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Thu 8th Nov 2012 - Harvester, Ping Pong and JD Wetherspoon

Story of the day:

Multi-site operator who developed UK’s first deli-pub creates second generation deli offer: Multi-site operators Jon and Paula Briscoe, who are credited with opening the UK’s first deli-pub, will re-open The Jolly Farmers pub in Betchworth, near Reigate, tomorrow after evolving the offer into a second generation deli-shop with its own kitchen garden. New features at The Jolly Farmers include a visible food preparation area and a larger trading area, and an extended range of deli products within a farm shop, showcasing the best of local and regional produce. The pub will now hold “Meet the Supplier” events and cookery demonstrations. A new production area will allow guests to see food being prepared. Outside, an interactive children’s play area has been created, and there is a kitchen garden, complete with fruit trees, herbs and berries. Jon Briscoe said: “The three-part development includes extending the dining area to cater for an extra 60 customers along with an expansion and revamp of our well-known on-site deli shop. Externally the pub will benefit from an extended car park and the creation of an interactive children’s play area, along with a kitchen garden complete with fruit trees, herbs, berries – it will make a lovely walkway for customers to enjoy.” Paula Briscoe said: “As parents ourselves, Jon and I know how important it is to be able to go out and enjoy a meal knowing children can have fun and be kept occupied whilst enjoying great quality food too. We feel the interaction and play area is a unique aspect we can offer our guests with children, without detracting from the experience for other guests.” The new-look Jolly Farmers will now open for breakfast at 9.15am seven days per week and offers food throughout the day. In 2010, the Briscoes acquired the freeholds of the two pubs they franchised from Mitchells & Butlers, The Jolly Farmers and The Fox Revised in Norwood Hill, with finance from Downing Corporate Finance. At the time, Jon said: “Under Mitchells & Butlers, we were afforded a good degree of flexibility, including the creation of our own deli-pub concept, but now we can really create the pubs we believe they have the potential to be.”

Industry news:

Horizons to present at Arena lunch in December: Insights firm Horizons will give its perspective on the winners and losers of 2012 at the Arena lunch on 3 December, including what worked, what didn’t work and why. It will also consider what lies ahead for operators in 2013, focusing on the political and economic landscape, key trends and “ones to watch”. Private equity investor Luke Johnson is the keynote speaker at the lunch, which takes place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Knightsbridge, London. Johnson grew PizzaExpress from 12 restaurants to over 250 and oversaw a share price increase from 40p to over 900p, before he sold out in 1999.

Chicago university researchers report calorie counts increase in the US when kids eat-out: Researchers from the University of Chicago have found children eat more calories - including more fat and more sugar - on days when they had a meal from a fast-food or sit-down restaurant. “Parents (should) realise that restaurant consumption is not a straight-off substitute for eating at home. Restaurant consumption and fast-food consumption should not be the norm,” said lead researcher Lisa Powell from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Their research found adolescents ate and drank an extra 310 calories on days they had fast food and an extra 267 on days they ate at a full-service restaurant. Younger kids age two to 11 had an extra 126 and 160 calories on those days on average.

SIBA launches consumer-facing website to promote BeerX: The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has today launched a new website to promote its BeerX Festival of Beer, taking place in Sheffield next March. The Festival of Beer will be a key part of BeerX, SIBA’s new celebration of British beer for its members, the wider industry and beer drinkers, which is being held for the first time in 2013. The new website is part of a major BeerX marketing campaign by SIBA which also includes advertising in regional press, CAMRA magazines and on bus shelters, and beer mats going into hundreds of pubs in and around Sheffield. SIBA chief executive Julian Grocock said: “The BeerX Festival of Beer is a departure for SIBA, as the first event where we will have brought beers from all our brewers around the country together under one roof. For it to be a success, we of course need to market it effectively to our target consumers, and the launch of the BeerX website is an important first stage in that campaign.” 

Company news:

JD Wetherspoon like-for-likes rise by 7.1 per cent in the first quarter: JD Wetherspoon has reported that like-for-like sales rose by 7.1 per cent in its first quarter of 13 weeks trading to 28 October. Total sales increased by 11.1 per cent, helped by a strong performance during the Olympics and Paralympic games. The company said it did “not expect this level of sales growth to be sustained for the rest of the financial year”. The operating margin was 8.6 per cent, approximately 0.4 per cent lower than the last financial year, due to increases in costs in areas such as tax, utilities, labour and bar and food supplies, combined with increased marketing costs. The company opened two new pubs in the quarter and currently has eight pubs under development. It plans to open approximately 25 pubs in the current financial year. In a statement, the company added: “The main challenges for the pub industry are the VAT disparity between supermarkets and pubs, combined with the continuing imposition of stealth taxes (which apply to pubs but not to supermarkets) such as the late-night levy and the increase in fruit/slot machine taxes. In spite of these challenges our sales, profit and cash flow remain resilient and the board continues to aim for a reasonable outcome in the current financial year.”

Harvester reduces reliance on Earlybird: Industry sources report Harvester, the chicken and salad bar brand owned by Mitchells & Butlers, has made strong headway on reducing its reliance on its Early Bird offer. Earlybird has been part of the brand since it was launched in 1983, aimed to boost early evening trade until 6.30pm. However, the company found the offer was cramming customers into a limited trading period and depleting footfall mid-evening at sites. Harvester side-stepped the problem three years ago by making its Earlybird offer available for the whole week. Industry sources believe that Harvester has now reduced Earlybird sales to lower than 30 per cent of the sales mix, down from its peak of more than 70 per cent at the start of 2009. Last week, Morning Briefing reported that a small group of around 15 Harvesters are trialing a new menu this month. New dishes include Peri Peri Wings in the starters section, a potato skins platter to share and a back bacon and guacamole gourmet burger off the grill. A new Hall of Flame section has been introduced, which includes combos with twists – new items include lamb and coriander burger, a sticky Jack Daniel’s combo and Fireball chilli combo. Harvester has 205 sites and the next new opening scheduled for Westgate, Aldershot, in mid December. Two weeks ago Propel Morning Briefing reported that the brand is set to pass the 30 million meals served a year mark in the coming year.

Ping Pong losses rise after impairment charges: Dim Sum restaurant chain Ping Pong has reported an increased loss before tax of £1,814,960 in the year to 25 March, up from £809,098 the year before after an impairment charge of £1,588,178 - four restaurants operated by the company have been placed on the market. The company’s turnover rose by 0.5 per cent to £15,609,000, with like-for-like sales up three per cent. Its Ebitda before franchise fee was £1,582,000, up from £1,360,000 the year before. The company said: “In the board meeting of April 2012, the directors took the decision to market four sites for disposal and focus on its UK-based estate as it looks to start the next stage of its growth. This will include evaluating opportunities outside London in high footfall, mixed-use developments. Subsequent to the year-end, two of the four sites have been disposed of (for £945,000), allowing the company to clear all its bank debt (of £900,000). Contracts have been exchanged for the sale of one of the other sites (for £140,000), with formal completion expected in December 2012. The fourth site, which is the Now takeaway concept, has been taken off the market and is being re-evaluated.” Ping Pong’s parent company Ping Pong Group International operates one site in Dubai, two in Brazil and two in Washington DC.

Greene King plans to revert Oxford continental beer bar to traditional name: Suffolk-based Greene King is planning to change the name if its continental beer bar, in Oxford, Copa, in George Street, to its original name. The company has applied for consents to change the name to The Wig and Pen. The venue was known as The Wig and Pen until about 2003, becoming a pub in 1996 after being converted from a shop. Matt Bullock, chairman of Oxford Campaign for Real Ale, told The Oxford Times: “They changed the name when they turned it into a continental beer bar. It would be nice if it became a more traditional pub. The only other one on George Street is The Grapes. Copa was just a made-up name to make it sound continental I suppose. Quite a few people around Oxford know it as The Wig and Pen though.”

Betty Blythe tea room operator opens second Punch pub; launches guides to tea parties: Daren Seager and Lulu Gwynne have opened their second Punch Taverns pub, the Antique Chair Pub and Pantry, formerly The Chancery sports bar, as a family-friendly venue open from 8am. A makeover has turned its pool room into an artisan delicatessen with baby-changing facilities and space to store prams and pushchairs. The sizeable split-level garden has an area dedicated to children, with a treasure chest filled with toys, two tabletop sand pits and a wooden playhouse. The pair also operate The Pear Tree in Hammersmith, their other Punch Taverns pub, and began their retail career with the award-winning Betty Blythe tea room in West Kensington. Lulu Gwynne has also published “Style Me Vintage: Tea Parties”, in which he advises on how to throw a range of themed tea parties and provide guests with “delectable food and drink”. This includes an Edwardian breakfast, a Victorian tea party, a 1920s speakeasy, a 1940s lovers picnic and a traditional 1950s street party.

De Vere finds buyer for landmark University Arms Hotel in Cambridge: Hotel company De Vere has exchanged contracts for the sale of the 119-bedroom University Arms Hotel in Cambridge to Melford Capital for an undisclosed sum. Completion is expected to take place by the end of this month. The disposal is in line with the De Vere’s strategy for its hotels division, which is to focus exclusively on its position as the UK’s leading golf resort operator. Earlier this year, De Vere was awarded the management contract at The Belfry, the iconic golf resort in the West Midlands. The hotels division has two remaining non-core properties in its portfolio: the Grand Harbour in Southampton, which is the subject of sale negotiations, and the Grand Brighton which will be marketed in 2014 following completion in May 2013 of a substantial £4.3 million investment programme. Following these disposals, the properties in the Hotels division comprise Cameron House, Loch Lomond, Mottram Hall, Prestbury, Oulton Hall, Leeds, Dunston Hall, Norwich, Slaley Hall, Newcastle and Belton Woods, Grantham, as well as management contracts at The Belfry and at Carden Park. Chief executive Andrew Coppel said: “This disposal is in line with the strategy which we put in place last December and which has the support of Lloyds Banking Group. We have now sold five non-core properties in difficult markets and continue to make good operational progress across the portfolio as we seek to enhance its value.” De Vere was advised by Christie + Co and Taylor Wessing on this disposal.

Pub and restaurant operator Northcote Group attracts new investor; plans to add up to eight pubs: Richard and Lynda Matthewman have taken a substantial minority stake in the Northcote Group, the pub and restaurant operator run by Craig Bancroft and chef Nigel Haworth. The company will now look to add a further six to eight pubs to its Ribble Valley Inns business. The Northcote boutique hotel, in Langho, near Blackburn, will be developed with the addition of ten bedrooms to create a 24 bedroom property. The company stated: “Ribble Valley Inns will take on a renewed vigour by reinvesting in the existing successfully managed properties, to ensure that they remain a leading brand within the hospitality industry. It is also the intention of the board to expand Ribble Valley Inns by the acquisition of a further six to eight pubs during the coming years throughout the North West.” Richard Matthewman becomes chairman of the Northcote Group. Bancroft and Haworth continue as joint managing directors.

Work begins on £2m Glasgow Toby Carvery: Work has begun on a new-build £2m Mitchells & Butlers Toby Carvery site in Glasgow. The new venue is being built at Braehead Shopping Centre, on the outskirts of Glasgow, with work due to be completed at the end of March 2013.

Two Devon pubs sold at auction: Two pubs in Devon have been sold at auction for a combined price of more than £300,000. The three-storey freehold of the Butchers Arms in Plymouth was sold for £220,000. The pub, on Cremyll Street close to the Royal William Yard, was on sale for a guide price of £150,000 to £180,000. Lacey’s, a two-storey end terrace pub in Bideford town centre, was also sold for £95,000. The freehold guide price for the Mill Street property had started at £80,000.

Marston’s wins alcohol licence for proposed Crawley new-build: Midlands-based brewer and retailer has been granted a licence to sell alcohol and host entertainment events at a proposed new-build pub opposite the Audi garage on Balcombe Road, in Maidenbower, Crawley. Marston’s applied to sell alcohol and between 10am and midnight, on Friday and Saturday from 10am to 1am and on Sunday between 11am and midnight. Councillors felt these hours were excessive and reduced them all by an hour.

Footballer Gary Neville submits plan to add rooftop pitch to Old Trafford Hotel: Former Manchester United defender Gary has submitted an amended plan to add a rooftop football pitch to a hotel he plans to build next to the Old Trafford ground. The ex-footballer already has planning permission for a 139-bed hotel and supporters’ club in the shadow of Old Trafford, but has now submitted amendments that include the 16m by 12m artificial area. The revised plan includes a retractable canopy, bar and TVs and raises the height of the 10-storey building 1.9m compared to previous drawings. Manchester United has already objected to the hotel on the basis that it would obstruct views of their stadium’s east stand.

Robinsons displays supermarket plan for old brewery site: North west brewer and retailer Robinsons have unveiled revised plans to build a new supermarket in Ulverston. The plans have been revised after concerns raised by the local community and several authorities. Tony Clowes, managing director of Positive Location Properties, which is managing Robinson’s development plans, said there was interest in the site but declined to say which supermarket could be making the former brewery its new home.

Amber Taverns boss adds voice to beer duty escalator plea: James Baer, who runs the fast-expanding north west managed operator Amber Taverns has argued that the government should restrict the beer duty escalator to the rate of inflation if scrapping it altogether is not possible. He told The Blackpool Gazette: “The tax on alcohol has gone up 43 per cent in the past four to five years. The damning statistic is that the UK pays 40 per cent of the total beer tax paid in the whole of the EU and yet we don’t drink anything like 40 per cent of the beer in Europe. Our industry makes a huge contribution to the local economy. Some business owners have said the beer escalator has stopped them opening new pubs. At Amber we are not going to stop investing in the North West but if you consider that firms can invest up to £350,000 in a pub with work generated for local building contractors and the new jobs created, that is a huge driver for growth in a local economy.”

Gamebird Inns puts Manor House Inn on the market: South west inn operator Gamebird Inns has put its Manor House Inn, in Ditcheat, Somerset, on the market with an asking price of £695,000 – it has three letting bedrooms, located in a single-storey mews house, with a Four Star rating from the AA. Nicholas Calfe, of agent Christie + Co, said: “There is scope to develop trade with more letting rooms.” Gamebird Inns also run the Halfway House in Pitney and the Kingsdon Inn near Somerton.

New burger concept set for Soho: A new burger concept will open in London’s Soho’s Wardour Street next month – BRGR.CO, which is operated by a Beirut-based company. The restaurant will serve a simple menu of three classic choices of burger: the 4oz, 6oz or 8oz with optional toppings of cheese or chilli. A selection of character cow heads will be featured throughout the restaurant, which will be regularly auctioned with proceeds going to local London charities.

Angle-grinder caused fire at Luminar nightclub: An angle-grinding stage act caused a fire at Luminar’s Liquid and Envy nightclub on Basildon’s Festival Leisure Park at the weekend, prompting an evacuation. Carl Sautereau, head of customer services at Luminar, told BBC Essex: “It is understood the incident occurred during an angle-grinding performance, which is a common form of entertainment in many nightclubs. As a precautionary measure, until the investigation has concluded, we will not be using this form of entertainment in any of our venues.”

Joule’s Brewery wins CAMRA and English Heritage design award: Camra and English Heritage have given Shropshire brewer and retailer Joule’s its National Pub Design Award for the company’s refurbishment of The Red Lion in Market Drayton and the integration of the new Joule’s Brew House - The Red Lion is a 17th century inn and a Grade Two listed building. Conservation officer Ruth Hitchen said: “This has been an extraordinary project, both to treat the original inn sensitively whilst also allowing the new brewery to sit alongside. The brewery is a large building to sit adjacent to a listed building, but is a great design success by the skilful way it knits into the original using the old stable buildings as the interface, which has now become the centre of the new pub. This clever link has allowed the original inn to be freed up and allow the parlour rooms - which is how they would have been before the development of bar counters - to be recreated. As part of the development the original building can now been seen and used in a way which complements it whilst maintaining a clean line between the original inn and the new brewery.”

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