Firezza founder launches Neapolitan pizza concept in Norway: Firezza founder Edin Basic has launched a Neapolitan pizza concept in Norway, Propel has learned. Basic, who sold Firezza to PizzaExpress in 2016, has opened Mano with plans for up to ten sites across Scandinavia in the next two to three years. The concept is similar to Firezza, with pizzas freshly made and sold by the metre. The debut restaurant, which has 20 seats, is in the south western Norwegian city of Stravanger. Basic said the company already had funds in place for growth and had identified potential locations in Oslo for the next site. Regarding the decision to launch in Norway, Basic said: “The people there eat more pizza per capita than anywhere else in the world. We just felt this was the right time. Domino’s has come into the market and our site is about 50 metres from them – but overall the pizza market in Norway is well behind London so there’s a great opportunity for us. It has started really well – we sold out on the first two days. We will open the next one in Oslo and take it from there.” Basic said there were no plans at this stage to bring Mano to the UK, but added: “Never say never.” Basic also took on the lease of Fuller’s Red Lion pub in Ealing last year from Santa Maria founders Angelo Ambrosio and Pasquale Chionchio. The pub is next to the original Santa Maria site and Basic partnered with Ambrosio and Chionchio to create a service-focused pub restaurant at the site in St Mary’s Road with live music and jazz performances. Basic said the venture was going “very well” and he is looking to open a second pub in the second half of this year. Basic, who is also carrying out mentoring and consultancy work in the industry, founded Firezza in 2001 before selling the business to PizzaExpress in 2016 having built it to 22 sites, including its first sit-down restaurant in Soho. PizzaExpress subsequently sold the Firezza brand and its assets to Net Gold Star, led by Darsana Patel, in November 2017.
Sports Direct withdraws Patisserie Valerie bid after two days: Sports Direct has pulled its offer to buy Patisserie Valerie after just two days, complaining of being shut out of the bidding process. The decision comes after the retail group, owned by billionaire Mike Ashley, went public on Friday (8 February) with an offer to acquire Patisserie Valerie, which went into administration last month after the discovery of a long-term accounting fraud. On Sunday (10 February), Sports Direct wrote to the Patisserie Valerie administrators, KPMG, complaining of lacking the information required to continue bidding for the group and its subsidiaries, which include the Baker & Spice and Philpotts restaurant brands. Chris Wootton, deputy chief financial officer for Sports Direct, wrote to David Costley-Wood, the KPMG partner leading the administration process, to say it had made a “serious and substantial offer” in excess of £15m, only to be told that it would need to increase that offer by as much as £2m, reports the Financial Times. As a result Sports Direct withdrew its interest, arguing it needed more detailed financial information about the Patisserie Valerie businesses than was being provided. Sports Direct also suggested other parties must have made offers for the group beyond what it was willing to pay. In the letter – seen by the Financial Times – Wootton said: “Sports Direct has not been allowed access to a data room, any financial information or meetings with management.” The financial information, which was available in the public domain “is at best unreliable, putting Sports Direct at a serious disadvantage as a bidder”, he wrote. “Sports Direct has reluctantly decided to withdraw its offer for the businesses, as it is not able to match an offer of £18m-plus without having access to any due diligence, financial information or management meetings,” the letter said. KPMG declined to comment, but a person brief on the discussions said Sports Direct was given the opportunity to see detailed financial material on Patisserie Valerie.
Whitbread to set out ambitious expansion plan for Premier Inn: Whitbread will return more than £2.5bn to shareholders and has set out ambitious plans for its Premier Inn hotel brand in Britain and Germany as part of a strategy revamp after the sale of Costa Coffee to Coca-Cola, The Times has reported. It stated: “It (Whitbread) will reveal plans to investors next Wednesday (13 February), just over a month after it completed the £3.9bn sale of its coffee chain to Coca-Cola. The strategy is considered important in helping Whitbread to remain independent. City analysts think, shorn of Costa, the FTSE 100 company is one of this year’s likeliest takeover targets. Intercontinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and private equity firms are tipped as bidders.” Meanwhile, Whitbread has secured a new-build Premier Inn site in Birmingham. The company has agreed a 25-year lease with developer Nikal for the 225-bedroom hotel and 6,000 square foot Bar + Block steakhouse for the second phase of Exchange Square. Premier Inn will occupy a 13-storey building on a public square proposed as part of a revised planning application for phase two of the development, which is due to be submitted by Nikal shortly. Whitbread has entered an agreement to lease the completed hotel development, which is subject to planning approval. Stuart Rose, regional acquisition manager for the Midlands at Premier Inn, said: “It will be our first new-build hotel in Birmingham city centre and an excellent opportunity to showcase a latest-generation Premier Inn and Bar + Block restaurant in a prominent and central location. The deal at Exchange Square is part of our wider acquisition drive in Birmingham.” Subject to planning approval on revised plans for phase two, the Premier Inn at Exchange Square is targeted to open in 2021. Phase one is currently under way and consists of 603 rental apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail and leisure space, including three towers. Eversheds Birmingham acted for Nikal and DWF Manchester acted for Whitbread.
The Inn Collection Group grows portfolio to ten sites with second Lakes buy: The Inn Collection Group has added to its pubs with rooms portfolio with a second Lakes acquisition. The Queens Hotel in Ambleside, in the Lake District, has been purchased by the group as it continues to roll out strategic growth plans of its “pubs with rooms” model. This follows the recent acquisition of the Waterhead Hotel in Coniston. The purchase comes at a time of significant growth for the firm, following its successful bid to gain £10m of funding for future acquisitions. The Inn Collection Group aims to more than double its portfolio to 21 hotels by 2022. Property firm Bradley Hall will be supporting the hospitality group in sourcing and acquiring further ventures. The Inn Collection Group’s managing director Sean Donkin said: “We are excited to be bringing The Queens Hotel and its team into The Inn Collection Group family. We take a great deal of pride in repurposing and enhancing historic buildings and are looking forward to investing in The Queens Hotel to meld with our award-winning eat, drink, sleep and explore philosophy.” The Queens Hotel is the group’s third acquisition within the past 12 months. It also opened a £4m new-build unit, The Amble Inn in Northumberland, in January. The Alchemy-backed The Inn Collection Group said it would continue to seek out new development opportunities to grow its portfolio in the Lake District and Yorkshire as well as within its north east England heartland.
Luke Johnson pulled out of Polpo deal in wake of Patisserie Valerie collapse: Sector investor Luke Johnson was set to take a stake in Polpo before pulling out of a deal when Patisserie Valerie collapsed, The Mail on Sunday has reported. Polpo has six restaurants in London and one in Brighton. The paper stated: “The company was founded in 2009 by Russell Norman, the former operations director of The Ivy owner Caprice Holdings, and his friend Richard Beatty. Despite making a pre-tax loss of £2m on revenues of £14.3m in the year ended March 2017, the company paid £280,000 in dividends to Norman and Beatty. They have collected more than £2.1m in dividends since 2013.”
Veeno reviews estate, rolling out hot food offering: Italian wine cafe Veeno is reviewing its estate while it is introducing hot food across all sites following a trial, Propel has learned. The review, which was instigated following Rodrigue Trouillet’s arrival as commercial director and new business partner in November, has so far led to the closure of its company-owned restaurant in Harrogate while talks are taking place with landlords about a handful of its other 17 sites. Veeno’s franchised site in Norwich, which opened in November at the Castle Street shopping centre, has also closed due to “problems with the franchisees”, with the company exploring the option of reopening it as a company-owned venue. Co-founder Nino Caruso said: “We have grown very fast in the past few years and with the management change we felt this was the right time to look at the estate. We decided to shut Harrogate because it was unprofitable – there was just too much competition in that area.” Caruso revealed the company had been trialling hot food in the shape of pizza and pasta at a couple of sites and would roll it out to the entire estate later this month. He added: “We had a lot of requests so we gave it a try and now it’s going permanently on the menu.” Caruso said the company would continue to expand and was looking at more openings later in 2019, following the recent conversion of Reading into a franchised store. Trouillet’s arrival coincided with Andrea Zecchino stepping down from the company he founded with Caruso in 2013. Veeno currently has 12 company-owned and five franchise sites.
BrewDog and Red’s link up: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog is to team up with Red’s True Barbecue, the James Douglas and Scott Munro-led group. Propel has learned the barbecue concept is set to take over running the food offer at BrewDog’s bar in Friar Lane, Leicester, later this month. BrewDog has been continually exploring ways to enhance its food offer during the past few years. It is thought if the trial with Red’s is successful, it could see further link-ups between the two businesses. BrewDog currently operates 43 bars in the UK, while Red’s operates seven restaurants across the Midlands and the north. Last month, BrewDog opened its first bar of 2019, in Carlisle, bringing its network of bars to 67 worldwide, with at least 19 more set to open this year. BrewDog chief executive – retail David McDowall told Propel: “We love what the guys at Red’s do and beer and barbecue is the perfect match! I’m super excited we are working together in our Leicester bar.”
Chik’n set for Soho: Chik’n, the fried chicken fast food concept, is set to open a site in Soho, Propel has learned. Chik’n, which was launched in July 2017 with the backing of Active Partners, is understood to have secured the BRGR site in Wardour Street. The sister concept to Chick ‘n’ Sours founded by Carl Clarke and David Wolanski currently operates its debut site in Baker Street. The brand was expected to open a second site in Upper Street, Islington, but that subsequently became a third Chick ‘n’ Sours. The sale of the site will leave Lebanese burger concept BRGR, which launched here in 2012, with no sites in the UK. Five Guys UK acquired the BRGR site in King’s Road, Chelsea, in 2017. CDG Leisure was believed to be marketing the BRGR Wardour Street site.
Charles Good retires as chairman of Upham Pub Company: Charles Good has retired as chairman of Upham Pub Company, the operator of 15 premium pubs across the south of England with its own regional brewery, Propel has learned. Deputy chairman John McMillan will step up in the interim period while a successor is appointed. A spokeswoman said: “We can confirm Charles Good has stepped down as chairman of Upham Pub Company as planned following his retirement.” Upham Pub Company consists of a growing family of pubs and inns across Hampshire, Berkshire, Sussex and Wiltshire, with plans to increase the portfolio.
BII Licensees of the Year put pub on the market: Ashley and Kelly McCarthy are to sell their award-winning pub, Ye Old Sun Inn, in Colton, Yorkshire. The McCarthys, 2013 winners of the British Institute of Innkeeping Licensee of the Year award, have set an asking price of £900,000 through agents MJD Hughes. “The time is right for us to move on,” said Kelly McCarthy. “We have numerous other business interests and Ashley has a growing number of commitments from television.” Ashley McCarthy, who has developed a following for his creations in chocolate will be appearing in a series on Channel 4 this Easter. He and son Ben have also developed a popular double act performing cookery demonstrations at festivals throughout the country.
Swiss restaurant concept to make UK debut: Switzerland-based Restaurant le Museum is to make its debut in the UK after securing a site in Soho. The business is understood to have taken a unit in Rupert Street formerly occupied by tapas restaurant Brindisa ahead of an opening later this year. Originally a nightclub and restaurant, the concept was founded in 1965 by Karl Iverson and Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs. The restaurant in Montreux offers charcoal grill, beef fondue, raclette, cheese gratin and cheese fondue. Jake Bernstone, of Stonebrook London, and Emma Flather, of Hanover Green, acted on the Rupert Street deal.
Byron to close Derby site: Byron is to close its site in Derby’s Intu shopping centre on Sunday, 17 February – three years after opening. General manager Jack Barber said: “This decision has been taken due to overhead costs and the high rent required at Intu. There are 25 staff members who have been given full redundancy.” Last year, Byron creditors voted in favour of a restructuring package for the business. It tabled a company voluntary arrangement in an attempt to stabilise its financial position. This allowed it to shut loss-making restaurants and secure discounts on rental costs. An Intu Derby spokesman said: “We are sorry to hear Byron is closing down. This was a commercial decision taken by the restaurant owner and we’d like to wish its staff well. Our customers can be assured we will continue to work closely with existing and new retailers to deliver a great mix of stores, products and services.”
Just Eat appoints Easyjet’s Villaverde as chief data officer: Online food delivery business Just Eat has appointed Alberto Rey Villaverde as chief data officer. Villaverde will join the company on Monday, 11 March and take leadership of Just Eat’s analytics and business insights and data science teams covering business information, management information and reporting, artificial intelligence, algorithmic development, and machine learning. Villaverde joins from Easyjet, where he was head of data science and yield. Peter Duffy, interim chief executive of Just Eat, said: “Alberto’s expertise will help position Just Eat as market leader in data and analytics as we further personalise our service and deliver our vision.”
Jamie Oliver starts roll-out of Deli by Shell concept: Chef Jamie Oliver has started rolling out his Deli by Shell concept at more than 500 of the fuel company’s UK service stations. Jamie Oliver Deli by Shell features a deli counter and chiller cabinet offering a selection of hot food-to-go items including traditional pastry goods such as a premium hog roast sausage roll, chilli and curry hot pots, sandwiches, wraps, toasties, cakes and pastries. Healthier options include fruit and vegetable snack pots, salad bowls and sushi demonstrating Shell’s desire to broaden its food-to-go appeal, retail analysis company IGD reports. Premiumisation, lighter options and new product formats extend into breakfast too, with an egg, bacon and beans hot pot, a vegetarian version with eggs, beans, mushroom and spinach, and two varieties of porridge. Traffic light labelling is visible on packaging, with Shell saying 60% of the range is green or amber rated. The concept also offers a £4.99 meal deal and two children’s sandwich boxes.
Harry Ramsden trials Mecca Bingo partnership: Mecca Bingo is to trial a partnership with Boparan Restaurant Group-owned fish and chip chain Harry Ramsden across three of its bingo halls. Starting on Monday (11 February), the four-month trial will allow bingo fans to order food straight to their tables. Malcolm Heslop, business development manager for Boparan Restaurant Group, told the Chester Chronicle: “We are always looking for new ways to expand and share our menu with foodies across the UK. Partnering with Mecca is a great way to do this and we’re pleased to bring a selection of our tasty menu treats to customers in Chester!” Cath Hannam, national food and beverage manager for the Rank Group, added: “We are delighted to treat our customers in Chester to such an exciting trial with the UK’s leading fish and chip franchise. Our staff at Mecca Chester have been working really hard behind the scenes to get everything ready and we hope our customers enjoy the partnership as much as us!”
Jolt Coffee to make UK debut with Fitzrovia launch next month: Jolt Coffee, which has a site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is to make its UK debut by opening a site in Fitzrovia, central London, next month. The venue will open in Great Castle Street on Monday, 4 March at a site formerly occupied by Japanese temakeria concept Yoobi. Jolt offers single-origin coffee from Nude, with its signature cups being a “Spanish latte”, which features coffee marbled with condensed milk, and pistachio latte. It will also offer “black ice” – cubes of frozen coffee that melt under hot milk. As well as coffee, Jolt will offer pastries and small plates featuring “refined ingredients and distinctive flavours of dates, pine nuts, rose harissa and miso”, Hot Dinners reports.
Gail’s set for Brighton: Gail’s Bakery, which is backed by sector investor Luke Johnson, is to further increase its presence outside London with an opening in Brighton. The company, which operates circa 45 sites, has secured a unit next to Wagamama in North Road. Last February, the company opened a site in Church Road, Hove. Gail’s Bakery was founded in 2005 when Ran Avidan, Tom Molnar, who is chief executive, and Emma King opened its first site in Hampstead. Early last year, parent company Bread Holdings appointed KPMG to advise on sale options for the business in which Johnson invested in 2011. However, it was reported late last year this process was being put on hold until after Brexit.
Leon returns to Soho for latest site: Natural fast food brand Leon has opened its latest site, in Broadwick Street, in London’s Soho. The outlet, its 53rd in the UK, is a few hundred metres away from Carnaby Street, where Leon opened its first restaurant in 2004. Leon has grown to 63 restaurants globally, with locations in the UK, Washington DC, Oslo, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Gran Canaria and plans to grow in other cities across Europe and the US.
Panera Bread ends ‘pay-what-you-can’ experiment: Panera Bread will close the last site for its pay-what-you-can concept, Panera Cares, as the company said the non-profit experiment is “no longer viable”. The cafe, located in Boston, is scheduled to close its doors on Friday (15 February). The company introduced the community cafe concept in 2010 – it listed a suggested donation fee for customers, whose payment would supposedly make up for customers who were unable to provide payment, while simultaneously raising awareness of hunger issues in America. Over the past nine years, five Panera Cares locations have opened and closed. The Boston closure marks the official end of the donation-based experiment. “Despite our commitment to this mission, it’s become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable,” Panera Bread said in an emailed statement. “We’re working with the current bakery-cafe associates affected by the closure to identify alternate employment opportunities within Panera and Au Bon Pain.”
Corus Hotels falls to pre-tax loss despite turnover boost: Corus Hotels, which operates eight properties across the UK and Malaysia, has reported turnover increased 2% to £28,224,000 for the year ending 30 June 2018, compared with £27,769,000 the previous year. It reported a pre-tax loss of £18,000 compared with a profit of £1,221,000 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Average hotel room rates increased to £84.20 from £78.40, while there was a “marginal” improvement in occupancy. During the period, the group closed The Gay Hussar restaurant and surrendered the lease back to the landlord. After the year end, the group closed L’Etoile restaurant and again surrendered the lease back to the landlord. These were loss-making operations. During the financial year, the group sold two hotels – The Old Golf House Hotel in Huddersfield and The Imperial Crown Hotel – for £2.75m to Northern Powerhouse. Half the funds were used to repay a Bank of East Asia loan and the other half held back for development of future branded hotels. Corus Hotels’ six-strong UK portfolio comprises Corus Hyde Park in London, Buckinghamshire retreat Burnham Beeches, The Chace Hotel in Coventry, The Hillcrest Hotel in Widnes, Grimsby’s The St James Hotel and The Regency in Solihull. Milton Keynes-headquartered Corus Hotels is owned by Malaysian company MUI Group.
Adam Handling to launch restaurant at Chelsea hotel this month: Chef Adam Handling is to open a restaurant at the Belmond Cadogan Hotel in Chelsea, south west London, this month. Adam Handling Chelsea will be the main restaurant at the hotel when it opens on Thursday, 28 February. The 45-cover restaurant will feature a large open kitchen and counter dining and have its own entrance. As chef patron, Handling will oversee the entire food and beverage offering at the hotel, calling on 90 staff to look after the offering’s six main elements – the restaurant, bar, Cadogan’s, a private dining room, terrace, and room service. The menu will encapsulate the “best of British” with a focus on smaller producers and seasonal produce. The restaurant will offer a la carte and tasting menus available for lunch and dinner with dishes such as lamb wellington with carrot and mint, and langoustine with pink grapefruit. Handling said: “This is the biggest opening of my career so far. I want to celebrate everything that’s so wonderful about British produce, delivered luxuriously in a stunning setting. Sustainability is part of the core ethos of my group so everything will be sustainable without compromising on quality. At its heart, I want Adam Handling Chelsea to be a neighbourhood restaurant. We want to welcome our regulars and locals back time and again.” Handling also operates two restaurants, two bars and a cafe, all in London. Belmond operates 47 hotel, rail and river-cruise experiences, while Cadogan is a family business, property manager, investor and developer.
Cornish events company hits £250,000 crowdfunding campaign to expand offering at 10,000-capacity venue: Cornwall-based events company The Wyldes has hit its £250,000 target on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube for phase two of the development of its 10,000-capacity concert venue. The company is offering 4.76% equity in return for investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £5m. So far, 179 investors have pledged £253,190 with four days of the campaign remaining. The 150-acre, eponymous venue near Bude overlooks an area of outstanding beauty and has hosted more than 50,000 visitors. Founded in 2008, the venue hosts its own festival and has seen a “6,313% increase in annual ticket sales between 2006 and 2018”. The pitch states: “The Wyldes has three permanent stages, eight bars, catering facilities, and a team and infrastructure in place. We are producing two or three large-scale, music-based events per year during summer and we’re ready to improve our infrastructure and assets to bring a larger, more diverse range of increased-capacity shows throughout all seasons. These improvements will also increase the profitability of each event by reducing hire costs and enabling new revenue streams, including options for luxury accommodation on-site.”