Bowley – it was a really tough journey for us last year but we have come out of it a lot stronger: Zoe Bowley, managing director of PizzaExpress, has said 2020 was a really “tough journey” for the 56-year-old chain, but it has come out of it “a lot stronger”. Last year, the business secured a restructuring deal, which included a recapitalisation of its debt. It also underwent a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), which saw 73 sites closed, and saw its management team bolstered with David Campbell, who led the turnaround at Wagamama, joining as chief executive, and former Asda chief executive and ex-Wagamama chairman Allan Leighton, becoming chairman. Talking on Propel’s Lessons & Learning for Lockdown Three video, Bowley said: “Where we are now from where we were at the end of last March, we are in a pretty good place with a much stronger balance sheet, thanks to the recapitalisation last November. Our toughest financial days are probably behind us, but it was a really tough journey for us last year and I think we have come out of it a lot stronger. We’ve also had some exciting additions to the team in David and Allan, and recently a new chief customer officer and chief business officer. The last year has been a big learning curve. Thinking back to the start of the first lockdown, I asked one of my peers, ‘how do you run a virtual business?’ But a year on we did it and a lot of us have survived. You have to adapt to change and new realities. You don’t always succeed, and we have failed a few times, but it does make you stronger. We have kind of made running a virtual business work but that doesn’t compensate for the fact we have to get these restaurants back open and trading again.” Bowley said the company was fortunate to have an established presence in other channels, which has been an advantage going into the crisis. She said: “A lot of those plans were already in our thinking, but we have been able to accelerate them as the landscape changed. Delivery is going really well. We have a tremendous partnership with Deliveroo and we will be announcing some really exciting innovations when we reopen. We are delighted with the sales, and it has allowed us to really think about accelerating this area. Delivery sales at the minute are three times what they were with just half of our sites open – that gives you the scale of the opportunity. The launch of our virtual brand Mac & Wings has also been successful and given us a lot of data. It is an incremental customer for us, so that is really positive.”
 
Gordon Ramsay Restaurants appoints Alyson Park as new COO: Alyson Park, former HR director at Caprice Holdings, has joined Gordon Ramsay Restaurants as its new chief operating officer, Propel has learned. Parks spent more than six years at the Richard Caring-backed Caprice Holdings and Birley Group, including more than five years as HR director. She previously worked as HR director at Gordon Ramsay Holdings for more than one and a half years, leaving the business in October 2013. Last month, the high-profile chef opened his first Street Burger site in the One New Change development in London’s St Paul’s. He also said he had lined up three more openings in the capital. Speaking to the Evening Standard, Ramsay said he planned to open sites under the new burger concept in Charing Cross Road and Kensington High Street. Ramsay, who currently has 35 restaurants around the world, had also planned to open a fourth site under his Street Pizza concept at the Battersea Power Station development at the end of last month.
Oakman secures Harpenden site for Beech House concept: Oakman Inns, the Dermot King-led pub-restaurant operator, has secured a former retail site in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, for another opening under its Beech House concept. The company paid £1.9m plus costs to acquire the ex-M&Co site in High Street from a private landlord. Harpenden was on the 27-strong group’s list of eight target towns on its original 2007 business plan. It will become the sixth site to open under the group’s Beech House concept. Founder and chairman Peter Borg-Neal said: “With the long-term changes impacting retailers we expect there to be an increased availability of freehold sites in attractive market towns. Harpenden has long been a top target for Oakman and I’m delighted to have landed this site, which is perfectly positioned in the town and has a double frontage. This property further enhances our very exciting pipeline of development sites that we already own.” Propel revealed earlier this month the group had made “excellent progress” on its latest fundraise, welcoming 120 new investors to the business since launching the round about a month ago, receiving applications for more than £2.9m of shares. Propel revealed in December that Oakman Inns was looking to tap into its customer base to raise further funding toward its next phase of growth, with an eventual aim of doubling the size of its existing 27-strong estate by 2026. The company has already secured five new sites and is in advanced negotiations on a further 12. The five sites, four of which are freehold, are a Beech House in Epsom, the Grand Junction in Buckingham, The Rose in Wokingham, a Beech House in Hampton Hill, and Bush Hall in Hatfield.
The Dream Corporation plans four new UK sites: The Dream Corporation, the Imbiba-backed immersive entertainment business, is planning to open four new sites in the UK this year under its immersion room concept Otherworld. The company, which is chaired by Alex Moore, co-founder of Rosa’s Thai Cafe, opened its first Otherworld site in Haggerston, east London, in mid-2019. It is now recruiting to strengthen its operations team – including looking for a head of operations and head of people, as it looks to add further sites in the UK. It is also understood to be gearing up to launch an international franchise programme. The Dream Corporation secured $1.1m of investment to launch the Otherworld concept at the start of 2019. The investment was led by Imbiba, the specialist investor in the UK leisure and hospitality sector, and was supported by technology angel investors. The Dream Corporation was founded in 2017 by Chris Adams, a former management consultant and e-sports entrepreneur, and Ed Wardle, a former screenwriter to Oscar-winning film-makers. Virtual reality is the fastest growing segment of the UK’s entertainment and media sector and will be worth more than £1.2bn by 2022, according to PwC predictions.
Rosa’s Thai Cafe to make Midlands debut alongside Vinoteca and Dishoom:TriSpan-backed Rosa’s Thai Cafe has announced it will open its first Midlands restaurant at Paradise Birmingham later this year. The London-based company will launch its latest venue at Two Chamberlain Square. The 80-seat restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Rosa’s Thai Cafe chief executive Gavin Adair said: “The offer at Paradise was too good an opportunity to miss and we are extremely happy with the setting of our new restaurant overlooking Centenary Way. We can’t wait to welcome Brummies into our new space later this year and look forward to showing them our authentic, award-winning Thai food.” Rosa’s Thai Cafe becomes the third new restaurant to commit to Paradise. Indian-Irani cafe Dishoom opened on the ground floor of One Chamberlain Square last spring, while Mediterranean wine bar and restaurant concept Vinoteca is also taking space at Two Chamberlain Square. Rob Groves, regional director of Argent, development managers for Paradise, said: “We’re confident Rosa’s Thai Cafe will be a sure-fire hit. With Rosa’s joining the previously announced Dishoom and Vinoteca, we are very proud Paradise is now bringing a broad range of great, new restaurants to the city.”
Blue Lagoon secures former PizzaExpress restaurant in Glasgow: Fish and chip shop chain Blue Lagoon has hit the expansion trail, with a new outlet in Glasgow. The company has secured the former PizzaExpress site in Queen Street. The property will undergo a £350,000 refurbishment, installing its trademark Caribbean theme throughout a 50-cover space on the ground floor, and 60-seat area in the basement level. The project, which will be the Blue Lagoon’s 14th outlet, will be self-financed. Director Alessandro Varese, who runs the business with brothers Simone and Gianluca, and father Angelo, told Herald Scotland the new location is a “shop we have been looking at for years”. He noted the challenges facing high street property landlords because of coronavirus meant it had been easier to secure a favourable lease, which will be rent free for a period of time. Varese said all but two of the company’s 13 outlets are open for takeaway and home delivery services. He said home delivery has been “the saviour” of the business during periods of lockdown, with sales quadrupling at some Blue Lagoon shops. Its outlets in The Centre, Livingston, and Glasgow’s St Enoch Centre are closed because there is currently minimal footfall because of the suspension of non-essential retail. About 50 of the group’s 100 employees are currently on furlough.
Halewood moves HQ to London, closes former base in Liverpool: Halewood has moved its headquarters from Liverpool to London, and closed its Liverpool site. In August last year, the company, whose core products include Whitley Neill gin, Liverpool Gin, Crabbie’s and Dead Man’s Fingers rum, said covid-19 was hitting the business hard and bottling would be moved out of its base in Huyton, Liverpool, with voluntary redundancies being offered to staff. Since then, Halewood has moved its headquarters to London, increased spirit capacity at the H&A Chorley bottling site and opened a new John Crabbie whisky bottling facility at Edinburgh, while closing the Liverpool bottling facility. Earlier this month, Halewood reported turnover rose 20% to £401.5m in the year to 27 June 2020. Profit before tax dropped to £1.3m from £6.8m the year before, affected by the pandemic and restructuring costs of £7.2m. Group chief executive Stewart Hainsworth said: “Halewood has delivered its second best trading year in its history with an excellent growth in artisanal spirits. The company remains committed to substantial marketing support for its core brands despite the very challenging background of covid-19. We quickly refocused our efforts on channels that were open to trade while taking the difficult decisions to cut back on our operating costs in areas with less potential.”
Burger restaurant concept Fat Twins lodges plans for Reading site: Burger restaurant concept Fat Twins has lodged plans for a site in Reading. The company has applied to Reading Borough Council to open the branch in Oxford Road in the premises currently occupied by estate agent Mr Sales and Lettings. Fat Twins said the restaurant would operate daily from 7am to 2am, reports the Reading Chronicle. The franchise company currently has restaurants in Oldham and London, with another planned in the capital as well as in Manchester. Fat Twins has also begun advertising for staff for a new restaurant in Slough.
Zip World South Wales targets late March opening date: LDC-backed leisure company Zip World has targeted an opening date of Friday, 26 March, for its Zip World South Wales site. Zip World was awarded £4.4m in Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) funding to support the development of a new south Wales attraction in December. The Phoenix zip line is set to be the first attraction open to the public while the Tower Coaster will follow on 9 April. Phoenix is set to be the world’s fastest seated zip line, with four parallel lines in two separate zip zones. Meanwhile, the Tower Coaster will see riders travel around the Tower Colliery site in a side-by-side kart. The kart’s speed is in the driver’s hands, allowing them to go as fast or as slow as they want. CCR’s regional cabinet agreed to provide a five-year repayable loan to Zip World to support plans to replicate its successful north Wales adventure business on the CCR Tower Colliery site. This is the fourth site by Zip World and is located near the villages of Rhigos and Hirwaun, covering an area of land on the Rhigos Mountain. The business forecasts one million visitors in its first five years.
Wine brand Hun hits £400,000 crowdfunding target with 24 hours of campaign launch: Wine brand Hun, led by entrepreneur Mark Woollard and backed by ex-Formula One driver David Coulthard and the chief executive of Waitrose James Bailey, has hit its £400,000 target on crowdfunding platform Seedrs within 24 hours of the campaign’s launch. Lincolnshire-born Woollard is offering a 13% equity stake in the London-based business, which is valued at £4m. The company has so far raised £447,277 through 108 investors with 39 days of the campaign still to run. Along with a listing at Tesco, Hun became the first canned wine to be invited into the Amazon Vendor Seller programme. Funds will also be used to develop new products with plans to add a red and an alcohol-free wine to its current portfolio of a pale rosé, sauvignon blanc and a low-calorie sparkling rosé. Hun was launched in April 2020 by Woollard and its board includes Bailey, former BrewDog chief executive and Red Bull UK managing director Andy Shaw; former Red Bull Racing Formula One chief marketing officer Dominik Mitsch; and chief commercial officer of Banijay Group, Owain Walbyoff. Woollard said: “We launched Hun after spotting a gap in the market for great quality wine in a can. Having seen the success of canned craft beer, we knew there was potential to create a great tasting canned wine with a personality to match.”
Lanarkshire brothers launch micro-brewery and plan to open taproom and beer garden: Lanarkshire brothers Ronnie and Kenny Lees have launched a micro-brewery with plans to open a taproom and beer garden. The brothers launched Outlandish Brewing Company in November and were selling its four-strong range of craft beers before Christmas. The range, which are named after colloquial phrases such as “Swally” and “Beamer”, are listed by six independent outlets locally. The business was started with a £40,000 personal investment and support services from Business Gateway. Outlandish secured second-hand brewing equipment and renovated a cowshed to create the brewery. Plans for later this year include developing an e-commerce website, a second range of beer and creating up to five local jobs ranging from a brewing assistant, a part-time administrator as well as hospitality staff to run the taproom and beer garden, which they hope will open this summer at the premises.
Shankly Hotel project represents ‘evolution’ for Signature Living: Aparthotel operator and developer Signature Living has said its Shankly Hotel project in Preston – which is nearing completion – represents the next evolution of the brand. The £15m Shankly Hotel, which is a grade II-listed building that was a former post office, is “progressing well” despite delays caused by Brexit, asbestos removal and covid-19. Signature Living owner Lawrence Kenwright said: “The Shankly Hotel in Preston will have what I believe to be the most vibrant event space in the UK with ‘Elysium’, which will enable as many as 160 guests come for an event or party and, at the end of the night, up to 22 can stay in the accommodation beneath the event floor. We will also have a 7,000 square foot rooftop bar and restaurant, which will give unencumbered views over the city. This hotel will stand apart from all others and will certainly give all of our guests a unique experience, especially with the Elysium room. We are very excited about this project, which represents the next evolution of our brand and we believe it will help to supercharge Preston’s night-time offer and aid its destination status.” Signature Living bought the 118-year old building from Preston City Council in 2018 to convert it into a 65-room hotel with bar, restaurant and wedding and events suite that pays homage to Bill Shankly’s playing career at Preston North End.
Hampshire pub to expand into holiday homes after securing six-figure loan: A 19th century Hampshire pub is expanding into holiday lettings to increase revenue with the support of a six-figure loan from Lloyds Bank. The Northbrook Arms – the only pub in the village of East Stratton, Winchester – was purchased from Lord Northbrook by Kate and Adam Shanley in 2019. With the backing of the £380,000 package work is now underway to create five holiday let units. The project will be followed by the installation of a swimming pool, spa and gym. Owner Kate Shanley said: “We’re based in a very small village with about 50 houses, so the year-round viability of the pub was in question even before the devastating impact covid-19 has had on the industry. The introduction of holiday cottages will create a much more sustainable business while saving an incredible property that is rich with history.”
Preston-based restaurant operator converts tapas restaurant to Mexican concept: Preston-based restaurant operator Mark O’Rourke has launched a Mexican concept in the city. O’Rourke has converted his Fino Tapas premises in St Wilfrid Street to La Neta. It serves all of the traditional dishes such as barbacoa, burritos, fajitas and nachos. The menu also offer different cuts of meat such as leg, shoulder and rib that is cooked authentically in a wooden oven as is traditional in Mexico. The drinks menu is also very traditional with a focus on margaritas and tequila. Due to national lockdown restrictions, La Neta is currently open for takeaway only via delivery or collection, reports Blog Preston. O’Rourke also operates 263 and Winckley Street Ale House in the city.
Pub used by famous novelists to shut after 450 years: The historic Lamb and Flag pub, frequented by famous novelists such as JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Thomas Hardy, is to close at the end of January after 450 years. The pub, which has suffered huge financial losses since the start of the pandemic, is owned by St John’s College – one of 45 colleges and private halls that make up the University of Oxford. It first opened in 1566 and moved to its present location in St Giles, a broad thoroughfare in the city centre, in 1613. Steve Elston, deputy bursar of St John’s, said the pub would close on Sunday (31 January) and added: “The Lamb and Flag, like many other businesses in the hospitality industry, has been hard hit by the pandemic. The trading figures of the past 12 months have meant the pub is not currently financially viable.” Dave Richardson, of the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale said of the Lamb and Flag: “It has no TV, it has no jukebox, it has no music. It’s a place where people come to talk to each other, to enjoy the traditional, historic surroundings. Generations of people have done that – students, townspeople, people from afar.” Since 1997, St John’s College has used profits generated by the pub to fund scholarships for graduate students. It said those receiving the scholarships would not be affected by the pub’s closure, and it would directly fund future scholarships.
Bristol Bierkeller reopens as college campus that will host live music again:Former music venue and bar Bristol Bierkeller, which was shut in 2018, is set to reopen as a college campus and will host live music events once more. A £4.5m investment from the neighbouring Access Creative College means the space can house events and education for students hoping to break into the creative industries. The Bierkeller, which was based in the former Pithay building in All Saints Street in the city centre, hosted some of the biggest bands in rock, including The Stone Roses, Arctic Monkeys and Nirvana, before its closure. The 13,000 square foot space, which can hold up to 400 people in the main hall, will be filled with recording studios, classrooms and collaborative areas. Co-director of campaign group Save Bristol’s Nightlife, Annie McGann, said: “There lots of new things happening in Bristol and new venues are just waiting for the moment they can open up, no doubt about that. I liked it when it [the Bierkeller] was a dirty old gig but the students will be very welcome to the bars and cafes nearby and the courses look interesting. It will be great if it puts on some gigs.”
Glasgow-based coffee roaster to open debut coffee shop: Glasgow-based coffee roaster Ovenbird is to open its debut coffee shop. The company, which supplies many independent cafes throughout the city, is launching the site in Cathcart. The outlet will open in Clarkston Road, reports the Glasgow Evening Times. Ovenbird will also see part of its coffee production, which normally takes place in its Castlemilk home, move to the Cathcart store. The coffee shop is expected to open at the end of March.
Welsh council proposes new-build hotel with 140 bedrooms near Gower Peninsular beaches: A Welsh council has submitted proposals for a new-build 140-bedroom hotel near the Gower Peninsular and the Pendine Country Park in south Wales. The site would also be adjacent to a golf course in Llanelli. The proposed hotel and associated works is being brought forward by Carmarthenshire County Council on land to the west of Nicklaus Avenue in Machynys, Llanelli. The hotel, which would incorporate more than 100,000 square foot of gross internal floor space, will feature amenities to promote wellness and is designed to help boost visitor numbers to the area. Cllr Emlyn Dole, Carmarthenshire County Council leader, said: “The proposed plans to build a new 140-bedroom hotel in Machynys will provide fantastic tourism and employment opportunities to the area as well as complementing the exciting Pentre Awel development, which will provide state-of-the-art business, training, health and well-being facilities for residents and visitors.”