Leon – keeping business open for NHS workers is right thing to do, no matter the cost: Natural fast food brand Leon has said it is costing the company more to keep the business open but it would continue to serve NHS workers as it was the “right thing to do”. The company also said if it “accidentally” made any profit during the coronavirus outbreak, the money would be spent on feeding hospital teams. Leon stated: “In line with government advice and support, Leon remains open to customers where NHS teams and essential workers need us. In the past week we have served 13,843 takeaway and delivery meals to NHS workers alone. All meals served to the NHS were at 50% discount. We have to do the right thing and continue to serve them. We have once again explained to our team members that no Leon person should work if they don’t wish to. Whatever each team member decides, we support them. If they choose to remain at home, we are helping them to access the government furlough scheme. The decision isn’t financial. In fact, it’s costing our business more to stay open. We have been inundated with requests from NHS hospitals and messages of thanks for what we have done so far. Meals for the NHS and homeless are set to be the vast majority of our work.” Meanwhile, Imbiba-backed Farmer J is to launch a grocery and prepared meal delivery service. The initiative – The Farmer’s Market – will see menu items, recipes, groceries and sauces delivered to those unable to leave their house. The business tweeted: “When we said we’ve got you, we meant it. Launching soon, The Farmer’s Market will see groceries, farm boxes, recipes and our Forkin’ sauces and marinades delivered straight to your door. So no excuses – stay home.”
Wasabi looks to leverage CPU and distribution to provide food for the needy:Wasabi, the sushi and bento chain led by Henry Birts, is looking to work with more operators to provide food for those that need it most as it looks to leverage its central production unit (CPU) and distribution capabilities. The move comes after the business temporarily closed the seven sites it had continued to operate for delivery and takeaway only. Birts told Propel: “We tried to keep as many stores open for as long as possible while it was safe for staff and customers to provide food for key workers and NHS staff. Now we want to be part of the solution of getting food to people who need it most. Through our CPU at Park Royal and our vans, we’re able to provide meals through our Home Bento range that can be distributed across the capital. We can leverage the CPU to produce more of these or support distribution of food where required. We are already working with great initiatives such as the Felix Project and City Harvest to make sure our surplus stock doesn’t go to waste. We are also working with other operators and UKHospitality to make sure we can distribute more food to those that need it – but it would be great to see others join us.” Wasabi, which is backed by Capdesia, launched its ready-made meals range in Sainsbury’s stores in early 2019.
Whitbread likely to breach covenants, halts investment programme as it closes hotels: Whitbread said it is likely to be in technical default of its covenants as a result of the interruption to cash flow caused by the coronavirus outbreak and is in talks with its banks about a waiver. The company is closing its Premier Inns in the UK and Germany and halting expenditure on refurbishment and expansion. It is in discussions with the UK government regarding using hotels near hospitals to support key workers. Whitbread said it entered the year with a strong balance sheet and access to significant liquidity. It has “material headroom” on its funding facilities and will pay all rent this quarter. However, it has taken a number of “decisive actions” to reduce cash outflow during this period, including room refurbishment plans, marketing, non-essential training and staff recruitment. All employees remain on full pay and should be eligible for government support. Repairs and maintenance capital expenditure has been reduced to a minimum, with the business now only incurring costs where there is a legal or health and safety requirement to do so. The board has decided not to declare a dividend for the full year. The company said the 12-month business rates relief was expected to save the business circa £120m in FY21, together with the contribution to salary costs of furloughed employees. It added: “The decisive action being taken means Whitbread is well placed as we face this uncertain period.”
Giggling Squid, Turtle Bay and Frankie & Benny’s among latest brands to shutter: Giggling Squid, Turtle Bay, Oakman Inns and Restaurants, Paul UK and The Restaurant Group brands Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito have become the latest companies to temporarily close their estates. All had previously offered delivery and takeaway options. A Frankie & Benny’s spokesman said: “A few days ago we made the announcement to convert some of our locations to delivery only. Today we have made the decision to temporarily cease the delivery operations too.” Oakman Inns and Restaurants closed all its pubs and restaurants on Tuesday (24 March) after offering takeaway and delivery from a number of sites, as did French bakery and cafe brandPaul UK. However, the company’s central bakery in Acton, west London, will continue to operate as The Bread Market to supply fresh loaves. Unsold items will continue to be donated to London-based charity The Felix Project for distribution to the needy. Chief executive Mark Hilton said: “While The Bread Market remains open, we have taken steps to ensure queues don’t congregate, marking out lines to denote the acceptable two-metre social distancing.” Deep Blue Restaurants has closed all 14 of its Harry Ramsden and 35 Deep Blue sites, including delivery services. Founder and chief executive James Low said: “We hope such actions, as harsh as they seem, will bring forward an end to coronavirus and a time we will only think of as a bad memory.”
Grind – no job losses thanks to government support: Coffee and cocktail brand Grind has said the government’s support package will ensure there are no job losses at the company. Grind has now closed its last three sites that were offering takeaway only – in Exmouth Market, Greenwich and Shoreditch. In an email to customers, Grind founder David Abrahamovitch wrote: “The past week has been the hardest we’ve faced at Grind, throwing the life and livelihoods of the entire Grind family into question. We promised to stand behind our teams and, thanks to the support from the government, we couldn’t be more relieved to say we will financially support our entire team through the next few months. No-one at Grind will lose their job as a result of this virus. For almost ten years we’ve brought you together across London but now it’s more important than ever we remain apart for the safety of our teams and customers. When this is over, we’ll see you at the Grind.” Meanwhile KFC, which will have closed all its sites by Wednesday (25 March), told the Evening Standard jobs would be “waiting for staff when we reopen”. A spokesman said: “All our franchise partners are committed to doing all they can – with support from the UK and Irish governments – to protect their teams’ typical earnings as much as possible.” Greek street food restaurant group The Athenian, meanwhile, is looking to open several delivery-only kitchens with Deliveroo Editions, inside and outside London. Until then, all Athenian staff are being given a weekly parcel with items such as lentils, tomatoes, pasta, olive oil, lettuce and toilet roll in addition to the free meals they receive during their shifts. The company said it would try to retain every member of staff during the crisis.
Shaftesbury defers rent payments for tenants, expects earnings to be ‘significantly’ below expectations: Shaftesbury, which is landlord to 315 pubs, restaurants and cafes in London’s West End, has said it will defer rent payments for commercial tenants until they resume trading. The company added it expected EPRA earnings for its financial year to the end of September to be “significantly” below expectations amid uncertainty arising from the covid-19 outbreak and restrictions on movement imposed by the UK government. There will be no half-year dividend and the full-year dividend will be kept under review. Shaftesbury has temporarily halted all non-essential expenditure, new schemes and acquisitions and is drawing down £150m against its revolving credit facility. It said liquidity currently stood at about £254m. Chief executive Brian Bickell said: “We are committed to supporting our occupiers and residents through this period of unprecedented upheaval in normal patterns of life and business activity. The ability of our commercial tenants to resume trading when current restrictions start to relax is our priority.”
Starbucks implements pay rise for all working employees during crisis: Starbucks is offering all employees who continue to work during the coronavirus crisis a temporary $3 an hour pay rise. Shortly after Starbucks implemented “catastrophe pay” for employees who felt sick or chose to quarantine, the company is now enticing employees to keep coming to work at its drive-thrus and delivery services in the US and Canada. Starbucks Service Pay will be in effect for all store-level employees until 19 April, the same period as catastrophe sick pay for those unable to work. Chief executive Kevin Johnson told Nation’s Restaurant News: “It is the responsibility of every business to care for its employees during this time of uncertainty, shared sacrifice and common cause.” Starbucks has continued to allow employees to access health benefits during the crisis and expanded its mental healthcare and childcare programmes. It is part of Starbucks’ aggressive strategy towards the pandemic. In China, the company closed more than half its stores for a month to diminish spread of the virus. Johnson said: “Though the situation remains fluid, Starbucks stores in China are on a solid path to recovery. The key takeaway is we’ll continue to exceed public health requirements when it comes to increased cleaning and sanitising protocols and social-distancing operating models to create the safest possible environment in our stores.”
Qoot Restaurant brands to give London’s most vulnerable children free lunchboxes: Qoot Restaurant Group, which operates a number of fast-growing brands in London, has made moves to help the capital’s most vulnerable children during the pandemic. Qoot is using its venues to offer complimentary meals to all schoolchildren eligible for free meals but unable to attend school. Eligible children will receive a free lunchbox compromising a sandwich, drink and snack. Qoot Restaurant Group chief operations officer Simon Wright said: “Covid-19 is an existential threat to the UK’s most vulnerable families. If Qoot can go some way to relieve that threat, then at least something positive will rise from this tragic time for the hospitality industry and our nation as a whole.” Qoot venues taking part in the initiative are By Chloe stores in Covent Garden, Tower Bridge and Oxford Circus; The Lebanese Bakery in Covent Garden; Dominique Ansel Bakery stores in Belgravia and Covent Garden; and Gentleman Baristas sites in Borough, London Bridge, East India Dock, Hammersmith, Holborn and Vinegar Yard.
Cake Box will provide ‘all possible’ support as it tells franchisees to shut stores:Cake Box, the specialist retailer of fresh cream cakes, has said it will provide “all possible” support to its franchisees as it told them to close their stores. The company stated: “Trading to date has been in line with expectations for the financial year to 31 March 2020. Given it isn’t possible to know how long the group’s franchise stores will remain closed for, the group is unable to quantify the full impact of covid-19 on its business at this stage. As well as lost revenue from the group’s franchise stores, there may also be an impact on the timing of new franchise store openings, although the current pipeline remains strong. Cake Box has a strong balance sheet with a current cash balance of circa £4m. The group’s only debt is mortgage debt of £1.6m secured by its freehold properties in Enfield and Coventry. The group operates a franchise model and therefore has relatively low levels of fixed costs and will take all appropriate measures to conserve its cash during this period. The group notes and appreciates the various actions taken by the UK government to support businesses and employees during these challenging times and will assess how best to utilise these while the group’s stores remain closed.”
Revolution Bars Group live-streams DJ sets: Revolution Bars Group has been live-streaming dance, Latin and Ibiza DJ sets to maintain the party spirit while its sites are closed. The company has worked with social media agency Social Chain to bring live music to consumers via its Facebook pages. The Revolution and Revolucion de Cuba pages got 233,400 views and reached 194,000 people – 24% of average monthly reach across both brands. Further sets are planned during the next few weeks.
Papa John’s starts hiring 20,000 employees in the US to keep up with takeaway and delivery demand: Papa John’s has joined Domino’s as the latest chain in the US to start hiring staff instead of laying them off during the coronavirus crisis. Papa John’s is looking to hire 20,000 restaurant team members, including customer service representatives, cashiers, pizza chefs, drivers, assistant managers and manager-level positions to keep up with delivery and takeaway demand. Marvin Boakye, Papa John’s chief people and diversity officer, told Nation’s Restaurant News: “We want to add talented team members to our Papa John’s family to deliver food safely to our customers’ doorsteps. We are in the unique position – as a restaurant that specialises in delivery and carryout – to help our communities through this crisis.” To get as many team members on board as quickly as possible, Papa John’s is mainly hiring online and via text. If possible, applicants will be interviewed on the same day and could even start work immediately. During the past week there has been a nationwide push in the US for customers to consider delivery. DoorDash has introduced an #OpenforDelivery social media and marketing campaign in partnership with other third-party delivery services that offers health and safety information about food delivery. Another social media push – #TheGreatAmericanTakeout – encouraged US customers to order takeaway or delivery on Tuesday (24 March) to support local businesses. As of 29 December, Papa John’s had 5,395 locations worldwide.
Burger King closes entire UK estate: Burger King, which had pivoted to a delivery and takeout-only model across part of its estate, has become the latest business to temporarily close all its sites. Until Monday night (23 March), the 500-strong company had still been operating the majority of its circa 150 drive-thrus. Burger King UK chief executive Alasdair Murdoch told Propel the business had taken an “hour by hour approach” on whether it kept them open. Tortilla was one of a number of companies that announced the temporary closure of all its sites on Monday after several had remained open to offer delivery and takeaway. Tortilla founder Brandon Stephens told Propel: “I think it took the whole industry a few days to realise if you shut ten or 20 stores you still have the head office to pay for. If you shut all your stores you can furlough the head office as well. That allows you to shutter and hibernate the company, which brings cash flow as low as possible. This also allows us to protect the health and safety of all employees. You can keep a small senior management team in the head office and everyone else goes into a safe furloughed status, with the government guaranteeing their livelihood. For all those reasons we’ve made that decision – and I think that’s consistent across most of the sector.”
Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan produces free ready meals for Cartmel community: Two Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan and his team in Cartmel, Cumbria, are creating free ready meals for vulnerable members of the village and surrounding community. Using ingredients from his Lake District farm, Rogan is working with the local church to identify those who are most isolated or at risk. Other residents can purchase the take-home meals for £5, which covers the cost of ingredients and will fund the production of more meals. Meals can be collected or delivered. The menu includes confit chicken with creamed spinach and leeks; beef and Anvil Beer stew; and cauliflower and chickpea curry. Sam Ward, managing director of Simon Rogan Restaurants, told Propel: “Hospitality doesn’t stop because the restaurants do. Right now we have the resources so we’ll use what we have to help our community. We are complying with regulations and taking all the necessary precautions. We only have one chef in the kitchen at a time. By the end of the week, we will be able to deliver salad boxes to the residents of Cartmel using produce from Simon’s farm. While we are able to, we’ll continue to do as much as we can.” Rogan is chef proprietor of eight restaurants and is also Bocuse d’Or UK president.
Applegreen – ‘we remain open’: Roadside retailer Applegreen has said all its stores remain open. It added: “We have implemented an extensive range of measures to safeguard our people and communities across our three regions. The group’s supply chain has remained fully operational and its strong customer service levels have been maintained. Given the ongoing uncertainty, we are unable to quantify the impact of covid-19 on our financial and trading performance at this stage. However, we expect a material reduction to profitability for the current financial year. The scale depends on how the situation develops, what time-frame and the impact of further measures taken by the governments in the markets in which we operate. The group is taking a number of actions to protect profitability and conserve cash – deferring development capital expenditure; reducing operating cost base; tight management of working capital including stock levels; implementation of a recruitment freeze; deferring executive director bonuses; availing of newly introduced government relief measures; and opening negotiations with landlords on rental holidays. In addition, to preserve liquidity the board has decided not to recommend a final dividend in relation to 2019 at its forthcoming annual general meeting. Our banks remain supportive and we will update the market more fully in the preliminary results statement.”
Fuller’s appoints Robin Rowland to board: Robin Rowland has joined Fuller’s as an independent non-executive director with immediate effect. The company stated: “Robin Rowland is one of the hospitality sector’s most respected characters and an experienced PLC director. He continues to be an active investor in hospitality companies and has previously held non-executive director positions with Caffe Nero, Tortilla and Marston’s. In 2016, he was awarded an OBE for outstanding services to hospitality. Robin started his career in 1984 with Whitbread and went on to develop and lead a number of pub and restaurant brands with listed companies including Diageo, Scottish & Newcastle, and The Restaurant Group. In 1999, he was appointed chief executive of YO!, which he took from three restaurants to more than 100 across the UK and US. He led several management buyouts for the company and spearheaded the acquisition of Bento Sushi in North America.” Rowland said: “I have a deep passion for the hospitality industry and the opportunity to play a role in the development of an industry icon such as Fuller’s is wonderful. The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented set of challenges for the sector but, when this time is over, it will be time for companies to come back stronger. I know Fuller’s will be one of those.”