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Mon 11th Mar 2013 - Beefeater, Powder Train and TGI Friday’s

Story of the day:

Powder Train creditors set to lose just under £4.5m: The Royal Bank of Scotland and Jack Bowyer, whose family owned Gale’s Brewery for more than 100 years, are the creditors owed the most money in the wake of the collapse of Powder Train last month. Administrator Begbies Traynor forecasts that there is likely to be a shortfall of £4,466,705 out of the total of £7,939,705 the company owes its creditors. Powder Train, set up in 2006 and put into administration on 13 February this year, ran five high quality freehold pubs, two of which carried Marco Pierre White’s Wheelers of St James branding. Bowyer set up the business with fellow former Gale’s executive David Butcher – the former was chairman and the latter was chief executive, resigning in April 2012. A report filed by the administrator at Companies House yesterday shows Bowyer is owed £2,874,000 while The Royal Bank of Scotland is owed £4,297,000. The five freeholds are currently on the market with agent Christie + Co for a combined £3,540,000. HMRC is owed £217,062 for VAT and £127,062 in other unpaid tax while trade creditors are owed £425,572. The five Powder Train pubs on the market are: The Anchor Hotel and The George Inn, both in Warminster, Wiltshire; The Chilli Pad (formerly The Jolly Miller) in North Warnborough, Hampshire; The Chequers Inn in Maresfield, East Sussex and The Handsome Pig (formerly the Kings Arms) in Fernhurst, West Sussex. The Anchor Hotel (£450,000) is a Grade II Listed former coaching inn in Warminster. Situated just outside Warminster, in the village of Longbridge Deverill, is The George Inn (£895,000) which dates from the 17th century. It also has a function room that accommodates 120 covers and 12 en suite letting bedrooms. The venue has extensive garden areas and a paddock. The Chilli Pad (£650,000), situated just off the M3 close to Bartley Wood Business Park, currently offers the combination of an 80-cover Thai restaurant and a skittle alley that also doubles as a function room. On the edge of the Ashdown Forest in Maresfield, East Sussex, is The Chequers Inn (£995,000). It has a 70-cover restaurant and 11 en suite letting bedrooms. The Handsome Pig (£550,000) is another 17th century Grade II Listed country inn, situated in the South Downs National Park in Fernhurst, West Sussex. The business has ceased trading. Ed Bellfield, director of Christie + Co, said last month: “These five freeholds are amongst the more characterful pubs or inns on the market today. All benefit from good, in some cases idyllic, surroundings and good historic trading performance. We’re already seeing strong interest expressed from many quarters and expect that interest to grow as the market becomes more aware of their availability.” The five freeholds are available as a group, in clusters or as individual assets.

Industry news:

Survey finds high levels of salt in out-of-home meals: A survey of nearly 700 meals served in celebrity chef and high street restaurants has found half were high in salt. Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) discovered that the 13 saltiest main meals contained more than the maximum recommended daily intake of 6g of salt. The saltiest dish was found to be JD Wetherspoon’s 10oz gammon with eggs, chips, peas and tomato with 8.9g of salt with Jamie’s Italian meatballs containing 8.1g of salt, coming second. Carluccio’s spaghetti alle vongole in bianco came third with 8.1g of salt. In the quick service sector, Pizza Hut fared worst with 100% of their dishes analysed containing more than 2.4g of salt. Subway fared best with less than one in five meals getting a red traffic light label for salt, although their portions were smaller. A regular BBQ meat feast pizza from Pizza Hut was found to contain 6.36g of salt while Domino’s pepperoni passion pizza contained 4.8g. The survey found an average of 3.1g salt per meal - half a person’s daily recommended amount of salt. Eddie Gershon, spokesman for restaurant JD Wetherspoon, said they were open and honest with their customers about the salt content of their meals. “Most of our dishes on Cash’s list contain bacon, gammon or pork which are all meats which are high in salt. We give customers what they want and tell them which meals are high in salt on our website and the company’s nutritional leaflet. We do reduce salt where possible in line with government guidelines.”A Pizza Hut spokesperson said: “We have invested heavily in salt reduction, cutting salt by 15% across our menu since 2006 and we’ll continue to make reductions in line with consumers’ attitudes and palates.”

Tax regime to create a £3.4bn shortfall in duty tax receipts: The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has claimed the high taxes on wine, spirits and beer will result in a £3.4bn shortfall in duty tax receipts by 2018. Duty of alcohol has risen so sharply that British households on restricted budgets are being “priced out of the market”, the trade body has argued. WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: “There is potential for jobs and growth that is being stymied.”

Tesco steps up price war today: Supermarket Tesco is stepping up the price war with rivals today by offering money-off coupons worth up to £10 if shoppers can buy goods cheaper elsewhere. Customers will be able to receive a maximum of £10 in coupons every time they shop at Tesco but must purchase more than ten different products to be eligible. UK managing director Chris Bush said: “We’re the first major retailer in the UK to compare our own prices against the branded and own-label prices of our competitors and give customers an automatic coupon for the difference.”

London Assembly member calls for pub planning overhaul: A Conservative member of the Greater London Assembly is produced a paper today, The Keeping Local, that calls for an overhaul of planning guidelines to protect the “pub as a community hub”. Among the recommendations is a presumption against the change of use when a pub ceases to trade, unless the pub is proved to be of “no value” to the community. Town planners often back changes of use regardless of the pub’s value to a community, the report argues. The report also wants a limit on how much alcohol shops sell to protect pubs from supermarket price-cutting. In London alone there were 897 changes of use for former pubs in the past decade, with many becoming cafes or restaurants, or converted for retail or residential use. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Cambridge City Council is redrafting planning policy to resist the change of use of public houses.

Northamptonshire MPs argue over who has the best nightclubs: Two Northamptonshire MPs have battled it out in the Commons over which part of the county has the best nightclubs. Conservative MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone first laid stake to the claim as he praised the work of street pastors in his town. But Wellingborough’s Tory MP Peter Bone called it an “outrageous slur”, saying “everybody knows it’s Wellingborough and Rushden”. Hollobone said: “Kettering is the nightclub capital of north Northamptonshire. Into this fray every Saturday night and Sunday morning, the Kettering street pastors put out six to ten volunteers to offer faith-based reassurance, comfort and guidance as well as practical assistance to vulnerable young people.”

Rita King moves to the Portman Group: Rita King has taken up a new position as policy manager at The Portman Group after leaving the British Beer and Pub Association where she spent 17 years, latterly as deputy director of pubs and leisure.

Medway Council refuses to name restaurants and food premises that fail to meet hygiene standards: Medway Council has refused to reveal which food businesses in the district have failed to meet hygiene standards. The council rejected a request from The Medway Messenger newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act to name 53 premises told to improve after more than 700 visits by inspectors. It said the adverse commercial damage outweighed the public interest and said legal proceedings were being considered against some of the operations. The Messenger put in the request after a report in January revealed that dozens of premises were below hygiene standards.

Law firm aims to launch FSA interest rate swap judicial review: The law firm Manches is planning to launch a judicial review into the Financial Standards Authority (FSA) review of the mis-selling of interest rate swaps. An advert in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph stated: “The review is flawed and excludes too many victims. We will test the FSA’s approach to the following issues which prevent businesses from seeking compensation: The size of the £10m cap imposed by the FSA is illogical – the greater a victim you are, the less likely you are to be protected; the exclusion of businesses with net assets of £5m or more is unfair; time delays caused by the FSA mean many businesses will lose their right to sue because of the six year limitation period.” The law firm aims to instruct Richard Gordon QC of Brick Court Chambers in London to pursue the review. Companies can register their interest in joining an action group by emailing rich.eldridge@manches.com.

Company news:

Whitbread’s Beefeater brand e-mails customers with burger guarantee: Whitbread’s Beefeater brand has moved to distance itself from the recent horsemeat scandal by issuing a burger guarantee. The brand told customers: “Recently the entire food industry, including a number of well-known and trusted brands, has faced issues around the ingredients found in some meat dishes. In particular, there have been questions around the quality of beef burgers. At Beefeater Grill, we take great pride in the food we serve and we thought you’d appreciate knowing what we’re doing to guarantee the quality of our food. Over the past two weeks, we’ve tested and re-tested the ingredients that go into a broad range of our dishes to make sure everything meets our high standards. We’ve also reviewed procedures for where we source our beef burgers from, and introduced additional tests and controls to make sure our burgers are always exactly as they should be. All our beef burgers are made from 100% farm assured British and Irish beef.”

McDonald’s like-for-likes robust in February - excluding last year’s leap year bonus trading day: McDonald’s has reported the second consecutive fall in monthly like-for-like sales with a 1.5% drop in February, following on from a fall of 1.9% in January. However, the company said February 2012 included an extra trading day due to the leap year and sales around the world were up 1.7% excluding this. In Europe, like-for-likes sales decreased 0.5% with sales up 2.7% setting aside last year’s extra day with performance strongest in the UK and Russia. McDonald’s said it will focus on unique premium menu offerings, compelling value and the expansion of Europe’s operating hours.

Ramsay – Las Vegas sites turning over $55m: Chef Gordon Ramsay has reported that his business has turned around in the last two years. He said: “Our 2012 profits are in excess of £5.5 million, and that’s just in the UK. Once I fired my father-in-law, in 2010. I overhauled it, narrowed it, reined it in, got rid of dead weight. I’m doing licensing deals now, instead of exposing my own cash. Gross revenues from our three Vegas restaurants are $55 million. I want to consolidate and not make the mistake that my father-in-law made and just say yes to everything, thinking short-term.”

Investcorp tipped as one of favourites to buy Cote: The sale restaurant chain Cote, 50% owned by Richard Caring, is tipped to conclude within the next fortnight. Private equity Investcorp is tipped as one of the favourites, with Bridgepoint and LDC thought to have withdrawn from the sale process. The company is expected to sell for more than £100m.

Licensees offered chance to ‘win’ Miller and Armstrong as part of Spitfire campaign: Pubs will be offered the chance to win an appearance by Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong, in their comedy guise as jive-talking RAF Second World War pilots, at their pub as part of their involvement in becoming Spitfire brand ambassadors. Bell Miller said: “It’s such a perfect – almost obvious fit. Our quintessentially English 1940s characters, with their modern street vernacular, echo the brand’s identity perfectly.” Armstrong said: “We’re also really excited about our night at a pub. We’ll be charging 1940s prices, do a singsong and generally have a great time.” Brand manager Kate Maclean said: “In a challenging market such as this, it’s imperative – with limited budgets – that your brand stands out. The marketing department has pooled its resources to make this happen with little additional budget and it gives us great confidence to have such established names fronting the brand.”

Antic London to open Spanish-themed site: Antic London, headed by Anthony Thomas, is to open a Spanish-themed venture, Gremio Brixton. Based in the crypt of St. Matthew's Church, Gremio will initially launch as a traditionally stocked Spanish bar, with dancing, national sporting events and a variety of entertainment. A spokeswoman said: “Shortly after opening the kitchen we will launch with a full tapas menu, building on the offer already in place at Gremio Tooting. Formerly Babaloo, the spacious venue already holds a late licence and the hope is to tap into the local Spanish community, provide a social space to relax, enjoy delicious tapas and dance to traditional bands or DJ’s well into the early hours, whilst still in the heart of Brixton.” Phase one (the bar and entertainment area) is scheduled to open on the 21 March with phase two (kitchen and dining space) to follow shortly afterwards.

Simon French reiterates Buy note on Wetherspoon ahead of results: Panmure Gordon analyst Simon French has issued a Buy note on JD Wetherspoon shares, with a target price of 615p, ahead of its results this coming Friday (15 March). He said: “We forecast £34.5m profit before tax (20.0p EPS). We think trading conditions are getting worse but with disposable incomes tightening we think the group’s value offering will become even more favoured by consumers. Margins remain the market’s key concern but investors should be aware that management always takes a long term view of this business and will sacrifice margin accordingly if it can lead to sustainable market share gains. Although we do not forecast it, we can see margin recovery potential of 120-130bps over the medium term. The stock trades on a CY 2013E adjusted EV/EBITDAR of 7.5x, an unjustified discount to Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) on 7.8x, even more so when considering that Wetherspoon pays a dividend and M&B does not. We reiterate our Buy recommendation and 615p Target Price, implying circa 19% potential upside.”

Eight pub and restaurant brands signs up Southwater development in Telford: Eight pub and restaurant brands have now signed up for the proposed £250 million Southwater development in Telford, which will transform the town centre, providing high quality commercial, community, residential, hotel, leisure and retail space. The eight brands opening on the development alongside cinema operator Cineworld are: Bella Italia, Chimichanga, Harvester, Nando’s, Premier Inn, PizzaExpress, Wagamama and Zizzi.

Pub sells at a £150,000 discount to 2008 price: An unnamed private buyer has acquired The Ivy House, which closed in late 2012, in the hamlet of Tyler Hill, Kent off an asking price of £275,000. The pub was sold by chef Nigel Morris and his wife Bridget, who bought it in 2008 off an asking price of £425,000. The Ivy House joins the 62% of public houses sold by Christie + Co in 2012 for continued pub use. Robert Cockayne, of Christie + Co, said: “The sale of The Ivy House represents the ongoing demand we’re experiencing for freehold public houses in Kent, especially in popular towns such as Canterbury, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks.”

Punch to invest £325,000 in creation of ‘pub and grill’: Punch Taverns is to start work this month on a £325,000 investment to transform a Wednesbury pub into a ‘pub and grill’. The Brunswick, which has been closed since January, is to be run by new licensee Victoria John. Victoria, who has spent the previous 18 years in the catering industry, said: “I took the leap to follow in my family’s footsteps and run my own pub business as I could see the potential of the Brunswick and what it can bring to the local community. The pub was looking very tired and with the investment it will be completely gutted to create a family-friendly pub with high service standards and quality food and drink, whilst keeping it all at good value. There will be major work conducted throughout the site and with the new kitchen we will be able to serve a great range of food – something the pub has never done before. This will range from traditional favourites, like Black Country faggots, to a selection of grills and steaks served with real, hand-cut chips.”

Barman from TGI Friday’s come fourth in global bartender competition: Russell Ward, 31, from Sheffield, has been crowned one of the best bartenders in the world at the TGI Friday’s World Bartender Championship 2013, which took place last week (6 March) in Dallas, Texas. Performing to a crowd of over 1,000 spectators, Russell wowed the judges with his mixology and cocktail flairing skills and finished fourth overall. Over 8,000 bartenders from 60 countries entered the competition and Russ qualified for the world finals having been crowned TGI Friday’s UK Bartender Champion in September 2012. Russell’s unique performance included his signature ‘cherry catch’ where he throws a cherry up to ten metres in the air before catching it on a cocktail stick held between his teeth. Commenting on the result from Texas, Russell said: “The last few days competing against the best bartenders in the world has been a real career highlight and I’m thrilled that all the hard work has paid off and I’ve finished near the top of the group. I need to give a huge shout-out to the Sheffield Road Friday’s team who have supported me in recent months and helped me achieve this. I’m really proud to have finished in fourth. The training over the last six months has been incredibly gruelling with at least four hours practice a day. For now, I’m just looking forward to getting back behind the bar in Sheffield and sharing the good news with my team and Friday’s guests. ” Karen Forrester, TGI Friday’s UK managing director, said: “We couldn’t be more proud of Russell – he has gone out and proven that some of the best bartenders in the world work for Friday’s, right here in the UK. The people of Sheffield should also be very proud to count one of their own as a world-leading bartender.”

Former Ramsay chef takes Stockton pub: Pastry chef Vanessa Wade, who worked for Gordon Ramsay in New York, has taken over The Vane Arms, in Thorpe Thewles, near Stockton, with her husband Tom after they completed a £250,000 deal to buy it. The pair follow Tom’s father, Ray, who has been running the pub’s kitchen since last October, and previously looked after Wade’s Coffee House, in Darlington, and co-owned The George Hotel, in Piercebridge. Vanessa has also worked as a technical chef for a chocolate company.

Young’s earns glowing review for The Alma in Wandsworth: London pub operator Young’s has received a glowing review for its Alma site in Wandsworth, which has 23 bedrooms, from The Daily Mail’s anonymous hotel inspector. His Saturday review, marking the venue four stars out of five, stated: “The Alma is civilised, value for money and commands respect.”

Clevely takes chair of Pizza Pilgrims – first site to open in April: Geronimo Inns founder Rupert Clevely has become chairman of a new pizza company, Pizza Pilgrims, which was incorporated in November last year and is due to open its first site in April. He told Caterer magazine: “They have a pop-up place on Berwick Street Market in London. It’s a very exciting concept, with Thom and James Elliot, the sons of Nick Elliott who opened the Chelsea Ram (the first Geronimo pub) with my wife, Nick sadly died in a car accident about seven years ago. The boys set this business up and it has been highly successful so far.”

Vintage Inns launches petition to reclassify the pie: Vintage Inns, the 194-strong brand owned by Mitchells & Butlers, has launched a petition to change the official definition of ‘pie’ to include those without the traditional pastry lid. Launched during British Pie Week (4th-10th March 2013), the petition aims to reclassify Shepherd’s Pie and Fish Pie. Vintage retail director Neil Dawson said: “It seems somewhat unfair to us that pies have to have a pastry lid to be officially classed as a pie. We are serious about this. We are launching this unique petition to encourage our customers, fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter to decide whether Shepherd’s Pie should in fact be called Shepherd’s Pie or indeed something else. We’ll take it to Parliament if we have to but we intend to start by analysing our customers votes and, if they are behind us we will then hand in a copy of the petition to the bigwigs at the British Pie Awards who, until now, have refused to recognise the validity of any pie without a pastry lid.”

Planning inspectorate backs M&S Leisure Wakefield nightclub opening: A new nightclub in Wakefield that was refused planning permission will open after owner M&S Leisure won a legal ruling. Tequila Nightclub will open at the former Jinnah curry house on Westgate after an appeal against a decision by Wakefield Council planners. The council refused planning permission to turn the Grade-II listed Georgian town-house into a commercial nightclub last September, saying it would be detrimental because the building would be unused during the day and it would add to crime and disorder in the city. But owner M&S Leisure appealed to the planning inspectorate and has been told it can open the club. M&S Leisure owner Kevin Spencer said: “We are going to be opening the club this Easter.”

Kelling Estate re-opens north Norfolk hotel after refurbishment: The Kelling Estate has re-opened the 30-bedroom Pheasant Hotel, which is near Kelling on the north Norfolk coast road, after a refurbishment that has turned it into a boutique hotel. Tim Gooding, of agent Christie + Co, said: “The new owners have invested very substantially since they bought the hotel. It will undoubtedly become one of the best in the county.” The Kelling Estate, a farming estate with various properties to let, is set in 1,700 acres stretching from Holt at its southern boundary to the sea on the north.

JD Wetherspoon signs with SMG for customer feedback: JD Wetherspoon has signed up customer insight agency SMG for its first full customer feedback programme. The scheme, My Pub Feedback, will ask customers to complete an online feedback form using a login code issued via till receipts. The agreement will cover 870 Wetherspoon pubs, including its late night offering Lloyds No. 1 Bar. My Pub Feedback will run alongside the chain’s internal review programme CQSMA - which stands for cleanliness, quality, service, maintenance and atmosphere. SMG managing director Jeremy Michael said: “My Pub Feedback will allow Wetherspoon to better analyse the impact of consumer satisfaction on financial performance and respond even faster to consumer trends and customer demands.”

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