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Tue 17th Sep 2013 - Convivial, Costa, Living Ventures, Greene King and Tax Parity Day

Story of the day:

McMullen pledges support for Tax Parity Day: Hertford-based brewer and pub operator McMullen has joined Tax Parity Day on Wednesday 25 September. The campaign focuses on the damage caused by the inequality of the VAT burden on pubs (20% on all sales) versus supermarkets, which pay no VAT on food thus enabling them to subsidise sales of alcohol. Throughout the day all McMullen’s managed pubs will be dropping their prices on food and drink by 7.5%. This price reduction represents the amount prices would be expected to fall if VAT on pub sales were cut from 20% to 5%. Managing director Peter Furness-Smith said: “The current tax disparity, and subsequent price effect, is a material factor in driving individuals away from the pub to eating and drinking at home. It is a shame that taxation policy does not acknowledge that there is a basic human need for social interaction and that pubs provide a supervised environment where we can relax and enjoy the company of others. Our political classes have been singularly focused on blaming the ‘tie’ arrangements for the number of pub closures and the decline in beer sales – beer volumes are down some 50% in the last ten years. As managed businesses have also suffered to the same extent, the causes of the decline have clearly nothing to do with the ‘tie’. The pressures all pubs are facing must therefore be as a result of other factors. The fact that we pay five times more in taxes to the government than we make in profit must materially contribute, if not be the principal contributor, to so many pubs becoming unsustainable. Rather than pretending that pub failures can be saved by more bureaucracy with, for example, restrictions on change-of-use, the government should look in the mirror when considering the root causes.”

Industry news:

Intertain chief executive to present at the next Propel Multi Club Conference: John Leslie, chief executive of Intertain, will present at the next Propel Multi Club Conference. He will talk about how the company has evolved the Walkabout high street offer at its invested sites. The event takes place on Thursday 7 November at One Moorgate Place, London.

JD Wetherspoon to take different tack in Scotland for Tax Parity Day: JD Wetherspoon is to adopt a different approach in Scotland to Tax Parity Day on Wednesday 25 September when pub and restaurant operators will reduce prices by 7.5% to show consumers the benefit of lower VAT in the out-of-home foodservice. Licensing laws in Scotland mean that drinks prices can’t be reduced for two days or fewer. The company will instead cut the price of food by 15% at all 40 of pubs in Scotland to highlight the benefit of a VAT reduction in the hospitality industry.

Roast founder – Government should invest in foodservice: Roast and Cinnamon Club founder Iqbal Wahhab has argued for government funding of foodservice start-ups. In his Management column, he wrote: “Government needs to understand food better. It sees food as a farming or health issue, while some more wide-thinking folk will see it as a cultural leveller. Yet government fails to see food as an economic driver – it creates much-needed jobs and wealth (Hackney council says it helped provide 270 jobs in the last two years by opening up empty spaces for street food vendors) and takes people off benefits. But it’s much more – London is gaining international status for the quality of its food and food tourism is worth many millions to the exchequer. When I ask people at BIS why we don’t trigger growth in the economy by building a food fund alongside all these tech funds, the answer, which I find questionable, is that we don’t need one as there are enough resources to assist start-ups already. Were you aware of that? I wasn’t and don’t know anyone who has heard of them, let alone applied for them. The government has launched useful schemes to boost growth such as the Funding for Lending and the Enterprise Finance Guarantee projects, but they’re not suited for small-scale start-ups. An investment or loan fund backed up with mentoring from practitioners to help entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls will not only enable further growth but will also benefit us by creating a more diverse culinary environment. After all, you can’t eat microchips.”

Concorde BGW wins pub category in Restaurant and Bar Design Awards 2013: Concorde BGW, whose client list includes Realpubs, Renaissance, Pod, Fuller’s, Peach Pub Company and Greene King, has won the pub category in the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards 2013 for its work on the Newman Street Tavern in Fitzrovia, whose head chef and part owner, Peter Weeden, previously oversaw Paternoster Chop House and the Boundary. Guy Bostock, Concorde’s London director, said: “It’s great to have won this time around having been shortlisted in the awards for the last three years.” The company was also shortlisted in the category for its work on Marston’s Libertine in Bournemouth. Other finalists were Hall & Woodhouse Portishead, The Parlour, London, The Old Shades, London, The Queen’s Picture House, Liverpool, and The Tokenhouse, London.

Peach BrankTrack – TripAdvisor usage is limited: A survey by Peach BrandTrack’s has found usage of TripAdvisor is quite limited. Among respondents who indicated their TripAdvisor habits, nearly three in five (59.0%) said they never used the site, with a very small minority consulting it for restaurant reviews either every time (1.8%) or most times (5.3%) they eat out. With the rest using it only occasionally (16.2%) or infrequently (17.7%), it hardly seems the most important factor swaying customers’ decisions. In London, where the choice of restaurants is highest, TripAdvisor has greater clout, with nearly one in six using it either every time (5.6%) or most times (9.8%) they eat out. Those aged 25 to 34 – the generation that has grown up with customer reviews at their fingertips – are the heaviest users. A further crucial piece of intelligence for operators is that the more often people eat out, the more they use TripAdvisor. Among those who eat out every or almost every day, more than one in three use it every time (20.4%) or most times (14.8%) they choose a destination. The proportions for occasional diners are far smaller.

Small Business Rate Relief time bomb could cost pubs £15 million: Failure to extend Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) from April 2014 could cost pubs in England and Wales some £15 million over the next year, according to new figures from the British Beer & Pub Association. The BBPA has written to industry bodies inviting them to work together to encourage the government to continue this important relief for pubs. SBRR sees a variable discount on rates for business with a rateable value of up to £12,000. This discount, worth approximately £1,000 on average, is due to expire at the end of March 2014, unless the government decides to extend it further. Current estimates suggest that this will affect 16,000 pubs across England and Wales. BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “Pubs across the country can ill-afford this extra cost on their businesses. We had a boost from the beer duty cut and the wider economy is improving – but this could knock the sector’s recovery off-course. The government has supported and spoken up for pubs on a range of issues, so I believe it is sensitive to the impact of high business rates on pubs.”

Company news:

Tim Martin expands on Wetherspoon’s 30-pub Irish ambition: JD Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin has stated that he believes that the company can eventually open between 20 and 30 pubs in Eire. For now, the company wants to open three or four pubs quickly if it can find the sites. Martin told Reuters the improving performance of its nine pubs in Northern Ireland had given it confidence to move now to the Republic, adding property prices there were no longer so prohibitive. “The Republic has got more than double the population (of Northern Ireland) and so our aspiration would be 20 or 30 in the longer term,” he added.

Irish Times – Greene King looking at Dublin sites: The Irish Times has claimed that Greene King is looking to acquire sites in Dublin. The newspaper reports: “Intermediaries acting on behalf of Greene King, the brewer behind Old Speckled Hen ale, have in recent weeks approached the owners of several large suburban Dublin pubs asking if they would be interested in selling up. It is also understood from a number of industry sources that a third unnamed major British chain is also in the market and has appointed advisers here to represent it. Charlie Chawke, the south Dublin publican who owns several landmark premises, including The Dropping Well, The Old Orchard Inn and The Goat, confirmed he had been approached recently by an intermediary on behalf of Greene King. Greene King wants to acquire suburban premises outside the city centre, with large car parks. It is understood to be particularly interested in acquiring premises in working-class areas.”

Tim Bacon opens Manchester restaurant with Aiden Byrne; in negotiations on three London sites: Tim Bacon’s Living Ventures opens Manchester House on the 12th floor of the Spinningfields office block in Manchester today, a £3m investment aimed at winning a Michelin star for the city in partnership with chef Aiden Byrne, the youngest ever winner of a Michelin star. He told The Daily Telegraph: “The kitchen cost £300,000 alone. There are 25 chefs there, lunch and dinner. With 500 to 600 covers a week we’ll be profitable.” Living Ventures has ten sites in Manchester city centre. “We have six units in one city block in Manchester and four more nearby. If I was running PizzaExpress it would be insane, but all my businesses are very different, both in terms of atmosphere and cuisine.” Living Ventures runs 33 sites and is looking to add to its single location in London. “I have one operation there now but I am negotiating on three more sites to open next year,” Bacon added.

Bel and the Dragon buys sixth site: Bel and the Dragon, the collection of inns run by Joel Cadbury’s Longshot, has bought its sixth site, The George in Odiham, Hampshire. The George, three miles from Hook, had been on sale through James A Baker for £1.25 million. It currently has 18 en suite bedrooms and dining space for around 60 covers. Cadbury said The George, on Odiham High Street, a Grade II listed building with parts dating back to the 15th century, would be reopened as a Bel and the Dragon next year after a refurbishment. Its purchase comes as the company opens its fifth Bel and The Dragon in Churt, Surrey.

SA Brain and Costa to go head-to-head in Torquay: SA Brain’s #1 coffee house chain will compete head-to-head with a new Costa opening in Torquay – with Costa taking one of its largest town centre sites ever. Costa is to convert one of the town’s most prominent empty buildings - the former Hogshead site in Union Street. Paul Bettesworth, of agent Bettesworths, who helped secure the deal, said the Hogshead building has been ‘a difficult void’ for the town centre. He said: “The modern high street experience must go beyond simply shopping otherwise it is just competing too directly with the purely functional click and pay of internet retail. The presence of trusted and popular branded coffee operators is an important feature in expanding the non-retail offering of a dynamic high street.” Brain’s Coffee#1 will open a few doors away in Fleet Street with the former post office building converted to a site. Bettesworth added: “The large store will be designed in the typically comfortable and inviting style of Coffee #1 with large feature fireplaces and shelves of books around the premises.”

Multiple offers received for Convivial London Pubs: Shareholders of Convivial London Pubs, the group of six London freehold pubs on the market through agent Christie + Co, have been told the sale has “received a high level of interest from potential buyers, for both individual units and various permutations of units, such that there are multiple indications of interest for each of the company’s six units”. A letter to shareholders added: “In the immediate term, the company will be negotiating further with a number of these parties with the objective of achieving sales of all the units. However, the company has received no indications of interest which relate to an offer for the issued share capital of the company. As the board of Convivial is not in discussions with any third parties in relation to an offer for the company’s shares, the board has decided to terminate the formal sale process as defined in the City code on takeovers and mergers.” The pubs available are: The Mitre Hotel, Greenwich SE10 – freehold – offers in excess of £6 million; The Lamb Brewery, Chiswick W4 – freehold – offers in excess of £2.8 million; The Clifton, St John’s Wood NW8 – freehold – offers in excess of £2.9 million; The Botanist Brewery, Richmond TW9 – freehold – offers in excess of £2.5 million; The Crown & Anchor, Chiswick W4 – freehold – offers in excess of £2 million.

No Saints subsidiary company is wound up: A subsidiary company, Lakeside EIS2, of nightclub operator No Saints is being wound up by RSM Tenon Restructuring. The company has an estimated total deficiency as regards creditors of £847,000. Law firm Charles Russell is owed £587,000 and HMRC is owed £25,374.

Wright Brothers to open innovative seafood restaurant with 10,000 live shellfish in seawater tanks: Specialist seafood suppliers Wright Brothers are to expand into East London with the opening of their most ambitious restaurant to date at Old Spitalfields Market. Wright Brothers Spitalfields, due to open in mid-November 2013, will be the group’s fourth restaurant, following the success of Oyster & Porter House in Borough Market, Soho Oyster House and The Ferryboat Inn in Cornwall. The new restaurant will be an innovative ‘sea-to-plate’ dining experience, offering varieties and volumes of seafood and crustacea never before seen in London. Diners will have the chance to choose their own live crab, lobster or oysters from vast seawater tanks – containing 10,000 live shellfish – that will take centre stage in the restaurant. As one of the UK’s key seafood wholesalers, Wright Brothers is in the unique position of being able to source oysters direct from its own Duchy Oyster Farm, part of the private estate of HRH The Prince of Wales on the Helford River in Cornwall where Wright Brothers are cultivating over fifteen million native and pacific oysters. Leading the kitchen brigade will be David Cook who joins the group from Moro, Bocca di Lupo and 40 Maltby Street. Operations will be handled by Richard Seldon who was opening general manager at Soho’s La Bodega Negra.

Freehold of Cottage in the Wood goes on sale for £1,950,000: The Cottage in the Wood - a unique hotel and restaurant in Worcestershire dubbed ‘The Best View in England’ by the Daily Mail, is being marketed for sale by agent Christie + Co. Located high in the Malvern Hills, a designated area of outstanding beauty, The Cottage in the Wood enjoys panoramic views of the Severn Valley, to the West of the Cotswolds. As well as its panorama, the hotel is equally famous for having been a destination of choice for Margaret Thatcher, who regularly visited The Cottage in the Wood to relax, particularly during her later years. Christie + Co is seeking offers in the region of £1,950,000 for the freehold interest in this superb opportunity.

Everards recruits another brewer for Project William: Everards Brewery has recruited another brewer for Project William. The company has bought and is refurbishing the historic Brown Cow pub in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in a £300,000 investment. The Brown Cow’s tenant is Raw Brewing Company of Chesterfield, which is investing circa £40,000 into the pub. The Brown Cow was purchased by Everards from Marston’s in July. Raw Brewing and Everards had been searching for a suitable pub for around 18 months. Raw approached Everards to suggest working together after receiving a recommendation from another Everards tenant, Brampton Brewery, also of Chesterfield. Work to transform The Brown Cow into a real ale house has begun and is expected to finish in October 2013, with the pub opening in November. Projected weekly turnover is £8,000. The Brown Cow will have 12 handpumps and focus on serving good quality craft beers from around the UK. Cold snacks such as pork pies will be available, but no hot food is planned. Project William has led to the rejuvenation of 28 Midlands pubs in six years, with more in the pipeline. Of those, 15 were closed before Everards purchased and invested in them. Since transforming the 28 pubs, 13 have gone on to win CAMRA Pub of the Year Awards.

Million pound turnover pub offered for less than £1m: Agent Christie + Co is offering two adjacent freehold pubs in Folkestone with combined turnover of around £1m for £995,000. Gillespies is 100% wet and turns over around £14,000 per week while True Briton next door turns over around £7,500 per week. The agent states: “With the potential to knock though and integrate both pubs into one, the possibilities are endless.”

Deutsche Bank – JD Wetherspoon continues to confound and delight: Geof Collyer, leisure analyst at Deutsche Bank, has argued that JD Wetherspoon continues to ‘confound and delight’. He said: “The enigma that is JD Wetherspoon continues to confound and delight. Operationally, the group needs to maintain its rollout programme to generate any momentum, after cost inflation eats up the benefits of like-for-likes growth. The key though is that the market has re-rated the shares (+63% in 12 months) despite declining margins and returns, and EBITA that was just 1% above consensus forecasts of one year ago. By Wetherspoon’s own admission, the pace of like-for-likes growth is likely to slow to less than half of FY 2013 and margin pressure still seems to be downward if anything. We struggle a bit with the current rating, given the lack of asset backing, but not enough to change our recommendation. Hold.”

Chipotle launches arcade game to stress quality of its food: Chipotle Mexican Grill has launched “The Scarecrow,” an arcade-style adventure game for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, along with a companion animated short film of the same name. Both the game and the film depict a scarecrow’s journey to bring wholesome food back to the people by providing an alternative to the processed food that dominates his world. “The more people learn about where their food comes from and how it is prepared, the more likely they are to seek out high-quality, classically prepared food like we serve in our restaurants,” said Chipotle chief marketing officer Mark Crumpacker said. “We created The Scarecrow game and film as an entertaining and engaging way to help people better understand the difference between processed food and the real thing.”

JW Lees buys canal-side pub: North west-based brewer and retailer JW Lees has bought the freehold of The Ship Inn, Haskayne, Lancashire from a private vendor. The Ship Inn is a canal-side country inn located midway between Formby and Ormskirk. Simon Lees-Jones property director, JW Lees Brewery, said: “As our family business grows we are on the lookout for more quality pubs like The Ship Inn, it is great country pub and an exciting addition to the JW Lees portfolio. We are looking to invest in the property and work will start soon to transform the pub into a quality, family orientated, destination food house and country inn.” Ian Taylor, of agent Fleurets, who handled the sale, said: “It quickly became apparent there was serious interest from a number of parties, including a number of local individuals and corporate clients. However, in the end the freehold was sold to JW Lees, a company that has a great track record in working with licensees to develop the trade and maintaining outstanding pubs.” 

M&B Nicholson’s brand partners Truman’s for London beer taste test: Mitchells & Butlers Nicholson’s brand, which is enjoying success by majoring on cask ale, has partnered new London brewery Truman’s to invite customers to help shape its new flagship ale. Customers are invited to order a pint of Truman’s UK Gold or Truman’s US Pale to create a pint that “better reflects the tastes and feedback of Britain’s ale-loving masses”. The company states: “Truman’s moved to its new brewery in Hackney Wick earlier this year, and its two taste-test candidates, Truman’s UK Gold and Truman’s US Pale, are exclusively available at Nicholson’s pubs. Once you’ve tried one or both, you can vote for your favourite and give Truman’s your feedback. This will help the brewer as it continually refines these two real ales with your drinking pleasure in mind. To vote and feedback, look out for the Great Truman’s Taste Test leaflets and beer mats in your local Nicholson’s.”

Pizza Hut launches limited edition cheeseburger pizza: Pizza Hut has launched a limited edition ‘cheeseburger pizza’ that combines cheeseburgers and pizza – the cheeseburgers sit in their own doughy base at the edge of the pizza. The limited edition pizza is available for £2.50.

Stonegate re-opens Preston Reflex as Popworld: Stonegate Pub Company has re-opened its Reflex site in Preston, one of the 333 wet-led pubs acquired from Mitchells & Butlers, as a Popworld following a £200,000 investment and the creation of 15 new jobs. The opening of Popworld see the introduction of a state-of-the art sound and lighting system, three new VIP booths which can be pre-booked and come complete with waitress service.

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