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Wed 16th Sep 2020 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Famous Brands pushes button on GBK sale process: South Africa-based Famous Brands has pushed the button on a sale process for its better burger brand Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK), Propel has learned. Propel understands that bids are due by Wednesday (16 September) for the business, which operates 67 sites in the UK. It is thought Deloitte, which has been advising the business on its options since April, is carrying out an accelerated sale process. It is believed that unless a solvent sale can be concluded, a deal via pre-pack administration could be one possible outcome. Propel reported last month that investment vehicle Calveton UK, which recently acquired Byron via a pre-pack administration under newly formed company Famously Proper, was set to examine consolidation possibilities. It is thought that could include running the rule over long-time rival GBK. Last month, Famous Brands said the board of GBK was continuing to explore all options to ensure the long-term sustainability of the business in the wake of the severe impact of trading restrictions and the slow, phased restart of the UK economy. The business was reviewing its options after Famous Brands made the decision earlier this year to provide no further financial assistance to GBK. Famous Brands said deliberations in respect of the matter were still under way. It also reported that of the 62 GBK stores in the UK, 37 were open and offering full service – delivery, collect and dine-in. Of its five stores in Ireland, one is open for full service. The company said: “Under the current prescribed trading restrictions, management is pleased to report our customers have responded positively to the reopening of our restaurants within the government guidelines. The board of GBK is satisfied with the operational performance of the stores that are currently trading.” In a market update issued on 24 July, Famous Brands said: “The board of GBK will continue to explore all options to ensure the long-term sustainability of the business in the wake of the severe impact of continued trading restrictions and the slow, phased restart of the economy.”

Industry News:

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Labour leader offers to help government in replacing furlough scheme: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the government to replace the furlough scheme and put an end to companies “firing and rehiring”. He made an “open offer” to work with the prime minister on a scheme to target sector-specific support, which would include input from trade unions and businesses. The furlough initiative, also known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, has paved the way for almost 10 million workers to claim 80% of their wages (capped at £2,500) since March but is set to end on 31 October. Sir Keir’s speech was held via a video call at this year’s Trades Union Congress annual conference. He said: “We all know the furlough scheme can’t go on as it is forever, but the truth is the virus is still with us and infections are increasing. It just isn’t possible to get back to work or reopen businesses. It isn’t a choice. It’s the cold reality of this crisis. So it makes no sense at all for the government to pull support away now in one fell swoop.” Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said he will be “creative” in helping unemployed people find work but that keeping people out of work indefinitely is not the answer. However, employment minister Mims Davies hinted there could be a more targeted approach when Sunak unveils his Budget later in the year for “sectors that take longer to come back”. Sir Keir wants to a team effort to create “new targeted support that can replace the job retention scheme and develop those sectors where it is most needed”, which includes hospitality, retail and aviation. He hailed trade unions as “unsung heroes”, and added: “Without you, there would have been no furlough scheme, no life raft for seven million people.” Trade Union Congress leader Frances O’Grady warned: “If the government doesn’t act, we face a tsunami of job losses.”
 
Nationwide footfall continues to climb: Nationwide footfall continued to grow in the first two weeks of September following the August bank holiday and the conclusion of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, according to the latest data from Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social. Footfall on Sunday, 13 September, and Sunday 6, September – at 38% and 37% below pre-lock-down levels respectively – was 5% lower than Sunday, 30 August, but this was likely due to the warm weather seen over the bank holiday weekend, Wireless Social said. In London, footfall on Saturday, 12 September, and Saturday, 5 September, was tracking at 40% below pre-lock-down levels, which was an increase of 3% compared with Saturday, 29 August. The figures showed much of this increased traffic is being driven by the London “village” areas, such as Richmond, Wimbledon and Hampstead, where footfall on Saturday, 5 September, was much higher – at 25% below pre-lock-down levels, compared with the West End (minus 56%), the City (minus 62%) and Canary Wharf (minus 68%). But some cities have seen a drop, with Liverpool down 19% on Saturday, 12 September, from the bank holiday weekend, as was Edinburgh. Wireless Social chief executive Julian Ross said: “It’s really encouraging that overall footfall is continuing to climb, and people have been gaining confidence in returning to support their favourite bars and restaurants. However, with the recent government announcements around social restrictions, it may have an impact on that level of trust and comfort and we are already seeing a decline in some cities.”
Wireless Social is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Independent New York operators says opening at a quarter capacity will not save businesses: New York City (NYC) restaurant and bar owners have claimed reopening indoor dining at 25% will do nothing to save the sector. Last week, NYC governor Andrew Cuomo gave the green light for a quarter of indoor tables to reopen at the end of September – potentially rising to 50% by 1 November. Robert Mahon, owner of Toro Loco and Broadstone restaurants, told The Daily Mail the new rules would do “nothing to help”. He said: “No one is making money right now and in October and November, when places run out of their PPP money (Paycheck Protection Program loans), it will really be the cliff-edge. If you’re a multinational company, sure, you’ll survive. But if you’re an independent operator it’s not the same. A lot of places are going to go under.” Eddy Buckingham, owner of Chinese Tuxedo and Peachy’s on Doyers Street and the soon-to-open Tyger in SoHo added: “Nobody’s pretending [25%] is a fix. The industry, already, is a tough one. We run on super fine margins and we know it, and that’s OK, but 25% is not sustainable." Cuomo has allowed indoor dining to go ahead finally after the number of positive covid-19 cases has been below 1% for more than a month. However, sites will have to adhere to strict regulations, including having to close by midnight. 
 

Company News:

Pheby Food Concepts signs deal to introduce Crepe Delicious concept to the UK: Pheby Food Concepts Group, which is behind the Wok&Go and Dough Dough brands, has signed a master development deal to launch the Crepe Delicious concept in the UK. Crepe Delicious currently has more than 60 locations globally, with the move into the UK becoming the ninth country outside of the US and Canada where the brand will have a presence. The first Crepe Delicious is set to open in the UK later this autumn and is projected to have 28 sites by 2025. Elik Farin, chief operating officer of Crepe Delicious Holdings, said: “We have had great success worldwide and seek to continue growth. International consumers really enjoy all that our brand has to offer and we look forward to bringing the great concept and variety.” Founded in 2004 by chef and entrepreneur Oded Yefet, Crepe Delicious crepes can be filled with any assortment of “fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses and lean meats in order to create a balanced meal”. Des Pheby, founder of Pheby Food Concepts Group has expressed his excitement at being a part of this new opportunity and looks forward to supporting the growth and development of an overseas brand here in the UK. Pheby Food Concepts Group was founded in 2008 by Des Pheby with the launch of Wok&Go in Chester. Since then, the company has added several restaurants and dark kitchens to its portfolio alongside Wok&Go, including Dough Dough, Jack Burrito, The Ramen Company, Go Pho and Artisan Wrap Co. It currently operates sites in Chester and Liverpool under pizza concept Dough Dough, with sites in Derby and Warrington also in the pipeline.

Trof Group founders set to launch new concept in Manchester: Joel Wilkinson and Adelaide Winter, founder of the Manchester-based Trof Group, which became Mission Mars, are to launch a new concept in the city. Called Swan Street Firehouse, the new venue will open on the former Pull Up site in the city’s Swan Street. Mission Mars was launched in 2015 with a portfolio of already-popular sites built up by Wilkinson and Winter, including Trof, Gorilla and The Deaf Institute. Revolution Vodka Bar founders Roy Ellis and Neil Macleod acquired a 50% stake in Trof with a view to opening the “best entertainment venues and bars in the world” under then new vehicle Mission Mars. The Deaf Institute in Grosvenor Street and Gorilla in Whitworth Street were closed earlier this year in the wake of the pandemic. In July, terms were agreed for Aaron Mellor’s led Tokyo Industries to acquire both venues.
 
JD Wetherspoon invests £6.6m in two new pubs, works starts this month: JD Wetherspoon is set to start work on two new pubs in the coming weeks. It will spend a combined £6.6m on the sites in Northallerton (population circa 17,000) and Headingley (population circa 20,500). Development work on the Northallerton site, in North Yorkshire, is to begin on Monday, 28 September, with an expected opening date in March 2021. The Headingley site in Leeds, West Yorkshire, is expected to open in April next year with work beginning on 5 October, and more than 125 jobs will be created at the pubs. Wetherspoon chief executive John Hutson said: “We are delighted that development work is due to begin soon. We believe both pubs will be assets to their respective areas and hopefully act as a catalyst for further investment. We are confident that both pubs will appeal to a wide range of people.” Wetherspoon is also developing Keavan’s Port – a pub and 89-bedroom hotel in the centre of Dublin. The development will cost €21m and is set to open “in the near future”.
 
Rodgers Leisure adds sixth pub to portfolio: Family-owned operator Rodgers Leisure has added a pub to its growing portfolio. It has acquired the Black Swan in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, through leisure property specialist Fleurets. Rodgers Leisure already operates five traditional pubs, a deli/café, cocktail bar, a boutique bed and breakfast, a car sales business, commercial and residential lets and a property development business. Rodgers Leisure operations director Joe Rodgers said: “The Black Swan will reopen to the public in October after an extensive refurbishment. By April 2021, we hope to have added six en-suite letting bedrooms, together with a two-bedroom holiday apartment.” Nick Thomas of Fleurets, who brokered the sale added: “It is good to see the Black Swan re-emerging and spreading its wings after a period of closure. I am sure customers will enjoy the refurbished facilities and, looking forward, the creation of letting accommodation will, no doubt, benefit from the increasing numbers of people enjoying staycations and visiting this popular part of the Yorkshire coast.” The Black Swan was sold for an undisclosed figure, off a freehold asking price of £150,000.
 
Pieminister opens Stroud site: Bristol-based pie and mash restaurant operator Pieminister has opened a site in Stroud, Gloucestershire. The company has opened the outlet in Five Valleys Market – its 16th in total. Co-founders and managing directors Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon launched the business in 2003.
 
Admiral Taverns sells Leiston pub: Admiral Taverns has sold The Crown in Leiston, Suffolk, off an asking price of £295,000. The two-storey pub in King George’s Avenue has been bought by an undisclosed local purchaser in a deal brokered by agents Sidney Phillips. The property includes two bars, a first-floor function room, a catering kitchen and five double bedrooms. Neal Barnes, property disposal manager for Admiral Taverns, told Propel: “The pub had been on the market before the onset of covid-19 where we received strong interest. While we are focused on helping our licensees to run sustainable pub businesses, in this instance we felt The Crown did not have a sustainable future and therefore took the decision to sell the pub.” Zaine Lamont, regional valuations manager for the eastern counties at Sidney Phillips, who handled the sale, said: “It’s great to see in these uncertain times the freehold public house market remains strong. It is clear there is still great demand for properties within Suffolk, with many purchasers still not reliant on bank funding.”

Hankies opens third Indian street food restaurant: Indian street food concept Hankies has opened its third London site. The Westbourne Terrace location, in Paddington, joins its Shaftsbury Avenue and Marble Arch siblings but offers a slightly lighter fare. To celebrate the opening, Hankies is offering diners 25% off food on any day throughout September at all three of its venues. Owner Ani Arora’s food offer is based on traditional street food recipes and the majority of dishes are priced between £5.50 and £8. Small bites from the north Indian menu include ‘Fruits de Mer’ popcorn – snow crab, shrimps, sago seeds and lemon ’n’ coriander dip; and wild mushroom kachori. Skewers of tiger prawns with chives and garlic; and chilli lamb chops marinated in Kashmiri chillies and honey are dishes from the grill. Hankies fans will still be able to enjoy the brand’s signature dish – the roomali roti. A thin flatbread that is hand spun, cooked and then folded into “hankies” to accompany – or enclose – dishes, or they are available folded and filled with ingredients such as kale ’n’ haloumi, Burford Brown hen’s egg and pulled lamb spare ribs. Private dining space is available too and guests can enjoy pre or post-dinner drink in Hankies’ bar – where cocktails cost £6. The entire menu is also available for delivery or collection.
 
Nico Simeone eyes new bar, restaurant and rooftop space in Glasgow: Scottish chef Nico Simeone is eyeing a new site in Glasgow. Simeone has lodged plans with the city council for a restaurant, bar and rooftop space in the former Fopp store building in Byres Road. The building is currently let to the Santa Lucia restaurant and Glasgow charity Refuweegee. A statement accompanying the planning application read: “The intention for the site is to create one ownership with three facilities within, including – fine dining restaurant, bar and rooftop bar with dining.” The roof space will have a dedicated bar servery and covered areas for all-year-round use, reports Glasgow Live. Simeone operates seven restaurants under his Six by Nico concept, including two in Glasgow. His debut site in the city, 111 by Nico, has just been taken over by his first kitchen porter, Modou Diagne, who worked his way up to head chef. He also operates a gastro-pub in the city’s Great Western Road.
 
Dough & Co to open fourth and fifth sites, eyes further expansion: Chris Sharman, who worked as a fine dining chef under Marco Pierre White, is to open two more sites for his pizza concept Dough & Co, taking the total to five. Sharman opened the first Dough & Co in Sudbury, Suffolk, in July 2018, followed by restaurants in Colchester and then Bishop’s Stortford. Now, he is expanding his business, opening a restaurant in Halstead in October and another in the former Patisserie Valerie in Bury St Edmunds. He told the East Anglian Daily Times the site in Abbeygate Street was “perfect” for Dough & Co because a proper chimney flute is required and it’s a “vibrant town”. Sharman, who is eyeing Ipswich and Chelmsford next, also operates Burger Amour, which has restaurants in Bishop’s Stortford and Colchester, and is also opening in Bury St Edmunds. He previously said he wanted to open 50 restaurants, and added although his success has been “surreal”, he won’t be finished until he hits his target.
 
‘London’s first dedicated’ foosball club kicks off at the end of September: Table football concept Foosball Club is set to open on 30 September and has claimed to be the first dedicated venue of its kind in London. The site will feature four championship-grade tables with custom lighting and offer pizzas and drinks, plus three retro-style arcade machines with a choice of 80 games on each one. Customers will be able to book seating areas for four people while each privately booked zone will host up to six people. Booking slots come in two or four-hour windows costing £30 or £60 respectively. Wall-mounted screens give the more serious player tips on how to learn moves and trick shots. A wood-fired pizza oven will be used to offer diners pizzas with toppings such as cotto ham, wild mushrooms, mozzarella and pomodoro; and fennel sausage, caramelised red onion, spinach, mozzarella and pomodoro. A pizza and craft beer can be pre-ordered online for £12.50. Foosball Club has been created by JP Thompson, who founded the London Table Football Championship in 2008.
 
Noble Rot Soho to open at Gay Hussar venue: Noble Rot is set to unveil its second restaurant on Friday (18 September). Noble Rot Soho has taken over the Gay Hussar on Greek Street, and was due to open in spring but lock-down stopped that happening. Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew, the men behind the first site in Lamb’s Conduit Street and Noble Rot wine magazine, will lead the venue while the menu will be overseen by executive chef Stephen Harris, of leading gastro-pub The Sportsman fame, and Alex Jackson is head chef. Menu and décor will pay tribute to the building’s former past, which was Hungarian restaurant the Gay Hussar, known as a meeting place for left-wing politicians in the mid-1900s. 
 
Zip World sees Liverpool plans overturned: Adventure tourism operator Zip World has seen its plans to install a zip line between two Liverpool landmarks blocked by mayor Joe Anderson. The attraction would have been Zip World’s first outside Wales having been approved earlier this year. It was set to carry customers from the top of St Johns’ Beacon to the summit of the historic Liverpool Central Library. However, Anderson has now overturned the decision. He told Insider Media: “Liverpool will always try to support imaginative ideas, especially in these tough economic times. But I have serious concerns about using this area and will not give permission for any council-owned building in this area to be used for the zip wire. I have spoken to Zip World and it has accepted my position and look forward to it working with us to identify an alternative option.”
 
Murger Han opens in the City for its third London site: Murger Han, the first restaurant to bring Xi’an food to London, has opened its third site. Founder Bin Li launched the venue in Philpot Lane in the City on Tuesday (15 September). The 1,000 square foot site offers 54 covers in a main dining room and ten on a heated terrace, and also features an open kitchen. The City branch menu includes Biang Biang noodles and murgers (slow-cooked meat in flatbread). The previously announced daily Xi’an breakfast menu is not being served but it is hoped to be added at a later date. Also on offer are Xi’an cocktails served from a dedicated bar and a “Muslim street market” menu of traditional street dishes. Li launched Murger Han in Euston in 2014 and added a site in Mayfair two years later. When announcing the company’s intention of opening its third site last month, Li said: “I started Murger Han to educate and provide Londoners with authentic Xi’an cuisine. The third location allows us to develop our menu and continue my dream. The new breakfast dishes, opening earlier and expanding into a new neighbourhood in London gives us more opportunity to serve proper eastern food to a western global market. The pandemic has hit my restaurant hard but we must keep fighting and move forward and this new opening is significant for me to demonstrate the strength of Murger Han for the future and for our customers.”
 
Multi-interactive leisure experience closes crowdfunding campaign for permanent site after raising almost £540,000: A multi-interactive leisure experience operating as a pop-up has closed its campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to open a permanent venue after raising almost £540,000. Cloud 9 encompasses the best of Gladiators, Ninja Warrior and Total Wipeout to create an “unbeatable inflatable experience”. It is set to open in an undisclosed location near London. Cloud 9 was offering 12.77% equity as it looked to raise £500,000, giving the business a pre-money valuation of £4.1m. It has now closed the campaign, with 280 investors pledging £538,894. The venue will feature a giant obstacle course; a sports arena for dodgeball, football and basketball; a Gladiator duel platform; interactive bungee run; a “last man standing” game; and Nerf shooting gallery. The venue will also feature licensed bars and cafes. Cloud 9 founders Andrew Fairnington and Megan Thomas said: “After an amazing response at our pop-up, we’re excited our vision will become reality this winter when we open the first permanent Cloud 9 venue.” Cloud 9 launched in Watford in November 2017 as a pop-up in a school sports hall as a “great way to prove the concept” and a “stepping stone”. The founders said the pop-up was 45% full in its first year, 60% full in year two and 75% in the first five months of year three before lock-down. The founders said Cloud 9 had FY19 revenue of £229,000 and Ebitda of £10,700.
 
Yorkshire-based tea room operators open third site: Yorkshire-based tea room operators Paul and Alice Blanshard have opened a third site for their Millers concept. The husband-and-wife team have launched their latest outlet at Hollicarrs Holiday Park in Escrick, between York and Selby. It joins their sites at holiday lodge parks in Raywell and Heron in East Yorkshire. Paul Blanshard told The Business Desk: “On the back of our other holiday park tearooms, we were contacted by Hollicarrs and asked to do something similar. I’m so pleased to have been approached by people that love what we do. We have what I believe is the winning formula – great chefs and bakers, brilliant waiting staff and a value-for-money menu that doesn’t break the bank.” Charlie Forbes Adam, proprietor of the Escrick Park Estate, which owns Hollicarrs, said: “This is an exciting initiative. The opening of the tea rooms is another important chapter in the Hollicarrs story.”
 
Wine bar and bakery Flor sets date for reopening: James Lowe and John Ogier, who are behind Michelin-starred Lyle’s, have announced the reopening date of wine bar and bakery Flor. Housed in a 19th century building close to Borough Market, Flor will open its doors from Friday, 25 September. It will be open from Tuesdays to Saturdays with Pamela Yung leading the kitchen alongside head baker Helen Evans. As Flor reopens, the business’s delivery arm – ASAP Pizza – will continue in the form of pizza parties in the coming months and, on Saturday (19 September), Pam and the team will be serving pies and special slices from noon until they sell out. Lowe said: “As autumn arrives, we’re looking forward to welcoming everyone back to the table at Flor. While we’ve loved serving slices of ASAP Pizza throughout the summer, the time is right to bring back our bakery and wine bar.” Yung added: “In light of the pandemic, it’s important to think about food and restaurants in a different way, working even harder to take responsibility for the ingredients we use, using our platforms to better the world and focusing more on everyday staples such as bread. This is an amazing time of year to be in the kitchen, and we can’t wait for the next phase at Flor.”
 
Greene King launches burger in aid of Macmillan: Brewer and retailer Greene King has launched a green burger as part of its partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support. The burger features either a crispy chicken or grilled beef patty, topped with a layer of fajita seasoned mac ’n’ cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayo, all sandwiched between two vibrant green burger buns, which have been “dyed” with spinach to match the charity’s green branding. For every burger sold, £1 will be donated towards Macmillan’s fund-raising efforts. The burger, named the ‘Greene Warrior’ is available in 600 pubs nationwide – including Hungry Horse, Flaming Grill and Greene King Value Local sites – until Wednesday, 30 September, or while stocks last. Hungry Horse pubs are also offering a limited-edition Mint-Millan Sundae, featuring two scoops of mint choc chip and one scoop of vanilla flavour ice cream with crushed chocolate mint balls, chocolate flavour sauce and topped with whipped cream. The sundae is priced at £4.49, with 20p from every sale going towards Macmillan. Since partnering with Macmillan in 2014, Greene King has raised more than £7m for the charity, with its annual “Macmillan May” initiative, which was postponed until September due to covid-19. Pubs are supporting the fund-raising efforts throughout the month with a number of activities in line with Greene King’s “Pub Safe” guidelines, from Macmillan coffee mornings, to virtual fun runs and pub quizzes. 

 
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