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Fri 26th Oct 2012 - Grand Union Group, Ponti’s and Titanic

Story of the day:

Grand Union Group ends private equity talks; to focus on building cash reserves to add sites next year: Grand Union Group, the highly rated London multiple headed by Adam Marshall, has ended talks with private equity investors. The company received a number of approaches but has decided to end talks in favour of building site footprint over the next 12 to 18 months. The company, which has current Ebitda pre-central overheads of £1.4m, will now focus on opening two or three new venues next year. Marshall told Morning Briefing: “The plan now is to build reserves to take on two or three more £1m-a-year sites and build an even better trading profile. The company was only founded five years ago and we’ve focused on consolidation this year before we expand next.” The company has strengthened its management team this year with the addition of former Realpubs finance director Tim Yates in the same role at Grand Union, Marc Rust as operations director and Anna Murashka as group sales and events manager. Grand Union has seen seven per cent like-for-like sales growth this year and has improved Gross Profit margins on dry and wet sales with a number of sites managing to achieve up to 74 per cent overall. Meanwhile, Grand Union has surrendered the lease on The Grand Union in Ravenscourt Park, a Punch Taverns pub. Said Marshall: “The area wasn’t quite the right demographic and target market for us. This leaves us with eight sites all making good money. We think that we’ll be even more attractive to private equity in the wake of improving our management systems – we’ve installed Zonal EPOS; a £90k investment - and adding a couple more sites.” Marshall said the company, which has six tied and two free-of-tie sites, would still consider taking on another tied site. “Three of our tied sites produce between £300,000 and £450,000 Ebitda per annum – if one of those kinds of sites come up, we’d certainly take it.” Grand Union’s most recent opening was Grand Union, Paddington and Marshall reports it is performing very well with around £25,000 to £28,000 per week of net takings and annualised site Ebitda of £260,000. Grand Union began talks with private equity investors last year after receiving approaches. 

Free Report: The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and CPL Training have teamed up to commission a free report on the key foodservice trends in Europe. The report, written by Propel Info managing director Paul Charity after a visit to the European Foodservice Summit in Zurich, looks at the companies and sectors that are out-performing in Europe and has insight and analysis from some of the world’s top operators. To receive a free copy, e-mail Paul Charity on paul.charity@propelinfo.com

ALMR National Restaurant Show Study Tour in Chicago opens for bookings: The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) has opened its study tour to the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago in May 2013 for bookings. Next year’s visit takes place between Thursday 16 May and Monday 20 May. The ALMR launched its first study tour trip to the NRA show this year, with the trip led by Propel Morning Briefing managing director Paul Charity. The NRA draws 58,000-plus industry professionals from all 50 states and 100 countries, all seeking the newest innovations and up-to-the-minute information about trends and issues. The ALMR trip provides: insights from industry experts on the rise in fast-casual dining, social media, new and emerging brands, menu development, staff management and a host of other issues – with 70 free education sessions; involves a tour of Chicago’s hottest concepts and a market overview briefing sessions from US experts. ALMR chief executive Nick Bish said: “Our first trip in May this year was a tremendous success with our attendees reporting they had benefited enormously from the visit to the Show and the chance to study the key trends in the innovative US market.” Paul Charity, managing director of Propel Info, said: “The NRA show is a fantastic opportunity to find fresh inspiration and understand the emerging trends shaping the fast-changing US market.” To book a place e-mail Jo Charity on jo.charity@propelinfo.com or call her (01444) 810304. Places are limited.

Industry news:

Fast casual operators in the UK show growth surge: Research firm Technomic has reported that “fast casual” operators in the UK are producing some of the largest growth figures in the UK market. Five fast-casual chains recorded double-digit sales growth in 2011: Pod (up 74.2 per cent); Patisserie Valerie (30.9 per cent); Itsu (21.4 per cent); Paul (17 per cent) and Le Pain Quotidien (11.3 per cent). A spokesman for Technomic observed: “Of the remaining seven fast casuals in the UK tracked by Technomic, six saw their sales and units increase last year. The growth shown by 11 out of 12 chains is clear evidence that the fast-casual sector has a future. It’s important to note that as a relatively young segment, fast casual is still evolving; existing concepts are tweaking their platforms and menus, and new concepts are entering the mix.”

Bluewater welcomes a host of new restaurant brands: Bluewater re-opened its restaurant quarter The Wintergarden yesterday with a host of new operators. The project has seen a focus on attracting new brands to the shopping centre, according to Lend Lease, which owns a 55 per cent stake in the centre. New operators include Giraffe, which opened a 3,659 square foot outlet across two floors, and Wasabi, which opened its first site outside London. Other brands opening their first out-of-London sites at the redevelopment were Tortilla, Square Pie, Indi-Go, Lola’s Cupcakes and Tossed. Ed’s Milkshakes and Hotdogs, Harry Ramsden’s, KFC and McDonald’s also opened new restaurants, joining existing operators Nando’s, Pizza Hut and Ponti’s.

Technomic – pub usage shows sharp increase among younger customers: Nearly a fifth of all consumers (18 per cent) and most consumers aged 18–24 (52 per cent) are visiting pubs more often than they did last year, according research by Technomic. Patronage has increased among consumers as pubs continue to place greater focus on food offerings—expanding the menu to serve a wider variety of foods and dayparts and emphasising freshness, quality and health.

Panera Bread reports 5.8 per cent like-for-like growth: Panera Bread, the most successful quoted US restaurant company of the past decade, has reported a 5.8 per cent increase in like-for-likes in its most recent quarter. Panera’s “Summer Celebration,” during which seasonal items featuring avocado were promoted, has driven sales alongside 11.6 per cent growth in the sale of premium salads during the quarter. Panera’s signature sandwich sales grew 28 per cent, driven by a roasted turkey and avocado BLT offering. Panera’s “My Panera” loyalty programme currently has circa 12 million members. Catering is also becoming a larger part of the business, with 22 per cent growth in the year to date.

McDonald’s backs away from viral marketing to kids: McDonald’s has changed how its Happy Meal website interacts with children in the US. The company has withdrawn a controversial forward-to-a-friend option, which encouraged kids to email e-cards, links and photos to friends and family. It been argued that the function bypassed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits websites from emailing children under the age of 13 without their parents’ permission.

Squatters move into landmark Chelsea pub: Squatters have occupied a landmark Chelsea pub after its owner failed in his attempt to have it turned into a residential property. The 17 squatters moved into The Cross Keys pub on Lawrence Street, just over a week ago as the pub was boarded up by the owner Andrew Bourne, who said it was no longer turning a profit. Bourne had failed to secure planning permission to change the use of the property in order to turn it into a £10 million property with a basement swimming pool. Meanwhile, Bourne also wants to turn the iconic Phene Arms in Chelsea into a private home with a steam room in the cellar.

ALMR and SIBA issue call to action ahead of beer escalator debate: The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) have been galvanising their members into action ahead of next week’s Parliamentary debate on the beer duty escalator. Both trade bodies have e-mailed members to encourage their local MP to support the debate. ALMR strategic affairs director Kate Nicholls told operator members in an e-mail circular: “Some pubs are planning to show the debate live and a reference to ‘watching out for the local MP’ may just encourage them to act on your behalf. Finally, think about raising awareness of the debate through your social media and local press activities. The debate coincides with Great British Pub Week – so this is a real chance to talk about the positives of what we do as well. Please help us to make a difference.” SIBA chairman Keith Bott said: “We are now calling on our members to help us fill the House of Commons next Thursday and ensure that the debate has the outcome we all want – a review of beer taxation before the next Budget.”

Company news:

Oakman Inns and Restaurants buys Beaconsfield site: Oakman Inns and Restaurants, the Tring-based company led by Peter Borg-Neal, have bought a new site in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Currently a retail unit, Oakman have obtained planning permission for change of use and for an extension to the premises. It will undergo a £800,000 fit out before opening to the public in April 2013. The acquisition is the second in recent months following The Crown and Thistle in Abingdon-upon-Thames and comes on the back of an excellent results in the first half of financial year 2012-13. For the twenty-six weeks ending 30 September 2012 the business achieved like-for-like year sales growth of 22.82 per cent. The comparable (un-invested) estate achieved growth of 4.98 per cent. Borg-Neal said: “We’re delighted to have found a site in Beaconsfield. It has always been a key target town and we were determined to gain a foothold there. This deal has been some time in the gestation and has faced considerable challenges. I am relieved we can now look forward to an opening next spring. Our trading performance continues to please though it does still feel like very hard work in the current environment. One particularly bright area is our advance Christmas bookings, which are well ahead of where they were at this time last year. I must credit our team for delivering this encouraging performance. However, I also sense that companies who have been cautious around Christmas parties in recent years are starting to feel a little more confident and are looking to reward their hard working teams with some Christmas cheer.”

Costa Coffee pulls out of Totnes in recognition of “strength of feeling”: Costa Coffee has withdrawn a plan to open a site in Totnes, Devon is recognition of the “strength of feeling” against national brands in the town. South Hams District Council had approved plans by Costa Coffee to open in Fore Street, Totnes. But in a letter Chris Rogers, managing director of Costa, said the company had made the decision following a discussion with different groups in the town. “Costa has recognised the strength of feeling in Totnes against national brands and taken into account the specific circumstances of Totnes,” it said.

Titanic Brewery takes seventh pub – on a lease from a village co-operative: Titanic Brewery, headed by Keith Bott, will open its seventh pub, The Hollybush in Seighford, five miles outside Stafford, after negotiating a lease with its owner, a 60-strong community co-operative. The co-operative, which include Keith’s brother and Titanic co-owner David, who lives in the next village, and local Stafford Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy, acquired the pub at an auction – it was previously an Indian restaurant. The pub opens on 29 November. Keith Bott told Morning Briefing: “Jeremy LeFroy is a supporter of pubs and we look forward to him taking part in the beer duty escalator debate next week.”

Stonegate staff turn out for one-year-on company conference: A total of 730 managers, area managers and head office staff attended the Stonegate Pub Company annual conference on Wednesday, held at the Birmingham Metropole. Chairman Ian Payne told Morning Briefing: “At the last conference a year ago at Alton Towers a lot of people didn’t know each other as the two companies (Stonegate and Town & City Pub Company) were coming together. The atmosphere this year was significantly stronger, following on from growing our full year sales and profit.” Staff were entertained by comedian Jimmy Carr and an Elvis Presley impersonator – 30 top-performing managers and area managers are to be taken to Las Vegas, Nevada in January in recognition of their achievements. 

Glendola Leisure hires top Premium Country Dining Group chef for Cobham pub: Glendola Leisure, the Waxy O Connor operator headed by Alex Salussolia, has hired Charlie Uwins, who previously head senior chef positions at the Mitchells & Butlers’ Premium Country Dining Group brand, to oversee food at its Cricketers pub in Cobham, Surrey, an Enterprise Inns site. The company is also launching a new restaurant area at the pub on Friday 2 November. Salussolia, whose company has run the pub for about a year, told Morning Briefing: “Despite not having much of a summer, the pub has traded very well.”

Coal Grill and Bar operator Charterhouse reports 50 per cent Ebitda increase: Charterhouse Leisure, which operates seven restaurants, five of which operate as Coal Grill and Bar, has reported Ebitda increased 50 per cent to £413,000 in the year to 29 February 2012. Turnover rose to £8,043,000 from £7,658,000 the year before – like-for-like sales grew three per cent on the year before. The company reported that sales per employee were £38,299. It added: “The restaurant sector continued to face pressure from increasing food prices, high promotional activity and customers seeking value-for-money offerings. Where possible, price increases were mitigated through regular review of menu content and retendering of supplier contracts.”

G1 Group reports £2m profit on property disposals: G1 Group, the Scottish managed operator headed by Stefan King, has reported that it made a profit of in excess of £2m in August selling property above its book value. The company, which has 1,295 staff, made a pre-tax profit (before its interest bill of £2.24m) of £8,739,000 on turnover of £59.3m in the year to 31 March 2012.

Luminar flagship Oceania nightclub sees youngster stabbed to death: Nightclub company Luminar’s flagship nightclub, Oceania in Kingston, saw a young clubber stabbed to death in the early hours of Thursday morning. A 20-year-old was stabbed to death at a student foam party attended by hundreds of undergraduates at the nightclub, which featured in the Channel Four Back to the Floor programme that saw chief executive Peter Marks interacting with staff. The Kingston Oceania has been consistently the most profitable venue in the company and employs its own on-site paramedic. A man was knifed at Oceana in Kingston in the early hours of this morning while the venue was hosting a Fuzzy Logic student night, which is billed as “the UK’s biggest student night”. Luminar received £7.5m from the sale and leaseback of the Oceania site in Kingston at the start of October.

Byron takes former petrol station site in the West End: Better burger chain Byron is to open a new site in a former 1920s petrol station in London’s West End. The brand has taken over a site on the Bedford Estate in Bloomsbury, where the former Bloomsbury Petrol Station and forecourt, which was built in 1926, has been redeveloped as a new restaurant. A 25-year lease has been signed at a rent of close to £83,000 per year.

Strada restaurant in Bury placed on “at risk” register: English Heritage has flagged up the historic Cupola House in Bury St Edmunds as ‘in danger of being lost’ by placing it on its at risk register. The Grade I listed building, which dates back to 1693, was badly damaged by a fire back in June. The building was being used by a Strada restaurant when an incident with a young cook frying a salmon steak led to the fire. The back of Cupola House collapsed while the front of the timber framed building is being held up by scaffolding while awaiting repairs.

Marston’s begins work on first Isle of Wight pub: Midlands based Marston’s has begun work on its first pub on the Isle of Wight. Construction started this week at the Merrie Garden Farm site in Sandown, which will be called The Garden Gate and will open in Spring 2013. The opening will create 40 jobs and it will trade as a Milestone Rotisserie pub restaurant.

Ponti’s Italian Kitchen reports loss after disposing of three sites; carried out fundamental review: Ponti’s Retail, which operates Ponti’s Italian Kitchen and Café Italia, has reported a loss of £2,212,699 in the year to 29 January 2012 after disposing of three sites. The company’s turnover dropped from £20,446,798 in 2011 to £15,867,174 for the most recent year – it made a profit of £1,317,813 the year before. The company said its losses stemmed from “difficult trading” in the current environment and disappointing performance at its airport sites. The company has acquired a new site since the year-end and is selling its freehold in Wenlock Road, London, to improve its cash position. It added: “Over the last few months, we have again carried out a fundamental review of all elements of our business and have created a five-year plan aimed at transforming the business based upon the development of two strong brands, which are Ponti’s Italian Kitchen and Caffe Italia.”

Fashion student PizzaExpress waitress re-designs staff uniform: A fashion student who complained about her “unflattering” work uniform has successfully designed a new outfit for all the firm’s staff. Jasmin Ayling, 24, worked at PizzaExpress, in Dorking, while studying for a degree in fashion design at the University of Creative Arts, in Epsom. She told her bosses she disliked the uniform – which included a blue T-shirt with pink logo – and they invited her to come up with an alternative. The new uniform is a black top with the PizzaExpress logo on the side, coupled with jeans and a pink apron.

Punch Taverns boss insists firm is committed to Burton base: Punch Tavern chief executive Roger Whiteside has insisted that the firm is committed to its current location in Burton-upon-Trent even though job numbers will scale down over the years as the company sells its non-core pubs. He told The Burton Mail: “Burton has a lot of history in the pub industry and we are pleased to be based in the town. We employ a lot of good people locally, it has a great central location and is a massive part of plans for the future of the company.”

Concorde BGW launches design forum on Facebook: Leading industry design and build firm Concorde BGW, whose clients include Pod, Fuller’s, Punch Taverns and Shepherd Neame, has launched a Facebook forum that shares ideas and give tips on trends in design. Marketing director Simon Godson said: “We think it’s an industry first – somewhere people can go who are interested in sector design trends to participate in a forum by asking questions and sharing ideas. It provides a place where people can enjoy an interactive dialogue on design and build trends.” It can accessed at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Concorde-BGW-The-Forum/416343285077906

Rick Stein installs IBS EPOS: Celebrity TV chef and entrepreneur Rick Stein has installed Intelligent Business Systems EPOS solutions for his four shops in the small Cornish fishing village of Padstow. Stein and his wife Jill operate a deli, patisserie, gift shop and a fishery in the village alongside four restaurants as part of a business group that employs up to 450 people during the summer months. “We installed an EPOS solution (that) included StockLink Online for real-time reporting and EPOS estate management as well as weighing scales linked to the POSLink touchscreen technology for the fisheries side of the business. Our EPOS solution gives Rick and his management team improved efficiencies, more accurate speed of service and greater cash control,” said IBS‘ senior project manager Mark Bagnall.

JD Wetherspoon receives strong opposition to late East Grinstead opening: JD Wetherspoon has received strong opposition to later opening in East Grinstead. The company’s Ounce & Ivy Bush pub, part of The Atrium, in King Street, wants to extend its alcohol licence to serve from 7am through to 1am. But the application, submitted in mid-September, has been opposed by Sussex Police, the East Grinstead Society, a nearby business and several residents. The pub currently opens from 8am every morning, and closes at 11pm Monday to Wednesday, 11.30pm between Thursday and Saturday, and 10pm on Sundays.

BrewDog to open Bristol site this Saturday: Scottish brewer and retailer Brewdog will open its Bristol site in the city’s Baldwin Street this Saturday (27 October) at midday. The company stated: “Through our signature reclaimed interior, lashings of exposed brickwork and views over the water – we’ve made BrewDog Bristol an unrelenting collision of tradition and modernity. Promising to shelter anyone who sails against the wake of the mainstream, our bar harbours hundreds of cutting edge, rare and downright awesome craft beers from across the seven seas.”

Barrio to open Shoreditch site next month: Latin street food chain Barrio is to open a 300 cover restaurant in Shoreditch next month. The company’s two existing sires are: Barrio North (Angel) and Barrio Central (Soho).

80 pubs from former Tchenguiz estate sold: Property agent Christie + Co has completed 80 sales from the former Robert Tchenguiz pub estate comprising R&L Properties No 1 Ltd, R&L Properties No 2 Ltd and R&L Properties No 5 Ltd (in administration). Christie + Co was instructed to sell the estate last year by administrator Deloitte. Ian Wormleighton, director in Deloitte’s restructuring services team, said: “(We) are pleased to have realised excellent value for 80 properties within the estate and continue to pursue strategies to maximise recoveries for creditors from the remaining portfolio.” Simon Chaplin, director of Christie + Co, said: “Around a quarter of the original estate of just over 200 pubs is currently off-market as revised trading terms are agreed with existing tenants, new tenants are sought and installed and sites are developed for alternative use. In the meantime, Christie + Co continues to sell the remaining estate throughout England, Scotland and Wales. These sites are being sold with vacant possession or investment opportunities, for continued pub operation or for alternative use.”

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