This is a new and exciting concept for Nottingham from good-quality local operators. The concept fits perfectly in Byard Lane, which has evolved into one of the city’s coolest locations.” The Tap House will occupy one unit of a wider redevelopment of the building, with two other units available on the ground floor. The upper floors have been converted into seven loft-style apartments.
The Lucky Onion to reopen Gloucestershire pub next month: Cotswolds hotel and restaurant group The Lucky Onion is to reopen a Gloucestershire pub next month. The company, owned by Julian Dunkerton, the entrepreneur behind high-street brand Superdry and Dunkertons Organic Cider, will relaunch The Crown Inn in Minchinhampton on Friday, 8 November. The ground floor of the 18th century pub, which has been shut for more than five years, is being refurbished while the first and second floors are being converted to flats. The Lucky Onion acquired the grade II-listed pub last year and was granted permission by Stroud District Council in the summer to carry out the revamp. The Crown joins The Lucky Onion’s portfolio, which includes No 131 and No 38 in Cheltenham as well as The Hollow Bottom in Guiting Power, which reopened last week. It has plans to add to its estate by developing other historic buildings in the area.
Brighton-based chicken restaurant to open second site, in Eastbourne: Brighton-based fried chicken and vegan “chicken” concept The Bok Shop is to open a second site, along the coast in Eastbourne. Founders Howard Kaye and Jamie O’Mara will launch the venue next month on the first floor of The Beacon shopping centre. O’Mara told the Eastbourne Herald: “We thought long and hard about where to open our second restaurant and Eastbourne seemed the perfect place. There’s a lot happening in the town and we can’t wait to show off our food.” Andrew Rice, fund manager for Legal & General, which owns The Beacon, said: “The Bok Shop is a fantastic restaurant run by a superb team. We are delighted to be the choice for its second restaurant, which we believe will be a great addition to the centre.” The Bok Shop’s debut venue opened in Brighton’s East Street in September 2017.
Adil Group gets Greenock drive-thru green light for third Taco Bell in Scotland:Franchisee The Adil Group has been given the go-ahead for a Taco Bell drive-thru in Greenock for the brand’s third Scottish site. The company has had its plans for the outlet at Waterfront Retail Park approved by Inverclyde Council. The 92-seat restaurant and drive-thru will be built in a car park next to Customhouse Way, reports Inverclyde Now. A document submitted with the planning application stated: “This proposal for a Taco Bell unit would bring a globally recognised restaurant chain to Greenock and attract additional custom to the retail park.” The Adil Group, which operates two Taco Bell restaurants in Glasgow, plans to open more than ten in Scotland by 2023, with some sites already acquired.
Liverpool-based restaurant Casa Italia to expand following funding deal: Liverpool city centre restaurant Casa Italia is set for expansion. Founded by the Campolucci-Bordi family in 1976, Casa Italia is one of Liverpool’s longest-established restaurants. The £650,000 loan from OakNorth Bank will be used to refinance borrowing and expand the restaurant from 160 covers to 210. The move follows the appointment earlier this year of debt finance directors at OakNorth’s Manchester office due to a strong pipeline of deals in the region. Casa Italia managing director Carlo Campolucci-Bordi said: “This expansion marks a hugely important chapter in Casa Italia’s history.” OakNorth debt finance director Daniel Martin added: “Carlo has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 40 years and been involved in all aspects of the industry. This experience and the strong trading record of the business made this deal stand out. We look forward to working closely with him and his family on future transactions.” OakNorth Bank was introduced to the deal by Andy Pickford, of FRP Advisory.
Ozone Coffee doubles up in London: Ozone Coffee Roasters has opened its second cafe in the UK, in Bethnal Green, east London. The company has launched a venue in Emma Road. Founded in New Zealand in 1998, the company operates two sites in its homeland and opened its debut London site seven years ago in Leonard Street, Shoreditch, featuring a roastery, coffee bar and all-day dining space. Ozone’s brunch menu at the new site includes gin-cured trout and smoked ham hock on rye, while its all-day menu features breakfast, pancakes and flatbread. The drinks list focuses on wine, beer and cocktails. The company stated: “Designed for the bruncher, first-dater, creative worker, family catchup-er, meeting shaker, dog walker, holidaymaker, local morning walker or all of the above, our new space is for everyone. We are humbled to join this east London community.”
Former Hix manager launches Crouch End seafood concept as Fat Duck chef heads kitchen: Anthony Lyon, who has run front of house at renowned London venues such as Hix, The Wolseley, and Colbert, has launched a seafood and wine bar concept in Crouch End. Lyon’s Seafood & Wine Bar has opened in Park Road with the kitchen headed by Talia Prince, formerly of Le Gavroche and Fat Duck. The 46-cover venue also offers 16 bar and window seats for walk-ins and features green leather banquettes and a marble bar. The venue offers sustainable seafood including oysters from Wright Brothers, each paired with a garnish. There are also daily shellfish platters, while a “fin to tail” approach cuts waste and leads to dishes such as miso fish collars with seaweed butter. The team also includes Kelvin McCabe, former group head sommelier UK at Yauatcha and head sommelier of Zuma and Roka. His drinks list champions English sparking wine alongside cocktails and craft beer.
Black Country-based distillery opens debut bar: Black Country-based distillery Dr Eamers’ Emporium has opened its debut bar. The company, founded by the Lunn family, has launched the site at The Waterfront development in Dudley. Jordan Lunn told the Worcester News opening the bar was the next step for the family run operation, which has distilled and brewed for generations. Alongside the family’s gin, the bar offers locally produced real ale, craft beer, cocktails and Black Country tapas, featuring pork scratchings, chutney and cobs. The bar, which blends old and new, also pays homage to Black Country culture as the family lives in Rowley Regis and the distillery is based in Netherton. Gin is also distilled on-site in a 100-litre copper pot called Doris, in honour of Lunn’s great-grandmother.
Zonal appoints group sales and marketing director: Hospitality management solutions company Zonal has appointed Emma Causer as group sales and marketing director. Causer joins Zonal from BT Sport, where she was group sales director. Before that she worked for Ei Group and is a founding member of The Plan B leadership mentoring programme that helps women in hospitality management move into board-level positions. A key part of Emma’s role will be to align Zonal’s product and sector offer across its group, which has grown in recent years following a number of acquisitions. Zonal chief executive Stuart McLean said: “Emma’s proven reputation in sales and growing and strengthening teams speaks for itself and I’m delighted she will bring that experience to Zonal.” Causer added: “Zonal has been around for 40 years by leading the way in hospitality technology and I look forward to taking the most innovative solution set in the industry to a wider audience.”