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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators
Fri 31st May 2024 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Oakman Group about to enter a process, five sites in the pipeline: Peter Borg-Neal, founder and chief executive of the Oakman Group, has said the business is about to enter a process that might lead to the refinancing or outright sale of the business. Speaking at Propel’s Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference, Borg-Neal also said the 34-strong group has “five great sites in the pipeline”. He said: “We are about to enter a process so it may well be that we’re bought by someone. We’ve got five great pubs in the pipeline. I could start one or two but at the moment but I want to manage risk. We probably want to talk to either our new owners or funders about what we should be doing. What’s stopping us from pushing on is fairly simple. If you’ve got a lot of cash that is giving you a buffer, do you want to go and open another pub in this environment or do you want to hang on to the cash and await events? Probably for the first time in my career I’m in the latter camp. I like big pubs. If capital wasn’t a problem, and we were taken over by a business or investor that wanted to fund growth and they asked me to propose the forward strategy, I would want to build more Royal Foresters [its flagship site in Ascot, Berkshire] type pubs. I would build big, big pubs capable of doing £100,000 a week because I think they can manage these economic ups and downs far better – three of our pipeline sites meet that criteria. I think small pubs are quite hard at the moment. When the government takes away the business rates support it will be even harder for that part of the sector.” Borg-Neal also gave an insight into the events that led to his return as chief executive in early 2023. He said: “Throughout 2022, our sales and profits were declining quite dramatically in line with most businesses in the sector. Even more worrying from my perspective was our employee engagement scores. We have always been progressive as a company, looking after our people, and suddenly the feedback we were getting from surveys was not so good and it occurred to me we had a problem – maybe the dressing room had been lost. Then we had a decline in customer satisfaction and it all started to add up. We’d always had a sense of common purpose and we seemed to have lost that.” Borg-Neal said what followed was a period of “accelerated evolution”. He added: “We didn’t think revolution was the thing. Revolution in the middle of a recession is a very big risk – it was much better to think very carefully about the detail. We also asked everyone what we should do so contributing to that evolution became a way of re-engaging our people. Every time we looked at why some pubs were growing much faster than others, it always came back to great people. If you have a simple menu and it’s done brilliantly and executed by people that are passionate, it’s going to work. And it has – staff retention is at an all-time high and our customer satisfaction is at an all-time high.” Sapient Corporate Finance is advising on the process. Propel Premium Club members will receive all the videos from the Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference today (Friday, 31 May) at 9am. A Premium Club subscription costs an annual sum of £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Premium Club for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or supplier. Email today to sign up.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Leeds venue Kino Restaurant & Bar teams up with Marco Pierre White and Grace Dent for culinary experience: Kino Restaurant & Bar presents Leeds’ “hottest food experiences” this summer, starring Marco Pierre White and Grace Dent. These giants of the UK food scene bring their fire to the kitchen, crafting unique three-course menus alongside Kino’s head chef, Josh Whitehead. Get ready to dive into their dishes as they share their food stories and inspirations. Dubbed the godfather of modern cooking, the first rockstar chef and original “enfant terrible”, Pierre White, returns home to Leeds on Saturday, 15 June and will be cooking things up in the kitchen. He will be followed on Saturday, 22 June by Dent – the award-winning critic, celebrated writer, and MasterChef guest judge. A Kino spokesperson said: “And that's not all. All summer long, kitchen icons including Nigel Slater, Angela Clutton and Bee Wilson will take to Kino's stage and stove. Don't miss out on Yorkshire's most thrilling dining experience!” To find out more, click here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email

Premium Club members to receive next Multi-Site Database and videos from Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference today: Premium Club members are to receive the next Multi-Site Database and all the videos from the Excellence in Pub Retailing Conference today (Friday, 31 May). The next Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate, provides details of 3,123 multi-site operators and is now searchable in seven main segments. The database features 915 (29%) operators from the casual dining sector, 766 (25%) pub and bar operators, 516 (16%) cafe bakery operators, 428 (14%) quick service restaurant operators, 250 (8%) hotel operators, 194 (6%) experiential leisure operators and 54 (2%) fine dining operators. The database is updated each month and this edition includes 25 new companies. Premium Club members will also receive all the videos from the Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference. They include Chris Stagg, who heads up the Revolution Bars Group-owned Peach Pubs, speaking about evolving and growing the business under new ownership, standing out in the premium pub market, and creating an award-winning culture. Meanwhile, Jonathan Lawson, chief executive of Liberation Group, discusses how the award-winning business has maintained its high standards while continuing to grow its mainland estate, the development of its bedrooms business as its targets a 700-bedrooms division, and the integration of the Cirrus Inns business, including its entry into the London market. Premium Club members also receive access to five additional databases: the New Openings Database; the Turnover & Profits Blue Book; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database and the Who's Who of UK Hospitality. All Premium Clubs members will be offered a 20% discount on tickets to Propel paid-for events including Social Media for Profit (18 July), the Talent and Training Conference (1 October) and Restaurant Marketer and Innovator (two days in January 2025). Operators that are Premium Club members are also able to send up to four members of staff to each of our four Multi-Club Conferences for free. Premium Club members receive their daily Propel Info newsletter 11 hours earlier than standard subscribers, at 7pm the evening before. They also receive videos of presentations at eight Propel conference events two weeks after they are held. This represents around 100 videos of industry insight over the course of the year. Premium Club members will be sent a dedicated monthly newsletter that will highlight key updates in the sector and direct subscribers to all the vital content their membership offers. Premium Club members also receive exclusive opinion columns every Friday at 5pm, which include the thoughts of Propel group editor Mark Wingett and a host of industry leaders from across the sector. A Premium Club subscription costs an annual sum of £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Premium Club for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or supplier. Email today to sign up.
GSG’s luxury dining joint venture in Liverpool among new additions to Michelin Guide: GSG Hospitality’s luxury dining joint venture in Liverpool, Nord, is among the new additions to the Michelin Guide. The Bold Street Coffee operator opened Nord in the Plaza Building, at 100 Old Hall Street, in March 2023, in partnership with chef Daniel Heffy, co-founder of the Secret Diners Club. “Located in the heart of the city, this spacious restaurant sports modern décor with an almost futuristic edge thanks to the pod-like booth seating,” its Michelin entry said. “The menu offers plenty of variety, with a mix of international influences resulting in dishes ranging from tandoori beetroot to cod Kiev and asparagus tagliatelle to a traditional Sunday roast. It’s all carefully executed by the kitchen and doesn’t lack for flavour thanks to judicious seasoning. The cheery and chatty service team add to the appeal.” Nord was one of seven restaurants added to the guide in May. Also added is Duck on the Pond, the Oxfordshire inn owned by chef Hendrik Dutson-Steinfield and his wife, Julie, in South Newington. Canalside brasserie Maya, opened earlier this year in Manchester’s Chorlton Street by Isabel Mayfair chief executive Scottie Bhattarai, is also in. So too is family-owned Thirteen in Poole, spearheaded by chef Alex Naik, with his sister, Frances, and parents, Hem and Elisabeth, running front of house. All day dining concept Boheme, opened in Chester’s Bridge Street in February by friends Ben Illes and Andi Lowe-Smith, is another new entry. So too are Dan Sweet’s Kickstarter-funded Cuubo in Harborne High Street, Birmingham, and neighbourhood restaurant Sune in London’s Hackney, from husband-and-wife team Honey Spencer – who has worked with Osip, Akoko, Native, Bossa and, soon, July in Fitzrovia – and Charlie Sims – formerly of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Brunswick House, Lyle’s, Mãos, Brawn and Noma in Copenhagen.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a private members’ club that is looking for a general manager. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “Your responsibilities will include leading and managing the team effectively, ensuring the success of the business by maintaining the highest standards of service. Operating in line with company policies and objectives, your focus will be on maximising profitability within budget constraints and driving the overall development of the business.” The salary is up to £120,000 and the position is based in London. For more information, email

Company News:

WatchHouse founder – USA first staging post in international future for the business: Roland Horne, founder of specialty coffee concept WatchHouse, has said an international future beckons for the London business following a successful debut in New York. Horne said the opportunity to expand in America may well exceed the scope for growth in the UK. The group opened its first US site in February, in New York's 5th Avenue. Writing exclusively in today’s (Friday, 31 May) Premium Club Opinion, Horne said the business, which opened its first site ten years ago in London's Bermondsey Street and now operates 19 outlets, is currently executing plans to build out a second major trading hub after London, in the city of New York. WatchHouse is currently on-site at its second location in the city, at the Chrysler Building. The business has also secured a location for a roastery and bakery, in Brooklyn. Horne said: “We’re proud to be one of a handful of top-notch UK brands, alongside the likes of Hawksmoor, flying the flag in the US for the very best of British hospitality, and we are increasingly confident that we can deliver success in New York at least akin to what we’ve achieved in London – in terms of site numbers and revenue. In addition, our foray into the US has given the business the confidence to consider other international cities in Europe and Asia. Landing these locations won’t happen tomorrow, but these markets now feel like they could be a part of our future too.” Horne will share more on this thoughts in today’s Premium Club Opinion, which will be sent to members at 5pm. A Premium Club subscription costs an annual sum of £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Premium Club for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or supplier. Email today to sign up.

Red Oak Taverns acquires 19 pubs from Marston’s: Red Oak Taverns, the national pub operator founded by Aaron Brown and Mark Grunnell in 2011, has acquired 19 tied tenanted pubs from Marston’s. The deal marks the third transaction between the two companies in the last 15 months. With this latest acquisition, Red Oak’s portfolio has now grown to 246 pubs. Red Oak said the acquisition further strengthens its relationship with Marston’s, bringing the total number of pubs acquired from it to 26. Notably, the previous two transactions involved free of tie pubs, “showcasing Red Oak's unique approach to flexibly running pubs on either a tied or free of tie basis”. Grunnell said: “We are delighted to have completed the purchase of these high-quality pubs in a third successful deal with Marston’s. The ability to deliver, especially in times where the cost of capital is high, is crucial between any seller and buyer, and we have built a strong relationship with the Marston’s team. I would like to extend a special welcome to those tenant partners transferring over to the Red Oak Taverns family. Initial welcome meetings have already been held, and we look forward to developing investment plans together in the coming weeks.” Andy Kershaw, property director at Marston’s, added: “We are pleased to complete this sale to Red Oak in line with our stated strategic objectives while matching a good partner for the long-term futures of these pubs and their operators.” The pubs are: Bakers Arms, Dorchester; Berkeley Arms, Worcester; Blacksmiths Arms, Quorn; Bulls Head, Manchester; Cricketers Arms, Holmfirth; Cross Tree, Daventry; Feathers, Lichfield; Gate Inn, Ordsall; Inn on the Marsh, Moreton in the Marsh; Kings Arms, Horbury; Minster Inn, York; Monks Bridge, Stretton; Red Lion, Little Haywood; Round Oak, Wombourne; Royal Oak, Malvern; Star Inn, Tideswell; Summerhouse, Sedgley; Swan Inn, Worcester; and Wheatsheaf, Shrewsbury. Red Oak said it remains well-capitalised and continues to actively seek further opportunities to expand its presence in the market through both portfolio and single-site acquisitions. Fleurets acted for Red Oak while Christie & Co represented Marston’s.

Glasgow hot chicken concept signs up Subway franchisee for 15-store deal across Lancashire: Glasgow hot chicken concept Lucky B’s has signed up Subway franchisee Ross Fairbairn as a master franchisee for a 15-store deal across Lancashire. Founded by friends Giancarlo Celino and Toni Dobrenko, Lucky B’s opened its debut site in the Giffnock area of Glasgow in September 2022, followed by its first franchise site, in Paisley Road West in the city’s Cardonald area, earlier this year. Its franchise growth is being led by former Hero Brands group operations manager David Moffat, who helped grow German Doner Kebab (GDK) to 100-plus sites and told Propel in March he sees similar growth potential for Lucky B’s. The first phase of that growth will come through Fairbairn, who has operated Subway franchisee Quick Serv since 2017 and grown it to 22 stores across Lancashire, Merseyside and Cumbria. Fairbairn said: “I am happy to share that I’m starting a new position as a Lucky B’s Hot Chicken master franchisee/director, supporting the growth of the brand across Lancashire.” Moffat added: “We are excited to announce that Ross has officially signed with Lucky B’s Hot Chicken, marking a major milestone for the business. With plans to open 15 new stores across England, this expansion signifies Lucky B’s ambitious growth strategy and commitment to bringing the bold, flavourful taste of Nashville hot chicken to new communities. This move not only highlights the rising popularity of Lucky B’s but also represents a significant boost for the regional food industry. Confirmed stores opening this year in Blackpool and Preston.” Celino, who runs three Catch Fish and Chips restaurants in Glasgow, and Dobrenko, who owns Toni’s Pizzeria in the city, came up with the idea for Lucky B’s when travelling in the deep south of the US, where “hot chicken” is huge. The chicken pieces are deep fried and trebled coated in hot sauce, with levels of spice then added as toppings. Lucky B’s first franchisees, Usman and Sohail Ghafu, who used to run four Subway stores in Glasgow, have three further Lucky B’s stores earmarked for the city. Moffat also said in March that Lucky B’s is in the final stages of securing a site in London and will also be opening in Birmingham and Bradford.

JKS to open new restaurant in London’s Mayfair inspired by Punjab heritage: JKS Restaurants is to further expand its portfolio in London with the launch of Ambassadors Clubhouse this summer in Mayfair. Propel revealed in 2022 that JKS was planning a new venture in the former Momo premises at 25 Heddon Street. Now the group, founded by Jyotin, Karam and Sunaina Sethi, has revealed its new venue will celebrate food, drink, music and culture from the region of Punjab. Named after the Sethi’s maternal grandfather, a former Indian ambassador, the restaurant will take inspiration from his summer house in Dalhousie (formerly part of Punjab) and north India’s abandoned party mansions, as well as the founders’ own Punjabi heritage. The menu will feature classic papads and chaat, lesser-known kebabs cooked across the tandoor, and curries cooked in cast-iron karahis and clay matkas. An all-day drinks list will have a focus on tequila and mezcal cocktails blended with regional produce. Highlights will include a selection of “Punjabi margaritas” all made with exotic north Indian fruits and citrus and paired with chaat masala spiced salts. There will also be beer and wine. The 140-cover restaurant will be split across two floors, featuring a 40-cover outdoor heated veranda and three private dining spaces: The Raja Rani Room, seating up to 14 guests, The Jungli Room, seating up to six guests, and The Tamasha Room, seating up to ten guests. The dining room will feature a central bar with booth seating and counter dining while the lower ground floor will feature a drinking and dining space, alongside a DJ booth, open until late. From September, a dedicated music series will be hosted on the lower ground floor on selected nights. 

Portuguese pastelaria concept Santa Nata opens fourth London site: Portuguese pastelaria concept Santa Nata, which made its UK debut in 2019 with the launch of two sites in Covent Garden, has opened its fourth site in the capital. The group has opened at Turbine Hall A in Battersea Power Station, offering pastel de nata – a Portuguese pastry with egg custard filling. Santa Nata opened a third London location, at 19 Dirty Lane in Borough Market, last year. The business opened its first regional site, in Oxford in October 2022, and it also has overseas locations in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Co-founder Francisco Oliveira’s family have been baking since 1900 and own seven bakeries in Portugal. Franchise consultants Seed Consulting – which is working with the brand on its expansion and previously targeted 25-plus locations – said it is still seeking multi-unit franchisees. “Congratulations to Santa Nata, which has just opened its latest London store in the iconic Battersea Power Station,” a Seeds Consulting spokesman said. “This artisanal brand has set up shop in Turbine Hall A, ready to serve up its delicious Pastéis de Nata, freshly made and baked before shoppers eyes. With a family history of three generations of producing the highest quality Pastéis, Santa Nata embodies tradition and authenticity. The brand is actively looking for qualified multi-unit franchisees interested in operating Santa Nata in a territory or within an existing hospitality or retail estate, expanding in selected international regions.”
Immersive close-up magic experience set to launch in London: An immersive close-up magic experience is set to launch in London. The Magician’s Table will arrive in a secret London Bridge location in September. The experience will invite guests to join friends and family from across the globe at the wake of the Great Dieter Roterberg, as they celebrate the life of this famed carnival owner, magician and renowned collector of curios. Led by his widow, guests will be given exclusive access into Roterberg’s private performance space and workshop. Once seated, guests will be drawn into the final plans made by Roterberg for one last night of wonder where hopefully, with the help of his friends, family and protégés, the trick that had eluded him throughout his life will finally be completed. Throughout the two-hour experience, guests will witness close-up magic from the UK’s finest magicians, handpicked by the carnival owner himself, set against a backdrop of live music and cocktails hand-delivered to the table. The Magician’s Table has been created by Right Angle Entertainment with BAFTA and Olivier-winning writers Stephen Long and Iain Sharkey. Also on the creative team is Tom Greenwood-Mears, founder of Cut & Mustard; Kevin Hammonds, an award-winning immersive writer and designer; and Sheena Patel, founder of YonderBeyond, The Immersive Experience Network and producer of Time Run and Sherlock: The Official Live Game. Greenwood-Mears said: “There is nothing quite like magic being performed right in front of your eyes and the magicians, writers and set designers involved are some of the best in the world. We’re having a lot of fun making it and the end result is going to be something pretty special.”
Capilon Hotels Group acquires Paddington site to boost presence in London following £19.5m loan from OakNorth and ASK Partners: Capilon Hotels Group has acquired a Paddington site to boost its presence in London following a £19.5m co-loan from OakNorth and ASK Partners. The cash injection is being used to acquire and refurbish a six-storey, grade II-listed vacant hotel in Westbourne Terrace and convert it into a new 80-room boutique upper-scale hotel. Founded in 2004, Capilon Hotels Group is a property development and management business focusing on central London hotels. To date, the group has operated and developed 11 hotels across the capital, including The Blandford Hotel in Marylebone and The Judd Hotel in Bloomsbury. The group is partnered with Prima, a Singapore based global private equity real estate company. A Capilon spokesman said: “For more than 20 years now, our small but dedicated team has delivered hotels that have all the things that you need, and none of the things you don’t, in order to offer the best value for money for our customers. This new site, situated on Hyde Park’s doorstep, embodies this approach perfectly, and will be an excellent choice for those visiting the capital for business or pleasure.” Ben Hall, chief executive at Prima, added: “The strategic acquisition of this prime property not only signifies our focus on the resilient London hotel market, but also positions us in one of London’s most attractive growing sub-markets. We're confident this institutionally structured deal, coupled with the benefits of using a Singapore variable capital company investment structure, will provide our investors with a unique risk-adjusted opportunity to invest into the UK’s real estate market.” Capilon’s portfolio also includes The Mayflower Hotel in Earl’s Court and The Prince William Hotel in Westminster.
Cotswolds operators acquire lease of historic pub in JV with local residents: Cotswolds operators The Relish Group have acquired the lease of an historic pub in a joint venture with local residents. The Relish Group, which started out as a catering business but has also built a portfolio of venues across the Cotswolds, will manage The Bakers Arms in Broad Campden alongside local residents, Stephen and Charlotte Gabb. They have taken on the lease from another set of locals, Richard and Gail Smith, who acquired the 19th century inn following the retirement of its former landlords and owners. The pub, which is currently in mid refurbishment, has been used in many TV shows, most recently ITV’s Father Brown, reports Insider Media. Rob Goves, a director of Relish, said: “The offering will only be ‘only half baked’ at the outset. While a full bar offering is targeted for late-June, the only eats will be bar snacks and cold items while the kitchen, restaurant area and other aspects within the grounds are completed. We want this to be a good country pub with a food offering to match expectation. It would be wrong to delay the opening of the bar while the kitchen and restaurant area is refurbished and the food offering created, tested and established. We have undertaken this process in many venues and would ask the residents in Broad Campden and surrounding area to allow us a little latitude while we get the food side just right for this amazing village pub.” The Relish Group’s portfolio includes The Lakes Bar & Kitchen in Lechlade, Sally Pussey’s Inn in Royal Wootton Bassett, Broome Manor and Platform 1 Cafe in Swindon, Bar @ Lake 6 in South Cerney, The Old Prison in Cheltenham and Cotswolds Distillery in Shipston-on-Stour, plus The Gateway, Asha Indian Kitchen, Pizzeria 720° and Jacks in Cirencester.

North west operator acquires third Star Pubs lease, plans two more over next year: North west operator John Lloyd has acquired his third lease with Heineken-owned Star Pubs and plans two more over the next year. The wet-led Wheatsheaf in Leyland is undergoing a joint £100,000 revamp that will see it get a new lounge, bar area and pool room decorated with sporting bric-a-brac. The outside will have new lighting while seating capacity in the beer garden will increase by 50%, with new garden furniture, parasols and planters installed. Lloyd also plans to reintroduce cask ale to the pub again for the first time in a decade. Lloyd has been in the pub industry for 40 years and took on his first Star Pubs lease in 2018, The Plough in Euxton. The Black Bull in Penwortham, another wet led pub, followed in 2021. He has run The Wheatsheaf on a temporary agreement for the last five months prior to taking on the lease. His plans are to add another Star Pubs site to his portfolio by the end of the year and a fifth in 2025. “All my pubs are different, I take on each pub on its merits,” he said. “The Black Bull appeals to workers and locals, The Wheatsheaf attracts families at weekends and The Plough has a broad appeal with its beer garden, crazy golf and food. Covid was awful for everyone, but it also brought opportunities with pubs coming on to the market. The pub trade was challenging earlier this year, but sales started to grow again in March. It’s going to be a good summer ahead helped by some major sporting events.” Richie Roberts, Star Pubs business development manager, added: “The much-needed refurbishment will completely transform The Wheatsheaf and the reintroduction of cask ale will attract new customers, as John has already established a reputation for good cask ale at The Black Bull.”

Self-guided city trail company Go Quest Adventures launches in Exeter: Self-guided city trail company Go Quest Adventures is celebrating its second anniversary with the launch of a new quest in Exeter. Go Quest Adventures is an interactive walking treasure hunt with a twist, and since its inception, it has already established “quests” in 23 cities across the UK. The city trail company has announced Exeter as its latest “quest to be unlocked”, giving tourists as well as those who live in the area the opportunity to explore and experience all that the city has to offer. Go Quest Adventures has also overhauled its app and website “for a more seamless user journey”. The interactive two-to-three-hour experience is for groups of all sizes and is accessed via a free app, with a competitive leaderboard and monthly prizes. It costs £28.95 per “quest” for teams of up to five players. Teams work together to solve clues, puzzles and challenges that encourage them to explore local streets, learn about its history and uncover secrets. Founder Kimberley Kniveton said: “What started out as a fun idea that we hoped a few people would love and join has quickly grown from strength to strength. We’re so proud of Go Quest Adventures and how much we’ve achieved in just two years. Given the popularity of the immersive experience, refreshing our app and website to provide a better user journey was a natural next step. In addition to the new Exeter location, we have big expansion plans on the horizon. Our aim has always been to combine travel with puzzle solving and give people the opportunity to explore beautiful locations in a unique, immersive and fun way, and we can’t wait to continue to build on that.”

East Sussex hotel owners add second pub to portfolio: The owners of Wingrove House, a hotel in the East Sussex village of Alfriston, have added a second pub to their portfolio. They have acquired the lease of the grade II-listed Anchor Inn in the village of Hartfield, adding to the Foresters Arms in nearby Fairwarp, which it bought the freehold of in March. Phil Lewin, director of Wingrove House, said: "We are delighted to now have responsibility for the Anchor Inn, a fantastically located pub in the heart of the Ashdown Forest.” Fleurets acted on the deal.

Former Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group regional manager set to open second Salford venue: Former Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group regional manager Neil Burke is set to open a second venue in Salford. Burke spent six years with Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group and Jamie’s Italian before spending four years in Australia as group operations manager at The Grounds – a coffee roastery, cafe, restaurant and bar in New South Wales. On returning to the UK in 2021, he took on the historic Black Friar Pub in Salford, which was built in 1886 and had been lying derelict for 15 years. Having operated the pub for two years, Burke took over full ownership of the pub from Salboy & Domis, which has been behind its £1.4m restoration. He is now set to open sister venue, neighbourhood café Leo and Roobs, named after his children, Leo and Ruby. Situated in the Blackfriars area of Salford, it will open on Monday, 10 June, offering everything from artisanal coffee and fresh juice to brunch and lunch options, from the early morning to afternoon, seven days a week. Brunch options will include summer salads, wraps and toasties, while house-baked crumpets will feature in several dishes, including the “Leo’s Stack”, which includes a sausage patty, poached egg, American cheese and tomato chutney. Guests can enjoy a variety of specialty coffee, including matcha and Vietnamese coffee sourced from a local artisan supplier, alongside house-made juice, smoothies and cocktails. Everything is made from scratch by head chef Morgan Lane – previously of four-strong Manchester coffee shop concept Pot Kettle Black – with a focus on fresh and healthy options. There will also be a coffee hatch to provide a takeaway service, with pre-order and quick pick-up options.

Sussex multi-site operator sells village pub lease to experienced team: Sussex multi-site operator Michael Willis has sold the lease of the Barley Mow in the village of Selmeston, near Eastbourne. Willis, who operates the Roebuck Inn in Laughton and The Farmers in Scaynes Hill, has run the Barley Mow since 2015. “The Barley Mow has long been a very popular venue and is very well known for having the biggest play area in Sussex,” Willis said. “Like many public houses in their history, it had fallen on hard times when we decided to take it on. Over time and with a lot of energy and determination it once again flourished. During my ten-year tenure there have been challenges, least forgetting covid-19, but overall we have built up a very successful family business.” The Barley Mow came to market following Willis’ decision to semi-retire to Portugal but he plans to jeep his other two pubs. Taking control of The Barley Mow is The Blue Yonder Group, a team that between it has 100 years of experience across all sectors of the hospitality industry including at Brighton fried chicken concept The Bok Shop. Blue Yonder Group said it plans to bring a “unique and exciting programme of events in an updated and fun experiential setting while supplying an elevated food and drink offering”. Fleurets acted on the deal.

Two Michelin-starred London restaurant Trivet launches wine bar concept: Trivet – the two Michelin-starred neighbourhood restaurant in London’s Bermondsey from Isa Bal and Jonny Lake – has launched Labombe Wine Bar, a new concept that sees its dedicated bar open on Monday evenings under a new guise. The bar serves guests an exclusive by-the-glass wine offering from sommelier Bal, and a blackboard menu of relaxed but elevated bar bites from chef Lake. Labombe Wine Bar is inspired by the fictional bistro created by former The Fat Duck head chef Lake for a school French project, on which the teacher commented “Où sont les boissons?”, meaning “Where are the drinks?” Lake decided to reimagine Labombe as a wine bar at Trivet. While the main restaurant remains closed as usual on Mondays, the Labombe Wine Bar offering sees Bal delve into his award-winning, 450-strong wine list, choosing bottles to pour by the glass exclusively that night. Alongside the wine offering, guests are able to sample a menu of small and large plates such as dishes of green asparagus, anchovy cream and scallop roe; and the Hot Tongue Bun, a dish from the restaurant’s lunch menu of braised Angus x Wagyu ox tongue dressed with anchovy mayo, pickles and blackcurrant mostarda. Trivet opened in November 2019 and earned its first Michelin star in 2022, followed by its second in 2024. 

Focus Hotels Management takes on operations of Londonderry Holiday Inn Express: Focus Hotels Management, which manages more than 1,700 rooms across the UK, has taken over the operation of the Holiday Inn Express Derry in Londonderry, adding to its growing presence in Northern Ireland. The 119-bed hotel in Strand Road is located in a central location and used by corporate and tourism focused guests, reports Insider Media. Devin Grosse, chief executive of Focus Hotels, said: “This is a fantastic hotel that provides an ideal base for exploring the history and vibrance of the city and we are excited to play a part in the property’s growth and development.” A spokesperson for the owners, understood to be brothers Larry and Brendan Duddy Junior, added: “Under Focus’ leadership, we anticipate great strides of progress within the hotel and significant overall improvement in our guests’ experience.” It marks Focus Hotels’ first entry into the hotel market on the island of Ireland. Focus Hotels is also set to run the new five-star Bedford Hotel in Belfast as part of its plans to expand its portfolio in Northern Ireland. The company’s portfolio includes a dozen locations in England and Scotland.
Toca Social opens second UK site: Toca Social, the interactive football bar, has opened its second UK site, in Birmingham. Founded in 2016 by two-time US World Cup player Eddie Lewis, the concept launched at London’s The O2 in April 2021. It has now opened at Birmingham’s Bullring centre, taking over a former Debenhams site. Toca Social Birmingham features 23 interactive football boxes and four bars across two floors, as well as a karaoke booth and premium private spaces to hire. Food-wise, London-based Chick ‘n’ Sours has brought its “next level fried chicken” to the city for the first time and has created the Birmingham-inspired “Gunpowder Wing”, as a nod to the city’s curry culture. There will also be double smashed, birria chipotle beef tacos, steamed gyoza and crispy duck pancakes, while to celebrate UEFA Euro 2024, Toca will have a “Junetober” offer featuring steins and bratwursts. Toca Social president Alex Harman said: “We’re thrilled to have officially opened the doors to our second UK venue. We’ve designed one of the biggest entertainment experiences in Birmingham, where guests can enjoy our immersive football-gaming alongside five-star food and drinks. What’s more, we’re kicking off our first month with a bang as we celebrate a summer of football with Junetoberfest, our take on Oktoberfest.” Toby Tait, director of asset management at landlord Hammerson, added: “Our vision is to create vibrant, multi-use destinations that offer an exciting mix of complementary social uses, from retail and entertainment to culture and art. The opening of Toca Social embodies this approach and demonstrates how we are expanding the proposition of our destinations.” In August 2023, Harman told Propel that the business is aiming for 20-30 sites and revealed plans to launch in Westfield White City. Toca also said last year it would make its international debut with an opening in Dallas, and its US parent company, Toca, has since received investment from world chess champion Magnus Carlsen.
Former The Fat Duck junior sous chef opens first permanent site for his modern Welsh pop-up concept: Tom Waters, former junior sous chef at Heston Blumenthal’s flagship The Fat Duck restaurant, has opened the first permanent site for his modern Welsh pop-up concept, Gorse. Waters – who has also worked under Bryn Williams at Odette’s, Phil Howard at The Square and at Bonham’s in Mayfair – had operated Gorse as a pop-up at various independent venues including Ground Bakery in Pontcanna, Insole Court in Llandaff and Waterloo Tea in Roath. Waters has now opened Gorse’s debut bricks-and-mortar location, at 186 Kings Road in Cardiff, in the former site of dog-friendly cafe, Fido. The restaurant has 22 covers and offers multi-course tasting menus showcasing the best of Welsh produce. Waters said: “Gorse is about capturing local ingredients at the peak of their deliciousness and serving them in creative and sometimes unexpected ways. We have some of the best produce in the world in Wales – including an amazing coastline (which inspired our restaurant name) and is full of amazing seaweed, fish and wild ingredients. A good example would be to look at laver, which is traditionally boiled down to make laverbread. Instead, we take it, we dry it, and we add it to some delicious, cultured butter to serve with our buttermilk bread, or we make a broth with it – taking influence from Japanese cuisine. Gorse is all about dishes like that – putting a new spin on some classic, Welsh ingredients and framing them in a new light.”
Manchester bar describing itself as ‘oldest gay venue in Europe’ loses licence: A Manchester bar describing itself as the “oldest gay venue in Europe” has lost its licence after an immigration raid. The owner of Napoleons, in Bloom Street in Manchester's Gay Village, was also fined £90,000, reports the BBC. Immigration officials went to the bar on 29 February and found four people working on visitor visas, a licensing hearing this week was told. The fine was issued for employing two people who did not have a right to work in the UK. PC Alan Isherwood, from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said there was “a history” of such things happening at the venue. Rebecca Lowe, representing Napoleons, said: “I think it’s fair to say in absence of the immigration offences, GMP would not be here. We would say we are here prematurely and the revocation of the licence in response to something that’s not yet proven. If the licence is revoked and [the owner] loses months of trading which she cannot recover [from], that would not be proportionate.” Napoleons, which was opened in 1941, will now be unable to serve alcohol. The bar is currently owned by Napoleon HL, with company director Guixiang Liu registered as the designated premises supervisor.
Former head of cocktails at Mestizo Chelsea opens Mexican cocktail bar in Camden: Aima Indigo, former head of cocktails at Mestizo Chelsea – the second site for the Mestizo concept that opened in 2022 – has opened a new Mexican cocktail bar in Camden. El Cenote has opened at 2 Inverness Street, also offering a food menu led by chef Daniel Sanchez, a native of Mexico City, who has worked at Mexcalito and Chingon Tacos and was instrumental in opening Ella Canta with Marta Ortiz. He serves up traditional Mexican street food such as Cochinita Pipil Tacos (soft corn tortillas with pulled pork slow cooked for seven hours); Taco Birria (a spicy and Mexican beef stew that’s slow cooked until the meat is falling apart) and Carne Asada Norteña (a traditional Mexican dish composed of marinated skirt steak or flank steak that has been grilled and thinly sliced). There is also a plant-based vegan selection, while Indigo has created a list of signature cocktails inspired by Mexico.

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