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Exclusive – Pho set to continue national expansion following strong 2023

PhoPho, the Vietnamese restaurant group led by Pat Marrinan and backed by TriSpan, plans to open a further six or seven sites in 2024 on the back of a strong 12 months, with full-year turnover set to top £72m, Propel has learned. The 40-strong business has lined up several new openings for the next few months, starting with a second opening in Scotland this spring. Following a successful debut north of the border in the St James Quarter development in Edinburgh, Pho has taken the former Moss Bros in Glasgow city centre on the corner of Renfield Street and St Vincent Street, with the new site to open in March. The company has also taken on the former Doner Shack site in Baker Street, London. The site build is underway, and the company has earmarked the site to open in April. Pho will follow this up with an opening in early summer in Norwich, on the former RBS bank site at 5 Queen Street. Over the past year, Pho has opened six sites across the country, including Canary Wharf (its smaller format site), London Bridge, Milton Keynes, Canterbury, Liverpool Castle Street (their second in the city) and Fulham Broadway. The company said it has had another strong year, with sales for the year to February set to exceed £72m, up from £58m the previous year. The business said despite the challenging economic conditions, it reported positive 7.3% like-for-like sales for the 11 months to 14 January 2024.
 
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Piano WorksNightcap – owner of the Cocktail Club, the Adventure Bar Group, Dirty Martini and the Barrio Familia group of 46 bars – has acquired The Piano Works, the live entertainment concept currently operating at the company’s Barrio Covent Garden venue and in Farringdon, London. Stamp Entertainment Limited, a recently incorporated 100% owned subsidiary of Nightcap, has entered into an asset purchase agreement to acquire certain of the assets of TDC Concepts – the operator of ‘The Piano Works’ live music entertainment concept. Nightcap is paying a total consideration of £200,000. The Piano Works acquisition was completed following a pre-pack administration process by TDC Concepts. It is intended that the current directors of TDC Concepts will become minority shareholders in STAMP and a further announcement on this will be made in due course once the terms are finalised. The Piano Works was launched in 2015 in a large Victorian warehouse site in Farringdon, London, and this bar and entertainment venue is being acquired under acquisition. It is an interactive live music entertainment concept, typically involving pianists, vocalists and other musicians performing an audience curated playlist, accompanied by a high-quality food, drinks and cocktail offering. Since November 2023, The Piano Works has had a successful residency within Nightcap’s Barrio Covent Garden venue. Nightcap intends The Piano Works to become a permanent fixture at the Covent Garden site and for The Piano Works concept to be the rolled out along with the other successful brands in the Nightcap portfolio. In conjunction with The Piano Works acquisition and to provide working capital to Stamp, Nightcap has raised a total of £1m, through a subscription of 16,666,666 of new ordinary shares in the company at 6p per share, being a premium of approximately 22% to Nightcap’s last closing mid-market share price on 19 February 2024. Nightcap has also agreed to amend and restate the terms of the convertible loan notes issued by the company in June 2023. At the same time, Nightcap has reported that since the start of 2024 its trading been far softer than expected, in line with reports from across the hospitality sector. It said: “The board expects that, whilst revenues for FY 2024 will be in line with expectations, adjusted Ebitda is expected to be in the range of £2m to £2.5m.”

 

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GooeyManchester brunch and bakery concept Gooey has told Propel it sees the potential for 30-40 UK sites and has signed its first international partnership, in the UAE. The bakery brand, which counts R&B star Lizzo among its biggest fans, was co-founded by Jake Ansbro, Sax Arshad and Paddy Brown in 2020, as a delivery-only service during lockdown. It then opened a kiosk in the foyer of the Ducie Street Warehouse before launching its debut bricks and mortar site, a 40-cover all day cafe and bakery, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. It now has six sites in the city through a mixture of cafes and kiosks including a prime site in Selfridges Trafford Centre. It has recently opened a kiosk in Liverpool in Bold Street – its first site outside of Manchester – and sold its first overseas franchise, in the UAE. “The next two-year plan is to expand Gooey into an internationally recognised cafe/bakery concept,” said Charlie Mander, co-founder of Presman & Colard International, which is advising on Gooey’s expansion. The team behind Gooey also last year launched pasta concept Onda (meaning “wave” in Italian) in Manchester’s Peter Street, in partnership with Michelin-trained chef Sam Astley Dean, in the former Sao Paulo Bistro unit. The Manchester Evening News reports that Onda is now booked out months in advance due to a viral moment on social media that captured the attention of Hollywood A-listers like Florence Pugh.

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Roxy LanesRoxy Leisure, the operator of the Roxy Ball Room concept, is to open a third site in Nottingham, and its first in the city under its Roxy Lanes concept. The 18-strong company, which currently operates six Roxy Lanes venues across the UK, will open the new Roxy Lanes in the city’s Bottle Lane. The 15,000 square-foot site will open in The Pod, a development on the corner of Bottle Lane and Fletcher Gate. The concept features a bowling alley and other games such as American pool, air hockey shuffleboard, darts and arcade games. The city centre is already home to two Roxy Ball Rooms, in Thurland Street and the Cornerhouse. The company’s latest site – a Roxy Ball Room in York – will also open later this week, as the business aims to grow to a 40-strong estate in the next five years.

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Bloomsbury LeisureCraft beer bar operator Bloomsbury Leisure is planning to open three new sites across the UK, including a new competitive socialising concept in London’s Holborn. Propel understands that Bloomsbury Leisure, which is led by Jonathan Dalton, plans to open a site at 165 Fleet Street called Tokyo Hit. The site will comprise a themed mini golf course with bars and a food offering on the ground floor and a bowling alley and bars in the basement floor. The business is also planning to open a new tortilla chips-based venue called Thump in Bristol’s Bedminster. It is planning to open in a former Poundstretcher site in East Street, with plans including a licensed area where customers can drink alcohol. The company – which already operates Crofters Rights, The Lanes and Llandoger Trow in the city – has also been linked with opening a new venue on the site of the derelict Seamen’s Mission Church in Bristol’s Prince Street. Bloomsbury Leisure, which runs the Euston Tap and Hackney Tap in the capital, is also set to open a third Tap site in Manchester. The company, which already operates the Piccadilly Tap and Victoria Tap in the city, will open the Oxford Road Tap near Oxford Road station.

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Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitalityA joint survey by UKHospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association, the British Institute of Innkeeping and Hospitality Ulster shows that a quarter of hospitality businesses have no cash reserves and a further 29% have less than three months’ worth. The research, which surveyed hospitality businesses from 15 January to 1 February 2024, also found 98% have seen food and drink costs increase; 96% have seen wage costs increase; 98% are concerned about the national living wage rise in April; and 85% have seen their energy costs increase. The rising costs experienced by businesses have left almost two-thirds (64%) not optimistic about their business’ prospects for the next 12 months, an increase of 6% compared with October 2023. Respondents were clear about their priorities for government action at the forthcoming Budget, with 94% prioritising a lower rate of VAT. A lower business rates multiplier for hospitality (80%) and business rates reform (71%) rounded off the top three priorities.

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The Railway in Ramsbottom, which is Punch's 150th retail sitePunch Pubs & Co, the Fortress Investment Group-backed business, has reported that all three of its divisions (leased and tenanted, management partnerships and Laine Pub Co) saw strong like-for-like sales growth in the ten weeks to 11 February 2024. The Clive Chesser-led business said trading in its second quarter to date has been “encouraging with profitability materially ahead of the prior year”. The group said it expects to benefit from inflation positively impacting leased and tenanted net income together with the improving margins and the “benefit of maturing sales and profitability in the pubs converted to its management partnerships estate since August 2021”. The business reported total revenue of £96m for the 16 weeks to 3 December 2023 (2022: £92m). It said all three divisions delivered like-for-like sales growth for the 16-week period compared with the prior year. Underlying outlet Ebitda for the pub estates (management partnerships, leased and tenanted and Laine) before central costs increased by £2.3m to £33.5m. Underlying Ebitda for the 52 weeks to 3 December 2023 was £83m (2022: £76m).

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Gourmet Coffee Bar & KitchenGourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen, which has sites situated within or near train stations across the UK, is closing in on 30 sites following two new openings. The business, founded in 2007 by Nick and Liz Garnell, has opened at Brockenhurst station and on platform four at Didcot Parkway, where it already has a site within the station’s ticket office. It now has 28 locations, with six more “coming soon” according to its website – in Derby, Hereford, Milton Keynes, Portsmouth & Southsea, Shrewsbury and Telford. In December 2022, Gourmet Coffee Bar & Kitchen acquired six sites from AMT Coffee after it was placed into administration.

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Costa CoffeeCosta Coffee has said it will give its more than 15,000 hourly-paid workers an average 9% pay increase from 1 April. As part of an investment of more than £15m, the company’s starting national pay rate for its baristas will increase to £12 per hour, from £10.70 per hour. It takes Costa Coffee’s starting rate to 56p per hour above the national living wage and the company said it is part of its efforts to ensure team members continue to receive a sustainable pay rate that factors in the cost of living.

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ValiantValiant Pub Company, which was founded by Hawthorn Leisure co-founders Gerry Carroll and Mark McGinty at the start of 2021, has appointed Jennifer Sloyan, formerly of Next and Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), as its new chief financial officer, Propel has learned.

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Maggie & RoseA private members’ club set up for wealthy parents by a close friend of the Prince of Wales is on the brink of collapse after abruptly shutting its clubhouses in west London. Maggie & Rose, which charges from £140 per month for a membership, said in a message to parents that it was suffering “staffing and operational issues”, forcing the company to temporarily close its sites in Kensington and Chiswick. However, filings showed it has since instructed lawyers at Addleshaw Goddard ahead of an expected administration later this week. It is not known if the clubhouses will be able to reopen at any point.

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Lucky VoiceCharlie Elek, managing director of Lucky Voice, will be among the speakers at the first Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2024. More than 350 places have been booked for the conference, which takes place on Thursday, 21 March, at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s Kensington, and is open for bookings. Elek sets out how the company’s major programme of growth, expansion and investment has been galvanised through operating systems that ensure clearer, more systematic thinking and planning. Operators can book up to three free places per company while Premium Club members who are operators can book up to four free places. To book, email kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com.

Karl Chessell, director hospitality operators and food EMEA at CGABritain’s leading hospitality groups generated like-for-like sales growth of just 0.1% in January, the latest CGA RSM Hospitality Business Tracker reveals. The flat start to the year indicates pressure on consumers’ spending after a bumper festive season that saw the tracker finish 8.8% ahead in December 2023. Trading was also constrained by Dry January resolutions, poor weather and further rail strikes, the findings showed. The tracker – produced by CGA by NIQ in partnership with RSM UK – indicates like-for-like sales growth of 0.9% for restaurants in January, while pubs’ trading finished 1.5% ahead. After strong growth in December, bars suffered a 13.6% drop in January sales, while the on-the-go segment was 1.1% behind. Trading patterns were even across the country, the tracker shows. Groups’ sales within the M25 in January were 0.7% up on last year, while sales outside it were exactly flat (0.0%). Karl Chessell (pictured), director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA by NIQ, said: “After spending freely in the run-up to Christmas, consumers were clearly watching their outgoings very carefully in January. It is a reminder that while people remain eager to eat and drink out when they can, rising costs continue to limit discretionary spending. With hospitality operators’ margins also still squeezed by inflation, the sector needs sustained government support on taxes and other issues if it is to unleash its full potential to invest and create jobs.”

Vapiano general viewVapiano, which has its main investor as McWin, is set to launch a promotion after seeing a growing trend for solo diners. Last year, the Michelin two-star restaurant Alex Dilling at Hotel Café Royal in London’s Regent Street had to defend its policy of charging solo diners double. By contrast, Vapiano will launch the first annual National Solo Dining Day on Tuesday 16 April, offering single diners 40% off their meals. “I started realising about 2018-19, when I did a shift at a Vapiano, that there’s so many people coming in to dine on their own,” Vapiano’s global marketing, Vikki O’Neill, told Propel. “In one particular lunch shift it was 43%. We went into lockdown a few months later and it was forgotten about, but I did another shift last year and was again amazed at how many people came in on their own – we’ve seen a real increase. I said to the team this is a cultural shift and we’ve got to do something with this, let’s own this and encourage it. Why wouldn’t you take the business of one person over none? In the bigger fast causal market we’re in, I’ve not heard anyone else talking about it, but we’ve been talking about it for quite some time. We’re not breaking science and the feedback has been incredible. Our attitude is it’s never ‘just a table for one’ but ‘a table for one’. Nobody comes in shy about it and it’s part of the eating out culture now.” Before that, Vapiano is this week launching its first UK loyalty scheme, having introduced one in its French restaurants in 2022. Members will receive ten points for every £1 spent leading to a variety of perks, including 50% off their next visit after downloading the app, birthday discounts and a friend referral scheme. “We’ve changed things around a bit for our UK market,” O’Neill added. “People rightly expect something for their time and investment in your business, and coffee shops have had that nailed. When it comes to fast casual dining you’ve got greater competition and people don’t necessarily want to keep going back to the same place as they would with coffee, so you need to reward based on behaviour and what people want. We’ve got a really simple tiered system where you can use your points to get anything from an extra in your pasta all the way up to an £18 voucher, which is essentially a meal on the house. A recent survey showed 89% of our guests would use a loyalty scheme, and those who wouldn’t don’t live close enough to make it worth it as we only have five sites. Using data is the obvious win here, and working with Datahawks means our CRM communications and the Como app messages are always targeted and personalised.”

Heston BlumenthalRestaurateur and chef Heston Blumenthal (pictured) has called for greater urgency in tackling fraud on Companies House after an investigation revealed more than 750 fake firms using restaurant names have been set up in the past six weeks. Blumenthal’s business was one of those targeted and the chef is writing to Louise Smyth, chief executive at Companies House and registrar for England and Wales, asking for greater transparency on how her organisation is tackling the issue. Experts have warned that action against fraudsters damaging the reputations and legacy of a wide range of restaurants could take as long as 18 months. Blumenthal is asking for a faster response from Companies House to help the restaurant industry, which is already struggling with the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. He estimates that failing to move swiftly could lead to as many as 9,750 restaurants being victims over an 18-month period. He said: “Our legal team has been scanning the Companies Register for years and has regularly needed to notify Companies House of bogus companies claiming to be part of our group. The process for removing fake companies has to be speeded up and made easier. We need greater transparency from Companies House and a clear timeline. In some cases, it is being reported it can take up to 18 months to rectify. Checks by Companies House on the identity of people registering companies would reduce the risk of frauds and be a major help for restaurants and other businesses facing problems with fraudsters. The protection of our brands is absolutely paramount to our customers, our partners and our teams who excel every day in our kitchens and restaurants. We will not allow fraudsters to deceive unsuspecting patrons or partners and risk the legacy that we have collectively built with hard work, dedication, innovation and a grain of eccentricity.”

InflationUKHospitality has said while the rate of inflation stabilising is a positive move, sector businesses have absorbed all they can and still need help from the government in its spring Budget. New figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that UK inflation remained at 4% in January. Forecasters had expected a slight rise to 4.2% but it remained at the same rate as in December. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “The rate of inflation not increasing, as widely expected, is positive, but let’s not forget that this still means prices are continuing to rise. Hospitality businesses are continuing to feel the brunt of these costs, with food, drink and energy all continuing to rise at a rapid rate. With business rates set to increase by 6.7% and the national living wage rising in April, venues will be hit once again by a tsunami of additional costs. Unfortunately, the vast majority of businesses have absorbed all they can and are now forced to pass these on to consumers. If the government wants to avoid the risk of an inflationary spike in April and the following months, it should take action at the Budget to cap business rates increases and reduce the rate of VAT for hospitality.”

Coco Di MamaAzzurri Group has said that the more stable trading rhythm seen in central London in the second half of its financial year has affirmed its long-term strategy for its Coco di Mama business in the capital to be a small, high quality, well-located and profitable estate that acts as the “showroom” for the brand. It said: “Our 14 like-for-like London stores have navigated another challenging year in the wake of the pandemic as the office worker routine recovery continues, including significant trading disruption from the ongoing rail and London Underground industrial action. In the second half of the year, notwithstanding the strike impacts, trading rhythm became relatively stable for the first time in more than three years as City office workers established a more settled two-three days per week in the office on average. This has affirmed our long-term strategy for the London stores to be a small, high quality, well located (adjacent to high office density locations) and profitable estate that acts as the ‘showroom’ for the brand by being a centre of excellence for operations and brand standards, and the innovation hub for brand development. The London stores typically trade over the five weekdays, with midweek Tuesday to Thursday experiencing notably higher volumes than Monday and Friday. Where we have had the opportunity, on a store-by-store basis, we have renegotiated leases to match the current market conditions and office worker density, and where office worker density has recovered insufficiently, we have exited the lease, such as our Southbank store. Therefore, the growth opportunity for new Coco stores in London will be focused on high-quality, seven-day-a-week locations. To this end, we have opened a new London store in the heart of Canary Wharf, which has the attraction of meaningful office worker density, a new corporate catering catchment to target, a proven rich aggregator delivery zone, and seven days a week trading to capture leisure, retail and residential customers.” Last February, Coco di Mama opened its first regional standalone site in Reading. However, Azzurri Group chief executive Steve Holmes told Propel earlier this week he doesn’t think the concept is going to work in the regions. He said: “We’ve still got one in Reading, but we pulled out of doing one in Oxford. We’re working very well in Liverpool Street station – that’s been a real success. We’ve done very well in Canary Wharf, and on the roadside, where we are up to eight sites with Roadchef. Coco does very well in high footfall, high traffic type locations with people who are on the move. It’s working in railways, is working on the roadside, and I’m sure it will work in airports.”

Artist impression of Rhubarb's new 10,000 square foot bar, restaurant and events space on the top of 30 Hudson Yards in New YorkRhubarb Hospitality Collection, the premium international hospitality group, has repaid more than £50m of debt following its acquisition by a US entertainment group and is now “looking forward to a period of investing in growth”. Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, backed by Silver Lake, acquired Rhubarb in June 2023 in a deal believed to be worth at least £100m. In its accounts for the year ending 31 December 2022, the group said: “As part of the change of control, bank debt consisting of a unitranche facility of £35,000,000 and an acquisition facility of £8,000,000 were repaid in full. In addition, loan notes and loan note interest of £8,434,562 were repaid in full. This transaction has mitigated much of the pre-existing risks relating to going concern and the group is now looking forward to a period of investing in growth.” It comes as the business reported turnover more than doubled in the period, while adjusted Ebitda increased more than five-fold, but its losses also grew. Turnover was up from £43,315,450 in the period from 12 February 2021 to 31 December 2021 to £105,532,894 in 2022. Its adjusted Ebitda was up from £2,026,840 to £10,971,164 and its pre-tax loss grew from £7,696,778 to £11,415,970. Rhubarb Food Design contributed turnover, gross profit and adjusted Ebitda of £38.1m (2021: £11.8m), £8.7m (2021: £1.1m) and Ebitda of £2.7m (2021: loss of £1.8m), respectively. Rhubarb at Sky Garden contributed turnover, gross profit and adjusted Ebitda of £21.1m (2021: £11.9m), £9.4m (2021: £4.8m) and £4.2m (2021: £1.6m). 22 Bishopsgate by Rhubarb contributed turnover, gross profit and adjusted Ebitda of £4.5m (2021: £3.2m), £1.9m (2021: £1.1 m) and nil (2021: £0.9m). UK operations contributed £63,710,015 (2021: £26,422,415), the US £41,315,237 (2021: £16,315,450) and Europe £507,642 (2021: nil). The company received no furlough income (2021: £673,104) but did get £1,276,000 in US government assistance (2021: £349,965). No dividends were paid (2021: nil). Exceptional items in the year relate to mobilisation costs of £827,498 while exceptional items in the previous period relate to mobilisation costs of £452,343 and an accrual for potential legal settlement of £423,066. Post year end, the lease was terminated at Wild Ink, one of the group’s New York restaurants. There remains a debtor due to Rhubarb Food Design for £6,754,021 provided against the 2022 financial statements of that entity as recovery will be limited. Director Laraine Beament said: “The directors are pleased with the group’s results for 2022 and are confident that the strong performance and significant new contracts won in 2023 will provide foundations for further growth. 2022 Ebitda is ahead of 2019 pre-pandemic levels and the group has made a satisfactory return to trading post covid-19 pandemic.”

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