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Thu 11th Jul 2013 - Las Iguanas, Lovely Pubs, Mezze, M&B and Wetherspoon

Story of the day:

ALMR reports 62 new members in six months: The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) has added 62 members in the first six months of 2013. The ALMR’s growth comes as it establishes itself as the key trade body for multi-site pub, bar and restaurant operators – its members run a total of 13,500 outlets employing in excess of 350,000 people. New members in the past year have ranged from Mitchells & Butlers, the UK’s largest pub and restaurant operator, to Luminar, the UK’s largest nightclub operator. The past six months has seen an influx of fast casual restaurant operators such as CG Restaurants and Smith & Western as well as high profile gastro-pub operators such as Lovely Pubs, the company run by Paul Salisbury and Paul Hales. Membership and research manager Matt Steinhofel said: “Our lobbying efforts – the work we are doing on EMROs and late-night levies, applying pressure to councils – has attracted significant support from pub, bar and casual dining operators in the last six months. This growth in membership is recognition of our growing credibility and we will continue to focus on what matters most to operators.” The ALMR estimates the sector contributes £21bn gross value to the economy – up 8% in each of the past two years – and employs 10% of the UK workforce. The sector also generates one in eight of all new jobs and its workforce is forecast to grow by over 6% in the next two years. ALMR chief executive David McHattie added: “With so much pressure being exerted on operators from increasingly puritanical lobbyists it has never been more important for food and drink retailers to be robustly represented every day in the corridors of Whitehall. Every new member increases our growing reputation as the voice of reason representing an industry which is a hot-bed of growth, job creation and entrepreneurial enterprise.”

Industry news:

Pret A Manger ranked worst coffee by Which?: Consumer watchdog Which? has named Pret A Manger as worst of the high street coffee shops in a taste test that described its coffee as ‘thin’ with hints of burnt charcoal. The taste test was undertaken by Giles Hilton, a tea and coffee merchant from Whittard of Chelsea. Hilton’s rankings and scores for cappuccino were: 1 Caffe Nero (8), 2 M&S Café (7), 3 Starbucks (6), 4 Costa (5) and Pret A Manger (4). His rankings for Americano were: 1 Caffe Nero (9), 2 Costa (7), 3 M&S Café (6), Starbucks (5) and Pret A Manger (3). A Pret spokesman said: “We appreciate all feedback. Our coffee is organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance and we take enormous trouble blending and roasting. This is a single test and we’re sorry he didn’t enjoy his coffee.”

Survey finds consumers look for star rating at pubs with accommodation: A survey of consumers for a new report by RPBI on the pub accommodation market has found 55% of consumers regard it as ‘very important’ to stay in a pub with a star rating or equivalent. However, the report also found consumers would like pubs and their accommodation certified independently. One survey participant told the RPBI’s researchers: “There needs to be a system of rating accommodation and pubs separately as I have stayed in venues where the pub is great but the rooms are awful.” Go to to buy the report.

Panera Bread scraps pay-want-you-can-afford menu item: Panera Bread, the US bakery cafe chain, has pulled the plug on a trial at 48 St Louis sites where customers were invited to pay what they can afford for a bowl of chili. The trial began 15 weeks ago and got off to a strong start but then usage dropped as signage explaining the scheme was taken down. “It didn’t do badly,” said Ron Shaich, Panera Bread’s chief executive. “We just didn’t feel we were making as much of a difference as we would have liked.” A handful of locations – such as those in downtown St Louis – saw heavy usage of the offer. But Shaich said the offer was not being utilised much in the vast majority of its 48 trial sites. The chain is now planning to change the pay-what-you-can-afford meal offer to a seasonal, limited-time scheme that would last six to eight weeks.

Cornish pubs first to diversify with the Community Services Fund: Two village pubs in West Cornwall who are the first recipients of grants from Pub is The Hub’s Community Services Fund have launched new services for the benefit of their communities this week. The Badger Inn in Lelant near St Ives has re-opened the village shop with a £3,800 grant and the Royal Standard in Gwinear near Hayle has opened a community playground with a £1,500 grant. Local funding which otherwise might have been applicable to support both projects had been fully allocated by October last year so the projects floundered without the support of Pub is The Hub’s ‘fund of last resort’ in April. 

Company news:

JD Wetherspoon plans mid-December opening for motorway services pub: JD Wetherspoon is planning to open its controversial pub at the M40 Beaconsfield services in mid-December. The site’s landlord is currently undertaking preparation work with completion expected in October. Wetherspoon will then begin ten weeks of its own work on the site with a target of finishing around a fortnight before Christmas. Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has waded into the debate on the new opening by calling it ‘stupid’. He said: “As it’s a motorway, you’re bound to be driving, and if you’re driving it means you can only have one drink. The problem is that when it comes to drink one is never enough.” Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “Mr Clarkson is entitled to his views. He is not the first to criticise the plan. However, many people have welcomed it too.” Meanwhile, the company has pulled out of a plan to develop the post office in Maldon as a pub.

Air Miles inventor buys Enterprise Inns pub for village: The man who invented Air Miles and the Nectar Card loyalty scheme has stepped in to buy his village pub from Enterprise Inns. The Hare and Hounds, in Bidborough Ridge, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, was put up for sale by Enterprise Inns and locals feared it could be sold for redevelopment. Bidborough residents Sir Keith and Lady Maureen Mills have now bought the to ensure their village kept its only pub. Sir Keith, who founded both Air Miles and the Nectar Card loyalty scheme before helping bid for and organise the London Olympics, said: “We did it for the village. I had no desire to run a pub but if I hadn’t bought it, it could have been turned into flats. We heard a developer was interested, so we rushed in.”

Mitchells & Butlers franchises Accor at Birmingham hotel site: Mitchells & Butlers has become a franchisee of Accor at the hotel it owns above its retail support centre in Birmingham, which has re-opened as an Ibis Styles Birmingham Centre hotel. The 120-room hotel was previously operated as a Holiday Inn Express. The newly repositioned Ibis Styles has opened hotels in London Enfield, London ExCel, London Southwark Rose, London Leyton and London Croydon. Later this month the Ibis Brighton City Centre hotel is expected to open. Thomas Dubaere, managing director Accor UK & Ireland said: “This new franchise deal reflects not only the strength of the Ibis Styles brand, but also demonstrates our attractiveness as a franchise partner.”

Lovely Pubs to open £1m evolution of Farm concept tomorrow: Lovely Pubs, the Midlands operator of gastro-pubs whose principals, Paul and Sue Salisbury and Paul Hales, masterminded the roll-out of Mitchells & Butlers Premium Country Dining Group, will open its sixth site, The Queen’s Head, Stoke Pounds, Bromsgrove tomorrow (12 July). The company has invested £600,000 evolving its Farm concept – the pub was bought ahead of an auction for slightly above the guide price of £395,000. The new pub carries the tagline: “By appointment to the great and good of Worcestershire.” The Farm in Lichfield has been described as a “posh Harvester” and takes around £55,000 per week. The Queen’s Head will feature a big open kitchen plus a wigwam in the garden with a firepit, bookable for barbecues. The site will also feature a retail dimension with the development of stand-alone site called The Cottage, which will sell local produce plus wine.

Former Mitchells & Butlers director of corporate affairs joins Domus Tiles: Erik Castenskold, who held a series of high level jobs at Mitchells & Butlers, including acting finance director, director of investor relations and director of corporate affairs, has joined Domus Tiles as its new finance director.

Gerry Ford – Caffe Nero will need adaptations for foreign markets: Caffe Nero founder has told Foodservice Europe and Middle East that Caffe Nero will need adaptations for foreign markets. He said: “We’ve developed a brand carefully to surround artisan coffee but it would be naive for us to think that our brand will easily travel around the world with little changes. What we’re having to do is change our offering so that it’s bespoke to each market – we’re selling an experience so it needs to be right for its location. What I’d really like is to see is for us to be firmly established as the best in each market we operate in. We’re not and nor will ever be the biggest operator in our market but we can continue to be seen as the premium brand in the sector. Aside from that we’ll seek to slowly expand into new territories.”

Mezze opens £1.6m flagship sixth site – Enterprise Inns biggest investment of 2013: South west restaurant company Mezze has opened a flagship sixth site, Mezze at The White Lion in Portishead, Somerset. The venue is a short distance from Portishead marina and had been closed since October 2010 prior to a £1.6m investment, with Enterprise Inns making its biggest investment of 2013 in making a contribution of £600,000. The new site is the third Mezze opening of the year following new additions in Clutton and Ham Green this year. Mezze at the White Lion features a new roof top terrace and Mediterranean gardens for al fresco dining along with an ice cream parlour, a cocktail bar, Mezze restaurant and A La Carte restaurant. Mezze founder Alex Tryfonos said: “Our restaurants are popular for their trademark Mediterranean influences but our Portishead venue includes a bar to welcome drinkers in addition to extensive restaurant areas.”

Beefeater to give away 10,000 free steaks: Beefeater, the Whitbread pub restaurant brand, is to give away 10,000 free steaks this summer as part of its link-up with cricketer Ian Botham and The Ashes. Each time England win a test match this summer against Australia Beefeater will give away 2,000 steaks to its Facebook fans that are connected to its app. The brand is also giving away 15,000 £10 off vouchers as well.

Leicester Tigers star opens his second restaurant: Leicester Tiger Rugby star Martin Castrogiovanni has opened a second Timo restaurant, this time in Market Harborough with investment from fellow rugby player Geordan Murphy. Murphy, who has played more than 250 games for Tigers, said: “We’re very excited about opening Timo in Harborough and we’ve already had excellent feedback. We talked about opening a restaurant for a while and I thought that if I could stop Castro eating half the profits, it would be an interesting idea!” Added Castrogiovanni: “Rugby is not forever and you have to have a business plan for the future.”

Greene King applies to update new Old English Inns site: Greene King has applied for planning consent to improve the latest addition to its Old English Inns stable – the boutique hotel, The Fox Inn, in Eastgate Street, Bury St Edmunds. Work will be focused on the installation of a new kitchen but outside renovation will also take place. An Old English Inns spokeswoman said: “As with the work we are currently undertaking inside, improving and modernising the facilities for the comfort of our customers, the proposed changes are entirely in keeping with the character of this beautiful and historic pub.” Prior to the Greene King acquisition, the pub had been run by Sheila and Ron Blackmore since 2004. The hotel is set to reopen before the end of the month.

Cazenove issues overweigh rating on Marston’s shares; Marston’s opens tenth East Anglian new-build in two years: Marston’s stock has had its “overweight” rating reaffirmed by equities analysts at JP Morgan Cazenove. They have set a 170p price target on the stock, indicating a potential upside of 16.28% on the company’s current price. Meanwhile, Marston’s has opened its tenth East Anglian new-build in two years. The Honeystone opened in Hunstanton this week offering two-for-one on main courses – it’s the first pub opened by a large managed operator on the North Norfolk coast.

Oakman Inns and Restaurants wins first sustainability star for first site, The Akeman: Oakman Inn and Restaurants has won a sustainability star from The Sustainable Restaurant Association for its first site, The Akeman in Tring. Chief executive Peter Borg-Neal said: “It was the first restaurant we opened of our now eight-strong group, and they have been at the heart of creating many of our policies on sustainability. This rating covers many aspects of our business, all of which have been the foundations on which we built Oakman Inns.”

Copper Dragon Brewery acquires freehold as it prepares for growth: Copper Dragon Brewery has acquired a pub freehold as part of its long-term growth plans. The business, set up in 2002 at Snaygill Industrial Estate in Skipton, brews award-winning Yorkshire cask traditional ales and Pilsner’s. It also runs a visitor centre and bistro at its Skipton headquarters and has purchased the freehold of the Wharfeside Inn in Slaithwaite, Huddersfield using the Government-backed Funding for Lending scheme through Barclays. Managing director Steve Taylor said: “We used to lease the premises for the Wharfeside Inn but decided to take advantage of the low interest rates and purchase the premises outright - the loan repayments are half the amount we used to pay in rent so it made good business sense to invest now and go for growth. The new funding from Barclays also provided a cashback lump sum which gives us flexibility with our working capital going forward.” Copper Dragon Brewery now employs 50 staff and has a turnover of £5m.

Five Guys to become third better burger operator at Reading Oracle centre: Five Guys, the better burger operator that opened in Covent Garden last week, will become the third better burger offer at Reading’s Oracle shopping centre when it opens. The Oracle branch is due to open on the site of the old Pontis unit, adjacent to House of Fraser, in late August or early September. Ed’s Diner opened at the Broad Street entrance of the complex in April this year, and the Handmade Burger Company started trading last December. Steve Belam, general manager at The Oracle, said: “The arrival of Five Guys also means that the centre is 100% let in terms of retail space, a fantastic achievement and one that further enhances our reputation as a leading destination in the region.”

Eren Ali – a career in design was great preparation for running restaurants: Las Iguanas founder Eren Ali, who opened his 40th site in Chester this week, has argued that his earlier career in automative design was great preparation for running restaurants. Ali won a wide variety of awards, including the ‘British Design Council’ award in 1990 and then again in 1991 for product design, an unprecedented achievement. He told a local newspaper: “Strangely enough, running a restaurant is very similar to the design process. You can design a well-run restaurant and make sure the whole concept works from the way the kitchen operates to the front of house. The whole thing is about putting together a process that works and supplies great service and great food.”

UK’s oldest purpose-built hotel goes on the market with £3m price tag: The Red Lion Hotel in Salisbury, which dates from the 13th century and is, reputedly, the oldest purpose-built hotel in the country, is for sale. The freehold to this Grade II Listed former coaching inn is on market by agent Christie + Co at an asking price of just under £3 million. The town centre hotel has 51 individually designed bedrooms, restaurant, bar, five conference and banqueting rooms (with capacities up to 120). For the last 100 years or so, the hotel has been owned by the Thomas and Maidment families.

BBC’s The Restaurant winners to open third cocktail bar: JJ Goodman and James Hopkins, who won the BBC’s The Restaurant, with Raymond Blanc, are set to open their third cocktail bar in central London. The pair, who won the final series of the show in 2009, have taken a 15-year lease on the 3,000 square foot ground floor at Portland House, 4 Great Portland Street. The London Cocktail Club is paying a rent of £130,000 per year to landlord Mount Eden Land. Restaurant Property agency director David Rawlinson, who advised The London Cocktail Club, said: “JJ Goodman and James Hopkins have developed a very successful formula that has developed a loyal following who love the mix of eclectic fit-out, great cocktails at affordable prices and friendly staff.”

Cains – closure of our flagship pub is an administration error: Cains Brewery’s flagship Doctor Duncan’s pub in the city centre has closed. Cains, who operated the site through a subsidiary called Holyake Inns, said the closure was down to an “administrative error”. A spokeswoman for landlord Neptune Office Investments Limited said: “The tenant Holyake Inns was in breach of the lease for the premises and therefore we have been left with no choice but to terminate the lease. We will now be actively working to find a resolution to the situation which we hope will see the unit reopened quickly.” A spokesman for Cains said: “There has been an administrative error which both parties are dealing with in a constructive way, and which we expect to be resolved within a matter of 24 hours or so.” In April, Cains owners, Sudarghara and Ajmail Dusanj, unveiled plans to turn the landmark Cains brewery site in Stanhope Street into a £50m “brewery village”, including a supermarket, a hotel and a smaller craft brewery.

Utility management services company UBS reports success with pub venture: UBS, the utility management service provider, has reported progress with its pub venture. The company runs three pubs across Cheshire, including a Trust Inns site opened a year ago. Spokesman Chris Kennedy said: “After twelve months trading and following major refurbishment, The Kings Head Warrington has gone from strength to strength. Directors Paul and Andrew Fannon, better known for heading the UK’s leading utility management service provider UBS, are very pleased with the progress of the venue which has become the hub of a vibrant Warrington town centre. Trust Inns, along with Utility Business Services, has invested £100,000 in the former coaching house which included a complete upgrade of all eleven en-suite rooms. We are looking to introduce a new food concept at The Kings Head.” 

Star Pubs & Bars – substantive leases up by 50% since new package introduced: Star Pubs & Bars’ new range of low risk, high support agreements has led to substantive agreements increasing by over 50% since launch in November 2012. The company is also attracting record levels of interest from applicants, with the latest figures showing year to date web traffic up 40% and applications up 15% on 2012. Said Chris Jowsey, trading director at Star Pubs & Bars: “We’re delighted that the new agreements we introduced six months ago are proving attractive. Our strategy of offering prospective lessees high support and a low risk commitment is encouraging people to take the plunge in a difficult trading environment when previously they might have waivered. It is a clear demonstration of our belief in the business potential of Star Pubs & Bars’ pubs and of our commitment to helping lessees build strong foundations on which to grow long term sustainable businesses.”

Menu expert Nancy Kruse to give multi-site keynote speech: The US’s top menu trends expert Nancy Kruse will give the keynote presentation at this year’s MUFSO Super Show taking place in Dallas between 29 September and 1 October. “Menus are changing so fast, and the lines between segments are blurring to the point of invisibility: lobster sandwiches in QSR, mac ‘n’ cheese in fine dining, and dayparts disintegrating everywhere,” said Penton Restaurant Group publisher Chris Keating in explaining the decision to in picking Kruse for the keynote honour. In her address last year, Nancy Kruse pointed to five “menu newsmakers” – chicken, eggs, Greek food, corn and crunchy food. She noted that low commodity prices were driving even non-chicken specialists, from Wienerschnitzel to McDonald’s, to add more chicken items. She called eggs the “ingredient of the year” and explained to attendees how they were being served deviled, poached and fried at various chains. Kruse also presaged the growing popularity of Greek food that has occurred over the past year. In the crunchy realm, she noted how crispy skin – on pork, duck and chicken – had surfaced at independent restaurants, while chains were adding crunch with ingredients such as waffle chips at Baskin-Robbins and crispy fried onions at Steak & Shake. In addition, Kruse pointed to five pillars that were driving menu development: freshness, flavour, premiumisation, customisation and miniaturisation.

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