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Thu 15th Mar 2012 - Convivial, Starbucks and Sticks ‘n’ Sushi

Story of the day:

Convivial London Pubs tipped for sale: Industry sources suggest that a slide rule is being passed over Convivial London Pubs, the operator of eight freehold London pubs, by a number of larger companies – and it is set to become the next acquisition in the rush to buy London freehold assets ahead of the Olympics. Analysts suggest the company is worth around £15m if its most valuable site, the Tea Clipper in Knightsbridge, is included. The business, led by former Greene King executive Kris Gumbrell, is the former Capital Pub Company 2 Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) estate. Its pubs include the Hansom Cab in Knightsbridge, which is let to former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan and partner Marco Pierre White on a one-year lease, which has now been extended to 20 years. Morgan also has an option to purchase the Hansom Cab. Turnover was £5.09m in the year to 1 October 2011 and pub Ebitda was £1.54m with profit before tax at £473,726. The possible sale of Convivial comes in the wake of the sale of three smaller London estates in recent years – Geronimo to Young’s and Capital Pub Company and Realpubs to Greene King. Convivial has previously exchanged contracts to sell the Tea Clipper in Knightsbridge, with an unnamed buyer paying a non-refundable deposit of £200,000 – if the deal is completed the site would not be included in any sale of the company. Like-for-like sales at the company have been running at between seven and ten per cent in the run-up to the start of 2012. Chairman David Maxwell Scott said in his most recent report to shareholders: “In 2012 we should benefit from the Olympic Games as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. We are also fortunate to be operating in the London market. During the past year there have been a number of corporate transactions involving London pub companies. The transaction values have been robust.” Among the companies likely to look at Convivial are Greene King, Fuller’s and Young’s. Convivial Pub Company declined to comment.

Industry News:

Restaurants and pub chains snub calorie counts: Which? magazine has claimed a number of restaurant and pub groups have ignored the government’s call to put calorie information on menus. It claims just two of the ten largest groups have joined Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s “responsibility deal”. Among the brands that have not signed up are:  Pizza Express, Ask, Café Rouge, Strada, Garfunkels, Beefeater and Prezzo. Richard Lloyd, of Which?, said: “If food companies don’t agree to help people eat  more healthily, then we must see legislation to force them to do so.”

Record numbers in part-time work: A lack of full-time jobs is resulting in a record number of Britons taking part-time jobs, according to the Office of National Statistics. In the three months to January, 1.38 million people worked part-time compared to 1.27 million in the three months to October.

Collyer - flat like-for-likes in 2012 a “decent performance”: City analyst Geof Collyer has claimed that achieving flat like-for-likes in “calendar year 2012 will be seen as a decent performance”. His comments came in a note on Marston’s managed division results. He noted Greene King and Spirit have been leading the sector’s like-for-like momentum in the past year.

Company news:

Spirit sales rise: Spirit Pub Company has reported 4.6 per cent like-for-like sales growth for the 28 weeks to 3 March. Food sales were up 6.2 per cent and drink sales rose by 3.9 per cent. Its Flaming Grill brand, now with 81 pubs, has seen its food mix increase to 50 per cent of sales post branding. A total of 156 pubs underwent major refurbishment in the first half of the year, meaning 76 per cent of the estate has now been invested in and branded. Mike Tye, chief executive, said: “Guests have continued to respond enthusiastically as we innovate, introduce food to more of our traditionally drink-led pubs and pursue operational improvements throughout the estate. Our strategy of investing in brands has proven successful, with three of our brand refurbishments now largely complete. Our focus is now turning to the Flaming Grill, John Barras and Original Pub Company brands.”

Starbucks launches first UK television advert in the UK: Starbucks will launch its first UK television advert today. The commercial shows a latte being served and emphasises the chain’s push to be more personal by using customers’ names: “From now on, we won’t refer to you as a latte or a mocha, but instead as your folks intended, by your name,” the ad says. In the UK, Starbucks baristas will begin wearing name tags this week.

Black Country Traditional Inns closes in on two sites: West Midlands-based brewer and retailer Black Country Traditional Inns is poised to increase its estate. Founder Angus McMeeking told Morning Briefing that he is in “advanced negotiations” and hopes to secure two sites by the “end of the month”. Both are freehold sites. One is in Dudley and close to the company’s headquarters in Brierley Hill, and the other is a city-centre outlet in Leicester, which would be McMeeking’s first venture in Leicestershire. If successful, it would bring the company’s estate to 27. McMeeking said the sites would operate on along the lines of the company’s existing business model – “traditional, community pubs, specialising in real ale”. McMeeking, who founded the company in 2001, said he is on the search for potential licensees to run the new outlets. “Finding the right sort of person is the hardest thing.”

York nightclub goes dual purpose: One of the biggest nightclubs in York is to build a food and coffee business during the day. Bar Salvation in Rougier Street will be re-named Society Lounge & Bar next month. A spokesman said the daytime focus was fresh coffee with a fully trained barista service, in conjunction with a selection of homemade food products consisting of sandwiches, salads, paninis, pastries, biscuits and cakes.

JD Wetherspoon targets 8,656 population Cornish town: Managed operator JD Wetherspoon is to apply for planning consent to open a pub in the small Cornish town of Liskeard, south east Cornwall, with a population of 8,656. It wants to convert a redundant garage building – Liskeard is hoping to become a Portas Pilot, one of a dozen towns in England aiming to receive a share of the £1m development fund set aside following retail guru Mary Portas’s report on the state of high streets nationwide.

Sticks ‘n’ Sushi opens first UK restaurant: Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, the Danish sushi chain that has nine sites in Copenhagen, has opened its first UK site. The venue, located in Wimbledon, opened yesterday – the company was founded in 1994 by Thor Anderson and brothers Kinm and Jens Rahbek. The company’s staff tagline is: “We only employ people with big smiles and small egos.”

Spirit Pub Company launches new recruitment website: Spirit has launched a new recruitment site, www.spiritpubcompanycareers.com, that features a number of innovative elements including a CV builder, hot jobs section, candidate interviews and targeted local jobs searches. It also has an easy to use application section, which reduces the time to apply, further improving the recruitment experience. Spirit’s head of resourcing Catherine Smith said: “We wanted to create an industry leading recruitment platform that gives us the ability to grow our talent bank on both a national and regional level. Applications for pub jobs can now be sent direct to pubs, streamlining the process and improving the candidate experience.”

Pinkberry set for Bluewater: Pinkberry, the US frozen yogurt brand that opened its first UK site in Selfridges Food Hall last August, is to open in the Bluewater shopping centre. The brand is being operated in the UK by international franchisee MH Alshaya, which also operates the brand in the Middle East and Russia.

Dorbiere wins Burton pub restaurant go-ahead: North west pub operator Dorbiere has won planning consent to build a restaurant on the side of a traditional Bass pub, the Elms Inn, on Burton’s Stapenhill Road by converting a house next door. The plan faced opposition from 320 locals opposed to the development on account of the loss of the pub’s traditional feel.

Fierce Leisure set to re-open former Yates’s: Fierce Leisure is set to open its second site – a former Yates’s that was closed in Hanley in 2008. The company, which also runs Fierce Music Bar in Hanley, plans to re-open the venue as Project Bar and Nightclub.

Dancing Duck Brewery opens its second pub: The award-winning Dancing Duck Brewery, headed by Rachel Matthews, will open its second pub today – the New Zealand Arms on Derby’s Langley Street. Its first pub is the Exeter Arms. Dancing Duck is a ten-barrel brewery started by Rachel and her husband Ian, a former brewery design engineer, in December 2010.

Stonegate re-positions Yates’s site in Liverpool for older clientele: Stonegate Pub Company has re-opened a Yates’s site in Liverpool, closed since 28 January, as John Brodie’s. The pub is aimed at attracting a more mature clientele. Pub manager Gary Fenton said: “It’s early days but it has completely changed. We have more over-30s coming in now. It is a comfortable, mellow atmosphere now.”

Morning Briefing Diary:

Brazilian makeover does the business: Last year, Morning Briefing was lucky enough to get an invite to the reopening of Stonegate’s Salsa venue on London’s Charing Cross Road, the spiritual home of anyone with loose hips and a natural sense of rhythm. The site looks tiny from the outside but has a downstairs area the size of the Amazon basin (give or take a few thousand square miles). Stonegate chairman Ian Payne tells Morning Briefing that last year’s refurbishment has seen the venue power to turnover in the mid £40,000s per week. 

Luke Johnson’s New York nightmare: Private equity boss Luke Johnson was on good form at the Sapient Corporate Finance Breakfast Briefing when asked about his attempts to crack the New York market with Belgo. A total of £1.3m was invested in the state-side expansion. Asked about the reasons for its failure Johnson had a sizeable list that included the accidental hiring on non-union labour and the subsequent protests which include placing a 25-foot inflatable rat outside the premises. 

What’s the dress code? Realpubs founder Nick Pring took part in a panel discussion on the merits of private equity investment at the Sapient Corporate Finance Breakfast Briefing. The company benefited from an investment from Brockton Capital but Pring admitted that he feared the move would lead to him and co-founder Malcolm Heap having to abandon the standard dress code of “flipflops and shorts”. “In the end we carried on regardless,” he told the audience.

The future is certainly not orange: Morning Briefing hasn’t written an orange-pub-causes-local-rumpus story since the glory days of Taybarns expansion when the brand surged to seven sites and, er, rested for a bit. So it is that we have Spirit Pub Company to thank for reviving this much-enjoyed sub-genre of Diary items. The form will be familiar: residents living near the Seven Stars pub in Eccleston have caused a stink after a section of the front of the Flaming Grill pub was painted orange. One regular at the Millbrook Lane pub even thought the new “tangerine dream” section was an undercoat, which was set to be painted over! The exterior has now repainted in its traditional cream colour. Phew.

Restaurant review causes internet sensation: Marilyn Hegarty, 85, pens the occasional restaurant review for her local newspaper the Grand Forks Herald. When an Olive Garden opened in town (think La Tasca but with an Italian slant), she wrote her usual 600 words review. Her piece got more than 200,000 views online. The newspaper’s most popular story by far, it was 10 times more popular than their next-most-read story, and was shared over 20,000 times on Facebook and over 14,000 times on Twitter. Marilyn even guested on CBS News. What’s the fuss about? It appears that reviews on mainstream chain restaurants are virtually unheard of in the United States.

Lack of saints does not deter church: It’s always a good idea to maintain friendly relations with the local church, even when your company name is No Saints. Even so, No Saints boss Stephen Thomas was a little surprised to receive an inquiry from Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge asking whether it could book space in his Jam House venue on account of a growing congregation and lack of room. “I think it’s hilarious,” he told Diary.

Planners not in the mood to joke: Who doesn’t like a story about planners over-reacting? The landlord of the award-winning Yorkshire pub the Goodmanham Arms Vito Longozzi reports that he thought it was a joke when a council enforcement officer turned up on his doorstep and said there had been a complaint about a toy pirate flag. The flag has been flying from a wooden boat in the children’s play area for over a year but Vito was told that the council had received a complaint. This was, of course, no joking matter – the flag has been taken down.

The years do fly by: Tomorrow (Friday 16 March) will be the first anniversary of the last time that Mitchells & Butlers has a permanent chief executive. Diary decided there was no harm in asking how things are going on the recruitment front. A spokesman good-heartedly offers: “The search is going really well but there’s no particular time frame.”

Actor Stephen Fry backs the Hobbit: You’ll have read our story about the Hobbit pub in Southampton receiving “cease and desist” threat from a Hollywood studio that owns the rights to the JRR Tolkein much-loved books. Now national treasure Stephen Fry has thrown his weight behind the pub with a piece of self-flagellation through the medium of Twitter. Referring to the situation, he tweeted: “Honestly, sometimes I’m ashamed of the business I’m in. What pointless, self-defeating bullying.” The pub’s Facebook campaign “Save the Hobbit” page picked up 13,000 followers in short order. Powerful thing, social media.

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