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Fri 15th Mar 2013 - Carvery Heaven, Greene King and Wetherspoon

Story of the day:

Property developer Anthony Lyons pays Wetherspoon £1.25m to settle fraud case: High profile property developer Anthony Lyons has paid JD Wetherspoon an out-of-court settlement of £1.25m to end a fraud case that relates to the company’s long-running litigation in respect of its former property finder Van de Berg. The property finder, which was paid a total of £15m whilst it worked for Wetherspoon, fraudulently diverted freeholds to third parties. The cost of the property fraud perpetrated on JD Wetherspoon by Van de Berg has been put at between £50m and £100m by company founder Tim Martin. He told Propel: “It was quite a big fraud if you add together the excess rent we’ve paid over interest we would have paid if we had acquired the freeholds.” Propel understands there is one more piece of legal action pending in relation to the Van de Berg case, which was originally settled in Wetherspoon’s favour in 2009. Legal action began against Van de Berg in 2005, which means the various legal cases arising will have taken eight years to pursue to their conclusion. Martin told Propel last year: “This is partly about making sure people understand we will take legal action if we are defrauded by unscrupulous people in the property market. It has good educational value for people setting up property businesses that rules apply. To my mind, the property market is more open to abuse than the stock market.” In the company’s results statement this morning, Martin said: “Wetherspoon (has) agreed on an out-of-court settlement with developer Anthony Lyons, formerly of property leisure agent Davis Coffer Lyons. Wetherspoon will receive approximately £1.25 million from Mr Lyons. The payment relates to litigation in which Wetherspoon claimed that Mr Lyons had been an accessory to frauds committed by Wetherspoon’s former retained agent Van de Berg and its directors Christian Braun, George Aldridge and Richard Harvey. Mr Lyons denied the claim and the litigation was contested. The claim related to properties in Portsmouth, Leytonstone and Newbury. The Portsmouth property was involved in the 2008/9 Van de Berg case itself. In that case, Mr Justice Peter Smith found that Van de Berg, but not Mr Lyons, who was not a party to the case, fraudulently diverted the freehold from Wetherspoon to Moorstown Properties Limited, a company owned by Simon Conway. Moorstown leased the premises to Wetherspoon. Wetherspoon is still a leaseholder of this property – a pub called The Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The properties in Leytonstone and Newbury (the other properties in the case against Mr Lyons) were not pleaded in the 2008/9 Van de Berg case. Leytonstone was leased to Wetherspoon and trades today as The Walnut Tree public house. Newbury was leased to Pelican plc and became a Café Rouge.”

Other Wetherspoon news:

Like-for-likes climb 7.3% in the six weeks to 10 March: Like-for-like sales rose 7.3% in the six weeks to 10 March and are up by 6.9% for the 26 weeks ending 27 January. Profit before tax dropped 2.7% in the first 26 weeks. Tim Martin said: “The outcome for the first half of the financial year was reasonable, given the pressures on the UK consumer. As previously stated, the biggest danger to the pub industry, is the VAT disparity between supermarkets and pubs and the continuing imposition of stealth taxes, such as the late-night levy, and the increase in fruit/slot machine taxes. In the six weeks to 10 March 2013, like-for-like sales increased by 7.3%, with total sales increasing by 9.9%. Taxation and input costs will continue to rise, but, overall, the company continues to aim for a reasonable outcome in the current financial year.”

Wetherspoon would have paid £40m less tax if it was taxed like a supermarket: Tim Martin has argued that the company would have paid £40m less tax if food was treated in the same way as in supermarkets. He said: “The company paid total taxes of £273.5 million in the six-month period, a £23.4 million increase on the previous year. If we were taxed on the same basis as supermarkets, we would have paid £40.7 million less, since supermarkets pay virtually no VAT in respect of food sales. We believe there to be an overwhelmingly strong case for tax parity between pubs and supermarkets, since lower supermarket taxes help them to sell alcoholic drinks at extremely low prices, compared with those of pubs. The government and medical profession hope to combat low supermarket prices by ‘minimum pricing’ legislation. However, if the government were to use the tax system to encourage, rather than discourage, consumption in pubs, it would greatly increase the average price per unit of alcohol paid by consumers, helping to meet government and medical health objectives, while increasing employment and tax revenues at the same time. At the current time, approximately 50% of beer is consumed in pubs, and 50% in the ‘off-trade’. For illustrative purposes, if the average price of a pint from a supermarket is £1 and that of a pint in a pub £3, increasing the number of pub pints from 50% to 75% would increase the average price paid in the country as a whole from about £2 to £2.50. Instead, successive governments have ‘cracked down’ on pubs by increasing taxes and regulations, resulting in on-trade consumption of beer dropping from about 90% to about 50% in the last 30 years and, perversely, reducing the average price per pint paid by consumers.” 

Industry news:

Subway calls for business rates freeze: Subway has called on the government to freeze business rates ahead of the Budget next Wednesday (20 March). Trevor Haynes, area development manager UK and Ireland, said that many retailers were feeling the pressure of the rising costs in rents, energy bills and business rates. He said: “With the Budget approaching later this month, the retail industry is keen to see support for the high street and small and large businesses alike. One of the key things the government could do to help support retail within the UK would be to freeze business rates.”

Douglas Jack – there’s a risk of foodservice over-supply: Numis Securities analyst Douglas Jack has raised the spectre of excess supply in the foodservice market. He said: “According to the Peach Report, the majority of operators are positive about their own company prospects and about expansion. Such optimism is good, but brings the risk of over-expansion, which has happened before. Restaurant supply has already started to accelerate, having grown 4.1% in 2012 (growing in all regions, except Wales and south-west England).” Jack also argued that the sector’s campaign to reduce VAT to 5% and end the duty escalator are better strategic options than minimum pricing. He said: “The case against minimum pricing includes the risk that consumers would continue to drink just as much as before, resulting in the minimum price reducing the cash available for consumers to spend on leisure. Also, there is a risk that supermarkets’ £1.8-2.2bn (minimum price) profit windfall could be used against pubs through soft drink and food price reductions. We continue to believe the best solution rests in licensed retail sector’s campaigns against the beer duty escalator and 20% VAT on pub/restaurant food versus 5% VAT on supermarket food.”

McDonald’s in the US to roll-out lower calorie Egg McMuffin: McDonald’s is rolling out a yolk-free version of its Egg McMuffin in the US this spring. The company says the “Egg White Delight” will be made with a whole grain muffin, Canadian bacon and white cheddar cheese. It will be available nationally April 22 and clock in at 250 calories, compared with 300 calories for a regular Egg McMuffin.

Insolvency Service is all but insolvent: The Financial Times has reported that the UK government’s Insolvency Service is all but insolvent. The FT stated: “Experts suggest the group, which polices bankrupt companies, liquidates failed businesses and disqualifies unfit directors, would be broke had it not received an emergency injection of cash from the government. After reporting an underlying deficit of £12m last year, the agency is heading for a deficit of £5m to £7m for 2012-13, according to Whitehall officials.” Adrian Bailey, chair of the parliamentary business committee, said: “It is fair to say that if this was a company it would be in deep trouble.” The Insolvency Service, which began tweeting about a fortnight ago, tweeted: “Despite reports, rumours of our insolvency have been greatly exaggerated.”

Company news:

Greene King set to expand to Realpubs to 22 sites before founders Pring and Heap leave: Greene King is set to expand its estate of Realpubs site to at least 22 sites before founders Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap leave at the end of April at the second year anniversary of the acquisition of the company. Realpubs operated 14 sites when it was bought by Greene King for £53.1m in April 2011. The end of April this year will see the culmination of Pring and Heap’s two-year integration period with the pair set to follow the lead of Cloverleaf founders John Winder and Gary Douglas in standing down. Greene King opened its sixth Realpubs conversion last Thursday night – the Prince of Wales in Hampton Court, which is Realpubs second foray south of the Thames after St Margarets Tavern in St Margarets. The Pheonix in Throgmorton Street re-opened as a Realpubs site last night to make a seventh conversion. One further Greene King pub, The Grove in Ealing, is scheduled for conversion to Realpubs trading format in April to reach a total of eight conversions. The expansion of Realpubs by Greene King since acquisition will mean it will have out-stripped both Loch Fyne and Cloverleaf in terms of site conversion numbers in the two-year post acquisition period. Greene King has also successfully expanded Realpubs’ trading locations with an opening in a Zone One London site last September - The King Stores in Bishopsgate. Other pubs within the Greene King estate converted to Realpubs include The Island Bar and Dining Room in Kensal Rise, a former Capital Pub Company site. Paul Hickman, former City analyst at Peel Hunt, reported last year that The Maynard Arms in Crouch End has seen turnover climb from £14,200 a week to £22,600 a week after a £408,000 investment to turn it to the Realpubs trading style. Meanwhile, The Black Lion in West Hampstead has seen turnover per week almost double from £12,500 to £24,200 after a £322,000 investment to convert it to the Realpubs format. It is not known exactly what Pring and Heap plan to do after their departure from Greene King but industry sources speculate that they want to set up a second business following the example of Clive Watson and David Bruce who sold Capital Pub Company to Greene King. 

Carvery Heaven takes fourth Star Pubs and Bars site: Carvery Heaven has opened its fourth Star Pubs and Bars site – it has re-opened The Ashfields Hotel in Sutton in Ashfield this week as The Fountain Bridge following a £305,000 co-investment with Star Pubs & Bars. The Fountain Bridge is the fourth pub Carvery Heaven has leased from Star Pubs & Bars and repositioned as a carvery. Other sites include The Trent Hotel, Radcliffe, The Dog & Quayle Underwood and The Ashwood at Alfreton. Star Pubs & Bars spent £245,000 on upgrading the exterior of the pub to improve its kerb appeal as well as extending the trading area to cater for 180 covers including the addition of a multi-function area for daytime coffee and dining. Carvery Heaven spent a further £60,000 on new fixtures and fittings. Said Chris Moore, property and strategy director for Star Pubs & Bars: “The A38 location of The Fountain Bridge is ideal for passing trade. We’re delighted experienced operators, Carvery Heaven, have decided to take on a fourth site with us and believe their plans for the pub will appeal to a local aspirational market and make it a drive to location.” Michael Perry, managing director of Carvery Heaven, said: “Having seen the location on a main route and potential of the building, we knew it could deliver in the same way our other sites have. Allowing customers to go back to the carvery as many times as they want, providing value for money and a quality offer in a great location, has proved a winning combination. It is the fourth pub we’ve taken on with Star Pubs & Bars. We are confident about the future because of the mutual respect that exists between the two companies. We’ve built up a strong partnership, which truly is what it says, a real partnership.”

850 people apply for 30 jobs at Ed’s Easy Diner opening: More than 850 people have applied for 30 jobs at the opening of an Ed Easy’s Diner at Reading’s Oracle, the newest food venue in Reading. The new site opens in the former Cafe Giardino unit in The Oracle on Tuesday, 26 March. Of the total 853 applicants, 83 were selected for a recruitment day and the 30 finally chosen. General manager Jonny Bramwell said: “The recruitment day was incredible. The quality of all the candidates was really very impressive.”

McDonald’s evolves family favourites campaign: McDonald’s is evolving its “family favourites” campaign with a new TV ad depicting the excitement a Happy Meal box brings to a child. The campaign is based around the principle that children love boxes - no matter what shape, colour or size - and that the Happy Meal box has its own “sense of intrigue”. The 40-second TV ad, created by Leo Burnett, features observational footage of the real actions and emotions that are displayed by children when they are presented with a box - from putting it on their head to turning it into a rocket.

Lincoln multi-site operator eyes £500,000 nightclub investment in Greene King site: Lincoln multi-site operator Chris Regan, who operates Lincolnshire Red steakhouse and Cloud Bar, is looking at a £500,000 investment in Greene King-owned Shed nightclub on the University of Lincoln campus - the deal has not yet been completed. “The company who approached us had seen what other investments I’d done in Lincoln and liked what they saw,” Regan said.

Young’s re-opens flagship Coach and Horses Kew after refurbishment: London retailer Young’s has re-opened the 31-bedroom Coach and Horses in Kew after an extensive refurbishment. The pub’s website states: “The Coach & Horses Hotel now boasts a stunning new pub, dining room and menu. A stone’s throw from the Royal Botanic Gardens, the stylish, contemporary design provides an elegant setting to enjoy modern British dishes bursting with seasonal ingredients. Enjoy the likes of poached beef cheeks, whole grain mustard cream and parsnip three ways, as well as indulgent desserts including peanut butter parfait, banana purée and peanut brittle tuile.”

TLC Inns founder praises Pelican’s central billing system: TLC Inns founder Jo Drain has praised a new and free online central billing system from Pelican Buying Company. Launched to help manage supplier invoices more effectively, the web-based application also delivers an average of 1% cash back bonus for customers. Drain said: “We can monitor our account daily to see what’s happening and address any issues then and there, rather than waiting until the end of the month. If I have a problem with a supplier, Pelican deals with it. We receive one invoice by email at the end of the month showing the suppliers and what we’ve spent with each across our six sites. We then pay Pelican by direct debit and they take care of paying our suppliers. We can also analyse the spending patterns for each site, together with volumes and popular product lines. It’s great for controlling where we are against our budgets. I particularly like the transparency of the cash back bonus. You can view a running total of what you’ve accumulated and then at the end of the year, Pelican pays it directly into your bank account. It’s a great way to reward the hard work of your team and I fully intend to lavish it on mine.”

So! Bar and Eats to open a third site at Spirit pub: So! Bar and Eats, the Yorkshire company headed by Robert Thompson, will open its third site at Spirit Pub Company’s Black Bull in Ripon. Thompson told Propel: “We currently have three sites, two being branded SO! bar and eats, with a third SO! opening in June in Ripon. SO! is a bar concept which embraces high quality informal dining, targeting small market towns for its growth. We have a very precise business plan targeting affluent small market towns with the concept in the lease / tenanted model.”

McDonald’s franchisee takes Little Chef site for third opening: McDonald’s franchisee Ken Tomkins has leased a former Little Chef south of Milton Keynes for his third site. He will open a new 130-seater drive-thru restaurant at the A5 roundabout at Brickhill, south of Milton Keynes, in mid May, on the site previously occupied by Little Chef. He already operates franchises at Xscape and Westcroft. 

Marston’s wins go-ahead for “recreation zone” pub: Midlands-based Marston’s has won the go-ahead for a new-build pub and restaurant in Darwin Park Lichfield despite its position in the “Western Recreation Zone”. Marston’s submitted the application for the pub on land next to Darwin Community Hall and on Monday district councillors gave it the green light, despite receiving more than three times as many letters of objection than support. Residents feel the pub will be too close to homes, the resulting noise will be intrusive, there is no justification for the pub with The Bowling Green in such close proximity and that it will have a negative impact on house prices.

Heineken achieves digital out-performance: Heineken excels across websites, digital marketing, social media and mobile, according to L2’s Digital IQ Index: Beer report. On the social media front, Heineken has had very little competition from other beer brands, and has managed to grab top spot for the most Facebook fans, most Facebook engagement, most Twitter followers, biggest YouTube community, and most individual YouTube channel views. “In fact, Heineken is so dominant on YouTube that its biggest competitor on the platform, Budweiser, had less than half of Heineken’s views when data was collected last month,” said the report. Meanwhile, Heineken has reported that it is gaining access to “interesting and smart people” as a “welcome offshoot” of IdeasBrewery, a website that invites users to submit observations and insights relevant to its business. Said Ellen Bark-Lindhout Heineken’s innovation programme manager: “IdeasBrewery wasn’t developed as a direct recruitment tool. But as a means to expand our network and to get in touch with innovators and creatives around the world. And indeed through the challenges that we’ve been running so far, we’ve met on and off-line many interesting and smart people.”

Brewdog boss – the government can take some simple steps to support small businesses: Brewdog founder James Watt has written an open letter to the government calling on it to take a few simple steps to support UK business. He wrote: “Any start-up company is tight for cash and any start-up company which is ambitious has to figure out a way to leverage its capital and push its small reserve of money to its absolute limits. However as the government looks to fuel the economic recovery and return financial prosperity to our once great country I feel they have made some critical oversights and a few simple changes to the current system could make a big difference. More trade in the UK will undoubtedly help the recovery. However, there are some silly administrative rules that gave us a massive incentive to look abroad when it came to both buying equipment and selling our beers. We are 70% export and 100% of our equipment has came from outside the UK. We feel we could have done more (and other start-ups could also do more) to help the UK economy if the system did not heavily incentivise us to buy and sell from overseas markets.”

Entrepreneur to open ‘pie and mashery’: Entrepreneur Pete Callaway will open The Market Tavern in North Walsham, Norfolk as a “pie and mashery” at the end of April. Callaway said the aim was to create a traditional venue that would also offer a range of authentic British fare including pies made in Norfolk and London, pasties from Cornwall, sausages from Newmarket and locally-grown potatoes. “I think my catchphrase should be: ‘Come and have a bash at my pie and mash’,” he said. 

Domino’s launches online football sitcom: Domino’s UK has launched an online sitcom aimed at football fans, which will air every Thursday and will discuss the latest action on the pitch. The pizza brand hopes to engage with football fans in its customer base through the 12-episode mini series, ‘The Support Group’. It is running on Domino’s YouTube channel, The Sun Online, and Yahoo.

Orchid revamps 52 Fuzzy’s Ed Funhouses: Manager operator Orchid is to revamp its 52 Fuzzy Ed Funhouses. The pubs are being updated with new adult areas so parents can relax while the kids play, TVs, fresh coffee and improved facilities. Also coming soon is the ability to make party bookings online. “We know that our Funhouses set us apart from the competition but it is not enough to simply offer this attraction; we have to ensure they are top quality and well run,” said Amy Garrett, marketing executive for the company’s Free House Dining segment. “These investments in our people and our facilities demonstrate our commitment to customers and will enable us to continue to offer excellent service on every visit.” A new apprenticeship scheme to give Funhouse supervisors additional family-focused skills and training has also been launched by Orchid in partnership with Apprentice 1st. The Fuzzy Supervisors scheme is tailored for supervisors of Fuzzy Ed’s Funhouses at the pub company’s Free House Dining pubs and will start with an intake of around 40 supervisors this April.

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