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Tue 15th Jan 2013 - Balthazar, Redcomb Pubs and Spirit

Story of the day:

Spirit reports like-for-like sales up 5% over Christmas: Managed company Spirit has reported like-for-like sales grew 5% in the three weeks ending 5 January. On the first 20 weeks of its trading year, the company stated this morning: “Our managed pubs have delivered another period of solid growth in a challenging consumer environment and against tough comparatives of +7.1% like-for-like sales growth in the corresponding period last year. Trading conditions from October through to mid December were very challenging due to the ongoing wet weather but Christmas trading was strong with like-for-like sales up +5.0%. We continue to outperform the market.” Like-for-like were up 2.3% over the first 20 weeks. Its leased division saw like-for-like net turnover down 2.1% and like-for-like net income down 2.9%. Spirit stated: “While our leased estate continues to be impacted by prior year rent rebasing, we are seeing improving trends which we expect to continue throughout the year as we pass the anniversary of the rent reviews, the vast majority of which were in the first half of last year. Our focus continues to be on encouraging wider adoption of retail disciplines in our leased pubs alongside innovation in our operating agreements. We have invested in eight franchise pubs, five of which carry the John Barras branding and, whilst it is still early days, initial results are encouraging. We have also completed the rollout of the iDraught dispense system across our leased pubs which should help to drive sales and deliver product quality improvement for our licensees.” Chief executive Mike Tye said: “We have made a solid start to the year in what remain challenging trading conditions as our guests remain under considerable financial pressure. Our managed estate performance remains ahead of the market and we continue to focus on evolving our brands, offers and infrastructure to bring great value and choice to our guests. Our plans for our leased estate remain on track as we look to help our licensees to develop their retail offers which we will support with continued innovation such as our franchise trials which are now underway.” 

Bookings for Spring edition of Propel Quarterly: The Spring 2013 edition of Propel Quarterly is now open for advertising bookings. Contact either or to book space.

Propel Multi-Club conference: The first Propel Multi-Club conference takes place at One Moorgate Place, London EC2R 6EA on Tuesday 19 March and multi-site companies can book two free places each on a first come, first serve basis - more than 100 places have already been booked so far. The speaker list will be unveiled later this month. E-mail to book places.

Industry news:

Briefing session to be held on work placements plan: The trade group looking to create 15,000 work placements in the sector, the Perceptions Group, is holding a free briefing for human resources and industry professionals. The event takes place on Tuesday 26 February 2013 at the Slug & Lettuce, County Hall, SE1 from 10.00am. Delegates will hear from the team behind the group detailing the work placement trials that have taken place with Yummy Pub Company; the programme of pre-employment training as developed by People 1st in conjunction with training providers, including CPL Training; details of the process to engage together with the support and free materials available. The session will also include information and advice from Jobcentre Plus regarding maintaining benefits for work placements and employer rewards and details of how the programme fits into the overall plan for the Hospitality Guild. The event is expected to finish at around 12.30pm. If you would like to join the briefing please email or call 0208 605 3544 and they will send you an invitation to the event. 

Christie + Co figures show 38% of pubs go to alternative use: Agent Christie + Co has reported that 62% of the freeholds it sold last year were acquired for continued use as pubs, which is 3% lower than the year before. Around 20% of the 500 pubs it sold went for residential use, with 6% each going to office and convenience stores. Three per cent of pubs sold went to restaurant use.

UK restaurants increase beverage spend: Analysis by global information company The NPD Group reveals that UK restaurants are setting the standard for other countries to follow in getting consumers to pay for beverages - including the US. For the year ending August 2012, total beverage servings in UK restaurants increased 3% while they declined 1% in the US. Sales of soft drinks increased even more – by 6% compared to down 1% in the US. Tap water was down 6% in the UK whilst tap water servings rose 2% in the US in the same period. Guy Fielding, director of business development for The NPD Group, said: “Orders of non-revenue generating tap water indicate missed or lost sales opportunities. For restaurant owners, encouraging consumers to pay for beverages such as soft drinks and coffee is important to their profits, which contrasts with diners desire to manage their spend and save money when dining out. It’s a welcome sign to see the UK bucking a trend that continues across Europe and in the US.”

SIBA launches new award: The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has created a new award to recognise outstanding contribution to the brewing industry – the SIBA Silver Tankard. Nominations are invited between now and 31 January and the tankard will be presented to this year’s recipient at BeerX, SIBA’s celebration of British beer, in March. The Silver Tankard aims to reward individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to SIBA, or to the broader UK brewing industry, over a number of years. Candidates for the award need not be members of SIBA and may be nominated by non-members – though nominations must be endorsed by a full SIBA member. All nominations will be put forward for consideration by a selection committee. There is no limit on the number of nominees, nor on the number of Silver Tankard recipients. Equally, if none of the nominations are deemed worthy, no award will be made.

Windsor councillors defy planning officers to allow listed pub to adapt: Windsor councilors have defied advice from planning officers to allow a listed pub to make internal modifications to stay afloat. Members of the Windsor Urban Development Panel went against planning officers’ recommendations and approved an application for internal changes to listed building The Criterion pub, in Peascod Street, Windsor, on Monday. Landlord Mike Connors said if he had been refused permission to relocate the stair core and remove a dividing wall, he feared he would struggle to stay afloat. Windsor has lost six pubs in the last two years.

Food hygiene appeal result is extra £9,500 bill: An appeal against a fine for food hygiene failures at a Forest of Dean hotel have cost it an extra £9,500. The Wyndham Arms in Clearwell appealed against its original £43,000 fine but it failed at Gloucester Crown Court last week. The Wyndham Arms Hotel was told it must pay the costs of the appeal, totalling £9,452.30. In November, the hotel was told to pay a total of £43,000 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to a string of hygiene breaches in a prosecution brought by Forest of Dean District Council.

Company news:

Rooney Anand – more people coming to the pub since the credit crunch: Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand has argued that Christmas and Easter have turned into big selling opportunities for pub operators since the credit crunch. He told The Financial Times: “Greene King is taking Christmas more seriously as a selling opportunity. We have been getting more customers coming to the pub since the credit crunch – Christmas is a great opportunity for that and Easter is becoming as big.”

Living Ventures looks to make pop-up permanent: Living Ventures has applied to turn its Oast House pop-up bar, which was granted temporary planning permission in October 2011, into a permanent fixture at its current home, between the city magistrates and crown courts in Spinningfields. Living Ventures, which also operates The Alchemist cocktail bar nearby, has applied to council bosses for permanent planning permission. Tim Bacon, managing director of Living Ventures, said: “We have applied to the council to get a more permanent berth for what is without doubt Manchester’s most elaborate ‘pop-up’ and a pub that has fast become a city institution.” The application will be decided in February.

New company Convivial Hotels buys two hotels out of administration: A new company, Convivial Hotels, has been set up to buy two hotels out of administration in a multi-million pound deal – The Rossett Hall Hotel near Wrexham and The Charnwood Hotel in Nottinghamshire. The new business has been set up by chartered surveyor Jeremy Jones who also owns Convivial Management Solutions, which operates 45 licensed businesses, including pubs, nightclubs restaurants and hotels. 

Premium Country Dinning Group launches “Saints and Sinners” menu: Mitchells & Butlers Premium Country Dining Group of pubs is running a “Saints and Sinners” menu this month. The Saints menu features a choice of starts, mains and desserts containing less than 1,000 calories. Two courses and a drink is priced at £16.95, three courses and a drink cost £19.95. The Sinners menu is priced at the same level but is more calorific. 

Gondola Holdings closes Worcester Ask: Gondola Holdings has closed its Ask site in Worcester city centre. A spokeswoman for the company said: “Due to changes we are making across the ASK Italian brand nationwide we have recently had to close our restaurant in Worcester. As part of the Gondola Group’s on-going strategy to offer the best dining experience available we have recently opened a Zizzi in Worcester which is proving really popular with the locals.”

Restaurateur Paul Heathcote relinquishes Blackpool sites: Heathcote’s Outside – created by former double Michelin-starred chef Paul Heathcote – has relinquished control of The Empress Grill and Mazzei Cafe in the Winter Gardens, Blackpool. The venues are owned by Blackpool Council and their failure has been blamed on a lack of passing trade for the venues. Heathcotes will continue to run catering for events and conferences inside the Winter Gardens. Heathcote said: “It hasn’t been the success as envisaged. As a compromise, when we took on the outside catering contract, the council wanted us to run the restaurant but it was always believed it would be a difficult venue to run.”

Floating Titanic hotel blasted for being in poor taste: A floating hotel that is painted to look like the sinking Titanic sinking has been criticised for being in “poor taste”. The controversial three-bed Titanic Liverpool Hotel, docked in the city’s Salthouse Dock, is set to open next week. Hotel owner Alfie Bubbles, who is also a former merchant seaman, said the new hotel is “just a bit of fun” and has been well received - despite making light of the tragedy.

Rustique set to open second York site: A French restaurant chain is to open its second York premises in the former home of an antiques centre. City of York Council has approved plans by Rustique – which set up its first York restaurant in Castlegate in 2004 – to convert part of a 201-year-old building in Lendal. The new restaurant will open at the end of March or in April. The company is expecting to spend between £150,000 and £250,000 on the transformation of the site, which once housed the York Antiques & Collectors’ Centre. The Rustique at Lendal restaurant will have room for about 60 diners, adding to its Castlegate counterpart’s 50 spaces.

Bill’s takes Baroque site in St Albans: Bill’s Restaurants is to occupy the former Baroque site on Chequer Street, St Albans, which closed two months after opening. Baroque was operated by Heritage Inns, headed by Andrew Marler, who bought the site from JD Wetherspoon.

Balthazar opening set for 12 February: The London opening of famed New York eatery Balthazar is set for 12 February. The venue will open in Covent Garden and is overseen by its New York originator Keith McNally and UK restaurant magnate Richard Caring. Executive chef will be Robert Reid, who previously head chef of Marco Pierre White’s three Michelin star Oak Room.

Go pizza chain launches new “industrial” look at Chiswick site: Pizza chain Go, which has four sites in the north of England and a site in London’s Spitalfields, is to launch its sixth site in Chiswick this week with a new industrial look featuring distressed copper and reclaimed materials. Copper-clad counters and suspended light fittings have been introduced. Copper pipes have been installed above tables and turned into light fittings, and at the front of the store there is copper-backed vinyl signage.

Bonnie Gull founder to launch Beagle in March: The founder of Bonnie Gull in London’s is to launch a restaurant, bar and coffee shop hybrid called Beagle in three renovated railway arches on Geffrye Street, Shoreditch - next to Hoxton Station - in March. The venue will also boast a large south facing outdoor seating area with up to 60 covers. Brothers Danny and Kieran Clancy are behind the project, Danny who founded Bonnie Gull said: “We chanced upon these three beautiful railway arches next to Hoxton Station and were blown away by the site. The arches are in immaculate condition and have some beautiful features – perfect for a restaurant and bar.” James Ferguson, former Head Chef at Rochelle Canteen, will over see the kitchen and Adam Freeth and the team at Shaker Consultancy will oversee the development of the colonial inspired cocktail menu.

Freehold of Butcher & Barrel pub in Mitcham goes to auction: The freehold of The Ravensbury Arms in Mitcham, Surrey, is to auctioned at an Allsop auction on 5 February with a guide price of £850,000 to £900,000. The pub is let to Butcher & Barrel, the multi-site company headed by Dick Morgan, with a rent of £80,000 per annum payable. Vodaphone also pay rent of £3,780 a year on a Telecom mast located at the pub.

Stuart Darling to become new Vianet chief executive: Stuart Darling is to become the new chief executive of Vianet with existing chief executive James Dickson becoming executive chairman. James Newman will retire as non-executive chairman. Darling has held the role of chief operating officer since 2009. There will be a transition period until the year end on 31 March 2013, when these changes, which form part of the group’s succession planning, will come into effect. Commenting on the announcement, James Dickson said: “This series of Board changes reflects the transformation of Vianet and the strategic changes that we have successfully implemented to become a growing provider of data management across a number of sectors.”

PizzaExpress freehold goes to Allsop auction: The freehold of a property in Sudbury Suffolk let to PizzaExpress is to be sold at a Allsop auction on 5 February with a guide price of £1.15m to £1.2m. The restaurant is let on a rent of £70,404 per annum, which kicks in on 25 June 2014 - the property was let on a 25-year lease from June 2004 with a ten year rent free period. The vendor will pay the buyer £70,404 per annum until the rent free period expires. 

Douglas Jack issues “Add” recommendation on Greene King shares: Numis Securities leisure analyst Douglas Jack has issued an Add recommendation on Greene King shares with a Target Price of £7.10 on its shares. He said: “Overall, Greene King is trading in line and now faces relatively easy comparatives in Quarter Four. We are holding our forecasts (PBT £162.0m; consensus £161.4m). We believe the shares are on the right EV/EBITDA multiple, but our stance is Add to reflect circa 8% earnings growth, a 4% dividend yield and a reasonable trading backdrop for food-led residential pubs in 2013. Managed pub LFL sales rose 2.8% during the last six weeks, which was a good result against a comparative of 8.8%. This leaves year-to-date LFL sales up 3.7% (food 4.1%; accommodation 4.6%; we estimate drink was c.3%) against our full year assumption of 3.8%, with an easy, weather-affected comparative of 0.6% to look forward to in Quarter Four.” Simon French, of Panmure Gordon, said: “Our fear is that if the group does not utilise its premium valuation to make acquisitions then the market will steadily de-rate the stock towards the sector average as earnings growth is forecast only at 6.5% compound over the next three years, below the sector average of circa 10%. The stock trades on a CY 2013E adjusted EV/EBITDAR of 9.3x, compared to the sector average of 9.1x. We therefore view the stock as fully valued and reiterate our Hold recommendation and 607p Target Price.”

Mainly Beer adds to cask ale revival in Cheltenham: Mainly Beer, run by Ross and Grant Cook, has been given the go-ahead to convert the former Club EXS in Cheltenham, a Grade Two listed building, to a pub serving real ale. Planning bosses at Cheltenham Borough Council have agreed for major renovation works to take place at 20 High Street. It means the town centre will have four real ale pubs within a 30-metre radius and it will be the first pub in a new location in Cheltenham for years.

Former Ivy executive chef to open his own restaurant: The former executive chef of The Ivy, Alan Bird, is to open his own restaurant and bar. The chef will open Bird of Smithfield at the end of March in Smithfield. His curriculum vitae includes spells working with Nico Ladenis and the Soho House Group.

Panchal takes over Kensington late-night venue: West London nightclub Decoucher has been taken over by Dipak Panchal, the über cool operator behind The Black Dog in Vauxhall and the Ultra Vie concierge service. Panchal took on the tenancy after the previous occupants went into liquidation. He is expected to run the 2,280 square foot former nightclub behind Kensington Palace on Kensington Church Street as a late-night bar. “It’s a smart basement premises in a sought-after location and it was offered as a fully-fitted bar and restaurant, so the new tenant has plenty of scope to diversify,” explains Anthony Alder of licensed leisure specialists AG&G, who acted for the landlord. A new lease has been granted at a rent of £40,000 per annum. The property is close to both High Street Kensington and Notting Hill Gate tube stations and local bus services. Caffe Nero, Costa, Giraffe, Kensington Roof Gardens, PizzaExpress, Pizza Hut and Strada are nearby.

Marston’s to re-open Bristol pub in March as The Hollow Tree: Midlands-based Marston’s is to re-open the former Bradley Stoke pub in Bristol as The Hollow Tree offering its two-for-one format in March. The pub closed in September last year for a refurbishment.

Kornicis opens latest Jamies: London-based Kornicis Group has opened the latest of its Jamies wine bars on Tudor Street just off Fleet Street - it is called The Witness Box. The 150-capacity venue is split over two floors and features a formal restaurant and a number of bar areas.

Jamie Rollo – Enterprise to be hit by WaverleyTBS collapse: Morgan Stanley leisure sector analyst Jamie Rollo has forecast that First Quarter performance at Enterprise Inns, set for an update from management on 31 January, will be affected by the WaverleyTBS collapse. He said: “This quarter will look poor as it includes the effect of wholesaler WaverleyTBS going into administration (it distributed some free-of-tie products that Enterprise made a margin on), and management have guided this to be £1-2m off profit, or 1-2% off in a quarter. The last few months have also experienced poor weather, and face tough comps from an unusually warm October last year, which we think will be a circa 1% swing. Hence we estimate like-for-like income will be down circa 3% in Q1. While there was no comment on current trading at the full-year results, the company said its first target is to achieve like-for-like net income growth for the entire estate, which could suggest trading had remained negative.”

Local people urged to boycott controversial Costa planned for Southwold: Residents of Southwold are being urged to “vote with their feet” and support independent, locally-owned businesses when Costa opens a branch in the town at the start of next month. The town council and more than 600 people objected to the company’s plans to take over the former Fanny & Frank clothes shop amid concerns it could harm the town’s “unique character”.

Pub with No Name in Brighton sold for an estimated £400,000: The Pub with No Name, in Brighton’s Hanover district, has been sold to a local investor in an off-market deal for around £400,000. “This pub has become a Brighton institution, so it’s hardly surprising that the new owner has kept the current tenants,” says AG&G director James Grimes. “It’s a quirky building with a great character that manages to accommodate function rooms, sports viewing areas, a roof terrace and lots of art around its core business.”

Molson Coors UK buys Irish craft brewery: Molson Coors UK & Ireland has bought the Franciscan Well craft beer brand and micro-brewery in Cork City, Republic of Ireland, and, this year, will be developing a new 75,000HL (150,000 keg) craft brewery, also in Cork. This is the first development from its new Emerging Markets & Craft Beer unit, set up to oversee its interests in craft beer in both countries. These investments are central to Molson Coors Ireland’s plans to build a strong share in the burgeoning craft beer market as well as a significant Irish craft-beer export business to international markets. Craft beer is expected to grow from €24 million to approximately €235 million in retail sales value (circa 10%) of the Irish beer market by 2017. Molson Coors UK and Ireland’s Emerging Markets & Craft Beer division, headed by Niall Phelan, brings together its Scottish and Irish businesses alongside its growing portfolio of domestically produced and leading international craft beers. This includes Sharp’s Brewery in Cornwall, which brews Doom Bar, the fastest growing top 50 beer brand in the UK on premise, and William Worthington’s Micro Brewery in Burton upon Trent that brews the multi-award winning White Shield.

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