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Tue 6th Mar 2012 - Best Place Inns, Yo! Sushi and Neil Robertson

Story of the Day:

Food service operator SSP creates new pub concept: The food service operator SSP is to open a brand new pub in Liverpool Street station that seeks to incorporate a host of current trends at the leading edge of pub retail. The company is demolishing a number of its smaller units in the station’s food court to build The Merchant, which opens in mid-March. Nathan Wall, the former JD Wetherspoon operations director now head of SSP’s airport operations, told Morning Briefing: “We are working hard on revitalizing our bar proposition at SSP. The Merchant will offer a very high quality menu beer and range of fine wines.” The opening of the Merchant follows the creation of a new Beer House concept by SSP for train stations. The first one opened in Charing Cross in December – and another one is planned for Paddington. It offers a Victorian-style shop window to the concourse that stresses its craft beer credentials. Attractive lettering trumpets its retail offer – craft beers, more than 50 of them, from around the world: “Beers from Germany, Beers from Belgium, Beers from Brooklyn”. The Beer House’s bottled beer menu lists eight “favourites” – four of which hail from our shores. There’s Sam Smith Organic Best Ale, Innis & Gunn Rum Beer, Hogs Back Burma Star Ale and Timothy Taylor Landlord on the menu. The “Beer is the Hero” credentials are underscored by menu “beer pairings”. And the menu itself is a return to basics, consisting of five types of pie and The Cheese library – a ploughman’s with a choice of four cheeses, each with a couple of beer recommendations. Wall added: “The sales uplift has been substantial and it’s been well-received by Network Rail. We’ll be taking the learnings into our more traditional pubs.”

Propel Opinion:

Décor at the Charing Cross Beer House has an authentic Victorian tinged feel to it with bottled beers proudly displayed behind the bar in earthenware sinks. Customers are offered to chance to try before they buy with the draught beers. And there’s a permanent offer to try three one-third pint glasses of beer for £5. All in all, it’s another shot in the arm for the beer category, making ale as interesting an experiential journey as wine. It joins a select group of London pubs and bars – witness the Euston Tap, Cask Ale and Kitchen, Punch Taverns’ Sussex Arms in Twickenham, and Charlie McVeigh’s Draft House concept - that are all pioneering in the same direction. Beer, with all its many facets and dimensions, can be a powerful Unique Selling Point.

Industry news:

Former BII chief executive Robertson leaves Babcock: The former chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping Neil Robertson has stepped down as training director at Babcock International, industry sources report. Robertson left the BII at the end of December 2011 after three years in the role. Morning Briefing understands that his early departure from the Babcock role is by mutual agreement. It is understood that Robertson has taken up consultancy roles for a couple of companies in the sector. Current BII treasurer Peter Thomas is acting as interim chief executive of the BII while a replacement is found.

US food-service operators see segment blurring: All industry segments in the United States are watching and emulating the fast-casual segment, the annual Chain Operators Exchange has been told. The segment has captured consumers’ attention with its perceived mix of fresher, higher quality foods, high-quality interiors and ambience and heightened value proposition plus efficient service.

Pub parties set to be blocked during Olympics in Harrow: Harrow Council has amended its licensing policy to allow it to “presume refusal” of temporary events notices for parties and events during the Olympics. The move is aimed at avoiding emergency services becoming overstretched during the games. JD Wetherspoon opposed the move, which will be in force between 15 July and 16 September.

Tough year ahead but optimism rules: It will be another tough year, but Britain’s best pub and restaurant operators are feeling optimistic, according to the results of the annual Peach Business Leaders’ Survey. The third annual survey of business leaders in the eating and drinking-out market found three quarters of bosses are either fairly (62 per cent) or very (10 per cent) optimistic about their own business prospects over the next year. Perhaps inevitably, this proportion is higher than the numbers feeling optimistic about the market as a whole, but here, too, just over half of leaders are fairly (47 per cent) or very (4 per cent) optimistic about 2012. Both findings are a marked increase on the proportions feeling this way at the same time last year. Only one in four is pessimistic about the coming 12 months.

Company news:

Best Place Inns starts work on fifth backpacker hostel: Best Place Inns, the company founded by Ben Stackhouse, has begun work on its fifth London backpacker hotel. The company combines very traditional London pub environments with backpacker accommodation upstairs. Best Place Inns is working on converting upstairs space at the Crown on Lavender Hill, Battersea, which will add 60 beds to create a total of 300 across the estate. The company has had to take planning applications to appeal three times so far for previous hostels – and expects to have to do the same on the current development. Stackhouse told Morning Briefing: “Every time we’ve opened a hostel we’ve had planning refused but won on appeal. There is no planning class for hostels. The most onerous condition applied on appeal is to put opaque film up to 1.5 metres high on one of the dormitory windows.” Stackhouse said that bookings for the Olympics were already coming in. “London will be full for the Olympics and good backpacker hostels will be fuller. But it’s not going to be the crazy cash cow that some thought it would be. It’s the first Olympics where there’s going to be enough accommodation within 90 minutes travelling time.” Best Place Inns re-opened the Great Eastern in Greenwich last year, which featured in the Long Good Friday, in a co-investment with Punch Taverns. The company’s hostels consistently rank in the top ten for web reviews of hostel providers.

Top analyst raises Wetherspoon to hold: Douglas Jack, analyst at Numis Securities, has raised his recommendation on the company’s shares from “reduce” to “hold’. He forecast profit before tax would be up four per cent to £33.4m when it unveils half year profits this Friday. He said: “2012 is likely to be the fifth consecutive year of falling like-for-like profits although earnings have grown 28 per cent with no increase in debt over the last four years reflecting strong cash flow and good returns on investment.”

Number Works Pub Company adds to numbers (again): Number Works Pub Company, the company led by Martyn Hathaway, has added a seventh site a few days after its sixth was unveiled. The company, which is pioneering a new style of value offer around four fixed price points of £2, £4, £6 and £8, is re-opening the Full Pitcher in Ledbury. Last week, Morning Briefing revealed that the company has also acquired the Salwey Arms in Woofferton, which is expected to open in June.

Sean Scanlon eyes second site: Sean Scanlon is lining up a second pub after reviving the fortunes of the Enterprise Inns’ Fiddler Irish pub in Hammersmith. Scanlon has refurbished the pub and re-named it the Egerton. It now trades as a family pub, but has a six-screen sports offer and comedy night – he has agreed a tie-up with television channel Dave to screen the night. His second pub is likely to be an unnamed Enterprise pub in Wimbledon.

Yo! Sushi offers birthday discount: Yo! Sushi, the sushi conveyor belt operator headed by Robin Rowland, is offering a one-day special to celebrate its 15th birthday. The company is to sell all belt dishes for just 97p each at its flagship Poland Street restaurant on Thursday 15 March.

Bulldog Pub Company changes name: Bulldog Pub Company, the operator of five high quality freehold coaching inns led by Kevin Charity, has changed its name to Bulldog Hotel Group. The company operates a booking portal, Greensleep that promises to plant a tree for every room booked – it’s hit a milestone this week of 50,000 trees planted. Bulldog is currently undertaking a £1m refurbishment of the Talbot Inn in Oundle, Northamptonshire, a former Greene King Old English Inns site acquired two years ago.

WL Leisure revamps Bull’s Head, Ranmoor: WL Leisure, the four-strong operator headed by Chris Windle, has refurbished the Bull’s Head, Ranmoor, at a cost of £80,000 – it’s an Enterprise Inns site. Last year, WL Leisure, re-opened Pomona in Sheffield as the Eccleshall in a £350,000 joint investment with Punch Taverns.

St Austell to re-open fire-destroyed pub after £2m spend: Cornish brewer and retailer St Austell is to re-open its 14th century Pandora Inn at Restronguet on Friday (9 March), razed to the ground last year, after a £2m spend. The pub will look almost identical – St Austell has taken the opportunity to install oak flooring and green oak beams.

Sixth generation takes over at Robinsons: The three senior members of the Robinson family working at family firm Frederic Robinson are to reduce their involvement in the business to make way for the next generation. Chairman Peter Robinson along with directors Dennis and David Robinson are handing over the reins of day-to-day management to Oliver and William Robinson. Oliver will oversee the beer division while William takes charge of the 360-strong pubs side.

Seven-Eighths goes multi-site: Pub company Seven-Eighths has added a second site, the Hunter S in Islington. The venue is described as a “chic gastro-pub with a 1930s- inspired main lounge and dining room”. An early review states: “The decor is amazing and the owners have obviously put in a huge amount of thought and effort to make it so inviting and enjoyable to be there, with a mix of tables and comfortable chairs, and lots of sofas to relax in.” Seven-eighths also operates the Hemingway in Victoria Park, Hackney.

Nextep Inns bags Thwaites site: Nextep Inns, the pub company set up by brothers John and Peter Knowles, has lined up a Thwaites pub for their second opening – a venue in Wybunbury, near Nantwich. The company re-opened Punch’s Feilden’s Arms in Mellor Brook, Blackburn last year after a £286,000 joint investment with the company. The brothers, who also run an accountancy business with a number of pub sector customers, plan to have six pubs up-and-running within three years. A £250,000 refurbishment is planned at the second site.

Jamie Oliver suffers New Zealand setback: Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has suffered a slight setback in his plan to expand his restaurant operation into New Zealand. Pacific Restaurant Group was signed to develop 14 Jamie’s Italians in Australia and New Zealand. But one of those involved in the company, David Williams is banned from serving as a company director. Meanwhile, a Jamie Italian has opened on Sydney’s Pitt Street.

Orange Tree plans sixth site: Orange Tree, the company founded by Ben Hings and Gareth Smith, has submitted a £250,000 plans to turn the former Newshouse bar in Bedford Square, Loughborough into a late-night bar with a "speakeasy" theme. The venue will include a dancefloor downstairs, secluded booths, rooms and an open-air terrace. Smith told the Loughborough Echo: "We’ve noticed a lot of fantastic bars cropping up in and around London and they have a style that’s reminiscent of the speakeasy bars of the American 1920s, but they offer both great cocktails and fun dancing, and this has been really inspirational to us when trying to create this bar.” The venue is due to open in November.

Spirit awards Kuehne & Nagel delivery contract: Spirit Pub Company has awarded Kuehne & Nagel a major long term contract to provide a 24 hour, six day per week service after the company invested over £5 million in its facilities. Under the contract Kuehne & Nagel will make some 125,000 deliveries per year, using 60 vehicles and employing some 300 people.

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