Murphy steps down as PizzaExpress finance director: David Murphy has stepped down as finance director for PizzaExpress UK & Ireland after over four and half years in the role, Propel has learned. Murphy has left the brand, which he originally joined in October 2014, as group financial controller, to join residential and holiday park operator Haulfryn Group as its new chief financial officer. He was previously finance director at Tesco. Earlier this year, PizzaExpress strengthened its management team with the appointments of Jo Bennett as its new chief business officer and Shadi Halliwell as its new chief customer officer. In March, Andy Pellington stepped down as the pizza chain’s chief financial officer, a role he held for seven years, after overseeing the recapitalisation of the business in autumn last year. Pellington and Murphy’s responsibilities have been taken on by Bennett.
Neat Burger makes regional debut in Reading: Lewis Hamilton-backed plant-based concept Neat Burger has made its regional debut with an opening in Reading. Propel understands the company has launched a dark kitchen unit through Deliveroo’s Editions unit in the city. Talking to Propel in March, Stasi Nychas, co-founder of Neat Burger, said dark kitchens would be the best way for the brand to test the water when it comes to launching outside London. Nychas said: “We always planned to have dark kitchens – but maybe not with as big a role as they now have. The strategy is to continue with opening both. We now cover most of London so we’ll look to expand beyond [the capital] this year into the regions. Certain places in cities you can put a bricks and mortar store but dark kitchens are the best way to test the water.” The business currently operates three bricks and mortar sites in London, in Camden, Soho and Princes Street. It has also secured sites in Victoria (Buckingham Place), Canary Wharf (ex-PizzaExpress in Cabot Square) and in Westfield Stratford, for future openings, and is thought to be in talks on sites in Ealing, Bishopsgate, Finsbury Park, and King’s Road.
Flight Club to open in Las Vegas: State of Play Hospitality, the US and UK experiential leisure operator led by Toby Harris, has signed a deal to open a site under darts concept Flight Club in Las Vegas. Scheduled to open next spring, Flight Club Las Vegas will be located in the Grand Canal Shoppes inside The Venetian Resort, and will become the concept’s third US location, after Boston and Chicago. State of Play operates Flight Club under licence from Red Engine in North America. Harris, chief executive of State of Play, said: “We are very excited to bring Flight Club to Vegas. Las Vegas is known for its innovative, boundary-pushing entertainment concepts and we see an opportunity to push the envelope even further. Our largest Flight Club to date, the venue will undoubtedly become a landmark destination within the city.” The company said the new destination would offer a “super-charged social gaming experience with multi-player games set in semi-private playing areas and will serve up delectable food offerings and bespoke cocktails”.
Adnams reports good booking levels as lockdown eases: Suffolk-based brewer and retailer Adnams has said demand for its products remained encouraging and it had seen good levels of bookings after the covid-19 lockdown had a severe effect on revenue in the first half of its financial year. The company said the trading environment was still volatile after most of the hospitality industry was closed for the first half of the year. After waiving or reducing pub rents during the pandemic, the company said it expected rents to go back to the full rate later in 2021 if there are no further lockdowns. Chairman Jonathan Adnams said: “We are cautiously optimistic the second half of the year will see some steps back towards normality in the economy, leading to customers once again visiting pubs. We anticipate our accommodation-led businesses will benefit from reduced foreign travel this year. Demand for Adnams products whether online or take-home has remained encouraging across beer, wines and spirits and we have also seen good levels of future bookings for customers to eat and stay with us once restrictions are lifted further.”
Fletchergate Industries to expand to Beeston for ninth site: Fletchergate Industries, which is behind Nottingham venues including The Hockley Arts Club and Das Kino, is set to expand to Beeston for its ninth site. The company is set to launch The Beeston Social in the new Beeston Square scheme, reports The Business Desk. The Beeston Square development will see its first phase go live next month – which includes the opening of a cinema by Irish operator The Arc. The plan is for the cinema to be surrounded by cafes and restaurants, supported by a large-scale residential development alongside a tram-bus transport interchange. Last week, Fletchergate Industries revealed plans to launch The Blind Rabbit in the former Belgo building in Weekday Cross in Nottingham.
Hard Rock Cafe to open site in Newcastle this month for north east debut: Hard Rock Cafe is to open a site in Newcastle this month as it expands into the north east of England. The company is opening the outlet within the Guildhall on Newcastle’s Quayside. Sited across two floors of the grade I-listed building, the restaurant can take up to 180 covers. The cafe will be operated by franchisees David and Penny Tilly, who previously owned the Nova Seafood & Grill restaurant in the city before selling it in October last year. Penny Till said: “It’s been quite a rocky road what with the obstacles that inevitably come with listed buildings and, of course, a global pandemic. It’s a great coup for the city to have the first Hard Rock Cafe in the north east of England.”
7Bone Burger Co to open tenth site this month: 7Bone Burger Co, which is backed by Kings Park Capital, will open its tenth site, in Coventry, as it continues its march north. The restaurant is taking the space that was formerly PizzaExpress in Hay Lane and will open at midday on Tuesday (25 May), creating 20 jobs. 7Bone, founded by Rich Zammit and Matt Mollicone, serves dry-aged beef burgers, free-range chicken sandwiches, a vegan and kids’ menus plus a selection of craft beers and cocktails. 7Bone opened its first restaurant in Southampton in 2013, followed by Bournemouth the following year. Kings Park Capital took an equity stake in the business in August 2016. Its other sites include Camberley, Newbury, Portsmouth, Reading, Eastbourne, Hove and Northampton.
Butchies confirms fifth restaurant to open in London’s Earl’s Court in June:London-based chicken sandwich concept Butchies has confirmed it will open its fifth site, in west London, in June, along with a new menu item that will be available across its estate. Propel revealed last month the 20-cover restaurant will open in Kenway Road, just off Earl’s Court Road. The new site will offer 50% off food for the first week. Meanwhile, the company, which was founded by Garrett Fitzgerald in 2013, is launching a new side dish Mac N Crac – it is mac ’n’ cheese, topped with crispy fried chicken skin, Red Leicester cheese and mozzarella. The all-day menu features six fried chicken sandwiches served in soft butter-toasted buns that are priced between £6 and £14, alongside buffalo wings, buttermilk chicken tenders and popcorn chicken. The company, which is chaired by Draft House founder Charlie McVeigh, also has sites in Camden, Shoreditch, Fulham (Market Halls) and Clapham.
Edinburgh-based escape room operator launches axe throwing experience venture: Edinburgh-based escape room operator Escape has launched an axe throwing experience venture. The company has opened the first Game of Throwing site in Newcastle, with venues also set to launch in early June in Chelmsford, Hull and Plymouth. The Newcastle outlet, which is in Newgate Street, allows groups of adults to book a throwing lane. Daniel Hill, founder of Game of Throwing, told Insider Media: “Urban axe-throwing experiences are increasingly popular around the world, and we’re delighted to be launching the experience here in the UK.” Escape operates more than 50 escape rooms across the UK, ten of which are company-owned.
Taster to launch fundraise on Crowdcube to support UK expansion: Delivery-only kitchen concept Taster, which was founded by one of Deliveroo’s early executives, Anton Soulier, is set to launch a fundraise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, Propel has learned. It is understood the funds will be used to increase Taster’s presence across the UK, France, and Spain and drive rapid expansion into new cities. Last month, Taster raised $37m (£26.5m) of new funding toward further expansion targeted through licensing. UK-based Octopus Ventures was the lead investor, with global venture capital firm Rakuten also participating, alongside the company’s existing investors Battery, Latitude and Heartcore. Soulier’s goal is to expand from 11 European towns and cities currently to 40 by the end of 2021, and jump from 70 digital restaurants today to 10,000 globally by 2025. Taster will keep its existing ten kitchens in London, Paris and Madrid to test new menus and use as training kitchens for licensees – but won’t launch any others.
Experienced operator opens second site serving more than 100 gins: Experienced operator Steve Bazell has opened a gin bar in Warwick that encourages customers to choose flavours rather than brands. Bazell has opened That Gin & Cocktail Bar on Swan Street after 20 years in the sector and is one half of the team behind Stratford-upon-Avon’s That Little Gin & Prosecco Bar. He said: “The core concept is about buying through flavours, not through brands, and giving people a truly unique experience. It’s all about finding ‘your’ perfect drink. This method of ordering your gin is unique.” The bar will sell gins from local distillers in its armoury of more than 100 different varieties, plus a range of cocktails, wines and spirits, including five different types of prosecco. That Gin & Cocktail Bar also has a base gin that it can infuse with different flavours to offer something no one else sells. The bar was due to open in December last year but the third lockdown prevented it from doing so.
Pure Leisure Group acquires three holiday parks: Holiday park operator Pure Leisure Group has expanded with the acquisition of three new sites. The company has bought Country Holiday Parks and Doe Wood Lodges. With that comes Six Arches in Scorton and Cockerham Sands on the banks of the Lune Estuary, both of which are established sites with a heated outdoor pool and hospitality operations. The third park is Coniston View, which sits on the Furness peninsula near Ulverston. It means Pure Leisure Group now operates 19 holiday parks across the UK, as well as the Gledfield Highland Estate in northern Scotland and the Royal Westmoreland golf resort in Barbados. Owner John Morphet said: “All three parks are of an excellent standard and we know they will be a perfect addition to our collection of quality, picturesque and family friendly holiday parks. The demand for UK breaks is unprecedented so this expansion could not come at a better time.”
Leeds-based Further Afield Pubs to open second site: Leeds-based Further Afield Pubs, which is behind the Beck & Call in Meanwood, is to open its second site. The company is relaunching The Crown Hotel, in the village of Boston Spa, on Wednesday (26 May), following a nine-year closure. The grade-II listed building, on the corner of Church Street and High Street, has undergone an extensive renovation over the past 12 months costing in the region of £1.2m. The venue that will create about 25 jobs will feature an open kitchen, private dining space and a newly constructed conservatory, named The Stables, which will sit among a new landscaped garden, reports The Business Desk. Dishes will include beer battered haddock and chips, steak and treacle ale pie, and a traditional roast as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
Greg Dyke-led hotel group acquires Stockport venue for June reopening: Former BBC and FA boss Greg Dyke has expanded the portfolio of his Vine Hotels group by adding a 149-bedroom venue in Stockport. Bredbury Hall Hotel, which previously hosted a 200-cover Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill but was placed into administration last year, is set to reopen in June and will create 100 jobs. It also comprises a 60-cover lounge bar and brasserie, ten meeting rooms for up to 200 people, a fitness centre and a 16th century barn space capable of holding up to 900 people. Located in seven acres of landscaped gardens and walking trails in south Manchester, Bredbury Hall Hotel became a victim of the pandemic, closing in March 2020 and subsequently being placed in administration in October 2020 with the loss of 90 jobs. Vine Hotels was supported in the acquisition with an investment from Connection Capital and plans to “invest significantly” in upgrading the property over the next two years and will immediately create 30 jobs, including the appointment of an experienced management team spearheaded by general manager Scott McDonald. Dyke said: “Bredbury Hall is an exciting property. Combining a superb location with heritage and a long-established connection with its local community. It has immense potential for the future and we look forward to helping Bredbury Hall take its rightful place as one of Stockport’s best hotels.”
Freehold of Clapham pub let to Stonegate sells for undisclosed sum: The freehold of The Clapham Tap, which is let to Stonegate Group, in London’s Clapham has been sold for an undisclosed sum. The property in Clapham Manor Street is let on a long lease, expiring in 2051 with a passing rent of £94,966. The lease provides for retail price index-linked uplifts. Coffer Corporate Leisure and Finn & Co acted for the vendor, LaSalle Investment Management. Lewis & Partners and Tydus Real Estate acted for the purchaser, a private individual. Mark Sheehan, managing director at Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: “There has been a mood shift with the reopening of the hospitality sector, which has driven momentum into the investment market. Leisure has proven to be resilient even in the face of almost a year of forced closure and, we believe, demonstrated its value as a secure long-term investment. There remains a shortage of public house investments available for sale. Institutions and private buyers have strong requirements for the sector and we expect further activity. Institutions, in particular, are looking at sale and leaseback opportunities for excellent assets.”
Energy drink brand Virtue closes £1.1m funding round to support expansion as it targets food-to-go market: Virtue Drinks, the clean energy drink brand, has closed a £1.1m funding round, which has been raised to support its ongoing growth and expansion in the UK and internationally. Now available in 30 countries globally, the brand has seen a 120% growth in sales year-on-year, with plans to increase sales further at higher growth rates. With this investment, the brand will grow its team, support new retail distribution, and implement upweighted marketing activation to increase brand awareness and launch innovation. As lockdown begins to ease, the drive in sales will now focus on the food-to-go market. Founder Rahi Daneshmand said: “With further capital to scale growth, this investment will allow us to bring clean energy to even more consumers across the UK.” Virtue Drinks has zero sugar, zero calories and no artificial ingredients.
Administrators bring Signature Living’s Shankly Hotel in Liverpool to market: The Shankly Hotel in Liverpool has been brought to market by CBRE on behalf of administrators, Kroll. The 125-bedroom hotel situated on an island site fronting Victoria Street, Whitechapel and Crosshall Street was owned by aparthotel operator and developer Signature Living. The seven-storey property also features the Bastion Bar and Restaurant, and two meeting/function and events venues that can accommodate up to 500 seated delegates or more than 1,000 standing guests and have wedding and civil ceremony licences. There is also a rooftop bar, known as the Garden of Eden. CBRE is handling the sale of the hotel on behalf of joint administrators Matthew Ingram and Michael Lennon of Kroll – formerly Duff & Phelps – who were appointed on 9 April 9 last year. Lennon said: “During the past 12 months, trading under the various pandemic restrictions has been strong, with a high number of bookings and demand for tickets to events the hotel has been able to host, in excess of the numbers allowed under the covid reduced capacity. Everyone is confident the hotel will return to pre-covid levels of trade once the restrictions are lifted.”
Company behind Glasgow’s Lorne Hotel goes into administration: The company that owns and operates Glasgow’s Lorne Hotel has gone into administration. All 30 staff members employed by Bellhill have been made redundant with immediate effect following the appointment of joint administrators Blair Nimmo and Alistair McAlinden, of Interpath Advisory. In a statement, the administrators said the historically profitable business ran into financial difficulties following the imposition of coronavirus restrictions in March last year. Although steps were taken to reduce costs and manage cash flow during the pandemic, the administrators said an “adverse legal action” against the company in May left the director with “no other option than to place the company into administration”. Efforts are now being made to find a buyer for the business. The Lorne Hotel, located in the west end of Glasgow, incorporates Bukharah, an award-winning Indian restaurant, and the Bilberry cocktail bar. The hotel has an extensive function suite and conference facilities with a capacity for 170 guests.
Inception Group to launch ‘Secret Garden’ outdoor space: Inception Group, which owns and operates concepts including Cahoots and Mr Foggs, is to launch a new 100-cover outdoor space in London’s Mayfair. Seating more than 100 guests, Mr Fogg’s Secret Garden, which will open on Tuesday (25 May), will be found through a concealed entrance just a few metres from the group’s Mr Fogg’s Residence site in Bruton Lane. The company said the new space would be “a covered and heated, secluded oasis that offers a much-needed respite from the fast-paced London streets. Visitors will find pergolas wrapped in beautiful growing vines and wheelbarrows overflowing with an abundance of flora and fauna.”