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Wed 6th Mar 2013 - All Star Lanes, JD Wetherspoon and Loungers

Story of the day:

JD Wetherspoon plans first motorway service station opening with 24-hour licence: Managed operator JD Wetherspoon is eyeing its first ever motorway service station opening. The move comes after the government suggested further relaxing the law on the sale of alcohol at motorway service stations in its Alcohol Strategy consultation last year – although the law is a little confused and some motorway service stations already serve alcohol. The opening would be the first time a pub company has operated in a service station. However, Wetherspoon has run numerous sites at airport and train stations for many years so the move to operate in a high footfall service station would be a natural progression. It is thought that the company will also apply for a 24-hour alcohol licence to test the market for food and beverage throughout the night. The opening, which is understood to be subject to paperwork completion, comes as service station operators, like owners of shopping centres and transport hubs, are looking to broaden their offer - it is thought that JD Wetherspoon was approached by the service station operator. The Wetherspoon opening is planned for the Extra services on the M40 at Beaconsfield. One source told Propel Morning Briefing: “It will mean that drivers will be able to choose between a JD Wetherspoon pub and the usual array of quick service restaurants and coffee shops at Beaconsfield services.” The Starbucks at Beaconsfield Extra is already open 24 hours a day and a Greggs outlet became the first open at a motorway service area in 2013. JD Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “We don’t comment on individual sites.” John Gaunt, of John Gaunt Solicitors, said: “The position is a little confused or confusing! Clearly, there are motorway service areas that do have licences - although, historically, the general understanding was that they should not be licensed. The recent Alcohol Strategy consultation, now closed, contained a proposal that motorway service stations be removed as being “excluded premises” under section 176 Licensing Act and thus allow Local Authorities to determine whether to grant a premises licence based. There was an alternative proposal that any relaxation only extend to such areas which provides accommodation and is licensed for on sales only in that accommodation. In simple terms – a government-owned service station is excluded currently from selling alcohol – whereas a privately owned service area not necessarily so if it can get a licence.”

Industry news:

Barclays responds to Sarumdale criticism: Barclays Bank has responded to criticism leveled at the bank by former Sarumdale director Mike Lloyd in last Friday’s Propel Friday Opinion. Lloyd claimed the multi-site pub company’s administration is linked to an interest rate swap sold by the bank. A spokesman for Barclays said: “Barclays worked closely with the Sarumdale management team for a number of years to try and turnaround the business. Unfortunately, the HMRC winding up petition in 2012 meant that the strategy could not be completed. Sarumdale entered into a number of hedging contracts over many years. The company never expressed its dissatisfaction with the interest rate products it had taken out prior to the administration. We are in ongoing discussions with administrators to find the best solution to get the maximum value for all creditors. Where we have not met the expected standards, we will put things right.”

Private Equity News - Private equity activity in the UK greater than Germany and France in value terms: Private Equity News has reported that the UK saw an uptick in private equity activity in the last quarter of 2012 with 43 deals compared to 40 in France and 20 in Germany. Deals worth an aggregate $11.5bn were completed in the UK in the final quarter of 2012 – the strongest since 2007 when $24.4bn worth of deals were completed. The value compared to $134m in France and $4.57bn in Germany. Jeremy Lytle, partner at UK buy-out firm ECI Partners, said much of the rebound in the UK had been down to the resurgence of mid-market deals. He said: “You hear mixed reports from different (private equity) houses but in our sector of the market – buyouts of between £10m and £150m – the market has been pretty resilient since the lows of 2009. The flip side of that is pricing – you have to be prepared to pay for good assets and it’s a competitive marketplace.”

McDonald’s drops two menu items in the US: McDonald’s in the US will discontinue two menu items whose demise was first reported on a franchisee’s social media pages last week. The company reported that the Fruit & Walnut Salad and Chicken Selects would be removed permanently from menus after supplies run out at its more than 14,000 restaurants in the US. The Angus Third Pounder line of burgers also is rumoured to be on its way out, though McDonald’s would not confirm that.

Beer duty escalator e-petition originator welcomes Commons debate: Chris Keating, marketing manager of Wychwood Brewery and chief instigator of the e-petition to halt the beer duty escalator, has welcomed a debate yesterday in the Commons on the beer duty escalator. He said: “It’s great that Marcus Jones MP pushed for this debate and this is an important step to keep this subject front of mind and give it the airtime it needs. It’s crucial in the run-up to the budget that we continue to push the government into halting this ridiculous tax that is damaging the institution that is the great British pub and stifling an industry that not only contributes £19 billion in UK GDP to the economy, but also provides over 750,000 jobs. So far we’ve had 150 MPs sign up to EDM 703 in support of the abolishment of the beer duty escalator and we will continue to name and shame those MPs that aren’t listening to their constituents requests to support this campaign. Let’s hope this is the last time we have to debate the beer duty escalator and we get the result that over 108,000 people have fought for and this crippling tax is axed once and for all.”

Liverpool owner invests in new pizza concept: Liverpool owner and chairman Tom Werner is among a group of investors who have stumped up $3m for the launch of a new pizza concept in the US - Blaze Pizza. “The idea of being able to go to a restaurant and decide how to make your individual pizza and have it taste good in less than two minutes - that sounded like a good idea,” Werner told Bloomberg. Werner was recruited as an investor after co-funder Rick Wetzel served him pizza at a dinner party at his home that Werner thought was outstanding.

Livebookings links up with Michelin: Restaurant reservations company Livebookings has formed a partnership with Michelin guidebooks. The Livebookings technology will be integrated into Michelin’s online restaurant search service giving customers the chance to book those restaurants directly online. The partnership will begin at Michelin listed restaurants in France and Germany with a view to rolling it out across other European markets.

Spanish drought set to lead to virgin olive shortage: A drought in Spain is predicted to result in a 60% drop in the harvest of olives, leading to shortages of extra virgin olive oil. Other olive oil producers, such as Greece, Italy and Turkey have also had droughts and will be unable to make up the shortfall.

Food price inflation hits five-month low: Food price inflation was at its lowest for five months in February at 3.5% - it was 4% in January. Annual shop price inflation rose by 0.5 of a percentage point to 1.1% last month, which was the lowest figure since September’s 1%, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Nielsen survey. Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s director general, said: “Food inflation has fallen to a five-month low, a sign that past falls in commodities such as wheat and corn are continuing to filter through.” Neilsen head of retailer and business insight Mike Watkins said: “Food inflation continues to be volatile due to global factors such as worldwide demand, harvests and commodity prices. We can also expect shoppers to continue to look for more savings in the weeks leading up to Easter and for retailers to respond with a continuation of heavy promotional activity.”

Company news:

Paul May – Patisserie Valerie is finding a different marketplace: Patisserie Valerie has confirmed openings in seven London train stations, which Propel reported in a breaking news e-mail on Sunday. Chief executive Paul May said: “The last 12 months has seen some significant achievements for us, including our first openings in Scotland, inclusion on The Sunday Times Profit and Fast Track lists and now our 100th store. Incredibly, despite being in a time of economic crisis, we have continued to bring investment and new jobs to the UK’s high streets and reaching this milestone is a brilliant achievement. If anything, this level of public enthusiasm has taken us by surprise, so we have continued to look for high quality shopping venues in which to open. All of this has put us in a different market place from any other chain and is why we have been able to gain so many new customers in the last two years.”

Loungers opens Portishead site today: Loungers, the café bar concept headed by Alex Reilley and Jake Bishop, is opening its latest site in Portishead today – it is called Impero Lounge. The £500,000 opening occupies a former Budgens store in the High Street and will offer 130 covers and create 20 new jobs. It is understood that Loungers beat JD Wetherspoon is securing the building – Loungers also beat JD Wetherspoon to secure its Cosy Club site in Stamford.

Marriott launches partnership with Ikea Group subsidiary: Marriott International is teaming up with a subsidiary of furniture giant Ikea Group to launch a new budget hotel brand. Moxy Hotels will be aimed at style-conscious, budget travellers, with plans to create a portfolio of 150 hotels over the next ten years. To grow the brand, Marriott is working closely with Ikea-controlled Inter Hospitality who will be the initial developer and owner of the first Moxy Hotels properties. 

Chef & Brewer launches pie created by a customer: A pie designed by a Chef & Brewer Facebook fan is now on the menu in 130 pubs across the UK. The ‘Ultimate Venison Pie’, created by Marcus Ball from Nottingham, won the pub restaurant’s Perfect Pie Competition, which gave guests the chance to create a new pie for the menu, and his creation now features on the seasonal menu to celebrate British Pie Week. The recipe, which includes venison, bacon, wild mushrooms and garlic with light soy sauce, came out on top from 230 entries after fans voted in their hundreds. Marcus said: “I was shocked to be taken through to the finals of the competition; there were some great pies I was up against.” Marcus also claimed a family meal at his local Chef & Brewer, The Hutt in Ravenshead, Nottingham, and a foodie weekend break for two. Kevin Woodyet, Chef & Brewer’s menu development chef, said: “This is the first time that Chef & Brewer has launched a menu innovation contest of this kind and we are delighted with the response.”

Spirit to create 450 work placements: Spirit Pub Company has revealed that it will provide work placements for 450 students over the next two years, with 150 to be placed in 2013. The initiative, known as the Teen Spirit Work Inspirations Programme, has seen the pub company work in partnership with the B-live Foundation to provide nationwide placements in the hospitality sector. The foundation was created to support young people in maximising their personal and career development. Through the B-live website Spirit is able to present to students the credible career pathway the hospitality sector can offer. Jo Bradford, national qualifications manager, said: “Working with the B-live Foundation we are able to fulfil our ambition to educate, influence and then recruit a new generation of school leavers onto a career path in the hospitality trade.”

Brewhouse Pub and Kitchen makes great start in Portsmouth: Brewhouse and Kitchen, the Enterprise Investment Scheme company headed by Simon Bunn and Kris Gumbrell, that opened its first brewpub in Portsmouth last week has reported a great start. Managing director Simon Bunn said: “We’ve had great reviews and 40% of our sales yesterday were on our own beers.” Brewhouse Pub and Kitchen’s first site is a former JD Wetherspoon pub in the city, The White Swan, which has been acquired freehold off an asking price of £700,000.

Punch Taverns – restructure will allow sale of 25% of 3,000 core pubs: Punch Taverns published a document yesterday that explains how its planned restructuring will affect its disposal programme. The company will be permitted to sell a maximum of 25% of its core estate of 3,000 pubs and up to 10% per year. There will be minimum capex required of £8,000 per core pub per annum, increasing annually in-line with CPI. Punch will also aim to reduce the ratio of total net debt to EBITDA from 12x in 2013/2014 to 8X over the next 15 years. The document states that any free cashflow will be used to pay down debt or be re-invested in the estate.

Gordon Ramsay appoints turnaround specialist to the board: Chef Gordon Ramsay has appointed turnaround specialist Geoff Eades to the board. Eades calls himself an “international turnaround specialist and a builder of successful teams” on his Linkedin profile. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accounts.

All Star Lanes open Manchester venue: All Star Lanes opened its Manchester site on Saturday (2 March). The brand, which has four sites in London, opened in the Grade II listed Great Northern warehouse just off Deansgate, offering eight main hall lanes, a restaurant, cocktail bar and Whisky Tasting Room plus an 80-capacity private room for parties, corporate events and conferences. The private room features two bowling lanes, its own fully stocked cocktail bar, seasonal canapé menu and dedicated team of staff.

Masterchef winner to preview restaurant at ETM Group site: The winner of last year’s Masterchef competition, Tim Anderson, is to preview his new Japanese restaurant Nanban, which will open on Shoreditch High Street, by staging a two-day pop-up at ETM Group’s The Prince Arthur, London Fields on 26 and 27 March. Taking inspiration from the southern region of Japan, Anderson is serving up six umami-laden courses for £29 per person.

Chapman becomes chief executive of Ribble Valley Inns: Wayne Chapman has been appointed chief executive of Ribble Valley Inns, it has been announced by joint managing directors Craig Bancroft and Nigel Haworth. Bancroft said: “We are thrilled that Wayne is joining Ribble Valley Inns. It is exciting times and Wayne’s expertise will be vital in the growth of Ribble Valley Inns as we expand the group and move forward.” In his previous role Chapman was brand director for SSP UK and Ireland responsible for the development of their bars, restaurants and franchise brands. During his time with SSP he was responsible for the successful opening of more than 150 bars and restaurants as well as introducing high street brands, such as Starbucks, into the travel sector. Commenting on his appointment, he said: “I am absolutely delighted to be joining such a successful brand with a great team behind it that is highly revered by its peer group. We are committed to continue with the ethos of using local artisan suppliers to provide the finest food and drink ensuring we deliver a premium pub experience. I really look forward to improving our current estate and to further expand our brand and allow many more customers in different geographic areas to experience the Ribble Valley proposition.”

JD Wetherspoon pub starts to charge for entry on a Saturday night in Taunton after closure of nightclub: A JD Wetherspoon pub in Taunton has capitalised on the closure of its main nightclub rival by starting to charge for entry on a Saturday night. The move to charge at the Perkin Warbeck in Taunton, a Lloyds No 1 site, comes after Yellowhammer Bars closed its Bliss venue in Taunton in the wake of the administration of a subsidiary company in January. The closure of the venue has created unprecedented demand to enter the Wetherspoon pub on a Saturday night - and the company has begun charging £1 from 10pm onwards. The Lloyds No 1 venue, which opened in 1997, trades until 1am on Thursdays, 2am on Fridays and 3am on a Saturday. Local customers have vented their anger on Facebook describing the decision to charge an entry fee as ‘disgusting’ and ‘pure greed’. A JD Wetherspoon spokesman said: “As a result of the nightclub (Bliss) closing, the bar is busier than ever, especially on a Saturday night. We have increased the number of door staff from six to eight to ensure staff and customers can enjoy a fun and safe evening. We appreciate that some people might be disappointed with the entrance fee, but we believe it is fair. Taunton will not be the only site charging – historically, there will be some Lloyds No One sites that charge for admission on a Saturday night. If a manager thinks it is appropriate to charge for entry, he will.” The second JD Wetherspoon pub in Taunton, the Coal Orchard on Bridge Street, which closes at 11pm, is not charging for entry. The Lloyds No 1 sub-brand plays music although some sites only do so in the evenings. There were suggestions in the early years of that Lloyds No 1 expansion that sales tended to crater in the second year of new openings in a way not experienced at the mainstream brand. However, the Lloyds No 1 brand is likely to benefit from the ongoing contraction in nightclub sites across the UK. At one stage in 2002, JD Wetherspoon reported that it thought it could expand Lloyds No 1 to 500 sites within a decade after buying the original ten from Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries in 1999. The company currently operates slightly more than 100 Lloyds No 1 sites.

Plans to convert former Hook Norton pub to an estate agency are shelved after village protest: Plans to convert a former Hook Norton pub into an estate agency have been shelved after strong village opposition. Oliver James estate agents, which has offices in Kidlington and Oxford, had distributed leaflets in the village stating its intention to set up a branch at The Bell Inn, which has remained closed since it was purchased by new owners last year. The agency has decided not to pursue the plan any further after it received a number of objections from villagers keen to see The Bell Inn retained as a pub. “We were keen to offer the village a service but we didn’t want to upset anybody,” a spokesman said. Owners Zoe and William Shapland have currently tabled a planning application with Cherwell District Council seeking approval for internal changes to the building.

Greene King increase prices for tenants by 3.5%; multi-site operator pins letter of protest to the bar: Suffolk-based Greene King has increased its prices to tenants by 3.5%. One tenant Tom Rainey, who runs The Punter on Osney Island in West Oxford, has pinned up his own letter near the bar saying: “We must apologise for the pricing of our draught products.” His letter contrasts the £3.96 he is charged by the brewery for a litre of San Miguel with the £1.40 cost of a litre of petrol. He said of his letter: “People like it. They find it interesting, especially when you put the pricing of lager versus petrol.” He said the other Punter pub he runs in Cambridge pays £140 for a barrel of San Miguel from owner Punch Taverns but the price in Oxford is £165. A Greene King spokesman said: “Where tenants are tied for the purchase of beers, they receive other benefits and support. We focus on getting the right deal for the right pub and we are working very hard to achieve this balance with The Punter.”

Secret bidder snaps up East Staffordshire coaching inn: A secret bidder has bought The Meynell Ingram Arms, in Abbots Bromley Road, Hoar Cross, out of administration – the venue, in administration since last October, was set to close its doors for the final time on 25 March. A spokesman for administrator Begbies Traynor said: “I can confirm that a party has bought The Meynell Ingram Arms but, at the moment, due to a confidentiality clause the new owners can’t be named. I can also reveal the pub will close, but only while the new owners undertake a complete refurbishment at the site. I understand that there are no plans to change use at the site and it will still be a pub.” The venue changed hands for £1.3m in 2007.

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