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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators
Mon 12th Feb 2024 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Epic Bars and Clubs looks to become the UK’s largest chain of bars and nightclubs: Epic Bars and Clubs, the venture from Mark Shorting and Nigel Blair, two of the founders of the Fever Bar business, is looking to become the UKs largest chain of bars and nightclubs, Propel has learned. Epic is aiming to buck the trend of closures in the late-night sector, with plans to add six to eight sites to its growing 17-strong portfolio within the next year. Spearheaded by Shorting and Blair, who sold the circa 30-strong Fever Bar business to Stonegate Pub Co in 2019, Epic told Propel it is on the expansion trail after seeing “growth and demand, rather than shrinkage and decline”. In July 2021 going into an uncertain, post-covid clubbing era, Epic launched five new nightclubs and two pre-existing ones and has since acquired a further ten sites across the UK. Most recently, Epic acquired sites in Andover, Camberley, Colchester and Hereford from Rekom UK. Based on its correct trajectory, Epic said it hopes to add six to eight sites within the year while revisiting and refurbishing a further three existing sites. It acquired Cameo and Vinyl in Andover last November. and plans to invest £500,000 in refurbishing the venue over the coming months. Epic’s existing portfolio includes the Labyrinth sites in Bath, Guildford and Windsor, and the Trilogy sites in Bangor, Blackpool, High Wycombe and Southampton. Nick Martindale, director at Epic, told Propel: “There’s an awful lot of doom and gloom being written about the late-night economy at the moment but myself and everyone at Epic genuinely believe we are heading for the most exciting period we’ve ever seen. Although it saddens me to read of various difficulties some are facing, dark times are times of great opportunity and we as a group are growing at a faster rate than ever. Life is a party and everyone at Epic Bars, across all of our brands, are still very much making that happen and will very much continue to do so in as many places as we possibly can.”

Industry News:

Panel highlighting how sector companies are improving team engagement to take place at first Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2024, open for bookings: A panel highlighting how sector companies are improving team engagement will be held at the first Propel Multi-Club Conference of 2024. The conference takes place on Thursday, 21 March, at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s Kensington, and is open for bookings. Alastair Scott, founder of S4labour, will highlight how sector companies are improving engagement with their teams, in discussion with Brian Hannon, co-founder of Super8 Restaurants (Brat and Mountain); Jill Scatchard, HR director at Oakman Group; Adam Martin, managing director of Tesco Hospitality; and Dan Hawkie, chief commercial officer at Tipjar. 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.

Premium Club members to receive Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit Conference videos and next Who’s Who of UK Hospitality on Friday: Premium Club members are to receive all the videos from this year’s Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit Conference on Friday (16 February), at 9am. Members will be sent 26 separate video presentations, featuring more than 60 speakers. They include: Andreia Harwood, marketing director – EMEA at Wingstop, revealing how the brand enhances its food offer through collaborations with music, fashion and art brands, influencers and creators – sharing real life case studies from music artist and brand collaborations to leveraging paid strategies to boost reach and drive brand consideration. Heleri Rande, partner at Think Hospitality, talks to Sam Bourke, marketing director at Fuller’s, Sarah Collins, head of marketing at the Rick Stein Group, and Jessica Wight, marketing director at Bistrot Pierre about driving cover growth through food focused marketing. Also on Friday, at midday, Premium Club members will receive the next Who’s Who of UK Hospitality. Another 31 companies have been added to the database, which now features 863 companies. This month’s edition will also include 71 updated entries. The companies, listed in alphabetical order, will have their most recent results reported as well as broader information around Ebitda, plans and trading style available. The database merges Companies House information, interviews and other public information to provide an easy to reference and exhaustive guide to the sector. Premium members also receive access to five other databases: the Multi-Site Database, the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, the New Openings Database, the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database. Propel has evolved its Premium subscription offer by launching Premium Club. All circa 4,000 existing subscribers automatically became members. Premium Club comes with even more benefits. All subscribers will be offered a 20% discount on tickets to four Propel paid-for events – The Excellence in Pub Retailing Conference (14 May), Social Media for Profit (18 July), the Talent and Training Conference (1 October) and Restaurant Marketer and Innovator (two days in January 2025). Operators will also be 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 Propel 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 a supplier. Email kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com today to sign up.

Treasury admits inflation will rise again this week: The government has admitted that key data this week will show inflation rising again. Laura Trott, chief secretary to the Treasury, said the climb in the inflation rate would probably be caused by the higher global energy prices that forced Ofgem to increase the price cap on household bills at the start of the year, reports The Sunday Times. “I have always said [inflation] does not fall in a straight line. There will be bumps in the road, and … we can expect inflation to slightly increase when data for January is published,” said Trott. On Wednesday (14 February), official inflation data will show the consumer prices index rising for the second consecutive month – from 4% in December to an estimated 4.2% in January. This could raise fears that any cut in interest rates by the Bank of England from their current level of 5.25% will be delayed. The news on inflation is just one of a series of indicators on the health of the economy due this week ahead of next month’s Budget. On Thursday (15 February), gross domestic product data for December will show if the economy has slipped into a recession. The economy contracted in the third quarter and Paul Dales, chief UK economist at the consultancy Capital Economics, said it was “touch and go” whether Thursday’s data would show the economy was in recession, which is defined as two consecutive quarters of contraction. A key set of forecasts from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility are due to be delivered to chancellor Jeremy Hunt this week, which he will use to decide on his room for manoeuvre for tax cuts. In his November autumn statement, he introduced reductions in national insurance. This week’s data will also include an update on the jobs market and wages, which are expected to still be growing faster than inflation. The bank has been watching wage rises closely for fear that people on higher earnings will be able keep affording higher prices – so fuelling inflation.

Nightclub visits for electronic music see 9% decrease in 2023: Nightclub visits for electronic music saw a 9% decrease in 2023, according to a new report from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). Its “Electronic Beats, Economic Treats 2024” report said the challenges facing the industry were marked by a 6% decrease in electronic music’s total measurable economic impact, now calculated to be £2.5bn. It said 90.0 million nightclub visits for electronic music represented a 9% decrease, “reflecting broader trends affecting nightlife and social spaces, which underscores the pressing need for strategic interventions to preserve and promote these vital cultural arenas”. It went on to say that £1,457.3m was contributed by nightclubs to the economy, a 14% decrease, while £567.8m was the economic contribution from festivals, up 9%. A further £285.5m came from other live electronic music events, reflecting a 5% increase. Carly Heath, night-time economy advisor for Bristol, said: “Dance spaces deserve celebration for their significant contribution to British culture, yet the financial support and public funding for our culture is woefully inadequate. I’m hopeful that future generations will recognise club culture as a British cultural institution. The government should better support the scenes of today to create the legendary artists of the future.” 

London’s best pub keeping regulars coming back by protecting use of cash: London’s best pub is making sure its regulars keep coming back by protecting the use of cash. Despite the dominance of card payments in recent years, fuelled by the introduction of Apple Pay and Google Pay, which allow customers to pay with a wave of their mobile phones, Irish pub Skehan’s, in Nunhead, insists all orders under £10 are paid for with cash. Owner Bryan Fitzsimons told The Telegraph. “If we transitioned completely to cashless, it would be very inconvenient for our older customers. We have to look after the old regulars who have always come here. We are popular with young people but we try to stay a very traditional pub. I can’t imagine not having a bank card myself, but when you work in a pub you see people who don’t all the time, there are lots of people who still rely completely on cash.” The other benefit Fitzsimons is able to pass down to his customers are competitive prices. He added: “Using cash has allowed us to keep prices lower. Guinness and Foster’s is traditionally what the older men drink so I charge a bit more for the trendy beers. A Madri for example, I might charge competitive prices for that to offset it.” Skehan’s was voted London’s best pub by TimeOut magazine last year. The pub has around 80 regulars, Fitzsimons said, with around half of them relying on using cash to pay for their drinks.

Job of the day: COREcruitment has been retained by a global company to recruit a director of culinary excellence. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “This is a position with a senior culinary remit that focuses on innovation, structure and process, global strategy, brand simplification and product development servicing a diverse international client base. Although the role requires experience at a senior culinary level, you will be tasked with the delivery of quality mass food production across 200-plus sites globally, which will require previous extensive experience outside of the kitchen. The role will work in tandem with senior leadership, marketing, customer experience, procurement and operations to enable continued improvement of the offer. The ideal candidate will have experience in quality mass food production on a global scale and extensive knowledge of culinary operations.” The role is based in Switzerland and full-time relocation would be required and the ability to travel globally. The salary is CHF 200,000-plus (£180,000-plus). For more information, email dan@corecruitment.com.

Company News:

GlassHouse issues rebuttal following Soho House response, Sunday Times – ‘perhaps not a business suited to quarterly reporting and being public’: Research house GlassHouse has issued a rebuttal following Soho House’s response to its report criticising the group, resulting in a 30% fall in its share price. On Friday (9 February). Soho House said it “fundamentally rejects” the report, which accused the members club group of being “a company with a broken business model and terrible accounting”. Soho House also revealed its biggest shareholders are weighing taking the company private, having listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2021. The GlassHouse report, in which the New York-based firm admitted it was a short seller in Soho House, resulted in the members’ club company’s shares slumping 30% before closing down 19%. Shares then surged 13% after Soho House spoke out against the report. In response, GlassHouse stated on social platform X: “Soho House rejects our report, says it has inaccuracies/errors, but does not list anything. The company also expects growth in its made-up metric adjusted Ebitda, but says nothing about free-cash-flow or GAAP earnings per share. So, there you have it, more years of actual losses.” Meanwhile, The Sunday Times associate editor Oliver Shah argued that “Soho House’s hangover shows why some parties should stay private”. He said: “Despite containing some sensationalist allegations, [the GlassHouse report] tapped into an existing narrative. It made the basic point that opening ever more ‘houses’ and trying to squeeze ever more cash out of members – the kind of growth demanded by public-market investors ¬– is antithetical to the aura of exclusivity that made Soho House desirable in the first place. Soho House is fundamentally a private company. Its culture is not suited to the world of quarterly reporting and its model is not scalable the way plc investors usually want. Like other unhappy stock market ingénues such as THG, formerly The Hut Group, I suspect it was pushed into going public to provide liquidity for its backers – rarely the right reason. Soho House’s shares have more than halved since it floated in 2021. After the GlassHouse attack, it issued a statement saying it might return to private ownership, which is where it belongs.”

92 Degrees plans to reach 20-site mark by end of year, set to open three train station sites: Independent coffee roaster 92 Degrees has told Propel it is planning to expand its current 14-strong business to 20 sites by the end of the year, including the opening of three new sites based in train stations. 92 Degrees, which was founded in 2014, plans to open the three new transport hub sites over the next few months, with the first two set to open in Glasgow and Liverpool. Co-founder and chief executive Jack Brewitt told Propel that the business, which is privately funded, is also looking at opportunities in Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow for further openings. He said: “We have just opened our fourth site in Leeds, and we operate four sites in both Liverpool and Manchester. We are currently looking at a further site in Leeds and feel comfortable operating four to six sites in each city. We are going up to Scotland soon to start exploring opportunities to replicate that cluster approach up there.” The business opened its first site in Scotland last summer at 92 Hanover Street, Edinburgh. Brewitt said that the group’s most recent open in Leeds Boar Lane had started well and the business overall had just had its best January since it was founded. In terms of funding, he said that the group’s current investors continued to be supportive and that he couldn’t see the company seeking external financing until after 2025. Last month, the business acquired brand agency Redefine Studio as it said it looks to “double down on its brand positioning, marketing and consistency across its rapidly growing organisation”. The acquisition involves the relocation of Redefine to 92 Degrees’ headquarters in Brunswick Dock, Liverpool, plus the addition of a permanent head of brand, Tom Woollam.

Mary Brown's Chicken gears up to open first UK site: Canadian fast-food brand Mary Brown’s Chicken will make its UK debut later this month with an opening in Northern Ireland. The brand, which operates circa 230 sites across Canada, specialising in fried chicken, will open the site at Lisburn Leisure Park. It is also thought to be planning to open franchise sites in Belfast and Leicester. Hadi Chahin, chief executive of Mary Brown's Chicken, said: “For 55 years, Canadians have made Mary Brown's Chicken their first choice for fresh, delicious hand-cut, hand-breaded fried chicken and taters. We are therefore excited to introduce our legendary fried chicken to the wonderful people of Lisburn. What makes Mary Brown's special is our delicious, handcrafted menu and genuine hospitality. We have been a beloved tradition in Canada for generations, and we can’t wait to share our passion for delicious, locally sourced and made-from-scratch quality food with our new friends in the UK.”

Caring to open a Harry’s in London’s Victoria: Serial sector investor Richard Caring is to open a site under his Harry’s bar and restaurant concept in London’s Victoria. He will open the new venue at Terminal House in Grosvenor Gardens, opposite Victoria station. The new site will open next door to The Alchemist, which will open its new site there later this month. Harry’s Bar Restaurants currently comprises eponymous restaurants in Knightsbridge (Basil Street) and Marylebone, plus a private member’s club Harry’s in South Audley Street, Mayfair. The business saw turnover reach £19,649,000 in the year to 1 January 2023 (2021: £14,410,000), with an Ebitda of £3.8m (2021: £3.69m), and a pre-tax profit of £3.05m (2021: £3.19m). The business said that trading was “very strong” throughout the year in question as “consumer confidence returned and restaurants could return to utilising their full capacities”. It said: “The directors remain positive and believe that our differentiated offer will enable us to remain highly competitive as we expand our footprint.”

Adnams appoints advisors as it looks to raise new funds: Suffolk brewer and retailer Adnams has drafted in City advisers to raise new funding amid a deluge of insolvencies across the sector. The company is working with Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) on a range of options to shore up its finances, reports Sky News. People close to the situation said these were likely to include an injection of private capital from a high net worth investor or family office. The sale of some of Adnams’ freehold assets from its estate of pubs and inns would also be considered, they added. The objective of the plan is understood to be to raise capital to pay down bank debt and fund further growth initiatives. The company sought to distance itself from the idea that it could consider an outright sale, which some industry figures had speculated about in recent weeks. A spokesperson for Adnams, whose B-shares are listed on the junior stock market Aquis, said: “We have instructed advisors to explore a range of options to fund our future growth plans.” The appointment of A&M comes several months after Jonathan Adnams, a member of the company's founding family and now its long-standing chairman, told investors that continued inflationary pressures were having a detrimental effect on consumer demand. Operating losses in the first half of its financial year increased to £2.4m on flat revenue of about £30m. An Adnams insider said, however, that trading had been “very positive” in January amid signs of consumer confidence returning and some input cost increase beginning to ease. The company was founded in 1890, although family members George and Ernest Adnams had originally purchased the Sole Bay Brewery 18 years earlier. Adnams is run by Andy Wood, who joined it in the mid-1990s and became chief executive in 2010. Its Aquis-listed shares have fallen by about two-thirds during the last year, although its minuscule market capitalisation of just £9m is misleading because only a small proportion of its shares are traded. The search for new capital comes after a series of bankruptcies in the brewing sector. Last year, Black Sheep collapsed into administration before being bought by investment firm Breal, which has since acquired a number of other distressed players, including Purity Brewing Company. Leeds-based North Brewing Co also fell into administration last month before being sold to Steve Holt, founder of fellow Leeds brewer Kirkstall Brewery.

Taiwanese bubble tea brand exploring UK market: Taiwanese bubble tea brand TrueWin is exploring entering the UK market. Founded in 2018, TrueWin has since grown to more than 40 outlets in Taiwan and expanded to countries including Japan and the Philippines. As well as bubble tea, it specialises in “wheel pies” – rice flour dough wrapped around a red bean filling and baked over a charcoal fire. TrueWin exhibited at this month’s British & International Franchise Exhibition, held over two days at London Olympia, as it looks to expand to the UK and Europe. “TrueWin features modernised urban beverage, combining fashion and profession,” the business said. “The central idea is cheese cream matching fruit and tea. The hope is to stimulate the interaction between people via a cup of tea. We fit the business philosophy of treating customers as friends and partners as family member into life.”

The Jam Tree founder to launch new Clapham restaurant: Leisure entrepreneur Ashley Letchford, who was behind The Jam Tree chain of London pubs, has teamed up with restaurateur Olivier Cohen, owner of award-winning south London French steak restaurant Bordelaise, to launch new restaurant Franklin & Baines in Clapham. Opening on Monday 4 March, the new restaurant at 68-70 Clapham High Street will offer a “playful take on combining delicious British steak and great cocktails”, with a roof terrace opening in the spring. It will also offer DJs and live music on the weekends. Consultant chef Fernando Lerroude, previously master griller at the Gaucho group, has helped to create the menu and will offer a take on food from Britain and America with a big focus on grilled steaks. Signature dishes will come in the form of “smalls” with the likes of barbecue corn ribs and ceviche. “Big” plates will include a classic chicken Caesar salad, pan fried hake with seasonal vegetables and a roasted spiced cauliflower with crispy capers, cauliflower puree and pickles. From the “grill” section, consumers will be able to find a variety of steaks including flat iron, rump, sirloin, T-bone and a tomahawk for two. The steaks will start at £18.50 for 200g.

London Pakistan-inspired cafe opens sixth site, two more to follow in coming months: London Pakistan-inspired cafe concept Naan Staap has opened its sixth site, which will be followed by two more in the coming months. The business, founded in 2018 by Zohaib Shahnawaz, has opened at 11 Station Road in Harrow, its sixth site in the capital and first not in east London or the City itself. The store is one of three the business said it is opening in the first quarter of 2024, as it seeks to expand through franchising, with Wembley and Islington locations also in the pipeline. With 20-plus more stores and territories signed for and set to open over the next three to five years, it is also planning a first regional site, in Bradford, and is seeking partners in other parts of the UK. “Naan Staap is now recruiting across major cities,” said franchise consultant Andy Hulbert. “New areas have been released across major cities and we are now looking to recruit franchisees in Bradford, Leeds, Leicester, Greater Manchester and Liverpool. Naan Staap is all about stuffed naan, cakes, cookies and desi karak chaah (chai). They believe in serving the freshest food, so all food served is freshly baked and prepared inside their kitchen.”

Motorway services business secures new £10m facility to support growth plans and planning permission for fourth site, repays more than £5m in other loans: Motorway service business Westmorland has secured a new £10m facility to support its growth plans, as well as planning permission for a fourth service station, and repaid more than £5m in other loans. The business currently operates three service stations, three filling stations, a hotel and a visitor centre, and has been given the green light to build a further service station off the M56 at Tatton in Cheshire. In its accounts for the year to 2 July 2023, the company said it had completed a refinancing and secured a new £10m revolving credit facility, which remained undrawn at the period end. This sits beside two term loan facilities totalling £21.6m already in place (2022: £23m), with £1.4m of bank borrowing repaid during the year as well as £4m in other loans (2022: nil). Total turnover, excluding joint ventures, increased to £142,035,000 from £127,804,000 in 2022. Excluding Watling Street truck stop and filling station, which was acquired partway through the prior year, like-for-like turnover was £122.8m (2022: £122m). Its pre-tax profit fell from £9,265,000 in 2022 to £5,057,000. No dividends were paid (2022: £4,633). It received £55,000 in grants (2022: £95,000); £100,000 in farm subsidies (2022: £108,000); £6,000 in business interruption insurance claims (2022: £82,000); £57,000 in sundry income (2022: £65,000); and £64,000 in rental income (2022: £162,000). The 2022 figures also included £700,800 profit on disposal of assets and investments. A total of £6m (2022: £5.3m) was invested in the estate in the year, while net assets grew to £55m (2022: £51.5m). Director Sarah Dunning said: “We undertook a complete redevelopment of our truck stop in Cumbria, providing food to go and daily items. We made a number of changes to our food sourcing policy, improving quality and reducing reliance on ultra-processed ingredients. We developed the foyer and lounge of our hotel at Tebay services. Our new coffee and local gelato counters in farm shops at Gloucester and Tebay services have been a great hit with our customers and plans continue to develop more. Rheged has had a particularly successful year, in part due to its popular gallery programme.”

Highland Coast Hotels adds two new sites to portfolio: Highland Coast Hotels (HCH), the Kings Park Capital-backed business, has acquired two new hotels, adding a second property to its existing site in Plockton, and a new hotel in Inverness, to grow its portfolio to eight sites. In Plockton, HCH has acquired The Haven, a 20-bedroom guest house overlooking the seafront, which neighbours its existing hotel in the village, The Plockton Inn, of which The Haven will become a part. In Inverness, it has added the Lochardil House hotel, a 28-bedroom Victorian mansion with a large restaurant and bar area and gardens, just outside the centre of the city. The company said that both acquisitions build on its strategy to develop a portfolio of high-quality hotels that offer full coverage of the North Coast 500 route and the north Highlands. The acquisitions were funded through equity investment from Kings Park Capital and existing investors, together with debt funding from HCH’s banking partner, SNIB. HCH said it has plans to invest further in both hotels over time. Guy Crawford, chief executive of HCH, said: “This is a really exciting milestone for HCH. Lochardil House is our first hotel in Inverness and is also part of our ongoing investment and commitment to community-led hospitality in the north Highlands. We carefully selected this traditional and imposing Highland house to complement our existing hotel collection. It offers exactly the right kind of special charm, authenticity and proximity to the city centre that we were looking for. It’s also conveniently located at the gateway to the north Highlands and the starting point for the world-famous North Coast 500.” 

Sauce Shop develops delivery-only brand with Sessions partnership: British sauce brand Sauce Shop Sessions is launching a range of food in a partnership with Sessions, the growth platform for original food brands. It will be available from Tuesday, 20 February across 50 delivery locations in the UK as well at Sessions’ food market hall, Shelter Hall, in Brighton. The collaboration with Sauce Shop sees its artisanal sauces paired up with several of Sessions’ best-seller dishes featuring wings, tenders, burgers and fries, “to give consumers a new original take on the fried chicken category”. Dan Warne, founder and chief executive of Sessions, said: “We have always believed in partnering with fresh talent, brands and creators to scale original food concepts, and our latest collaboration with Sauce Shop is a real testament to that. We’re not only matching sauces with our menus, we’re powering the iconic Sauce Shop brand with our growing network and tech to reach thousands of taste-loving consumers, and we have our eyes set on pushing the boundaries even further with the team beyond this first run.” Pam Digva, founder and brand director at Sauce Shop, added: “We are excited for the first Sauce Shop food delivery menu to go live, in partnership with Sessions. After supplying the hospitality industry with sauces and seasonings for nearly ten years, it is amazing to launch a menu that has Sauce Shop at its heart.”

Brazilian steakhouse concept Rio opens first Scottish site: Brazilian steakhouse concept Rio has opened its first restaurant in Scotland. It has opened a 150-cover restaurant in the former Jamie’s Italian site in Edinburgh’s historic Assembly Rooms building, in George Street. It offers cuts of meat carved tableside in a traditional Rodizio style and sushi dishes prepared at a central bar. It also offers an unlimited gourmet salad bar and an array of imported cheese, meat and Brazilian flavours. It is an eighth opening for the concept, co-owned by Rodrigo Grassi and Howard Eggleston, which is also aiming to open a new Sunderland restaurant in May. Co-owner Eggleston is also behind the 11-strong Tomahawk Steakhouse.

Wimpy franchisee takes on third Black Sheep Coffee store: Wimpy franchisee Bhopinder Gill has taken on his third store with speciality coffee shop operator, Black Sheep Coffee. Gill’s Coff33 business has opened at 61 High Street in Chelmsford, joining its other franchise locations in High Wycombe and Colchester. Gill is also managing director of GK Burger, which owns Wimpy franchises in Tonbridge, Brentwood and Harlow. He was previously managing director of GK Coffee Group, which operated Starbucks stores across Essex and Kent, and was a director at Essex Wimpy franchisee JB Restaurants.

Ben’s Cookies opens first north of England site for 14th UK location: Cookie brand Ben’s Cookies has opened its first site in the north of England for its 14th UK location overall. The business has opened at the city’s Trafford Centre, offering cookies where each batch of dough is mixed by hand in its kitchen just outside of Oxford, reports the Manchester Evening News. Ben's Cookies has been trading for 40 years and is named after the son of the founder Helge Rubinstein, beginning as a small shop in the Oxford Covered Market in 1984. It has since spread to seven London sites as well as locations in Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Reading. It also has more than 50 overseas locations in countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

Smashed burger concept set to open in Northampton for seventh site: Smashed burger concept You Want Beef? is set to open in Northampton for its seventh site. It is preparing to open a franchise site in a former cafe in Wellingborough Road, in the town centre. Founded in 2021 by Obaidkhaliq Bhatti, the business has grown to two locations in Birmingham and one each in Aylesbury, Luton, Sheffield and Stoke. According to its website, it has further locations “coming soon” in Burton upon Trent, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Derby and Coventry, as well as a third Birmingham site. “You Want Beef? will be a growing franchise and name that everyone will know for the best smash burgers and loaded fries in the market,” a spokesman told the Northampton Chronicle. “We launched in October 2021 and are expanding within the UK.” According to the Bucks Herald, the Aylesbury franchise is owned by the team behind The Fryers Inn and Mr Cod’s Chippy in the town.

Gateshead rooftop restaurant to reopen after being revamped by new owner: A rooftop restaurant in Gateshead, which overlooks the River Tyne and was acquired last year, is set to reopen after being refurbished. In November, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art’s Six restaurant was bought by Middlesbrough-based Pneuma Group, which said it has ambitions to revitalise the region through targeted investments. The 15-year old venue has been revamped and is now gearing up to relaunch on Tuesday (13 February). Updates include a new menu, dedicated bar area, viewing lounge and an exclusive chef's table. Food director Greg Lambert will continue to lead the culinary direction with locally sourced British cuisine.

 
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