Sandwich chain Which Wich to make UK debut with London site backed by former M&B managing director: Franchise chain Which Wich Superior Sandwiches is to make its UK debut with a store in London as it eyes 100 sites in Europe by 2027. The UK expansion will be led by brothers Rami and Nader Awada, of AAA Investment House Group, with the help of industry veteran Kevin Todd, former managing director of Mitchells & Butlers. Which Wich was founded in late 2003 by Jeff Sinelli in Dallas, Texas. It now has more than 450 locations open or in development in 13 countries and is known for its customisable sandwiches and salads, creative ordering system, and personalised sandwich bags. The menu offers a wide range of customisable “wiches”, with sandwiches prepared to guests’ specifications and then toasted. The brand also offers ice-cream shakes and signature fries. The London site is expected to open by December. Which Wich vice-president of international operations and development Alex Oswiecinski said: “We believe Which Wich provides a unique experience and universal product that crosses all borders. We are focused on supporting the Awada brothers to make Which Wich’s foray into London a huge success, which will naturally lead to demand across the UK and Europe.” Rami Awada added: “We are determined to ensure the brand’s success in London first. We are looking for suitable A1 sites, from 800 to 1,600 square feet, across high traffic areas in major London centres.”

Pret A Manger sees debt swell to £608m: Pret A Manger’s debt swelled to £608m last year after a refinancing as the company gears up for a stock market listing in New York. Pret’s net debt rose from £577.4m in 2015, according to its latest annual report filed at Companies House. Pret, which has 440 stores, said £395m of the sum was external bank debt. It comes after Pret’s owner, private equity firm Bridgepoint, rejigged the company’s credit last year, paying off loan notes worth £149m. The company made a consolidated pre-tax loss of £16.2m last year, from a £10.4m loss in 2015. As previously reported by Propel, Pret saw a 4.8% rise in like-for-like sales. Ebitda rose 11% to £93.2m as revenue soared to £776.2m, a 15% increase. Pret, led by chief executive Clive Schlee, saw sales in America rise by 28% last year as it plots a listing in New York. The company, which now has 74 outlets across the Atlantic, recently lined up banks to work on the float. Pret has also attracted the interest of potential buyers, including JAB Holding, an investment company backed by the Reimann family in Germany that owns Krispy Kreme.

City investors buy 45% stake in Welcome Break: A team of City investors has agreed a deal to buy 45% of motorway services operator Welcome Break. Arjun Infrastructure Partners, an investment firm set up by former JP Morgan executives, is picking up the stake from a clutch of minority investors, including Dutch Bank ING and Australian insurer Challenger Life. NIBC European Infrastructure Fund is set to retain its 55% stake. Investment bank Rothschild is understood to have advised on the deal, reports the Sunday Times. Welcome Break has 85 million customers at its motorway services each year. It recorded underlying earnings of £63.8m last year on turnover of £648m. The company has an estimated valuation of about £700m. Its rival Moto last week reported an £82.6m loss in 2016 on turnover of £778m due to its large debt burden.

Chipotle admits most of its restaurants hit by credit card hackers: Hackers used malware to steal customer payment data from most of Chipotle Mexican Grill’s restaurants during a span of three weeks, the company has admitted, adding to woes at the chain whose sales had just started to recover from a string of food safety lapses in 2015. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told Reuters the company did not know how many customers were affected by the breach that struck most of its roughly 2,250 restaurants between 24 March and 18 April. A handful of Canadian restaurants were also affected. Arnold said Chipotle could not alert customers directly as it did not collect their names and mailing addresses at the time of purchase. Security analysts said Chipotle is likely to face a fine based on the size of the breach and number of records compromised. The breach could once again threatens sales at Chipotle, which only recently recovered after falling sharply in late 2015 after the brand was linked to outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus.

Star Pubs & Bars earmarks £500,000 for Dundee investment: Star Pubs & Bars has earmarked £500,000 to invest in two pubs in the Dundee area and is looking for licensees to take on the venues. The Mercantile in Commercial Street, Dundee, has been closed for a year and £300,000 will be spent to transform it into an “upmarket, modern-industrial bar” with a proposed new name – A. Smith Merchant – offering cocktails, craft beer, food and coffee. The ground-floor bar will be repositioned to create a larger area with fixed and booth-style seating for groups. The upstairs space will feature circular booth seating overlooking the bar. Almost £200,000 will be invested to turn The Gunners Bar in Broughty Ferry into a “rustic urban bar” serving premium branded drinks and pizza. Two rooms will be knocked into one to create a lighter, airier bar with neon signs and graffiti art. The investment is part of £4m Heineken is investing in its Star Pubs & Bars estate in Scotland this year. Operations director Gary Corney said: “Once we have licensees on board, our investment in upgrading The Mercantile and The Gunners Bar will create pubs people want and use, enhance the local community, and benefit the local economy.”

Redchurch Brewery passes 50% mark in £400,000 crowdfunding campaign to accelerate expansion: Redchurch Brewery, founded by lawyer turned brewer Gary Ward and television producer Tracey Cleland, has passed the 50% mark in its £400,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to accelerate expansion plans. The company is offering 7.41% equity and has so far raised £215,900 from 406 investors with 13 days remaining. The largest investment to date is £30,000. The pitch states: “Now in our sixth year of brewing, we have grown from humble origins in a railway arch in Bethnal Green to become a renowned craft brewer selling beer nationally into Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, bars, restaurants, and retail customers, as well as exporting our beers around the world. In January 2016 we completed a Crowdcube round, raising £500,000, well above our initial target of £200,000. We undertook a big expansion project by acquiring 13,500 square feet of industrial premises in Harlow, Essex, to house a new 30-barrel brewhouse, a fully automated bottling and labelling line, and a keg-filling line, while undertaking a rebranding exercise. We are now returning to Crowdcube to raise further investment to enable us to accelerate our ambitious plans and satisfy demand we’ve seen grow beyond our expectations. With the investment we raise during this round we intend to add further fermentation vessels to increase our production capacity to more than 1.3 million litres annually; invest in our packaging line to improve speed and efficiency, employ more brewers, delivery drivers and expand our stretched sales and logistics team; transform our warehouse space by adding a racking system; and add to our fleet of delivery vehicles. The quarter ending 31 December 2016 saw an increase in sales of 27% over the previous quarter, with revenues growing each quarter in this current calendar year. Revenue for March 2017 set a new record and this is forecast to rise to more than £150,000 a month by June 2017.”

Former BrewDog employee launches cold brew coffee company aimed at on-trade: Former BrewDog employee Emily Fitchett has launched cold brew coffee company Fitch Brew Co. In February, Fitchett raised £150,000 within 30 hours of launching a campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to fund the venture. Fitchett, a former UK distribution key account manager at BrewDog, said the fund-raise allowed her and product development director Matthew Van Elkan to fit-out Fitch Brewery in Leeds with technology that includes a grinder, brewing tanks, a water treatment plant, a water filtration system, and a nitro-dosing system. Fitchett has now launched Fitch Cold Brew aimed at the on-trade drinks industry, with the coffee available in 330ml cans and 20-litre key kegs in cold brew and nitro cold brew formats. Fitchett said the company had already agreed listings with the National Union of Students, North Bars and independent bars across London, Leeds and Manchester, and was in advanced talks with the UK’s largest on-trade wholesaler Matthew Clark. Fitchett said: “We are a coffee brewery on a mission to disrupt the way people see and drink coffee. Cold brew has seen phenomenal growth over the past five years and is now booming in the UK. At Fitch Brew Co we’re taking it one step further by bridging the divide between the fast-paced coffee and alcohol industries. It opens up new options for mixologists and we already have collaboration plans with some of the UK’s leading craft beer breweries. We’re going to develop the category in the UK and see where we can take it.”

Gusto starts work on £1m York city centre site: Gusto, the Italian restaurant brand operated by Living Ventures, has started work on its £1m site in York city centre. The restaurant is due to open in Little Stonegate in July at a site previously occupied by Mulberry Hall household store, creating more than 60 jobs. The 4,000 square foot venue will seat up to 120 diners and include separate bar and dining areas. Gusto managing director Sue Crimes told BDaily: “York is a perfect location for our clientele, who want delicious food, fantastic drinks and a glamorous atmosphere. Mulberry Hall is a well-known building so we are going to maintain and restore many original features such as the brickwork and beautiful windows and doors. Our restaurants in Leeds have proved extremely popular with locals and tourists and we hope for the same success in York.” Gusto currently has 16 restaurants in the UK with the York site part of the company’s ongoing plans for growth. Another Gusto is due to open in Chislehurst, south east London, in August.

FSK Group relaunches roadworks-hit Birmingham nightclub: FSK Group, led by Alan Rees and Benjamin Smith, has relaunched the Mechu nightclub in Birmingham, which had been plagued by roadworks. Birmingham-based bar group Town and Country Inns blamed the two-year roadworks surrounding its Mechu, Apres and Fleet Street Kitchen venues in Summer Row for it entering administration in November. FSK Group bought the company out of administration, keeping Apres and Fleet Street Kitchen open but closing Mechu in March. The venue has reopened as M Club aimed at over-30s, featuring a 200-capacity Live Lounge, a 150-seat restaurant, and a 500-capacity main room. Rees told the Birmingham Mail: “We’ve invested half a million pounds to transform the site. The big difference is it isn’t a normal club – it plays classic music from the 1960s to the 1990s.” Operations manager Arron Smith added: “Live Lounge has table service, a retro design and cocktails. Bar meals are small plates so we don’t compete with our new menu at Fleet Street Kitchen. There are six laser lights choreographed to the music for a full-on, theatre experience.” FSK Group also operates a Fleet Street Kitchen in Mere Green. The Apres venue in Cheltenham, the only Town and Country Inns site outside the Midlands, closed following the November buyout.

Stonegate Pub Company opens Popworld in Leeds, nightclub brand’s 21st site: Stonegate Pub Company has launched a site in Leeds for its Popworld nightclub brand following a £260,000 refurbishment of the former Baa Bar site in Millennium Square. It is the 21st Popworld venue in the UK. The brand champions noughties nostalgia, with a soundtrack of party hits from the decade and a range of decadent drinks that include giant sharing cocktail Partini. Popworld head of marketing Alan Armstrong said: “Popworld is one the most popular clubbing brands in the UK and it was only a matter of time before we brought its colourful personality to Leeds. The city’s nightlife scene is already one of the best in the country.” Stonegate Pub Company operates more than 690 pubs split into two divisions – Branded (Slug and Lettuce, Yates’s, Walkabout, Common Room and Venues, which includes Popworld) and Traditional (Proper Pubs, Town Pub & Kitchen, and Classic Inns).

Manchester-based street food group Indian Tiffin Room eyes expansion into Leeds: Street food restaurant group Indian Tiffin Room, which operates two venues in Greater Manchester, is eyeing expansion into Leeds. The company has submitted plans to open a 100-capacity restaurant in Park Row, within Leeds’ financial district, which is already home to a number of well-known restaurants. The opening would create 25 jobs. Indian Tiffin Room, which has restaurants in Cheadle and Manchester city centre, has been included in The Good Food Guide and received a glowing review from Tom Parker-Bowles in the Daily Mail. The brand offers food “inspired by the bustling streets of India”, with specialities including dosa rice pancakes, thalis, chaats and kebabs. An Indian Tiffin Room spokesman told Insider Media: “We believe in our brand and would love to bring it to Leeds. It’s good to be in a position to create jobs.”

Domino’s Pizza opens fifth dine-in restaurant, in ‘smallest town’ Leek: Domino’s Pizza has opened a site in Leek town centre that features a sit-down restaurant, only the brand’s fifth venue to do so in the UK. The restaurant has opened in St Edward Street in the Staffordshire town, creating 25 jobs. Domino’s opening manager Harry Gardner told the Stoke Sentinel: “When we open in a small town like Leek, people seem to welcome the brand because there are not many chains. This is the smallest town we own a store in but we’ve got very high hopes for it. This is only one of five branches with dine-in facilities. We don’t want it to have a big brand feel. Our franchise operates in small branches because we want our stores to have a more personal feel.”

Market Town Taverns reopens Knaresborough pub following significant refurbishment: Yorkshire-based pub chain Market Town Taverns has reopened The Mitre in Knaresborough after a significant refurbishment. The pub in Water Bag Bank has new-look drinking and dining areas, along with restyled accommodation in the en-suite bedrooms. Managing director Louise Middlemass said: “The last major investment in The Mitre was by local philanthropist George Moore, who was born in The Mitre in 1928. His vision in refurbishing the building as a pub allowed Market Town Taverns to acquire The Mitre in 2007 and since then it has remained a much-loved part of Knaresborough’s community. Now we’re delighted to continue this legacy with this most recent refresh of the pub. However, important as it is, we have gone way past cosmetic appearances. As with other pubs in the estate, we’ve used the opportunity of this refurbishment to take a fresh look at our food and service offerings. This has resulted in a new seasonal food menu created from the finest locally sourced ingredients.”

Five Guys opens site at Bournemouth’s BH2 development: Better burger brand Five Guys has opened a restaurant at the new BH2 development in Bournemouth town centre. Five Guys joins a long list of operators at BH2, including TGI Friday’s, Azzurri Group-owned ASK Italian, Nando’s and The Restaurant Group brands Chiquito and Frankie and Benny’s, alongside a ten-screen Odeon cinema. Five Guys, which was founded in Virginia in the US in 1986 by the Murrell family, has more than 60 restaurants in the UK having opened its first in Covent Garden in 2013. It recently opened sites in Cheshire Oaks and Liverpool, while locations listed as “coming soon” on its website include Piccadilly Circus and Clapham in London, two sites in Edinburgh, and another in Leeds.

New World Trading Company brings The Botanist to Reading: Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group New World Trading Company (NWTC) has brought The Botanist brand to Reading. The company has opened the site in King Street, creating 50 jobs. The Botanist is on the ground floor of a building that had been a bank since 1814, when it was founded by William Simonds, of brewer Simonds’ Reading. It is the 17th site for NWTC, which consists of five brands – The Botanist, The Club House, The Oast House, The Smugglers Cove and The Trading House. Earlier this month, NWTC operations director Matt Bamber told Propel the group was ahead of its plan to build a 30-strong estate by 2019 and had the platform in place to match its ambitions following the opening of its new headquarters in Knutsford, Cheshire, at the end of last year. NWTC is set to open six further sites before April 2018 including The Canal House in Birmingham, which will open this summer, and a site at MediaCityUK in Manchester that will also open this year.

Nando’s trials new menu items at select UK sites: Nando’s is trialling new menu items, including two burgers and a rice dish, at 14 UK sites. The Fino Sunset burger consists of two chicken thighs topped with melted Cheddar cheese and smokey red pepper chutney, while the Fino Trio Burger features peri-peri chicken, grilled halloumi cheese, portobello mushrooms and sweet and sticky hot date syrup in a soft sweet bun. Fino Wild Rice is another item. The restaurants trialling the menu are London’s Hammersmith, High Street Kensington and Westfield White City, Swansea, Cardiff, Llanelli, Stratford, Ilford, three venues in Manchester, Belfast and Dublin. Earlier this month, Nando’s became the first restaurant brand to sign for the new £65m redeveloped Martlets scheme in Burgess Hill, West Sussex.

Douglas Jack – Cineworld’s business model is moving towards driving visits through refurbishment rather than expansion: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said Cineworld’s business model is gravitating towards driving visits through refurbishment rather than expansion. Issuing an ‘Add’ note on the shares with a target price of 775p following a site visit to Israel, Jack said: “In our view, Cineworld’s business model in the UK and Israel is gravitating towards driving visits and spend per capita/site through refurbishment and redevelopment rather than expansion (with the UK having more redevelopment opportunities than Israel). In eastern Europe, where the estate is young, there is little requirement to redevelop but there is plenty of scope to expand and increase visits and spend per capita/site. In the UK, the market opportunity is to increase the admissions per capita (from 2.6 to 3.0-plus) and the average number of screens per cinema through refurbishing and upgrading the quality of screens. Cineworld’s refurbishment pipeline in the UK comprises 35 cinemas. These should be completed over the next five to six years at a rate of five to seven cinemas (circa 90 screens) per annum. The refurbishment cycle is 12 to 15 years (12 in extremely busy cinemas). Thus, refurbishments have not started yet in the eastern European estate, which is all less than nine years old. The payback on refurbishment is four to five years (sometimes three) in the UK. Refurbishments are being used to increase the range of premium experiences, adding VIP auditoriums, IMAX and 4DX, as well as upgrading the foyers. In Israel (Rishon), the company is trialling virtual reality. In the UK, it is hiring auditoriums to universities and companies during off-peak periods and seeking sponsorships (which is working better in Europe). Although growth is forecast to slow in 2018E (the film release schedule should remain strong but with tougher comps and no currency benefit), we estimate net debt/Ebitda should fall to below one times in 2019E. Management’s first choice is to be acquisitive; its second choice is to return cash to shareholders. Either way, this should temper the need to sell into strength.”

Bavava Restaurants launches gourmet kebab restaurant concept, in Sunderland: Bavava Restaurants, which operates Indian restaurant and craft beer concept Papadoms, has launched gourmet kebab and beer concept Döner Haüs in Sunderland. The company has converted its debut Papadoms site in High Street West to the new-look kebab house in the first of what the company plans to be a chain of eateries. Founder and chief executive Sanjeev Sanghera was inspired to launch the concept following a trip to Germany and eating at kebab restaurants in Berlin. Drinks served in the bar include German steins and bottles, including Löwenbräu and Spaten Helles. Sanghera told the Sunderland Echo: “Although there are a couple of sit-in restaurants that specialise in gourmet kebabs, we believe this is the first one in the UK for doner kebabs.” Bavava Restaurants is about to open a Papadoms venue in Bradford following a £1.4m investment, with plans in the pipeline for a site in Newcastle. Sanghera has been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years.

Buzzworks Holdings launches seasonal menu across estate: Buzzworks Holdings has launched a spring and summer menu across its estate of nine Ayrshire restaurants. Each of the four Buzzworks brands – Scotts, Lido, Elliots and House – have new additions to its menus, including a speciality section that encourages head chefs to create dishes to suit their own venue. The coastal locations of Scotts in Largs and Troon is reflected in its new menu, featuring locally landed seafood, while simple dishes with big flavours are the focus at Buzzworks’ House venues, such as slow-cooked lamb roast, traditional steak pie and new gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes. Elliots offers a wide international food offering, while Lido features Mediterranean-influenced dishes. The Buzzworks Bakehouse in Prestwick delivers freshly made cakes to all the company’s venues daily, while new desserts have been added across the estate. Buzzworks Holdings operations director Alison Blair said: “The changes we have made bring our chefs’ skills to the forefront and encompass some of the latest food trends, including healthier food options and a breakfast offering.”