Wagamama tests lunch delivery-only concept
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Scott Collins-led (pictured) concept MeatLiquor has secured its first pub, the Dartmouth Arms in London’s Forest Hill, which will open at the start of July, and the business may look to open more. Propel understands the 11-strong company has taken a new lease on the pub from Stonegate Pub Company, a deal that sees Collins return to the pub sector and the brand return to its roots. The first incarnation of MeatLiquor ran as a pop-up above a pub in New Cross in its early days in 2011. The residency was so successful it led to the opening of the first MeatLiquor restaurant on Welbeck Street in London’s West End that same year. Collins previously worked for and was shareholder in the Clive Watson-led Capital Pub Company. At Capital, his role was to source, buy, design and run pubs, including The Clarence in Balham, which won the Evening Standard Pub of the Year award in 2006. Collins said the Victorian public house, which has three bars and a 30-space car park, would be getting a “MeatLiquor makeover” and customers could expect the full MeatLiquor menu with the addition of fish and chips on Fridays and Sunday roasts. Collins told Propel: “When the opportunity came up, it seemed very serendipitous with it being ten years since the business started over a pub. Will we do more? It is definitely something we will look at, and perhaps have further conversations with Stonegate and other pub companies about. Our site in East Dulwich is around two miles away from this site, and although there is a lot of delivery competition in that area we are still doing circa £25,000 a week on average through UberEats. At Forest Hill, there will be less competition, more of a catchment area and we can take up the slack in terms of delivery from East Dulwich when needs be. There is also the possibility of having food trucks in the car park. But first and foremost this will be a pub, 75% a Victorian public house and 25% a MeatLiquor.”
The pandemic has provided City Pub Group with the opportunity to reset the business and gear it up for expansion, executive chairman Clive Watson (pictured) has told Propel. Speaking following City Pub Group’s full-year results, Watson said while there would be acquisition opportunities, he does not believe the market shake-up will be as severe as many expect because of government support schemes. He added while the priority was to “get some trading under our belts”, the company, which operates 45 pubs, would look to grow by targeting larger market towns – such as Guildford and St Albans – rather than bigger cities. “The business set-up was too complicated pre-covid,” said Watson. “Now we have one business and have it centralised. We have the right platform to grow and look to get to that 100-site mark. Coming out of covid, there is going to be caution but, as the fog lifts, we can start to slip through the gears. With Toby [Smith] coming on board, and he is a more experienced operator than me, we have someone who knows how to expand that side of the business. As we exit the pandemic, we will see what scars are left and have better visibility of where we are. There will a shake-out of the market but government support, which has been a life-saver to many businesses, means it won’t be of the level some people predict.” Watson said while consumer demand would “wear off a bit” over time once the furore of reopening lifts, he believes pubs would see less of an effect. He added: “With the popularity of box sets over lockdown and more on-demand services, cinemas and theatres may see an impact, but people are itching to get out again and see the pub as a safe haven. We’ve been trading pretty well since outdoor reopening started. We were making a profit when we came out of the first lockdown and I expect the business to be generating positive cash flow with indoor reopening.” However, Watson said further support would still be needed for the sector while the government would need to intervene on the rent issue. He did not rule out the company doing something around takeout and delivery, although he envisaged it being more along the click-and-collect route. “It’s something we are considering,” he said. “It’s clearly become a trend in the pandemic and we would be foolish not to think about it.”
Better burger brand Byron is to open its first new site in five years at Wembley Designer Outlet, prior to the spring bank holiday at the end of May, Propel has learned. The Simon Wilkinson-led brand has secured the Handmade Burger Co site at the scheme. Propel understands the design of the new site will be based on the original Byron heritage/look with “a few modern innovations, focusing on draught craft beer, great burgers and great milkshakes”. It will also feature order and pay at table technology. At the same time, Propel understands sales at Byron were 80% of 2019 sales levels last week with every site open except Westfield in White City, and most have limited external spaces. The business, which currently operates 19 restaurants, reopened in Manchester on 12 April, and has also agreed a deal to reopen its site in London’s Covent Garden. The group is also understood to have three further former sites in central London under negotiation with landlords. The business opened its fifth dark kitchen site at the start of April, at the Deliveroo Editions unit in Nottingham. At the start of this month, Famously Proper, the Calveton UK-backed parent company of Byron, acquired Mother Clucker, the London-based, buttermilk-fried chicken concept. The business will retain key members of the Mother Clucker team, brand identity and will look to expand the brand nationwide.
28°-50° Wine Bar & Kitchen, the Richard Green and Emiliano Isufi-led concept, is to open its fourth site, in South Kensington. 28°-50° Wine Bar & Kitchen has secured 69 Draycott Avenue for its latest restaurant. The dining room on the ground floor will seat up to 60 along and also house a central dining bar. The first floor features a dining area and private room. The business operates sites in Marylebone and Covent Garden and, in February, secured the former Byron site in King’s Road, as part of plans for further expansion in the capital. In keeping with its sister locations, 28°-50° South Kensington will serve French and modern European cuisine, alongside a curated wine selection. Green said: “The mixture of international and residents fits our relaxed – but serious – take on food, wine and service. We can’t wait to open.” The name 28°-50° refers to the latitudes wine-producing grapes are grown between. David Rawlinson, of Restaurant Property, acted on the South Kensington deal.
Soho House Group, the private members’ club operator, is to change its name and offer its shares to tens of thousands of customers as part of a plan to give it a flying start to life as a publicly listed company. The business is to rename its parent company Membership Collective Group (MCG) as part of an investor charm offensive to illustrate the range of services it now provides, reports Sky News. Banking sources said Soho House, which confidentially filed for a New York listing last month, was also working on a share offer enabling its 100,000 members around the world to subscribe for stock up to a specific threshold, likely to be several thousand pounds. The company is expected to trade under the ticker MCG on the New York Stock Exchange, and is targeting a valuation of as much as $4bn (£2.9bn). Reflecting its decision to change its parent company name is the fact it also operates The Ned, a members’ club near the Bank of England, and trades under the brand Scorpios, a club in Mykonos, Greece. Soho House raised another chunk of private funding last summer, but has decided the capital required for future growth is better accessed via public markets. Meanwhile, Soho House is bringing its Mexican restaurant, Maya, to London with its first permanent UK site at The Hoxton hotel in Shoreditch. Located on the rooftop of the seventh floor with a dedicated entrance off Willow Street, the 80-cover restaurant will open on Monday (17 May). After starting out in January 2019 as a pop-up at Soho House West Hollywood, where it now has a permanent site, Maya went on to hold residencies all over the world. Like the original location, the Shoreditch menu focuses on coastal Baja-Mexican food using locally sourced produce. Soho House, founded by Nick Jones, opened its first site in Greek Street in central London in 1995 and operates 27 private members’ clubs.
The City Pub Group, which operated 45 pubs, has reported a loss of £5.1m in the year to 27 December 2020. Revenue was £25.8 million (FY19: £60.0 million). It reported encouraging trading since outdoor reopening, with the 24 pubs currently open and trading at 77% of 2019 levels, demonstrating the high levels of pent-up demand. It said it had a platform in place to expand the estate to over 100 sites Clive Watson (pictured), executive chairman of The City Pub Group, said: “The business has been significantly improved over the past year placing us in an excellent position to take advantage of the pent-up demand as the country reopens. The early signs since we have been allowed to trade outdoors have been very heartening and it has been great to bring back our immensely talented staff and to see our customers enjoying our pubs once again. We are a streamlined, well-invested business with a first-rate customer offer. Our pub estate is unique in terms of quality and, with the step change in the business, we have an ideal platform to grow successfully in the future.” He added: “As regards our development sites, we intend to start work on the Turks Head in Exeter imminently, with a view to opening the site in early Autumn. We are committed to commence works on the Tivoli in Cambridge, The Nest in Bath and our new hotel/restaurant/pub in Mumbles, Swansea, and these projects will start during the course of the summer. The group’s estate of predominately freehold high-quality managed pubs is virtually unique in the pub sector. Our managed pubs have high levels of weekly sales, many pubs have great outside trading areas and the number of rooms across the estate has increased significantly over the last few years. On a normalised trading basis, the directors’ valuation of the group’s portfolio is approximately £150m.”
Gordon Ramsay Restaurants has appointed Antony Perring, formerly of Leon and Wagamama, as its new chief financial officer, Propel has learned. Perring, the former Wagamama finance director, stepped down as chief financial officer of Leon at the start of this year, after joining the then John Vincent-led business in February 2015. Previous to that, he spent eight and a half years at Wagamama. He joins Gordon Ramsay Restaurants as it looks to further expand its fledgling concepts – Street Pizza and Street Burger. The business opened its fourth Street Pizza, at Battersea Power Station, last month. At the same time, the company opened sites for its Street Burger concepts in London’s Charing Cross Road and below the chef’s new cooking school in Woking, Surrey. It has also lined up the ex-Byron site in Kensington High Street for an opening later this summer for the Street Burger concept. It is thought the chef is also in talks to take the ex-Gourmet Burger Kitchen site in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, for another Street Burger site. Ramsay is also believed to have made the highest offer to take the former Giraffe site in The Oracle in Reading.
Food-to-go operator Greggs is to open its first site in London’s Canary Wharf business district. Chief executive Roger Whiteside (pictured) said a reduction in rental levels now made such a move financially viable. Meanwhile, the business is set to open further transport hub sites, including openings in St Pancras train station, North Greenwich tube station and Leeds Bradford Airport. At the same time, Whiteside said the business would consider repaying £87m of government furlough support, but only when “the uncertainty [is] behind us and we’re clear how the year has panned out and exactly what our competitors have done”. Speaking after the group’s trading update on Monday (10 May), Whiteside said: “Never make a decision until you have to because you have no idea what’s around the corner. [Returning the furlough support] is something we, as a board, will consider at the end of the year.” In the trading update, the company said its sales had increased since non-essential shops reopened last month to above their 2019 level. Whiteside said: “We’ve done better than we thought we could under social distancing measures. There’s a lot of uncertainty still but we think it could be that we get back to 2019 levels of profit this year, when previously we said we couldn’t see that happening until the earliest next year.”
Operators are being urged to write to their MP to ensure the government understands the depth of the commercial rent problem, asking them to actively challenge prime minister Boris Johnson (pictured) on the issue. The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has put together a suggested letter that can be emailed to MPs. The trade body said with the end of the forfeiture moratorium looming on 30 June, the industry is desperate for a long-term solution. NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said: “Businesses owners will continue to take on further rent debt through this period, which will inevitably compromise their future. This needs government intervention and will require lead departments to use this period between now and the end of June to address these issues and look at potential solutions where the stakeholders share the burden of debt from rent arrears. Consideration needs to be given to a more robust code of conduct that would require some mandatory elements within it, similar to the Australian model, ensuring each stakeholder comes to the table to resolve this current situation. We need your support to ensure the government understands the depth of the problem by contacting your constituent MPs, asking them to actively challenge the prime minister on the current commercial rent issue.”
Burger King UK, the Bridgepoint-backed fast-food chain, is to begin a trial of a delivery kitchen site within the next few weeks, Propel has learned. Propel understands the Alasdair Murdoch-led, circa 530-strong, business is looking to open delivery kitchens across three locations, including Kentish Town and Wandsworth, with all set to come online before the end of the summer. It is thought the Kentish Town site will launch first. It is understood Burger King will team up with Foodstars, which provides kitchen space for food companies, for the Kentish Town and Wandsworth sites, but the third trial site will be with Deliveroo. If the trial sites are successful, it is thought Burger King will explore doing further delivery kitchen units. At the end of 2019, McDonald’s opened its first “dark kitchen” in order to establish how to meet increasing demand for delivery. The brand’s first kitchen-only location opened in Hanworth, west London, as part of a “wider trial to test varying restaurant formats”. Propel understands Nando’s also trialled its own dark kitchen site in an unnamed location, which has since closed.
Des Gunewardena (pictured), chairman and chief executive of D&D London, has said its City restaurants are leading a remarkable recovery for the business. Gunewardena said such had been the demand, the company had been extending terraces, creating new ones and also decided to operate its restaurants all day rather than just for lunch and dinner. He told City AM: “Our plan was to reopen 20 terraces with a total of 1,100 seats, of which some 800 were bookable. Within no time, we’d taken 50,000 bookings with several thousand more coming in every day. By the end of the first week of reopening, we had boosted seating capacity by some 40% to about 1,500. And in that week, instead of serving 20,000 customers as expected, we served about 40,000. It was quite remarkable. When we announced the creation of a new 50-cover terrace on the roof of our 14 Hills restaurant in Fenchurch Street, our booking lines were jammed taking 600 to 700 bookings a day. Similarly, when we sent out an email about extending our roof terrace at Madison, our reservations lines went ballistic with several thousand trying to book on the day of announcement.” Gunewardena said what had also been striking in the first month of trading has been the significant jump in average spend, which in the first week was up 60% on expectations. He added: “It was also heartening and significant to see the sparkling performance of our central London venues. Last summer, it was our restaurants in Manchester, Leeds and Bluebird in Chelsea that were our busiest. This time around, our City restaurants led the way. The City may not be back in numbers in terms of attendance at offices but our City restaurants were all packed to the gunnels. We are not getting carried away. Only our terraces have reopened and we need restaurants indoors and outdoors to remain busy when we are fully open from 17 May. But I am optimistic.”
Mark O’Rourke, the restaurant entrepreneur behind Spanish tapas restaurant Fino Tapas, is eyeing UK growth as he prepares to expand the concept with a £2m investment. The funds will see two new Lancashire sites, in Lytham and Blackpool, due to open this summer, and a further two sites, in Kendal and Chester, set to open towards the end of the year, creating a total of 250 jobs. Since opening in Preston in 2018, Fino Tapas has gone from strength to strength and, last year, moved from its original site in St Winifred’s Street to larger premises in Guildhall Street to meet the demands for more socially distanced dining and the Fino Delivery service. O’Rourke said: “We’re excited to be extending the Fino Tapas brand across Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire. Both Lytham and Blackpool have benefited from multimillion-pound investments and look set to see a boost in staycations, as people look for traditional seaside breaks.” The new Lytham restaurant is due to open in June in the former Gusto building in Dicconson Terrace while the Blackpool restaurant will launch in August in the ex-Bella Italia in Church Street. In Kendal and Chester, Fino Tapas will breathe new life into grade II-listed, town centre pubs. O’Rourke said: “After the challenging year we’ve had in hospitality, it feels good to be introducing a new brand and our authentic taste of Spain to these popular north west town centres. The aim is to develop the Fino Tapas brand in more sites across the UK.”
Serial sector investor Richard Caring is in advanced talks to take on the former Revolution site in Richmond, Propel understands. It is thought Caring would like the site in Whittaker Avenue for either an Ivy Asia or for a Scott’s on the River concept he has been toying with for a while. The backer of Caprice Holdings, Bill’s and the Ivy Collection, already operates an Ivy Cafe and a Bill’s in the area. In January, Propel revealed Caring had lined up at least three new openings, including plans to open on the former La Brasserie site in London’s South Kensington. Caring is believed to have secured the La Brasserie site in Brompton Road, which closed in 2017, for a yet unspecified, new restaurant project. He also secured the former Le Pain Quotidien site next door to the Ivy Chelsea Garden in the King’s Road, to open an Ivy Asia. Caring currently operates two Ivy Asia sites in St Paul’s and Manchester, and is thought to be looking at further opportunities to expand the concept, either as stand-alone sites or adjacent to existing Ivy Collection restaurants. He is also set to open a new restaurant venture in Mayfair, after it was confirmed he had secured the former Porsche Garage in North Audley Street. He is still working on plans to reopen the former Princess Garden of Mayfair site in North Audley Street, which he acquired in 2016. It had previously been earmarked for a Caprice Cafe concept but may now become another Ivy Asia.
New York-based restaurant Sunday is heading to the UK. Founders Todd Enany, Adam Landsman and chef Jaime Young are launching the venue in London’s Notting Hill this summer. It will take over the site previously occupied by French brasserie Cote in Westbourne Grove. The two-floor venue is “aiming for a vibe that will echo the Brooklyn original”. Its menu includes dishes such as littleneck clams, garlic bread crumb and smoky bacon; and grilled swordfish, charred broccoli greens and butter bean pistou; along with its famed Sunday pancakes with hazelnut maple praline and brown butter. Drinks are set to include an all-natural wine list and cocktails. Enany said: “We are all excited to be opening up in London, a city with a phenomenal food scene that we can’t wait to be a part of. We’ll be bringing a big taste of Brooklyn with us but we’re also looking forward to working with new ingredients and local producers to make this a true London edition of Sunday in Brooklyn.” The original Sunday restaurant was launched in Brooklyn in 2016. Jake Bernstone, of Stonebrook London, acted on the Notting Hill deal.
Big Mamma Group, the operator behind the London-based restaurants Gloria and Circolo Popolare, has revealed details of its third site in the capital. The company, which unveiled the planned opening last summer, will launch Ave Mario in Covent Garden on 25 June. Based in two buildings in Maiden Lane, and with an entrance in Henrietta Street, the 7,000 square foot space will have seating for almost 300, two terraces, a bar featuring a 3,500 bottle wall, and an inner courtyard. While Gloria was inspired by Capri, and Circolo by Sicily, Ave Mario takes Florence as its starting point. Dishes will include carbonara ravioli and the Cotoletta Milanese. There’s also going to be a new caviar section to the menu, using Baeri caviar from Venice. The basement will feature Big Mamma Group’s first counter dining experience where guests will also be able to watch the chefs at work in the kitchen. Big Mamma Group operates 20 Italian restaurants across major European cities including London as well as delivery-only pizza restaurant Napoli Gang.
The family of a teenager who died after unwittingly eating food he was allergic to at a Byron restaurant says it does not feel properly compensated. Owen Carey, who had a dairy allergy, ordered skinny grilled chicken at Byron’s O2 Arena branch in London for his 18th birthday in April 2017. He informed staff about his allergy but was not told buttermilk was included. He collapsed and died shortly later. Byron said it has since improved all allergen procedures. A coroner ruled in 2019 that Mr Carey, from Crowborough, East Sussex, was not told about allergens that led to his death. The Carey family is now working to change the law. The Careys received a letter from Byron’s chief executive apologising for “all the pain” the family had suffered. But Mr Carey’s father, Paul, told Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show the family has not been awarded damages or specific compensation for their pain or suffering. Byron’s insurers refused to pay any damages and only offered to pay a proportion of the legal and funeral costs, he said, describing the decision as “pathetic”. He added: “We weren’t looking to profit from Owen’s death – we would have donated the money to the charity, the Anaphylaxis Campaign, which supports people at risk from serious allergies.” The family is now officially launching its campaign for “Owen’s Law”, which would require clear, specific allergen labelling on every restaurant menu. Byron has updated its menu that originally stated “Chicken – choose yours grilled or fried”, to “Chicken – marinated in buttermilk, choose yours grilled or fried”. Byron chief executive Simon Wilkinson said: “Even though this happened two years before I was employed by Byron, I have personally taken the responsibility to improve all allergen procedures. I am very supportive of any improvements or changes that can be made across the industry to prevent further tragic accidental deaths from occurring and will work with the family accordingly.”
Sales in the contract catering sector were almost halved in the first quarter of 2021, a new Tracker service from CGA has revealed. The Contract Caterer Tracker showed total sales were down by 45% on the first three months of 2020. The drop in sales is in line with a sharp fall in the number of people using contract-catered venues in businesses, leisure, education and other sectors in 2021. The number of units open for service in the first quarter of 2021 was down by 18% on 2020. In the private sector alone, first-quarter sales were down by 49% on 2020, due in large part to the closure of offices and other workplaces. Karl Chessell, CGA director of hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “The widespread shift to working from home, the short-notice closure of many education and leisure sites and the wholesale cancellation of events have all been devastating for caterers in early 2021.”
The £2.5bn in rent debt hanging over the hospitality industry is a threat to the future of thousands of businesses and more than 330,000 sector jobs, new analysis by UKHospitality has revealed. A survey of its members found resolving the rent debt issue was critical to ensuring the future health of a sector that pre-pandemic accounted for 10% of UK employment. As part of its submission to the government’s call for evidence, UKHospitality highlighted more than half of operators surveyed said they have not had a rent reduction from their landlord, despite prolonged periods of closure and more than a year of trading restrictions. Other key findings include: 52% have not been given any extension to pay rent; 73% are either unable or don’t know how they can pay their rent arrears; and 40% have not been able to reach a deal with their landlord over rent concessions. If the current protections that are in place are removed this summer, the analysis estimated a sixth of the remaining hospitality workforce, equivalent to 332,000 jobs, could be lost. This would be in addition to the hundreds of thousands of jobs already lost during the course of the pandemic. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls (pictured) said: “The issue of rent debt must be resolved in a way that shares the burden as businesses simply cannot be expected to pay their rent arrears in full. This is why the government must take affirmative action to help hospitality rebuild and play its part in the economic recovery. Government must extend and expand protections until the end of the year and force the writing off of a fair amount of covid rent debt.” The Night Time Industries Association has also proposed a “shared burden” solution in its government submission. Chief executive Michael Kill said: “Consideration needs to be given to a more robust code of conduct or adjudication process, which will require some mandatory or legislative elements within it, ensuring each stakeholder comes to the table to resolve this current situation.”
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