Star Pubs & Bars

Story of the Day:

Hubbox secures further investment, FY sales set to hit £9m, appoints new finance director

HubboxHubbox, the south west-based burger and barbecue concept led by Richard Boon, has strengthened its balance sheet with a further equity investment and appointed its first full-time finance director, Propel has learned.

The company, which opened its eighth site last week in Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, has secured further equity investment from chairman Alex Reilley and Simon Henderson, of Provenance Investment Partners. Private equity fund Provenance made a £2.2m investment in the then five-strong business in January 2017. At the same time, Hubbox has appointed Chris Hugo as its first full-time finance director.

Hugo joins Hubbox from Watergate Bay, where he spent 16 years as commercial and finance director. During his time at Watergate Bay revenue grew from £2m to £19m and Hugo oversaw the creation and financing of Beach Retreats self-catering holidays and Another Place Hotels. He was also founding director of Fifteen Cornwall.

Boon told Propel: “We are delighted Chris has joined Hubbox. His appointment seriously strengthens the senior management team and I’m looking forward to working alongside him and operations director Sameer Shetty as we look to grow the business and expand beyond our south west heartland.”

The company is forecasting net sales for its current financial year, ending 31 December 2019, will exceed £9m, up from £6.39m in full-year 2018. It also confirmed it had secured sites for 2020 openings in Mermaid Quay in Cardiff, Barnstaple and Royal William Yard in Plymouth.

Boon said: “Relocating our premises in Exeter and upsizing our first site in St Ives has really paid off. The new Hubbox Exeter is a completely different proposition to our former site in the city and, coupled with the bigger, better Hub in St Ives, we’re seeing some extremely healthy sales. Hub St Ives has averaged £72,000 a week during the past ten weeks.”

Pleisure boss launches association for independent licensees after handing back remaining pubs to Ei Group

The Licensees AssociationPleisure boss Nick Griffin has set up an association for independent licensees after handing back the remaining pubs in his business to Ei Group.

Griffin told Propel he had come to a “mutual agreement” to return the pubs in Brighton, Eastbourne, Maidstone and Westminster to Ei Group, which wants to run the majority as managed houses. Three of the pubs were handed back to Ei Group last year and Griffin has now reached agreement to surrender the leases of the remaining four pubs, including The Great Eastern in Brighton.

However, while the move sparks the end of Pleisure after more than 27 years, Griffin is now “looking to give something back to the industry” by setting up The Licensees Association, which aims to represent the interests of licensees nationally. He said: “I think this is something that’s badly needed. A lot of the organisations representing licensees are doing it on a regional basis or are bigger trade bodies that also represent other areas of the sector. We are aiming to represent independent licensees across the nation and give them a much-needed voice.”

Griffin said annual membership would be £95 but it would be a not-for-profit organisation. He added: “I am going to have to fund it myself for a couple of years but I’m determined to make it work and give something back to the industry. I’ve worked in it since I was a young man and want to make sure publicans are properly represented. Giving them the assistance and support they need is going to be a full-time job in itself. It’s not just about representation, though.

“If you can get publicans together, the buying power of that group is huge. Ei Group has 4,000 pubs and has managed to secure supplier agreements and there are a lot more than 4,000 independent publicans out there so that’s one of the key things I’m working on. It’s not going to happen overnight but it’s important we work on that. We need to make sure they are appropriate, of course, but it will be a big part of what we do.”

Regarding the end of Pleisure, Griffin said: “Ei Group wanted to run the majority of the sites as managed houses and I understand the rationale behind that but it’s sad to see the end of something I’ve worked so hard to build after more than 27 years.”

An Ei Group spokesman told Propel: “We are pleased to report that following the conclusion of positive and amicable discussions with Pleisure, The Great Eastern, together with two other pubs it operates in Brighton, will transition to Bermondsey Pubs, which operates a number of highly successful venues across the country.”

Other News:

Deliveroo BikesDeliveroo has moved to strengthen its management team by appointing a senior executive from Burger King and Tim Hortons owner Restaurant Brands International (RBI).

Propel understands the company has appointed Stephen Goldstein, former senior vice-president – head of business development/mergers and acquisitions, RBI EMEA, as head of global business development and strategic partnerships.

Goldstein spent more than four years at RBI including a stint as senior vice-president – president at Tim Hortons USA. He follows the appointment earlier this year of Cengiz Rahmioglu, former strategy director at Leon, as Deliveroo’s new head of restaurant strategy.

Propel revealed last week that Dan Warne, Deliveroo managing director for UK and Ireland, had unexpectedly left the business. Warne had led the UK and Ireland business since August 2014 and was also vice-president for global strategic partnerships. Warne is understood to have played a key role in the growth of the business in the UK and building key operator relationships. Deliveroo is believed to be searching for a successor for Warne.

Rosa's Thai Cafe and Saiphin MoorePrivate equity firm Connection Capital has acquired a small stake in Rosa’s Thai Cafe, which is now targeting 45 sites across the UK in the next five years. Rosa’s Thai Cafe currently trades from 17 restaurants, with the majority in London plus outlets in Leeds and Liverpool.

Connection Capital has come on board after acquiring the stake from private equity firm TriSpan. Rosa’s is now targeting a UK-wide roll-out to 45 sites, consisting of restaurants and grab-and-go outlets, in the next five years. Established in 2008 by Alex and Saiphin Moore (pictured), Rosa’s Thai Cafe is now run by ex-Wahaca director Gavin Adair as chief executive with former YO! chief executive Robin Rowland as chairman.

Bernard Dale, managing partner at Connection Capital, said: “Rosa’s differentiated and well thought-through business model puts it in an excellent position to exploit growth opportunities, even with today’s macro-market headwinds. We’re delighted to have come on board with TriSpan to back Rosa’s experienced management team as it takes the business forward.

“We believe TriSpan has the right deal rationale and value creation strategy to make this an exciting opportunity for our clients – buying into a top-performing concept poised to take advantage of trends for fast-casual Asian food, healthy eating and delivery. As well as carefully timing the roll-out pipeline to take advantage of favourable retail site opportunities, a focus on developing central capabilities and operational improvements should drive growth even in more mature sites.”

Connection Capital previously participated in Duke Street Capital and Hutton Collins’ syndicated investment in Wagamama in 2011, with a 3.4 times money return for its private investor clients when the brand was bought by The Restaurant Group last year.

VQ Restaurants, the extended-hours restaurant concept, has launched a virtual delivery brand called Top Dogs, Propel understands. The six-strong group is working with Deliveroo on the concept, which offers hotdogs priced between £5.95 and £6.95, including the Bacon Yum Dog and the Baconnaise Dog, from its sites in London.

Earlier this year the company launched a takeaway and delivery concept in Clapham, south west London, which it will look to roll out if successful. It launched the smaller-format site, which focuses predominantly on takeaway trade, in Clapham High Street. The pared-back menu focuses on burgers, salads and starters.

The Simon Prideaux-led company opened the fifth site under its 24-hour bar restaurant concept last year in Euston, at Euston Square Hotel. The opening followed sites in Bloomsbury, Aldgate, Notting Hill and Chelsea. Prideaux, who is backed by Richard Northcott, chairman of Theo Fennell, has previously said he would like to open ten sites in the capital under its core format. Alexander “Langy” Langlands Pearse, chief executive of Cirrus Inns, is a non-executive director of VQ.

High street general viewA new White Paper on the future of retail by marketing, technology and data company CACI finds the high street is “far from dead”.

The paper, which will be presented at the Revo Conference and Exhibition in Liverpool this week by Alex McCulloch, director of CACI Property Consulting Group, has found stores have a key role to play in driving significant incremental sales – for every £1 spent online outside a store’s catchment, £2.06 is spent online inside that catchment. This is in addition to spend in the store itself.

CACI said with more than 50% of the UK’s population aged under 38, as millennials started families they had less time and money which, coupled with technology as a natural part of their lives, was leading to a drop in footfall at retail and leisure destinations. Despite this, those who do shop in-store, particularly the young and old, are happier with the experience.

Average Net Promoter Scores have risen 30% across the industry in the past five years. Similarly, spend on food and drink as part of a shopping trip has also grown every year for the past five years. CACI said institutions such as the government and many landlords and retailers were failing to understand the reality of how consumers use stores.

McCulloch said: “Landlords and retailers, together with the government and financial institutions, need to better understand the many roles stores play. While their purpose varies by demographic and category, physical stores add significant value in the overall picture of consumer spend. The industry needs to listen to consumers, trial new concepts and learn from what they discover. Consumers are in charge and the industry must inspire, engage and innovate much more widely and effectively. While bricks and mortar retail faces challenges, it is far from dead. Physical stores have a vital role to play in the future but we all need to treat them differently, as well as the overall destination experience of which they are part.”

The government has announced almost 70 high streets across England are to be revitalised by a £95m cash injection. The Historic High Streets campaign has been established to combat the increasing competition from online outlets, which are putting stores under growing pressure. The cash boost is designed to help breathe life into a host of historic buildings and areas in a number of towns and cities.

Family-run artisan bakery and cafe business Coughlans is seeking investment for its next stage of growth. The company operates a 29,000 square foot bakery and 22 retail outlets across south London, with two more under development.

Coughlans recently aligned itself to emerging trends by developing a range of vegan bakery products, focusing on a quality coffee offer and building a strong social media presence. The company is now working with agent Christie & Co to seek new investors to drive an ambitious expansion programme.

Coughlans owner Sean Coughlan said: “We are in an unprecedented position compared with most bakers as we started our plant-based journey more than two years ago. Being part of the family business and with a skill set in developing recipes and coming up with new products, now is the right time to seek investment so we can continue to grow while developing the plant-based products that are in high demand from our growing customer base.”

Tom Glanvill, senior business agent at Christie & Co, added: “While some high-street retailers have been suffering from well-publicised challenges arising from oversupply, rental pressure and rising business rates in prime locations, Coughlans has been largely immune due to being well situated in carefully selected secondary retail locations. Like-for-like revenue growth for 2019 is in double-digit territory, with the phenomenal performance of recent site openings the icing on the cake. The current food production facility is only operating at 55% of capacity and new sites are readily available.”

Andreas KarlssonDenmark-based Sticks ‘n’ Sushi has promoted group chief operating officer Andreas Karlsson (pictured), who has overseen the company’s expansion in the UK, to chief executive and hired former TDC Group vice-president Jens Aalose as chairman of the board.

Aalose will replace Erik Holm, managing partner of Danish private equity firm Maj Invest, while Rod McKie’s place will be taken by Karlsson.

McKie told Propel: “After many years of leading the UK successfully it’s time for Andreas to take the helm. Taking the challenge to lead the business and coming off the board, after 15 months it is time for me to step back on to the board and Andreas’ considerable international experience will ensure the business continues to expand in all three countries.”

Karlsson told Propel: “I am delighted to be given the trust and support from the board to continue to lead our teams on this exciting journey and further develop Sticks ‘n’ Sushi.”

Maj Invest took a 49% stake in Sticks ‘n’ Sushi in 2013, while the founders remained the majority shareholders with a 51% stake. At the time, Maj Invest’s aim was to expand the chain’s presence internationally. Earlier this year the company’s founders sold a further part of their stake to Maj Invest, which now has a 79% holding in the business.

The company has 12 branches in Copenhagen, six in London and one each in Oxford, Cambridge and Berlin. Karlsson told Propel its next London site would open in Beak Street, Soho, on Wednesday, 9 October.

Brothers Jens and Kim Rahbek launched the brand about 25 years ago along with Thor Andersen. In the financial year 2017-2018, the company reported sales of €66m (£59m), while Ebitda was circa €3.4m.

Bill's refurbished restaurant in HammersmithRichard Caring-backed business Bill’s Restaurants has appointed Nick Gray, formerly of Fuller’s, as chief financial officer, Propel has learned.

Gray was with Fuller’s for almost four years up to the £250m sale of its brewing business to Asahi earlier this year. He is a chartered accountant who trained with PwC before moving to Deutsche Bank, spending almost eight years in investment banking before taking on principal investment roles at Babcock & Brown and CVC Private Equity.

He replaces Colin Berry, who joined the business last April after two and a half years as group financial controller. It’s thought Berry is leaving 78-strong Bill’s to join Urban Outfitters.

Bill’s executive chairman David Campbell told Propel: “I am delighted Nick has joined us. He is already adding to the positive momentum in the business. I also want to thank Colin Berry for all the hard work he has put in during the past 18 months and wish him well in his exciting new opportunity.”

Gray’s appointment comes as Bill’s returns to the acquisition trail. It recently acquired the former Giraffe site in Manchester’s Spinningfields, which will reopen as a Bill’s next month, while Propel understands it has also secured the Giraffe unit at Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quays. It is expected to announce a further acquisition shortly, with the company understood to be in talks to open at Cheshire Oaks. Bill’s is in the midst of a series of restaurant enhancements, with a third of its 78-restaurant estate refurbished already and more being transformed before the end of the year.

Last week Propel revealed Bill’s had exited its site in Battersea, which would be replaced by Rosa’s Thai Café. In July, Bill’s reported continued growth, with like-for-like sales up 8% in the first half of 2019. The company said performance had been consistently ahead of the CGA Peach Tracker every month since late 2018.

Wagamama in BracknellWagamama, The Restaurant Group (TRG)-owned brand, has started hunting for a new chief financial officer following the departure of Nick Taylor, Propel has learned. Taylor, who has left the business to pursue other opportunities, joined Wagamama in June 2017 after three years as director of operational finance at Travelodge.

Propel understands Laura Wood, who joined the business at the start of April 2018 as director of financial planning and analysis, has stepped up to finance director and is supporting the finance team in the interim while the company completes the process of appointing Taylor’s replacement.

At the same time Propel has learned Wagamama will open the first site for its new food-to-go concept Mamago on the ground floor of the Fen Court building at 120 Fenchurch Street before the end of the year. The property features more than 30,000 square feet of office space and before the end of the year will include 14 Hills, the new rooftop restaurant from D&D London.

TRG said the Mamago proposition has been inspired by the Wagamama core business, with a menu of “made to order pan-Asian cuisine ranging from grab-and-go adaptations of Wagamama classics such as katsu to new and innovative, nutritionally balanced and flavour-packed dishes built for breakfast and lunch”.

Fuller’s is to launch an all-day dining and co-working concept following a £2m upgrade to The Chamberlain Hotel in the City of London as it looks to take advantage of increased demand for remote working locations. The Minories property will house a new lounge, restaurant, cocktail bar and reception, while retaining its accommodation.

The refurbishment also includes a co-working space in the ground-floor lounge. The 130-capacity basement cocktail bar will be called The Chambers and offer full table service. Mark Fulton, head of operations – hotels, told Propel Fuller’s decided to introduce the co-working concept because there were now “more professionals on the move and working remotely”.

He said: “Our goal as a pub and hotel business is to provide our customers with everything they need and, in a digital world, this is often well-placed power sockets and a strong Wi-Fi connection – and we have both in a number of our sites. We wanted to challenge our traditional approach towards hospitality and offer an all-inclusive space that serves great food and innovative cocktails while encouraging visitors to explore the rest of the venue.

“It’s the first time we’ve done something like this and it’s a significant investment but we’re confident it’s a positive change that reflects the needs of the modern consumer seeking a fantastic dining and drinking experience. Regarding The Chambers cocktail bar, Fulton said: “We have another cocktail bar at The Bull Hotel in Bridport – The Venner Bar. Understanding our place within the local market is something hugely important to us when investing in our pubs and hotels.

In the case of The Chamberlain, a cocktail bar was the right fit for its location.” The Chamberlain Hotel will officially open on Monday, 30 September. The project is the first major redevelopment at the 64-bedroom hotel since Fuller’s opened the venue almost 20 years ago.

CAMRAMore than 100 pubs have joined the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA’s) new voucher scheme since it launched on 1 July, taking the overall number of pubs accepting CAMRA vouchers to more than 1,500.

Amber Taverns is the latest chain to come on board, offering discounts on pints of real ale at its 89 pubs, joining JD Wetherspoon, Stonegate Pub Company, SA Brain, Castle Rock brewery and about 15 independents to offer the new vouchers.

CAMRA members are entitled to £30 of vouchers worth 50p off a pint on joining or at their next renewal, which has replaced the previous £20 of Wetherspoon discounts that were only applicable in 880 of the company’s venues. In addition, 3,500 pubs offer CAMRA members promotions through the campaign’s Real Ale Discount Scheme.

CAMRA national chairman Nik Antona said: “We hope by offering vouchers at pub chains and discounts at independent pubs we can drive footfall and better support the pub trade.”

Amber Taverns operations director Gary Roberts added: “Aligning ourselves with CAMRA and offering the voucher scheme is a sensible thing to do. It not only rewards our loyal regulars but may entice new customers.” CAMRA is encouraging more pubs to get involved in the scheme.

A dim sum concept from a new company backed by the co-founder of Burger & Lobster is to replace Wild Honey in Mayfair, Propel has learned.

Novators Hospitality, which is backed by Misha Zelman and led by Tim Mills, former operations director at Pho and head of operations at Paul UK, plans to open the yet to be named concept on the site in St George Street at the start of next year. Agent Seb Howard Property acted on the deal.

Last week, Propel reported the Mayfair site, which formerly housed chef proprietor Anthony Demetre’s Wild Honey, had been sold. The 2,267 square foot unit achieved a rent of £103,000 per annum and a six-figure premium. The site comprises a 1,104 square foot ground-floor area and a 1,163 square foot basement.

The lease runs until 2033. Demetre put Wild Honey on the market in January this year, closing the restaurant on 1 March before reopening it at the Hotel Sofitel London St James on the corner of Waterloo Place and Pall Mall.

Buzzworks Holdings has opened its first dedicated pub – The T-Bar in AyrBuzzworks Holdings, one of Scotland’s fastest growing independent restaurant and bar operators, has recruited a new people director.

Carole Lamond, who has more than 20 years’ experience in personnel and people development, has joined the family-owned business to help oversee employee development and retention as Buzzworks focuses on its continued growth strategy.

With its head office in Prestwick, Buzzworks currently operates 11 venues across Ayrshire and the east coast, employing more than 500 team members. As the business expands further, including two venues set to open in the near future, employee levels will continue to rise and Buzzworks is “keen to ensure it continues to deliver a positive working environment for all its workforce”.

As people director, Lamond will be tasked with building a people structure fit for growth, encouraging the continued development of all employees while attracting and developing Buzzworks’ leaders of the future. Lamond, from Glasgow, joins Buzzworks from Tesco Bank, where she held a number of HR positions including a business-partnering role. She has worked in financial services for more than 20 years in strategic and operational roles including talent acquisition, talent management, business transformation, reward and capability.

Buzzworks Holdings managing director Kenny Blair said: “Securing Carole as our new people director is a fantastic coup for the business, with the role our most senior appointment to date. This is testament to our ambition to grow Buzzworks. Our philosophy is simple, if we look after our people, they will look after our customers. This practice of enlightened hospitality is integral in creating the foundations of a long-term, successful hospitality business.”

Buzzworks has been on the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For In The UK list for the past four years.

Tim Martin

Propel reports on JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin’s comments following Friday’s (13 September) full-year results:

Current trading: Like-for-like sales for the six weeks to 8 September 2019 were up 5.9% and the company has made a “reasonable” start to the financial year. Martin told Propel the company would continue to try to sustain the current level of performance by keeping “doing what we’re doing”. He said: “We don’t have anything special or new planned as such. It’s about focusing efforts on all areas of the business and continuing to listen to our staff and customers.” He added the company would need like-for-likes to grow “between 4% and 5%” over the year to mitigate the cost increases the company faces. Like-for-like sales for the year ending 28 July 2019 were up 6.8%, with total sales of £1,818.8m. Pre-tax profits were down 4.5% to £102.5m, compared with £107.2m the year before. Martin said: “We have increased sales by almost £100m in the year. When we floated on the stock market in 1992 they were £22m.” Like-for-like bar sales increased 5.8%. Food like-for-like sales rose 8.3% compared with 5.1% the previous year, while fruit machine like-for-likes were up 10.3% compared with 2.9% the year before. Martin said it was possible the latter increase was down to the clampdown on fixed-terminal machines at bookmakers.

Pub estate and expansion: Martin told Propel he believes the work the company has been carrying out to reorganise the estate during the past few years is now “largely complete”. The company has been shutting some pubs in areas where it had previously “over expanded”. He said: “There might be one or two more we need to close but it’s really going to be tweaks here or there.” Wetherspoon disposed of nine sites during the year and Martin said he believed that figure would fall in this financial year. The company opened five pubs in the period (four freehold and one leasehold), leaving 879 pubs trading in total, compared with 883 the previous year. Martin said: “We had 44 pubs in 1992 and at the turn of the millennium we were opening 100 pubs a year. In 2002-03 we decided to cut back but when the recession hit in 2008 we decided to increase the number of openings again and now we’ve covered most of the ground in the UK. There’s still room for us to grow, though. At one point we thought we might have 1,500 pubs but we accept that was a bit optimistic.” Wetherspoon expects to open between ten and 15 sites in the current financial year, which Martin told Propel reflected the fact the estate rationalisation was almost complete.

Average weekly total sales per pub at record £48,000: Average weekly total sales per pub are now at the record level of £48,000 including VAT, compared with £44,400 the previous year. Martin said the level was double that of a lot of its competitors. Sales have grown by more than 50% since 2009 and were at £11,500 per pub on average when the company floated in 1992.

Product swaps: Martin said the product swaps Wetherspoon had carried out to date had been “successful” but the company wasn’t planning any further swaps at this time. He said the introduction of Strika, a herbal liqueur from Chorley, in place of Jägermeister had gone “very well”, while it had also brought in Australian sparkling wine, which was lower in price with savings passed on to the customer. The company’s best-selling bottled cider is Kopparberg from Sweden, which is now being produced in a draught format in the UK. Wetherspoon introduced it into its pubs at the start of the summer and one million pints were sold in July. Martin added: “We have left the product swaps under review. We don’t want to be horrid to European suppliers – we genuinely don’t.”

Still the place to eat: Wetherspoon is the top choice for sit-down meals, according to data from CGA Peach, with 14% of consumers voting it as their preferred place to eat out. Nando’s was second with 10%, followed by Wagamama (8%) and PizzaExpress and Mitchells & Butlers’ Toby Carvery brand (7%). Wetherspoon is still the fourth most-used eating brand in Britain, behind quick-service outlets McDonald’s, Costa Coffee and Greggs. The company has an average food hygiene rating of 4.97 out of five, while 97.4% of its pubs have achieved the maximum score. Martin said the introduction of the Scores On The Doors scheme had been one of the biggest benefits to Wetherspoon in the past ten years because before then the company’s quality was perceived to be “not so good” due to its low prices. He added: “It is an amazing achievement by the staff in our kitchens and pubs. It’s not just hard graft – a lot of knowledge is also required.” Drinks continue to make up 60% of the sales mix, with average weekly sales of £28,800 per pub. However, Martin said the percentage of food sales had continued to rapidly rise, from about 5% in 1992 to 36% today. He added the company had tried to keep up with trends in recent years by introducing more vegan dishes, for example. In total, 248 of its pubs are in the 2019 CAMRA Good Beer Guide. The best-selling brand in Wetherspoon venues continues to be Lavazza coffee, while its biggest-selling draught drink is Pepsi, although coffee and tea out-sell it when combined. He said: “That’s where the big non-alcoholic market is to me – coffee and tea – but non-alcoholic beer is catching on. We’ve introduced three or four of them in the past couple of months and they are selling well.” Martin said there had also been a massive movement towards gin. He added if the UK leaves without a deal and tariffs are reduced in a “meaningful” way, the company would look to expand the range of products where it lowered prices. Martin said the company was still making a profit on Ruddles after cutting the cost of a pint by 20p, with the company citing it as an example of how leaving the EU customs union could reduce prices. He said the company was still paying Greene King the same price for the product.

Costs keep climbing: The company has continued to see costs climb at a “hefty rate”. Wages have increased 12.9% to £71.4m, which Martin said was mainly due to the fact unemployment was at a record low, which naturally pushed wages up. He said this trend should help sales growth in turn. During the period there were rises in utilities (10.6% to £5.5m) and depreciation (3.2% to £2.5m) and interest rate hedges (25.5% to £7.1m). Martin said the latter was down to the fact the company thought interest rates would be quite high by now so made the decision to fix them – “I guess we were wrong”! Wetherspoon paid tax of £764.4m in the period, up from £728.8m the previous year. That worked out at £871,000 per pub. Its tax as a percentage of sales has fallen to 42.0% compared with 43.0% the previous year. Martin said the level of tax paid by Wetherspoon in one form or another was almost 1,000th of the tax paid by the whole country. He said: “Pubs are an important contributor to the country in many ways, particularly when it comes to pure finances. If a pub closes, it’s bad news for the economy.” Meanwhile, operating margin fell to 7.3% compared with 7.8% the previous year.

Pub investment and freeholds: The company reduced reinvestment in its pubs to £54.3m compared with £68.9m the year before. This consisted of £28.7m on kitchen and bar equipment, £18.7m on refurbishments, and £6.9m on business and IT projects. The company spent £77.2m on freehold reversions and investment properties during the period, a substantial increase from £16.3m the year before. In turn, this has taken the percentage of freehold sites in the estate to 61.4% from 58.7% the year before. Martin said the company had spent about a third of a billion pounds buying freeholds where it was a tenant in the past six or seven years. He added: “It is probably opportunistic to a degree – we got offered quite a lot of properties and just decided to buy them. There’s no science to it – it’s slightly instinctive.” Wetherspoon continued to spend about 4% of sales on repairs, with spend rising to £76.9m compared with £71.3m the previous year. Martin told Propel it was spending about £70,000 per pub and didn’t think that figure would “ever go down”. He said: “We believe it’s an important thing to maintain the quality of our pubs.” The average cost of development is now £2.64m, compared with £2.77m the previous year. The average size of openings during the year was 4,851 square feet, compared with 5,201 square feet the year before.

It’s a people thing: The company enjoyed record levels of staff retention, with the average length of service for pub managers now more than 12 years and two months and kitchen managers eight years and one month. The manager of the Crosse Keys in London, where Martin held his presentation, has been there for 23 years while the kitchen manager has been there for 18. Martin told Propel the company had reduced the working week for pub managers to 40 hours a week from 42.5. A total of £46m was paid in bonuses and free shares in the period, of which 86% was to people in its pubs. The figure paid is about 50% of net profits. The company had about 42,000 employees at the end of the period, of which almost 13,000 were shareholders. Martin said: “At the end of the day, pubs are about people. I think the pub companies that retain people for longer will be more successful. At Wetherspoon we believe the people who work in the pubs know best.”

Hotels: The company has 58 hotels having opened one during the period. Martin said the company continued to proceed “cautiously” with its hotel plans, although it will open its largest one to date – a 90-bedroom hotel in the middle of Dublin – in June 2020. Its current largest hotel has circa 50 bedrooms. He said: “It is a relatively small part of the business. We’ve opened quite a few in the past three or four years so we’re just seeing how it goes. I don’t think we’ll end up being the Hilton hotels of the pub world.” Hotel like-for-like sales were up 6.8% in the period.

Brexit and tariffs: Martin said he firmly believes eliminating tariffs and adopting a free-trade approach through a no-deal Brexit would lead to prices going down and the country having a stronger economy. Martin said the points raised in the government’s Operation Yellowhammer document, which he dubbed “Operation Yellowspanner”, about rising prices and damage to the economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit were a “worst-case scenario prediction rather than fact”. He added: “If I was planning a business it’s perfectly legitimate to plan for the downside so I think it’s a sensible approach to say what might happen if all these things go wrong. If you remember the debate about the euro, people said if we don’t join it would expose businesses in this country to currency risk and they would relocate to the continent and the UK would be in terrible trouble, and that proved not to be true.” Martin said he was not a “lobbyist” but would continue to make the case in the way he does over Brexit. He said: “I don’t knock on the door of a minister or take them out for a pint.” He said while immigration was needed in the UK, it needed to be “controlled by our own government and not by people we haven’t elected”. He added: “I think the EU has given immigration a bad name. I would be a strong advocate of a reasonable level of immigration.” Martin said he had received no complaints about including his views on Brexit within the company’s trading statements. With regards to the beer mats on Brexit that were put out in pubs, the decision whether to do so was the manager’s. He joked: “If we leave on 31 October we’re planning a party that will make the 1997 Queen’s Jubilee appear like a vicar’s tea party – there will be dancing in the streets and break-dancing in our pubs.”

Corporate governance: Martin maintained the company’s stance over its corporate governance policy despite one unnamed shareholder being unhappy about Martin remaining as chairman beyond the nine-year tenure. Martin said: “A company like ours depends on experience. What corporate governance has done is to institutionalise inexperience. I think it is a very damaging system and should be called ‘guaranteed eventual destruction’. The system has been brought in to try to stop the Robert Maxwell-type scandals but they are a minority of the problems that face businesses and what it’s doing is creating very unstable boards. We love competing against businesses that comply with the corporate governance rules because they are generally inexperienced because of the personnel chopping and changing and have relatively short-term objectives. To have an incentive to get it right, you must have a longer-term perspective. People buy shares in us not because they like me but because an established bunch of people run the business.”

Social media: Martin said the company had seen no adverse impact from its decision to remove its presence on social media last year. He said: “I think it was a good move for us. In pubs it pays to concentrate on front of house and the customer.”

Analyst’s view: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy said: “Wetherspoon reported full-year revenue growth of 7.4% year-on-year to £1,818m as expected. Like-for-like growth was 6.8% for the full year, broadly in line with the picture at the 49-week pre-close statement. This concludes another stellar year of like-for-like growth relative to peers. Ebit was flat year-on-year at £132m and profit before tax was down 4.5% to £102.5m, in line with our £102.4m forecast. Net debt at year end was £737m and net debt/Ebitda was 3.36 times, slightly better than it had guided at the third quarter. Trading for the first six weeks to 8 September has continued strongly, with like-for-like sales growth of 5.9%. This is a strong outcome given like-for-likes were up 5.5% in the early part of FY19. With regard to outlook, the group noted it currently anticipates a ‘reasonable outcome’ to the current financial year. We currently forecast circa 3.4% growth in profit before tax to £106m (higher end of consensus range). Wetherspoon continues to attract a premium valuation to both its peer group and history and has outperformed the wider UK market by more than 20% in share price terms year to date. We believe this is partly owing to its defensive attributes, but its differentiated value-based model remains an area of competitive advantage. This has helped drive like-for-like growth at a multiple of peers in the past 24 months. We moved Wetherspoon to ‘Hold’ in February as valuation was high relative to forecast earnings growth. FY20 has commenced strongly. Trading on 20 times price-to-earnings ratio and 10.3 times EV/Ebitda, we maintain our ‘Hold’ recommendation.”

Vinoteca will open its sixth and largest site in Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in OctoberPrivate equity firm Gresham House Ventures has acquired a stake in wine bar and restaurant concept Vinoteca, Propel has learned.

The current backer of Pho and Rockfish is believed to have beaten Foresight and BGF to acquire a significant minority stake in the five-strong business, which was founded by Brett Woonton, Charlie Young and Elena Ares in 2005, to support its expansion plans.

Earlier this year Propel revealed Vinoteca, which will open its first bar restaurant outside London as part of the Paradise development in Birmingham city centre in early 2020, had appointed Dow Schofield Watts London to advise on funding options.

Sector investor Paul Campbell acquired a stake in the then two-strong business at the end of 2012. Propel understands Campbell will become chairman of the business on the back of the new investment. Young and Woonton, who met 19 years ago when they worked at Liberty Wines, opened the first Vinoteca in Farringdon before expanding to sites in Marylebone, Chiswick, King’s Cross and the City.

Earlier this year the company reported strong sales growth in 2018/19, with total sales in the year to the end of March 2019 up 5.8% to £7.57m. The business saw good overall like-for-like sales growth in the year, particularly at its venues in King’s Cross and Bloomberg’s headquarters in the City.

Managing director Young told Propel at the time: “We are delighted with the performance last year, particularly at King’s Cross and Bloomberg, and we are incredibly excited about our plans to open at the Paradise scheme in Birmingham. Vinoteca is increasingly the wet-led tenant of choice in these prestigious developments.”

Giggling Squid founders Pranee and Andy LaurillardGiggling Squid founder Pranee Lorillard (pictured) has been named Wireless Social Women’s Entrepreneur of the Year at this year’s Women’s Entrepreneur Conference.

Laurillard was presented with the trophy by Wireless Social chief executive Julian Ross. He said: “We are delighted to have supported this award for the outstanding female entrepreneur of the year in hospitality. Pranee has built Giggling Squid into one of the UK’s largest Thai restaurant chains, with more than 30 sites.

“It was Pranee who told her husband Andy (also pictured) in 2002 she wanted to open a Thai restaurant and the couple remortgaged their house to fund their first site, in Brighton. Andy describes Pranee as the ‘brains behind the operation’, overseeing menu creation and development, while she also leads on the operations side.”

Pranee was joined by Dorothy Purdew (Champneys), Joycelyn Neve (Seafood Pub Company) and Saiphin Moore (Rosa’s Thai Cafe) on the shortlist for the award, which was selected from industry nominations. The award was presented at the end of the Women’s Entrepreneur Conference, organised by Propel and Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott.

Building on last year’s debut event, the sector’s only conference to feature an all-female line-up of company leaders, more sector-leading female entrepreneurs shared their stories and expertise as they looked to inspire more women to take the plunge and set up their own business.

Cabana, the Brazilian barbecue group founded by Jamie Barber and David Ponte, went into administration last month after facing a funding shortfall of up to £700,000 it was unable to bridge.

A statement of administrators’ proposal by Steve Absolom and William Wright, of KPMG, revealed secured creditor HSBC was owed about £300,000 and it was expected it would face a shortfall in the funding provided. Neither preferential or unsecured creditors are expected to receive a dividend.

At the point of administration Cabana had turnover of about £10m and was funded by an overdraft facility and loan with HSBC, secured loan notes totalling about £1.5m, and more than 70 shareholders through a variety of unsecured loans and equity investment.

Despite efforts to stabilise the business during 2018, Cabana continued to face liquidity issues caused by the continued slowdown of the casual dining sector, an onerous lease in Newcastle, and the impending expiry of the bank’s overdraft facility. With that in mind, Cabana appointed KPMG in June to explore investment, refinancing and sale options.

The report stated: “In the first five years of trading the company expanded rapidly, opening 11 restaurants. The business, and the casual dining market more widely, experienced a marked slowdown in 2017, which resulted in several of the company’s sites becoming unprofitable. In light of this the management team embarked on a ‘stabilisation plan’ throughout 2018 that involved exiting loss-making sites, reducing central costs, and moving to a monthly rental model.

“Despite efforts to stabilise the business during 2018, the company continued to face liquidity issues. The company forecast a funding requirement of up to £0.7m in August 2019, which it was unable to bridge. The bank had indicated no additional facilities would be considered and the current overdraft wouldn’t be extended. In view of the challenging trading environment, the significant ongoing funding requirement and uncertainty around the appetite of key stakeholders to provide further funding to the company, the directors approached KPMG to explore options.”

The report showed six financial parties and 16 trade groups expressed interest in buying Cabana but the only offers came from Fired Up One and Hache Trading, two wholly owned subsidiaries of Hush Brasserie owned by Barber. The deal involved the five London sites and company assets while 156 employees were transferred. Two underperforming restaurants in Southampton and Manchester weren’t part of the sale and have closed. The London sites continue to trade as Cabana and operate alongside the company’s Hache group of restaurants and the original Hush in Mayfair.

Stocking up at Veggie Pret in ShoreditchPret A Manger, the JAB Holdings-backed chain, has chosen the EAT store in London’s Canary Wharf as the first to become a Veggie Pret since it acquired its 90-strong fresh food-to-go rival in June, Propel understands.

At the time the deal was agreed, Pret said it planned to convert as many of EAT’s stores as possible to Veggie Prets – 75% of EAT’s estate is in London with many close to an existing Pret. It has since placed circa 15 EAT sites on the market, including 13 in London.

A Pret spokesman said: “Yes, the Canary Wharf EAT site will be the first one to become a Veggie Pret. We continue to want to convert as many as we can and are currently finalising a review of the EAT estate to assess which ones can be converted.”

The first permanent Veggie Pret launched in September 2016 and the concept has expanded to three further locations in London and Manchester. Pret’s then-chief executive Clive Schlee said at the time of the EAT acquisition: “The purpose of this deal is to serve a growing demand of vegetarian and vegan customers who want delicious, high-quality food and drink options. The acquisition of the EAT estate is a wonderful opportunity to turbocharge the development of Veggie Pret and put significant resources behind it.”

Since the deal, Mike Rainer has been promoted to EAT managing director, replacing Andrew Walker. Rainer had been EAT’s chief financial officer since October 2016. Schlee retired as Pret chief executive at the end of July and handed the reins to chief operating officer Pano Christou. Schlee remains on Pret’s board as a non-executive director.

Staffordshire-based Parogon Pub Group saw like-for-like sales increase 4.3% in the first half of 2019, while the company will trade from its sites on Christmas Day for the first time. Co-founder Rich Colclough also told Propel the group was continuing to seek out “attractive” freehold sites in the Shropshire, Cheshire and south Staffordshire regions, while the acquisition of another multi-site operator was also a “feasible option”.

Colclough provided the trading update as the company opened its seventh site – The Red House in Lilleshall – following a £950,000 investment, creating 70 jobs. The company bought the property from Greene King in October last year. An eighth site, the Boughton Arms, near Crewe, is due to open in early 2020.

During the first quarter of 2019, The Swan with Two Necks in Blackbrook, which was the company’s first pub to open in 2007, was shut for five weeks for a £500,000 refurbishment. Despite the closure, the group saw revenue increase 1.2% in the first half of 2019.

Colclough said an increased focus during the period on maximising economies of scale with suppliers had translated into an uplift in gross profit from 68.1% to 69.4%, while improvements to its staff engagement programme had contributed to reduced employee turnover and a reduction in labour costs from 34.2% to 32.5%.

Colclough added: “Traditionally, about 25% of Ebitda has been generated in the crucial Christmas trading period. This year, for the first time, we are opening all sites for Christmas Day with targeted sales of £150,000. Reservations for the day are close to capacity.”

The Mayfair site that formerly housed chef proprietor Anthony Demetre’s Wild Honey has been sold. The 2,267 square foot unit in St George Street achieved a rent of £103,000 per annum and a six-figure premium, which has been undisclosed along with the identity of the new owner. The site comprises a 1,104 square foot ground-floor area and a 1,163 square foot basement. The lease runs until 2033. Restaurant Property advised on the deal, with no other agents involved.

Restaurant Property founding director David Rawlinson said: “While we have seen premiums reduce over the past year we are still seeing strong demand from international operators, who are taking advantage of the cheap pound, as well as experienced operators taking this opportunity to acquire otherwise hard-to-find prime sites.”

Demetre and Will Smith launched Wild Honey in October 2007 as a sister restaurant to Arbutus in Soho. It won a Michelin star within a year but lost it in 2016. In the same year Demetre and Smith sold Arbutus and Smith moved to Scotland to pursue private ventures. Demetre put Wild Honey on the market in January this year, closing the restaurant on 1 March before reopening it at the Hotel Sofitel London St James on the corner of Waterloo Place and Pall Mall.

Comptoir Libanais cocktailsComptoir Group, the owner and operator of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean restaurants, has reported group revenue increased 0.2% to £15.8m for the six months ending 30 June 2019, compared with £15.7m the year before.

Gross profit increased 2.0% to £11.5m, compared with £11.3m the previous year. Adjusted Ebitda before highlighted items was up 11.1% to £2m, compared with £1.8m the year before. Pre-tax losses reduced to £528,000, compared with £697,000 the previous year. It had net cash and cash equivalents at the period end of £3.4m, compared with £3.9m the year before and £4.6m as of 31 December 2018.

Comptoir Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush reopened in May 2019 as a new repositioned site following the extensive centre redevelopment and is trading “well above” the board’s expectations. The company currently owns and operates 25 restaurants with a further four franchise outlets. The group has not yet opened any additional sites this year as it continues to develop its property pipeline “with caution”.

Terms have been agreed on three franchised sites with its partner HMSHost – in Ashford and Dubai Airport, which will open in the second half of the year as planned, and a third site, in Abu Dhabi airport, in the first half of 2020. The company said franchise growth remained “an attractive and key contributor to profitable growth” for the business. The group said it remained focused on investing in carefully selected sites. Selective refurbishments have been carried out over the first half and will continue into the second half of the year.

Chief financial officer Mark Carrick, who announced in July he would leave, will now remain with the company after retracting his resignation. He was set to join Chopstix, the UK’s fastest-growing Asian quick service restaurant company.

Comptoir Group chief executive Chaker Hanna said: “Performance over the first six months of the year has been encouraging despite the continuing challenging economic climate and uncertainty around Brexit outcome. Following the extensive redevelopment of Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush, the new repositioned Comptoir opened ahead of schedule on 8 May. Since reopening the restaurant has been exceptionally well received and trading well above management expectations.

“As part of the Westfield development, we successfully exited from the Shawa restaurant on 2 June, having reached the end of its lease. The company also exited from the Oxford Shawa lease as planned on 31 March. Three sites were affected by extended temporary closures in the first half of 2019; the most significant being the Westfield Comptoir, which was closed for five months from the second week in January to its reopening.

“In addition to this, we had two temporary closures as a result of insurance-related refurbishments. The comparative sales for these three sites over the period of closures amounted to £1.04m in 2018. Despite the impact of reduced revenue resulting from these closures the group still reported revenue during the period above 2018. We are very wary of the exposure our sector has to increasing costs, particularly food costs, rent and labour.

“We remain confident that our sales levels are able to absorb these increases, and we continue to refrain from discounting, instead focusing our efforts on further improving the customer offering and experience. This includes our stance on providing our customers with the ease of access to our menus through our digital delivery platforms. In February this year we entered into an agreement with UberEats to widen access to our customers through a delivery partnership.

“We aim to significantly grow this important channel over the coming years. Investment in our people is paramount in order to ensure we continue to attract and retain the best talent in our business. As part of this, we have introduced an international accredited external leadership and management programme with our first tranche of managers enrolled on the programme. Our operational managers are also able to apply for our selective internal fast track development programme to help grow the pipeline of our future leaders.

“We have also further enhanced our digital people platform with its access to online training. Up until April this year, the business had been supported by teams across three separate locations. There is now one consolidated head office support team based in new offices in London Bridge. This has already enabled further efficiencies and the business will benefit from the synergies this brings to the group. In July this year we announced Mark Carrick had notified the board of his intention to resign from his role as chief financial officer. I am now delighted to advise Mark has retracted his intention to resign and will remain in office.”

Gerry Carroll has announced he will step down as chief executive of Hawthorn Leisure, NewRiver REIT’s community pub-operating platform, with effect from Tuesday, 1 October. Carroll will continue to serve as a non-executive director on the board of NewRiver Pub REIT, a subsidiary of NewRiver REIT.

Mark Davies, executive chairman of Hawthorn Leisure, will replace Carroll as Hawthorn Leisure chief executive. Davies already has main board executive responsibilities for the company’s pub portfolio, which represented 21% of total assets by valuation as at 31 March. He will continue in his role as chief financial officer of NewRiver REIT.

Davies said: “Gerry has achieved significant success in establishing Hawthorn Leisure as a market-leading pub platform and adeptly oversaw the sale of the business from Avenue Capital to NewRiver. I would like to thank Gerry for his expert contribution to the business thus far and we are delighted the company will continue to benefit from Gerry’s expertise and sector knowledge in his new role as a non-executive director.”

Carroll said: “Having successfully grown Hawthorn Leisure and overseen the operational integration of the pub portfolios over the past 18 months, I have decided the time is appropriate for me to step down as chief executive. The business is in excellent shape with a first-class team, including key members from the original management team, and I look forward to supporting the business in a non-executive capacity.”

NewRiver acquired Hawthorn Leisure for £106.8m in May 2018 and the company’s pub portfolio now includes more than 650 community pubs, positioning the business as one of the largest owners of UK community pubs, with ambitions to grow in a sector that “continues to present opportunities”.

WagamamaWagamama, The Restaurant Group (TRG)-owned brand, has appointed Daniel Blasco Fernandez to oversee its international expansion. Blasco Fernandez joined Wagamama as director of international franchise earlier this summer. He previously worked for franchise operator Grupo Vips, which operates Wagamama in Spain and Portugal, for 15 years.

He takes over from Brian Johnston, who stepped down as Wagamama’s international managing director earlier this summer. Johnston oversaw the expansion of Wagamama outside the US. During the past few years he has put franchise deals in place for the brand to make its debut in Italy, France and Spain. It currently operates 57 franchises sites around the world.

Meanwhile, new TRG chief executive Andy Hornby has acquired shares worth circa £300,000 in the Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s operator. Hornby bought 232,471 shares at a price of 128.40p each, totalling £298,493. His stake following the purchase was not given. Hornby took over as chief executive of TRG at the beginning of last month. Last week TRG reported like-for-like sales rose 4% in the 26 weeks to 30 June 2019. Group like-for-like sales were up 3.7% for the first 34 weeks of the financial year, benefiting from soft comparatives in the prior year.

Jean Bernard Fernandez-Versini has told Propel he is “really excited” to bring his Cosy Box concept to London next year. The restaurateur is set is to make his Cannes Film Festival pop-up permanent, with a first site launching in New Delhi, followed by Bombay, London and Los Angeles.

The New Delhi Cosy Box will open next year, with a £2m refurbishment “well under way”. The 300-cover venue will offer fine dining and host DJs and events. Fernandez-Versini has partnered with AA Hospitality owner and founder Akshay Anand to launch the venue. Anand said: “The Indian hospitality market has evolved significantly and we will see more and more international concepts launched here.”

However, Fernandez-Versini told Propel he was also looking forward to opening in London. He said: “London is where I live and I’m really excited to bring the Cosy Box concept here towards the end of 2020. I’ve carried out a lot of research and know Cosy Box will offer something nobody else does at the moment – a perfect mix between elegant and trendy, somewhere you can have a quiet, quality dinner but also a place you can stay later and have a fun night.

“We have delayed our plans for London slightly because of Brexit but that hasn’t put me off opening in London. I am just cautious and would rather take my time and make it rock to its best. We have been doing pop-ups for the past decade but we’re shifting gears now, evolving the concept and creating permanent venues.”

Essex-based pub operator Pie & Pint Inns is looking to partner with a bigger pub company in a bid to grow the three-strong brand, Propel has learned. Pie & Pints Inns founder Gary Downham said the company has a model that is ready to roll out with the right support.

The plan involves a partnership with Downham, who launched the private-owned company in 2008, remaining on the board to help the business grow. He said the company had a “three-point attack” to cover all trading situations – country dining, town and city – and its Café Crust concept, which is the breakfast offer Downham said could also be rolled out as a separate venture “in the style of Panera Bread”. The company has also recently launched Regional Town and Country – its lodge-style rooms at The Cherry Tree in Stambridge, which is already taking bookings for next summer.

Downham told Propel: “In the world of finding sites and finance it becomes near impossible to grow a business under your own steam to take it to the next base it deserves and a bigger brother is often needed. I see an existing managed house company bringing us into its business where it has undeveloped sites that would tick the box, cash to invest and a suitable head office that could support growth. All the existing management and staff would stay on to help a future partner to grow. We would also welcome a partner that could develop Regional Town and Country into the offer to give even more strength to the brand.”

Downham said the company had been on the verge of working with Punch, which prior to its sale was interested in rolling it out as a managed pub operation. Downham said he believed the company, which turns over £3.5m a year, was an attractive prospect for partners.

He added: “We are debt free. We have a simple, fresh food offer that could be easily replicated to roll out, an outside kitchen to cover demand growth and our own in-house accountant and cask ale brand, for example. We also have a partnership with Porsche cars GB to install Porsche-branded electric car points at all sites. A future partner would have a great business model that is turnkey and ready to roll out.”

As well as The Cherry Tree, Pie & Pint Inns operates The Castle in Great Leighs and The Hare in Roxwell.

Niche Katona founder of MowgliIndian street food concept Mowgli, which is backed by Foresight Group and led by Nisha Katona (pictured), has further strengthened its management by appointing Lucy Worth as operations director, Propel has learned.

Worth left Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group earlier this year, where she had been operations director for less than 12 months. Before that she was operations director at Byron for more than four years and operations manager at Gondola Group for three and a half years.

Mowgli, which recently launched in Cardiff, will open its tenth site later this month, in Leicester’s St Martin’s Square. The group is also set to open a venue in Bristol in October after acquiring the PizzaExpress restaurant in Corn Street, while outlets in Preston and Newcastle are also in the pipeline.

Qatar-based dessert concept Apple Butter is to make its UK debut. Adara Group will open the first venue in Covent Garden after securing the former Balans Soho Society site in Monmouth Street.

Apple Butter, which is based in Doha and specialises in homemade desserts, speciality coffee, and gourmet salads and sandwiches, will open the Covent Garden site before Christmas as the first of five outlets planned.

Restaurant Property advised Adara Group on the purchase of the Monmouth Street site. The 1,882 square foot site has an annual rent of £175,000, with a six-figure premium and a lease that runs until 2028.

Restaurant Property founding director David Rawlinson said: “Acting as sole agent, we are proud to secure this prime Covent Garden site for our client. This is the first of five sites it will open.”


Operations Directors ConferenceRobin Rowland, operating partner at private equity firm TriSpan and former YO! chief executive, has been added to the panel for the Operations Directors’ Conference, which takes place next Wednesday (25 September) at One Moorgate Place, London.

Rowland joins Ian Edward, co-founder of Hippo Inns; Peter Kemp-Welch, partner at Piper; and Paul Campbell, founder of Hill Capital Partners; to discuss investing in great operators. The event, in partnership with Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott, is open for bookings and will see company leaders from across the industry talk about all parts of the operating model, from building and leading an effective operations team to maximising profitability. Speakers will include Frankie & Benny’s managing director Ollie Humphries, Bill’s managing director Sarah Hills, Casper & Cole managing director Sam Lee, Oakman Inns and Restaurants chief operating officer Dermot King, Vagabond managing director Stephen Finch, Tortilla managing director Richard Morris, ETM Group owner Ed Martin, Pret A Manger’s new chief executive Pano Christou and former Fuller’s managing director Jonathon Swaine. There will also be another panel session where Miller & Carter retail operations director Sue Walsh, Pizza Pilgrims operations manager Charlie Warren and Caffe Nero managing director Glyn House will discuss building the right operations team while protecting the brand and delivering consistency for guests.

Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium subscribers and £345 plus VAT for all others. To book, email or call 01444 817691.

Restaurant Marketer & InnovatorThe Restaurant Marketer & Innovator “30 Under 30” list, which recognises 30 talented future leaders in marketing, innovation and strategy roles within the sector who are under 30 years of age, has opened its nominations for 2020.

Judges will look for creativity, confidence, commercial awareness, ability to collaborate, leadership skills and perseverance. They will also look for experience in senior stakeholder management, understanding of how to develop strategy, ability to self-reflect, and clear potential to be an industry leader of the future. Nominees should have at least three years’ experience in the hospitality sector. Nominations close on Monday, 30 September. They are anonymous and can be made by anybody by clicking here.

Self-nominations are accepted. Selected candidates will be invited to a presentation evening on 20 January 2020 at Google London and will receive a ticket to the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit. All those applying for a place will be automatically considered for the Future Marketing Leader of the Year prize at the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Awards.

The award is the pinnacle of the 30 Under 30 programme and up to ten candidates will be shortlisted. This year the prize will be accompanied by a travel scholarship, with the winner supported by a fully funded and co-ordinated overseas trip to aid their development, where they will meet industry leaders.

Programme co-founder and Think Hospitality chief executive James Hacon said: “The 30 Under 30 programme is great recognition by the industry of your achievements to date and highlights you as a leader of the future. As part of the programme you will be in a network of like-minded professionals, who you will meet and get to know. You will be our guest at international conference day and get invited to a presentation evening to network with your industry peers.”

Casual Dining SummitPropel has launched the Casual Dining Summit in which some of the sector’s leading operators – big and small, new and established – will share expertise and insights into how they are seeking to win in one of the toughest trading environments ever experienced.

The full-day event takes place on Friday, 8 November at One Moorgate Place in London and is open for bookings. The event will see a wide spectrum of company leaders and entrepreneurs from across the industry talk about the strategies they have put in place to make sure their businesses have been able to survive, thrive, evolve or pivot.

Speakers will include YO! chief executive Richard Hodgson, who will explain the group’s move away from being a pure restaurant-focused business to becoming a global multi-format, multi-channel company; Tom Molnar, founder of Gail’s, who will chart the brand’s growth trajectory and evolution into a growing force on the high street; Shereen Ritchie, UK managing director of Leon, who will set out how the healthy-eating chain has focused on its core offer to remain relevant; and Byron chief executive Simon Wilkinson, who will discuss the steps being taken to turn the brand around and how it plans to differentiate itself from the pack.

The day will also see Giggling Squid’s Andy Laurillard discuss how the Thai brand’s trading model is proving successful in the regions, its expansion strategy and potential; Red’s True Barbecue co-founder James Douglas talk about the rise, fall and re-emergence of the smokehouse concept and the lessons he has learned during that time; and Brasserie Bar Co chairman Mark Derry explore the steps the group continually takes to make it future-proof, its daily quest to control costs and improve NPS scores.

They will be joined by Prue Freeman, founder of fledgling group Daisy Green, who will discuss how the independent business has managed to grow a presence in London in the highly competitive all-day dining market; and Phil Eeles, co-founder of Honest Burgers, who will talk about how the business has avoided getting caught up in the wider issues the better burger category has faced, its culture and whether now is the time for it to diversify.

There will also be a panel session featuring Thom Elliot, co-founder of Pizza Pilgrims, Dan Houghton, co-founder of Chilango, and Gavin Adair, managing director of Rosa’s Thai, who will explore the benefits and challenges that come with offering a delivery option, its impact on business models, staff and expansion opportunities. NPD Group insights director Dominic Allport will highlight the underlying rude health of the sector despite the well-publicised challenges.

Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “I am delighted to launch the Casual Dining Summit. The sector’s woes have been well publicised but it’s time to shine a much-needed light on how it continues to produce award-winning businesses, industry-leading innovation and national success stories. It is also an opportunity to show how broad a church the sector is, from brands with a global presence to those with aspirations of having a nationwide presence and ones on the comeback trail.”

Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium subscribers and £345 plus VAT for all others. To book, email or call 01444 817691.

UKHospitality has unveiled the shortlisted nominees for the 2019 Dusk ‘til Dawn Late Night Awards, which recognise the best UK bar and nightclub operators. The nominees span eight categories and incorporate a wide range of trading styles, reflecting the diversity of the UK’s innovative bar and late-night sector.

The Late Night Awards, the only awards in the UK that recognise and celebrate late-night eating and drinking-out venues, will be presented on Wednesday, 16 October at the Troxy in Commercial Road, London. The awards will follow the annual Bar and Nightclub Conference for the late-night sector and night-time industries, with both events held in association with Propel.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The variety and sheer volume of nominations this year has been fantastic and the job of whittling them down to 36 shortlisted nominees has been tough. The diversity on show this year is a tribute to the vibrancy and vitality of the UK’s late-night sector and we are very pleased to shortlist the most dynamic companies at the cutting-edge of late-night hospitality. A thriving late-night sector makes a huge difference to a town and city, providing not only an economic boost but also acting as a very valuable social and cultural asset. Our nightclubs are world-renowned and Dusk ‘til Dawn is all about celebrating this brilliant sector. I look forward to this year’s ceremony and crowning the winners at what will no doubt be a fantastic evening celebrating this valuable and exciting aspect of the UK’s hospitality.”

The nominees are Best Late Night Food: Dusk, MeatLiquor, Eden, The Alchemist and Dinerama; Best Late Night Drinks: Dirty Martini, Be At One, The Alchemist and Revolution Bars Group; Best Late Night Entertainment: Bierschenke, Lucky Voice, Tokyo Industries, Deltic Group and Maxwell’s Group; Best Service & Team Development: New World Trading Company, Be At One, Adventure Bars and Deltic Group; Best Marketing & Promotions: Stonegate Pub Company, Dirty Martini, The Alchemist, Arc Inspirations and Urban Pubs and Bars; Best Late Night Bar: Oslo in Hackney, Piano Works West End in Leicester Square, Belushi’s in Camden, and Neighbourhood; Best Late Night Club: Viper Rooms, Eden, Tape Club and Fiction; Best Late Night Company: DHP Family, Mission Mars, Stonegate Pub Company, Deltic Group and Dirty Martini.

Tickets for the Dusk ’til Dawn Awards are £150 per head. Tables of ten are available or individual places. Meanwhile, tickets for the conference are £139 plus VAT for operators who are UKHospitality members and £195 plus VAT for non-members. Supplier tickets are £185 plus VAT for UKHospitality members and £285 plus VAT for non-members. Bookings for both events can be made by emailing Anne Steele at

Social Media For Profits Sep19The third Social Media for Profit Masterclass with all-new content is open for bookings. The event takes place on the afternoon of Friday, 20 September at One Moorgate Place in London.

Mark McCulloch, who has more than 20 years’ brand, marketing digital and social media experience that includes senior positions at Pret A Manger and YO! Sushi, will host the social media boot camp that will provide insights into how to build sales and brands using social media.

McCulloch will be joined by Alison Battisby, founder and director of social media consultancy Avocado Social. With almost ten years of social media experience, Battisby is a Facebook-accredited trainer and will bring the latest algorithm-busting insights. She will show the best way to use Instagram to tell a good story to drive bookings and the do’s and don’ts of working with influencers to best champion your brand. Battisby will also take you through the five key steps to ensure your social media adverts are working successfully, including targeting and budget.

McCulloch will talk about the hot trends and tips for 2020, including channels, content, what the great and the good are doing and some untapped areas operators may be neglecting. He will also look at growing a business’ reach and creating more content by making all employees in-house influencers as well as structuring your social media team and budget.

Meanwhile, with the rise of smart speaker users in the UK, Geraint John, founder and managing director of Move Digital, will look at building your voice-marketing strategy to reach customers and leave competitors behind. Tickets are £345 plus VAT for operators, £445 plus VAT for suppliers, and £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium subscribers. To book a place, email

Bar & Nightclub ConferenceThis year’s Bar and Nightclub Conference, organised by UKHospitality and Propel, is open for bookings. The event takes place on Wednesday, 16 October at The Troxy in Commercial Road, London. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, chairman of the Mayor’s Night-time Commission and a panel member of the government’s cultural cities inquiry, will provide an update on political and regulatory developments such as PPL price increases that are affecting the bar and nightclub sector. Karl Chessell, business unit director at CGA, will reveal details of new research on usage, areas of growth, and evolution within the UK bar and nightclub market. Paul Hayes, sales director at Design My Night, which operates in 13 UK cities, will provide an overview of where customer demand is strongest in the bar and nightclub market, key leisure trends and growth areas as consumers seek richer, more immersive experiences. James Scott, director of insights at Bibendum, will examine the key drinks trends in the UK bar and nightclub sector, looking at growth opportunities and gaps in the market. London Cocktail Club founder JJ Goodman will talk about the founding and evolution of his business, trading in London, staff training, and evolving cocktails and other products. Arc Inspirations founder Martin Wolstencroft will give his views on the evolution of bars and reveal how the company has modernised the sports bar offer with its Box concept. Peter Marks, chief executive of bar and nightclub company Deltic, will talk about the company’s investment plans, brand evolution, shifting dynamics of the late-night market and the growing importance of entertainment, digital capability and pre-booked sales. Propel managing director Paul Charity will talk to Aaron Mellor, founder of Tokyo Industries, about the ever-increasing importance of creating immersive experiences in the bar and nightclub sector, his ground-breaking Boogie Wonderland in Ibiza, the development of his boutique dance festival Lost Village, and operating a nightclub in Los Angeles. Mitchells & Butlers divisional director Susan Chappell will talk about evolution, product offer, staff training and marketing at its bar brand All Bar One, which is 25 years old this year. Leading licensing barrister Philip Kolvin QC will provide a personal perspective on the key legal issues and developments bar and nightclub operators face in the current climate. Kate Nicholls will talk to Sacha Lord, owner of the Warehouse project, about his career in the sector and his work as Manchester night-time tsar and also host a panel featuring Institute of Licensing chairman Lord Smith, Rockpoint Leisure founder Dan Davies, East Coast Concepts managing director Simon Kaye and Chase Consultancy principal Paul Chase about the trading, economic and regulatory issues the sector faces. The conference will be followed by the Dusk ’til Dawn awards. Tickets are £139+VAT for operators who are UKHospitality members and £195+VAT for non-UKHospitality members. Supplier tickets are £185+VAT for UKHospitality supplier members and £285+VAT for suppliers who are not UKHospitality members. Tickets can be booked by emailing Anne Steele at

The National Innovation in Training Awards (NITAs), run by the British Institute of Innkeepers (BII), is open for entries – with three new categories added for 2019. The event, organised in partnership with Propel, highlights individuals and businesses in the sector who put their people first. The BII recognises the importance of raising standards and professionalism across the industry as well as sharing best practice in training and people development. Successful NITAs entrants will be those that provide really great training – be they individuals, training organisations or sector companies. Judges will look for examples of those that truly put people at the heart of what they do – investing in their teams, innovating, motivating and striving for training excellence. Three new categories have been added this year – HR Manager of the Year under 30 outlets, HR Manager of the Year 30 outlets and over, and Most Innovative Recruitment Strategy. They join the other categories of Best Managed Training Programme Companies under 50 outlets; Best Managed Training Programme Companies 50 outlets and over; Professional Trainer of the Year; Best Apprenticeship Training Programme; Best Casual Dining Training Programme; Best Training Programme – Leased & Tenanted Companies; and the Franca Knowles Lifetime Achievement Award, which is an industry recognition award. The winner of the Franca Knowles Lifetime Achievement Award will be chosen by a panel led by Keith Knowles (pictured), chief executive and founder of Beds and Bars. The award will identify and recognise an individual who leads by example and can demonstrate people are at the core of what they do. The award is in memory of the late Franca Knowles, who was a multiple winner of NITA awards and passionate about people and training. BII chief executive Mike Clist said: “The NITAs are a key platform that not only help us highlight how vital the training and development of staff is to our industry but, crucially, demonstrate hospitality can offer individuals a rewarding and varied career – it’s so much more than just a job. Our newest categories reflect the advances in recruitment and retention of staff in the industry and the businesses that deliver outstanding mentorship and development for their people.” Entrants have until Friday, 13 September to complete their entries and can enter more than one category. Criteria for each award and registration forms can be found on the NITAs page at Each category will have a judging panel consisting of industry experts. Finalists will be announced before the end of September and will need to attend the final NITAs judging day at Wyboston Lakes in Bedfordshire on Thursday, 31 October.

A host of operators, including Azzurri Group, The Restaurant Group, Gaucho, Chilango, Loungers, PizzaExpress, Brasserie Bar Co, Greene King, Barworks, LT Management and EAT, are among those to sign up for Propel’s Premium service in the past two weeks. More than 200 companies now receive the Premium service from Propel. Meanwhile, Martyn Cornell will offer his views on why the Portman Group’s guidance on strong beer is “misguided” – and the threat it has to British brewers and retailers – in an article to be sent to Premium subscribers on Thursday (7 March) at 5pm. Propel Premium subscribers will also receive a 30-minute video on Friday (8 March) of Alasdair Murdoch, chief executive of Burger King, speaking about the role of leadership in business turnarounds. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, access to our database of 1,300 multi-site companies, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, regular video recordings of key speakers from Propel events and conferences, and regular columns from insights editor Mark Wingett. An annual premium subscription costs £345 plus VAT for operators and £445 plus VAT for suppliers – plus £50 each for additional team members. Email

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27th June 2019

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