Story of the Day:
Exclusive – RedCat appoints Richard Lewis as new CEO
RedCat Pub Company, the investment vehicle founded and chaired by Rooney Anand, has appointed Richard Lewis (pictured), formerly of SSP UK & Ireland and Greene King, as its new chief executive, Propel has learned.
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Jonathan Neame (pictured), chief executive of Kent brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame, has told Propel that some of its London pubs are experiencing record trading and the capital is now “normalising” again after covid. Speaking following the company’s full-year results where Shepherd Neame reported record revenue of £166.3m, Neame also said he believes there won’t be much activity in the M&A market in the near future because many companies are concentrating on their own operations as they build back from the pandemic and deal with the cost-of-living crisis. Full-year retail like-for-like sales inside the M25 were up 30.6%, driven largely by increased momentum in the return to offices, and Neame believes there is still more to come. “Some of our London pubs are reporting record figures,” said Neame. “A lot of this is being driven by tourists. We’re seeing US visitors returning, but there are still parts of the world – China for example – where that hasn’t really happened yet. So, while we have some real momentum at our sites in the capital, we think there’s still more to come. Trading between Tuesday and Thursday is very resilient and Fridays are coming back, and it’s now a four-day working week rather than three. The weekends are busy as well. We’ve recently refurbished the Tom Cribb in Panton Street and trading has been fantastic.” Neame said across the estate, overall volume is “quite stable”, but footfall has not yet returned to pre-covid levels. While he admitted the business has had no choice to put up prices due to the rate of inflation, he is mindful of the impact on consumers and said the company has done a lot of work to mitigate costs. He said the business had expected energy costs to be about £5.7m, but they had in fact come in at £8.9m. Neame said the business has worked hard on its food options, where like-for-like sales were up 3% on last year, to offer more choice and seasonal dishes and improve presentation. While the business remains open to acquisition opportunities, Neame said the focus was on inward investment and believes the same could be said for most of the industry. “I think most operators, including ourselves, are concentrating on building some momentum after the past few years,” he said. “We’ve got a good pipeline of refurbishments and think there’s loads of untapped potential in our existing business. Over the next two to three years, I think we’ve got plenty to keep us busy.” Looking ahead, Neame added: “I think it will be another year of steady progress. We’ve not seen that softening in consumer behaviour that others have. What we’ve not had in quite a few years, because of one thing or another, is that great Christmas period, but hopefully we will this year.”
Marta Pogroszewska (pictured), managing director of fast-growing bakery brand Gail’s, has said data suggests there are 300 to 500 places that the “brand could fit”. Speaking at Lunch! 2023, Pogroszewska said the 121-strong business had opened 30 sites in its last financial year to the end of March, and had opened another ten since. She said: “Year-to-date trading has been going really well. It is not an easy climate, but we have fantastic teams, who are producing great results. We have a few more sites in the build stage and hope to open another 30 sites in total in this current financial year. Opening new sites has become second nature to us, and we are opening a new site on average every two weeks. We try to learn from every shop opening so we can evolve further. We get loads of emails and messages from people asking us to come and open in their towns, which is encouraging for us in terms of further expansion. We launched in the north west this year, and now have four sites in and around Manchester, with a fifth set to open soon in Knutsford. We set ambitious targets for those sites, but the response has been delightful and really positive. We recently did some research on white space in the UK, and the data suggests that there are 300-500 places that our business could go into. Not to say we will, but that’s the potential. There are also other models we could explore. There is a good run in the UK ahead of us and a high demand for what we do.” Pogroszewska said the business was mindful of passing on price and managing costs, as “we open sites only through the profits we have made”. She said that people join Gail’s because we offer “opportunities to grow, impact (do the right thing) and because we are good, kind people”. She said the business promotes 500 to 600 people a year. In terms of sustainability, Pogroszewska said it is “super high on our agenda”. She said: “It’s part of our DNA. But we need to tell our sustainability stories better.”
The Big Table Group, the operator of Las Iguanas, Banana Tree, Café Rouge and Bella Italia, has appointed Debbie Husband, formerly of Rank Group and Travelodge, as managing director for the leisure division its recently acquired from The Restaurant Group (TRG), Propel has learned. Earlier this month, TRG agreed the sale of the division, which includes the Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito brands, to The Big Table Group for £1. The group said it had entered into an agreement for the sale of the business, comprising 75 trading sites and associated restaurant and management team employees. As part of the transaction, TRG said it would pay a cash contribution of £7.5m. Husband, who will join The Big Table Group in October, most recently held the position of managing director at the Rank Group, having joined the business as national director of operations in 2017. Before that, she spent 15 years at Travelodge, holding several senior operational roles in her time at the hotel company. At the same time, James Pidduck will be taking on the finance director role for the division. Pidduck will retain his current role of finance director for Bella Italia, covering the finance director responsibility across both brands. Alan Morgan, chief executive of The Big Table Group, said: “Debbie is an outstanding operator and I’m delighted that she has decided to join at an exciting time for our business. We’re looking forward to welcoming her to The Big Table team.” Also included in the division are the Firejacks, Coast To Coast, Filling Station and EST brands. The deal is expected to complete at the end of next month, taking The Big Table Group to operating over 220 restaurants across the UK.
Sector vacancies have fallen 33% with the help of UKHospitality’s workforce strategy – but “there is plenty more to do”. Commitments made in the strategy, launched in May 2022, have helped bring down hospitality vacancies by 57,000 at its peak. In a significant update on the strategy’s progress since its launch, the sector now boasts record levels of employment in accommodation and foodservice, with 2.7 million people employed, according to the Office for National Statistics. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls (pictured) said: “High levels of vacancies have plagued hospitality for years, and what this update shows is that huge progress had been made to reduce the overall vacancy rate. We can’t kid ourselves that the work is complete because there is plenty more to do, but what we can and should do is recognise the achievements driven by our Workforce Strategy. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m confident we’re on the right path to making hospitality’s offering top of class across the economy.”
Charlie McVeigh (pictured), the founder of Draft House and chairman of Butchies, has argued that experiential, which has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity post covid, could well have a limited shelf life. “I think actually there is a possibility that experiential is not going to be as durable as it claims,” McVeigh told the Investment Panel at Casual Dining 2023. “The trend that doesn’t go away is great food, great atmosphere and great service. There are some amazing experiential businesses out there, but a great experience doesn’t have to be competing with someone else – it can be sitting down having an amazing dinner or an amazing breakfast. I think the idea that you need something else is not necessarily essential. Some do it really well, but would I do it more than once or twice? I just wonder the extent to which people run out of steam constantly trying to find something new in that space, whereas a restaurant will constantly give you a wonderful service. You form a relationship with the team and so on, and if anything, it improves with the number of times you go there.” By coincidence, McVeigh was speaking as he “literally just signed a cheque” to bring a German experiential concept to the UK. Pocket Planet will launch in a 30,000 square-foot former New Look department store in Oxford Street in 2025. “Pocket Planet is a miniature world experience based on a concept in Hamburg that turns over €30m a year,” McVeigh said. “It was founded by twins and is a most extraordinary business, but they have no interest in owning a second miniature world.” Lizzie Ryan, partner at Imbiba, said the sector investor has “indexed experiential heavily” and that “for some people, going out to a restaurant to have a nice meal just isn’t enough anymore”. But she added: “Will they be around in 20 years’ time? We don’t know. If not, it’s about getting in at the right time, growing it and getting out again at the right time.” Ryan went on to say the fundamentals of investments haven’t changed but unit economics have become ever more important, adding: “Some of the best businesses are built during hard times.” Chris Miller, founder of White Rabbit Projects, said he feels it will be “a few years before you start seeing some of those really big transactions again”. He added: “It’s not the first time there’s been a recession, and the data shows it’s typically five to six years before the market comes back, so it will come back. There’s still money to be made in hospitality, and the joy of the sector is people will always need food and drink.”
Kent brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame has said recent trade has been “encouraging” as the business reported record full-year revenue, but added significant inflationary pressure has increased costs across the business. For the 13 weeks to 23 September 2023, retail like-for-like sales (72 pubs) were up 5.6% on last year. Like-for-like tenanted pub income (217 pubs) for the nine weeks to 26 August 2023 was up 3.0% on last year. Total beer volume for the 13 weeks to 23 September 2023 was down 10.3% versus 2022. Own beer volume was down 15.9% versus 2022. The company stated: “The hospitality sector has faced an unprecedented series of crises in the last three years. We still have known cost increases to absorb, but the dust is settling, the outlook is more positive and the fundamentals of the business are good. Consumer spending has remained resilient all year, better than many had expected, and better than many other parts of the retail and consumer economy. People are prioritising going out over other types of expenditure. Pubs are generally performing better than restaurants. Premium and neighbourhood pubs are performing well. We have an excellent pub estate with considerable potential, a loyal customer base, and a high profile within the individual communities we serve. Shepherd Neame pubs have been performing in line with the best in the sector. All of which gives us confidence even if we go into a new phase of pressure on household budgets, as mortgage rates increase. We do face considerable inflationary and market challenges within our Brewing and Brands business, but, notwithstanding the inflationary pressures, we have a strong core of loyal and happy customers. After the wonderful June 2023 weather, wet, cool and windy conditions returned in July and August. This period compares with the record-breaking sunshine and heat in July 2022. Inevitably trade at our coastal sites has suffered somewhat, but was boosted by warm weather in early September. Nonetheless, trade has remained encouraging in our pubs, albeit the beer market remains challenging.” It comes as the business reported revenue increased 9.7% to a record £166.3m for the 52 weeks ending 24 June 2023 (2022: £151.5m). Underlying profit before tax was up 3.8% to £7.6m (2022: £7.3m). Retail like-for-like sales were up 12.9% on last year. Retail like-for-like sales inside the M25 were up 30.6%, driven largely by increased momentum in the return to offices. Outside the M25 like-for-like sales were up 6.6% versus last year. Food like-for-like sales were up 3.1% versus last year, drink like-for-like sales increased 22.4% and accommodation like-for-like sales (248 rooms) were down 4.2%. Like-for-like tenanted pub income was up 3.9% on last year. During the period the business transferred six tenanted pubs to retail, and two to investment property. It sold eight properties, including six pubs and two investment properties (six freehold disposals and two leases surrendered) and acquired four pubs (three freehold pubs and one leasehold). These disposals have realised net proceeds of £2.3m (2022: £9.1m). The business invested £17.2m in total, including £6.7m in new site acquisitions, including fees, and £10.5m in brewery and pub investments, of which the major projects have been £1.4m at the Crown at Chislehurst and a further £0.5m for partial completion of works at the Duke of Cumberland in Whitstable. Chief executive Jonathan Neame (pictured) said: “Demand has been strong all year with recent trade in our pubs encouraging. We have a loyal customer base, a high profile within the communities we serve, and we have an ambitious investment programme ahead. The turmoil of the last few years is now settling and the outlook is positive. We have much to look forward to. The balance sheet remains strong and the business has momentum in our pipeline of investment. We are confident we have the team and skills to deliver good returns for our shareholders over the long term.”
Wildwood operator Tasty has reported trading this summer has “exceeded expectations” but the business remains cautious in its approach. Revenue increased 0.9% to £21.7m for the 26 weeks to 25 June 2023 (2022: £21.5m). Adjusted Ebitda for the period was £1.1m (2022: £2.7m). Operating loss before highlighted items was £1.0m (2022: profit of £0.4m). Pre-tax losses were up to £6.2m from £2.6m the year before. The company said it has reviewed the impairment provision across the right-of-use-assets and fixed assets and made a net provision of £4.0m allowing for a number of poorly performing sites (2022: £1.6m). After taking into account of all non-trade adjustments, the group reported a loss after tax for the period of £6.2m (2022: loss of £2.7m). The company stated: “The first quarter performed ahead of the board’s expectations, however, the second quarter slowed and was flat against 2022. Delivery sales continue to decline as expected, in line with the market as customer habits swing back to dine-in. The main reasons for the reduction in Ebitda are due to covid related support falling away in terms of VAT reductions, rent and rate concessions as well as utility price increases. 2023 traded ahead of 2022 for the corresponding period with like-for-like sales up 1.4% against the first half of 2022. The first quarter performed strongly, with like-for-like sales up 3.1% against the previous year which was impacted by Omicron, which unfortunately was not matched by the second quarter which disappointed with like for like sales down 0.3%. However, summer trading exceeded the board’s expectations. Nonetheless, the casual dining market continues to face inflationary pressures on food, labour and utility costs. The cost-of-living crisis and interest rates are at their worst for many years, directly reducing the discretionary spend of our customers. We continue to navigate through challenging times and although this is expected to continue through the second half of 2023 we are continuing to adapt the business to mitigate the cost increases and reduced trading performance. We have focused on optimising the current estate by selling or surrendering leases in the tail of the estate and seeking to turn around the underperforming sites. One under-performing restaurant was returned to the landlord after the period end in August 2023.”
Sam Elliott (pictured), chef-owner of Pasture, has told Propel that the steakhouse and late-night bar concept will not become another chain. Elliott was speaking after the business confirmed it had secured a site in Birmingham for its third Pasture site. The business, which made its debut in Bristol in 2018 before expanding to Cardiff, will occupy 6,500 square feet across one floor of a former Barclays Bank building at 15 Colmore Row, near Cathedral Square in Birmingham city centre. It will create around 100 new local jobs, and the plan is for the restaurant to be open by early spring 2024. Elliott said: “Pasture restaurants are each very individual and put huge emphasis on the cities we reside. The menus, supply chains and decor are all different from one another. Pasture will not become another chain. The restaurants are large and complex, we produce everything on site from in-house butchery to ice cream. It’s not a concept that can scale to cities and towns all over the UK, and nor would I want it too. Birmingham completes the Pasture triangle, it’s a fantastic, vibrant city and makes it easily commutable for me and the team. We have some incredible offshoots of the Pasture brand with Radius, Parallel, Prime by Pasture and Nightshade, which for me keeps it exciting and keeps us content.” Elliott told Propel that trading post covid has “certainly had its challenges” but its restaurants continue to be busy. He said: “I have an incredible team of people dedicated to making the Pasture experience unique, memorable and consistent. We face all challenges head on and will never compromise on our guest experience. We have taken a longer view on the current economic climate and absorbed many costs within the business. We are hopeful things will begin to ease.” Elliott also operates the Radius restaurant in Bristol and Parallel in Cardiff, which opened earlier this year. Next year, he will also open Prime by Pasture; a butchery, deli, cookery school and burger joint in the Redcliffe Quarter, Bristol.
Cinema operator Everyman has said it expects full-year performance “to be in line with market expectations” as it reported strong trading through the summer on the back of release of Barbie and Oppenheimer. As of August, the business reported year to date revenue of £60.2m (2022: £53.1m) and Ebitda of £11.0m (2022: £9.8m). The business has agreed a new three-year loan facility of £35m with Barclays Bank and National Westminster Bank, extendable by a further two years subject to lender consent. Everyman said the facility “ensures the group is soundly financially structured and well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities moving forward”. It comes as the company reported revenue was down to £38.3m for the 26 weeks ending 29 June 2023 (2022: £40.7m). Adjusted Ebitda fell to £5.8m (2022: £7.5m, including a £0.9m VAT benefit). Gross profit margin increased to 65.6% (2022: 62.5%). Food and beverage spend per head was up to £10.25 (2022: £8.96). The paid-for average ticket price was up to £11.49 (2022: £11.32). Cash generated from operating activities was £7.2m (2022: £9.1m). The company opened four-screen venues in Salisbury and Northallerton and a three-screen venue in Plymouth. The group now operates 41 cinemas and 141 screens. It has agreed the sale and leaseback of the Crystal Palace freehold for a consideration of £3.9m. The company added continued innovation across the group’s food and beverage offering, “focusing on increased choice, investment into technology, and increased efficiency of service”. Chief executive Alex Scrimgeour said: “We are pleased to report that trading continues to be in line with the board’s expectations, having achieved robust interim results despite this year’s major film titles falling in the second half of 2023. The recent and resounding Box Office success of Barbie and Oppenheimer drove exceptional performance throughout July and August, highlighting the value of high-quality original content. Everyman’s strong year to date performance underpins our confidence in meeting market expectations for the full year, while equally demonstrating that the UK cinema sector is as vibrant as ever. We remain confident in our prospects as we continue to be supported by a slate of high-quality second half releases, a carefully expanded estate and new banking facilities which ensure we are well configured to take advantage of future opportunities.”
XP Factory, owner of experiential concepts Boom Battle Bar and Escape Hunt, has said it expects full-year numbers “to be in line with market expectations” as it reported trade in July and August “rebounded strongly after the typically quieter May and June period”. The company opened its international Boom site opened in Dubai on 21 July and said it is “performing well”. A new Boom site opens in Canterbury on Friday (29 September) and another in Southend in mid-October. A new Escape Hunt site opened in Woking in July has shown “strong early performance”. The owner operated estate now comprises 24 Escape Hunt sites and 15 Boom sites and its franchise estate now comprises 23 Escape Hunt sites and 14 Boom sites. The company said record pre-bookings for corporate sales provides confidence underpinning expectations for full year while the group’s financial year end has moved to 31 March. It comes as the business reported group revenue increased 130% to £18.7m for the six months ending 30 June 2023 (2022: £8.1m), “demonstrating the significant growth in scale”. Escape Hunt owner operated site revenue increased 41% to £6.1m (2022: £4.3m). Boom owner operated revenue increased 416% to £11.3m (2022: £2.2m). Gross margin was 62.1% (2022: 62.8%). Pre IFRS 16 group adjusted Ebitda increased to £1.05m (2022: £0.28m). Cash at 30 June 2023 of £3.7m (31 December 2022: £3.2m). Richard Harpham, chief executive of XP Factory, said: “We are delighted to have delivered such transformational growth compared to the same period in 2022, driven by the aggressive rollout of Boom. The performance in Escape Hunt has been outstanding and we are delighted to see the young Boom business continue to mature with ongoing improvements to its operating metrics. Performance since the end of June 2023 has been encouraging with both Boom and Escape Hunt delivering strong like-for-like growth over the summer months. Experiential leisure has displayed robust demand despite the current economic environment and our strategy to drive profitable growth and take market share continues to progress. Whilst mindful of ongoing short-term pressures on consumers and the second half weighting of the industry, we remain optimistic for the performance of both businesses over the short and medium term and expect to report full-year numbers in line with market expectations.”
Brighton Pier Group chief executive Anne Ackord has told Propel the underlying business remains “solid” and its bar portfolio is “sound and will pick up again”. During its interim results, Ackord said trading continues to be impacted by events “outside our control” in what is a challenging environment. The company reported for the 12 weeks to 17 September 2023, total sales were £12.3m, down £0.3m versus the previous year with train strikes, inclement weather and a major fire at the Royal Albion Hotel opposite the pier all disrupting trade. Ackord told Propel: “We are cautious on our outlook. However, the business fundamentals are good, and if you take away the external factors that affected the first half, then the business remains well placed. For example, The Pier is a totally unique free to enter asset and has a wide demographic. Take away the train strikes and other one-off factors, and the underlying business remains solid.” The eight-strong bars division “continues to be impacted by the headwinds in the UK economy”, with its younger demographic “more severely affected by price inflation, resulting in lower spends and reduction in numbers of visits”. Total sales for the 12 weeks to 17 September 2023 were £1.9m, down £0.3m versus last year. Ackord said: “The bars portfolio is sound and will pick up again. We have made two management changes, putting new teams in two key sites that are already showing results. In central London, our Belgian bar, Lowlander, has been affected by roadworks and pedestrianisation for some time, but it is performing well despite this, and once the roadworks are completed, it should receive a significant boost. Overall, the bars have been impacted by economic circumstances, so interest rates starting to slow and inflation coming down will hopefully benefit not just the bars but the group as a whole.” Ackord also said the group remained in a position to add to its portfolio. “We are always looking at growing both organically and by acquisition, and if an acquisition opportunity arises that fits our strategy and existing businesses, then we will pursue it,” she said.
London-headquartered hostel operator Safestay has reported revenue grew 44% to £10.5m for the six months ending 30 June 2023 compared with £7.3m the previous year and outperforming pre-pandemic levels (2019: £8.1m). Ebitda in the period rose to £2.6m, compared with £2.5m the year before “held back by a one-off payroll increase and abnormally high energy costs”. Occupancy was 68.5% (2022: 51%), which was still lower than historic levels pre-covid, but revenue per bed is £16.06 (2022: £11.77) compared with £15.47 in 2019. Safestay said it saw a strong summer with sales in July and August up 11% and 16% respectively on 2022 and forward bookings for the remainder of 2023 “significantly ahead of last year”. It said it was attracting a diverse mix of customers “as families and business travellers choose hostels for greater value accommodation”. The business said the focus was on driving organic growth across the business and it has established a new office in Warsaw to focus solely on attracting group bookings from colleges, schools and universities. It said the launch of new website in July 2023 was set to drive direct sales and it was continuing to seek earnings enhancing acquisitions. Chairman Larry Lipman said: “It was difficult to know if our strong performance in 2022 was due to a one-off bounce back from the pandemic or the return to normal trading. Based on our performance so far in 2023, it is clear we have returned to a healthy market with some key points of difference. Having been through the pandemic, we have re-emerged as a leaner, financially stronger business with an excellent portfolio of premium hostels in prime locations. Added to this, demand has been strong and pricing has improved by circa 20% since 2019 which has enabled us to generate new sales records. With occupancy still below 2019 and school and college groups still to come back to historic levels, there remains plenty of scope for further growth.”
The Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Awards have opened for entries. The awards, in their sixth year, recognise outstanding marketing and innovation in the sector and the closing date to enter is 11.59pm on Friday, 27 October. Awards are open to restaurant, bar and foodservice outlets. There are 14 categories: Best Communications; Best New Product Development; Best New Website; Best New/Improved Visual Identity; Best Digital Engagement; Best Use of Technology; Best Community or Charitable Initiative; Best Use of Data, Insight or Research; Innovation of the Year; Campaign of the Year; Launch Campaign of the Year; Marketer of the Year; Innovator of the Year and Future Marketing Leader of the Year. To recognise the important relationship between agencies and their foodservice clients, the awards will recognise both the operator and all agencies involved in the delivery of campaigns and projects. Past winners have recognised more than 50 brands and agencies including McDonalds, Honest Burgers, Brewhouse & Kitchen, BrewDog, Turtle Bay, Fuller’s, Wagamama, Gail’s Bakery, YO!, Grind, Rick Stein, Searcy’s, Boxpark, PizzaExpress, Greggs and The Breakfast Club. Finalists will be invited to an awards ceremony on Wednesday, 25 January, in London. The awards will be delivered alongside the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Summit. Awards co-founder James Hacon said: “As the sector continues to react to the aftermath of unprecedented trading challenges over the last few years, we are seeing leaders start to refocus from survival alone to thriving with improved customer experience, enhanced brand innovation and evolving business models. Marketing, strategy, development and innovation roles are becoming increasingly important to the leadership mix. These awards continue recognising the success of brilliant brands, talented teams and individuals.” Propel managing director Paul Charity added: “We launched this event six years ago and have had thousands of people from across Europe attend the various segments. The awards recognise the very best within the spheres of foodservice marketing and innovation.” More details will be announced soon. Categories, entry information and judges can be found by clicking here.
Permanently Unique Group, the independent restaurant business formerly known as Tattu, reported strong trading in 2022, with a 27% increase in like-for-like sales – generating turnover of £27m, Ebitda at a site level of £6.2m and company Ebitda of £4.7m, Propel has learned. The business said it saw its highest turnover to date following the first full year of trade post-covid and the launch of its London flagship restaurant last May. Adam Jones, founder, told Propel: “The company enjoyed significant success post covid which allowed us to invest substantially into London, and more recently in establishing our new Greek-Mediterranean concept Fenix, due to launch in Manchester later this year. The current trading year isn’t without its challenges, given the combination of higher costs and decreasing consumer confidence. We are very fortunate that even in this climate, the group is on target to grow sales and maintain profit at a high level. This will place us in a solid position to continue expansion both in terms of launching new brands and our first international Tattu outpost next year.” Earlier this year, the business rebranded as Permanently Unique as part of plans to launch a new concept and grow the brand internationally. The high-end restaurant group, which was founded in Manchester in 2015 by brothers Adam and Drew Jones, said the updated name comes at a time of growth for the business both in the UK and internationally. A further site in Manchester is penned in for 2024, which will debut a third brand new concept for the group, embodying “live music, refined cuisine and a show stopping drinks programme”. Last year, the business entered the London market with the launch of Tattu London at The Outernet development, following the success of its existing locations in Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh and the original Tattu in Manchester.
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